Whenever a new game like BioShock comes out with such good-looking graphics, thereís always a fear that the game may not run well on older, slower hardware. Fortunately we can report that isnít the case here Ė the game runs well for the most part, even with older hardware.
The game is built on a modified version of Epicís Unreal Engine 3 game engine and as such, requires a shader model 3.0 graphics card or better in order to run. This means youíll need a GeForce 6 series card or better, ATIís Radeon X800/X700/X600 utilize shader model 2.0b and are incompatible with the game. The gameís code is also multi-threaded, so youíll want a dual-core processor or better for optimal performance.
The game also offers DirectX 10 enhancements as well, but weíll discuss this a little later in this article
As we noted in this news post, BioShock features an activation system that requires an Internet connection in order for the game to be run for the first time. After the game has been installed on your hard drive, simply type in your CD key and click the activate button to activate your copy of the game. The game will then attempt to connect to SecuROMís servers to authenticate your copy of the game. Itís important to note that this also applies to copies of the game distributed through online services such as Steam and Direct2Drive.
The problem is, this authentication system doesnít seem to work 100% of the time: we personally witnessed the same generic error message during the activation process. It may take a few dozen tries to get the activation system to work properly, so donít give up on the first few activation attempts.
In addition, one thing that neither the manual, nor the gameís readme will tell you is that currently youíre limited to only 2 activations per copy of the game. This means if you install it on your laptop and your desktop PC, you are out of activations. According to the publisher, if you want to install it on a third PC, you must first uninstall the game from one of your previous PCs before you can activate it for a third time.
In theory, once youíve uninstalled the game you should get credit back allowing you to activate it again on the third PC, but this system doesnít work 100% either. PC Gamerís Dan Stapleton discusses his woes when he tried to activate his copy of BioShock for the third time here on the frontpage of pcgamer.com. Needless to say itís a frustrating process that has a lot of legitimate owners of the game upset with 2K.
As it stands now, this system is worse than Starforce, Steam, or any other copy protection system weíve seen. The SecuROM servers arenít reliable at the moment, and the two activations limit imposed on BioShock literally leaves no room for error: what if your system has a fatal error and you arenít able to uninstall it properly, or what if someone doesnít know theyíre limited to just two activations and wipes their hard drive without uninstalling the game first? After all, do you know many people who manually uninstall all their apps before they wipe their drive and re-install? Or what about someone who sells their old PC and buys a new one, but forgets to manually uninstall BioShock? What if your laptop is stolen? There are just so many different scenarios that can leave end users with no BioShock activations left and therefore at the mercy of 2K Games and SecuROM. Itís really a ridiculous system, and what makes things even more frustrating is they donít mention any of this in the gameís documentation, nor do they provide a way to reach someone on the phone 24/7 to get potential activation problems resolved.
What makes things even worse for ourselves personally is weíre going to have to activate and deactivate this game literally hundreds of times over the next year if we decide to make it a staple of our benchmark testing!
This is an issue that 2K definitely needs to resolve for PC gamers ASAP in our opinion.
UPDATE, 8/23/07 10:52 PM: It looks like 2K is beginning to address this issue, upping the number of activations from 2 to 5, as well as an upcoming revoke tool. Hopefully these fixes will begin to address the issues end users are running into when it comes to BioShock activation.
How we tested
Since the game doesnít include a built-in utility for benchmarking, weíre testing BioShock performance with FRAPS, as we do with many other games we test with such as STALKER, Battlefield, and Oblivion. In this case, we manually run through the medical pavilion level of the game after itís been clear of all the baddies. Our test sequence starts towards the beginning of the level, this area is where the frames per second is at its lowest. This is likely because this area uses shadows extensively. From here we run into the medical pavilion foyer, up the left stairs to surgery, and then hook another left to go to the crematorium entrance. From there we got up another set of stairs to the eternal flame, and thatís where we conclude our manual walkthrough.
Over the course of this walkthrough frame rates can swing wildly as we go through a number of different areas, all which pose different challenges to the video card. Since BioShock takes place indoors there arenít any vast areas like youíd see in a game like Oblivion, this helps to keep frame rates up despite the gameís rich graphics: even with a midrange card like the GeForce 8600 GT/GTS you could probably crank the graphics settings to high without affecting frame rate too badly as long as you keep the screen resolution in check.