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iOS BioShock is a stunning achievement, but could have been much more

So BioShock is coming to iOS. Interesting. Sort of. Announcements like this usually split the internet into two camps of reaction, one of them all ‘gosh-wow-super-cool-gee-golly-wizz’ about the sheer fact that such a thing simply exists, the other resoundingly ‘Meh’ about the supposed excitement value of playing a seven year-old game on a tiny screen with crappy controls.

Traditionally I fall into the latter camp. And indeed, my enthusiasm for BiOShock (you can use that if you like, but I demand a credit each and every time you do) does not see me busting cartwheels in a sequined leotard. Not on a Monday. But that’s just me. I don’t get on with mobile gaming, and I doubt I ever will. But I’m not going to bash BiOShock (Yeah, I’m proud of that one). Not for the usual reasons, anyway.

The inherent logistical problems of running ‘core’ games on mobile prod-screens are nothing new. You play without buttons, you accept that you’re going to get a certain sort of experience. And by all accounts, pocket Rapture plays as well as could be expected, particularly if you’re dedicated enough to iOS gaming to fork out for one of the add-on controllers that it supports.

But I’m still struggling to think of a convincing reason I’d want to play it. I adore BioShock. Always have, always will. But is there a compelling reason for me to play it again? It’s one of the finest, narrative-focused, single-player experiences in gaming, but as such it’s not the sort of game I find myself compelled to drop back into if there’s nothing new to see or do.

And I think that’s the real source of my confusion regarding BiOShock. I’m probably being greedy to question such an achievement for ‘only’ providing the full, original game. But any ‘new’ BioShock on mobile could (and probably should) be much more than a port.

We are, after all, now living in what future historians will doubtless dub The Everyone-Who’s-Interested-Has-Already-Played-BioShock Age. Is there a secret cabal of gamers-in-denial waiting for it? The kind of people who loathe console and PC hardware with a fiery passion, but secretly covet our games, waiting day and night for them to finally appear on their magical digi-slates? Possibly, but I doubt it. And if anyone is waiting to give BioShock an additional play-through, do they really want to do so with a not-quite comparable version at an additional buy-in cost?

So I think an iOS edition needs something extra in order to be truly relevant. Maybe it could have been some kind of special edition, with a few bonus areas or powers thrown in. Or better, it could have been an alternative Rapture experience, not a full-sized BioShock 2.5, by any means, but a more focused, more tailored, first-person horror-adventure set in the gaps between the two games. Taking that approach could actually have worked to the game’s advantage if a modified gameplay model--perhaps something less combat-focused--had been designed to provide both a fresh, more essential experience and a neat way to avoid the problems of controlling fast action games on a mobile machine. Give me a new, mobile-optimised take on BioShock--maybe something more akin to a Gone Home, or even Amnesia--and I’d be bona fide jealous that I have nothing to play it on.

Hell, iOS would be a perfect home for that long-promised but rapidly-aborted BioShock game for the PS Vita. Touted as a Final Fantasy Tactics-style role-playing adventure set before the fall of Rapture, that thing had immense potential for expanding the BioShock story in a meaningful, refreshing way, playing to its intended platform’s strengths with great integrity. It’s a shame it never appeared, but on the iPad it could explode.

But of course, all of the above would require new dev teams and full-length development cycles, from concept planning, to production art, to final polish. With the original BioShock, all of that work is done. All that’s needed is some downgrading of assets and a bit of (admittedly vicelike) compression. It’s understandable that a straight port would be 2K’s choice.

With BioShock’s future now uncertain, following its creator Irrational’s dissolution after Infinite, the publisher needs a way to keep its biggest and most lauded brand alive in the public consciousness. A re-release of the series’ most universally praised, arguably most important entry is the most economical way of doing that. Particularly with the ‘Holy shit!’ factor of its chosen platform thrown in. It’s a smart tactical move. Maximum bang, minimal buck. And it looks like it’s turned out as well as anyone could have hoped.

But I just wish that it had been something more. Because as great as it may well be, BiOShock feels more like a stunt than a meaningful addition to the franchise. It could have been unique and important, a fantastic new taste of a part of BioShock lore that many miss, as well as a great example of how AAA studios can and should treat their big games on small platforms. As it is, it just feels ‘good’. 

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21 comments

  • brickman409 - August 5, 2014 11:43 p.m.

    I don't think you get the point of porting a game like this to IOS. This is so that people who have never been able to play Bioshock when it first came out because they didn't have a console or powerful enough PC can experience this great game. Also, this gives people like me a chance to revisit a game I haven't played in a few years on the go, maybe on an airplane or a long car ride. Really the only problem I see with this is that there isn't an Android port. Hopefully that will come sooner rather than later. Anyways, I don't remember hearing this kind of bad press when GTA 3/San Andreas, or Xcom Enemy Unknown came to mobile.
  • ZeeCaptain - August 18, 2014 8:33 p.m.

    Thats partly because San Andreas and XCOM both look like they were made for IOS, while this is a definite downgrade on the graphics. Its sort of like the whole if video game are art, then what was a picture of the Mona Lisa (Bioshock for console/PC) is now a crayon drawing, a good and playable crayon drawing, but crayon drawing nonetheless. I don't have a problem with this, besides the usual way that IOS games make my fingers cramp, but I can see how some people can think this is bad.
  • Jackonomics2.0 - August 5, 2014 10:47 a.m.

    Your complaining needing a justification to play a years old game on a new platform while everybody is easily eating and choking down a port of a PS3 game from last year.
  • crazygamer92 - August 5, 2014 8:03 a.m.

    I don't see this as a bad thing, I understand that people wanted some fresh take or innovative way of playing it but it's still pretty cool, ios supports game pads now, I hook up my ps3 pad to my iPad and this will be a fun little way to pass the time, it's a great game why not have it portable?
  • Nintygameplayerperson - August 4, 2014 6:40 p.m.

    What a damn shame. Even Bioshock Vita would've been preferable to this. At least that way it would've had actual, physical buttons. I just don't know anymore. This is just silly.
  • winner2 - August 4, 2014 6:28 p.m.

    Well fuck, why? Utterly pointless.
  • ObliqueZombie - August 4, 2014 4:50 p.m.

    Literally one of the worst announcements in a long time for me. I was so hyped for some new game, or remastered (read as: new engine, new Rapture kinda thing) collection or something. Someone threw out the idea for an XCOM-style BioShock, which would have been a perfect mixture and is kinda 2K's thing. But this? Fucking hell, a port to a crappy, unstable "platform" that offers nothin new, and everything wrong. UGH.
  • _--_ - August 4, 2014 1:19 p.m.

    --my PC tower wont run bioshock 1 --it will~but BARELY(so lo res~ and choppy its unplayable/unenjoyable) --of course --im not a PC gamer(my rig is crap) --but I just finished shovel knight on my PC(and it looked GREAT) --i also played masseffect2 and deadspace1&2 on the same rig --what am i saying? --iphone will run bioshock --thats a technological breakthrough!(remember cell phones in 2006?~they could hardly run pac man or contra1) --i predict (at the rate computer tech is exponetially growing~ESPECIALLY portable computer tech) --we will have no need for 'separate' console hardware by 9th gen(consoles) --whats my prediction really claiming? --we will 'literally' replace consoles with our smart phones --we will still play on our tvs~and use controllers --but xbox and PS will be apps on our phones
  • db1331 - August 4, 2014 1:35 p.m.

    Shit son. Build a new PC.
  • _--_ - August 4, 2014 2:08 p.m.

    --haha --i really prefer consoles --ive put all my money into the 8th gen stuff(ive already worn the xb1 controller out) --i just prefer consoles --IDK --if i put an extra thousand or 2 into a gaming pc(or dont forget the elitist claim of "The 600$ master gaming PC" haha) --i mean --what is there to play on it?(that i cant play on a console) --and then --the multiplayer lobbies are a little better(and fuller) on consoles too(for my taste anyway)
  • ZeeCaptain - August 18, 2014 8:36 p.m.

    I don't think you can call the XBOX an 8th gen console, its more of a late to the party guess, unlike Nintendo who has about 6 consoles under their belt.
  • Shigeruken - August 4, 2014 9:43 p.m.

    Don't worry, the PC port of Bioshock was garbage anyway. The secret of technology is that if there are passionate people behind a project, virtually anything is possible. Programmers are computer scientists. When people talk about innovation in regard to video games, that doesn't simply mean that technology is evolving; the science which drives these projects is also evolving.
  • _--_ - August 4, 2014 10 p.m.

    @shig --Moore's law has been proven fact --its only a matter of time --and ANYTHING will be 'possible' --i have this illustration --/ --in the future --a single robot(in a universe of BILLIONS and TRILLIONS of robots just like him) --will be able to do this --.. --you know how big the ENTIRETY of space is?(the universe/outer space) --well.. --i predict that 'at some point' in the future(probably at least 2-300 years from now~but it could be A LOT sooner) --a single robot will be able to recreate the entirety of space(bring it into existence) --with a single millisecond thought(or 'action') --but --not only re-create space --but recreate it multiple times(at once) --how many times? --more times than humans have a number for --i think this 'illustration' --gives us an 'idea' --of the 'magnitude' of computer intelligence(growth) --we are gonna be dealing with soon
  • GOD - August 4, 2014 12:37 p.m.

    What's worse: When the try to port a console game that needs full controls to iOS, or when they port a game like Angry Birds to consoles and want to charge $30 for it? Either way it's pretty clear that what works best on one platform, does not necessarily work on the other. Trying to put console games on iOS is like trying to make someone drive a car but with steering and controls identical to a motorcycle. Additionally, trying to sell iOS games to people on consoles is like putting Taco Bell nachos on the appetizer part of a menu at a restaurant for $12. People will just laugh until they realize it's actually not a joke and then try to wonder who thought that was a good idea.
  • David_Roberts - August 4, 2014 12:22 p.m.

    For all of EA's current mobile faults, their iOS outings a few years ago were really great–Dead Space, for instance, wasn't just a port (like this Bioshock game is), but rather an all new adventure with controls specifically tailor-made for the iOS. It was pretty damn good, too. Shame that those games don't make nearly as much money as free-to-play "games" like Dungeon Keeper did, otherwise they'd have kept making them.
  • PerhapsTheOtherOne - August 5, 2014 12:04 p.m.

    I love that model of gaming that you mentioned, of crafting a unique yet familiar experience from a core franchise on iOS platforms.
  • db1331 - August 4, 2014 11:50 a.m.

    Utterly pointless. Looks like shit, controls like shit, especially compared to the PC version, which has been sold alongside Bioshock 2 and Infinite for $15 on more than one occasion. I mean, you're talking about a game with possibly the most immersive environment we've ever explored, and you mean to play it on some tiny screen, with your fingers covering a third of what little viewing area you do have? I won't even start on the controls. There is so much to BioShock that cannot be conveyed when played this way. The sense of all that water crushing in around you, for starters. What an absolute shit fest, just like all things Apple.
  • ObliqueZombie - August 4, 2014 4:52 p.m.

    Seriously, this was a terrible announcement. Of all the things you could do for this wonderful franchise and world, you do this. Christ almighty.
  • masterjoe123 - August 4, 2014 11:24 a.m.

    Why do so many developers only focus on iOS and completely ignore Android? I understand that Android is harder to develop for, but there are so many Android devices built specifically for gaming. I just feel like Android always gets ignored, despite having more users than iOS.
  • ObliqueZombie - August 4, 2014 4:53 p.m.

    Feel lucky, you miss out on crash-prone, money wasting apps. Think of it as Android saving your time and money and directing you to better methods, games, and companies.

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