Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? “NO!” says the man in the App Store! “It belongs to us! Buy an extra 5000 BrowSweat Points™ for the low price of £19.99, or you’re not getting to the fight with Cohen for another day and a half!”
So some might imagine the new port of BioShock to the iPod and iPad, due to make a splash before September 22nd, might go. Gaming’s favourite damp Objectivist dystopia’s being refitted for the iOS experience, but not by much: bar touch-screen controls and a necessary dip in graphical quality, the whole game remains intact.
Console games have made the leap onto the App Store before, like Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but BioShock’s an interesting one. It’s one of the games that always get brought up whenever the “games as True Art” argument rears its head, moved to a platform where the most successful apps defy that notion entirely.
The games that seem to thrive on the App Store are your short, simple “play it on the train” affairs, like jumping up platforms or folding Kim Kardashian’s shirts. In fact, quite a few of its greatest hits are games you probably played on Miniclip, now reskinned, resurrected and making obscene amounts of money.
Compare Angry Birds (which has an upcoming movie, two theme parks and a clothing line) to Crush the Castle, a game where you fire projectiles with different abilities to knock a structure down. Or Candy Crush Saga, which makes $995,101 a day, to Bejeweled. Compare Plague Inc. to Pandemic, The Simpsons: Tapped Out to FarmVille, Flappy Bird to any number of “helicopter games” (fly through a tunnel and don’t touch the obstacles)! And then these apps are copied themselves, flooding the Store with a thousand more less-successful derivatives.
Of course, the fact these games retain their popularity whenever they’re remade shows that they’re excellent at what they were designed for: quick bursts of entertainment. For better or worse, a 15-hour shooter pondering the nature of free will manages to break that mould entirely.
BioShock also has a few more practical problems to contend with. First-person shooters have never made the transition to touch-screen controls particularly well, since controlling the camera and a gun on a tiny screen with your thumbs is exactly as fun as it sounds. Those who’ve played the demo say it’s best enjoyed with an MFi controller, a special controller that can be plugged into your phone, but that’s hardly something most app-users will own. There’s also the issue of trying to enjoy a game most love for its immersive atmosphere on a 3.75 inch screen.
On the bright side, it seems as though the BioShock app will be sold at a “premium price”, according to its developers. While that might seem like a disadvantage against the plethora of apps available for free, this should mean there won’t be any microtransactions. So you won’t be paying £5 for three uses of the Big Daddy suit, and your protagonist won’t get tired and refuse to move for six hours unless you stump up £1.99. Those can add up: ask the writer who spent $500 on that Kim Kardashian game.
BioShock’s iOS port, and the console games that have moved to app form before it, represent an interesting turning point for mobile gaming. As the hardware and software on a phone or iPad constantly increases, and the width of their audience increases with it, maybe we’ll see more “full” games ported over to the systems. We might even see new games, produced solely for them and built from the ground up with the iPhone’s capabilities in mind.
For now, though, I’ll stick with playing BioShock on Xbox 360 or on Steam. But in the end, unlike in Rapture, it’s your choice.