In gameplay terms, you're getting the exact same game - with the promise of downloadable Challenge Rooms in the immediate future (look out for a hands-on with those in the coming weeks). Much has been batted back and forth over BioShock's gameplay. Some see it as a pale console-flavoured rehash of the cult PC fave, System Shock 2. Others see it as a merely average shooter, dressed up in intellectual clothing. Me, I loved it in 2007 - and have had that love reaffirmed by returning to Rapture after a twelve-month detox period.
Most of the criticisms levelled at the game have some merit, but only when taken in isolation. Taken as a whole, it's a phenomenal creation - a game that is rich in gameplay possibilities, giving you a broad and flexible toolbox of conventional weapons and genetically enhanced Plasmids, with the additional tactical layer of tonics and camera research opening up multiple ways to approach any enemy encounter. The realistic environments only add to this, with the old videogame clich of electrified water cleverly transformed from standalone hazard to just one of many offensive options.
The Vita-Chambers, essentially the game's respawn points, remain and were originally the cause of much grumbling. Allowing you to jump back into the action with no real consequence, beyond whatever ammo and resources you wasted in your previous fruitless efforts, they do remove a lot of the expected consequences from death, and as such can make the game feel skewed towards the easy. Of course, the most pressing reason to avoid death in a game is that you don't want to die and so anyone playing with the sort of immersion that BioShock demands and offers is unlikely to find it any more distracting than the commonly accepted PC habit of quicksave and quickload.
For those who still don't approve of respawns, the new Survivor difficulty level makes the Vita-Chambers less of a crutch, reducing your Eve, the genetic resource needed for Plasmid attacks, for each use as well as offering less ammo and tougher enemies, making it much harder to bludgeon your way through the game using the obvious attack options. Forcing you to explore the more passive abilities - such as hacking and making enemies fight each other - it's a mode that makes you see the true scope of the combat, and the game shines brighter as a result.
For those who really, absolutely cannot stand the very concept of the Vita-Chamber, you can disable them completely in the options menu. For those who take such drastic steps, the game's Trophies have numerous awards, clearly inspired by the 360 Achievements but no less fun to earn for their familiar nature.
Is BioShock the greatest game of all time? I honestly don't know, but it's one of the most interesting and immersive experiences to grace our beloved medium. It certainly has flaws, most notably the anti-climactic boss fight which takes place too long after the story has delivered its sucker punch. Yet it's because that sucker punch is so effective that the niggling plot holes have received so much attention. Why, exactly, do the Little Sisters exist? Why would anyone pay money for a product that fills your arm with killer bees? And the very nature of the twist, and your presence in Rapture, really doesn't stand up to too much scrutiny since it hinges on too many variables that couldn't possibly be known by the...
But there I go again. It's actually a testament to BioShock's confident and subtle storytelling that such aspects are even worthy of a mention. In an industry where frankly terrible stories are too often praised simply for having a vaguely coherent beginning, middle and end, it would be wrong to dwell too much on the minor inconsistencies of a story with so much pathos and subtext, told in such an inventive manner. That this story comes wrapped in a gripping and satisfying action game which offers an astonishing array of ways to play is more than enough to justify BioShock's status as a standard bearer for next generation gaming.
10 / 10