The week's highs and lows in PC gaming

Unreal Tournament


Tom Senior: The return of Unreal Tournament
Footage of new Unreal Tournament got me excited this week. Call me nostalgic, but I think games like UT, Toxikk and Reflex are recovering a breed of shooter that should never have fallen out of fashion. They prize speed and movement as much as twitch aiming skill. Players ping around the levels, bouncing each other with rockets and pinging off jump pads. Imagine a bunch of rubber balls in a washing machine, but with more plasma beams and exploding gibs: it’s amazing. I like the idea of Call of Duty players joining a server, eyes widening as they experience the almost frictionless movement of their avatars for the first time. I imagine them hopping up and down those complex multi-tiered levels with an growing sense of joy, like babes in a bouncy castle. Meanwhile, the old guard look on, nodding sagely. Yes, now they understand.

Tim Clark: Okay, 4K. You win.
I’m a big fan of obnoxiously big TVs, but have been entirely unmoved by the idea of getting a 4K one. Unless you like slowly rotating fruit bowls or helicopter shots of Niagara Falls, there’s a crippling lack of TV or movie content available in 4K, and more pertinently it’s a struggle to get games running at an acceptable lick in 4K without selling both kidneys to the GPU gods. Even the $8k machine I borrowed a few weeks ago that ran three 980s had a bit of a wobble about displaying Mordor in 4K on Ultra. I’m also not much keen on having to upscale everything that isn’t in 4K to fit the screen’s native resolution, for fairly obvious reasons.

All that said, prices of both 4K monitors and TVs are gradually drifting back towards something like sanity, and eventually the content will catch-up with the screens. At GDC I saw the new Unreal Tournament running in 4K on a 60-inch TV as part of Valve’s Steam machines demo, and it looked sharp enough to slice eyeballs on. For the first first time I thought: “Yep, I’m actually going to need this in my life.” More than I need one of these dumb kidneys, anyway. This should probably be a low, really, because that’s very much what my bank balance is going to be. GG again, Valve.

Steam VR HTC Vive Slide

Wes Fenlon: SteamVR is the real deal
Honestly, I wasn't skeptical that SteamVR would be good. Great, even. But Oculus's Crescent Bay had already set a high bar, so I was impressed that SteamVR surpasses it in speed and accuracy of positional tracking. It's amazing that just a year or two ago, VR seemed tantalizingly close, but still far, far away from being consumer-ready. With SteamVR's tracking system, as well as Valve's great VR controllers, I think it's finally ready for regular people to try and buy. It's definitely going to change how we play games, but it will necessitate some massive rethinking among VR game designers. What works on a TV often won't work nearly as well for virtual reality, but I think the opposite is also true—and once developers figure out how to make VR sing, we're going to see some amazing things.

Samuel Roberts: New ways to control
This week at Valve’s GDC booth I spent a good amount of time handling the final model of the Steam controller, which arrives later this year for $49.99. I really like the weight, size and shape of it, though I only had a few minutes of actual game time, mostly just looking around in The Talos Principle, and one time getting hilariously shot in CS:GO. The trackpads feel like they could function as an ideal middle ground between a mouse and an analogue stick, particularly for a strategy game. Shooters may take some getting used to in order to nail the precision required, at least for me. Even if the Steam controller ends up being something I just alternate my 360 pad with when playing in the living room, I think that’s totally fine. The main thing is how much of an event all the Valve hardware news felt this week. The controller has a date and a price. This is huge, and yet it’s just one part of a massive and surprising week for Valve.

Overgrowth Slide

Chris Livingston: Indie Mix
One of the drawbacks to working from home—probably the only drawback, in fact—is that I don't get to see people face-to-face very often. While I wasn't able to attend GDC this week, I was in San Francisco for a few hours Monday evening and got to spend some time at the Indie Mix event. It's an event where a big crowd of indie games developers get to show off their games to an even bigger crowd of writers.

It was crowded as hell, with tons of devs and press packed into the space, so I only got a couple minutes to play a handful of games. Still, just being in the same space with passionate developers and excited writers was great fun. Seeing the devs speaking enthusiastically about their games, watching writers play games together, laugh, and chat, and simply being surrounded by people who all share the same interests and soaking up the excited vibes was awesome, and not something I get to do very often. Plus, I got to beat up Tyler in Overgrowth. Definitely worth the trip.

Tyler Wilde: I’m at PAX East!
As I write this, Evan and I just arrived in Boston and caught the end of the Bruins game over dinner. How, Boston-y! Also, there is a lot of snow here. Big time snow. But that’s not important. We’re going to be interviewing all kinds of folk here at PAX East this weekend, and we’re also throwing a big party Friday night. If you can’t make it to snowy Massachusetts, keep an eye out for all our videos this weekend—we expect to see a lot of great stuff.

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