Mouse and keyboard vs. Console controller: Let's bury the hatchet

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I suck at GoldenEye. There, I’ve said it. I get schooled every time I play, even if I’m Odd Job. And chances are, everyone who reads this is better than me at Halo, Killzone, and pretty much every other console FPS. That’s just an upfront disclosure in case you want to skip this post and get right to the flaming. After all, I’m just writing this because I’m bad at these games, right?

The thing is, I would probably ruin you in Counter-Strike or Team Fortress 2. In fact, it seems to me that every time I read about a PC team going up against a console team in the same game, the console team gets manhandled. Why is that? Well, probably because a mouse and keyboard is a better way of controlling a first-person shooter. You know it, I know it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.

Here’s the thing: the gaming world isn’t governed by players and their preferences. It’s a business, subject to market forces, development pressures, and all that sort of thing. Remember when Halo was going to be a Mac exclusive? That didn’t happen for a reason: because there was more money to be made in launching it with a new console. Was it a better or worse game for it? I don’t know, I’m not a freaking oracle. And that’s not the point of this post anyway.

Look, making a big game is a nightmare. A studio needs to get a return on a huge investment, and where are the sales? In the piracy-ridden, heterogenous PC market, where you have to cater to every possible hardware configuration? No, but the game will probably be at its best on a high-end PC, so you kind of want to hit that anyway. But the main thing is to get a game onto the PS3 and 360 in as playable a form as possible. That way you have a guaranteed base of 40 or 50 million units that will all run it perfectly and work together just the way they’re designed to. Maybe they won’t have a mouse, but so what?

So you get AAA FPS titles like Modern Warfare 2 on a console, where people can play the game just fine against each other and enjoy the full experience — with a dual shock. Is the PC version the “definitive” version of the game? With MW2 I would suggest not, but with others it may be the case (GTA4 for instance). To make a blanket statement on this would be to commit a pretty foolish error. At the same time, don’t take someone to task for saying that Borderlands is better on the PC. I mean, what? It is!

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Besides, I don’t think it’s an insult against console gamers or their games to say that a mouse and keyboard is the better control method. It’s like saying a wheel controller with pedals is a better controller for racing games. It just is! It doesn’t mean that everyone sucks without one, or that games that don’t support wheels are garbage. It’s just presenting an ideal. Can there be great FPSes on consoles? Sure! But let’s be honest about it and qualify that by saying that there’s auto-aim, the enemies shoot slower, and they generally have a more horizontally-orientated environment. It just makes it a better game on the console. They switch it up for the PC version, if they make one; if I can get headshots 90% of the time in Gears on PC, versus 10% on console, they better damn sure make it so that doesn’t break the game.

The console versus PC debate, which is what the mouse vs. controller thing is really about, ends up being a kind of silly one. There are fantastic games on both platforms, and some just work better on one or the other. Platformers are best with a specific controller, joystick sensitivity, and button layout. Real-time strategy demands a level of versatility, precision, and resolution that’s only available on PCs. And if we’re honest, so do FPSes in their ideal format. But that’s not always possible; the convenience and standard hardware of consoles often means a better deal for developers, and sometimes a better game for the consumer.

I may never be good at GoldenEye, but I could never say that game sucked. So let’s stop being such prideful bastards about our games and just agree to say “whatever works for you.”

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