NOTE: BioShock is a big game. So big, we’ve decided to cover it in two separate reviews – one based on the gameplay experience and story, one based on technical performance and hardware breakdown. This is the hardware review. based mainly on the PC version. It’s spoiler-free though, so have no fear.
The gameplay review is based on the PC version only and is available here.
BioShock: Graphics and Performance
Joe and I have both had a chance to play the Xbox 360 and PC versions of BioShock extensively at various stages of the game's development. Last month, we both voiced concerns about how the PC and 360 versions played so differently in the early builds.
Unusually for two pretty ardent PC gamers, our preference in the past had been for the Xbox 360 version of the game. Our concerns and controversial favourite were based mainly on the preview of the game we did before release, in which the hacking controls were slightly different on PC and the movement speeds greatly increased. We found that, while the Xbox 360 version of the game felt highly polished and continuously exciting, the PC version was almost dizzyingly fast.
In fact, in the preview version we found that our gameplay was radically altered by the increased speed and that we were more often to be found running past enemies and smacking them with the wrench than sneaking along with a pistol and plasmid combo. The question is though, have our worries been cemented or is the PC version better and more challenging than it was before?
That's one of the questions we're hoping to answer in today's article, where we take a fairly exhaustive look at BioShock on the PC. What we're not going to cover here though is the actual gameplay itself. If you want to know why you should care about BioShock before reading this, please head on over to read Joe's extensive and spoiler-free gameplay review.
Instead, over the course of this article we'll be covering gameplay differences between PC and Xbox 360, along with a long hard look at the differences between DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 versions of the game. We'll do this both in terms of performance and image quality.
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PC Gameplay vs. Xbox 360 Gameplay:
First and foremost, the PC game is still notably faster than the Xbox 360 version of the game, but thankfully it's not as fast as it was when we previewed the game last month. This appears to be more to do with the more nimble input system, which makes aiming and navigation much quicker and more precise. Gone is the need to be scrolling through players goals and map system with the D-pad, it can now all be done in two or three mouse clicks.
In fact, the gameplay was so much quicker that areas of the game that had previously taken us twenty minutes on the Xbox 360 version were now zipping past in half the time. The extra-precise controls were also making it easier and quicker to look around and survey the rooms we were in, making it easier to find secrets and additional paths. For example, it was only when we played on the PC version that we spotted the Dentist’s office in the first level of the game; whilst playing on the Xbox 360, we hadn't even noticed that entire area existed.
However, there were areas where the PC version suffered because of its control scheme. Difficulty was the main culprit here, with the game being ridiculously easy to complete on PC, thanks to the better input system. Fast-moving Spider Splicers are difficult to draw a bead on in the Xbox 360 game and getting the all-important headshot is often nigh-impossible for all but the most hardcore gamers, yet on BioShock PC it’s possible to put a bullet in the head of any irregular Leadhead without batting an eye.
The PC version is a rather sedate experience for the most part on medium difficulty, though harder enemies and Big Daddies will still provide a challenge. On easy difficulty the game could probably be sleepwalked through, so most gamers may want to skip straight to the hard setting which makes the game a lot more interesting.
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For reference purposes, we found the X360 version of the game to be a good challenge on medium difficulty and found the pace was just right for our abilities – I'm not an avid fan of first-person shooters on consoles though (in other words, he's not very good – Ed). Of course, the benefit of playing with a more precise aiming system is that you’ll have less of an excuse to exploit the Vita-life system which some consider to be one of the game's few flaws. Personally, I quite like the Vita-life system because there's nothing worse than getting stuck on one part of a game and then having to put it down to never return again out of sheer frustration.
The extra control also makes the game more involving and, dare I say the unutterable pun, enrapturing. Areas of the game that had previously seemed like nothing but filler were suddenly a lot creepier thanks to the tendency to feel more immersed in the game. That's not to say the Xbox 360 version of the game isn't immersive, it just feels more intense when you combine the keyboard and mouse combo with sitting much closer to the screen.
On the 360 there was a definite sense of perpetual creepiness and tension, but only a few moments where a splicer would make me jump in fear – the game design is more about a sustained emotional impact. On the PC, that philosophy is retained, but the scream-worthy moments are made extra jumpy and the tendency to play faster makes them much more shocking.