A Midcore Gamer Reviews PC Gamer Magazine: January 2009 Issue
I recently re-started my subscription to PC Gamer after a 5 year break. Ironically, I now do not own a desktop PC any longer (although I have a couple laptops). I play my PC games on a dual-boot iMac (the latest being Fallout 3). However, since I’m sure I will never see a magazine named “Boot camp Gamer”, this magazine will have to suffice.
Anyway, it has been a long time since I’ve consumed PC Gamer on a regular basis, so I’ve decided to write a section-by-section “review” (get it? get it? I’ve turned the tables. How clever of me.) of the magazine. I’m writing this as I read through, so there is no destination in mind. I certainly don’t intend this to be a super-critical “taking down” of the establishment or anything, but simply a a look at how relevant one of the last printed magazines about computer games is to my demographic, the 38 year old, married with with kids, midcore gamer.
- The Cover: Very creepy. A zombie(?) hand reaches up from the depths of the zombie world(?) under the title “Left For Dead”. It looks like this is the “big” game for the month. Just my luck, I’ve never heard of it.
- Table Of Contents: I do not see much difference here than what I can recall from the magazine circa 2003. While it does seem easier to read, there also seems to be 1/2 as many reviews as there used to be. Hmm. Has the pool of reviewable games dwindled, or has the magazine become more “selective”?
- Editorial: The EIC Kristen Salvatore writes about how the magazine will no longer wait for the final version of a game before they review it. Obviously amateur web sites with few-if-no credentials (read: kind of like the one you are currently visiting) are obviously kicking their butts (NOT like the one you are currently reading). Still, this reads like an introspective editorial from an 80’s Atari computer magazine. I’m impressed with it, but at the same time I kind-of feel sorry for the magazine. Is it a good thing to pity your bathroom reading material? No matter, the editorial is disarming in a way that makes me want to read on.
- Letters: I have not really enjoyed “letters” sections since the days of Next Generation. This section is quite short, with only four pieces of correspondence. I seem to recall the letters section in years past going-on for 1/2 the magazine. In comparison, this one seems almost …negligible. Does anyone write letters any more? I think they used to print “via email” if the question had come-in over the interbaun, but now there is no such designation. Maybe we are supposed to realize that they ALL come via email. The letters cover a very well-selected (hmm…) range of topics including “finding old games”, “re scoring reviews”, and the “high-cost of digital downloads.”. The “re scoring” one is a bit fan-boyish, but the other two hit the Midcore mark right in the center. However, a letter about recent war games being too “America” centric reads a like a grognard letter complaining about SSI vs. SSG from CGW circa 1987. I don’t know if this kind of thing is good for the magazine, but it made me feel all warm and gooey inside.
- Eye Witness: Spore: The Backlash: For some reason, hardcore gamers treated the release of Spore like it was the second-coming of the Wii-Mote (a threat to their very existence) instead of what it really was: a very long 5 or 6 level basic arcade game with tacked-on strategy elements. There is a lot on the page about DRM and install counts, etc. All I care about is this: Spore installed perfectly on both my Mac (native) and my PC lap top, my oldest daughter loves the creature creator, but we both think the game is sub-par. If I bought games for the installer, it would get a 90%, but for lasting game play, I’d give it 60%. The bottom-line: too much vink1 has been spilled on this minor turkey already. Time to move- on.
- Eye Witness (page 2): A story about social networking and hunting games (eek!), a story about a free online game named “aether” (cool!), a list of release dates (probably already out-of-date), and story about gamer tattoos (really PC Gamer …really?)
- Preview : Warhammer 40,000 Dawn Of War : Now this is more like it! This is what I recall from the days of old! Massive, lengthy previews of a game that I have no interest-in what-so-ever .I must have skipped over what I thought were dozens of previews of Warhammer games in PC Gamers past. Quickly turning the page is like going home.
- Preview: Wanted, Weapons Of Fate: To be honest, I skipped MANY previews in magazines past, and this one would have been a sure candidate for my indifference back then …until I saw the the guy in an assassin suit that resembled a cross between Greedo, Bob Fett and a Star Wars medical droid. Neato. But then, I read the first line about how you play a “super assassin” and stopped. Probably not good game for the family.
- Preview Batman: Arkham Asylum: This sounds like quite a cool Batman game actually. Maybe good for a late-night-kids-are-asleep-dual-boot after I finish Fallout 3.
- Preview: Arma 2: A standard looking a modern hyper-military strategy shooter. The kind of game that has really not interested me since …ever.
- Review: Left For Dead : A Massive (p)review of what looks like the best zombie-fighting game ever made. The last time I fought zombies was with saw blades in Half-Life 2. That was a Valve game. That was awesome. This ia a Valve game too. It also looks awesome. The amount of coverage (8 full color pages) seems a tad over-the-top though.
- Reviews: Call Of Duty: World At War, Grand Theft Auto IV, Tomb Raider Underworld: The first three reviews. All get great marks…and all seem like games I read reviews of years ago. Nothing wrong with them. but at this point in my life, they are probably too far on the side of hardcore for me to pay much attention to them. sorry.
- Review: Quantum Of Solace: a James bond licensed movie game getting a 60%? No. It. Can’t. Be.
- Review: Spiderman Web Of Shadows: Still no love for the direct console ports. Not even any “like” for them. Not even a reach-around. Nothing.
- Review: Penny Arcade Adventures : I have not played any of these games, but they do seem like they would be up my alley (casual, adventure style games) . However, can you imagine a game publication that would completely pan any of them? I can’t. (However, Meta-Critic shows that Edge gave it a 40%). Game journalists can stand shoulder to shoulder against the onslaught of ex-high-school-quarterback marketing guys, but in the face of Penny Arcade? I can’t see it (again, unless they are British). No matter, the game probably deserves the score it received. Hopefully I’ll get chance to play it some day so I can verify my feelings.
- Review: Peggle Nights: Finally, an actual, honest-to-goodness Midcore game reviewed in these pages. However, the review is not good, and not good in that frustrating way that makes me skip most reviews of games that are not considered “hardcore” in these magazines. Basically, the reviewer does not like the game Peggle Nights because it is too much like Peggle. What? Tetris is still f*cking Tetris, no matter how it is dressed-up, and if it is re-made well, it usually get a good review, even though it is still f*cking Tetris. These types of reviews infuriate me. Makes me want to quit reading…
- Review: World Of Goo:…until I get to this review of World Of Goo. This game looks like the next great Casual/midcore game. I’m glad PC Gamer agrees. Maybe we can be friends again.
- Reviews: Bully Scholarship Edition, Sacred 2, Fallen Angel, King’s Bounty : The Legend: The final three reviews, and similar to the first three, neither are the scores surprising, nor are they games that I would pay much attention too.
- Extended Play: A very extensive article about tweaking the Warhammer Online interface. I don’t think anything could be more hardcore than this. If they put a picture next to “hardcore gamer” in the dictionary it would be of the guys who consume this story picking copies of Wii Fit out of their stool.
- Hard Stuff: Launch Party: The EE waxes about how great it is to be a PC Gamer right now. As the software PC shelves at major retailers shrink even further (Best Buy had 1/2 of an aisle when I looked yesterday), he must be figuring online downloads into the mix?
- Hard Stuff: Q&A about the new Intel 4-core processor, a review of Falcon Northwest Mach V, a review of the Velocity Micro Edge Z55. These are as expected, in-depth hardware stories that I always appreciate, but hardly ever read. The section is much smaller than it used to be, and there is no letters section with Vederman, playing the part of The Game Doctor circa 1982 Electronic Games.
- The Game Whisperers: The Father Of The FPS: An Interview John Carmack. This is the beginning of my favorite section from PC Gamer of old, and the current version does not disappoint. These one pagers from the back of the magazine usually have the best content in the entire publication.
- The Killing Box: Dynamic Death match Dungeons : An article about the game design implications of randomly designed levels. This is a very cool article. The lessons learned here are good for any type of game that could make use of random level generators.
- Alternative Lives: Memo To Bethesda: Final Report: Fallout 3: An article about just how freaking awesome Fallout 3 was when it was released, mostly because Bethesda did not make some obvious mistakes. A Very interesting story, especially if you love Fallout 3 (me)
- Homebrew: Modders And the game Mount And Blade: Modding is just a couple steps away from indie game development, so again, this one hits home. It’s nice to see that the magazine supports these kinds of efforts.
- Strategic Command: A story about Blizzard that wonders if the company is milking their fans by splitting Starcraft II into three separate games, one for each faction. This reminds me a of a story from the .COM boom days. A friend of mine bought a bunch of stock in Krispy Kreme. It was $78 a share. He asked me if I thought he paid too much. My answer the that question, and to the one posed by the article are exactly the same. (Hint, look here)
- Flight Sim Futures: The only game genre that is nearly as classic and hardcore as hex-based war games has to be flight simulators. Before the FPS domination, fight sims used to be the sh*t on the PC. I’s nice to see PC Gamer still flying their flag in the corridors of FPS-RTS-MMORPG power.
- Backspace: The final page of the magazine. This one contains a fairly lame parody of the “Food Pyramid” recast as as the “Pyramid Of Gaming Wellness”. I tried to like it, but it struck me as far too hardcore skewing. I like the idea of it though.
So what do I think after digesting all of this. Well, here is my final verdict in the terms of PC Gamer:
The Good: Good writing, a good mix of stories (especially in the second 1/2), uses a familiar format that remains mostly unchanged because there really is no reason to alter it.
The Bad: A bit on the short side, still sides too heavily on the hardcore for my tastes, still no real coverage of web game industry. The ending made no sense.
Final Verdict: The last of the great PC game magazines is still going strong. While they have been overshadowed by web-content, they are trying hard to stay alive by becoming more nimble, but are still fairly reluctant to cover new game avenues. If they could find a way to still appeal to the hardcore, while opening up the format to newer gaming formats (i.e web content, Mac gaming, retro gaming topics), they might be able to stay around for a long time to come.
Midcore Gamer Rating: 81%
1 Vink: Not a typo, but my glorious attempt at coining a new phrase that combines “virtual” and “ink” when discussing something that is talked about in both print and online. Did I succeed? Hopefully it will catch-on better than Midcore gamer…