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2006 Wrap-Up - CPUGamer: PC Gaming

2006 Wrap-Up

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2006 has come and gone and the PC as a gaming platform didn’t have a lot to offer.  This year at 2404, we decided to do things differently and skip the annual game of the year vote.  Practically every gaming site does it and the desire to be different overcame us.  Instead, three of us have written editorials on how we feel things went and where things are headed.  We didn’t follow any certain structure and all of us were unaware of what the others had written. As you will see in the following articles, each of us seem to be on the same page and there are many similarities.  This hopefully proves that we understand the platform, the community, and what the future may hold.

Without further adou, we begin with Yuri’s editorial:

Yuri Goldfeld
Editor, Reviewer

So, you thought 2005 was bad for PC gaming?  I’d pay good money to have a repeat of that year to replace 2006.  Last year, our year-end editorials were full of complaining about how the games were unoriginal, how they were all sequels, how half of them were console ports.  Looking back, 2005 had a couple of bona fide classics (for me, Civilization IV and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) and a host of other AAA games, like Guild Wars (online RPG), F.E.A.R. (first-person shooter), Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (stealth action).  Plus, there was Indigo Prophecy / Fahrenheit, which, while overrated in my humble opinion, definitely was a blueprint of many great pure adventure games in the future.  (Unfortunately, it looks as though PC gamers won’t soon reap the benefits of Quantic Dreams’ further projects, as their next game Heavy Rain is in the works for PlayStation 3 exclusively.)

So, what about 2006?  It was really a combination of disappointment and boredom.  Eagerly anticipated games like Neverwinter Nights 2 and Prey certainly weren’t bad, but neither did they receive the expected 90%+ ratings.  Half-Life 2: Episode 1, VALVe’s first foray into so-called episodic content, delivered the goods, but at a higher price than originally announced, and it still suffers from the Source engine’s various glitches – plus it wasn’t exactly a paragon of replay value.  Snore-inducing sequels were released: Splinter Cell: Double Agent (graphically optimized for Xbox 360 and not PC), Battlefield 2142 (released all while Battlefield 2 is still immensely popular yet unforgivably bug-ridden), and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (a great game on Xbox 360 but a totally different and sub-par effort on PC).  Tomb Raider: Legend was not incredible, but it was very, very good, and this was especially surprising given the awful preceding game in the series.

Further credit must be given where credit is due.  The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion appeared to live up to all the hype, delivering both the open-ended gameplay and the incredible, almost-photorealistic graphics shown off in pre-release press.  There has been much grumbling about the title’s repetitive gameplay and strange leveling system, but, apparently, any and all such problems can be solved with a multitude of user-made mods.  The same is not true of the equally pretty but far less flexible Xbox 360 version.

2006, unlike the year before, was also an excellent year for PC real-time strategy games.  If you doubt this, just download the Company of Heroes demo and give it a shot.  I challenge you to find an RTS game with deeper gameplay or more impressive graphics (which, it must be noted, are probably even more stunning than those in Gears of War).

Earlier, I mentioned 2006 as a year of disappointment, as well as boredom, in PC gaming.  By boredom I mean the boredom of waiting for delayed 2006 games, like Alan Wake and the first World of WarCraft expansion, not to mention Crysis and Unreal Tournament 2007.  Oh, and let’s not forget Spore, which is one game that inspires visions of true originality and hundreds of hours of entertainment.  We do also get BioShock in June 2007, plus who knows what else once Windows Vista and DirectX 10 are simultaneously released.  E3 2006, which 2404.org attended, was generally full of promise, especially for the PC platform – in fact, I recall being more impressed with upcoming 2007 PC titles rather than console titles.  Unfortunately, this is all future potential, and last year’s wrap-up article was full of similar hopes for 2006.

What worries me more than the lack of great titles in 2006 is the general direction PC games are taking.  I see more and more evidence that the PC games are becoming technology demonstrations rather than games truly meant to be played by real consumers.  I don’t mean that they’re not fun to play; it’s just that 90% of potential gamers simply don’t have the hardware to keep up.  Consider: The Steam hardware survey reveals that most of VALVe’s customers have 512MB of memory or less, and that the most popular graphics card is nVidia 6600GT (with 128MB of RAM).  Not even most 2-year-old games perform well with such hardware, although certain games can be played at acceptable levels.

When it comes to the newest games, things get downright pathetic.  The listed minimum hardware specs should be ignored outright unless looking for a good laugh.  However, even the recommended specs tend to lie horribly.  For instance, at the time Oblivion was released, I owned a 6800GT with 1GB of RAM and an Athlon 64 3400+ – a much better box that the above average rig.  Every tool I used showed me that my computer was well beyond what was needed for good performance.  Once I popped in the actual game, however, I was greeted with frame rates that wouldn’t stay above 30 unless I moved the graphics sliders to embarrassingly low levels.  I hear a lot of apologists with weaker hardware say they can play the game “fine,” but I frankly think that’s a self-delusion due to dropping standards for frame rates among PC gamers.  I have since then upgraded to a much better machine (7900GTX, 2GB, 3800+), but even it can’t handle Flight Simulator X, a game that simply shouldn’t have been released until 2008 or 2009.  There are some exceptions to this (Tomb Raider: Legend and HL2: Episode 1), but many other high-profile games (like GRAW and Rainbow Six: Vegas) suffer from this issue, as well.

Developers must understand that even if their major sales volume comes from consoles, that doesn’t give them the right to relegate PC gaming to an even smaller niche of hardware enthusiasts than exists today.  In the days of Half-Life, PC gaming was a hobby that could be enjoyed by a wide range of consumers, even those with PCs from Dell or Gateway 2000 (I speak from experience as a poor college student at the time).  Now, it is only in the mainstream for online shooters and a single MMORPG, World of WarCraft.  It almost seems like every other game is largely irrelevant, at least in the public eye.  This is not a fate I would want to befall PC games.

Frankly, even I, an editor at a PC gaming site, spent far more time on the various consoles, new (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3) or old (PlayStation 2, with the year’s best games, Final Fantasy XII and Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence).  Realize, too, that I am probably as free with my money as is humanly possible when it comes to gaming.

Put simply, things are not looking good for PC gaming at the moment.  Here’s to a better 2007.  Happy New Year!

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