People tell me I’ve been too much of a PC gaming cheerleader since the new console generation started. Fair enough. In the time since I got my new Alienware I’ve been swiftly reminded of the reasons I turned away from PC gaming in the first place. For example, there’s the technical complications. I reinstalled Bioshock on a whim, and found that the sound didn’t work until I did some messing about in the control panel. And then there’s the fact that every time I mention that I got an Alienware, all the smug eye-rolling schoolyard elitist tossers burst from the woodwork to patronize me about it. Shut the fuck up. It plays the games I want it to play, it doesn’t sound like a jet engine’s flying past and I can write the cost off on my tax return. Beyond that I couldn’t give a fish finger.
The irony in the term ‘PC Gaming Master Race’ still stands, and I don’t want anyone to think I buy into the ridiculous cliqueism that gaming platforms engender, stating that you must side with one and automatically oppose the alternatives, or conversely that if you find fault in one you are automatically a rabid exponent of the other. I’m still getting the next-gen consoles, partly because it’s my job, but partly because I need to at least give it all a chance to persuade me that this generation benefits the consumer in any way, not just the publishers.
And believe me when I say that nothing would give me greater pleasure, but frankly I don’t see how they could do it. I’ve resolved to focus more on the PC because there is no longer any rational reason to use a console instead. Over the last thirty years, every single thing that consoles did better than PCs, or merely differently to PCs to appeal to a different market, has been thrown away, one after another.
When gaming was in its infancy, PCs and consoles occupied opposing ends of the spectrum. PCs were more about adventure games, strategy games, simulators and the like. Appealing to the older crowd with the necessary level of computer literacy, focussing on more thoughtful aspects like writing and preparing for the challenges ahead. Consoles, meanwhile, were the children of arcade gaming and offered quick, gameplay-focussed adrenaline challenges that generally appealed more to the young. And this was all fine. Neither was better than the other, they just appealed to different audiences. Console gamers didn’t want to have to faff about with installation, boot disks, operating systems and the like. The inability to write documents or hack into classified missile defence systems was an acceptable loss if it meant they could just switch on and start playing.
But now, I get my Xbone set up, put a game disk in, and could find myself waiting anything up to an hour before reaching the point where I am in the game and moving the little man around with the controller. The amount of time between console switched on and moving the little man around would embarrass my old Commodore 64. So that’s one traditional benefit of console gaming out the window.
It takes a while to get a game going on a PC, too, but for one thing, PC gaming has never claimed to be expedient, and for another, there are a lot of other things a PC can do. I can do a bit of work or watch Youtube videos while I wait. In fact, since I got my new PC, I find I’ve been playing games I’m not reviewing a hell of a lot more, just because I’m not put off by the arduous process of getting up, picking a disc, switching the console on etc. I can just stop working, alt-tab over to Steam, grab my USB controller and be gaming in seconds. I installed Just Cause 2 this week ‘cos it was $2.50 on the Steam sales, and it’s become my little pre-bedtime treat after I’m done writing for the day.
Then there’s technical issues. Playing games on PC required a certain amount of know-how just because PCs could have any combination of hardware inside them. Back in the day you had to setup games and tell them what sound card you were using, how big a display you could manage, etc, whereas on consoles you could rest assured that each game was standardised specifically for the colourful plastic box before you.
This is still an issue with PC gaming, but it’s lessened hugely these days. That problem I mentioned earlier with Bioshock having no sound was fixed inside five minutes with a Google search, and the solution was to head into the labyrinth that is the Windows control panel and activate something hitherto deactivated. And while expertise is required to understand all of it, the PC operating system is happy to grant access to its inner workings, even if you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. Meanwhile, if you get a technical fault in a console – as has become increasingly common in this generation and the last – then because it wants to keep its frontend simplistic, it can only communicate an error through an arcane language involving red rings.
While I was waiting for Ryse to download and install the day-one one-gig update, it had been on 0% for so long I began to worry that it might not be progressing. I went hunting around for some kind of Active Downloads screen to at least ressure myself that some movement was occurring. Not a sausage. ‘Installing: 0%’ was the only interaction the console was prepared to make with me, and I was just supposed to trust that it hadn’t crashed or melted behind that static facade. If I wanted to know how long I was going to be waiting, to decide if it was worth popping out to buy some muesli or just dig the iPad out to play Mega Dead Pixel for a bit, then I could feel free to eat shit.
And then there’s multiplayer. Consoles used to be all about local multiplayer, because they are creatures of the living room and other places where one might entertain guests. PCs were rarely made to be used by more than one person at a time, and so pioneered the online multiplayer. But rather than concentrate on their appeal as a party device for friends getting together, consoles (with the exception of Nintendo) threw that specialisation aside to jump aboard the online multiplayer train, for which they were and are vastly poorer equipped. And the extra subscription charge one must pay to game online – not to mention the restricted game library and inflated prices – in the long run surely balances out the greater cost of a gaming PC.
In short, consoles have worked a long campaign to essentially become PCs, the end result of which will be nothing short of total obsolescence. The only problem consoles now solve over a PC is the problem of not being able to play their exclusive titles, a problem which the console created by making the games exclusive in the first place. Pack up and blow the whistle, chaps – this train has to move the fuck on.