This week's highs and lows in PC gaming

THE LOWS 

Tyler Wilde: Hello, I'm providing context

Keeping with the theme of unnatural dialogue from my high, I started the Anthem demo today, but I don't find it charming like Resident Evil 2. Right away, I walk past NPCs who've paired off to chat as if they're doing an assignment in class, except they're not really talking—they're just emoting silently at each other. Very occasionally, an audible exchange pops in, though it isn't clear which couple is speaking. "Is it safe?" "Is what safe?" Wow, it's like I'm really there.

And then I talk to the first dude, and he basically says, 'I've figured out how to make your javelin more powerful via a tutorial mission.' I mean, not exactly, but it's so stilted it's like I'm talking to a list of story outline bullet points. I know this is just a demo, and people get confused in games and need a bit of verbal guidance, and there are technical limitations, but the long silent gaps, exposition, and bland flavor chirps dull the storytelling work done by the visual environment. The fort is full of bodies but they behave like ghosts.

Jody Macgregor: The cake is a meme

I like to use the January new release dead zone to replay some of my favorite games, and remind myself why I love them. Last week I played through Portal again, which was the game I installed Steam for back in the day (I was never a big Half-Life fan). But even though I haven't played Portal in years, almost every one of its jokes became a meme and has been repeated so often all the humor's been scrubbed off them. It's still a fine puzzle game with a well-designed difficulty curve, but the only hope of it ever being funny again is if we all agree not to talk about it for the next 10 years or just like do a whole lot of drugs maybe.

Fraser Brown: Stanning Steam

A couple of big upcoming releases are going to be Epic Games Store exclusives, I’m sure you’ve heard, and some people have lost their damn minds. For a while now, there’s been an undercurrent of resentment about Valve’s digital distribution monopoly, but all it’s taken is for one competitor to start pinching games—in no way stopping anyone from playing them—and now Valve has all these angry BFFs trying to protect it from another company. It’s embarrassing. Humans need to stop protecting billion-dollar companies. 

Now there aren’t just calls to boycott Epic, but the tangentially-related SteamSpy, too, and that’s in addition to all the impotent review bombing runs targeting games that aren’t even exclusive. If anything, all this does is make it clear that more competition is necessary, if only to pry these people away from a shop they’ve become inexplicably loyal to. It’s for their own good.

Chris Livingston: Opportunity rocks

Sounds like we're saying goodbye to a very good and very special computer this week. Opportunity, NASA's Mars rover, may have finally shut down for good. It arrived on Mars in 2004 with a 90-day mission, and it remained operational for over 14 years, which is, I would say, a very good computer indeed. (Especially since I start wanting to replace my own computer roughly three weeks after getting a new one.) NASA has been trying to restore contact after some massive dust storms on the Red Planet last year, but it sounds like they've all but given up hope in awakening Opportunity. There's still a chance, but a reboot is sounding pretty unlikely at this point. I know the high water mark for PCs is "Can it run Crysis?" but it should be "Can it drive around on Mars for 15 years longer than it was supposed to?" Goodbye, good bot.

Andy Kelly: Service charge

If you're a big publisher, I can see why the idea of 'games as a service'—as opposed to something a person plays for 30 hours then trades, sells, or never plays again—is so enticing. If it goes well, it’s a near-infinite money spinner. But I feel like, and excuse me for being dramatic, that this kind of thing is actively harming the medium as a whole.

If that's all publishers want to develop and release, you'll never get games like, say, Dishonored or Mirror's Edge. Those big budget, high concept games that a publisher will occasionally take a punt on. We'll always have the indies to keep things interesting, but it's great when the big guys are taking risks on weird(er) games too. Yet all I can see in the future are games like Anthem, designed to lock players in and keep them there forever.

Phil Savage: Dates in your diary

I'm going to pick up Andy's ball and run with it. I've less of a problem with the concept of a games-as-service model, but it's a tiring ecosystem in practice. As someone who casually plays a lot of games, it's incredibly hard to keep up with everything that's going on at any particular moment. Over here, Battlefield V is weeks deep into a new Tides of War cycle. Over there, it's winter in Forza Horizon 4. Have you done the new Hitman 2 Elusive Contract yet? Well better hurry, you've only got a few days.

Between battle passes and limited-time events, it feels like a modern game library is constantly shouting for your attention. It's good to reward your most dedicated players with new stuff—to an extent I'm just complaining about a thing that was never meant for me, someone who is only going to put so much time into a single, specific game. But also there's the slim remnant of the completionist part of my brain that balks at the fact that I've forever missed some shiny, exclusive reward because I couldn't—or just didn't want to—play a game to its exact schedule.