As long time readers will know I’m a big fan of Crytek’s flagship series Crysis as it’s one of the few no-holds-barred PC games when it comes to ratcheting up the graphics to insane levels. It harks back to the golden era of PC gaming where every new title attempted to do exactly that, pushing the boundaries of the hardware so hard that yearly upgrade cycles were not only desirable, they were almost required. The consolization of PC games took a heavy bat to this idea and strangely enough even Crysis 2 fell prey to it somewhat with my rather mediocre PC at the time being able to run it perfectly (and admittedly it was still quite good for its time). When Crytek announced that Crysis 3 would be a returning to its roots with insane levels of graphics I was incredibly excited and I’m glad to say that they didn’t disappoint.
Crysis 3 takes place 24 years after the incidents in Crysis 2. Prophet, in reality the amalgam of Alcatraz and the remaining memories of the original Prophet that the NanoSuit stored, has been in stasis for the past 2 decades since CELL captured captured him. You’re broken out of your prison by Psycho, one of your former suit buddies who’s been stripped of his NanoSuit. You find out that CELL has been using some Ceph technology to generate unlimited amounts of energy and has used that to enslave most of the world in crippling amounts of debt. Psycho, saved by people in the resistance, needs your help in order to take them down. As you start to dig into CELL’s activities however the real plan becomes apparent and it becomes clear that only you are able to stop them.
The technology under the hood of Crysis 3 is the same as Crysis 2 so you can imagine I was a little sceptical as to how much of an improvement they could make in the 2 years since their last release. Figuring that my still semi-new upgrade would be up to the task I cranked everything up to its highest, leaving only the anti-aliasing at a tame 2x. What resulted afterwards can only be described as slide show, a very pretty one but it ran so slow that many of the models glitched out and it was essentially unplayable. Dialling back the settings to their recommended levels turned that slideshow into a much more playable game and what a game it is.
Every screenshot you’ll see in this review was taken in game with most of the settings at 1~2 notches below the maximum possible. The level of detail is simply amazing with all models being of the level I’ve come to expect from most game’s cutscenes rather than their in game representations. Crysis 3 makes use of the entire DirectX 11 feature set and does regular things like motion blur, specular highlights and bump mapping better than any other game I’ve played recently. Whilst the framerate wasn’t the greatest in large outdoor areas it was absolutely butter in small to medium sized zones and it was so good that I almost feel like upgrading my PC again just to how Crysis 3 would fair if had room to stretch its legs.
Suffice to say that Crytek has really returned to form with Crysis 3’s graphics.
For those who’ve played Crysis 2 the game play will be very familiar to you with the NanoSuit design staying basically the same as it did in the previous game. You have 3 modes available to you: regular, armoured and cloaked which you can switch between at will. Armoured mode drains energy when you get hit by various things and cloaked mode slowly drains away energy whilst your standing still and even more when you move around. These two active modes are essentially the two ways of completing any obstacle that you might face in Crysis 3: either by stealth or by raw fire power.
Whilst there might be a choice available to you it does seem like Crysis 3 would prefer you to go with one over the other. Right at the beginning you’re given what amounts to the biggest change between Crysis 2 and 3’s combat: the compound bow. Essentially it functions like a backup weapon as it doesn’t count towards one of your 2 regular weapons but like them its customizable with different ammo types and scopes. The key difference between the bow and other weapons however is the fact that upon using it you will still stay cloaked, allowing you to take out enemies with ease and drastically increasing the amount of time you can remained cloaked. Couple this with the fact that the primary type of arrows you can use (impact) can be picked up after you use them you essentially a weapon that’s got unlimited ammunition, kills in one hit and allows you to stealth around everywhere without getting caught. Running and gunning seems rather moronic by comparison.
This is only amplified by the upgrade system which allows you to beef up aspects of the NanoSuit to fit your play style. Whilst its entirely possible to make yourself nigh on indestructible the upgrades for stealth users simply magnifying the already over powered combo of cloak plus bow. Indeed for quite a while I was running around with just the stealth upgrades and multitudes of points available to me. I ended up spending them just before a particular boss fight that required me to go toe to toe with it but I actually found that using stealth was a viable option once I had worked out the fight a little more. This may be due to the difficulty level I was playing on however and I’m sure at easier levels run and gunning would be more viable.
Crysis 3, whilst still technically being an on-rails shooter, does retain the non-linear variations for each section that help to keep it from being yet another corridor shooter. When you’re moving between sections there’s definitely only one path that you can progress through however in those sections there’s usually additional objectives that you can go for which will assist you in getting to the primary objective. For instance there’s one section where two giant walkers are blocking your path. Now on the ground nearby there’s a ton of RPGs scattered about so with a little bit of legwork you could probably take them down. However there’s also a nearby mortar team that’s in need of assistance and should you help them out they’ll let you tag targets which they can then take out for you.
The vehicle sections feel tacked on, almost as if they’re only there to serve as an introduction into what will be available in multi-player. Whilst I applaud their use of larger-than-life maps they only seem to be there to facilitate the inclusion of the speedy Half Life 2-esque dune buggy. I will admit that the optional tank section was pretty fun but it was cut brutally short, right before a time where it would have been a hell of a lot of fun to blast a whole bunch of Ceph out of the skies. This was followed shortly after by an on-rails vehicle section putting you as the gunner which was frankly suicidal as all the Ceph aircraft targeted you instantly and your mounted gun was highly ineffective against them. I’d prefer that these sections stayed in and were revamped rather than them being removed however but they really do feel out of place with the rest of Crysis 3.
There’s also few bugs and glitches to speak of although it pains me to say that at least one of the issues that plagued Crysis 2 are still present in 3. Some guns, for example, will simply not be able to be picked up which can be pretty devastating should you not be able to swap a weapon out for a particular section. The graphics glitches appear to only happen if you’re stressing your hardware too much and disappear the second you revert them to more sane settings. The vehicles are mostly fine except for one part when my tank slowly started turning itself over and then eventually capsized for no apparent reason. Getting out of the vehicle seemed to let it right itself however but the behaviour was still very odd.
I was all ready to pan the story as for the first couple hours there’s really no tension, character development or anything that made me feel for the characters. This all changes later on as the voice acting seems to improve a lot, especially towards the end when certain reveals ramp up the tension between the characters. It’s not an emotional roller coaster like other, more story focused games but it was unexpectedly good for an on rails shooter. They also thankfully avoided the extremely obvious “INCOMING SEQUEL” stuff which plagued Crysis 2, but the current story wraps up well with enough leeway that a sequel is possible without it being obnoxious.
Crysis 3 is simply stunning; a visual masterpiece coupled with highly refined game play that we’ve come to expect from the people at Crytek. There’s no doubt that the graphics are what makes this game so impressive as Crysis 3 is probably the only game that demonstrates the full capability of DirectX 11 on the PC platform today. It’d all be for naught however if the rest of the game didn’t stand on its own however and I’m glad that it does otherwise it’d just be another tech demo ala ID’s Rage. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Crysis 3 and I’d encourage anyone who’s still a dedicated PC gamer to spend some time with it, if only to see how capable your rig really is.
Crysis 3 is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $69.99, $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on the second hardest difficultly with a total of 7 hours played.
The simplicity of 2D platformer games must be really liberating for developers, especially small time independent ones. I say this because it seems that I’ve played a lot of games this year that fit into that genre and the amount of innovative game ideas that I’ve seen has really surprised me. These were the titles I grew up on and they were, for the most part, usually a small variation on the original Duke Nukem idea. One thing I didn’t expect was the introduction of stealth based game play something which has traditionally been contained to 3D games. Mark of the Ninja blends stealth along with puzzle solving and platforming to form a pretty unique game experience, one that doesn’t really have anything that I can directly compare it to.
Unlike most ninja games which take place in feudal Japan Mark of the Ninja is set during present day. You, an unnamed ninja, were receiving your first tattoo which would grant you special powers when you passed out. A short while later a fellow ninja, named Ora, wakes you up as the ninja stronghold is under attack by a security agency headed by a man named Karajan. After rescuing your fellow ninjas as well as your master, Azai, you’re then sent on a mission of vengeance against Karajan for the atrocities that he committed against your clan.
Mark of the Ninja has a style to it that’s reminiscent of all those flash animations of yesteryear but there’s a level of refinement about it that many of those lacked. The cut scenes for example feel like they came straight out of a professional animation house and wouldn’t be out of place in any cartoon you’d see on a Saturday morning. There’s also incredible amounts of detail everywhere from the interactive area which is littered with all sorts of things to the backgrounds which are done exceptionally well. This blends exceptionally well with the music and foley which provides a very detailed soundscape to compliment the impressive art work.
Mark of the Ninja is primarily a stealth game and its implementation in the 2D, platformer world is quite an interesting one. For starters unlike most 2D games Mark of the Ninja includes a line of sight mechanic which forms a big part of any stealth game. This means that you’ll spend the vast majority of your time walking between shadows, dodging guards where you can, so you can either sneak up behind guards and dispatch them quickly or just move on leaving them none-the-wiser. If it so pleases you though you can go toe to toe with every guard you meet however and there are some sections which will be far easier (and quicker) should you choose to do that.
Initially you start off with only a few tools at your disposal, namely your sword and bamboo darts that can be used to take out lights and other fixtures. As the game progresses you unlock additional abilities and equipment that allow for a much wider range of actions, enabling you do things like terrify your enemies by laying spike traps or dangling corpses from the room for all to see. All these options will mean that your play through is almost guaranteed to not be the same as anyone else’s as there just so many ways to go about doing the same thing.
Indeed that seems to be the whole point of Mark of the Ninja. Whilst it is primarily a 2D stealth platformer it also has many elements of a puzzler/exploration game as there are many rewards to be found by simply taking the least obvious path. I can’t tell you how many times I found artefacts/scrolls by going in the wrong direction or moving blocks in random ways. If you’re persistent enough too the most laborious of challenges can usually be circumvented by finding a path that leads around it or simply puts you behind the guards that were blocking your path. Mark of the Ninja then is a game that rewards the player for being curious but thankfully forgoes punishing you severely if you don’t.
The upgrade system bears mentioning as how many upgrades you can afford depends directly on: how many challenges you complete, your overall score and how many of the hidden scrolls you uncover. For each of these there are a potential 3 tokens up for grabs giving you a total of nine for each level. These can then be spent on various upgrades that either give you new abilities/equipment or upgrades to the ones you currently have. Depending on what you get this can completely change the way you play the game, especially if you combine these upgrades with one of the costumes which will grant you several benefits (usually at the cost of one particular trait).
This is usually the point where I mention any bugs or glitches that detracted from my game play experience but I’m pleased to report that there doesn’t seem to be any. Sure there were times when my character acted in a way I didn’t expect but its hard for me to blame the game for that as I get the feeling it was more me fat fingering the keys rather than the game engine wigging out on me. I did have some rather awkward checkpoint moments where it’d place me into locations that I hadn’t yet explored when reloading (which was actually great sometimes) putting me in rather precarious situations but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
The story of Mark of the Ninja is also quite well done, especially considering it forgoes the usual ninja setting and instead brings the whole ninja idea into modern day. Whilst I didn’t really feel the levels of emotions like I did for things like To The Moon it certainly didn’t suffer from issues like poor voice acting, irrational characters or glaring plot holes like plagued other titles I’ve played recently. I will admit that I’m yet to finish it (I believe I’m on the second last mission) so I’m not sure about the ultimate conclusion but from what I’ve heard from my other friends they weren’t disappointed with it, so it has that going for it at least.
Mark of the Ninja effortlessly combines all the best aspects of 2D platformers with stealth game play to form a game that makes you feel like the ultimate ninja whilst still providing an incredibly satisfying challenge. The graphics are superbly done, the sound track excellent and above all the core game play is immensely satisfying. I could go on but really for a game that’s asking price is so low compared to its quality I’d rather just recommend you go out and play it since it’s really worth a play through.
Mark of the Ninja is available on PC and Xbox360 right now for $14.99 and an equivalent amount of Xbox points. Game was played on the PC with around 6 hours of total game time and 43% of the achievements unlocked.
The number of quality, well polished games that independent developers have been releasing recently has been great for the games market. Gone are the days where the idea of making a game was constrained only to the big developer houses or specific platforms and today we have a thriving independent ecosystem to support these talented developers. One such game to come out of the indie scene is Bastion a game that’s received much praise and developed something of a cult following. I’m not sure why I avoided it at the time but after getting frustrated with the end-game situation in Star Wars: The Old Republic and on the recommendation from friends I gave Bastion the once over.
Bastion puts you in control of a character known solely as The Kid. You awaken in your bed to find the whole world around you has fallen to pieces and every move you make is narrated by a gravely, disembodied voice. You then make your way to the Bastion, a safe place that everyone in Caelondia (The Kid’s home ) agreed to head in times of danger. There he meets a stranger, later revealed to be named Rucks, who’s voice is the one that narrates your every move. Ruk then informs you of the terrible event that occured, The Calamity, and how they need to go about restoring the Bastion after it was damaged during the event. So begins your long journey as you seek out the items required to restore the Bastion and uncover the truth about the Calamity.
Visually Bastion is quite pleasing on the eyes with its heavily stylization, bright colour palette and cel shaded 3D models that blend seamlessly. This style is reminiscent of other isometric RPGs like Diablo which use visuals like this in order to make sure you don’t get bored. This works quite well as whilst I was initially frustrated with Bastion (more on that later) my second session saw me play it all the way to the end and not once did I feel that the environments I was playing through were repetitive. It just drives home the idea that cutting edge graphics aren’t a requirement for good story telling, especially if you do them right like Bastion has done.
Bastion incorporates many aspects of traditional RPGs whilst doing away with others in order to simplify the gaming experience. There are levels for your character, which you gain in the traditional way of killing enemies and allow to add additional buffs to your character, but there’s really no loot system to speak of. Instead you have an arsenal of melee weapons, ranged weapons and special abilities that are all interchangeable. The weapons are also upgradeable allowing you to make them far more powerful than they originally are. This means that it’s likely that no 2 play throughs will be the same and lends a decent amount of replayability past the initial encounter.
I believe this simplified system is what lead me to get frustrated with Bastion in the early stages of the game. Initially you’re limited to a rather small arsenal, only a few weapons for each slot. You do pick one up every second level or so but progression at the start feels a little slow as most of the weapons and upgrades don’t feel like they’re making any difference. Later on, when your choices are much greater, that initial feeling starts to slip away in favour of you becoming somewhat unstoppable, at least my character did. I didn’t make it anywhere near max level (I think I got to level 6) but my combination (all fully upgraded) of Cael Hammer, Scrap Musket and Hand Grenade meant I could dispatch waves of enemies with little trouble.
It becomes apparent very early on in the game that whilst the Calamity might have destroyed much of the world there are still some people left alive. After you find them they’ll join you in the bastion and they’ll give you some insight into the various mementos that you find scattered throughout the world. They also bring with them challenges that you can complete for extra experience and cash to spend on upgrades whilst fleshing out the background story of one of the characters. The challenges are gauntlet style affairs and are a nice aside from the dungeon crawling that makes up the majority of Bastion.
One of Bastion’s most notable features though is the near constant narration. It serves two purposes, the first being to give a running commentary what’s currently going on. This gives you a great sense of the character’s motivations, feelings and gives the story solid direction in what would otherwise be a rather dull dungeon crawler. Secondly having a constant voice over allows Bastion to develop an extremely rich lore without having to result to giant walls of text that are common in RPGs. Whilst I can understand the reason why this is rare (voice acting is a time consuming and costly activity) Bastion’s use of it is quite unique. Plus Logan Cunningham’s dulcet tones aren’t hard on the ears either.
Where Bastion does fall down however is in the final throws of the story. Right up until the last 30 mins of the game your entire experience has been completely guided, your decisions ultimately made for you with a little freedom in what order things are built or upgraded. This is a fine way to tell a story, in fact this is how the vast majority of games play out. However right at the end you’re presented with two very distinct options to choose from on two different occasions. For a game that’s been choice agnostic up until this point adding in a choice at this part seems to only be for the sake of adding in some replayability. As a mechanic, I find that particularly cheap.
Warning, spoilers below:
Worse the first of the choices, whether or not to save Zulf, doesn’t seem to have any meaningful impact on the rest of the game. Granted the choice comes so late in the game that there’s not much it could really affect but that just makes its inclusion even worse. I’ll admit that the scene itself felt quite powerful, the notion of a selfless hero willing to put aside all the hurt someone has caused in order to save them, but the fact that your decision only mattered for then and there makes the choice arbitrary. The same goes for the ending as it basically boils down to the same problem that Deus Ex: Human Revolution suffered from. Instead of choices you make doing the game leading to an ultimate conclusion, you’re instead presented with a blunt “Hey choose your own ending!” screen. Though unlike Deus Ex you can’t just reload and see the other ending, meaning the intent of that mechanic is simply to encourage a second play through. Whilst it didn’t ruin Bastion for me it did sour the idea of going for a second playthrough as there doesn’t really seem to be a point to it.
Bastion is yet another shining example of games being used as a great story telling medium. The characters are well developed, the story thoroughly engrossing and the game play is rock solid, carrying all these elements along beautifully. Whilst I might disagree with some of the arbitrary moments that the game presents you with that doesn’t discount the rest of the game. Bastion then represents another magnificent independent release that shows just how far indepedent games developers have come, and how far they’ll be able to go.
Bastion is available on PC and Xbox360 right now for $14.99 and 1200 Microsoft Points respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on the regular difficulty with around 6 hours played time and 29% of the achievements unlocked.
Ah Crysis, one of the few games that basically dared anyone with a top of the line PC to try and run it max settings only to have it bring it down in a screaming mess. I remember the experiences fondly with many machines coming up against the Crysis beast only to fall when things were turned up to the nth degree. To it’s credit though it aged quite well, meaning that unlike other games like Far Cry 2 that chugged for seemingly no reason Crysis was really a generation ahead of itself. I only managed to get a full play through of it done after I upgraded in mid-2008 and I can remember it being quite a beautiful game even then. It’s been a long time between drinks for the Crysis series but last week, after over 3 years since its first release, Crysis 2 debuted to much fanfare and the lament of those who had not upgraded.
I was amongst those who had upgraded just after the original Crysis came out and haven’t done so since. Apart from upgrading the graphics card once my machine is still a Core 2 Duo E8400 with 4GB RAM and a Radeon HD4970 graphics card. You can then imagine my anxiety as I booted up the game for the first time and seeing the game choosing a somewhat less than optimal display resolution for my widescreen monitors. Still I figured I should at least give it a go at native resolution before turning it down again, figuring it would be fun to see my beast struggle under the load of the next generation of Crysis, something which I haven’t really seen in years.
You can then imagine my surprise when everything ran, for want of a better phrase, fucking brilliantly.
Whilst the first 15 minutes of the game aren’t much more than a glorified movie quite a lot of it is done in game. Whilst I was first taken a back by how smooth it was running I figured it was because of the limited scenery and effects, thinking that once I was out in the urban jungle of New York my PC would begin crying under the load. But still the whole way through the game from wide open scenes with explosions going off everywhere to the various underground passages I spelunked the game ran incredibly smooth with the only signs of the framerate dropping when my PC decided it really needed to do something on my games drive.
It’s at this point that I’d usually make some quip about how all games run well on old hardware since they’ve all been primarily designed for consoles first but looking at Crysis 2, even though it’s on all major platforms, I couldn’t really pick any areas that suffered because of this. The graphics are phenomenal, easily trouncing everything I’ve played through this year. This is even after they’ve included all the goodies like volumetric lighting, realistic fog and awesome effects like the cloaking transparency. Truly Crytek have outdone themselves with CryEngine 3 bringing great graphics to the masses.
After all that gushing about the graphics, I suppose I should say something about the game 😉
Crysis 2 is set entirely in New York City where the Ceph, an alien race that players of the original Crysis will be familiar with, have begun their invasion of earth. It appears to be a 2 pronged invasion with them releasing a virus that seems to be randomly striking down all of the burrow’s denizens as well as flooding the streets with their cyborg warriors. You play as Alcatraz a marine who’s being sent into New York to extract Dr. Gould, a scientist who may have information regarding the alien invasion. Unfortunately your submarine is taken out by a Ceph ship and you’re seemingly left to die until Prophet (again a familiar face for original Crysis players) rescues you and bestows his nanosuit upon you.
Game play has been refined and streamlined from the original Crysis. Instead of picking a particular mode for your suit (speed, strength, cloak, armor) most abilities will automatically engage when you do something that requires it (like sprinting or holding down the jump to do a super jump). You still have cloak and armor modes which have to be actively enabled but thankfully they’re mapped by default to E and Q respectively, making the transition quite easy. Additionally the suit can be upgraded through a very similar interface to the gun modification menu, requiring you to collect Nano Catalyst which drops from Ceph enemies when you defeat them. This allows you to change the way you play the game quite significantly, giving you the choice between your typical run and gun FPS to an entirely stealth game with only smatterings of toe-to-toe combat.
Indeed unlike many of the more recent cinematic shooters we’ve seen released over the past year or so Crysis 2 doesn’t have that feeling of being totally locked to the one path the game designer had in mind. Nearly every encounter can be completed through the use of stealth or just as easily by jumping into the thick of battle and blasting your way through the waves of enemies that come at you. This is also complemented by the range of weapons the game throws at you, leaving you the choice to take the most appropriate one for your particular play style. Of course there are some encounters where doing it in a particular way with a certain weapon will be an order of magnitude easier than the other choices but it’s still much better than have no choice at all, like we’ve become accustomed to with the recent influx of AAA FPS titles.
The game is unfortunately not without its faults however, as the screenshot above would allude to. Whilst this particular incident of tearing was isolated to a 30 minute section of game play (and no it was not overheating since it went away in the next scene) there were a couple other non-breaking issues that plagued my game time. Often I’d find a weapon I’d like to swap my current one for after seeing what’s coming up ahead only for the game to not register the gun’s existence, rendering me unable to pick it up. Reloading would usually fix this but since there’s no option to manually save your game this could sometimes send me quite far back in the game so most of the time I just went wanting. Additionally some of the scene geometry’s hit boxes would be bigger than they appeared on screen, getting my character stuck on invisible boxes. All these problems pale in comparison to the games biggest flaw: the multi-player.
Now I don’t do a whole lot of multi-player gaming unless it’s with friends but I really enjoyed the multi-player in Crysis and Crysis: Warhead so I figured I’d give it a go, thinking it would make good blog fodder. Hitting the multi-player link on the main screen I was prompted to enter in my game key again, strange since I was pretty sure I had to do that to play the game. Thankfully it came up with my pre-order bonuses so I figured it must’ve just needed it for the initial multi-player set up. After looking around the server list for a while I found one with some spots spare and clicked join, only to receive the error “Serial code currently in use”. Unphased I restarted Crysis 2 to attempt it again, only to be asked yet again for my serial key and receiving the exact same error upon attempting to join a server.
Strangely enough I could join empty games no problem so I figured it might be something to do with the way I was trying to join games. I hit up the quick match and chose Instant Action (everyone for themselves) and managed to get 2 games in. Those brief moments were quite fun as the games were chaotic with people appearing and disappearing everywhere. Satisfied that I wasn’t doing something wrong I tried yet again to join a server only to be greeted with the same errors. My frustrations were compounded by the fact that there’s no auto-retry function to attempt to join a server that’s full, leaving me the option of trying to find one that’s partially full (which doesn’t seem to happen very often) or waiting in an empty room for people to join (which also doesn’t happen). I tried in vain for another 30 minutes to get in one more game before giving up entirely and tweeting my frustrations at the Crysis team.
Like nearly all AAA titles Crysis 2’s ending also screams “OMG THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL” so loudly at the end that you’d have to leave the room not to know about it. Sure they made it clear at the start that Crysis was a trilogy so 2 sequels were a given but this almost felt like Crytek saying “Hey guys, guess who’s going to be the next Call of Duty franchise?”. I’m a fan of solid FPS action as much as the next guy but leaving the ending deliberately open just gives me the shits, even if the current story was wrapped up well enough.
Despite these problems the core of the game is good, extending on the success that Crysis enjoyed whilst showing off the capabilities of the CryEngine 3 magnificently. I’ve had several on the fence friends see me playing through the game on Steam ask me if it was worth the purchase and I’ve told them, even if you negate the multi-player (which in all honesty where the true replay value of games like this lie), the game is still good value for money. Whilst I haven’t been at a LAN in over a year I can still see Crysis 2 being a LAN favorite for some time to come with the extensive variety of multiplayer modes available along with numerous smaller maps to cater for smaller groups. Whilst the game ran incredibly smooth on my current rig I’m still excited at the prospect of upgrading yet again just to see how capable the game is when everything is driven to its absolute max as it was unabashedly gorgeous on my now 3 year old rig.
Rating: 9.0/10 (I’m being kind an excluding the multi-player snafu since I don’t usually include multi, but if you want to know I’d rate it 8 with it in).
Crysis 2 is available right now on PC, Xbox360 and Playstation 3 right now for $69.99, $108 and $108 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC version on Hard difficulty with around 10 hours of game time total. Multiplayer was attempted on the 28th of March 2011 with 2 Instant Action games played totaling about 30 minutes.
As a gamer, specifically one that indulges in both console and PC, I had become used to the upgrade cycles that came pretty regularly for all my hardware. Ever since I got my hands on the first Nintendo Entertainment System I had pretty much every console in my house quickly after their release in Australia. Once I got into the wonderful world of PC gaming this then lead into me spending far too much time at the local computer fairs (which you can still see me at today) gawking at the latest and greatest components, dreaming of the perfect system to build. Nothing has really changed in the world of gaming hardware with yearly product releases still the norm. But there has been a shift that has, until very recently, gone seemingly unnoticed.
In the middle of last year I bought myself a new system consisting of everything but a graphics card since I had 2 8800GTs which seemed to be holding up quite well on my old system. By all accounts it was a beast of a machine at the time although it was quickly trounced by the release of the Core i7 line that was released only a few short months later. I had deliberately bought an expensive DDR3 motherboard in the hopes that I’d be able to squeeze 2 years out of the board by upgrading the processor a year or so later, but that didn’t seem like it would ever happen. Although one thing struck me whilst playing through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (review coming!): I had everything turned to absolute maximum and my 1.5 year old system was chugging along without a hitch.
In fact all of the games I had purchased recently had no trouble whatsoever with being turned up to the max. I even unlocked a whole bunch of hidden options in Borderlands which made the game almost tear inducingly gorgeous which in the past would’ve had watching a slide show. I admit I hadn’t really thought about this at all and just loved the fact that what used to be considered an “ancient” system was still kicking so much ass. But then it hit me, almost every game in the past year has had a simultaneous release on a console. This is what was extending the life of my pc rig far beyond what it would have been originally.
It really should have come as no surprise since excluding the console market from your game is removing a large potential revenue source before you’ve even released the game. With the Playstation 3 selling 27 million units and the Xbox360 selling 31 million the potential audience you can target increases by a whopping 58 million should you decide to do a console release. In fact if you take the absolutely massive blockbuster title of COD:MW2 you’ll see that a mere 12% of sales were on the PC with the reigning champion being the Xbox360 (which is not surprising considering that the online component of the Xbox360 for MW1 was the superior of the 2). So really you’d be a fool not to target these platforms but that also means that you can’t make the game that strenuous because the hardware in those consoles really isn’t top notch.
Just taking the graphics cards as a talking point (I’m not going to try to compare the CPUs in these since Cell is just too hard to do comparisons on without getting unnecessarily technical) the PS3 has want amounts to a NVIDIA 7800GTX with a higher theoretical performance and the Xbox360 an ATI X1950XT. Theoretically they’re pretty similar in terms of performance but the differences usually show up in implementation (I have it on good word from a developer friend at 2K Games that the PS3 is a coding nightmare). Still any decent geek will look at those models and tell you straight away that they’re 4 years old and 3~4 revisions behind the current generation. So when your largest audience looks like its going to be playing from a console you’ll design the game from the ground up to run well on such hardware. With a console however you have the benefit of doing platform specific optimizations to really get the most out of the hardware, so your game won’t look seriously out dated. A liberty you don’t have when programming for the PC.
So even though my 18 month old machine would have been struggling in the gaming era of years gone by thanks to the ever growing console market us PC gamers are enjoying the benefits of their slower refresh cycle. This has the added benefit of making almost all PCs capable of running modern games with only certain market segments like netbooks struggling to keep up. In the end it all comes down to a giant windfall for the average consumer as their purchases are now more capable than ever before.
There is a darker side to this however. You see when your largest market is going to be on a console there’s the glaring difference between them and their PC brethren: the control scheme. Typically consoles come with some form of proprietary controller that share a similar baseline (a directional pad, dual joysticks, 4 normal and 2 trigger buttons seem to be the norm) whereas the weapon of choice for all PC gamers is the good old fashioned mouse and keyboard. Needless to say the range of input options for a PC game is vastly great than that of a console and this means that the difference in interfaces is quite vast. Whilst the differences should be transparent to the user it is far more typical that the game is built around the target platform and then ported across. I lamented this fact in my Borderlands review where the game was very obviously built for console and then modified to suit the PC. This usually ends up in a screaming mess for the scorned platform which typically ends up being the PC, sporting what many call a “dumbed down” console interface.
Another rare downside to the rise of consoles is that sometimes the game play itself can suffer due to development focused on a particular platform which is later ported. The most typical example of this is platform specific bugs which are usually not game breaking but are enough to detract from the experience. There are some rare occurrences of game play mechanics being changed to suit the platform such as COD:MW2 having an auto-aim on the console when you zoomed in the sights which the PC lacked. I’ve yet to see the core story be modified but there are issues like platform specific content which leaves a few feeling a bit miffed but is probably the rarest of the lot.
In the end it really comes out as a boon for all us gamers. Sure there are some downsides to having such a huge console market but overall it has made games far more accessible driving the need for bigger and better titles. Even though this year was plagued with delayed releases we’ve still managed to see many great titles come out which just makes me all the more excited for what’s in store next year. Would we have had this despite the console market success? It’s possible but I’d find it hard to translate those 50+ million console gamers into PC gamers. Nintendo knew it all along, the biggest market is the one you haven’t tapped yet.