Games

Why I Love, and Sometimes Hate, PC Gaming

It's the most exciting platform to play games on—when it's not dicking you around.

by Andy Kelly
May 8 2015, 3:48pm

To get a game published on a console, it needs to be approved by Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft, each of whom have their own strict rules about what they allow onto their platforms. Ask any developer—especially indies—about this tedious hoop-jumping and you'll see a deep sadness flood into their eyes. In contrast, you can release whatever the hell you like on PC, and no one can stop you.

The result is PC being home to some of the most creative, interesting, subversive games you can play today. But there's a ton of crap out there, too. You can't browse the Steam storefront these days without yet another half-finished zombie survival game shambling into view. The open nature of PC as a platform is a double-edged sword. For every unique, genre-redefining game that some hobbyist coder conjures up in their bedroom, there's a swamp of opportunistic bullshit to wade through.

PC games can also be much more complex than anything you find on console. It's undoubtedly the best format for strategy and simulation, thanks to the presence of a mouse and keyboard. Some strategy games have worked on console—the awesome Civilization Revolution springs to mind—but try playing a fast-paced RTS like StarCraft II with a sluggish analogue stick-controlled cursor.

Games like the unironically brilliant Euro Truck Simulator 2, and an array of other niche sims, have too many functions for the 15 buttons on a controller. These are games where every function, from adjusting the flaps on a fighter jet to switching on a garbage truck's windshield wipers, need a dedicated button. Most people will have no desire to play games like this, which is fair enough, but that's another strength of PC: there's a game for everyone, no matter how ludicrously specific your tastes are.

Cost is a big sticking point for people when it comes to PC gaming. Putting together a rig that's capable of running modern games at high resolutions will set you back way more than the $400 you'd spend on a PS4. And even once you've dumped potentially over a grand on a new PC, a monitor, Windows, speakers, and a mouse and keyboard, you'll still need to upgrade in a couple of years.

I recently had to upgrade my graphics card, but to do so I also needed to buy a better power supply and a bigger case to fit the damn thing in. PC gaming is a never-ending money sink, and I'm not even going to try and defend that. It is, unarguably, a really fucking expensive hobby.

Grand Theft Auto V.

Your reward is being at the forefront of gaming technology—and I don't just mean graphics. I'm not one of those tiresome, benchmark-obsessed pricks who gets sweaty thinking about frame rates and resolutions, but man, games look really pretty on PC. When you've seen something like Grand Theft Auto V running at max settings, belting along at a blistering 60fps, you wonder how you ever put up with consoles.

But the insane variety of games on offer, many of which you could happily run on an ancient laptop, mean you can still enjoy PC gaming with a mid-range machine that wouldn't cost much more than a PS4 or Xbox One. You won't be able to play Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor with 4K textures, but you can play any number of brilliant 2D indie games, older 3D games, or even some modern releases with the graphics settings knocked down a bit. GTA V is perfectly playable on medium settings.

If you're new to PC gaming, there's a bottomless back catalogue of amazing games to sift through, and you don't have to worry about backwards compatibility. Any game, no matter how old, can be played on modern computers. And they're cheap too. That's one thing that will offset the cost of the PC itself.

New games drop in price faster than they do on console. Frequent Steam sales mean you can fill your library up with great games—and not just old ones—for next to nothing. Then there's stuff like Humble Bundle, which let you pay whatever you like for a selection of usually very decent games. I have 487 games in my Steam library, and I've played about 40 percent of them. I genuinely can't remember the last time I was bored.

Having access to powerful PC hardware also allows developers to push other things beyond just fancy visuals. They can do crazy things with physics engines and procedural generation. They can create vast, complex, connected universes like EVE Online (pictured, main). And free from the limitations of a console's rigid, fixed specs, game worlds can be infinitely busier and more detailed. A game like Total War, which simulates historical battles on a dizzying scale, is only possible with a high-end processor.

It's impossible to sing the virtues of PC gaming without talking about mods, too. While console games are closed-off and protected from prying eyes, people can merrily dig through the files and code of PC games and edit them. From simple additions like new weapons or characters, to full-scale expansions, modding means you play games on PC for far longer than you would on console. If you finish Skyrim and all the DLC on Xbox, that's it. But on PC there are thousands of player-made quests and gameplay modifications that dramatically change how it plays.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.

Some mods are so good they become games in their own right. Black Mesa is a remake of the original Half-Life that's arguably better than Valve's original, and recently went on sale on Steam. DayZ is an acclaimed zombie survival mod for hardcore military sim Arma II that went standalone and sold three million copies.

This is what's possible when developers are free of meddling publishers and platform restrictions. Some of the best games on PC, including hyper-violent video game nasty Hotline Miami, were created by tiny teams using accessible tools like GameMaker. Anyone can make a game and sell it on PC, which makes it fertile ground for weird, imaginative, experimental games that just couldn't exist on a PlayStation. Consoles have, to be fair, begun to embrace the indie scene, and Hotline Miami is one of a few to make the transition. But they all start life on PC.

There's a long-running myth that PC gamers spend more time fiddling with settings and battling error messages than actually playing games. That might have been the case in the 90s, but today's games, for the most part, just work. But sometimes they don't, and that's another edge consoles have. Occasionally a game won't run, or will run badly on your specific setup, and you'll have to trawl forums looking for a solution. And, a lot of the time, all you'll find is a post from 2005 asking a question about the same problem you're having, but with no answer.

Total War: Attila.

You'll have to root through folders, edit .ini files, tweak your Windows registry, and update drivers. It's a pain in the ass. A recent, baffling example is super gorgeous post-apocalyptic shooter Metro Redux, which was stuttering on my way over-spec PC. Turns out I had to disable "core parking" in Windows, and now it's fine. No, I don't know either.

With the Wii U—for my money, the best of the current crop of consoles—you know that within minutes of switching the thing on, you're going to be having fun. You put a game on and it works without having to fuck around with CPU voltages. It's all so streamlined and lovely and colorful, and basically the polar opposite of PC gaming. It's a mood thing, but sometimes booting my PC up to play a game feels like a chore.

But I always come crawling back. PC is the most exciting platform to play games on. It's always at the forefront of technology and innovation, and a place where any idea, no matter how niche or far-fetched, can exist—and be successful. It's a platform that gives unparalleled power to players, with a thriving mod scene that extends the lifespan of games long after they've faded into obscurity on console. And the frame rates? Dude, they are off the charts. Christ. What have I become?

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Waypoint
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Euro Truck Simulator 2