For years, people have been complaining that PC games are nothing but console ports these days. I wasn’t really bothered by that, as most PC games still had some extras over their console counterparts. For example, PC games could run in higher resolutions and better image quality, some of them even offered extra features (e.g. special DX10/11 shading or enhanced physics), and the PC versions were generally faster to load, because of the fast HDDs and extra memory you can put in your PC.
Now, I’m only a casual gamer myself, I don’t buy that many games, and I don’t play too often… but the last two games I’ve bought, were a major disappointment for me. They no longer offer anything over a console game… and in fact, it would appear that they are worse than the console version in some ways.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
The first game I’d like to discuss here is Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. I’ve been a big fan of first-person perspective racing games, ever since I got Test Drive on my C64 in the late 80s. I’ve bought every Need For Speed that ever came out for the PC, and I even play some of the older ones sometimes (I still love the original NFS: SE, which I can play again, thanks to DOSBOX, and Porsche 2000 is also a still favourite of mine). I also have the original NFS:HP and NFS:HP2. After all, this version of NFS:HP is more or less a remake of the one released back in 1998 (and its sequel in 2002). The NFS series had strayed from the original path in recent years, and this was supposed to be a return to the older form. I was excited about that, since I mainly care about racing exotic cars, not all this “pimp my ride” stuff that they added to the recent versions.
But it turned out to be quite a disappointment. One thing that really annoys me in the game is that you cannot skip all the loading screens and such. This makes it very annoying to even restart a race… The result is that it has the same sluggish feel as a console game loading from DVD. I have a very high-end PC, where I could just restart the game in an instant, if it would let me. I don’t want to wait for no apparent reason, I just want to play.
Another thing that really bothers me is that there are virtually no graphics settings. The biggest problem here is that you cannot disable vsync from within the game. This is annoying because the game sometimes uses some rather extreme blur effects when drifting or using nitro, which causes the framerate to suddenly drop to half the speed, making it hard to keep control of your car. Ofcourse, I could force vsync off with a driver override… but why isn’t it in the game in the first place? Why aren’t there more settings to tweak anyway? Then perhaps I can just tone down the blur a little.
What’s more, there’s no AA setting in the game either! And that’s pretty annoying, since the aliasing sometimes makes it quite hard to see whether traffic is oncoming or not. A white or silver car in the distance may look a lot like the headlights of an oncoming car. With AA I’m sure that would be easier to see. In this case, forcing it in the driver doesn’t even work. The game is a DX9-only game, and probably uses deferred rendering. This means that forcing AA will not produce the required effect. DX9 has automatic multisample resolution, which means the extra samples will be lost directly after rendering a pass. So the final deferred shading pass will not have any AA data. You need DX10.1’s multisample readback feature for this. Some DX9 titles have a custom solution for that, but this game doesn’t. Hence no AA at all.
But the biggest disappointment of all is that there is no manual shifting! I can’t believe this! Why did they only have automatic shifting? This is a racing game! I *always* play NFS with manual shifting, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Manual shifting is an extra means of controlling your car and driving faster lap times. Or at least, it was in the old NFS games.
And last but not least, they’ve made some parts of the game just too hard. Some of the time trials require almost superhuman abilities to get a gold medal. Especially the gauntlet events are really annoying, because you need to drive a superhuman time on the track AND shake off the annoying cops at the same time. The AI in this game is really annoying. You can never really shake cops because there’s ‘rubberbanding’, they can always catch up, no matter what happens. And they can always turn up EXACTLY in the right place, so they can give you just a little nudge right before you wanted to enter a shortcut… a shortcut you *NEED* in order to drive the superhuman times required for gold medals. The result is that the game isn’t really a fun experience anymore. It is extremely stressful. It also isn’t so much a matter of skill anymore, but more about luck. You just have to get lucky enough that the traffic allows you to drive a fast time, while at the same time the cops make mistakes in the right places so they don’t slow you down too much. I simply don’t enjoy playing the game. The reason why I kept playing it is more because I wanted to prove that I can beat the game. But I won’t be replaying a lot of the events once I get a gold medal, because they simply weren’t any fun. Much unlike earlier NFS games, which I would play over and over again.
On to the next game then: Crysis 2. I really enjoyed the original Crysis and Crysis: Warhead. They had groundbreaking visuals and very nice physics, and the nanosuit also made the game fun to play. You could finish a level in various different ways. You could use stealth, or just bust into there and hit-and-run… you could use vehicles, mounted guns, grenades etc… Just nice to play it over and over again.
So I was excited about Crysis 2. Some people were afraid that it would be a console port, now that CryTek was going to support Xbox 360 and PS3 as well. I was convinced that this was not the case, since CryEngine 3 was an evolutionary step from CryEngine 2. CryEngine 2 was already very scalable, and could scale down to console-like hardware. CryEngine 3 would just add the actual support for this hardware, but there would be no reason to remove the extra features from CryEngine 2 in the PC version of CryEngine 3. Since both CryTek and nVidia also repeatedly stated that it would support DirectX 11, this appeared to be confirmation of this.
Well, it was, but it wasn’t. When I downloaded and installed the Crysis 2 multiplayer demo, it was only 32-bit, and only DX9. And again, the release of Crysis 2 was only 32-bit and only DX9. DirectX 11 is supposed to be added later in a patch. But the game I got on release day was little more than a console port. The graphics settings are also very minimal, where the original Crysis had very nicely tweakable quality settings, making the game one of the most scalable of all time (DX11 and advanced graphics settings will be patched today…).
While it’s a huge disappointment that the game is only 32-bit and DX9, where the original was 64-bit and DX10 more than 3 years ago, this in itself was something I could live with. After all, the game looks great, even in DX9 mode. And it runs smoothly at maximum detail in 1080p, even in 32-bit. So I wouldn’t be too bothered by that, I could enjoy the game until the DX11 came out.
But there are other issues here. The game doesn’t feel like the original Crysis in various ways. Where the original had lots of destructible objects in the game (trees, huts etc), and a lot of beautifully animated scenery (the jungle scenes were nothing short of amazing), this game feels a lot more ‘static’ than the original. Much more like Source-based games or Unreal Engine 3-based games. This makes Crysis 2 lose one of the biggest charms in the game, in my opinion. This was probably done to make the game perform better on consoles, but it’s a shame that the PC version has to suffer from this. Originally I thought this would not be the case, but now that I’ve seen the DX9 version of the game, I doubt that the DX11 patch will add more physics, destructible objects and generally more dynamic scenery. Right now I think it will mainly be a tickbox feature. It may improve graphics and performance a bit as well, but probably not even as much as the DX10 mode in the original version.
Another thing that’s very annoying is that you cannot save the game at any point anymore, like you could in the original. You only have simple checkpoints now. Probably another choice made in favour of the console versions. And probably another thing that will not be fixed with a patch for the PC version. In the past there were games that had checkpoints on the console, but arbitrary load/save in the PC version. One of the reasons why I enjoyed playing on the PC more: I don’t like having to replay an entire level time and time again, just to get to the difficult part at the end. I just want to save it right before the difficult part, so I don’t have to replay the more trivial parts all the time, because that just bores me.
Lots of bugs
And then there’s the overall quality of the code of these two games. Both NFS:HP and Crysis 2 have crashed to the desktop quite often. Crysis 2 even gave me a BSOD on a few occasions. I know my system is not unstable, because I’ve played many other games for hours on end, without any problem, including the original Crysis and Crysis: Warhead, which probably stress my PC harder than Crysis 2. I’ve also tried Crysis 2 under Windows 7 Ultimate x64, Vista Home Premium x64, and XP professional. All with the same result: crashing to desktop after a while. So I doubt that it is a problem with my installation, when it happens in three different OS installations on the same machine, and only with this game, where lots of other games have no problems in any of them.
When I looked around a bit, it seems that there are a lot of people having tons of problems with Crysis 2. The multiplayer is also quite bug-ridden. I haven’t even played it myself yet, because I never managed to actually join a game, the few times I tried. After seeing these forum threads, I’m not surprised anymore.
Well, I hope these games are just an exception to the rule, and that PC games will get back to the way things were… Being allowed to skip any nonsense loading screens (including the annoying ads at the start… yes I already have an Intel CPU and I have an nVidia videocard, do I really need to see the ads?), being able to save the game at any point, being able to tweak the graphics settings so that the game will run as best as possible on your configuration, and generally having better visuals and effects than those outdated consoles. But if not, I don’t think I would ever buy a console. I’m not of the ‘console generation’. Well, technically I am, because my first computer gaming experience was on an Atari 2600… But then came the big console bust, and we moved to home computers. I consider myself of the ‘home computer generation’, and as PCs have replaced home computers in the early 90s, I use a PC for gaming these days. I don’t think a separate device for gaming is very practical. I’m used to the type of games you get on PC now. I’ll probably just give up gaming if they turn into nothing but console ports. Poor, unstable, console ports.