BioShock PC Review
2GB DDR2 RAM
nVIdia 7800GTX Go
128MB nVidia 6600 or
ATI X1300 Video
It's here and in stores! BioShock, the first big game of the second half of 2007, is here on Xbox 360 and PC. I've already reviewed the Xbox 360 version of the game, and from a non-technical standpoint all the great music, action, and RPG choices to make are here here. Unfortunately, so are all the problems that you see in many major PC game releases including crashes, copy protection issues for legitimate buyers, and performance iffiness for computers closer to the minimum spec.
If you do manage to get the game running - and maybe even get those new nVidia drivers or the ATI hotfix installed for a little better performance - you'll find that BioShock, which runs on Unreal Engine 3 - the same technology that powered Gears of War on the 360 - looks and plays great. People who barely meet minimum requirements have found that the game runs well with a bunch of detail turned off (although the best special effects in the game are lost in doing so) and the unique features in the PC version make for a subtly different experience compared to the Xbox 360 port.
So what are those unique features? The controls are the biggest, and the mouse/keyboard controls feel excellent. I was able to pull off way more headshots and fire more accurately overall against the Splicers, which is definitely a plus when you're playing on Hard difficulty and everything takes more ammo to kill. Quicksaving and loading is in, with load times that are fairly long but not insulting, and the engine will even load low-quality versions of textures and start gameplay rather than make you wait. Then it will just quietly load higher-quality versions without hurting the frame rate and swap them out as you go.
I also liked the Shift-key ability in the PC version, which pauses the game and lets you choose not only any weapon or Plasmid attack, but also lets you click directly on a type of ammo for a weapon. Sure, once you do that your character still has to actually stuff that ammo into the weapon once the game unpauses, but it's a nice change over the 360 version where you choose a weapon and then unpause the game to figure out which ammo is which. Eventually you get used to the 360 way of doing things, but this system on the PC works better for me. The hacking mini-game also is point-and-click and is definitely easier to play on the PC if you're even remotely good with a mouse.
Beyond that, all of the special effects in the 360 version of BioShock are here on the PC version. To get the DirectX 10 eye candy you'll of course have to have a DX10-capable video card and Windows Vista, but I have found that most of the game's best effects work just fine when the game's in DirectX 9 mode. Don't feel like you need to spend a bunch of cash getting all DX10-ified just to get a satisfying visual experience here.
And from a PC gamer's perspective, I think you'll find that BioShock brings something fresh to the table. It's got some horror, some RPG elements through choosing which magic-like Plasmid attacks you carry (along with conventional weaponry), which Tonics you want to use to boost stats or give unique abilities, and how you want to take on enemies when juggling multiple types of ammo for each gun. The game actually provokes thought about political, economic, and social systems - no, I'm not kidding - and includes lots of excellent backstory for the underwater world of Rapture. It unfolds into an interesting plot where your choices result in a few different endings. On your way you'll uncover the mysteries of why Andrew Ryan created this isolated city at the bottom of the Atlantic and just what happened to turn its inhabitants into twisted, mutated killers that roam its halls searching for the genetic "drug" ADAM and Plasmids which bestow many kinds of superhuman abilities.
Some will say that BioShock is DOOM 3 done right; some will say that it's a spiritual successor to the developers' last game, the incredible System Shock 2, that sadly sold very few copies. And looking at the hype and what I'm sure will be a successful Xbox 360 release, it looks like Irrational Games (now known as 2K Boston/2K Australia after the publisher bought them out) is finally getting the credit and the sales they deserve. No matter how you look at it, this game brings an excellent mix of satisfying action, choices for the player, great old-time music mixed in with masterful ambient noise, and a wonderful plot delivered by top-notch voice acting.
I had some issues with BioShock crashing and forgetting my settings and controls, but those pale to some seen by others. Many users have been complaining about not being able to get into the game at all, and if they do, having crashes or other skipping and pausing that was clearly not intended by the developers. It's assumed that there are a majority of gamers who aren't having problems and are busy playing rather than posting about it on the internet, but there still seems to be a high number of people having trouble just getting into the game. There's also the CD-key copy protection by SecuROM - yes, for a single player game - that checks the disc like most titles do, but also activates over the internet first. 2K and SecuROM have relaxed this policy and pledge support for a way to "release" the license for the game on a computer, much the way iTunes does with its protected music. It remains to be seen if they'll deliver something that doesn't seem so overbearing and annoying.
One other issue is that the minimum requirements are for a video card with Pixel Shader 3.0 technology, which cuts out all ATI cards before the X1x00 series and all nVidia cards before the 6x00 series. Instead of refusing to run, BioShock will actually still try and run but will look totally broken, causing what could be a support nightmare for those who didn't read the bottom of the box or don't understand system requirements.
While one could buy the game online via either Steam or Direct2Drive, this doesn't get around the technical problems many are having with the retail version. If you find you've always had problems getting PC games to run and you've got a 360 in your house, you might be better off getting the 360 version instead since there's no easy way to get a refund if it doesn't work. Otherwise, get updated drivers, play the demo to make sure your system definitely meets the minimum requirements and hold on for the ride - BioShock is definitely worth your gaming dollar if your machine can power it.
Excellent game all-around
True FPS action with RPG & adventure elements
A new franchise with a unique "world" to explore
A real plot with great voice acting
Still looks beautiful with DirectX 9/Windows XP
A few perks over the 360 version
Many technical issues for some users
Obnoxious SecuROM copy protection
Steep minimum requirements