PC gamers got their due this past year
This is the year in which video game developers leveraged technology; the year in which PC gamers finally got their due. Let's face it, console games are increasingly starting to look a little shabby (the 720p standard is simply not enough any more), and with developers attempting to push the limits of the Xbox 360 and PS3, all we get are longer loading times, blocky textures and mandatory installs (Rage on Xbox 360, for instance required a 20GB installation). With consoles approaching the end of their life cycles, it's no surprise developers are looking to take advantage of PC hardware (which is several times more powerful); no doubt in preparation for the next generation of consoles, but PC gamers for now can enjoy the best version of any multi-platform game on their computers.
Unlike previous years, 2011 has been a more rewarding year for the PC gamer, with developers not always taking the lazy route of porting console games to the PC (some of them are still guilty of this, however), dedicating time and resources to engineering a product that not only effectively takes advantage of true current generation technology, but gives us a glimpse into the future of gaming. The year's first highlights came in the form of Total War: Shogun 2 and Crysis 2. The PC is the only viable platform for the real-time strategy game and Shogun 2 (a PC exclusive) demonstrated this in the best possible way with its complexity, addictiveness and beautiful visuals while Crytek shocked us with Crysis 2's astonishing visuals (in DirectX 9, nonetheless) on the PC. The PC's second key exclusive came in the form of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings that epitomised PC gaming in its purest form: great visuals, superb writing, tweaking options, and a game that wouldn't run on any PC with all its graphics settings on maximum. The Witcher 2 was a game that PC gamers hated to love, but they loved it nonetheless.
Codemasters' Dirt 2 was the first game to make use of DirectX 11 and 2011's Dirt 3 was no different, offering some spectacular graphics in the year's best off-road driving experience. Codies would subsequently follow it up with another game that looked and played brilliantly on the PC: F1 2011 (just race in the Singapore Grand Prix under wet conditions). Cyberpunk RPG Deus Ex: Human Revolution also looked its best on your personal computer thanks to graphics effects like ambient occlusion, soft shadows and the ability to read strangers' emails intuitively using mouse and keyboard controls. Football fans also experienced the joy of incredibly fast loading times and high-res visuals in the PC version of EA's FIFA 12, while Rage, one of the year's best looking games demonstrated that optimisation was just as key to delivering a great gaming experience (Rage ran well even on mid-range laptops). The year was rounded off by cross-platform games that looked and played their best on the PC — Battlefield 3 (which showed us what the future has in store), Skyrim (with scale, scope and infinite playability) and Batman: Arkham City (PhysX effects). The PC was also home to some very successful indie titles thanks in no small part to digital content delivery systems such as Steam and GoG.com (Minecraft was one of 2011's highest rated games), as well as MMOs such as Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic and free-to-play games (League of Legends has a player base that is over 15-million strong). The PC enjoys the largest casual gaming base as well as legions of dedicated, “serious” gamers and its great to see developers recognising the power of the platform. You just need to play a few hours of Battlefield 3 on a mid-range computer to understand why 2011 was indeed, the year of the PC.