The age-old PC vs. console debate has been a popular topic over the last few weeks, first with the release of Crysis 2 and again with the announcement of Battlefield 3. The original Crysis (a PC exclusive) was and still is a benchmark game, pushing the graphical bar clear out of sight. PC and console gamers both expected a great experience with the multiplatform Crysis 2, and while the finished product looks stunning, it left some PC gamers feeling short-changed.
Crysis 2 is one of the best looking games around, but PC gamers were expecting another envelope-pushing title. Has the game suffered because of the cross-platform development? Conversely, the announcement that Battlefield 3 would cater to PC fans first and foremost has upset many console gamers. After all, console gamers pay an additional premium on their games, so why should PC gamers get extra content, such as massively increased multiplayer games? Given that consoles are at a technological standstill, what is there to be gained from focusing on the PC, the only platform not constrained by “console generations?”
The news that Battlefield 3 will be PC-centric has computer gamers flustered in anticipation. After all, Battlefield 2 was one of the premier online modern warfare shooters, with a full load-out of vehicles, including tanks, helicopters and jets. The recent entries in the Battlefield series, Bad Company 1 & 2, were instead developed for the console market (Bad Company 2 was ported to the PC), which makes the recent announcement a bit of a surprise. Many console gamers have expressed disappointment that the focus will be on the PC version, not least because console games cost more than PC games. Logically, how is it fair that the more expensive version of the game will be inferior? Hopefully, the PC version will take advantage of the increasingly powerful hardware available to deliver a worthwhile game. The teaser videos are very impressive, especially since it’s been well-documented that these compressed videos don’t do the game justice.
The real problem is that the issue has been severely misinterpreted. It’s been correctly assumed that the PC version will be the “main,” “better” version and that the console version will be inferior. From this, however, it’s been deduced that Battlefield 3 on the consoles will be rubbish. Just because the console version will not be as good as the PC doesn’t mean that it won’t be as good as its peers. Battlefield 3 will not be immediately inferior to the next Call of Duty just because it’s been downscaled from the PC version.
If graphics were the only concern, however, there might be less of an issue. The PC version of the game, according to DICE, could see 64-player games, whereas consoles will be limited to 24–presumably because consoles would be unable to process large network traffic. What we’re seeing is an inevitable side effect of the manufacturers’ choice to extend the lifespan of this console generation. The three main consoles have remained technologically stationary, while PC hardware is improving exponentially. The decision makes sense given the current economic climate, and it’s been well justified with the “let’s focus on gameplay innovations rather than graphics” rhetoric that Nintendo has used to defend the Wii. However, the number of games that have genuinely innovated with motion controls is minuscule: Not a single game out there makes Kinect or Move an essential purchase. Furthermore, the argument that “gameplay is more important than graphics” has been seriously misrepresented. The focus should be on technology, not graphics, and not just technology in terms of new peripherals. While raw processing power generally leads to better graphics, newer technologies that change the way we play also rely on this power. The Force Unleashed incorporated advanced physics systems, however imperfect the overall experience was. L.A. Noire also looks promising with its new facial animation system. In these examples, technology is integral to gameplay, and the two shouldn’t be separated.
There’s more to be gained from highly powerful systems than better graphics. While Battlefield 3’s graphics will be a major focus, other areas have been affected. Models and textures are better, naturally, as are lighting and effects. The biggest strength of the Frostbite Engine, however, is the destructible environments. When implemented properly, dynamic environments mean dynamic gameplay. Players will have a wealth of new ways to approach situations, and multiplayer games take on a whole new dimension. The battlefield can and will change throughout the course of a game, forcing players to constantly re-evaluate their situation. These advancements will redefine team-based play, as well, especially in bigger games, where players can use tanks and jets to level buildings and completely change an area. The possibilities are exciting, but how much of it will be cut out for consoles?
Many console gamers feel that they’ll be paying an unfair premium for less game. Console games are more expensive (a significant cut goes to the console manufacturer), and the difference in price is unfair to consumers who are playing games that are, in fact, worse. In reality, however, DICE have no obligation to neuter the PC version for equality’s sake, even though only a small percentage of PC gamers will actually have a powerful enough rig to run everything at maximum capacity, and that’s the way it should be. The technology they’re developing will help form the foundations of future advancements, including those that go into the next generation of consoles.
It’s clear that whatever approach a developer takes, someone will get upset. Of course, a little controversy never hurt anyone, and DICE are probably fully aware of that fact. Regardless, they’ve shown some brass in being the first AAA developer to acknowledge the disparity between the consoles and the increasingly advanced PC hardware, which is becoming more and more affordable. Quite simply, the games being released today aren’t as innovative as they could be. The strides DICE are making with Battlefield 3 will assist the next generation of consoles, even though many gamers feel left out now. DICE may be the first to really start making the most of PC technology, but expect more developers to pick up the pace.