Is BioShock on PS3 the first example of a developer showing off the downloadable content before we get to see the game? The PS3 version's Challenge Rooms - announced and demonstrated to the press at E3 in July - were our first chance to see 2K's blockbusting underwater mind-bender in action on Sony hardware. The Ferris Wheel level, where players have to rescue a Little Sister by picking through the crumbling environment for electricity to transfer to a control panel, is a neat example of what 2K hopes to do to extend the game's appeal once the credits have rolled, but, shorn of the arguably vital context of the single-player game, it's a peculiar introduction. The assumption was that everyone has played BioShock.
Which is an odd position to adopt for a publisher, 2K Games, prepared to deploy four - that's four - separate development teams to bring this long overdue port to its new home. Perhaps, in hindsight, it's also enough to infer the Challenge Rooms will end up on other formats in the future. After all, if you're a publisher fighting off a takeover bid, you probably want to maximise the potential of the things you do.
But never mind that. For those of you who have been waiting patiently to experience the game for the first time - and congratulations if you've avoided spoilers, because BioShock discussions have flooded the internet almost as violently as the water at the gates threatens to invade Rapture, BioShock's underwater city - this is probably the more relevant preview: our first chance to play the celebrated single-player adventure on our own PS3 and explain what you stand to face.
The first thing you face, of course, is the now almost obligatory wait for the game to install, a process that deposits 4980MB of data on your PS3's hard disk and takes just over ten minutes to complete, with little more than a few witty Rapture-related adverts and some twinkling piano music to pass the time. This is quickly forgotten, though, as you choose your difficulty setting and experience BioShock's stunning introduction for the first time, assuming control of the unnamed player character up to his neck in the ocean amidst the wreckage of a burning plane - a scene so visually impactful that one of our friends, playing through it on PC for the first time, thought the game had crashed during a cut-scene because it hadn't occurred to him something so pretty would be playable.
After a brief swim to a peculiar tower beyond the burning jet fuel and sinking tail section, the first of many scene-setting interactive story sequences takes hold, woven into your general movement and exploration in much the same way Half-Life pioneered and with as much sense of pace and clever use of visual cues. You descend into Rapture, experiencing the triumphant introduction designed by the city's champion and ideological architect, Andrew Ryan. As Ryan's monologue reaches its climax, the music swells and the veil of a sea-floor mountain range is cast aside to render the city's epic scope, but by the time you reach your destination, it's clear that things have not gone to Ryan's plan.
The early sequences of BioShock play out rather like a survival-horror game - a mood that ultimately shifts sideways into suspense and action, retaining its capacity to startle - as your apparent guardian Atlas gets to know you over a short-wave radio and guides you through your first encounters with the stars of the show: the murderous, broken-headed splicers; the gene-harvesting Little Sisters and their protectors, the metal diving suit-clad Big Daddies; your mixed arsenal of genetic modifications and old-school projectile weaponry; and the biggest star of all, Rapture itself.
DualShock3 and Sixaxis lend themselves perfectly to the controls - with an initial sensitivity to the dual-stick FPS controls that we haven't felt the need to tweak, although you can, and vibration for the DS3 - and allow you to switch between plasmid gene attacks like electro-shock and the standard wrench, pistol, shotgun, crossbow and so on. As your range of plasmid attacks grows, the fun is in deciding how to approach a given situation or, if caught short, how to improvise your way past enemies without sustaining too much damage, and being thrown back to the nearest Vita-Chamber - Rapture's respawn points. There are many different ammo-types, and traps to master, and the different sections of Rapture diversify in tone, foe, layout and pace to force you down tactical avenues you haven't considered.