Things guaranteed to happen each year: incrementally improved new versions of popular products, at least one earnestly predicted end of the world scenario, and QuakeCon, id Software's mega-LAN party/PC gaming celebration. This year the BYOC event will be held August 1st - 4th at its regular stomping ground, the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas.
Don't fancy lugging your rig across the country/world? Not to worry, Bethesda will also be showing off some of their upcoming titles for the first time in public. Chances are that means Elder Scrolls Online, but I've also got my fingers crossed for a possible Prey 2 revival.
As with previous years, attendance is free. The hotel is also offering a deal on rooms, details of which are available at the QuakeCon site.
In this week's debate, Evan argues that Crysis 3 is the best-looking game in gaming, while Tyler isn't wooed by its tessellated vegetation and volumetric fog shadows. It's undeniably impressive tech, but does Crytek still wear the graphics crown?
We assault, parry, and counter-parry on behalf of both sides in the debate below. Make your own case in the comments, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community. Evan, you've got the floor:
Evan: C’mon, Tyler, have you seen Crysis 3? Go ahead, look at it. I’ll wait here.
Tyler: Oh, I've seen it. CryEngine is technically fantastic. Just like Thomas Kinkade was a technically skilled painter. But do I like his paintings? Not at all. Now Evan, I know you've seen BioShock Infinite. If Crysis 3 is a Kinkade, BioShock Infinite is a Norman Rockwell.
Evan: BioShock is beautiful, and I’ve talked with Irrational a bunch about what they’re doing to make the game look as good as it can on PC. Infinite’s art direction is inspiring, but I don’t think its fidelity and effects approach Crytek’s stuff, to be honest.
Man, we sound like a stereotype of teen girls, don’t we? “Oh my god Tyler, Orlando Bloom is so much cuter than Ryan Gosling, I don’t even know you anymore.”
Which would be a better date, Crysis or BioShock?
Tyler: Psh, Gosling is way cuter, but I see your point. If not technical quality, we're arguing a subjective preference for one style or another. But we can still argue it. Art criticism is valid, and if it isn't, my doodles are just as special as Crysis 3’s art direction, because that’s just my opinion.
Evan: We have to consider both sides, though. Crysis is totally concerned with maximum performance, and that theme extends to the technology that drives the art as well as the art itself. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all, but Crysis also wins from a quantitative standpoint. The gun models are carefully animated, but they’re piled with polygons. Wall textures in obscure corners of levels are given an unusual amount of care, but they look higher-resolution than any other game. In terms of raw texture quality and the 3D and 2D assets Crytek puts into the game, it’s evident that Crysis 3 is the prettiest thing on PC. Even the damn grass is innovative.
Tyler: I see we've hit the semantics hurdle already. It's hard to avoid in debates like this, but let's try to leap over it. “Prettiest” can mean a lot of things. I’m not taking it to mean “great anti-aliasing” or “look at all that grass!” To me, it could mean Limbo’s black and white film reel or Mirror’s Edge's stark playgrounds. Can you argue for Crysis 3 on those grounds?
Evan: Sure, but as PC gamers we’re interested in what our handmade machines can do. If someone asked you “I just built a PC. What game will really show me what my hardware can do?” would you recommend Limbo over Crysis 3?
Tyler: Alright, maybe not, but if you want to go technical, mods make Skyrim and GTA IV way more fun to look at than Crysis 3's rusted metal and overgrown foliage. iCEnhancer is insane.
Evan: iCEnhancer is a terrific mod. It’s a great demonstration of what’s possible on PC. And I don’t want to shrug off the effort it took to make it, but it isn't a comprehensive approach to creating something visual and interactive. It’s CG for the sake of CG. It’s novelty, to some extent, like the Star Wars special editions. Great visual design originates from an artistic vision and having the technology to convey that vision. Crysis has both sides of that.
Tyler: So you agree it’s not just about cranking up the polycount, but I disagree that Crysis nails the vision side of things. If I were going on vacation, I’d much rather book a tour through Skyrim’s snowy peaks and shimmering lakes.
Evan: Yeah, it’s obviously not all about stuff like polycount, but if we’re comparing two 3D, first-person games, the technical quality of assets matters. It’s the reason Skyrim’s characters appear slightly flat to me—they feel like inexpressive NPCs, and Psycho feels like a virtual person.
Skyrim's Mr. Corn Cob Horns
Crysis 3's Psycho
Tyler: Your counter-argument is vanilla Skyrim, but I'll go with it anyway. Yeah, it's got some blurry bits, but a trip to New Zealand with my glasses off is still better than visiting a movie set with 20/20 vision.
Skyrim is so full of character and variety. It's got this unique sense of scale, where mountains somehow feel like huge miniatures. It's got- well, I could go on, but instead I'll just show you my tribute to it:
Crysis 3 just doesn't do that to me—It's got some lovely swaying grass, but for all that foliage it doesn't feel alive.
Evan: Skyrim is pretty, but not nearly as impressive. I guess I judge visual experiences more on how intensely (and how often) they produce that feeling of “I can’t believe this is coming out of my PC.” Or “I can’t believe this isn't pre-rendered.” Those moments that raise the bar in my mind of what computers can do. Crysis does that more than any other game for me.
Tyler: Does it? Crysis 1 got us so used to holding the series up as the benchmark for PC power that it’s become our default, but it’s not 2008 anymore. Have you seen Witcher 2 with ubersampling? It’s called “ubersampling,” man, how could we ignore it? And don't forget about RAGE. We didn't totally love the game, but damn it looks good.
Sorry buddy, id is still the tech leader. Since you like comparing characters:
A passive gaze in RAGE.
Evan: Two bandanas? CryEngine can only render one; I am defeated.
But yeah, I actually had forgotten about RAGE. It speaks to id’s technical strengths that they can take a brown setting and make it look that beautiful. I’d be willing to say that RAGE’s acrobatic mutants are better-animated than Crysis’ bad guys. But I’d rather be in Crysis’ sunny, overgrown jungle than RAGE’s bright, barren desert.
Psycho in his debut role on Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Tyler: No fair choosing such delightfully dramatic lighting.
Evan: I just like the idea of Psycho telling me a ghost story behind that flashlight.
Tyler: It'd probably be way better than some silly story about slapping a “Nanodome” over New York. Forget about people faces, there’s something really special about RAGE's rock faces. Look at them for a while, and you realize that they haven’t had a tiled texture slapped on like, say, almost every other 3D game before RAGE. The whole surface has been hand painted with virtual texturing. Yeah, that’s something John Carmack invented. Have fun with your dumb non-virtual textures.
I asked id’s Tim Willits to help explain, and he said something that's hard to argue: “Michelangelo could not have painted the Sistine Chapel using procedurally generated textures.” Hear that? id Tech 5 would totally be Michelangelo’s preferred engine if he were alive today. Alright, maybe that's not exactly what he was saying, but it makes the point: an engine that removes limitations from the artist enables better art.
Evan: Virtual texturing is an exciting technique, and I’d love to see it used and iterated on more. But innovations in how flat, static surfaces are rendered don’t excite me as much as the improvements Crysis 3 made to lighting, animated vegetation, and character tessellation. The game has more moving parts, and they all feel authentic. Here’s a trailer that pans through some of the improvements:
Tyler: Alright, so that’s some stunning simulation. I especially like the “dynamic water volume caustics.” Still, I think you might have something else to say about “flat, static surfaces” when Arma 3 comes out. Its scale is incredible and the lighting is gorgeous, but check out that repeating ground texture. Blech! It and Crysis 3 would benefit from id’s technology and artists.
Evan: Oh, whatever. Arma 3 is a huge step forward from Arma 2, and I could even write a massive defense of Arma 2’s visual design, flawed as it is. The animations are rigid, and most of the textures look like they were picked up at a garage sale, but it’s one of the few games (with Crysis) where I go out of my way to run through grass because I love how authentically it animates.
It’s easy to be critical of all of these games. I don’t like Crysis 3’s overuse of motion blur (though some console commands can help with that). But we’re here to name a king—the best-looking game on PC. And I think Crysis’ sci-fi setting, neon weaponry, uncompromising approach to movie-like effects, and Crytek’s incredible engine represents the best-yet combination of aesthetics and technical quality.
Tyler: We'll see about that. You managed to derail my train and put it on the tech track, but now I’m re-railing it: objectively, both CryEngine and id Tech are superior to Unreal Engine 3, but BioShock Infinite is still better-looking. It’s got more style than Crysis 3 has blades of grass, and that’s where it counts. The magic isn't in the fancy shaders or even virtual texturing: it’s in the idea-havers and the art-makers.
Follow Evan, Tyler, and PC Gamer on Twitter to react to our battle prompts as they happen, and see how the community responded to this one on the next page.
@pcgamer modded or un-modded? Because I'm pretty sure you can make Skyrim look better than real life if you install enough mods.
— superkillrobot (@superkillrobot) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer technology wise? Probably. Art direction? Imagination? Notsomuch.
— Tony Heugh (@standardman) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer Definitely, no contest.
— Jake (keyboardN1nja) (@keyboardN1nja) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer For me, I gotta say Battlefield 3.
— Tribesman Gaming (@tribesman256) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer it is definitely, by far, the best unmodded game in terms of raw graphics ever. It just is. Real time caustics. 'Nuff said
— Kai Moseley (@Kibby_Cat) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer Yes, from a tech perspective. Psycho's model is IMO the most realistic looking human model in a game yet, coming from a #BF3 fan.
— Gerardo Pena (@Tobi5480) February 20, 2013 @pcgamer Crysis 3 does look fantastic, but something. about the snowstorms in Skyrim just blow me away.
In the grand tradition of releasing a new thing for a game just as we're beginning to forget all about it, iD software have bolted the official toolkit for Rage onto Steam. You can finally build your own environments, guns, mutants, cars or whatever else. Perhaps you could swap John Goodman's character Dan Hagar for one that looks more like John Goodman, or create a mod that changes the colour palette from 'very brown' to 'less very brown' - whatever your heart desires. However, there are a couple of things to bear in mind with the download, not least the fact that it's a whopping 35+ GB in size.
There's a welcome document accompanying the toolkit, which makes clear that the kit is "provided on an 'as is' basis only for the technically sophisticated and adventurous." iD's John Carmack tweets that "The toolkit release is not something that we consider consumer friendly, but it does let you get a look inside the construction process."
To download the toolkit, head to Tools section on Steam (it's helpfully listed as Rage Tool Kit).
While you could sum up Valve's plans for Linux compatibility as "full Steam ahead," it seems that not everyone is as sold on the OS's role in mainstream gaming. Yesterday, John Carmack questioned the wisdom of development studios working to make their games run natively in Linux. He tweeted, "Improving Wine for Linux gaming seems like a better plan than lobbying individual game developers for native ports. Why the hate?"
Carmack later expanded on his comments in a thread on Reddit's r/Linux, saying, "I don’t think that a good business case can be made for officially supporting Linux for mainstream games today."
"I wish Linux well, but the reality is that it barely makes it into my top ten priorities (Burn the heretic!); I use Linux for the flight computers at Armadillo Aerospace, but not for any regular desktop work. I was happy to hear that Rage ran in Wine, but no special effort was made to support it.
Carmack notes that Zenimax, Id's owner, doesn't publish Mac titles - instead partnering with Aspyr. "I would be stunned if they showed an interest in officially publishing and supporting a Linux title. A port could be up and running in a week or two, but there is so much work to do beyond that for official support."
And Carmack is no stranger to the Linux market. "The conventional wisdom is that native Linux games are not a good market. Id Software tested the conventional wisdom twice, with Quake Arena and Quake Live. The conventional wisdom proved correct. Arguments can be made that neither one was an optimal test case, but they were honest tries."
He argues that, despite the technical stigma, emulation is a more viable move. "Translating from D3D to OpenGL would involve more inefficiencies, but figuring out exactly what the difficulties are and making some form of “D3D interop” extension for OpenGL to smooth it out is a lot easier than making dozens of completely refactored, high performance native ports."
"Ideally, following a set of best practice guidelines could allow developers to get Linux versions with little more effort than supporting, say, Windows XP," Carmack finishes. "Properly evangelized, with Steam as a monetized distribution platform, this is a plausible path forward."
So it turns out RAGE has DLC. DLC that's coming out a year after the game, with all the marketing bluster of a mouse's fart. But hey: we enjoyed RAGE back in the hazy mists of 2011, so perhaps it's time to get excited. Scorchers will set you back a relatively modest $4.99, and it's actually sounding pretty substantial, offering half-a-dozen new areas and a shiny (well, rusty) new gun, among other things.
Here's the skinny, from Bethesda's newly minted Scorchers webpage:
"Battle an all-new maniacal bandit clan, wreak havoc with new brutally efficient weapons and explore undiscovered areas in RAGE's new official add-on pack, RAGE: The Scorchers™. Fight alongside new allies to thwart the Scorcher clan's deadly plot to destroy the Wasteland. The add-on pack also includes 'Ultra-Nightmare', a new high difficulty mode, as well as an 'Extended Play' option that allows you to play past the original ending of the game - giving you the opportunity to finish collecting items and achievements."
So it seems almost akin to Fallout 3's Broken Steel expansion, offering up additional story quests and the ability to return to the world after the credits have rolled. Also of note: a new season of Mutant Bash TV, and a new Nailgun weapon with "three distinct ammunition types". It's hitting the post-apocalypse next week - Tuesday to be exact, three days before our own apocalyptic event.
STEAM The magic of QuakeCon has cut a modest 25% off of Steam's Bethesda/id Software catalog for the weekend, with bigger deals rotating daily. At the time of writing, RAGE is 50% off. (Note: see below for possibly better deals.)
50% off RAGE - $9.99 25% off The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - $44.99 25% off Hunted: The Demon’s Forge - $14.99 25% off Fallout: New Vegas - $14.99 25% off Fallout 3: GOTY Edition - $14.99 25% off The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion GOTY Edition - $14.99 25% off The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind GOTY Edition - $14.99 75% off Titan Quest - $3.74 More Steam deals
GAMEFLY GameFly's QuakeCon sale is just like Steam's, except -- what's this? RAGE is cheaper on GameFly. And so is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Huh! Keep an eye on it.
GAMESTOP Again with the QuakeCon deals, and again with a couple better prices than Steam. (What's going on? I'm scared.) GameStop currently has RAGE for $6.79 and Skyrim for $40.19 (same as last week for that one). I've listed a few unrelated deals below:
75% off Orcs Must Die! GOTY - $3.24 50% off Quantum Conundrum - $7.49 66% off Supreme Commander 2 - $4.99 50% off Borderlands - $9.99
GET GAMES A new challenger! Instead of riding along on the QuakeCon bandwagon, Get Games is offering discounts on Take 2 and Batman games.
30% off Civilization V: Gods & Kings - $20.99 70% off Civilization V - $8.99 75% off Civilization III Complete - $1.25 75% off Civilization IV Complete - $7.49 70% off Mafia II - $8.99 60% off Bioshock 2 - $7.99 65% off Batman Arkham City - $6.99 45% off Batman Arkham Asylum GOTY - $10.99 50% off LEGO Batman - $9.99 75% off Stronghold 3 Gold - $9.99
AMAZON Though Amazon is usually a discount powerhouse, it's way down here this week because it's got a pretty stagnant rotation of deals lately. The only major new addition I could find this week is The Darkness II, and that's not very major.
Checking hardware, I did see that most GeForce GTX 670s and GTX 680s are at least a little discounted. Newegg's prices look to be about the same, though, so cross-reference.
75% off The Darkness II - $12.49 25% off Empire: Total War - $15.05 72% off Mount & Blade - $4.17 50% off Mount & Blade: Warband - $10.03 26% off Dragon Age 2 - $14.74 25% off Mass Effect 2 - $14.92 71% off Trine - $5.83 50% off Mount & Blade: Warband - $9.95 27% off Dungeon Siege 3 - $14.68 50% off Tropico 4 - $19.99 26% off Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 - $14.84 More Amazon PC game downloads
GOG This week's alliterative sale takes 50% off Tremendous TopWare Titles.
If you find any great deals I missed, please do share them in the comments. Additionally, I thought this might be a good space to start sharing what we'll be playing this weekend. I plan to leave Civilization V: Gods & Kings on the ground to conquer the stars in Endless Space. Probably some EVE Online too. Space: it's really, really great. What are you up to?
Welcome to the PC Gamer Ultimate Christmas Giveaway! This is the biggest competition we've ever done: packed with peripherals, games, and exclusive items signed by some very important people. Why are we doing this? Because it's Christmas! And we love you.
The Ultimate Christmas giveaway will run until Christmas Eve. Every day we'll be posting about a new prize that's up for grabs, and you'll have 24 hours after the time of publishing to enter. Sadly, we're only able to open this competition to UK residents.
Ah Christmas, a time for family, a time for giving, and a time for blowing the heads of mutants, at least that's what the guys at id think. So, to wish everyone a Merry Headshotmas, they've sent us a Rage poster signed by their staff, including John Carmack himself! They've also thrown in a copy of Rage and the Rage strategy guide too, that's one hell of a prize.
Check inside for details, plus a closer look at the poster.
She's a beauty isn't she? All this could be yours if you answer one very simple question:
When the world is destroyed in 2012, what is your plan to survive in the harsh post apocalyptic wasteland?
The best, coolest and funniest plan will win the loot. If you win, you'll get a private message via the forums. Let us know your address and we'll send you your prizes shortly after Christmas. Remember, this competition is open to UK readers only. Also, if you don't claim your prize within three weeks of being notified we'll offer it to someone else. Full terms and conditions can be found here.
Good luck out there wastelanders! Don't forget to check back at 4.30 for the next prize, which will involve pointing and clicking.
15 years ago, the original Diablo hacked and slashed its way into PC gaming history. Now, on the run-up to Diablo III, we take a trip to Blizzard to look back at how all began, and forward at where it’s going—including insight into the Diablo III that almost was! Plus, we’ve got Battlefield 3 sniper survival tips, a special report on what Windows 8 means for gamers, and an emergency guide to wrestling your accounts back from hackers. Then read our reviews of Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad, Rage, Hard Reset, Driver: San Francisco, and more!
It's all on newsstands now! Or, if you can’t make it to the store, we’re available on Coverleaf.com and Apple Newsstand.
Update - RockPaperShotgun let us know that Peter Hines has called this rumour 'complete bollocks'.
Kotaku are reporting that id Software's Doom 4 has been put on hold following Rage's launch issues. Kotaku's unnamed source tells them that Bethesda felt that the problematic launch demonstrated a "a serious lack of confidence" in the id management. These rumours are of course just that, and must be taken with a grain of salt.
In our Rage review Rich enjoyed the game, but found it very linear and old fashioned. While opinion was more divided over it during the our recent podcast. What do you think?
Tim's had a baby! That means his ideas about what's been happening in the last couple of weeks in the world of PC Gaming are sketchy at best. Graham, Rich and Owen step in to help bring Tim up to speed, with discussions about Planetside 2, Rage, Battlefield 3, the Project Zomboid disaster and a brief debate about whether or not horses are evil (they are).
Download the MP3, subscribe, or find our older podcasts here.