You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…
PC gaming is somewhat neglected by many developers today, even some of the indie devs. Horrible console ports, sometimes enabled by easy to use middlewear/authorware packages that make it feel like you’re doing the right thing, are still a problem for the PC in 2017. We just don’t seem to get away from it. But we still have the superior gaming platform – bar none – provided you can put up with a few annoying things to get there.
For a lot of 2016 I had a bit of a console phase. I played a lot of games on the PS4. I started to understand the appeal of the consoles. But it’s the start of 2017, and I’m back on the PC. Why? Here’s five reasons I love PC gaming, and 5 reasons why I stopped for a while.
Why I Love PC Gaming
5: Loading times are short. Got an SSD in your gaming rig? No? Go get one now. They’re fairly cheap (compared to a few years ago) and they slash loading times like nothing else. I’d never have a mechanical HDD ever again. Loading times on the PS4 are absurdly long, even if you drop an SSD into it. I spend a lot of time waiting for GTA V to boot up on PS4. On my PC? Maybe a minute and a half, tops (I’m not sure, I’ve never timed it to be honest).
4: Games are generally cheaper. Being in Australia, Steam isn’t as cheap as one might expect. They sell us games with regional pricing and in US dollars. So if the publisher decides to “match” retail price (we still have games sold in stores, believe it or not) at $89.95, it’s actually $89.95 USD, which depending on the exchange rate could be well over RRP. PSN does have some cheap deals too, and it’s in AUD. That said, overall PC games are cheaper, and the sales are more frequent and pretty damn crazy. Not to mention a huge back catalog to choose from.
3: Backwards compatibility! If I want to play Mass Effect, I’d need to drag out my Xbox 360 (or have an Xbox One) which I don’t even have anymore. Or I could just play it on my PC. There’s a massive catalog of games out there that reach into the dim past of PC gaming, and you can play the vast majority of them (some of them with community patching). Backwards compatibility on consoles is abysmal by comparison, sometimes non-existent, and being turned into yet another “service” by online streaming. We don’t do that shit on the PC.
2: Performance and visual fidelity. There’s no competition between a PS4/XBO and a proper gaming PC. The PC wins every single time. I can play at 1080p/60fps on detail settings way above the PS4 without an issue – though I have a fairly powerful rig. I can even dip my toe into 4k waters (true 4k, not upscaling done by the PS4 Pro) although I’m going to have to compromise on something (either visual fidelity or framerate). No matter which way you slice it, any decent gaming PC will beat the consoles at 1080p, and high end machines will deliver a true 4k experience in excess of the PS4 Pro. Ever tried playing Just Cause 3 on consoles? It’s a slideshow – borderline unplayable. Not so on a decent PC.
1: PC Exclusives. I like strategy games. I like to sit back and chill with Cities: Skylines or Civilization 6. I can’t do that on consoles. Ever played XCOM 2 on a console? It’s awful. It’s a complete pain in the arse. Controllers are bad at anything that requires a mouse pointer. Outside of strategy games, there are loads of other titles that you find on PC long before anywhere else. Before console gamers had access to Minecraft, it was developed on the PC. We have games like Subnautica, Astroneer, and all sorts of other weird shit. We get the vast majority of titles released on consoles, plus a load that never grace their HDDs, and never will. There’s a significant diversity here that you just don’t get on consoles.
Why It Shits Me
5: Steam. Steam is a fucking mess, and is on a downward slide the likes I never thought I’d witness. It’s turned into a shovelware platform akin to the iOS App Store – an endless barrage of awful indie titles, each seeking to get a piece of the prize. My front store page is filled with absolute trash that I wouldn’t touch in a million years. The Upcoming section is mostly rubbish indie games that look like complete garbage, many of them Early Access. It’s a total mess, and it started with Steam Greenlight. In seeking to provide better access to the platform, they never stopped to think that maybe a gate is actually a good idea – so that the good products don’t get drowned in a sea of shite.
4: Couch Gaming. There’s still no real good solution for PC couch gaming, and mostly it’s down to software support. Steam Link and the Steam Controller are fairly good (I’m still trying to get used to the Steam Controller!) but it doesn’t help much if the software simply doesn’t want to work with the input device. Sometimes I’ve resorted to just using a mouse and keyboard on my lap while in my recliner – it’s ugly, it’s not overly comfortable, but sometimes that’s about all I can do to make it work. The consoles still have the balance of power when it comes to that.
3: Automatic updates and low power states. Granted, this is something that the PC will probably never be able to achieve, but one of the awesome things about consoles are their low power states for downloads. If I want to download a game while I’m at work, I can just buy it on the PSN store, and it’ll wake up the PS4 into a low power state and download it. Same with updates – they happen in the background automatically. The only way I get this on PC is if I leave the whole rig running – which is terribly inefficient. A petty complaint, but probably relevant if you’ve got an awful internet connection (as many do in Australia). Having to wait for a 7GB patch to download when you just want to play the game isn’t fun.
2: Random issues and problem solving. One of the biggest annoyances with PC gaming is when things don’t work. To be fair, 9 times out of 10 when I go to play a game, it works fine. That one time when it doesn’t can require some forum trawling, ini editing, driver updating, and compromise until the developer releases a patch. When Doom released last year, I got it on PS4 and was playing without any problems as soon as it dropped. The Steam forums had lots of people complaining about problems with getting it to launch, or framerate issues, or other weird problems. Every new PC release is the same. Granted, sometimes it’s a case of “you get what you pay for” and their underpowered rigs just won’t play the game, but occasionally you end up with even powerful hardware having issues with games that frankly shouldn’t occur. On consoles? You just play the game. If it doesn’t work for you, either the game itself is to blame, or you’ve got a significant hardware fault – there’s no troubleshooting to do.
1: The cost. So many people will tell you that you can build a cheap PC for around the same as a console. You can – but it’ll be eclipsed fairly easily, it’ll still be a compromise versus a console, and you’ll need to shell out for peripherals too (I’m going to assume you’re hooking it up to a TV). PC gaming done to any reasonable standard is expensive – there’s no way around it. If you want the benefits that people crow about with PC gaming, you’re going to need to drop some serious cash. Don’t let anybody tell you different – they’re making shit up and you will be compromising at some point. That said, hardware is lasting longer – so your build will probably see you span console generations with maybe a GPU upgrade. We’re right on the cusp of a new hardware overhaul with 4k slowly becoming more common – a PC that merely matches a PS4 is not a good investment. No way around it – getting into PC gaming will cost money, and it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth it or not (I think it is, but I’m probably biased).
So that’s my analysis of PC gaming as I see it. I’ve played the consoles and have come back to PC gaming. It’s a pain in the arse, and sometimes it makes me want to tear my hair out, but damn it – the experience is just straight up better. My PS4 is now relegated to media duties – namely, a bluray player.