Something about the the BioShock "Challenge Room" downloadable content seems wrong to me. It's not the fact that it's DLC. I appreciate 2K trying to get more mileage out of the blockbuster to distract us from the fact that they haven't given us BioShock 2 yet. And it's not exactly the fact that the Challenge Room DLC is a PlayStation 3 exclusive –- although that doesn't seem quite fair to Xbox 360 fans that need Achievements as much as PS3 fans need Trophies. What's really bothering me is the lack of fiction. I'm not asking for a new ending or a tacked-on chapter that somehow changes the fantastic story of BioShock – why fix something that isn't broken, right? It's just that what made BioShock special was the story. Oh, sure, the graphics were spiffy, the art style was cool and the game really does play well (not too glitchy or difficult to manage). But to me, BioShock without its story is like a Twinkie without its filling – still somewhat tasty, but hollow and far less satisfying.The Challenge Room DLC adds a new mode to the start menu, so your entire experience is totally separate from the story. Fair enough, I say; it'd be kind of weird to suddenly have a new section within story mode – or some wonky deal where you have to replay the whole game to unlock a new area. There's no crossover between the Challenge Rooms and the game at all, so nothing you've accomplished in story mode (plasmids gained, research done, etc.) carries over – and any cool stuff you get from the Challenge Rooms stays in the Challenge Room area. Once in the Challenge Room hub, you encounter a Little Sister ensconced in what I think of a glass prize case. She just hangs out in there and you don't have to bother with her at all – the real attraction is each of the doors within the hub, marked with icons for the challenges you'll face behind them. The first two rooms are pretty basic – there's a splicer or a Big Daddy in there that you've got to kill and loot. Looting is a big part of the Challenge Rooms, as you're trying to amass as much firepower/plasmids as you can to face each challenge. You're also still expected to do stuff like research (and blessedly, this goes way faster in the Challenge Rooms than it did in the story mode). When you enter a room from the hub, you actually enter above the room and can look down on it through the glass ceiling. This gives you a chance to plan your strategy and figure out if maybe you want to complete another room before attempting this one. When you're ready (and you might never be, so just suck it up), you commit to the room by dropping down a pipe and don't get to leave the room until you've cleared it or died trying. Once you've cleared a room by killing whatever was in there, the Little Sister from the prize jar will appear at one of the dispensers and hand you an Adam-filled teddy bear. Then you go back to the hub to try another room. (You can warp back to any room you've cleared from the hub, so don't panic if you forget to loot something.) After clearing the first two rooms, all of the other doors in the hub unlock and you can take your pick of the Challenges. They range from straightforward kill-splicer/Big Daddy and wild shoot-‘em-ups to complex puzzles and multi-level mazes. Every room is as true to the soul of the story mode in tone, design, and feel; without any of it actually feeling like they took a scrapped level, dropped a bunch of enemies in and called it "new".
My favorite room in particular was the Rapture Carnival. SPOILER WARNING. The Ferris wheel was an idea that got scrapped from story mode back when 2K was developing the 360 version. It shows up here as the basis for a level-long puzzle involving electricity, a Little Sister and a midway where you can play real carnival games to earn Eve or the odd health pack. The Little Sister is trapped in a carriage at the top of the wheel. The electric switch is on the fritz and you've got to get her down – without being able to use the electricity plasmid. Throughout the level you can find the odd electric-charged tool that'll help get the wheel working again – charge rounds for a shotgun, one of those crossbows that sets up the electric wire traps (I loved using those on Big Daddies). The level forces you to think almost as much as the terminal hacking does; and I'm not ashamed to say I wasn't up to the challenge. (I'm more of a trigger-happy bee plasmid-lover than a strategist). But I did get the Ferris wheel to move a little bit. END SPOILER WARNING I respect what 2K has done with these Challenge Rooms – they're not just wanton firefights or lousy game extension. But… they're also not BioShock. At least, not the BioShock I fell in love with. Without the story, I have no motivation to save the Little Sister in the Rapture Carnival anymore than I do to willingly plunge into rooms filled with Big Daddies (you'd be surprised how far you can get in the story by avoiding the hell out of them). So I'll pass on this particular chunk of DLC and wait patiently for BioShock 2 to come out – the rest of you, particularly the ones starved for Trophies – go right ahead and have fun. Finally, a swag report. • 1 BioShock art book • 1 Big Daddy figurine I already own • 1 T-shirt that's way too big for me • 1 Dr. Steinman's Cosmetic Enhancement Poster (not pictured because it won't fit on my table)
Above: My cat takes issue. The BioShock Challenge Room DLC pack will be up for grabs on November 20 for $9.99. Here, have some screens.