Any gamer who played the original BioShock on Xbox 360 will still recall exploring the depths of its underwater fantasy setting, tensing up at the brash Big Daddy showdowns, and soaking in an eerie atmosphere unlike anything else. Would someone coming to the game fresh today have that same kind of memorable experience on a 4in touchscreen?
That's the question posed by the new iOS port of this FPS modern classic. The original 2007 console and PC release is as vital today as it was seven years ago and the universal iPhone and iPad iteration thankfully keeps the entire BioShock experience intact. That means the incredible dystopian city of Rapture, with its gene-spliced enemies and terrifying armoured warriors, terrific art deco design, and ever-intriguing narrative are all present and correct.
That's the best news of all, and on the App Store, with its copycat shooters that entertain but don't enthrall, BioShock stands apart even after all these years.
The lack of physical inputs on iOS devices means that big changes are needed to adapt BioShock for the platform; thus, a virtual stick and buttons. By and large, it does the trick. The buttons for your firearms and Plasmid power attacks match the overall aesthetic well, and are nicely laid out for you to swap attacks and deal with myriad threats.
But there's a clumsiness that comes when playing a shooter when all the inputs you need aren't resting right below a thumb or finger, and here, slowed reactions are bound to get you killed unnecessarily at some point. Luckily, BioShock supports MFi controllers, and it's definitely the way to play. Get a gamepad with dual analog sticks and you'll be right back in the thick of things with a real console-like experience, aside from the occasional need to tap the screen for something not mapped to a button.
Dazzling, but diminished
Even as an early last-gen release, BioShock remains one of the most stunning games we've ever played, due largely to its tremendous art design. The submerged city bursts to life with mid-century architecture and aesthetics, with plenty of neon spritzed throughout and incredible atmosphere built throughout its hugely diverse settings. But despite requiring a very recent iPhone or iPad, BioShock sadly looks ragged in its iOS incarnation.
The models all have rough edges, many textures in the world are muddled, and lighting issues abound. The great original work isn't lost, but it's a bit more difficult to appreciate this amazingly rich setting. Perhaps the iPhone 6 and new iPad Air will provide the muscle needed to fix the visual deficiencies.
BioShock iOS Verdict
BioShock has been available for seven years now, so it's not difficult to find cheaply for Xbox 360, PC, or PlayStation 3. And indeed, every other version of the game is more polished and precise than the iOS one, so if you have a decent computer or a last-gen console, that's absolutely the place to play it.
But phones and tablets are turning more and more players onto games than ever before, and if it's your platform of choice, you'll feel no shame playing this rendition of BioShock. It's still a tremendous single-player shooter experience — one that's solidly enjoyable with touch controls, but truly great with a gamepad.