Crysis... wow. Just... wow.

The times, they are a changing.  As much as I adore music, this wasn’t actually a musical quotation, and I can barely ever make out a single word when Bob Dylan sings anyway so I’m hardly going to use him as a point of reference.  No, I mean the times are literally changing… for me, at least.  A childhood interest in art and design became a passion which then turned to a vocation and, ultimately, became a way of life spawning a built in expectancy that seems to be falling short more and more as time goes on.  My love for gaming is practically fuelled by my passion for rich, stunning graphics and so whenever I’m faced with a game that I know could be more visually pleasing than the image I’m currently viewing on screen, I start to become preoccupied and the flaws become more obvious than they perhaps should.

In an earlier article, I questioned the need for high spec gaming PCs when consoles can retain the same internal specifications for a good four to five years and yet still be able to handle whatever new games are thrown at them while a decent PC gaming rig today may be fine for current games but will undoubtedly struggle with the latest releases another two or three years down the line.  Moving on from this, another article covered my disdain with the graphics on the XBox 360 version of Risen, to the point where the character faces were more or less illegible compared to the pin sharp textures and meticulous detail of the PC version.  This disappointment led me to not only stop playing the XBox version entirely, but prompted me to scrape together enough funds to buy a decent gaming rig.

Ten months on from the initial acceptance that if I wanted to play Risen without getting distracted by inferior graphics I’d have to suck it up and play it on PC, I find myself becoming more and more drawn towards being an outright PC gamer.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that ALL the games I’ll ever play will be on the PC, as I see no need to indulge in all that messing around with installing games to hard drives and checking for latest patches and driver updates JUST to play something disposable like a driving game, but certainly any serious games will likely end up being played on the PC.

Last weekend I got a tad fed up waiting for Two Worlds II to be released, too impatient to hang on for Fallout: New Vegas, and itching to play something NEW rather than something that was just “unopened” on the shelf.  I’d heard good things about the Gothic series although, to be honest, I hadn’t really paid much attention to the franchise until very recently, but this particular day had the “Gothic 4: Arcania” demo available for download on XBox Live and so I did what any self respecting impatient role player would do… I downloaded the demo.  My first impressions didn’t take very long to form, perhaps ten seconds at best, and I was immediately drawn to the fact that there was very visible pixelation around the edges of everything on screen, as well as an inordinately low texture quality that left me questioning my eyesight further than I do already.  Instead of something which you would expect to, at the very least, be comparable to the four year old graphics from Oblivion, I was instead treated to something that looked like it could have been taken directly from the original XBox and blown up to fit the HD resolution of the XBox 360.  My previous experience with Risen was enough to remind me that I should give the game the benefit of the doubt and continue to play through the demo to see if I actually enjoyed the gameplay itself enough to justify playing the full game.

Click on the image above to view a video comparison between XBox and PC version

I persevered to the end of the time-limited demo, and actually enjoyed the gameplay much more than I had with the Risen demo… but the graphic quality, or lack thereof, was enough to rip me out of this new virtual world on my own voyage of discovery.  After a few hours of downloading, and armed with the PC version of Arcania on my USB stick, I leapt back upstairs to see what my gaming rig would make of the demo that the XBox 360 couldn’t.  The difference was apparent within the first few seconds of playing.  The level of detail on the character itself was incredible and I could easily make out all of the individual features on the faces of the NPCs rather than odd looking muddy complexions.  The landscape transformed from being a rather nondescript high school student’s attempt at a watercolour to being a fine oil with bright vivid colours akin to Joseph Wright’s “An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump” and the texture detail was enough to have me doubt my beautiful black console now more than ever.

At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking that I would immediately disregard a game because of the quality of the graphics, regardless of the gameplay or storyline… and you’d be correct.  Almost.  It’s no secret that one of my favourite games of all time is UFO: Enemy Unknown and that, along with the original Command And Conquer series before Tiberium was discovered, had graphics which are particularly crude BUT they work well for that particular genre.  First person role playing games are, as far as I’m concerned, written specifically to pull you in with a greater level of immersion than base building and controlling a squad of soldiers against an enemy army, earthbound or otherwise.  If I’m expected to be fully immersed in a game to the point where I care about the character, the people met along the way, and the outcome of a fifty or one hundred hour journey then the last thing I want is for blurred textures, unrecognisable facial features and pixelated graphics to constantly remind me that it’s just a game.

Make no mistake, I’m not an imbecile.  I understand that a decent PC gaming rig will always out perform any console, regardless of whether it’s a four year old console or one that has been released with the most modern technology available on the market.  I’m not disputing that whatsoever, but I am now starting to question the validity of console gaming for games which require an acute attention to detail and a hyper realism to draw the player unquestionably in to the environment and whether or not I can set aside my intrinsic desire to be initially blown away by game visuals and continue on with the XBox 360 as my main gaming machine or jump ship entirely to the driver-ridden sea of PC gaming.

Before making this rather final, and potentially expensive, decision my first question was, as you’d perhaps expect, whether the PlayStation 3 would be capable of reigniting the console torch and persuade me to actually power it up rather than have it act as an odd looking object gathering dust under the television.  As someone who doesn’t own a single PS3 game, I wasn’t in the position to actually test the quality of the unit and so I asked an avid cross platform gamer what their opinion on the XBox 360 vs PlayStation 3 graphics situation was and, unfortunately, their own experience was that there really wasn’t much difference between the two except when it came to PS3 exclusives being more finely honed than XBox exclusives.

To that end, the words “PC please” are now firmly planted on my lips when it comes to someone asking which format of game I’d prefer for birthdays.  There is a mixture of excitement and dread with this revelation because, as much as I’m looking forward to being awestruck by the rendering capabilities of my Nvidia GTX 295 in impending releases such as Fallout: New Vegas, Two Worlds II and the incredible looking Crysis 2, I can’t help but be wary of the prospect of having to remember specific keys for specific movements and actions.  Some would argue that it’s no different than having to remember the button configuration of an XBox controller but, as someone who spends more than twelve hours per day using a keyboard and only 5-10 hours per week with a controller in my hand, I’m still much more at ease playing games with a controller than a keyboard.  In recent weeks I’ve been revisiting Oblivion on the PC as part of an ongoing research project and still find myself having to look down at the keyboard before selecting weapons/items from my inventory and even though I played through Risen for a good 80 hours, I still wasn’t comfortable enough with the keyboard where I could play without glancing down from the screen to my lap every time I had to do something other than move in a typical forward/back/left/right fashion.

Alienware... if only they weren't overpriced shit.

All this will come in time and, presumably, there will be a moment of realisation where everything will fall in to place and using the keyboard for gaming will become second nature to me as the controller has.  It was, after all, how I started gaming… and had never used a controller until I got my first XBox in 2004, so regressing to keyboard control certainly isn’t out of the question.  For now, all I can do is resign myself to the notion that playing games will now mean the arduous task of installing to hard drive, maintaining the latest drivers, frequent patch downloads and cumbersome controls… but at least it’ll look great and be worth the extra effort. Right?

Last five articles by Mark R



  1. Lorna Lorna says:

    PC games do look visually stunning, however, like you, I have always been put off by the myriad of keys needed for control. I can’t imagine playing something like Oblivion without a controller…far too many keys to be faffing with. Amnesia was tricky enough for me and that only had a few keys beside the usual WSAD config….the most important one being the ‘run like fuck’ key.

    I think that once the drivers/patches etc have been installed, it will ultimately be worth it, especially if you can get a good bit of software or whatever may be needed to map the game’s controls to a controller. Then you’d have the best of both worlds! Failing that, play PS3 exclusives ;)

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    It’s surprising the number of people on Twitter who seem to be missing the point of the article, that it’s not about whether PCs will kick ass over consoles in terms of graphics and more that the developers don’t seem to be putting much effort into making the games look good for consoles and concentrating more on the PC. My point remains… if a four year old game such as Oblivion can have clean textures and character faces which DO actually have recognisable features on them, then why are there games coming out now which are muddy and blurred on the console but look great on the PC? Surely if it was possible four years ago then it’ll still be possible today on the same architecture but with another four years of experiencing working with the console platform it should be comparable, if not better?

    Personally speaking, I don’t see why I should put up with sub par graphics on a console if I’m paying the same as the PC gamer who can actually SEE the faces of NPCs and be able to read the on-screen text without it blurring. I really don’t want to fork out £40 for a game and not be able to follow what I’m doing because a developer hasn’t created it specifically for consoles and has just ported and downgraded the PC version to make it console compatible, to the detriment of the quality.

    As I’ve said in the article… UFO is crude as hell, and still in my top three games of all time… if not THE favourite game of all time… so it’s not about graphics, it’s about when bad graphics ruin the playability.

  3. Ste says:

    Gotta agree with Mark here, I dont understand why some console games are so so bad when they really need not be. OK PC’s are more powerful, correct, but you’ve only gotta look at games like Final Fantasy 13 to see what can be really done on the console. That game was beautifully presented both on PS3 and Xbox. Granted the PS3 was reportedly slightly better.

    Actually, thinking about it as I just wrote that first paragraph, maybe it can be partly explained. Budgets! Perhaps the developers get carried away making the game look awesome on the PC where they know its going to look their best only to run out of resources when it comes to working on the port? Just speculation and I’m sure someone could argue that’s not an excuse for being lazy perhaps? I dunno, that just popped into my head. Im just chatting shit now…

    As for other points about constantly updating drivers etc. I dont think its not bad really. The old saying goes if its not broke dont fix it. So usually I don’t bother updating my graphics driver for example unless I have a problem running a game. As for game patches, most games have autopatchers now, much like the consoles. I cant remember the last time I had to really hunt for a patch on some obscure website. I do agree with the control pads being easier though. I do tend to have to look down when playing more complicated games, however until you just said I have never really noticed.

  4. Samuel Samuel says:

    PC games have the added benefit of being significantly cheaper at release too – sometimes £15 to £20 difference, which adds up, and never really made sense to me considering they are always superior graphically to console offerings. Dragon Age: Origins, looks like a total pile of arse on the 360, and really really nice on PC, and I’ve noticed a difference in the two versions of Oblivion and Fallout 3 as well. And that’s just using my year old laptop.

    The control issue isn’t what it used to be. A lot of PC versions of games now come out with native Xbox 360 wired controller support; I happen to own a wired 360 controller as a spare, and I know that Fallout 3 plays identically to the Xbox version using it on the PC, whilst benefiting from the improved graphics and physics.

    I’ve decided this will be my final console generation, excluding handhelds. It’s something I’ve been considering for some time now. The cost of updating my hardware is offset by the savings in the cost of games, so I really have no excuse any more.

    Great read as always dood.

  5. Tania Tania says:

    Great article Markuz!
    Keyboard controls are second nature to me, since I game mostly on the PC. I don’t see how anyone could play games like Oblivion and Dragon Age with a controller. Menus, inventory and hotkeys etc, gotta be a mouse and keyboard for me. I love the control you get and having items and spells lined up ready to go at the press of a number key is super handy. For me It would be serious faff to use a controller for such games! The graphics are a sweet bonus!
    I do love my xbox dearly though, with it’s achievements, friend system, online gaming, chat and the ease and convenience of Live.
    So some games for xbox and some for PC, instead of war, it’s a happy co-existance between my gaming platforms. :)
    Whether it’s about graphics or controls or both, you can have the best of both worlds! ;)

  6. Ben Ben says:

    “PC games have the added benefit of being significantly cheaper at release too – sometimes £15 to £20 difference, which adds up, and never really made sense”

    Console developers get a cut from each game sold so developers have to raise price to ensure they get something. with PC there is no “governing body” so to speak.

  7. Ste says:

    @Ben I think there is some element of truth in that but I dont think its that significant. As I understand it, its something to do with owning the licence to a game. On PC games you don’t own it, whilst on a console version you do. Thats why there are never any terms and conditions to agree to before playing a console game whereas you have to agree to some before installing a PC game.

    Next time you install a new game on your PC have a read through what its asking you to agree to instead of mindlessly pressing agree like I normally do!

  8. Rook says:

    I know I’ve had a few issues with console games where they have been designed for HDTVs and therefore are hard to view on standard def TVs; some text can’t be read, or some areas are too dark to see what’s happeing on screen. I wonder if the Xbox Gothic had been designed to play on both but obviously the HDTVs will show off the bad details easier. (Could be that I’m just behind the times with standard def…. possibly).

  9. Lee says:

    point taken on the pc thing, i’ll be honest i was gonna call out out on that crysis photo at the top it just looks too good. Thing is though i’m really lazy, pc’s for me are just to much hassle, turning them on… waiting… sign in…
    but im not putting them down just for that reason i really am that lazy, if i have to get up to put a disk in the xbox i give it some serious thought as to how much i want to play that particular game and if i don’t want it bad enough i just play angry birds on my ipad.

  10. Richie rich says:

    The prob with jaw-dropping PC goodness is when you have to struggle between looks and performance. It’s sobs either way frankly. Also, PC monitors are too small and too close so you don’t get the full effect.

    As lovely as some games are, nothing will sex my eyes more than GRAW2 did the day I got a proper telly.

  11. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I’m a tech whore too… the XBox and PC are both plugged in to a full HD projector and 7ft screen.

    Know what you mean though, I played Oblivion on a standard def 32″ Tosh for as long as I can remember… and when I upgraded to an HD TV I was like “oh shit, the inventory has actual ICONS!!” as I thought it was just stupid representative shapes :D

  12. garbarharyarb says:

    Fucking graphics whores.

  13. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Fucking people who don’t have the cahoneys to leave their real name or email address! I love being a graphic whore, shows I have standards, but I also admitted that UFO is perhaps my all time favourite game… should probably read the whole article next time my friend, would make for a much more worthwhile comment!

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