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The words “console port” are terrifying to most PC gamers. We have for years been living in the shadow of the more mainstream console industry. Publishers frequently shove ports our way that are buggy, difficult to control and only slightly more attractive than their console counterparts.
There are exceptions, however. Sometimes a developer is given the chance to do it right and is able to crank out a PC version that exploits the strength of the platform. These ports are so good, in fact, that you may want to buy the game a second time even though you’ve already finished it on your console.
Some recent titles, like Skyrim and Battlefield 3, were developed for the PC and the consoles simultaneously. These games are arguably console ports because they were developed primarily for the console, but they came out on both the PC and console simultaneously. If you wanted the PC version, you probably already picked it up.
We’re going to limit our selection to titles that came out first for the console and then were later ported to the PC. These are games you may have played on the console and enjoyed, but never went back to try on your computer.
Bioware has a long history of successful console ports, though they don’t always do the porting themselves. Mass Effect’s PC version was particularly good because, unlike most ports, some significant changes were made to the game to make it more playable on the PC.
Most of these changes relate to the interface. The game still offers a pause menu, but there are also new hotkeys that can be used to provide quick ability access. Visual elements have been revised, as well, with sharper text and menus that are optimized for use with a mouse. Inventory management could have been overhauled more extensively, but still works better than it did with a gamepad.
Other improvements include better graphics, a new hacking mini-game, and slightly revised controls for the Mako landing vehicle. All of these minor tweaks make an already great game even better, and the end result is the best version of Bioware’s classic.
Mass Effect 2 is also better on the PC, and if the demo is any indication, Mass Effect 3 for PC will beat the snot out of the console version. Look for its release on March 6th alongside the Xbox 360 edition.
The inclusion of this game shows the reversal for fortune that occurred in the gaming industry in the middle of the last decade. Alan Wake was originally shown as an Xbox 360 and Windows title in 2006, but was only released for 360 in 2009 – to the dismay of PC gaming fanatics.
Now the developers have finally come around to releasing the PC version.
The wait has been rewarded by the inclusion of both DLC packages offered on the Xbox 360. Fans will also be happy to see that the game has a wide variety of graphics configurations available, something that console ports often don’t include. PC fans were originally looking forward to Alan Wake partially because it promised excellent graphics that made inventive use of lighting, and if you have a well-equipped gaming rig, you won’t be disappointed.
You won’t find any gameplay tweaks, which is fine by me (I loved the Xbox 360 version) but may not make everyone happy. Steam achievements and Steam Cloud are supported, however, so at least it’ll be easy to play across multiple PCs.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Gamers don’t talk much about Splinter Cell these days. That’s disappointing – after all, it was one of the original Xbox’s core titles and the franchise included several of the best stealth-action games ever released. Recent flops like Double Agent and Conviction seem to have burned up most of Splinter Cell’s credibility.
That’s a shame. Not only because Splinter Cell was good, but also because it was absolutely amazing on the PC. Graphics quality was improved substantially, and while the game is starting to show its age (the original title was released in 2002) the shadow-heavy graphics style is still striking. Splinter Cell also benefited from the more precise controls available on a PC, making action more fluid and decreasing the game’s difficulty somewhat (your aim is far more precise with a mouse).
If you want to give Splinter Cell another whirl, go for the original trilogy of Splinter Cell, Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory. You can pick up all three games for less than $20 on Amazon. Just one word of warning – these are old games, and though they run well on my Windows 7 PC, I’ve heard of users having trouble running them on Windows Vista/7 machines. The original is available for the Mac but is no longer being published.
Fable: The Lost Chapters
Fable was the most disappointing title released for the Xbox. It wasn’t a bad game, but it promised to be solid gold and turned out to be an okay action RPG with so-so controls and an unusual amount of bugs for a console title.
I only appreciated the game after playing Fable: The Lost Chapters a few years later. Action RPGs usually feel smoother with a keyboard and mouse (in my opinion) and the better controls helped me appreciate the fact that Fable has excellent core gameplay. The Lost Chapters also includes a number of extra quests, weapons and spells that weren’t in the console game, and that’s great, because the original was actually a bit light on content.
Like Splinter Cell, this is an older title, so the graphics improvements made for the PC version are balanced out by the age of the title. On the other hand, you can pick it up for just $10.99 and a Mac version is available for $29.99.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Rockstar always ends up porting the recent Grand Theft Auto titles to the PC – after all, that’s where the series was born. Quality can be hit-or-miss, however. The recent port of Grand Theft Auto IV was plagued by poor performance, graphical errors and crash issues.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, on the other hand, was well received when it landed on the PC in 2005. Some would argue that this is because GTA:SA is the best game yet released in the franchise, and I agree that this is part of the reason why the PC port is so much fun to play. The relative lack of bugs compared to other GTA ports doesn’t hurt, either.
Yet the most interesting feature of the game has nothing to do with its developer. Many PC gamers expressed interest in GTA:SA multiplayer, but no such mode was built in to the game. Mod developers quickly began work to fix this oversight. The result was Multi Theft Auto, which is probably the best multi-player PC mod ever made. You’ll find no better game for messing around with friends.
Gaming best-of lists are always subjective, so what do you think? Have you played a console-to-PC port that you think was even better than those listed here? Let us know in the comments.