consolitis [kon-sol-ahy-tis] -- noun
harmful infection of a PC game, caused by design decisions made with consoles in mind and characterized by lack of complexity and/or depth in gameplay mechanics, sub-par graphics and controls, and over-simplified user interface; can be fatal
1995-2000; < Geek. See console, -itis
Ever since video game consoles rose to popularity at the end of the 20th century, PC gamers have had to contend with consolitis, the cancer of the Windows gaming platform. More and more developers and publishers have been flocking to consoles at a time when the rough economy makes it important to maximize profits by tapping into the largest market possible. This has led to most games being developed for consoles first, with the PC version often being little more than an afterthought. If we’re lucky, they may make at least some attempt to upscale the graphics or other features, which some do a better job of doing than others. In this week’s Firing Points, we’ll be looking at the impact consolitis has on games, along with on the industry as a whole.
Consolitis in games
Whenever I review a multi-platform game, I try to be aware of what aspects of the game, if any, might be a result of consolitis and reference it accordingly. It’s a vital component of a review that is based on the PC version of the game, along with citing any other differences there may be, because you might as well just read any of the other dozens of reviews based on console versions otherwise. Here are some things to look for:
Awkward controls: Perhaps the most obvious indicator of consolitis, a poor control scheme can single-handedly ruin the PC version of a game and should become apparent after a short time spent playing. Generally this has to do with auto-aim in a shooter or not being able to navigate menus with the mouse. Also, not enough hotkeys in an RPG -- that one’s really annoying.
All console hardware is outdated. That’s why they’re affordable to the consumer and that’s why the manufacturers can turn a profit. It also means they just aren’t capable of keeping up with the advancements in visual effects afforded to the PC by constant improvements graphics technology. Developers get around this by designing games in such a fashion that hides or draws attention away from the weakest element, be it texture resolution, polygon counts, or particle effect quality. Unless extra effort is put into upgrading the graphics when a game is ported to PC, it won’t stand up to scrutiny or comparison with native titles.
Generally, the only way to determine a feature is missing is if the game in question is a sequel or part of a genre that is prominent on PC. Examples include: no ability to lean in an FPS, no dedicated servers for multiplayer, no access to console commands, not being able to quick save, etc. Now that I think about it, several missing features can be attributed to the game being designed to work with a controller… Usually, these can’t easily be fixed during the porting process, so they aren’t.
Also known as your garden variety dumbing-down or “streamlining,” this category is a bit more difficult to define. Like missing features, it is also more easily recognized in the case of a sequel or PC-oriented genre. More recent examples include Mass Effect 2, TES IV: Oblivion, and Supreme Commander 2, but this has been going on for a while, with older games like Deus Ex: Invisible War and Halo: Combat Evolved being among the affected. It doesn’t always mean the game is bad, but it’s definitely not as good as it could have been.
However, there are some rare cases where games do not suffer from being consoley. Some genres just plain don’t lend themselves well to being controlled by a keyboard and mouse anyway, such as racing, fighting, platforming, or non-shooter action/adventure. Batman: Arkham Asylum was so good as a console game, played with a controller, that happened to have improvements made for the PC version (mostly the graphics). If a game is designed well enough and ported with care, consolitis doesn’t have to wreck the PC version -- kind of like a benign tumor.