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When a PC Diehard Buys a Console

My first experience with video games came from watching my cousins play the Atari 2600 when I got to visit them. The next year, they had the NES and my interest in gaming developed into an obsession after watching just a few minutes of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!. I received a NES console of my own a couple of years later for Christmas, marking the beginning of my journey as a full-time video game person.

Fast forward a few years later and I was fortunate enough to graduate up to the Super Nintendo. I played and absorbed as much as humanly possible via renting cartridges from the local video store whenever possible. I also got in some time with a cousin’s Sega Genesis. I was as deep into it as you could imagine. Any game that existed outside of the popular 8 or 16-bit console world was completely off my radar.

Enter The PC

Sometime in early 1994, my family acquired a new PC with the idea that it could be used for educational purposes. It was close to top of the line (386 33MHz) and, most importantly, came with a CD-Rom drive and a bundled copy of Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. That disc got worked like a government mule. It was certainly novel at the time and there was also a real dearth of CD-Rom content available where I lived at the time. On a trip out of town to the mall one weekend, I spotted a computer magazine at a Waldenbooks (or somewhere similar) in a plastic bag that came with a free CD full of shareware.

I fumbled with the disc and eventually came across Catacomb Abyss. I could not believe what I was seeing (and not hearing, as I could never correctly map DOS games to whatever soundboard we had at the time). It didn’t take long for me to come across the shareware version of Doom. My gaming focus shifted towards the PC from that point on, though I did own and enjoy the Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast, and Nintendo Gamecube.

The family got a new PC near the end of 1997 and by the next summer, it had the 3Dfx Voodoo 2 added into the box. 1998 happened. Half-Life, StarCraft, Rainbow Six, Myth II, Baldur’s Gate, Shogo, Thief, Blood II, and Caesar III all combined to make an incredible impression on me. After that point, I viewed playing games on a console to be a second-class experience. Fast forward to 2017 and I still believed it to be true. I played some of the bigger console games in the time between, but I found nothing that came close to swaying my opinion.

Scratching The Football Itch

I always played loads of sports games on whatever PC or console I had available at the time. I wasted many hours of my life goofing around in franchise modes for football, baseball, and basketball simulators. 2017 marked the tenth anniversary of the last time EA pushed out one of its afterthought PC ports of Madden football to the PC. I wanted to get back to playing video game football, but it was simply never gonna happen on the PC.

I joined this site in July this year and I expressed my frustrations about this to Shacknews Grand Poobah Asif Khan. He was a dirty console user, but expressed empathy with my predicament. Asif expressed his admiration for this year’s version of Madden football and I decided that I was going to buy and use a console for the first time in more than 15 years.

A choice had to be made of which box to start this journey with. I settled on a PS4 Pro for a few reasons. First, the Pro was considered to be the most powerful console available and I had recently started using a 4K display. I figured the pairing would be good for image quality and that I could also revert back to using 1080p in the software that supported it and potentially get a better, more consistent framerate at the same time. I had flirted with a console fling a few short years ago when I bought the Xbox 360 Slim model and a copy of the just-released GTA V. After playing about 2 hours of the game, I made the decision to quit and box the whole thing up. I didn’t feel satisfied playing with the choppy framerate and incredibly low resolution (compared to what I had been using on PC for more than a decade at that point). I wanted the extra power of the PS4 Pro to try and avoid that situation again.

My second argument for choosing the Playstation ecosystem over the Xbox One was because I felt like Sony was offering a more enticing package. Virtually all but a few multiplatform titles were better experienced on PC (or not available like Madden), so I focused on exclusives. I couldn’t think of a single title that appealed to me on the Xbox that I couldn’t get on PC. The lone exception, Sunset Overdrive, was rather easily buried by the PS4 offerings.

Bringing Home A PS4

I went to Gamestop (boo) to get a PS4 Pro and saw that they offered an all-white model (yay), but it costs $50 more and came with Destiny 2 (boo). I ended up making a deal with the clerk to trade in Destiny 2 for a $50 PSN card to help me get a library started. I got the thing home and decided to wall mount it since it was simply too big to live on my desk with the keyboard, mouse, and gamepads. I got it up on the wall above my white PC case and was initially happy with the purchase before I even used the machine as it looked like a good match with what I already had in the room.

I plugged everything up and went through the initial network and 4K/HDR setup process. I let the system download the newest firmware and reboot a few times. I created a PSN profile and popped the Madden 18 disc into the machine to get started. The installation was taking longer than I expected and the drive was incredibly loud. Thankfully, the PS4 lets you goof around while the game is copied to the internal drive and I opened the PSN store and signed up for PS Plus (that I needed to play Madden online with Asif). I saw that the Plus subscription got me a free copy of Infamous: Second Son and I added it to my account. I used some of the PSN store credit I got from trading in Destiny 2 to pick up MLB: The Show 17 and started its download in the background.

My first impression of using the main interface and acquiring digital games was very positive. The downloads were not nearly as fast as what I regularly get on PC from Steam or Origin, but not so bad that it was a pain. After 30 or 40 minutes, Madden finished its disc install and then prompted me to download some patches. It took well over an hour from the time I put the disc in to the reach the point where I could launch the game, but this was the first Madden to do 4K or HDR, so I can give it a pass for needing to load up additional data, textures, or whatever was needed to provide the “next gen” experience.

Poor First Impressions

Because it’s 2017, the game starts with an all out blitz to get me into its card trading game and to start buying random booster packs. Whatever, I can get around this and got myself into an exhibition match. The game looks rather sharp in 4K (or 1800p in this case), but appears to bug out with its HDR implementation. The in-game brightness is constantly shifting up and down while playing and eventually the whole screen looks like a badly over-exposed photo. The framerate is generally smooth during plays, but chugs really badly when entering and exiting cutscenes (which happens constantly in Madden). I decide to give up on 4K HDR, but was unable to find any options or toggles.

This is when I learned that PS4 Pro enhancement is a bit like the wild west. Anything goes and there are no rules on how things work or are presented. After a few Google searches, I learned that Madden 18 offers no video settings and that I needed to quit the game and disable 4K output and HDR from the PS4 system setting menu. This requires the game to completely restart, negating the cool resume feature of the console. I get hit with ads to buy cards again and the framerate doesn’t really improve by dropping to 1080p, but the colors are back to normal, so it isn’t all bad. I also found Madden itself to be a bad football game, still struggling with the same issues I had with the 2004 edition of the game (the last I spent loads of time with). Still, one game is not representative of the whole PS4 Pro experience.

I go back to the PS4 home screen and choose to start up Infamous: Second Son. Unlike Madden, the HDR implementation works as advertised and the game appeared to hold a seemingly rock-solid 30fps at 4K (or a checkerboarded 1800p in this case) for the small bits I got to see. Unfortunately, the game crashed me back to the PS4 desktop several times while I was working my way through the opening 30 minutes. I ended up deleting and re-downloading the game from the PSN store, but was unable to get the crashes to stop. It was a real bummer as I am genuinely interested to see what the game is all about. I will note that, unlike Madden, Infamous allowed me to toggle the Pro enhancements from within the game with no need for a reboot.

Not All Bad

At this point, I was beginning to sour on the whole console experiment. I jumped over to MLB: The Show 17. This was a game I’ve heard great things about and was one of the big reasons I wanted to try out the PS4. I start it up and I get an offer to buy/acquire card packs. 2017 will simply not stop beating us over the head with microtransactions. I get through the menus and load into an exhibition game. When it starts up, I jump into the options and get a choice of 4K, Enhanced Visuals, and High Framerate. I chose 4K and made sure to enable HDR. The camera swings around the stadium and the first batter walks up to the plate. Wow.

It is pretty clear from the outset that MLB: The Show 17 runs at a native 4K. I never would have imagined that a console game could look this crisp. No sign of aliasing or shimmering on the thousands of cyber people in the stands. Player uniform textures are a sight to behold and the lighting system used legitimately bests any sports game I’ve seen on the PC (FIFA 18 and NBA 2K18 being the current PC top dogs). The HDR implementation is pretty good, but not as impressive as what I saw during glimpses of Infamous: Second Son. I found that it looked much more lifelike for overcast or night games than it did for the blown out-looking day games.

Sadly, MLB: The Show 17 runs like an absolute dog at 4K. You may see the game approach 30fps here and there (especially when a ball is hit into play and only some grass and a single outfielder is being rendered). During virtually all cutscenes, the game routinely chugs along from 15-20fps and looks like a stuttering mess. Thankfully, the PS4 Pro enhancement options work without needing a reboot. The Enhanced Visuals mode knocks the game down to 1440p and offers some slight upgrades to shadow quality and some other effects. The game can hit 60fps here and there in this mode, but can still be very inconsistent during cutscenes and transitions. High Framerate mode drops the resolution down to 1080p and generally holds a steady 60fps. I choose to play the game with this mode and have a great time. I would kill to see MLB: The Show 17 running on a mid to high-end PC. This game is a lot of fun and could be a graphical powerhouse with a bit more juice behind it.

Adopting a Naughty Dog

I was three games into my console excursion and outside of finding MLB 17 to be a really nice baseball game, the experience coming from a PC was incredibly lackluster. On the suggestion of Shacknews News Editor Charles Singletary, I picked up the remastered Uncharted collection on the PSN store. This collection of the 3 PS3-era Uncharted games offers no PS4 Pro support, but I was happy to find that all three of the titles run at a locked 60fps. I began with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and got about 10 or so hours into the game before I gave up due to frustration with the controls, particularly when having to aim my guns at the endless grunts. I was impressed at how good the face models looked for a now decade-old game and found some of the climbing sections to be enjoyable.

I relayed my experience to Charles and another friend. They both said to give Uncharted 2: Among Thieves a try before giving up on Nathan Drake. Within an hour of starting the game, I found myself slipping into a groove and losing myself in the game. For the first time since I began this experiment, I completely forgot about being on a console or wondering about how I would enjoy it more on the PC. Naughty Dog upped the ante in every conceivable way. The faces I was impressed by in Drake’s Fortune looked so much better and could legitimately pass in a current generation game. The controls felt a bit tighter. While I still experienced many bouts of frustration with trying to shoot those damn grunts, the impeccable pacing, set pieces, and action sequences kept me enthralled. As I worked through Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, I began to realize that the second Uncharted chapter was more than just a graphical leap over the first and is potentially a timeless classic.

I could not wait to hop into Drake’s Deception. Around the 5 hour mark, I gave up. Whatever spark was ignited in me during Among Thieves was gone. I didn’t feel like it was much of an advancement in the same way the second game was over Drake’s Fortune. The graphical upgrades and refinements in presentation were there, but for one reason or another, I felt like the spirit was gone. I decided to take a break from Uncharted, even though I had ordered a physical copy of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End during a sale. As pleased as I was with the Uncharted collection, I decided to pick up The Last of Us: Remastered on the PSN store.

Unlike the Nathan Drake Collection, The Last of Us: Remastered offers PS4 Pro enhancements. I jumped right into it and enabled the 4K mode and HDR. While the HDR implementation worked well, Making the jump from 60fps in Uncharted to 30fps in The Last of Us was too jarring for me. The game felt overly sluggish, even if the framerate was solid. I lowered the game to 1800p and in this mode, it ran pretty smoothly for the most part. I found the transitions between the very sharp-looking game and the pre-rendered 1080p cutscenes to be less than ideal, but I’ve been dealing with this particular issue on the PC for years. So many console ports ship with low-res pre-rendered movies that look significantly worse compared to the actual gameplay running at high resolution.

Technical issues aside, I noticed a sharp shift in the way Naughty Dog used their games to tell a story. I found myself buying into the narrative of the game very quickly and was genuinely interested in seeing how everything played out. Unfortunately, I found myself dying over and over, forced to repeat what felt like an endless chain of stealth sequences. A few times I would find a way to stealth by a section or almost fight my way through a tough encounter only to find myself constantly missing gunshots. It got bad enough that I gave up on using firearms completely. Less than 10 hours into the game, I gave up on it after failing some more stealth sections that I felt added nothing at all to the narrative or my enjoyment of the game. I was done with Naughty Dog for now.

A Last Ditch Effort

Next up was Until Dawn. I didn’t find it to be anything special, but I appreciated what it tried to go for and though that it looked pretty good considering it offered no PS4 Pro enhancements. Like almost everything else I tried, it suffered from very inconsistent framerates. I didn’t find it to be a big deal with Until Dawn because the game design works in a way that the hiccups and chugs fail to negatively affect the experience. Ultimately this felt like a fairly standard “Choose Your Own Adventure”-type ordeal with a rather nice cast of Hollywood folk.

To say that my PS4 experience up to this point was rather underwhelming would be an understatement, notwithstanding my time with the PS3-era Among Thieves and an incredibly solid baseball game waiting to break out on a stronger platform. Uncharted 4 was my last serious attempt at determining if keeping a console around for daily use was something I desired. I had a physical copy of the game that I got used from a GameStop promotion (a benefit that has been years extinct to me as a PC-first player). I threw the disc in and endured an installation that was significantly longer (by 30-40 minutes) than what I experienced with Madden 18. After the PS4 finished the disc install, it began a round of patch downloading. Having been a Steam user for years, I found the inconvenience of the physical game installation process to be worse than I anticipated. Microsoft was certainly onto something with their full online vision back at their E3 2013 PR disaster.

Upon launching the game, I was greeted with more racket from the optical drive and the game continually struggled to load. A few reboots did not seem to help the situation and a visual inspection of the disc revealed no issues. The copy of Uncharted 4 that I received was likely a dud. It is an assumed risk with buying used and I could have shipped the thing back to GameStop and waited for a replacement, but I didn’t feel like bothering. I dove into the PSN store and bought the game again at full retail price. It triggered another download that was around 8GB in size, likely patching up the hatchet job installation from the faulty disc I used earlier.

After wading through the installation and re-purchase inconvenience, I was finally starting up Uncharted 4. The main menu is dead simple. A skeleton in a suspended cage against a rather plain backdrop. It hinted at pirate shenanigans, though I didn’t really absorb the cleverness of it prior to playing through the game. Before going into any real detail about how Naughty Dog’s PS4 showcase worked out for me, I’ll simply say that Uncharted 4 is a legitimate masterpiece.

This game clearly felt like the shining star atop a Christmas tree that Naughty Dog had been pruning and decorating from the bottom since the first Uncharted game hit the PS3. While I had previously skipped almost all the cutscenes in the earlier games, I found the uncharacteristically long narrative sequences that dominate the first hours of the game to be every bit as captivating as what I saw in The Last of Us. Whatever they learned from that endeavor was poured into the foundation of Uncharted 4 and turned what could have been a rather mindless action adventure romp into a video game story that I wouldn’t feel crazy comparing to the best I’ve experienced in nearly 30 years of playing games. I related to the characters in a way I had only done with standouts like The Witcher 3 or Portal. I didn’t necessarily find the writing to be up to par with those titans of the format, but the presentation of the entire package produced the same emotional response from me.

Visually, Uncharted 4 is a stunner. Not just for a console game, but stacked against any game with any amount of hardware thrown behind it. On the PS4 Pro, the game renders at a resolution of 1440p at an almost always steady 30fps. I certainly noticed the occasional dip, but I was more than willing to forgive when the moving picture on my screen was this breathtaking. The awkward transitions from real-time rendering to pre-recorded video cutscenes from the early Uncharted games and The Last of Us was eliminated. I only became aware that a cutscene was not being rendered in real time was when I was attempting to use the built-in photo mode to take in the buffet of visual marvels Naughty Dog was dumping on me. Everything from the character models and animations to the environments and post-processing effects was absolute first rate.

If all this wasn’t enough, Uncharted 4 arguably sports the best lighting I’ve ever seen in game (though I could buy the argument that Assassin’s Creed: Origins wrestled this crown away from UC some 18 months later). It doesn’t matter if you are running through building interiors, lush island greenery, or on the edges of seaside cliffs, Uncharted 4 makes it easy to forget you are playing a game. The voice acting is the best I’ve heard in any game. The music kicks when it needs to and conveys somber moments when called for.

This is the kind of title that you dream of seeing for a new hardware generation. Unlike anything else I’ve played on the PS4, the adventures of Nate Drake and his brother Luke Perry never left me wondering how much nicer it could be on the PC with boosted resolutions or framerates. The option to have auto-aim for the gunfights eliminated my yearning for a mouse and kept the experience moving at its intended breakneck pace. Unlike the older Naughty Dog titles, I always felt that my poor decisions caused my deaths rather than a fight with a control stick struggling to aim a pistol. There was a silky smooth animation for absolutely everything I could possibly do and I was never pulled out of the suspension of disbelief due to seeing the same gun pickup or taking cover animations ad nauseum. Controlling them Drake boys felt just right, with every movement feeling like it had the proper weight behind it.

I even grew fond of the parts that were objectively less than stellar, like the convenient appearances of the cigar smoking deus ex machina that is Vic Sullivan or the failure of Rafe Adler’s arc to develop into anything meaningful. While I am a couple of months removed from my playthrough, I’m not finding my fondness for the experience to be waning in any way. I feel pretty comfortable in placing it among my all-time favorites like Mario 64 or S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl.

Any system worth buying needs a killer app. The PS4 has that app in Uncharted 4. I can honestly say that getting to experience it justified this entire endeavor. It made me forget about how the console cooling fans manage to seem at least three times louder than my PC at its worst, despite being farther away from my ears. It made me forget how awful the DualShock 4 is compared to competing pads from Microsoft and Nintendo. That thing feels cheap and could use a redesign to swap to offset sticks and dump the touchpad that I never used as anything other than a button. Ok, maybe Uncharted didn’t make me forget the DS4.

Thoughts On The PS4

Outside of being an adult Goonie that murders 1700 nameless PMC henchmen, the PS4 ecosystem does offer a few other positives. I found the process of setting up and broadcasting a stream to Twitch to be extremely straightforward. The convenience of the feature on the PS4 dwarfs any of the bonuses you get with PC streaming using Xsplit, Shadowplay, or OBS. The assortment of media playback apps was pretty good. I would not recommend a PS4 over something like a Roku, but everything I tried worked well enough. The overall layout of the main PS4 home screen was easy to navigate and I usually felt like I was always a few taps away from anything I needed. I was even able to quickly and easily create my own personal Sarah Huckabee Sanders home screen theme.

I took the initial plunge for Madden 18. In hindsight, this could have really soured me on trying consoles for years to come. Thankfully, Nathan Drake found me before I swore off using a Sony box for life. I am genuinely looking forward to 2018 on the PS4. I have some small hopes that SIE San Diego can figure out a way to get a locked 30fps for MLB: The Show 18 and that Spiderman can play as well as it demoed at E3 2017. The Last of Us 2 is on my radar big time. I sincerely hope that auto-aiming or a similar workaround for combat can work for me like it did with Uncharted 4. Naughty Dog has earned the benefit of the doubt from me after A Thief's End and Lost Legacy. I’m honestly surprised by my current outlook.

Parting Thoughts

I also ended up with the Nintendo Switch around the same time as I got the PS4 Pro. As of right now, I find using the thing in handheld mode to be dreadful, but find docked mode with the Pro Controller to be acceptable. Super Mario Odyssey is what it is - a well crafted game with a hint of the absurd that is a highlight of 2017. I have still not found my way with Breath of the Wild yet, but the jury is still out. I honestly would never remove the Switch from its dock if not for the bundle of fun that is Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, aka Mario X-Com. It’s so stupid and simple, yet I feel like it is the only thing I’ve experienced on the Switch that I feel works equally well in both modes. Maybe if I had human sized hands or if the JoyCons didn’t feel so unnecessary, I could be a Switch person. It hasn’t happened yet, but there’s always hope. The online system for that thing is doing it no favors and makes the PS4 experience look even better.

The PC is still my main focus and will continue as such, but having a little something on the side is pretty nice. I can’t say for sure if other PC people would latch onto a console exclusive in the same way I did for Uncharted 4 (though Breath of The Wild might be the ticket if you can live with Nintendo’s quirks). I came out of this gaining a new appreciation for these loud boxes, even if they can cost more than a monster GPU upgrade for the PC. I can’t wait for all the From Software losers in the comments to remind me about BloodBorne. You weirdos will never convince me that it wouldn't be better on PC.

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