BioShock’s release on the PS3 has finally been dated for October 21st in the US, and 24th the rest of the world.
The PS3 version of the game is being touted as an enhanced package containing features exclusive to the platform, such as a new ‘Survivor’ difficulty mode, support for the new PSN Trophies, and a new game mode titled ‘Challenge Rooms’.
As IGN reports, the Survivor difficulty mode aims to introduce an even more challenging experience by means of making the world a tougher place to survive in; resources scattered around the levels are scarcer now, and the player will have to make do with less than ever. It’s bringing back what most System Shock fans were expecting from the outset - a gameplay experience that sees you hungering for resources at every step, needing to scavenge for and carefully ration every item you come across, making “every bullet count”.
The Challenge Rooms feature is a whole new game mode available to players from the main menu, and consists of a series of areas that each pose a discrete challenge for players to overcome. I’m picturing Portal-like puzzles that pit players against the clock to complete; it could be a feature that proves popular as the community strives to compete for best times, and could be supported for some time down the line.
I have mixed feelings about the new content. Of course, I am one of those PC players and so I’ll be missing out on all these exclusive new features. I think it’s great that 2K are thinking about their fans in the PS3 userbase and have come up with some ways to add something new to the game while being “respectful of the original experience”. I don’t have particular interest in the Challenge Rooms mode - which seems like a cool idea but just isn’t anything I have a problem missing out on. I’m just concerned that all the additional tweaks and fine-tuning done to the engine (and not to mention a whole new difficulty level) by four dev teams since patch 1.1 will be only available to the PS3 owners to enjoy. I hear there are no real visual differences between this and the other versions of the game, but that IGN preview mentioned tweaks to the AI, and 2K have claimed the physics have been improved to make use of the hardware. There is actually an issue in the 360 and PC versions regarding the physics, in that it animates at a locked smoothness of 30 frames per second - which is to say, not very smooth at all, especially if you are running the game at a framerate much higher than that. Everything runs smooth as butter until objects get thrown around, when you notice they stutter about the place like stop-motion clay pieces. It’s quite a nitpick I admit, but I can’t help but feel annoyance at any instance of a developer hard-coding limits into a game engine trying to keep the performance up, but not allowing for the inevitability of technological progress and the possibility of these limits becoming completely unnecessary on future hardware that is completely capable of handling any and all demands of the engine.
Having completed the game on Hard difficulty and finding it quite unworthy of the label, I long to try the Survivor setting; it sounds much closer to the original vision of BioShock that was first described to us: a game like System Shock 2 that required you to keep your eyes peeled and explore every nook and cranny, and to watch where you tread and whom you messed with lest you angered a foe you didn’t have the hardware to deal with. It implied a slower and more delibrately paced game that had you with one eye on the ammo counter and the other on the corridor ahead. BioShock ended up being quite different, and I love it for what it is, but it sure wasn’t what it could have been - and I have a feeling we could get just a little bit closer to that with the new features. Here’s hoping 2K let us have a taste of the pie too.