It feels a bit strange to be reviewing BioShock almost exactly a year since everyone was last talking about it. Even before it launched on the 360 and PC, it was one of the most widely and thoroughly dissected games of 2007. Riding the hype and backlash seesaw like few games before or since, it attracted reams of praise, (fevered) debate, and impassioned defence along the way.
In other words, so much has been said and written about BioShock that I fear there's little I can say about the long awaited PS3 version that won't taste like refried beans. But then, having been reunited with Rapture, BioShock is a game still magnificently capable of inspiring torrents of thoughts and ideas.
There's the story, one of the most highly lauded in recent gaming history, but then most of the things I'd want to discuss are precisely the sort of things that patient PS3 gamers probably won't want spoiled. I know I'd have been really annoyed if I'd learned that your character is actually a sexy female cyborg with Hitler's brain right before I started playing last year. Oops.
Every now and then, someone pops out of the woodwork to complain that the games industry isn't innovative any more. This is clearly nonsense. Certainly, publishers might have an ongoing love affair with barely distinguishable sequels and a herd mentality that makes sheep look strong-willed, but consider this - year after year, the industry invents new and previously unheard-of ways to make you part with your cash. If that's not innovation, what is?
Download Content (DLC) is a new arrival in the exciting field of wallet-stripping, and the Xbox 360 is on the vanguard. Many Xbox 360 games have content available for download sometime after launch, allowing you to hand over a few measly Microsoft points for access to new maps, models, missions and the likes. It's a great idea in theory, obviously - who doesn't want to extend the life of their favourite game a bit? In practice, though, there's some suspicion about it. Nobody wants to find themselves paying extra money for content that should have been in the game in the first place.
Hence these DLC roundup features, where we'll be looking at the bits and bobs that have made their way onto Xbox Live - and, soon, PSN - in the past few months, and checking out what's worth whipping your card out for, and what deserves to sit, dusty and unloved, in the digital dustbins out the back of the Marketplace.
Promise is possibly the most powerful weapon in videogames. The promise and possibilities that a title like BioShock dangles tantalisingly in front of us keeps us all hanging on in there, keeps us believing, keeps us pre-ordering. Even when the shelves are awash with me-too pap, cheap knock-off licensed fodder and hyped sequels, a title like this stands out like a beacon of hope amid a sea of mediocrity. No pressure.
But we all know from long experience that promise can be a bitter curse - one destined to magnify any minor disappointments when we finally get the game out of the cellophane and fire it up. A game is never as good as its hype, or so history seems to rub in our face over and over again. Some of us even try our best to avoid getting caught up in the hype bubble, so that, for once, we can actually be pleasantly surprised about how good something is without having it rammed down our throats by hysterical marketing and frothing commentators. Believe me, even as a reviewer - especially as a reviewer - you're always on your guard when it comes to the Next Big Thing. Disappointment comes practically gift wrapped for your displeasure.
So to have any shred of doubt surrounding BioShock comprehensively swept away within the first ten minutes, well, you feel like dancing. You want to tell people about this game who you know won't even care, just because it makes you so giddy inside. Before we get into the nitty gritty, here's the deal: Bioshock doesn't just meet your expectations, but completely redefines them forever in ways you never even expected - in ways that games used to in the past, routinely. The hours spent playing this masterpiece were the perfect encapsulation of why videogaming is such a favourite waste of time for so many of us. Thrilling, terrifying, moving, confusing, amusing, compelling, and very very dark. BioShock isn't simply the sign of gaming realising its true cinematic potential, but one where a game straddles so many entertainment art forms so expertly that it's the best demonstration yet how flexible this medium can be. It's no longer just another shooter wrapped up in a pretty game engine, but a story that exists and unfolds inside the most convincing and elaborate and artistic game world ever conceived. It just so happens to require you to move the narrative along with your own carefully and personally defined actions. Active entertainment versus passive: I know which I prefer.