If you been following this series of articles on the state of PC gaming, I want to congratulate you as we are now on the home stretch. If you haven’t read parts 1, 2, 3, you can do so in the links provided. Today, we’ll actually touch a little bit on our first topic, piracy, and one of it’s largest consequences: The Consolization Conundrum
In the first part, I talked about piracy. One of the ways that PC developers are dealing piracy is by releasing games on platforms that are less susceptible to piracy. Consoles are by no means pirate-proof, but given the general audience that plays on consoles and the platforms’ innate closed nature, it occurs much less often.
One of the major critiques of PC games recently concerns the number of games being ported to consoles. More correctly, the problem is that games are being made for console and ported to the PC. Often times, when a game is produced for multiple platforms, the development team will use the weakest platform to build the base game and then port that games to the other platforms. Last generation, it was easy to see if the PS2 was the lead platform for a game, as it usually looked worse than other games on the Xbox or even the Gamecube.
This trend of developing for the weakest platform has continued. Though because of the parity between the Xbox 360 and PS3, the issue is not which console the game is first developed on, it is whether it is made with the PC in mind. Over the last few years, we’ve seen increasing numbers of formerly PC-exclusive franchises make the leap to consoles. Because of this, because of the differences in consoles and PCs, there have been many concessions that have been made in these games.
The main example that I want to look at is Crytek. They were a PC powerhouse, developing Far Cry and Crysis, which were without a doubt some of the, if not THE, best looking games made. Last year though, Crytek made the jump to console and released Crysis 2 on both consoles and PC and they did this specifically because of piracy.
Now, there are three main areas that I want to talk about with Crysis 2. First, the graphics. Gone are the realistic leaf movements, amazing lighting and the ability to shoot a tree in half. That's not to say it looks bad. On the contrary, it’s one of the best looking yet made. It just didn't make the leap from Crysis 1 that Crysis 1 made from Far Cry despite there being an even longer gap between the games.
Next. Let’s look at how Crysis 2 has been simplified by looking at the game’s control scheme, which opts out of the more complex suit system for a two-button scheme. In the first game, each power was either activated via hotkey or a radial menu. There were four options in all. Now there are only two and they are handled by the shoulder buttons on a controller. Sure, you can still use the radial system in the PC version, but it’s been overhauled in such a way that there’s no point in doing so.
The third thing I want to talk about is how the layout of the game has changed significantly from both Far Cry and the first Crysis. The levels are by no means linear like a Call of Duty game is, but they don’t feel wide open like they did in previous games. Most of this is because the buildings of Manhattan block you line of sight but that doesn’t stop the game from feeling like more smaller encounters rather than larger continuous encounters.
While the quality of graphics and level design are legitimate drawbacks of consolization, some of this simplification actually makes the game better. Specifically the controls. In the first Crysis, there were two types of sprinting, normal and super. Also, in order to deal a powerful melee, you had to engage the game’s strength mode. In Crysis 2, though, normal sprinting is super sprinting and punching anyone automatically engages strength. Thus, all that is left are armor and stealth modes which work quite well on the shoulder buttons of a controller.
So, this multiplatform approach can wield some nice benefits. The old adage about working better under constraints is actually true in some cases. But why did Crytek have to limit themselves in such a way? Well, looking at the sales of both Crysis games, we see that it took the original Crysis three years to reach 3 million in sales. While this this is certainly not bad, the 360 version of Crysis 2 sold far better in its first months than the first Crysis did. Furthermore, the 360 version of also sold better than the PC version, selling roughly four times as many as copies the PC version.
In Crysis 2’s first 6 month, it reached the first Crysis’ sales of three years. This boom in sales then resulted in Crysis 1 being ported to the Xbox 360 and PS3. All of this likely means that we’re getting a Crysis 3 at some point in the future. So we have to weigh whether sacrifices like the ones made in Crysis 2 are worth the continuation of the franchise.
Only you, the consumer, can decide whether that trade-off is worth it, and you decide it with your wallet. But not buying the game and pirating it is not the solution. Buying it on your platform of choice is.
Now, don’tthink that I am saying everyone should buy every game on PC or PCs will die. They won’t. Let’s step back and look at one very important thing: how consoles themselves have changed. While we it is indeed possible to say that PCs are becoming more like consoles, I think the reality is that consoles are becoming more like PCs. Looking at older consoles, we had controllers with one button, then two, three and now our controllers have fourteen buttons that are normally used, with another six that could be used if needed. This is obviously far less than the 101 keys on a standard keyboard, but then I’ve never seen a game use all 101 keys.
The point is that keyboards have not become simpler, controllers have become more complex. As a result, they resemble PCs much more than their ancestors did. The number of buttons on a controller is hardly evidence that console have become like PCs, so let’s look at other areas that consoles have become more like PCs. You might want to cringe at the changes made to Crysis 2, but imagine if they had tried to port System Shock to the SNES. Remember what Doom 64 was like? Even the last generation was quite incapable of having any equivalence to the PC.
As an example, let’s look at the game that made Crytek famous, Far Cry. Far Cry was originally released in 2004 for the PC. In 2005, Ubisoft, Crytek’s then publisher, ported the game to the original Xbox and in the process numerous concessions had to be made not only in the visual department but also in the A.I., the physics, and even level design. Thus, Ubisoft essentially ditched trying to recreate Far Cry on the console and decided to make a game similar to Far Cry called Far Cry Instincts. Because of how it was scaled back, the game became so different that the developers changed the entire structure of the game, including the story. And while Far Cry Instincts looked good for a console game, it’s not even in the same ballpark as the original.
Crysis, on the other hand, released for Xbox 360 and PS3 back in October, and while the console versions are without a doubt inferior to the PC, it's at least the same game. Again, the game looks pretty good compared to other console games but not when compared to Crysis on the PC.
But they were able to do it.
It’s a long and slow process to be sure, but consoles are becoming more like PCs even to the extent that you can surf the web (albeit haphazardly), watch movies, download and even install games on your console. Consoles will never be like PCs because of consoles static, generational nature, but they’re becoming more similar to PCs with each passing generation. Just look at the Xbox 360 and PS3, both of which basically received an “upgrade” in the form of motion technology last fall. Historically, add-ons for consoles have been colossal failures. Just go read about Sega’s 32X and CD drives.
But, more interesting than what consoles have been doing, is what some developers have been doing with PC ports of games. The multiplatform approach can be a bad thing. There have been some pretty horrible offenders. Sometimes this is caused by a ridiculous security feature, as with Assassin’s Creed. I’ll talk about that more at another time though. Other times, the PC version is simply neglected. The PC version of Resident Evil 4, didn’t even include keyboard and mouse support. Saints Row 2 was plagued by bugs not found in the console versions. GTA IV doesn’t run natively in Windows 7
But things don’t have to be this way.
Some developers have been aiming to rectify this problem. This past fall, L.A. Noire was released on the PC…with all the DLC (and 3D support if you’re into that). Also, the PC version of Batman: Arkham City featured some really nice additional particle effects. And there’s no denying that Skyrim and Battlefield 3 are far superior on the PC as opposed to the consoles. Battlefield 3 on PC has 64-player multiplayer rather than console’s (impressive compared to other console games) 24-player cap. And Skyrim? It has mods.
Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning is also taking aim to make the PC version better with the ability to swapping seamlessly between playing with a controller and a mouse and keyboard. Literally, you don’t even have to press a button, just play and the game’s entire interface will adapt.
Hopefully this trend will continue. And considering that there still being no new consoles on the horizon, I this 2012 has the perfect opportunity to show off some great games on PC!
Well, that does it for the main part of Is PC Gaming Dead? I hope you’ve enjoyed going on this journey with me. As always, leave your comments below.
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.