You’re tired of playing Team Fortress 2. Endwar has been delayed and you don’t like zombies. You still don’t own a machine that will run Crysis. Your new year’s resolution of 1080p is threatened by a world economic downturn. You are faced with having to frag more with less. You may be able to purchase only one game. What will it be? Better take off that headset and put on your consumer hat for a sec.
1. How old are the kids?
“Daddy, can I play?” Everything in society must be done “for the children.” This rule applies to PC game consumers, not just politicians. If you’re a parent who can’t say no, check the ESRB rating on the game’s box or online for content involving violence, sexual themes, language, etc. Now let’s move on.
2. Does the game meet the system requirements?
Perhaps the most important consideration before purchasing a PC game is deciding how well, if at all, it will perform on the gamer’s machine. This subject should be a no-brainer, but often gamers get so excited by the colorful graphics on the package that they overlook the fine print. Most games list a “minimum” and a “recommended” system. The more a system exceeds the minimum machine required to play a game, the better. A machine at or above the recommended requirements will allow a player to maximize the gaming experience with the highest speed and graphical detail.
3. What are the reviewers saying?
Before buying a PC game, it’s best to find out the impressions from others who have experienced the game. If for no other reason than fear of reader ridicule, most game reviewers will not put their names on an article unless they have thoroughly scoured the game for both its strengths and weaknesses. Make sure that the reviewer looks critically at gameplay, graphics, sound, and multiplay. Screenshots, especially if not resized, often speak louder than the review itself. Beware of reviews that spend lots of time discussing how wonderful the introductory video is.
4. Is a demo available?
Never buy a game without first downloading the demo from the developer or publisher’s website. Demos are always free and give the consumer a taste of the game’s features. A publisher will want to show off just enough of a game’s prowess to make people want the full version. A bad demo can be permanently removed from a gamer’s machine and obliterated from his mind forever with virtually no risk.
5. What features does the game have?
A PC game’s developer and publisher normally tout the key features of the product on their websites. A new title should have at least the standard features as well as a few unique ones. Try to compare a game’s features to those of other games in the same genre. First person shooters seem to struggle with the ability to come up with something different than plain run and shoot deathmatch.
6. Does the game have multiplayer support?
The multiplayer feature is not mentioned on the box. I’m sure the game supports multiplay, the publishers just forgot to mention it. Didn’t they? Please tell me they forgot! Please!
You probably have some friends who are strictly single player types and others who are online players. Feel sorry for both. Maximize the fun by taking what you learn in single play to the multiplay milieu where you build competitive skills with others. The multiplayer aspect adds longevity to a game. There will probably be hundreds of people still deathmatching on Half-Life 2 servers a decade after the popular first person shooter was released. Sadly, some games either don’t offer Internet play or offer a package that is unplayable over the net.
7. Did you check the return policy?
Most retailers don’t like accepting returns of opened software. Downloadable services like Steam may even cancel your account and cause you to lose all games you’ve purchased. If you don’t want to be laughed out of the store, check the retailer’s return policy before doing business with them. Buy only from stores that allow exchanges of opened software or who issue credit for returned software. You may be willing to pay more if you have the safety net of a return policy.
8. How many clichés did you spot?
Whether you find yourself at a software store or a voting booth, the most important point in cutting through cliché is look at an organization’s reputation for telling the truth. Here are some classic eyebrow raisers:
- “Jaw-dropping graphics”
- “Unparalleled realism”
- The (insert weapon name) is “powerful” or “lethal”
- The new terrain engine has been “built completely from the ground up”
- “The campaign is the heart of the game” (= no multiplayer)
9. Is it in the “bargain bin?”
How about 2 for 1 deals? Rarely do you get two truly good pc games for one price. Heck, rarely do you get one truly good PC game for the price. Ask yourself what the reason for the discount offering is. In other words, is the store overstocked or is the game in the clearance section because it didn’t sell well. Sometimes you can find two good classic games for a good price, if nostalgia is your interest.
10. Is…was it vaporware?
The game developer has been working on this much-anticipated sequel for three years. Doesn’t this portend a high quality title when released?
Developers who make us sit through years of hype before releasing their title can rarely fulfill our hopes. Too often these long awaited and much talked about revolutionary titles don’t meet expectations or disappear in a disappointing cloud of vaporware. The degree to which game-related software and hardware technology changes in just one year often sends developers back to the drawing board. Then there’s the annual graphics card turnover and oh, don’t forget Moore’s law. In short, if it’s been hyped over the years, take an extra close look before buying.
Finally, it’s tough, but wait. If you read reviews that report problems with the PC game you want, give it some time. When the fix comes, check the gaming forums and see if it worked. It’s always good to let a game circulate for at least a little while before buying.