Opinion: Should We Forget Next-Gen Consoles – And Just Buy A PC Instead?
This week, the delightfully angry, foul-mouthed gaming journalist Jim Sterling branded the PS3 and Xbox360 “very crap PCs”, and made a compelling argument that while there are many great things that a PC offers that a console does not, there are actually very few things that a console offers that a PC does not.
Funnily enough, recent musing of my own had been leading me down much the same sort of reasoning. And I would now go so far as to say that I have been mulling over the following, provocative question: ‘Is it actually going to be worth getting the hugely-hyped next PlayStation or Xbox next year, when you could probably get much more out of a PC instead?’
First up, let me clarify that I am not currently a ‘PC gamer’. I have played plenty of great games on the PC, and continue to do so – but this is only due to my rather ninja-like ability to smuggle myself surreptitiously into friends’ houses under the cover of darkness, before sneakily logging into their computers to play Total War or Amnesia.
As it stands I own only my beloved Xbox360, and a laptop so ancient that it wheezes like a dying, morbidly obese dog when I so much as try to access Microsoft Word. Playing games on it is impossible. When I decided to give the original XCOM a blast for a bit of retro pleasure recently, the thing crashed on me about five minutes in; its tortured, garbled screen seemingly howling: “what the fuck were you thinking?”
My inability to play modern PC games, without breaking into the homes of people I know at least, has not been something I’ve worried about much until recently. After all, sinking more than 100 hours into Skyrim, enjoying the delights of Rayman Origins or lapping up the phenomenal Walking Dead is just as satisfying on a console, right?
But recent pondering of the modern wonders offered by PC gaming has left me feeling that I may well be missing out on something big, and Jim Sterling’s angry logic has given me pause to consider that today’s consoles might actually be nothing more than substandard PCs.
While I have by no means definitively decided to shun next-gen consoles in favour of a PC, I am therefore actively considering it.
Here, in order to better organise and present my thoughts, are a few key reasons why:
1) The Breadth And Quality Of PC Games
Yes, we all know that there are some tremendous console exclusives out there. But what people seem to forget is that almost every top release ends up coming to the PC at some point, and the number of must-have titles that can never find their way into a dedicated PC gamer’s hands is very small indeed.
By contrast, there are countless great games that are only available for the PC. Indeed, the very best work in entire genres is pretty much closed off to console owners – particularly in the case of strategy titles, epic RPGs, and survival-horror.
PC gamers can look forward to Rome 2: Total War next year, more genuinely good free-to-play MMOs and online multiplayers than you could shake a wizard’s staff at, and a whole bunch of fantastic psychological-horror titles that would simply never make it onto consoles. Whether its current cult favourite Slender, or forthcoming Amnesia follow-up A Machine For Pigs, there’s no doubt that those looking for their sophisticated horror fix are much better off with a PC than a console. I mean, what else is there on the horizon? Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3?
It’s also fair to say that a huge number of highly innovative, groundbreaking independent titles are available to download for PC, sometimes at dirt-cheap prices and sometimes for no money at all. While Xbox Live’s Arcade and Sony’s PlayStation Network can potentially put myriad hurdles, restrictions and complications in the way of gaming’s next genius developer, putting your game out there on the web and letting people download it for nothing, or a small fee, is what an awful lot of the new great talents are doing. And if you’re a PC gamer, you can fill your boots months before console owners have even heard of the best titles.
When Skyrim’s Dawnguard add-on came to Xbox360 last month as a timed-exclusive, it introduced a range of new features, including the long-demanded treat of mounted combat.
But guess what? Months earlier the game’s enthusiastic PC modding community had been hard at work introducing pretty much all of these features into the game, as well as countless more touches besides. You want to be able to transform into a dragon? Go for it. You want new quests? Hell yeah.
The simple truth is that modding on the PC allows gamers to enjoy great games for much longer than they otherwise would, with the ability to add reams of new content and features into their favourite titles to broaden, enhance and even improve them.
And full-conversion mods based on existing titles are frequently used to produce phenomenal stand-alone experiences that become great games in their own right – many of which are available for free. You only have to look at the fantastic Half-Life mod Cry Of Fear, or the open-world zombie phenomenon that is Day-Z, to see how cool this all is.
Y’know, I quite like Xbox Live Arcade. There are plenty of entertaining games on it to download and enjoy, with both fun indie titles and old classics available at the touch of a button.
But Steam kind of shits all over it. It really does.
Firstly, the sheer volume and variety of terrific experiences old and new available on Valve’s downloading platform is something to behold. And as well as boasting many of the exciting independent creations and strategy/RPG/horror must-haves that consoles simply cannot offer, this also includes recent high-profile releases that are only available as boxed copies to console gamers, but can be purchased and stored digitally without breaking a sweat here.
Secondly, games are frequently available at astonishingly low prices during one of Steam’s famous sales, allowing users to stock up on tons of quality titles for jaw-droppingly small amounts. While Xbox Live and PlayStation Network do offer sales and deals of their own, there really is no comparison in terms of value.
Of course, it has been argued, quite reasonably, that Steam is a form of always online DRM that requires people to be logged in and online to play. But as Jim Sterling pointed out, the real measure of this service is that it’s so damn brilliant hardly anyone cares. It’s an absolute boon to gamers – yet something that console owners miss out on.
4) Console Advantages Have Vanished
In the good old days of console gaming, non-PC gamers could feel smug in the knowledge that they did not have to worry about endless, time-consuming updates, and the infuriating hassle of putting up with bug-ridden games released in what some would label an ‘unfinished state’, followed by numerous patches weeks later to try and fix these issues.
Of course, nowadays that’s exactly what console gamers have to put up with too. And there are other reasons to suspect that previous advantages may be slipping away.
Always-on DRM is something that has, as yet, been largely limited to the PC gaming sphere – much to their frustration. And yet, with EA’s online passes picking up momentum, and with the talk of DRM being much more of a prominent feature for next gen consoles, you can’t help but assume that these tactics are as likely to be posing problems for owners of the next PlayStation and Xbox as they are the PC community, meaning that yet another tick in the console column finds itself inevitably scrubbed out of the equation.
On a more basic level, the ability to use control pads for PCs, and hook up your computer to a large flatscreen TV in your living room, means that you can pretty much enjoy the best aspects of the console experience on them anyway. In short, it’s hard to see any clear advantages of consoles anymore.
Some Final Thoughts
Let’s be honest: in an ideal world, gaming enthusiasts would own a PC and every current console on the market, in order to sample every great experience out there at the time.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. Money for most is tight, and tough decisions have to be made. For my part, when looking ahead to 2013 and the next gen consoles, I’m hugely excited at the prospect of what Sony and Microsoft’s next consoles may offer – and the Wii U of course will be calling in long before then.
But thinking about it long and hard, and considering the funds I will have at my disposal when making my decision, I genuinely do think that the world of PC gaming may be beckoning after all…