Those that are not too picky about performance will get away with a GeForce 8600 GTS using low quality settings at resolutions at or below 1280x1024. The Radeon X1950 Pro was even better at this resolution and could almost deliver what I would call acceptable performance at 1600x1200, but again if you are not too picky, unlike myself, the X1950 Pro could please you at this resolution. Unfortunately, Bioshock just does not seem like the same game when using low quality visual settings.
The medium quality settings are really required for a reasonable taste of what the game has to offer and here we feel that even those with the lowest of expectations will find the GeForce 8600 GTS and Radeon HD 2600XT unplayable. Even the Radeon X1950 Pro struggled and we would much prefer the Radeon X1950XT when using medium quality settings at 1280x1024. Then for the full effect we turned on the high quality visual settings, which killed off anything slower than the Radeon X1950XT at 1280x1024. For those wanting to play this game in all its glory at 1600x1200, the GeForce 8800 GTS is required and then for 1920x1200 the GeForce 8800 GTX and Radeon HD 2900XT work best.
As you will have seen from our image quality comparison, there is a significant difference between the three quality settings. The jaw-dropping visual effects are only half as impressive when using the medium quality settings and then almost gone when using the lower settings. The game not only looked a great deal worse with the lower quality settings, but also became much darker and I believe this made the game harder to play and of course far less enjoyable.
While I do love what the developers have done with Bioshock, being a paying customer I also have a few concerns. Having pre-ordered the game I was pretty excited to start playing, though because of a server crash it was not possible to activate the game right away. In fact, activating Bioshock has become a bit of a nightmare for some users. Then 2K Games announced that the game could only be activated using the same serial key three times, which has now been extended to five.
Although I do see the need for added security for single player games such as Bioshock, this kind of security only makes life difficult for those that have purchased the game. It is very much the same story with Windows Vista, as I have to spend 15 minutes on the phone every time I make an alteration to the hardware I'm using (such as the motherboard). The sad reality of all this is that after making life difficult to a number of paying customers, the game was fully cracked and widely distributed on almost all illegal torrent websites just a week after the game was released.
All this complaining goes along (or actually against) the whole "Games for Windows" initiative. We applaud Microsoft's efforts in trying to make Windows a friendlier environment for both hardcore and casual gamers, yet this is the perfect example of a very hyped and popular game that could have done a bit better on this respect.
Above all else I was very happy to find that Bioshock is an extremely stable computer game that has proven to have no compatibility issues with any of the ATI and Nvidia graphics cards used in this article. Perhaps the only other request I have would be for 2K Games to include a built-in benchmarking feature to help gamers accurately measure the performance impact various quality settings have.