If you’re a regular visitor to sites like CheatCC.com or any forum where gamers are given the opportunity to voice their fiery opinions, you’re probably aware of an age-old debate that’s been swirling around this community of ours since we were dialing up our Global Village modems and rationing free hours of America Online. The argument boils down to this: PCs or consoles?
While the ferocious vitriol that often erupts from these debates makes about as little sense to me as the divide between Team Edward and Team Jacob—or the fact that anyone might voluntarily subject themselves to Twilight in the first place—I hope that my two cents in the matter might inform the die-hards of the console camp, or perhaps those looking to throw a little coin around this holiday season. As someone who’s been playing video games since the NES Zapper was the discerning gamer’s weapon of choice, I’ve given almost every platform of note at least a day in court, and I can tell you that after many (read: zero) hours of meditative contemplation atop quiet mountaintops, I’ve come to the conclusion that the PC is the one platform that a serious gamer should own. Now, before you jump down my throat in the comments section or glide your mouse cursor over to that little X button in the upper-right corner of your browser window, please hear me out.
First up is versatility. I know that consoles have increasingly been moving in the direction of being all-in-one entertainment hubs, the only piece of electronics you’ll need to hook up to your television to meet all your digital recreation needs. I think it’s swell—I really do. But a PC can accomplish all the same functions and so much more. A powerful PC is not just a gaming machine or an entertainment center, but a workhorse, an art studio, an editing lab, a library–anything you make of it. I’m typing this article up on my gaming machine right now.
Second up is mobility. Gone are the days of powerhouse gaming PCs living solely within massive, noisy towers under your desktop. As with all computer technology, formidable gaming laptops are becoming sleeker, faster, and cheaper all the time, and when you stuff one in your backpack and hit the road, your entire gaming library travels with you. My ASUS Republic of Gamers laptop is a few years old by now, and it still handles the newest releases without skipping a beat. And listen, I get it: You don’t want to play your games on a 17.3” monitor (or one ever smaller—gasp!). You want to immerse yourself in that jazzy living room setup of yours and have your hair blown back by your killer sound system like that guy in the Maxell cassette ad from the ‘80s. No problem—you’re a $5 HDMI cable away from turning your TV into a gigantic Windows desktop.
The third point is ease of transition. I know that you don’t want to have to switch to a mouse-and-keyboard setup after all these years of training. Your hands are set in their ways, right? They’re five-headed Shaolin monks by now, operating on pure muscle memory, nailing M4A1 headshots with the twin sticks of your DualShock 3 or Xbox 360 controller. No trouble here either—the wired versions of both controllers can be used on PC with free software downloads, and you can snag a wireless receiver for the Xbox 360 controller for about $12 on Amazon. Done.
Further onward is exclusivity. While consoles each have their exclusive flagship titles, there are many more exclusives to be found on PC, and these date way back to the ‘80s and ‘90s. Thanks to sites like Good Old Games (GOG.com), you can find droves of retro classics on the cheap. Even if those aren’t your thing, almost all MMOs, RTSes, and turn-based strategy games are PC and Mac exclusives, so entire genres open up when you stray from the consoles.
Next up is mods. This is a big one, friends, and a point often overlooked by the pureblood console crowd. The staggering number of ridiculously talented amateur programmers and artists out there really becomes apparent when you start looking into game modification, and the beauty of PC gaming is that we, the players, get to reap the benefits of thousands of hours of hard work—free. Hop over to nexusmods.com or gta4-mods.com for a sample of what I’m talking about. Bored of GTA IV? Why not tack on an overhaul that implements realistic gun and vehicle damage, so that both Niko Bellic and his enemies will be laid low by just a bullet or two, or one nasty collision? Why not fly around Liberty City as Iron Man or Dragonball Z’s Goku, throwing cars around and blasting energy beams from your palms? These mods often completely change the way a game operates, and can drastically extend a title’s replayability.
Bethesda titles are prime examples here. The modding community really pulls out the big guns for these, and in exploring the level of detail and the sheer immensity of effort required to build these mods, it almost feels rude not to stand up and start slow clapping at your desk. Last year, a Skyrim player put out a mod called Falskaar as a job application to Bethesda. The mod is available to the community for free, and features a new continent, full voiceovers, and 25 hours of additional gameplay. He poured thousands of hours of work into this, and you can just pick up the finished product at your leisure, greatly expanding the world of Skyrim.
If you’re a fan of Fallout or The Elder Scrolls, I can’t stress enough that the PC versions of these games are the ones to have. In my mind, you haven’t really played Fallout 3 until you’ve survived the brutal Wanderer’s Edition mod, and you haven’t played Skyrim until you’ve slogged through its unforgiving Requiem mod, but I’m a Dark Souls fanatic and a glutton for punishment, so don’t take my word for it unless you’re into that sort of thing. The point is, with the PC versions of these games, you’re not just buying a fixed game experience; you’re buying a limitless game engine, and with these games’ Construction Kits, you can build your own mods if you’re the tinkering sort.
If I’ve lost you with all this yammering about game modification, let’s touch on some common ground here that I’m sure we can agree on: It’s been confirmed that next-gen consoles will not be backwards compatible, and that sucks. After spending heaps of money building a respectable game collection, the fact that you’re going to need to keep the old iteration of your console of choice plugged in alongside its sleek younger sibling is downright unwieldy. Again, a strength of the PC shines here: Purchased titles will always be PC titles, and when you upgrade your system years from now, those investments will keep their value.
Another benefit that comes into play here is consolidation. Instead of swapping discs all the time and dealing with an ever-growing stack of jewel cases, game library interfaces like Steam keep everything together in one organized list. If a game isn’t sold through Steam, not a problem; add a shortcut to your Steam library anyway, and you can access it with one click. Games taking up space on your hard drive? Uninstall them. Once they’re paid for, they’re available for you to download whenever you want them back.
Now that I’ve blown a tremendous amount of smoke here, let’s get down to brass tacks. Perhaps the strongest argument against PC gaming is the hefty initial investment that it requires, and on this point, I’m on board. If you want a gaming PC beefy enough to handle not only contemporary titles but those that will be on the way in the next several years, be prepared to dish out at least a few hundred bucks more than you would on a PS4 or an Xbox One. However, when you take into account the versatility mentioned above—that is, the PC as an “everything machine”—as well as the greatly reduced cost of software detailed below, the margins really begin to sway.
Here’s an example of how you’re going to save crazy money: Hop on over to HumbleBundle.com and see what’s on the menu. For those of you unfamiliar, this is a website that provides a pay-what-you-want bundle of games from a given developer ($1 minimum if you want Steam keys), and allows the buyer to divvy up the purchase price between the developer, the Humble Bundle service, and a given charity. As of this writing, a buyer paying more than the average of $4.64 US will snag the following titles: Batman: Arkham City Game of the Year Edition, Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year Edition, Scribblenauts Unlimited, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, F.E.A.R. 3, Lord of the Rings: War in the North.
Let that sink in for a moment. Most of these games cost around $50 apiece when they were released ($60 on consoles), which wasn’t very long ago. If you throw in the price of the DLC for the Batman titles (all included here), you’re looking at a package worth a hefty chunk of change, all for less than $5. Keep in mind that Humble Bundle has new bundles available weekly, and similar sites such as IndieGala.com are frequently rotating their deals as well.
There’s another boon for bargain-hunting gamers: the hallowed Steam Summer and Holiday Sales. For those unfamiliar, let me paint a picture for you: Imagine you’ve just won a game show and the host puts a Velcro suit on you. Now you’re told that you’re free to run around in a maze full of video games stuck to the walls with Velcro, and you get to keep everything you manage to stick to your suit. (Since no one I’ve ever spoken to in my life remembers Video Power, let’s just pretend that I made this up.) These sales offer huge catalogs of games—often new releases—for up to 80% off, and any DLC for these games are similarly discounted. Dozens are offered at any given time, and the community gets to vote on what goes up for sale next. The games on sale rotate every 8 hours, and this goes on for weeks. This past summer, I picked up Fallout 3: GOTY Edition and Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition for $2.50 apiece. Remember those mods I mentioned earlier, the ones that extend the lifespan of these Bethesda titles beyond all reason? We’re talking about innumerable hours of wasteland-roaming RPG greatness for $5. You will never find prices that low for these titles on PSN or XBL Games Store—ever.
We’ve yet to see what Valve’s upcoming Steam Machine will accomplish in its attempt to bridge the gap between PCs and consoles, but interesting times are ahead for all of us gamers. In the meantime, the holidays are coming, and if you’re planning to throw a big sack of money at Microsoft or Sony when their respective consoles hit the scene, remember that you’re essentially buying a computer any way you look at it. With a bit more of an investment up front, you may well be swan diving into your very own Scrooge McDuck coin vault with the money that your “everything machine” saves you in the long run.
But I doubt it.