A Matter of Perception?

New EdenI’ve never been very big on playing PC games outside of MMORPGs because, as silly as it sounds, the experience just never seemed as appealing as plopping-down on the couch or as stable as gaming on a dedicated console. Why? Probably because the majority of my offline computer gaming is based entirely on the C:/run era of Mega Man X and such celebrated gems as Skunny the Squirrel.

But what does computer gaming have over consoles, anyway? It’s not like the graphics are THAT much different better! At least, that’s what I thought before this morning.

A few months ago, my girlfriend surprised me with a copy of BioShock Infinite because she’s cool like that. We were both completely enchanted by the original and there’s something about dystopian fiction that demands my attention. But when we fired it up and took our first few steps through the lighthouse, we couldn’t believe how ugly it looked! Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking about the art direction or style! The textures were terrible and it seemed as though we kept finding worse and worse immersion-murdering examples at every turn. If someone told us that Infinite was released before the BioShock, we would have believed them.

It was the technical limitation of the console that was holding the visuals back as I’m sure 2K had to make some sacrifices to balance resources between eye candy, framrate and all of the other backstage magic required to render an entire floating city. I understood completely, but I just couldn’t get interested in the setting or the story, stellar though I’m sure they are. And so BioShock Infinite sat unplayed, ceding playtime to The Last of Us and, oddly enough considering the circumstances, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

LighthouseA couple of weeks ago, I came home with a brand new Radeon HD 7950 because I wasn’t happy with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn running just fine. The GPU came with three free games: Tomb Raider, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and you guessed it – BioShock Inifinite! But I didn’t install or play it until this morning, and when I did, I was blown away.

The differences between the console and PC versions are night and day. Columbia is gorgeous, the framerate is seamless, and suddenly that familiar sense of wonder that Rapture burst with is spilling out onto the streets.

I’ve always been a firm believer that graphics don’t make a game – mechanically, Infinite would be every bit as fun in either iteration – but they certainly enhance the experience. However, I don’t think the enhancement is intrinsic to the quality of graphics; I think it has very much to do with player perception of the game’s theme, setting, characters, etc. As I mentioned before, I have no problem playing (a slightly upscaled thanks to Wii U) Skyward Sword whatsoever, and in fact, I think the graphics a great! They fit so well with everything about Skyward Sword that in a way, I often forget they’re even there.

In Infinite’s case, my understanding and perception of the game left me disappointed that it did not meet my own visual expectations. You may have had a completely different experience.

Until now, of course. Which has me rethinking my attitude toward PC gaming entirely.