Remember those halcyon days console gaming was the easy option? You plugged it into the TV and into the mains, popped the cart – or disc, latterly – into the top, and hit the power button. None of the hardware incompatibilities, patches, or faffing around that PC gaming required.
Now, though, you can add networking to the mix, which isn’t yet necessarily as simple as it perhaps ought to be, and, of course, the minefield that is connecting your new device to an HDTV. Still, those have given us benefits for those who can do a bit of research, and even the dreaded patching is done automatically and quickly (mostly), meaning that a bug is no longer either something to deal with or wait for the second pressing.
But unfortunately, the one thing that I always hated about PC gaming has made the jump: installs. What started as a worrying but quick (Resistance, with its 220MB install) or optional process, taken through the promised land of Uncharted, which managed lush graphics with barely a load and no install, has now almost become the standard, and I HATE IT.
It just shouldn’t be happening. Big titles like Devil May Cry 4 require over 20 minutes of doing nothing before you can even play, and Metal Gear Solid 4 took it to the extreme by having five installs, with a new one if you ever load a save in an act that you’ve played before. The game may be able to fit onto one Blu-ray, as they delight in telling you, but I’m pretty sure I could get up and swap a disc faster than that.
I suppose it comes down to the relatively open nature of the PS3. By taking the good, like open standards for controllers and memory cards, you have to deal with the fact that the experience isn’t as tightly controlled. It’s the same reason why Metal Gear can have such a shitty online implementation and stuff like custom soundtracks, the system-level friends list, voice chat, and now achievements trophies aren’t supported in every game. It gives devs the option to skip a bit of optimisation in trying to get cross-platform titles to run identically.
At the moment it’s merely an annoyance, a one-time inconvenience, but I’m not looking forward to the long term. When you inevitably need to do some spring-cleaning and delete some older installs as your hard drive fills up, deleting that little cache takes away the plug-and-play nature of that game. When even fighting games – surely the most pick-up-and-play of all genres – have over 2GB of data to install (see Soul Calibur IV), it certainly takes away a lot of the immediacy. No one would watch a movie that had to install before you could play it.
So stop it, developers. Delay for a couple of weeks if you have to, but stop taking away what has always made consoles my preferred way to play games, especially if it doesn’t give us any benefit in return.