Mafia III, after a long and impressive marketing campaign, has finally arrived. It’s a little broken, but never fear, it’s been patched, in the same way as a gigantic cruise liner is hauled back into the dry dock is patched hours after it’s been launched to sea because they forgot to add propellers.
The most immediately noticeable and pervasive visual feature of the game, its framerate, was locked at 30FPS on release for PC, leaving players at a loss, and more than a little irritated. As baffling as I find this, and despite the fix leaving yet more optimisation issues unchecked, I believe this to be just the latest in a long line of woefully inadequate displays from big-name publishers, with the majority of these instances occurring for PC.
A vast majority of PC players are more than casual players, they are enthusiasts that have spent a lot of time and money building a powerful and comfortable gaming rig that suits their needs. Frame-rate is a PC player’s bread and butter, it’s the most vital factor that separates them from the console players. The ability to tweak and fiddle with a game’s settings alongside their hardware is what adds the element of achievement to setting up a game to run smoothly, quickly and with a gorgeous visual effect. Taking that away from them is ill-advised, to say the least, but to do it without advertising the fact before they buy the game is inexcusable from any developer, let alone from a triple-A publisher with a reasonably good track record of pumping out good titles year on year. Serving PC players what constitutes little more than a console port on the surface, and charging them full retail price for the privilege, is removing the justification for their investment in buying and building a powerful gaming rig.
Amidst the furore of the release, there has, true to form, been a passionate debate on both sides, with gamers corralling support for 2K on one hand, and for PC gamers on the other. If you’re brave enough to dive deep into the comment sections of YouTube or Steam, you’ll find that frame-rates are something of a religion to PC gamers, and, using the justification above, rightly so. I play most of my games on PC, because I do everything on my PC – for me, it’s quicker and easier and more comfortable. As such, I don’t appreciate it when publishers put backhanded efforts at PC optimisation on Steam and expect players not to notice. I find it frankly stunning that publishers and developers still think they can get away with shipping a product riddled with performance issues and not face a backlash. The spate of broken releases plaguing the industry, though somewhat calmed since the days of inexcusably appalling games such as Assassin’s Creed: Unity, has become more than a spate; it has evolved into an uneasy hum of poor productions that, time and again, require patches that fix basic, fundamental aspects of the game that should have been fixed prior to release.
This isn’t simply a PC problem though, as much as the worst lapses have repeatedly been confined to PC. Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Battlefield 4, Rome II: Total War, not to mention Batman: Arkham Knight, which displayed an outright shamefully flagrant disregard for quality, are some of the worst culprits of the last few years. And, most worryingly, their common factor is that they are all big budget, big team, highly anticipated releases.
It almost seems as if developers and publishers are afraid of taking their time, which may be a symptom of videogames being whipped into shape by the insatiable commercialist machine, mobilising big name publishers and developers to produce as much content as quickly as possible to make a quick return at the expense of gamers’ loyalty, trust and love for their favourite franchises. I sincerely hope it isn’t, and I would encourage any developer or publisher to allow themselves more time – a rabid public may be intimidating at first, but in the end, if your product is good enough, they will wait and they will love you for it in the end. It has been five years already since the last Elder Scrolls chapter, and will no doubt be a few more years before we hear any more on that front, and goodness knows Valve are taking their sweet time with the third instalment of Half-Life, which at this point has become the stuff of ethereal myth. But fans are waiting, patiently, for these titles – because when they come, they will be everything they have been waiting for and, with the right creative minds behind them, a lot more.
The current business strategy for games is as broken as the games it is ultimately responsible for. Pre-ordering, day-one packs, special editions, and, heaven forfend, the systematic abuse of microtransactions, are all components of the beginnings of corporate greed tampering with the end experience of videogames. Unlike literature, music and other art forms, games are not immune from these strategies. Films are as vulnerable to this kind of abuse as games are (Suicide Squad springs to mind). When the prospect of a quick return or bigger paychecks begins to distract creators from producing their best work, or worse still, stops them caring for their own projects, it is time for radical change. This, among other things, is partly why the concept of the ‘indie darling’ has become so prominent in recent years – people are drawn to games made with passion and true intentions. Mafia III is simply another in a long line of industrial transgressions, but it is not the last. There will be more like it this year and in years to come. As other commentators have said, this trend of releasing broken games has become the new normal. I just hope that developers will, in the end, choose the creative route, and shun the chance to make a quick buck from trading in the trust of loving fans.