Making the Jump
Ever since I first held that black-and-white brick of a Nintendo controller at the age of 6, I've been a console loyalist. I've owned nearly every console made from 1990 onward, from the Super Nintendo to the Sega Dreamcast.
So when my editor asked, "Are you ready to hand over your PlayStation 4?", my hands broke out in a cold sweat — especially when she said I had to use the keyboard and mouse, instead of my beloved controller, for certain titles, such as Mass Effect: Andromeda.
She might as well have asked if I wanted to turn over my firstborn child. (I don't have one, but that's not the point.) At the time, I had just bought Horizon Zero Dawn, had gotten back into Gravity Rush 2 and was still deeply invested in Street Fighter V.
Could I put all my adventures on hold and swap systems midstream? Would I be able to adjust to controlling characters via keyboard? What games would I even play on a PC?
I've touched a couple of PC games — mainly Counter-Strike and a couple of point-and-click adventures — but I never could get fully invested. Admittedly, part of my problem is psychological. I just never viewed PC as a viable gaming option. Three-fourths of my PC usage is spent on Wikipedia, and the rest is used to stream music and podcasts. My PC is basically a radio and encyclopedia, not a console.
Another issue is dexterity. Before I was a console gamer, I used to be an arcade junkie. Fighting games are my true passion, and I would spend laundry bags of quarters loitering in laundromats, pizza shops and video arcades. As the arcade industry died down, I began to play more and more at home, and I got more accustomed to using a controller and lounging around with my feet up on a table.
A couple of years ago, I went to an old-school arcade to try to play Marvel vs. Capcom, and I realized I had lost most of my joystick skills. I'd try to launch a fireball, and instead, I'd just punch the air. If this were 10 years ago, I would have devoted hours to relearning and growing those motor skills. But I can't spend that time now. I worried that the same would happen when I tried to use a keyboard. Would it be worth it to try to play a first-person shooter on a PC, only to continue running into walls and shooting the air?
I admit PC games do have advantages. The graphics and smoothness are unparalleled. Whenever I'd watch videos of PC games or see friends play, I'd be amazed by the sharpness of the gameplay. After all, even the best console games have some sort of latency. As I said before, I'm a big fighting-game fan, and players rave about the virtually nonexistent lag. The ability to play an arcade-perfect fighting game holds a large appeal.
Another reason I'm intrigued is because of the sheer number of indie games. I slowly gravitated toward indie games over the past five years because of how far they've come. I'm always interested in expanding my gaming palate, and PC exclusives such as Hollow Knight are right up my alley. Plus, I have a decent internet connection now. Gone are the days of dial-up, where I could easily get kicked offline, just as a mission started getting good, because of a phone call or because my mother tripped over a wire.
But one thing has remained the same over the years: my love of gaming. I love getting immersed in the adventures, controlling the destinies of my characters and challenging myself in interesting ways. I'm also still a fan of playing with friends. Many a play date revolved around meeting up at a friend's house to play a racing game or do some co-op beat-'em-up game like Final Fight or Streets of Rage.
So with all that said — and considering my potential learning curve — I now have an Alienware 15 in my apartment, access to a slew of Steam and EA games, and six weeks to get acquainted with the PC life. Will I be prepared to make the leap? Stay tuned to find out if I (and my potentially arthritic hands) can tell.
Fun with Alienware
After repeating my life affirmations in the mirror 20 times and taking some anti-anxiety meds, I relinquished my PlayStation 4 and took home an Alienware 15 for the purposes of an experiment: to see what it'd be like to switch from PS4 to PC for gaming.
First things first: This laptop is seriously lit, and I'm not using slang. Almost every part of the Alienware — from the keyboard, to the touchpad, to the alien head on the back — lights up in different colors. I felt like I was using a segmented glow stick. Had I known that gaming laptops could do all kinds of rave-like illumination, I would have been tempted to experiment with non-console gaming years ago.
The next thing I noticed was the weight. At 7.4 pounds, the Alienware 15 was far heavier than I had expected. Granted, I have a slight build, so carrying too many groceries up a flight of stairs is enough to make my arms sore. But the PC is still a bit heftier than my 6.2-pound PS4.
Before I could jump headfirst into PC gaming, I had to get reaquainted with using a PC. After switching to a Mac three years ago, I had to reopen my mental PC pathways and remember what the Alt and Ctrl keys do. In fact, I almost called my editor to say, "Can I borrow an adult? I can't operate heavy machinery. Are there floppy disks I can use to boot this thing?"
My next step was to figure out whether I wanted to play on a big-screen TV or game directly on the laptop. "But Calvin, you have an HDMI cable, so just plug it in," you might say. Yes, I can do that. But this is week one, and I'm sticking with my promise to use this device and this device only. Plus, I'm on a laptop, and it will be nice to play on the go.
After gaining access to my editor's Steam library, I played Broforce and Batman: Arkham City. And by the way, if you missed Broforce the first time around, definitely get this game in your life! It's a fun indie 2D side-scroller where you play as one of several characters who are parodies of action-movie heroes. I started off as Rambro (based on Rambo) and battled through four maps, slaying pixelated foes. The game looks good, but considering the game design is a throwback to old-school adventure games, I couldn't really compare the smoothness of the graphics to my experience with the PS4.
Playing Arkham City was a far more interesting experience, because it felt like a step back in time. I hadn't touched that game since 2013, and I remember having a borderline unhealthy obsession with the fighting mechanics. I'd thoroughly explore every inch of that criminal wasteland, collecting Riddler trophies and picking off throngs of thugs. I also recalled that, when Arkham City first came out on PC, there were numerous glitches that angered many gamers.
It's clear that those issues have been resolved, because the game ran like a dream. Normally, I'm not obsessed with graphics (I'm the kind of guy who could play Final Fantasy VI in the dark without suffering from eyestrain), but I found the graphics to be very sharp. I didn't have any issues with lag or delay inputs. And because I felt so in sync with my character, I got to pay more attention to the story and fully engage.
One of the best parts of laptop gaming is the ability to be mobile. Now, I'm not saying that I was gaming on the toilet with company property; I'm not a savage, and that's what my phone is for. But I greatly enjoyed being able to set up a gaming environment in different parts of my apartment. I liked being able to play while reclining on a sofa and then switch over to the scoop chair if I was feeling too lazy. And if I felt like getting some sun, I could even venture outside and game in the park.
I should note that I did use an Xbox controller to play Arkham City. I'll play on a smaller screen, but I'll be damned if I was going to adjust to moving a character with a keyboard. I can't sully Batman's honor by walking into punches or accidentally tossing a batarang. So far, the struggle hasn't been too real, and I'm not experiencing any Sony-related delirium tremors.
My goal for next week is to use keyboard controls, so come back then to read about how bad I am at WASD navigation. I hope you all continue to support me on this journey and send me hi-res thoughts and prayers.