Before I begin, you need to understand that this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive overview of Windows 8, how much it sucks, or how much it rocks. You can find that information elsewhere. I’m only going to talk about one thing: games. That means talking about three things: the Games App, the Store App, and the Desktop App.
The Games App is the quickest and easiest to talk about: it sucks. Half of it is dedicated to advertising games to you (and half of those games are only for Xbox). The other half lets you look at your Xbox Avatar if you have one, and look at your games library, but only the games you own on Xbox or bought through the Windows Store. It’s pretty poorly executed as well. Clicking on an ad for a game brings up a link to “Play” it, whether you own it or not. If you don’t own it, you’ll be shown an error message, which then allows you to go to the Store app to make the purchase. It’s inelegant and unsightly and I find it hard to believe that Microsoft allowed it to be released in such terrible condition.
That Store App is what has the gaming world in a tizzy because it’s apparently going to spell the end to third-party digital distribution and independent gaming. I’m not sure how true that is, but the Store’s present state doesn’t inspire confidence in the future. Aside from the free Microsoft stuff—Minesweeper, Solitaire, et cetera—and the token casual tablet-oriented apps like Angry Birds Space and Jetpack Joyride, everything on there is complete dreck. Nothing is compelling enough to warrant a purchase and there’s practically zero support from any top developer. Even Skulls of the Shogun, which was supposed to be the indie gaming darling of the Win8 launch is nowhere to be found, which is a major disappointment.
Judging from the few games on the Store that are actually worth playing, you should be prepared for a whole new generation of sloppy ports. Do you get angry when you see “Press Start to Begin?” Imagine how you’ll feel going through a tutorial that constantly references touches and swipes, as in Minesweeper. Or imagine playing a third-person shooter, Dredd vs Zombies in my case, and having to fire your weapon by clicking a big on-screen button instead of on your target. That’s the brave new world we have entered.
The Store is also seriously lacking on game information. Want to know if your system can actually run a certain game? You can’t. There’s no specs other than language and “processor type.” You won’t find requirements listed for speed, memory, input device or anything else. It’s as if Microsoft wants to pretend that all computers have the exact same componentry inside them. Not that this is a big deal right now because there are no big, power-hungry games on the Store. You can find listings for Fable, Street Fighter IV, and Resident Evil, but you can’t actually buy them since they’re “Desktop Apps.” Instead you’re told to go to the publisher website to purchase.
Which brings us to the Desktop app. Yes, your desktop is an app now, but you won’t notice anything different except for the redesigned UI and lack of a Start Menu. Installing and running Steam or Desura is exactly as it is in Windows 7: double-click the executable, give permission via UAC, and wait for it to do its thing. Games within those services install and run with no extra hassle than what you’re used to as well.
Things get slightly trickier for distributors who provide direct downloads of game installers without a client, such as GOG, and for truly independent developers who sell directly to customers. These games get flagged with a shiny new warning message saying the Windows has stopped execution of the program because it is EVIL! A user can click the “More Info” link to get an option to run the software anyway, so it’s not that big of a deal, but indie devs will need to educate and reassure their customers about this process.
As for performance, everything runs at the same speed as they did before, and some, like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, actually feel faster. Of course, some games may just not be compatible with the new OS. The handful I’ve thrown at it run fine, but I’ve been told Dirt 3 doesn’t work, and I’m pretty sure there are others that won’t either.
So, is Windows 8 the death of PC gaming? I don’t see it as such. Everything runs fine and the platform is just as open as it’s always been. Maybe Windows 9 will change things, but that will be a problem for next year. The question we need to ask ourselves today is: should a PC gamer upgrade to Windows 8? The answer is no. There aren’t any benefits that make it a must-have upgrade, so I’d stick with 7 unless you’re absolutely dying to play Minesweeper’s new Adventure mode, which is pretty rad.