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BioShock Remastered for PC doesn’t deliver the improved experience it promised

The original BioShock is considered a classic of modern PC gaming. Hailed as the spiritual successor to 1999’s System Shock 2, BioShock tells the story of Rapture, an underwater city and libertarian paradise gone badly wrong. Ruled by the increasingly unhinged and tyrannical Andrew Ryan, the city you descend to explore is a madhouse utopia gone wrong. Andrew Ryan’s Objectivist paradise, always on unsteady footing, was destroyed by the discovery of ADAM, a substance that could be used to grant incredible powers to those who use it, but which also fatally undermined their sanity and biology in the long-term. In BioShock, you play as Jack, a man who descends into Rapture after a plane crash and learns the truth about the social experiment — and himself.

BioShock spawned a sequel, various DLC packages, and another spiritual successor in the form of BioShock Infinite. News that the first two games were getting a full overhaul sent us eagerly back to Rapture, ready to be drawn in all over again.

Unfortunately, the “Remastered” edition of BioShock that hit Steam for free last week isn’t worth the time it takes to install, at least not in our experience. Things don’t start off well for the remastered version of the classic title — take a look at the graphics options below:

BioShock-New-Options

For comparison, here’s the same page of options from the 2007 version of BioShock:

BioShock-Options

I don’t want to make it sound as if the original BioShock didn’t launch without some problems. The game’s FOV was troublesome on widescreen monitors and it didn’t support GPUs that only offered Shader Model 2 as opposed to Shader Model 3. At the time, SM 2.0b cards accounted for about 24% of the market, as ATI had used SM2.0b support extensively on their previous generation of Radeon cards. Simplified GPU settings are something I can live with, if the developers had taken the time to put their code through basic troubleshooting. Unfortunately, these apparently haven’t.

My original plan was to play through both the original title and BioShock Remastered and offer a before-and-after comparison of some iconic areas and encounters. Here, for example, is the “No Gods and Kings. Only Man” banner in the original BioShock:

Ryan-Old

And here’s the version in BioShock Remastered. Note the increased level of detail on the statue, the torn and tattered nature of the banner. There’s some interesting lighting difference here — I can’t tell if the geometry of the statue is slightly different, or if the increased detail and lighting changes merely make it look it different, but the Ryan of the newer version looks older and less angry.

Ryan-New

Unfortunately, problems with the game’s lighting engine surface immediately. I was unable to capture the problem in screenshots, so I can’t show you directly, but once I arrived in Rapture certain visual effects cause bands of light and dark to rapidly strobe over an image. I eventually figured out the problem can be solved by keeping v-sync enabled, but it’s far from the only problem with the game. As Rock, Paper, Shotgun details, the game has bugs that prevent it from working properly with widescreen (21:9) displays, most of the new (old) visual options that you might expect are only accessible via INI editing, 5.1 surround sound isn’t enabled by default, there’s no option to use EAX present in-game (though apparently you can, provided your own sound supports it), and there have been reports of glitches and graphical corruption, though that may depend on your GPU and driver version.

The improved textures and graphics are a nice touch. But apparently there are no major in-engine changes here — and that makes sense, given that there are also cases that look virtually identical between the two games (such as the immediate aftermath of the plane crash). Hopefully these issues will get resolved with patches. Until then, the new texture detail is nice if you got the game for free on Steam, but I can’t say I’d buy the new collection at full sticker price. Not until more of these issues are resolved.

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