BioShock Review (iOS)
The mobile version of BioShock seeks to cram a full-sized first-person shooter experience from 2007 onto tiny, handheld devices. A man might be entitled to the sweat of his brow, but we’re finding ourselves wondering what happens when BioShock features no gods or kings; only touch controls on iOS. Would you kindly read on to find out?
BioShock is one of the biggest names in recent video game history, spawning two sequels and even a tabletop board game, along with countless figures, replicas of weapons and tons of artwork. The adventure that brought you to a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean, and then deep down into the depths of an underwater city called Rapture, is fairly huge. But we’ve seen games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic given the mobile port treatment, so I was curious to see how the experience that was filled with art deco and inspired by Ayn Rand’s work would function on a phone, given that it was a first-person shooter.
After the all-too-familiar introduction to the city that involved a descent into the abyss aboard a bathysphere, a fly-through (er, a swim-through, rather), of the city and an incident involving a couple of creepily-voiced Splicers, I was given control of main character Jack. To my surprise, controlling him wasn’t too taxing an ordeal. I could move him with a virtual joystick on the left side of the screen and then aim by moving my thumb around on the right side of the screen. Present on the player’s HUD are buttons for weapons and Plasmids, the powers in BioShock that one could get from drinking genetic cocktails. Tapping on these icons would let you equip and then use the respective weapon or power. Little icons allowed you to switch weapons, Plasmids and even the ammo types that were available for each weapon. While it wasn’t the most graceful of interfaces and sometimes would screw you up in battle thanks to an errant tap here or there, it was perfectly functional.
The graphics are very impressive, for the kind of game that BioShock is, but don’t expect quality on par with something like, Infinity Blade III, for example. As good as this game looks, its source material is still from 2007 and everything’s been scaled down a bit. The most obvious example of the step down in graphical quality is the bathysphere sequence into the city. While in the console version of the game you’d see the neon lights on all of the buildings lit up, illustrating the fact that the city was alive, the mobile version offers a dimmed out version, making Rapture look grayer and more decrepit than it rightfully should at that moment. It’s a little jarring, kind of like seeing the lights on Broadway turned off.
Other than that, the graphics hold up and the interiors are still fairly beautiful, showing off the art deco style used on all of the structures in the city and providing the appropriate amount of lighting to make it the right amount of unsettling. As fun as BioShock is, it is not without its scares and atmospheric creepiness. Nothing helps sets this off more than the lighting and the visuals of a city being torn asunder with wild, violent addicts running around and spilling blood everywhere. Nothing, that is, except for the sound.
The music, sound effects and voices are all present and accounted for, helping further set the mood and tone of the entire game. The soundtrack is as moody as I remembered it, offering a somber reminder that this city is basically a waterlogged grave and amping up the action with violent-sounding strings and piano whenever I got into a tussle with Big Daddies or Splicers. All of the audio diaries and voice-acting are included, so you can hear the dulcet tones of your “guardian angel” Atlas’s Irish brogue as he asks you to complete task after task in effort to help you escape Rapture. Even on the tiny speakers of my iPhone, everything sounded great, though it probably helped that almost all of the audio and radio transmissions had that old school, grainy sound.
Of course the gameplay is as great as ever, with the full game and all of its frenetic combat and puzzles present and accounted for. If there’s one thing that truly didn’t translate well, it’s the hacking system. On the console versions, the hacking puzzles were my favorite and were like mini-games unto themselves, tasking me with switching out tiles and rotating them to make sure power flowed through the pipes. Dragging, dropping and tapping them is too unwieldy on such a small screen, so it frustrated me to no end when I kept failing hacking sequences due to misplaced taps. Other than that, one only has to get over the fact that the game’s framerate is a bit shaky due to the size of the action and all of the activity that takes place on the screen.
Just like with Rapture itself, if one can look past the minor imperfections and the shock of something where it’s not supposed to be, one can find something beautiful.
This review was based on a digital copy of BioShock for iOS that was purchased for review.