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BioShock iOS: Possibly terrible, possibly brilliant, positively important

Pinning an answer to a recent teaser image, 2K yesterday announced that the original BioShock will soon make its iOS debut. It certainly isn’t the sequel many fans were hoping to see, but it’s tough to be too disappointed with a return to Rapture, one of gaming’s most iconic and beloved locales. However, this isn’t a no-strings-attached nostalgia trip; BioShock will be a new beast on mobile.

It’s a staggering prospect to compress a game as large as BioShock down to a package modern smartphones can process. Despite this, as Eurogamer reports, the iOS version is a true recreation, with graphics being the only obvious area of sacrifice. At its core, it looks and feels like BioShock, Eve meter and ammunition types and all—and who could forget the Circus of Value?

Of course, corners will need to be cut, but as the questionably licensed surgeon J.S. Steinman showed all BioShock players, there is such thing as too much cutting. Indeed, 2K has a delicate operation ahead of them: Cut too deep and the experience will be a butchered mess far removed from the grandeur of the original; too shallow and iPhones will start chugging before players even reach the Bathysphere. The former won’t satisfy fans of the IP and only disappoint newcomers, and the latter will surely disappoint everyone.

BioShock

Not terribly disappointing quality, though. 

It sounds like a job for ADAM, but 2K doesn’t have the luxury of splicing themselves to “perfection.” So forget the technical constraints for a moment. Let’s focus on the bigger question: How will the mobile version compare to the original?

BioShock is adored for its masterful atmosphere, unique premise, dark but relevant social commentary, and gripping narrative, one which delivers one of gaming’s best-known and most impactful twists. Hideously inhuman splicers lurch through Rapture’s once regal halls like so many flies on the rotting corpse that the city has become. Countless Little Sisters haunt the flooded wreckage, busily scavenging for even a drop of ADAM as their armor-clad guardians lumber yearningly behind them. And as you, a survivor with nothing more than ragtag weapons and a murky past to your name, struggle to beat this undersea game, you do so with a fallen tyrant changing the rules every other move.

Would you kindly explain how that can fit in your pocket?  

There is an unbridgeable gap between the hardware of mobile and living room consoles; even through streaming and cloud technology (which will likely come into play here), modern smartphones will never hold a candle to BioShock’s original platforms and therefore carry a heavy technical burden as they attempt to deal justice to the title. Controls will be difficult to arrange, visuals will suffer, loading times may very well be horrendous—the hurdles are numerous.

BioShock

Would you?

However, it isn’t impossible to deliver a competent shooter experience on a small system; Killzone Mercenary is proof of that, albeit through a substantially more powerful piece of hardware. Furthermore, 2K doesn’t need to replicate BioShock perfectly to succeed with the mobile version. They just need to get close enough, to deliver a proper taste, however small, of what the full game is.

Admittedly, I say succeed rather idealistically. This is a business, 2K is a publisher, and they are concerned with the bottom line. But BioShock iOS doesn’t have to trounce Candy Crush, Angry Birds and the like to have pulled its weight. At its worst, the iPhone and iPad versions will be a marketing venture for the original, and for 2K.

This traces back to the few qualities that makes mobile such a powerful platform. Because virtually everyone in modern society owns and regularly uses a smartphone, mobile games have a massive install base, well beyond what Sony and Microsoft could ever dream of. Mobile allows smaller developers to tap into a large audience with comparatively little effort, large developers to earn due return on steeper investments (see: Zynga), and puts games into the hands of people otherwise uninvolved with gaming, people who may love interactive entertainment but never dropped three digits on a console.

Here’s where an iOS version of BioShock becomes powerful: it’s a hell of a way to discover gaming. Much like console-to-console ports, this is a case where an already stellar experience is branching out to a new audience. Unlike multiplatform bickering, however, 2K is bringing their game to an entirely untapped audience, not just the other side of the console fence.

BioShock

They don’t need to prove that BioShock is an exceptional, enthralling game; they’ve already done that—twice over if you count Infinite. What they’re doing now is showing it to more people. Moreover, the mobile version can bank on the pedigree of its name to invite players both familiar and uninitiated with the ways of Rapture. Word of mouth will promote or condemn this mobile incarnation, but all reviews will end with “you have to play the original.”

If BioShock iOS plays even remotely like our first trip to Rapture, it will be popular. If it at least manages to introduce the game’s masterful writing and atmosphere to iPhone users around the world, it will still do work in the long-run: getting more people to experience BioShock, if only by running to the full version to see what all the fuss is about. That’s money in 2K’s pocket, new gamers—and therefore, new ideas—in the industry, and a massive step forward for the mobile scene. After all, if BioShock can be made or at least attempted on a smartphone, what can’t? 

(images via Eurogamer)

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Austin Wood
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