The week's highs and lows in PC gaming

The Witcher 3 - Ciri

THE LOWS

Chris Livingston: Witcher switcher
In regards to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt Red made an announcement this week about a new playable character, Ciri, which is great news: she looks and sounds like a badass. Still, every time I think about the series, I get focused on the one thing that makes me less interested in playing it: you can't design your own personal version of Geralt. We've heard that you can style his hair and beard a bit in Wild Hunt, but that's not nearly enough for my tastes. Not nearly!

Am I just spoiled by the character customization in other RPGs, like your Dragon Ages and your Elder Scrolls and your Mass Effectseses? Maybe. But being able to put your own personal stamp on your character's looks is an important aspect in role-playing, in my mind nearly as important as tailoring their skills and abilities. I wish The Witcher would finally get on board. On board!

Samuel Roberts: A port in a storm
I love Durante’s ongoing port analysis work for PCG. This week he took a look at the release for Final Fantasy XIII-2 and the updates made for FFXIII that enabled some pretty basic graphics options, and it’s as I suspected—even with the improvements in visuals, the framerates continue to disappoint. Here’s why that sucks from my perspective: when I reviewed FFXIII and gave it a fair and low score, I penalised it due to the quality of the port. I want Square Enix to keep releasing Final Fantasy games on PC—but I want them to be better than the console versions, not worse. The Final Fantasy XIII trilogy can’t be played on PS4 and Xbox One so these console versions will only collect dust, but on PC they will be around forever. So why not release ports that can stand the test of time? I get the sense the improvements made to the visual options are a gesture of wanting to get things right, but there’s still some way to go.

Assassin's Creed Slide

Andy Chalk: Assassin’s Creed: Unity patch delayed
It's easy for me to be dismissive of the Assassin's Creed: Unity debacle because I don't actually play it, but the delay of the fourth patch to the troubled game earlier this week was infuriating. Not because of the extra wait—bravo to Ubisoft for not shoving something out the door solely to meet an arbitrary deadline—but because of the statement that led into it: "Rigorous quality control is of paramount importance to us, and your feedback over these past weeks has indicated that it is important to you as well."

It is perhaps the most contemptibly ridiculous thing the publisher could have said at that particular moment in time. If 2014 has taught us anything, it's that quality control is most assuredly not of "paramount importance" to Ubisoft; Unity is obviously the poster child of a launch gone wrong but Watch Dogs, Far Cry 4, and The Crew—that is to say, just about every major game it released this year—suffered from a varying amounts of damaging bugs. We all fall into slumps now and then, and maybe Ubisoft's annus horribilis was just a (long) streak of (incredibly) bad luck. But telling the world how committed you are to quality control when you're struggling to fix the patch to fix the game that's still a mess after three prior patches doesn't make you look conscientious. It makes you look silly.

Wes Fenlon: Sportsfriends, minus Bach
Sportsfriends was supposed to arrive on the PC aaaages ago, but it's just squeaking onto the 2014 calendar with a release today. Now we know at least one partial reason for the delay: despite their best efforts, the developers haven't been able to get Johann Sebastian Joust's PlayStation Move controllers to work on the PC. And, according to the devs, they'll never be able to. On the bright side, Joust works on Linux and OS X, which is as good an argument for SteamOS as I've heard yet. But it's a shame that one of the highlights of a really unique local multiplayer package won't be available to the majority of PC players. Ah, well. There's always Hokra.

Elite Slide

Tom Marks: Boldy too scared to go
I want to play Elite: Dangerous. I really do. I want to get completely sucked into that universe, make my way through the stars, and learn to master the controls of my ship. But I am too scared to do it. Elite just seems so big and imposing that I feel like I’d never be able to get a foothold. Its scope is both exciting and intimidating. I’d love to take part in that experience, and I don’t think I’d be bad at it, but there’s something about knowing the first 20 hours of a game are going to be learning the basics that scares me away.

I’m probably painting the experience with too broad a brush, and I’m honestly a little bit ashamed for not steeling myself and diving headfirst into Elite. I’ve been watching livestreams of other people playing and it looks simple, but then I ask myself how long it took that person to make it seem easy? Why are they doing that thing they chose to do over any of the other countless options they have? Where would I even begin? I don’t doubt Elite will envelop me eventually, but it might take easing into it with my friends to not startle me away.

Tim Clark: Haters
The whole ‘now you see it, now you don’t… Oh, huh, it’s back’ saga that went on with Hatred on Greenlight this week felt like an unedifying episode for Steam. I also suspect it only stores up a problem for Valve further down the line. Someone initially decided the game’s content crossed the lines of taste and decency, and therefore had no place on the service, but later that same day the civilian slaughter sim received a reprieve, seemingly after an intervention from Gabe Newell himself.

My read on this is that Valve doesn’t want to position itself as moral arbiters of what’s acceptable in terms of violence. Presumably so long as the material doesn’t breach any laws, the firm is willing to host it. But isn’t it odd, then, to be coy about sexual content? I imagine the developers of the (not especially sexy) intercourse-’em-up Seduce Me, which was pulled from Greenlight in 2012, would have something to say.

As for Hatred, I’m not sure refusing to host it would have qualified as censorship, as the angrier commenters immediately claimed. Running a publishing platform doesn’t oblige you to provide a home for every game in existence, much in the same way as deciding to throw a party doesn’t mean you’re obliged to invite the neighbourhood nutcase. (Related: I haven’t been invited to *any* parties this holiday. QQ.)

I think the real issue, for Valve, is that the idea of taking a zero touch approach to this stuff isn’t tenable. It’s easy to come up with increasingly extreme game concepts until you arrive at one which no company would rightly want to be associated with distributing. What we saw this week was Valve struggling to decide where that line is going to fall. (Aside: Just me, or does the animation in Hatred actually look quite slick? Pity whoever’s doing that couldn’t have found something, y’know, not vile to work on.)