I'm a big hardware nut, so I spend a fair bit of time tweaking my PC. I just recently finished building a new rig, and it's been a much bigger task than I thought it would be – I'm now on my fourth motherboard! But now I've got my rig all optimized and overclocked, and I've finally been able to get into some serious gaming.
I've been playing a lot of STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl. The full review is on its way, but let me just say that if you're a PC gamer, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Oddly enough, despite over four years of development, it still feels rough around the edges in a lot of ways. But in a lot of other ways, it feels really cutting edge and unique. The post-apocalyptic sci-fi theme is done really well here, effectively blending the surreal with the familiar. The game takes place in the near future in "The Zone", which incidentally is based on the real-life "zone of alienation" that surrounds the modern-day remnants of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. I saw photos of the Zone online, and I was very impressed with the accuracy that the game designers brought to the virtual re-imagining of this The gameplay is a mix of survival-horror, first-person shooting, trade/economics, and role-playing. It's not the best at any one of these areas, but the way it blends them all together is truly unique and for the most part very well done.
It's a real treat for the eyes too, minus the lack of anti-aliasing support, which hurts the visual presentation. Still, the game is a serious card-cruncher and will bring down all but the top-end rigs if the settings are all at maximum. The game uses a ton of detailed, realistic textures and foliage, and features without a doubt the best lighting and shadowing I've ever seen in a game. Literally everything in the game casts its own realistic soft shadow, and the lighting is of the now familiar HDR-type, like we've seen in Oblivion and Rainbow Six Vegas. It may seem superficial, but trust me, when you're in the bowels of a pitch-black, abandoned, decayed nuclear laboratory filled with mutants, the effects of the light and shadows really brings the game to life and will keep you on the edge of your seat.
I'm relatively new to PC gaming – a little over a year now – so most of my tastes were weaned on consoles. PCs however open up a whole new world of gaming that you just don't see on consoles. I'm currently getting started with X3: Reunion, a massive, beautiful space sim that tackles a futuristic theme in a grand scope. I found the game rather randomly – it was used as a benchmark by a hardware review site – and heard positive things about it. When I read about it, I immediately thought, Hey that sounds really cool... and completely different from the kind of stuff I usually play! The PC really does have a vast library, and plays host to a lot of genres that will likely never see the light of day on consoles.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. I'm starting to get a bit overwhelmed, because I own all these ridiculously long, involved games, and it's tough to get game time in with all of them. (How do you decide what to play when you've got World of Warcraft, STALKER, Oblivion, Neverwinter Nights 2, etc., and only a little bit of time each day?) But I do my best, and I really feel like now is a fantastic time to be a PC gamer. In fact, now is a great time to build your own PC, even if you're on a budget! Memory prices have plunged, processor prices have dropped, and nVidia has released their midrange 8-series cards. The technology is at an amazing place, and game developers are releasing tons of quality titles. Not to mention that you have the ultimate backwards-compatible platform in a PC and a virtually infinite library of great games to choose from.
Okay, so this turned into a bit of a"PC is great!" rant. But don't take my word for it. Spend some time in the Zone and see for yourself.