Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Byte: Reasons why I play more games on consoles than PC

I'll gloss over the fact that I've not posted here in months and instead get straight back into dispensing my inimitable brand of games punditry. (It's inimitable not due to reasons of style, but because no-one would be stupid enough to want to copy it...)

One of the many side effects of doing a PGCE is that all your free time tends to evaporate, being consumed by the three-headed monster of lesson planning, resource preparation and assorted administration. This means that over the last nine months or so, I've had precious little time for gaming, let alone blogging or games journalism. Over these nine months, there have been quite a few changes in my gaming habits.

Firstly, nightly gaming sessions are now non-existent. These days I'm lucky if I get to play for more than an hour at a time on a couple of nights a week. With my gaming time now so much more precious and limited, I can't afford to be so indiscriminate with my gaming habits.

Secondly, the time of day when I usually do get to play is in the early hours of the morning, when all work has ceased and I don't have access to my gaming PC (due to its location in the bedroom) - my lady would not approve of me clicking and tapping away as she tried to sleep.

Thirdly, when I do get to play something, I'm usually so tired that I can't managed anything too complicated. It's got to be simple to pick up and play, and also not so addictive that I can't put it down again when I want to get some sleep.

Additionally, when I do want to play something, I want it to work without having to spend hours fiddling around with it to get a frame rate or have the content work properly. Xbox Live just *works*. Games for Windows Live (which I only use for Dawn of War II) is a monstrosity that never signs in properly, even on Windows 7. And don't even get me started on publisher-specific "points" systems that replace real money when you want to download new content for your game onto your PC. I tried that with Dragon Age: Origins, and it's a clusterfuck. Not only does the game refuse to log in to the servers 99.9999% of the time (and yes, I've tried every solution in every single support thread in the BioWare forums, and it's still fucked), I've got "points" (i.e. money) that are sitting in EA's deep pockets that I can't even spend because I can't log into my account via the game client... You're on a PC with access to the internet, for fucks sake. What's wrong with just using Paypal? Or a credit card? I can understand using points systems for consoles, where you might have users that don't have credit cards and buy their points on cards from GAME, but for the PC it's just incomprehensible. Say you want to buy a Dragon Age add-on for the PC. First, you have to register with BioWare and then buy "BioWare points" (with yout credit card) that you can only redeem through the game client to buy content. So if the login system in the client is screwed, they've just taken your money and you can't do a damn thing with it. Surely it should not be beyond the wit of man to be able to pay for and download the content directly onto your PC via the wonders of Teh Interwebs?

So is it any wonder then, that I decided that I was going to buy Mass Effect 2 on Xbox 360, because then, a) I knew it would run properly, b) have a content download system that worked, and c) be on a machine that I could play on when my beloved was getting her beauty sleep.

The old argument (that I used to endorse) for gaming on the PC was that the games looked better, had more depth and sharper controls. Unfortunately, that's no longer the case. Higher resolutions be damned, I'd much rather play Mass Effect 2 on a 32" LCD TV than a 22" widescreen monitor. (I've even played Halo on a 8 foot wide projector, but that's another story) Games on the 360 look just as good as most titles I play on my PC (if not better on the larger screen), and in the few cases they don't, well... I can live with it.

On the second point, it's only really in the strategy genre that the PC truly has the consoles licked in terms of depth. I doubt you're ever going to see Sins of a Solar Empire on the 360, but given that I don't have time to play 4X games other than when I'm on holiday, that's no great loss either. In every other gaming genre, you can't argue for PCs being better on grounds of depth, given that the games that migrate from one platform to another are usually pretty identical. And usually for multiplatform titles, it's the PC that gets the raw end of the deal in being sloppily ported (how many PC games can you name where they're better off played with a 360 pad than a keyboard and mouse?) Bad ports to console are relatively rare, by comparison.

Even on the last point - controls - there's been a definite improvement in recent years. I've played a fair few titles on both PC and 360 over the last year or two and I actually found Far Cry 2 more playable on 360 than on the PC. Given that I'm equally useless in an FPS game with either a mouse or a pad (something I have proven again to myself in the last few days playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PC and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on 360), I'm leaning towards the console again on grounds of player-friendliness.

My PC is starting to show its age now, and earlier this week I scared my lady by looking at the prices for a new quad-core monster PC that would see me through another couple of years gaming. And then I thought, is it really worth it? There aren't really that many PC-exclusive titles out in the next year that I'm genuinely stoked about. (Starcraft II? Couldn't give a Protoss...) Sure, the PC gets cheaper games, but how many would I have to buy to offset the cost of the hardware, compared to just buying the games on 360? More games than I have the time to play, for sure...

And then there's what might be the final nail in the coffin - DRM. There was absolutely no way I was going to buy Splinter Cell: Conviction on the PC. It's a stonking game, but with Ubisoft's new and slightly evil "always on or you're off" online authentication system, the 360 version was the only option, really. I'm not going to put up with that kind of rubbish for a game that's run entirely locally and doesn't have a server-based component. No doubt conspiracy theorists are saying it's some dastardly corporate scheme to force gamers off the PC onto the more profitable consoles, but personally I think it's just idiocy, rather than a plan. Let's hope that one doesn't turn into a trend.

I'm not about to abandon PC gaming entirely - the awesomeness of GOG and Steam should see to that - but it has slipped off its long-time perch as my primary gaming platform for the time being. Such heresy! I'm no longer a PC gaming fanboy. My former forum alter-ego (LORDTHRAWN) must be spinning in his virtual grave...
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