I’ve been hopping around from game to game out of boredom, and playing some games has given me a serious appreciation for good PC ports. Not every PC game was designed particularly for the PC platform. When porting a game from console to PC goes bad, it shows. Sometimes it’s even hard to distinguish between whether a game was made for PC first, then ported to consoles, or the other way around. Here’s what I think about a few cross-platform games in relation to how well they work on PCs.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Deus Ex is a monolithic example of prime PC gaming. It got a PS2 port but that was well after the PC release and clearly a PC-to-console port. The sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, however, was a console game first, and it shows. On PC, the game was hindered by the limitations of consoles at the time, and it suffered for those limitations. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a cross-platform release, but it doesn’t feel like it. This is a game that does cross-platform right. It feels like a PC game. It works perfect with mouse and keyboard. It has a ton of gameplay options that cater to grognards who don’t need handholding. It looks amazing and takes advantage of PC graphical power. It almost makes up for Invisible War.
Dragon Age: Origins
Here’s another game that was cross-platform, but you’d never know it playing the game. DA:O feels so mouse-and-keyboard driven that I have a hard time wrapping my head around why anyone would want to play this with a controller. It’s dense on text, and inventory management, and party control. How it accomplishes those tasks efficiently on consoles, I will probably never know.
Portal 2 is an interesting case. The first Portal game was cross-platform, but it was pretty clearly a PC game ported to consoles with some puzzles requiring some pretty precise portal placement and timing. But it was also part of the Orange Box, which included two other major PC titles, and it was the one that prompted probably the fewest expectations. Portal 2 plays great on PC, and I would not say it was a console title, but the maps, though highly detailed, are typically small in size and the puzzles in Portal 2, in general, require less precision and have more forgiving timing than those in Portal. Portal 2 was going to be a signature game combining PS3 and PC players until the PSN hack mostly blew those plans to hell, and I think that level of attention to console gamers affected the creation of Portal 2.
Any game that came out on XBLA before PC
XBLA ports on PC are so freaking obvious. XBLA has certain requirements. Leaderboards, How to play screen, achievements, demo. Most of these come along with the PC port, whether they make sense or not. XBLA ports have perfect controller support, but mouse-and-keyboard support can be lacking sometimes. They typically map the controller buttons to the keyboard and replace the button graphics with keyboard letter graphics and that’s it. You can count on XBLA ports not to take particular advantage of PC hardware.
Assassin’s Creed on PC looks so good, it’s almost easy to overlook its serious flaws as a PC port. Controls are particularly weird on mouse-and-keyboard because it was made to be played with a controller. Most actions utilize holding a trigger and pressing a face button, which doesn’t translate well to keyboard and mouse. It usually ends up as a game of finger Twister. And when you want to quit Assassin’s Creed? On console, you’d probably just shut off the console, or escape to the dashboard. On PC, you have to back out of the game, back out of the save menu, then back out of the main menu. There is a fair amount of loading time between those menus, which makes it worse. You’re better off just pressing alt-F4 to quit out.
That’s all I have. Consoles and PCs have a weird relationship. I think PC gaming is on a good upswing, but that will probably only last until the next generation of consoles come out. Console ports of PC games have a similar history of spottiness and butchery, but the 360 just got a fantastic port of The Witcher 2. I think good console ports of PC games are about as rare as good PC ports.