The PC Gamer’s Manifesto

Having recently come into possession of something I can only classify as a “gaming PC”, I realize it would be silly to own this thing and not use it to actually play games. Certainly it is very capable of doing my usual Facebook and blogging updates, but it is capable of so much more. However, I also remember quite clearly that it was not a lack of hardware that has turned me into a near exclusive console gamer in the past few years. I’ve still played the occassional PC game, but only as a rare foray since the PC was the obvious or only platform of choice.

Powerful hardware or not, I will turn this machine back around and make it some of the most powerful hardware used to poke people on Facebook if the PC gaming industry doesn’t start to shape up. I’m willing to be enticed away from consoles again, but here is what it will take to get me back as a regular PC gamer.

1. Your game will install easily and work the first time
I am sick and tired of installing games that don’t work, that want me to update my drivers, or doesn’t actually run on hardware that the box claims it supported. I dealt with the old days of trying to switch between expanded and extended memory and constantly trying to keep from getting the two mixed up. Oh how I would love to go back to that problem compared the what the average install has become. In the past two years I have had more games with install problems than not. If anything it seems like this is getting worse. PC games are not a new phenomenon, this should not be hard! Your chief competitor only requires someone to pop in a disc and start playing. I’m not asking for that level of simplicity, but I think asking for an install process that works is not unreasonable. These are games, not enterprise level business applications.

2. You will design games for systems people actually own
I hate the claim “The PC is the largest platform base”. It’s not true because there is so much hardware and operating system variation that is lumped in under “PC”. Laptops typically have integrated graphic cards that are nowhere near the capabilities of what is inside a dedicated desktop gaming computer. Somewhere along the way you must make a business decision as to what kind of market you will support. I hate to point this out, but more and more people are going the laptop route, which means you desperately need to figure out how to support those “lousy” integrated graphic cards or lose a huge chunk of your market.

3. Your copy protection will not keep me from playing the game
I paid money for your product. I kept my end of the bargain. Your end of the bargain is to give me the product you advertised. When I can’t play your game because your stupid copy protection scheme has some issue with my system settings, chosen install location, or some random occurrence based on the position of the stars we have a problem. If I can’t get my money back, chances are good I will not buy a game from you again. Even if I can get my money back, the process of trying to return software is so egregious that I’m unlikely to risk putting money down on your products in the future.

4. Your copy protection scheme must have no impact on the game
I often hear claims about how cracked games have often run better because they’re not running the copy protection software in the background. I’m willing to let that go as hearsay evidence at best, but I also know enough about software to understand those claims are entirely plausible. If your copy protection is making the pirated version of your product the superior choice then you’ve created a self-defeating process. If I see system processes kicking off in conjunction with performance problems while running the game, it won’t take much for me to figure out if its some stupid scheme you’ve got running in the background. If this happens I will avoid your products in the future.

5. You will not treat your customers like criminals
Call me old fashioned, but I prefer physical media and I don’t mind a bit having the disc in the DVD-ROM while playing even if the game is entirely installed on the hard drive. That said, if I own authentic physical media then we should be done. I should not have to verify my identity, be forced to register, or do anything that involves some external process to prove that I paid for the game. This is a huge public relations problem. We already live in a world were many valuable products are locked away until some underpaid struggling college student comes to unlock it for us. We go through security scanners, have security tags removed, and receipts verified all too often for my comfort. When I get home I feel like my domain is sacred. Having your product then come up and ask for identification is a slap in the face.

6. I should not have to mod your game to make it playable
I do not pay for unfinished software. Every piece of software has bugs, every piece of software has issues. The more complex it is, the more problems it has. See, I get it. I’ve been in software development for over a decade. I know what you go through to get a product to market. I do. However, there is a reasonable level of expectation that says I am buying a finished product that will work as advertised. In my world that’s “works as documented”, but it’s the same thing. We don’t want bugs in software, they’re just nearly impossible to avoid. I hate it when I complain about a game and the first response is “You need to download mod [X]”. WRONG! I paid for the game, I installed it, I may have gone through who knows how many convolutions already just to get to this point. Now I have to go spend additional effort researching, downloading, and installing something else? Probably something being offered for free? Mods are not a crutch and should not be required. Having mod support is a nice feature, but the average Joe and Jane are not going to do anything further to your software. Instead they will just perceive an inferior product. As for me, the not-so-average Joe, what I see is a poor effort turned in with expectations of access to my wallet. I have every right to be offended.

7. Your game should not crash at random
Games crash. Software crashes. Even some console games have the occasional glitch. Like I said before, every piece of software has bugs. Even knowing that, you should have a graceful way of handling errors. You desperately need to address memory leaks and not just hope the game’s garbage collection handles it before it crashes, assuming you even bothered to do enough memory management to actually implement garbage collection. It’s one thing to have a workaround to a problem, it’s an entirely different matter to suddenly find yourself back at the desktop for no reason. That doesn’t feel good to the consumer, especially if they were in the midst of an epic battle.

In short, what I’m saying is that your product needs to be usable. I need to be able to judge a game based on how well it plays. Unfortunately, I’m having to surmount many obstacles just getting to the point of being able to even play the game. By that time I’ve already soured on your product. I used to enjoy PC gaming, but what turned me off wasn’t the increasing abilities of consoles but the passive-aggressive attitudes of PC game developers towards their customers, a constant refusal to adapt to the market, and increasing difficulty in actually getting games to work on hardware that was fairly standard.

If you want to call yourself a PC game developer then quit treating your customers like the enemy and give them the products they paid for. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Borderlands First Impressions

I’m not good with first impressions because I usually play games too long for a good “first impression” but not near long enough for a review. I want to write about the experience, but I’m usually well past the point where I know if I love or hate a game when I’m ready to talk about it.

The other issue with Borderlands, aside from the fact I am not supposed to have this game, is that I am finding it impossible not to compare it to Far Cry 2 or Sacred 2. The similarity to Far Cry 2 being the overland travel and open-world shooter concepts. Sacred 2 is merely the most recent serious offering into the “RPG-Lite” dungeon crawl loot droppings of Diablo fame.

(Author’s Note: “As for not supposed to have”, I have an annual birthday moratorium where I am not supposed to buy any games, movies, or books. The reason why is unknown seeing as how no one ever buys me games, movies, or books despite that being all that is on my wish list.)

I am so far not encouraged in the ways that Borderlands resembles Far Cry 2. The problems of Far Cry 2 were all about poor execution of potentially good ideas, adding minutia to solid gameplay mechanics, and essentially making sure that anything that could be fun had some element of tedium. I think this was supposed to add tension, but it added frustration and monotony. Shortly after reading the article I just linked to I gave Far Cry 2 another go. After driving for nearly an hour to get to an objective I got out to do an assault. I literally panned 360 degrees to make sure no one was about to ambush me, then as I moved forward I heard that tell-tale engine roar and was run over by a truck that literally spawned out of nowhere! Half my play session for the night ruined by an incredibly poor design. I got rid of the game after that incident.

Borderlands is far more forgiving even if you get killed. Enemies tend to be far less random and it’s usually easy to tell where they are coming from. Maps are sprawling but oddly well contained. I still feel the lack of quick travel is a hindrance. This is the biggest resemblance to Far Cry 2, and the long map load times are going to become a problem compounded by a lack of quick travel. I think quick travel may be unlocked later as there is a “bunny” icon on one of the interface screens that is disabled. Why not have it unlocked from the start is beyond me. I have to slog through the same enemies but at least the respawning is a lot less aggressive and there is some reward for doing it. One of the big issues with Far Cry 2 is that killing random enemies was rarely a reward. Getting a new gun in poor repair or a downgraded vehicle was not an incentive to engage in random encounters.

On to Sacred 2, I think it is safe to say that I am not in agreement with the Buttonmashing official review. This is not a slight to the other writers, in fact it’s a strength of the site, but I found Sacred 2 entirely too boring. Most of it was a feeling of disconnectedness; the game offered too little information and yet had way too much going on. I could never really tell if my actions or decisions were having a discernable impact. There was very little strategy, or maybe there was but the game imparted so little information that it was difficult to tell. My biggest gripe, though maybe not the reason I put the game down, was that loot drops felt way too similar. Improvements were often incremental, there was very little change. Why use that sword instead of this sword? For one, the game was not great in how it communicated to the player as it was, but when you did parse the details it often felt like very little reward was being given. Instead I was hauling a lot of junk that I ended up selling most of the time.

Here, so far, I feel like Borderlands has improved. They have asked me to make tough choices, but they give you the information they need. Furthermore, the weapons are more than their stats. The stats may say “Weapon Zoom 2.0” but you can test that for yourself. A zoom through a scope may be easier to aim then down iron sights for example. There is a lot of repetition of models, which shouldn’t be surprising and isn’t. There is a lot of junk, but thanks for making it clear that it’s junk! I don’t like how stingy the game is with inventory though. I can only store 12 items at the start? No long term storage? For a game that is all about loot, the inability to keep anything long-term is a huge letdown. Again, maybe this is unlocked later, but why?

Borderlands is not a perfect game, but I will say that it is the game I wanted with Sacred 2 even though one is a first-person shooter and the other is an isometric dungeon crawl. The presentation is simply fantastic in Borderlands, not just the art style but how it does every little thing. I love the graphics on the vending machines, the way that the red chests fold out and present your findings, and even the few characters you interact with. There is some creeping doubts about how it is similar in all the wrong ways to Far Cry 2, and I can only hope that as I continue Borderlands will not fall into the same traps.

My one regret is that I went with the PS3 version of the game, and that’s going to limit my multi-player options. I haven’t been doing much multi-player these days, but I like keeping my options open. As soon as I hit that “installing” screen I remembered why I typically buy for the 360. Fortunately, it too less than 5 minutes to install. I will say that PS3 games do actually look better than their 360 counterparts, but will anyone be able to tell the difference with cel-shaded art?

Cheap Game of the Week – History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided

Overview: A rare first person shooter set in the American Civil War

Pricing: About $20 new or used.

Rip-Off Warning: Can occassionally be found for $30 new.

Platform: Playstation 2, Windows, XBox 360 (Reviewed)

Is it worth it? There aren’t many first person shooters set in the American Civil War. While there have definitely been some liberties taken with historical accuracy and weapon reloading has been tweaked somewhat, the game stands in rare company. A lever action rifle feels like an assault rifle in this game and learning melee combat is a must.

The game does have some issues. The level design is full of invisible walls and is practically on rails, there are only 6 missions per each side, and the graphics are just barely servicable. Yet I found myself enjoying this game and the unique challenges it often presented the player. The game is not particularly hard, but the play style is different from standard run and gun.

Some quibbles with the game. Iron sights were worthless since you were better off just looking at the cross hair and waiting for it to turn red. Also, taking cover didn’t seem to work very well. Not that the game had a cover system, but enemies standing close to a solid object seemed to become bullet proof while I could hide behind a wall and still take damage.

Final Judgement: I just don’t have much to say about this one. It’s an enjoyable if somewhat short play experience that will definitely give you something different. It was a solid PURCHASE for me and highly recommended if you’re looking for a budget title.

2 Minute Review: Shadow Complex


An old school throwback with all modern bells and whistles

DO: Indulge your sense of nostalgia over a game genre that’s time has largely past. Alternatively, if you’re not a gaming dinosaur, find out why everyone loved Metroid so much.

TYPE: Side-Scrolling Platformer

PLATFORM: XBox 360 (Reviewed)

PRICE: $15

MEAT: You play as Jason Fleming (sidenote: More protagonists should be named “Jason”. It’s an awesome name.) who appears to be an everyman in the same way Steven Seagal’s character in Under Siege was “just a cook”. In a very brief flashback we’re given that Jason’s mysterious background includes some kind of training because his father is some kind of super-spy and/or warrior badass and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Despite his attempt at a normal life he finds himself unwittingly drawn into a plot against the United States when he, and I’m not making this up, stumbles into the base of a homegrown terrorist organization thanks to an outing with his “girlfriend” that was supposed to be nothing more than some hiking and spelunking. I used “girlfriend” in quotes because despite the marketing materials for the game they also establish that Jason and Claire have been dating for all of two days. The lengths he goes through for a woman he met at a bar is nothing short of epic.

I wouldn’t usually bother with the back story, but in this case the story is very much part of the gameplay and it does a great job. For a side-scroller I don’t expect much since you’re artificially confined in your actions, yet the action onscreen and the story presentation flow together perfectly. Your character is upgraded gradually and as you unlock new abilities you can backtrack to previously visited locations to acquire upgrades that were inaccessible before. Despite all the backtracking, the ability to explore a section in a way that wasn’t previously possible keeps the game interesting even though you may have visited the same room multiple times.

Just a minor spoiler, but what you have is a guy who starts out with a flashlight and the ability to jump who gradually ends up with a suit of incredible power armor that gives him abilities beyond that of normal men.

PERKS: In my opinion these kinds of retro-retreads are unnecessary since technology has since advanced enough that we can move beyond the old “side scroller”. There is a reason the Metroid series went first person. The only reason why I’m reviewing this game is because I downloaded the demo just to see what all the fuss was about.

Then something miraculous happened.

The game was just ridiculously fun to play. Save points occur often enough that the game can be played in short bursts, if you can actually force yourself to turn it off, but are far enough apart that there is a real challenge. The controls, for the most part, are excellently done. One of my long-standing complaints with platformers, even those that fuse with side-scrolling shooters, is the lack of precision in controlling the character. Aiming your weapons is a bit of a challenge at first, but with practice becomes fairly simple. I never felt like I was struggling with the controls and that is incredibly important.

The actual “Shadow Complex” is vast with many varied environments, hazards, and enemies. The game has an excellent pace, keeping the player engaged and allowing them to flex some muscle on occasion while making sure they get fresh challenges. I really appreciate that as you acquire new abilities some of the early opponents that are quite difficult become easy to dispatch in a variety of satisfying ways. Naturally, the game keeps ramping up the “bosses” so it never gets too easy but the player is not exposed to a challenge too early either.

The first boss fight sold me the game

The first boss fight sold me the game

SCREAMS: The game is “2.5D”, so there are times when you have side hallways that enemies can approach but you can’t travel down. In theory you can aim and shoot them, but sometimes you have your gun pointed at enemies and other times it’s pointing straight up. In this case the controls try to interpret your intention and it doesn’t always work.

Your ability to “wall climb” is limited, which is ok except that sometimes the game doesn’t register your attempt to jump off one wall to another Jackie Chan style. Also, one of your abilities is a grappling hook which is tons of fun but has the same problem as the wall climb. It can be very frustrating to see your grappling line bounce ineffectually off of a wall or ceiling.

Perhaps a personal preference, the game has many areas that are inaccessible early on that you can later unlock by using upgrades the game gives you. The problem here is that the upgrades needed seem to come about midway through the game, but then come quite often. This is kind of frustrating though because you can see areas that have extras you could get to but have to continually ignore because you haven’t acquired missiles yet or can’t double jump.

A common complaint is that you can trigger the endgame by accident. The good news is that if this happens you can simply end and restart from your last continue. This way you can still get any upgrades you may have missed. You cannot trigger the endgame sequence without at least having the basic abilities to beat it, so the game at least gives players the possibility of winning, though the challenge may be greater than it has to be if they are not sufficiently prepared.

Screenshots will not do this game justice

Screenshots will not do this game justice

VERDICT: Let me be clear here, this is my “2009 Game I Can’t Put Down” and I truly do feel this entire genre is well past it’s prime. This is a game I was determined to hate and love it anyway. You can’t rent it and I would recommend this as a BUY even if you could.

[2 Minute Review] Red Faction: Guerilla


We’re gonna have a revolution, yeah

DO: Blow up every building nearly brick-by-brick and stick it to “The Man”!

TYPE:Third Person Sandbox

PLATFORM: XBox 360 (Reviewed), PS3, and PC (in August)

PRICE: $60


MEAT: Oddly enough, the more “sandbox” games that have come on the market, the more restrictive they seem to be. What I loved the most about Grand Theft Auto III was the freedom that it gave you. While there is a definite progression in Red Faction: Guerilla, you are free to go pretty much anywhere you want in-between tackling the story missions. Also, you can level every building in the game piece-by-piece.

This is not an exaggeration at all. You start the game with a humble sledgehammer and remote detonated explosives. While the game gives players many options, from conventional assault rifles and pistols to building leveling singularity bombs, the tools you start out with are useful throughout. The game instantly found a place in my heart when an enemy trooper was hiding behind a wall and I was able to strike through the wall with my hammer and take him out. I could not begin to list the number of games that have frustrated me by having an enemy soldier hiding behind the most invincible piece of plywood they could find. The game often rewards players for ingenuity rather than forcing them to follow a strict path or sequence of actions.

There is a story contained within, but it’s a familiar trope that is one part Bolshevik Revolution and one part Total Recall. I suppose there might be some lip service to the previous Red Faction games, but if you’re not familiar with the background materials it doesn’t really matter. Gamers familiar with traditional sandbox games will find the basic gameplay familiar. You have the main story missions to progress the plot and plenty of different side missions to keep you occupied. Side missions include standard defend, raid, demolitions, and escort (Ugh!) with other familiar elements like tracking down convoys or tailing couriers. Despite the harsh Martian landscape there is plenty to do. My initial concern was that this game would be like Just Cause, where everything was too sparse and spread out to keep the game interesting.

Saving the best for last, there is a small cadre of robots you can take control of throughout the game. They are available for specific story missions and some side missions, but you will occassionally find them scattered around the map. These “walkers” are almost overpowered, but so much fun to use that I don’t really care.


PERKS: Literally every structure in the game can be destroyed. If your idea of entertainment is to blow things up, this game was tailor made for you. Unlike other games that let you play with high explosives, bringing down a building is not done simply by applying the correct number of explosives. There are actual physics involved. Land a giant robot on the roof and you may go crashing into the building. Need a quick path somewhere? Run through walls using your sledgehammer.

The vehicles are somewhat generic, but the controls are great. Vehicular combat is somewhat disappointing in anything other than tanks though. Most vehicles are much better for soaking up enemy fire while you recuperate than having any real offensive capabilities, even if they have mounted weapons. On the other hand, it is very satisfying to literally drive a dump truck into an enemy barracks to start an assault.

The enemy AI is noteworthy as well. They will retreat, take cover, and evade attacks, even on the easiest difficulty. They are not obnoxiously difficult, but it is a nice touch that they don’t stand around letting you blow them away. They do tend to be braver in greater numbers, so you may find yourself massacring quite a few before they remember to play smart. Overall though, the AI is solid.

SCREAMS: Past Red Faction games were more about deformable terrain, in this game the terrain is impervious. The game is also difficult even on the easiest difficulty. Most of this difficulty is the swarm of enemies you can be up against. Furthermore, as solid as the enemy AI is, your allies are next to worthless other than providing a temporary distraction. In the early stages this doesn’t seem so bad, but towards the end you are fighting dozens of troops with air support, vehicles, and possibly armor. This means they can overwhelm you with sheer numbers and they seem to come out of nowhere, making it difficult to find a place to hole up for those few precious seconds you need your health to recuperate.

Vehicles cannot be stored or brought up on demand and the quick travel system is limited to safehouses only. Furthermore, buildings will not regenerate until you beat the game and if you destroy special garages you may not be able to use some of the more spectacular vehicles and robots later in the game.

VERDICT: This is definitely a BUY. I rarely purchase games at full price and feel like I have to wring my $60 out of them. Red Faction: Guerilla was worth every penny. I won’t claim it is a perfect game, but it is packed with tons of fun.