Editor's note: Gabriel, fed up with his struggles to get a couple of games running on his new midrange laptop, lays out why he prefers console gaming to PC gaming. I disagree with his statement that Valve is the only studio making good games for the PC. A number of great PC games — the real-time strategy gem A.I. War: Fleet Command, the action-RPG Torchlight, to name a couple — not only are great PC-exclusive titles, but they should also run on your laptop as well. -Jason
A couple of days ago, a new guy showed up at work. He made a random joke about his military service not being on "veteran" difficulty. I immediately knew that one of my own had entered the fold. True enough, under the layers of body armor and extra magazines, lay the heart of a serious geek.
I didn't know exactly how much until I saw his work desk, where 30 or 40 unfinished Warhammer 40K figurines awaited modification. He also claimed to be that most rare of gaming geeks: the PC gamer. I'm not talking the occasional bout of Team Fortress or Counter-Strike. He has no consoles — and talks trash about them to boot.
Although I smiled and ignored his rants like I would any crazy person on the street, I've really wanted to get back into PC gaming. It's always had a level of complexity that consoles have yet to grasp, and between that and many, many fond years of Civilization, Starcraft, Fallout, and countless other games, I knew I had to give it one last shot.
I purchased a laptop a few weeks back. It's not an Alienware machine or anything, but it's a solid midrange system. (2 GHz Intel Core Duo, 9600m graphics card, 4GB RAM). I needed a laptop, and I shelled out $1,200 to get it. I know that a computer serves many other purposes than gaming, chief among them Internet applications (porn), work stuff (lists of girls you've shagged), and chatting/social networking (cybersex). But any garden-variety $400 laptop accomplishes these with aplomb.
What does that extra $800 cover? You got it — games. Would we agree that tacking on an extra $800 should get you at least moderate performance from current games? I say yes, considering that even at their most expensive price, the two current consoles cost half that.
The geek coworker gave me a copy of Crysis: Warhead and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3. Now, before you stop me and say "Gabe, Crysis bogs down a Department of Defense supercomputer!" remember that the sequel carries the promise of running well on a midrange machine, and this was almost a year ago. I popped Warhead in my drive and started installing and waited. And waited.
Ten minutes later the install program had yet to show even a sliver of color in the progress bar. (And for those of you in the know, I have UAC disabled). I slid the laptop over and fired up Street Fighter 4. I then proceeded to play arcade mode with Dhalsim on medium difficulty. (And yes, I needed many continues).
As I landed the last punch, winning by a margin akin to the hair on my ass, Warhead finished its installation. This is just a really geeky way of saying it took 45 minutes to install the game. Oh, but there's more! We can't have installation without DRM, can we? Yes, that's right — the game won't even *play* without registering online. If this were a console, I would be halfway through the second level of the game. Console 1, PC 0
After a load time of approximately 2 minutes to 3 minutes (which on a console release would result in the game being critically lambasted, the studio dissolved, and their families sold into slavery), the game finally appeared. It was indeed beautiful, much like a splendid watercolor. I say watercolor because the result was a slideshow sputtering at approximately 2 frames to 5 frames per second. So, after 20 minutes of trial-and-error reducing and increasing settings, I ended up with a playable game — one that ran at 1280×768 resolution with low textures and all effects turned off.
So after $1200, an hour or so of install/adjustment, and a level of technical expertise that required Internet research to reach nominal settings, I ended up with something along the lines of a first-generation Xbox 360 game — running at about 35 FPS. If this were a console, it would be running at 1080p 30-60 FPS with all effects, and I'd be done with the third level. Consoles 2, PC 0
The game is actually quite good, but since it was designed to be played with all of the graphical flourishes, certain elements are decidedly harder. Without effects, you don't have tracers to track back to the soldiers attacking you. With low resolution, picking the soldiers out of muddy textures is next to impossible. It feels like going back in time, and all of this for four times the expense.
Staying true to my quest, I installed Red Alert 3. The process was quite similar to Warhead. Seth fell to the Crimson Tornado, and EA wanted confirmation. Red Alert 3 does not use anything terribly new; it uses a highly modified version of the Generals engine (a game released 5 years ago), and yet putting the settings at anything over midrange resulted in my forces moving like they were covered in syrup. After more adjustment, I ended up with something that looked like a slight graphical upgrade to Generals.
This game was released for the 360 as well, and while it's inferior gameplaywise, it looks far better than what was playing on my computer. I prefer real-time strategy on a PC; it's almost impossible to present RTS games on a console with any kind of sophistication (unless the cats who made EndWar manage to upgrade their game to match the sophistication of their voice-recognition software). But, again, I don't want to have a shell out $2000 every two years to be able to play an RTS the way it's meant to be played.
Final tally: Consoles 3, PC 0
What did I learn? I left PC gaming for a reason. It's frustrating, expensive, and ultimately unsatisfying. The only really good PC games coming out these days are Valve products, which you can play on your 360 (although admittedly not equal at least in terms of TF2). I'm not saying I might take a stroll down memory lane if something tremendous comes out, but for the moment I'm hanging up my WASD keys.