Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Rant: Games for Windows: Live

I am going to indulge myself and rant about some more nerd things. You will read it and begin a revolution on my behalf. Thanks.

I recently purchased Kane & Lynch: Dead Men for the PC on account of its very intriguing plot and characters. The game was panned for being rather generic as far as how it plays, but I am very pleased to say that it has delivered in spades on mood, story, and the characters are indeed very cool and well written. Kotaku summed it up by describing it as "like a buddy movie with killing." I wouldn't call them buddies exactly, as they trust each other about as far as they can throw them, but therein is part of the appeal of the story. It's one of those games that I can see myself watching someone play.

Back to the actual subject of the post, the game was released under the Games for Windows brand, which is all well and good. Bioshock was released under the same brand, and aside from some lame copy-protection DRM BS, it delivered the goods as any triple A PC title would. Where the shit hits the fan is when you add multiplayer into the mix.

Console players have been recently availed the goodness of online gaming in the recent years, for Xbox 360 via the Xbox Live service. It's a pay service essentially, they have to fork over more cash for full functionality in addition to what they are paying for their internet connection. Yes you can play for free using a Silver membership, but it's hardly worth it.

In PC land, we've been burning up bandwith for years now, killing each other over the internets at no cost beyond the price of the game and your internet connection. Full online functionality comes out of the box, requiring no third party beyond voice programs, and even that is becoming increasingly unnecessary due to developers adding voice function in-game. So everything is happy land, until Microsoft comes along and gets greedy.

As soon as you start the game, K&L requires you to sign into or create an account with the Games for Windows: Live service. Since its all tied to the MSN network, I went ahead and set one up fairly easily. I have to wonder, what would happen if I tried playing the game without an internet connection? Would the game not work at all? Worrisome. If you thought having to sign up for some unwarranted third party service just to get to the game menu was bad, it gets worse. Much worse. Worser, worsest even.

Kane & Lynch comes with a pretty interesting online component. It's a hybrid of a co-op and a deathmatch game, where you work together with your "buddies" to pull off heists and split the earnings, with the option of betraying them to keep the loot that you've picked up in a given round. An fairly original and interesting dynamic, and one that I WAS looking forward to trying out.

Alas, with my lowly, free Silver Live membership, I do not have access to the K&L ranking system. I am limited to "List Play", which are stripped down unranked, player hosted games. PC multiplayer games usually run on dedicated servers, which are servers that anyone can run or rent, whose job is specifically to run games that people can jump in and out of. From what I can tell, the Live service does not allow for that. So not only do you not have dedicated servers, you have limited game availability. And it's not just K&L that suffers from such ailments. The much awaited PC port of Gears of War doesn't even let you ping servers unless you have a Gold Membership, meaning you have to join a game and hope that you get a good connection. Unfun. Dissapointing. Worrisome.

I hope this mess doesn't take off. It seems to me that Games for Windows is a step towards the need to obtain a certification to make a PC game, which is something that goes against the grain of the PC's open format. I can't imagine what would happen to the indie games scene (yes there is such a thing) if they were required to check with Microsoft for permission to make their game. And making me pay for my killing simulators? No way. Here's hoping for the failure of this mess. I don't care if it offers PC gamers the ability to headshot console gamers all day. I'm not buying Gears of War for that reason, and it is unfortunate that I they packed into Kane and Lynch, a game that I was very much looking forward to. (Thankfully, the single player game is rocking my ass and is very much worth the price of admission to me.)

Let this be a warning then. If you see Games for Windows Live anywhere on the box, do yourself a favor and do your research. If you are planning to buy it for the multiplayer, you might just be better off getting your kicks elsewhere.

No comments: