Right, let’s get the contentious issue out of the way first: I’ve always been a console gamer at heart. My first ever games machine was an Atari 2600 – the one with a bit of wood stuck on, no less, which I’m sure my 7-year-old self reallyappreciated (you know, young kids and their love of teak veneer and all that).
And – aside from a brief diversion for the ZX Spectrum and an Amiga (sorry, Biffo) – I’ve stuck with consoles ever since. In fact, I last properly dipped my beak into all things PC about 20 years ago, when I managed to get Tomb Raider 2 running on a horrible beige Pentium 75 tower I had at university.
So obviously, I’m the ideal person to do an article about PC gaming!
Why the console preference? Well I’m dead lazy, so I like the lack of platform faff with no driver updates, setting tweaks and security updates for one thing. I’m also a big right-on hippy and like the fact that on console, everyone gets the same experience (and yes, that’s slightlyless true these days what with the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro – but only a teeny bit).
On a more controversial note, I much prefer joypads as a control ‘medium’ too.
Yes, I know mouse control is very accurate and FPS enthusiasts swear by it, but keyboards? Keyboards as game controllers is just someone taking a thing that was handy and using it to do a thing they needed done, and it’s now the norm through familiarity even though as soon as you think about it, you realise it is this: well stupid.
If they were really such great input devices, the centre console of an F-22 fighter jet would be an Olivetti typewriter.
On a personal level I also don’t ‘get’ dedicated PC gaming hardware: it’s mostly still a hideous ‘1980s nightclub’ colour scheme of black plastic with garish red highlights. Throw in rainbow LED light-up keyboards & logos, viewing windows and other nonsense and most gaming rigs look like they’re designed to appeal to either the worst sort of clichéd nerd stereotype, or kaleidoscope enthusiasts.
As a representation of modern gaming? Frankly, it’s embarrassing.
But my main love of consoles comes from the fact I can plonk down my money, safe in the knowledge that in most cases the hardware will be good for every single game on that format for a solid 4 or 5 years with no further outlay (i.e., I’m a tightwad).
Even in the rare instances where it isn’t true, such as the Dreamcast or Wii U, 9 times out of 10 if you hang onto your hardware for a decade or so you can sell it on to a daft retro gaming enthusiast at a vastly inflated price! It’s win–win!
For PC gaming, even the biggest PC platform enthusiast would have to agree that the quality of your experience ultimately still comes down to cash (and a lot of it), and that towards the top end – like with new cars – the moment you buy a new PC gaming setup it’s already depreciating at eye-watering speed.
A few years on, and the 4-figure high-end kit you splurged on is probably worth less than half what you paid. And sure, consoles come down in price too – but the starting point is a hell of a lot lower as well.
So if I feel this way, why dis article exist, guv?
Thing is, not long ago I started to get more interested in PC gaming on the basis I had recently picked up a Windows laptop to use for work. So as I had it anyway, where was the harm in seeing what it could do?
(Don’t get me wrong – I’ve owned a computer for years and I’m not some luddite who’s previously been banging out articles on an Amstrad E-m@iler plus. I just couldn’t game on it because it’s a Mac, so woefully underserved in that capacity.)
The laptop I now own is by no means a gaming rig, but it isn’t something chronically anaemic like the feeble netbooks of yesteryear either. So do my old prejudices still hold true? Well after 6 months or so, this is what I reckon.
The one thing that has vastly improved from yesteryear (yet in another way, has got worse – I’ll get on to that in a minute) is getting games in the first place and getting them running well.
Thanks to services like Steam, Battle.net and EA Origin, as well as better hardware autodetection in games themselves, it’s a lot easier to access a lot of titles and get them optimised for your PC without wasting hours twiddling with sliders and performance options to eke out a few more frames per second.
But also: it’s worse, because there are a lot of these services all bellowing for attention, and on some (Steam – I absolutely mean Steam) discovering the good stuff is a nightmare because the interface is woeful. Steam’s storefront is akin to a library where all the staff are blind drunk, and they’ve organised the books by spinning round until they’re sick and then kicking them up random shelves.
You also have to tolerate updates to the launch platforms as well as the games (an extra layer of downloadery), and they tend to sneak in everywhere and start leaving their ‘dirt’ (icons, shortcuts, auto-startup clients and notifications) all over your desktop too, like a guilty dog with the runs bum-scooting across a rug.
That’s all background shenanigans though – what are the actual games like?
Here, I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised. You can get a massive array of really good and often fairly recent games at sometimes stupidly cheap prices, and – for the most part – they look pretty decent. The indie selection is also far and away wider and newer than even well-served consoles like the Switch.
Granted, you won’t get the benefit of all the graphical bells and whistles in AAA games you’d see with super high-end systems, if they run at all, but the gap between a £500 laptop and a £2500 gaming desktop is much closer these days.
For example, my laptop has a midrange processor from 2017 and integrated (i.e. fairly rubbish) graphics rather than a dedicated chip, but can still put out a level of detail I’d consider more than acceptable AND move it about without it being so slow it looks like a powerpoint presentation.
As you might expect I only really struggled with very new and/or very flashy games: I got the PC version of Destiny 2 running, for example, but it was only at console-level refresh rates and horribly grainy PS2-era graphics quality.
Something a bit less demanding though, and it was no problem. Mass Effect: Andromeda looked great and ran really well. (Which, ironically, was a bit of a shame as it really allowed the dire gameplay and lousy script to ooze through.)
So am I a convert of sorts? I think so – I wasn’t bothered about PC gaming at all a year or so ago, but now I’m keen to get a minor upgrade just so I can enjoy games at a bit higher resolution. There are also a fair few games I meant to pick up on console I never got round to that are so stupid cheap on PC, it’d be rude not to.
In short: what I assumed I could get to run, how much bother it would be, and how good it would look turned out to be well short of reality.
At the same time though, there’s no way I’d ditch my PS4 simply because I still want to be able to play the newest games too, and I think that’s the balance: PCs are undeniably the best if you want the absolute cutting edge of graphics quality. The newest games on the newest PC gaming systems blow consoles away, no argument. But that still comes with a huge price tag.
And that’s the strength of consoles – that middle ground. Access to the same brand new games a high-end PC can run (and that a mid-range one maybe can’t), but at a vastly reduced asking price with only a small hit to quality. Until broadband-reliant stream-o-game services like NVidia’s GeForce NOW really take off, I can’t see that changing.
I still think high-end PC gaming is, realistically, off limits for most because of its astonishing cost and comparatively short hardware lifespan. But a midrange PC will last you years and not cost a lot. Couple that with a console, and that’s the real best of all worlds – and probably still cheaper than one of those awful LED light-up monstrosities to boot.