Tag: X-Box 360

Console vs. PC

X-Box Kitten

There was a time, and some of my younger readers may not remember it, when the line between PCs and gaming consoles was as bold and clear as they come.

In these nascent days, PCs were struggling to generate more than a few colors, while consoles had between 6 and 8 bits to work with. Consoles delivered shoot ’em ups in the style of Galaga, Defender or Yar’s Revenge while PC games, such as they were, often took the form of Zork and other text adventures. Around the time the NES hit the states, introducing classic platforming along with it, PCs began to improve as well, their adventure games becoming more complex and adding simulations to the stables. SimCity and flight simulators had a depth difficult to replicate on a cartridge, while the fast-paced action of Contra, Blaster Master, or Double Dragon was exclusive to the consoles.

Eventually, this began to change. PC games like Wing Commander and Stonekeep provided full-motion video and fully voiced characters, while console games started to branch out into areas like role-playing games. Doom also closed the gap and paved the way for the genre we now call ‘first-person shooters’. Suddenly, you could get your pulse-pounding action on a PC and some really touching storytelling on a console. Crazy, right?

Nowadays the lines have all but been erased. Games are released for multiple platforms all the time. And yet, some seams are still showing.

When a game is conceptualized for a console, and then ported to PC, it can be challenging to keep in mind everything involved with such a feat. PCs vary wildly from user to user, especially as costs of parts has decreased while user knowledge and desire for customization has increased. PC gamers like their machines scalable, with great potential for upgrades and as much longevity as possible, meaning parts can be swapped out at any time. Developers porting a console game need to be aware of this, as well as the many options a PC gamer will be looking for: screen resolutions, texture quality, FOV, and so on. It can be pretty daunting.

Even if a console port is done correctly (say with one of Rocksteady’s excellent Batman games) it can be hard to fully shake off the console’s influence in things like controls. A game that is oriented towards buttons getting repeatedly mashed or relying on the intuitive nature of controller use can feel clunky or unwieldy when using a mouse and keyboard. Thankfully, all one has to do in these cases is plug a controller into the USB port. Most console games will rejoice at this decision! Unfortunately, not all PC games go the other way.

Dungeon crawlers like Torchlight, real-time strategy like StarCraft II, MMOs like World of Warcraft. MOBAs such as League of Legends… these are games that are unlikely to appear on consoles. The games in these genres rely heavily on the many keys of the keyboard paired with the precision of mouse control, and unless consoles begin to widely accept that sort of interface, transitioning control schemes to a gamepad would be insurmountably difficult. There’s also the fact that mouse and keyboard continues to be arguably the best interface for first-person shooters, as the mouse provides for true precision aiming while the keyboard makes accessing things like different weapons and gadgets quick and easy.

Finally, some developers continue to make their games exclusively for one platform or another. CD Projekt made both Witcher games exclusively for the PC, while the God of War franchise is almost entirely kept on consoles. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with choosing one platform over another for developing some new entertainment, but it does illustrate that key differences remain between consoles and PCs.

While I am predominantly a PC gamer, I do like console games and find some titles just work better with a controller. I think it’s entirely possible to have the best of both worlds. Differences yet remain between the two, but for me, the war is over. Let peace and gaming reign.

Game Review: Fallout 3

Fallout 3, from Bethesda Studios

“War. War never changes.”

So begins Bethesda’s near-future apocalyptic RPG, Fallout 3. The story of your character begins quite literally at the beginning, with your birth deep within a Vault-Tec bomb shelter. After the exchange of nuclear fire between the United States and China in a slightly altered time where technology ran far ahead of society – most notably sticking the United States in the idyllic if somewhat paranoid 50s – many people, including your parents apparently, sought shelter in these underground complexes. As you grow, however, choosing your appearance and skills in an extremely immersive prologue, it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem. Eventually, you need to make your way out of the Vault in pursuit of your scientist father, but how you do that and what you’ll say or do when you finally find him is entirely up to you.

Stuff I Didn’t Like

  • This is a problem that’s probably going to crop up in future games as well as some of the games I play now: DLC. Knowing that ‘Broken Steel,’ ‘The Pitt’ and ‘Operation Anchorage’ among others are available for me to download and promise new content, new equipment and new story elements, I felt like I was missing out because I don’t have enough Microsoft points to get the DLC, nor do I have enough liquid assets to change into Microsoft points. At least I didn’t have NPCs bothering me about it, which is a problem I have with Dragon Age: Origins.
  • And now there’s the ‘Game of the Year’ edition that includes all of the DLC on the disk. Thanks, guys, but I still don’t have the spare $60 US for another copy of the game.
  • There can sometimes be a lag between hitting the button to bring up your inventory and actually seeing the screen come up. More than once I saw I was low on health, hit the button to pop some food, drink down some ice-cold Nuka-Cola or inject medicine as the nearby Super Mutant smashed my face in with a fire hydrant. I realize it’s a little more realistic than auto-regenerating health, but we’re also talking about a game with plasma rifles, giant robots and people who survived being turned into quasi-zombies with side effects including most of one’s skin melting off and sounding like one has a nearly terminal case of strep throat.

Stuff I Liked:

Fallout 3, from Bethesda Studios

  • This might be an odd opinion, but the V.A.T.S. made the game much more enjoyable for me. This is a RPG, after all, and points in skills as well as Perks make it more likely you’re going to hit something you’re shooting at. People used to frantic relentless bullet-fests like Gears of War or Halo may find V.A.T.S. tedious or ignore it entirely, but for me, it helped me feel like my character was truly expert markswoman thanks to plenty of points in the Small Arms skill and a few of the relevant Perks.
  • While there’s a bit of an uncanny valley effect with the NPCs, the voice acting and writing is good enough that it doesn’t interfere too much with immersion most of the time.
  • Speaking of voice acting, there’s some good talent on display, and not just from the likes of Ron Perlman, Malcolm McDowell and Liam Neeson as your dad.
  • The hostile mutants, from the giant scorpions to vicious creatures evolved from crabs, are genuinely terrifying in their rendering, which points to very good use of the graphics engine.
  • The lockpicking and hacking systems maintain the flow of the game and don’t break immersion, even if stocking up on those skills make it terribly easy to steal things right under the noses of people you’re supposed to be helping. Then again, if you’re looking for a quick way to gain bad Karma and make more enemies to blast in half in V.A.T.S. mode, the end result of stealing stuff in plain sight is probably pretty hilarious.

Stuff I Loved:

Fallout 3, from Bethesda Studios

  • The Capital Wasteland. Unlike some other games out there, the world feels huge and very real in its own way. There’s also the fact that you’re rewarded for exploring the world, both in uncovering new areas with items and NPCs and in an actual reward after completing a certain side-quest. You can fast-travel from one spot to another after you’ve logged its exploration, but getting from one place to another can be a hike, and it’s a hike I ended up enjoying, except for the one where my dog ended up dying after a particularly long trek and I just couldn’t bring myself to repeat it.
  • From the radio stations to the publications available to the dialog of certain characters, there’s a great deal of well-realized atmosphere in the game. What we see in this post-apocalyptic wasteland is an America trumped up on its own national pride and sense of entitlement, making this game as much a cautionary tale about imperialism and national arrogance as it is a video game where you can blast super mutants with mini-nukes and set your house up as a love nest complete with cola machine.
  • Speaking of radio stations, I tuned into Galaxy News Radio for most of the game. I liked hearing Three Dog’s perspective on my exploits and there’s some fantastic soundtrack dissonance to be had. I loved hearing cheery 50’s music like “Civilization” or “Jazzy Interlude” playing while I mowed down Raiders or traded blasts with super mutants. It added yet another layer to the already deep atmosphere and made the overall experience that much more enjoyable.
  • The diversity of weapons available to you is pretty staggering. There’s implements of destruction tailored to a variety of tastes. If you like old-fashioned guns, you have plenty of small arms to choose from, up to the classic Henry rifle that’s downright musical when fired in V.A.T.S. mode. Ray gun aficionados need look no further than the Gatling lasers and plasma rifles. If you want to get up close, you can pick up a Super Sledge. You can even make your own weapons from bits of junk littered all over the Wasteland, from a slingshot-like dart gun to a mine using bottle caps for shrapnel – which seemed a little counter-intuitive given that bottle caps are currency in this nuclear future. It’d be like using jars of pennies in a modern explosive device. My favorite crafted weapon, however, was the Shishkabob, a literal flaming sword. Then again, maybe that’s because I was loaded with good Karma and it fit with me being a paladin.

Bottom Line: Buy this game. The Game of the Year edition might save you some time, money and frustration in the long run. I’d like to find out for myself – we’ll see how good Santa is to me this year.

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