Game Reviews


Star onStar onStar onStar offStar off
| BioShock
| BioShock

Bioshock is a marvel. It's close to being a masterpiece, and it stands tall as one of the greatest games of the previous console generation.

What you probably want to know is, how does it play on an iPhone or iPad. And we'll get to that. But for those of you who never had the pleasure of playing Bioshock before, let's start by talking about the game itself.

The game takes place in Rapture - a strange submarine city where society's elite could isolate themselves from the parasitic poor, where artists could create without censorship, and scientists could dabble without judgement.

But the discovery of ADAM, a sea slug which can rewrite your DNA and give you superhuman powers, kicked off a set of events that would send the city into civil war, disrepair, and eventually turn the whole place into a crumbling madhouse.

Down where it's wetter

Exploring the ruins of Rapture is Bioshock's greatest strength. The intelligent set design gives the world a real sense of place, and a creepy atmosphere permeates every ominous corridor.

Seeing how this once idyllic world has decayed and been consumed by the ocean offers the ultimate in dystopian tourism.

As you traipse through the city you'll uncover the game's story - both the overt narrative, which is still utterly ingenious, twisty, and engrossing - and the stories of long dead citizens delivered with terrific voice acting through audio diaries.

The actual gameplay, which typically involves fighting crazed ADAM addicts called Splicers, is a thrill.

You can juggle weapons with plasmids, leading to crackling combat encounters where you zap a Splicer with lightning, shoot another with a pistol, and pluck a grenade from the air with telekinesis to toss at the stunned enemy.

Or you could play it smart. Lace a room with explosives and hack a sentry bot so it's on your side, before annoying a Big Daddy and luring that hulking great ogre-in-a-vintage-diving-suit into your carefully set trap.

Look Mr Bubbles!

The original game isn't perfect, of course. For long stretches the game simply muddles along with samey firefights in the most uninteresting corners of Rapture.

And it should probably have ended a few hours sooner than it did, to save an anticlimactic epilogue and a crap boss fight.

The city doesn't feel as alive as it did in my memories. Instead, it's more obviously a series of scripted cinematic moments. And the much vaunted moral choice - do you kill the little sisters? - is clearly a hollow decision, and one that butts heads with the intentions of the narrative.

But Bioshock is still a stunning achievement in world design, narrative, and atmosphere. And it has stood the test of time. Stepping into that bathysphere and plunging into the ocean still left me with an intoxicating mix of dread and wonder, all these years later.

And when the ghostly voice of Andrew Ryan introduces you to Rapture, and you see the city for the first time, I still felt a tingle race up my spine.

Tablet terror

Well, sort of. This iOS version suffers from a downgrade in visual quality, and that opening scene isn't quite so impressive with Rapture's neon lights shut off and a short draw distance obscuring the true size and scale of the city.

These compromises permeate the entire game, and hurt the stunning atmosphere of the experience.

It can look incredibly impressive for an app - on an iPad Air, the textures and models looks similar to the Xbox 360 version - but the reduction in shadows and fog spoils the creepy feel, and the jagged edges damage the sharp Art Deco style.

And in general the game is dogged by performance issues. The audio can mute itself randomly. There are lengthy load times and frame rate hiccups. And on my iPhone 5, faraway text and details look jaggy and ugly.

And of course, there are the controls. Playing on the touchscreen is so unbelievably ungainly and awkward, it's simply not worth bothering. If you don't have an MFi controller, I say don't bother.

Under the sea

Bioshock for iOS is a hard sell, then. It requires, for starters, a whole list of caveats. Do you have an iPad (the iPhone is way too small), a good MFi controller, some nice headphones, a lot of space free on your device, and money burning a hole in your pocket?

And after all that, do you really have the desire to play an engrossing, cinematic adventure game on the train? If all of those things apply, then this BioShock port will just about work for you. You'll get the full game, albeit in an imperfect form.

But if you fail any one of those criteria, then play it on a different device. You'd be doing yourself a disservice compromise the experience of playing a terrific, mind-bending, utterly unforgettable game.


Bioshock is a marvel of intelligent storytelling, creepy atmosphere, and stunning world design. You get all that in this iOS port, but not without compromise