Which gaming platform is best: PC or console? It’s a pretty loaded question. Debate over the superiority of PC or console gaming rages on endlessly across the internet, seemingly without a definitive conclusion. In view of this fairly tribal and sensitive issue, I will try to approach the subject with a degree of rational thought.
And for the record, I am an active gamer in both the PC and console arenas.
We’ll begin purely with device aesthetics. For this particular subject, there is only one real winner. Neither of the current generation of PlayStation or Xbox consoles are particularly pleasing in their general design. Compared to your average shouty gaming PC, which you’d be forgiven for mistaking for a vital component of the Starship Enterprise, the sleek and slim design of games consoles wins through.
There are good reasons behind console design choices. Firstly, they are built for convenience. Modest in design and supremely quiet, a games console can be placed anywhere in the home without making too much of a statement. Its versatility allows it to be hooked up to a 40-inch TV in the living room or to slip seamlessly into your bedroom environment; a level of convenience not afforded by an unwieldy gaming PC. While a top of the line gaming PC can be appealing purely for its sheer brash appearance, a beacon of subtlety it is not. Gaming PCs generally have to housed away in the office or bedroom. Considering the best screen in your home is likely to be located in the living room, you’ll probably have to compromise on monitor quality. Console gaming draws first blood here.
Console 1-0 PC
Despite comprehensively storming the opening round, console gamers will despair at the ace up PC gaming’s sleeve following the initial blow. Putting aside the relative costs of the rival platforms until later, the question of which device offers the greatest performance does not leave much room for debate. The console’s understated aesthetics foreshadow its understated performance compared to that of the gaming PC.
This is a point that has all too often reared its ugly head for those of us who choose to play the latest titles on a games console. When it comes to squeezing out that extra level of gaming sophistication, console developers are left facing an uphill task. Assassin’s Creed: Unity, one of the biggest releases on current-gen consoles to date, was locked at 900p and a paltry 30 frames per second on PS4 (the resolution was even lower on Xbox One). The story is similar for a number of other blockbuster console releases.
Far Cry 4 – 1080p/30 FPS
Watch Dogs – 900p/30 FPS
Dragon Age: Inquisition – 1080p (900p on Xbox One)/ 30 FPS
In comparison, the bulkier and more spacious design of a gaming PC lends itself well to high-end, premium gaming. Depending on how powerful your gaming rig is, the potential for seeing those specifications rise is a source of great pride for PC enthusiasts. Harnessing powerful components, PC games are able to smash through the glass ceilings that limit the experience of console gamers. One example is the recently released GTA V. On PC, Rockstar’s supreme sandbox supports 4K resolution alongside attainable frame rates of 60 and above. Achieving full 1080p HD resolution while running smoothly at frame rates in excess of 60 is commonplace in the PC gaming arena, yet entirely unattainable for console gamers.
The opening two categories of this titanic battle are closely linked. The limits that the PS4 and Xbox One place on themselves in terms of design make it impossible to cram sufficiently powerful components into their compact cases. The compromise is therefore felt in resolution and frames rates. Gaming PCs are not hampered by these constricting design issues. To enjoy the latest games in the form they were truly intended, a gaming rig is the only way to go.
Console 1-1 PC
A games console has a very specific purpose: playing games. You purchase a games console because you intend to play the latest video games. Aside from that, there is little additional functionality. One advantage of a gaming PC is mentioned in its name; a gaming PC can easily double as a personal computer. And not just any PC. Tuned up for high performance gaming, it’s also likely to be an extremely capable device, ready to burn through your day-to-day tasks with consummate ease. A gaming PC can function as work PC, an entertainment PC and a general use PC. Luxuries that are, largely, beyond the capabilities of a games console.
Attempts have been made to evolve games consoles into connected devices capable of carrying out computer-orientated tasks. Microsoft originally promoted the Xbox One as an all-round entertainment hub (a move which subsequently backfired). Consoles now sport web browsers for general internet use, Blu-Ray players for movie viewing and TV streaming channels, such as Sky Go and Netflix.
Despite their growth into a more rounded, multi-channel media device, the functionality of a games console pales in comparison to that of a PC.
Console 1-2 PC
It seems a little daft for this kind of discussion to take place without reference being made to the actual games available for each platform. Once again, each entrant into this battle of gaming prowess has their own pros and cons when it comes to the breadth of games in their rosters.
Firstly, let’s look at consoles. AAA blockbuster titles will occasionally hit consoles first, leaving disgruntled PC gamers twiddling their thumbs for several months before they can sink their teeth in the latest titles. GTA V, for example, will be released on PCs on 14th April 2015, a full 18 months after the release of the original console versions on Xbox 360 and PS3. This is a slowing trend, however, with many of the recent top Christmas releases, such as Dragon Age: Inquisition, Far Cry 4 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare all penned in for simultaneous PC and console release. Some of gaming’s biggest franchises, particularly those published by Nintendo (Mario, Zelda etc), will never see the light of day on PC.
Given their continued reliance on discs, consoles also have a thriving second-hand market. The freedom to plough through a new title before getting a piece of your investment back is not a luxury extended to PC gamers, offering an extra slice of value to console gaming.
Now to PCs, where you can find an entirely new set of reasons to convince you of their game-playing superiority. One of the biggest reasons is choice. Online gaming libraries, such as Steam, provide a database comprising literally thousands upon thousands of games, many of which are entirely free. With games consoles no longer supporting backwards compatibility, your old favourites may find themselves sold off when you go next-gen. On PC, you can assemble the library of your dreams, free from the constraints of Xbox or PlayStation exclusivity, and safe in the knowledge they’ll stay with you no matter how many times your system evolves.
With services like Steam there also comes convenience and value. A veritable Pandora’s Box of gaming delights is available at your fingertips, downloadable with just a few simple clicks. New AAA titles enter the market at a considerably lower price than console releases and sales offering huge discounts are commonplace. Games consoles struggle to compete with the level of choice and value available via online gaming libraries. Agreements with high-street retailers keep digital prices high and the second-hand market means developers are missing out on a large chunk of potential income (making it in their best interests to ensure you continue to buy new titles).
All of this makes the decision on gaming choice what we call a no-brainer. PC gaming takes this landslide victory.
Console 1-3 PC
We now rumble into our final category and this one’s a biggy. Price is a multi-faceted consideration for gaming, with so many subsequent purchases to be made after the initial investment in a given platform. As such, the issue of price must be broken down into a number of subcategories.
Even here, nothing is straightforward. On the face of it, consoles are considerably cheaper than their PC rivals. Investing in a gaming PC with enough sophistication to run the latest titles can cost in excess of £1000. High end PC gaming does not come cheap (as I discovered recently), so consoles can often fill the void with their easy plug’n’play access to the latest games.
As outlined earlier, however, that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Include the secondary functionality of gaming PCs, with all their productivity and entertainment added value, and the balance is somewhat levelled. There is, of course, the added requirement to upgrade your PC’s components in order to keep up with the ever more demanding world of PC gaming. In comparison, a games console will keep you in touch with cutting edge gaming until the console cycle reboots, even if you have to compromise on resolutions and frame rates in the meantime.
With current-gen games consoles now plummeting down to sub-£300 levels, and a gaming PC’s need for annual component refresh to stay ahead of the curve, consoles take the early lead in the race for your cash.
Console 2-3 PC
This subject was largely sewn up earlier, but I’ll restate the main points here. Console gamers can take advantage of a flourishing secondhand market, leaving you free to buy and sell any disc-based games you purchase. PC gaming deals almost exclusively with digital copies, meaning once you’ve bought a game, you’re stuck with it regardless. Alongside that, however, comes a substantial saving on price, thanks to the lack of manufacturing and distribution costs of discs and cases.
Aside from Steam’s generous game sales taking place throughout the year, a number of external sites offer discounted Steam keys for all the latest releases. Purchasing a brand new title on a console rarely comes in under £40, whereas on PC you’re rarely looking above £30. Coupled with a back-catalogue bursting with free titles, PC gamers can haul back a significant amount of that initial outlay when buying games over several years.
Console 2-4 PC
One final area we are yet to ponder is online capability. The main difference here comes down to price. As if several hundred pounds to purchase a new games console and 40 quid for each new game wasn’t enough, you also have to pay for the privilege of playing console games online. Roughly priced at £40 for the year, you essentially pay for a service that is free on the majority of PC games. To sweeten the deal, there is Xbox’s ‘Games with Gold’ and PlayStation’s ‘PlayStation Plus’ service, which offer two free games every month. But these are largely extra incentives aimed at quelling our anger at having to pay for this privilege in the first place.
Console gaming does retrieve some of its lost credibility when you exclude price from online gaming. For the casual gamer, a slice of online action is a little easier on consoles. The simple, party-friendly interfaces make it easy for you and your friends to jump into a game of FIFA or Call of Duty with little hassle. Certainly, the world of online PC gaming can be a daunting prospect for those of us who are not familiar with servers and getting owned on Counter-Strike.
Having said that, this is ultimately a question of cost and the online experience on games consoles just doesn’t warrant the extra investment over free PC gaming.
Console 2-5 PC
There we have it, your definitive guide to which gaming platform is superior. At first glance, you might think that I’ve plumped for PC gaming. A 5-2 scoreline represents a bit of a hammering for the Xbox One, PS4 and, of course, the Wii U. I would, however, like to offer some final thoughts to those currently haring toward the shops to make a gaming PC purchase.
For me, it largely comes down to what level of gaming enthusiast you see yourself as. A gaming PC is a huge investment and only the most dedicated of gamers are likely to reap a return on their decimated bank balance. If you’re into MMOs and free multiplayer titles like Guild Wars, a gaming PC is the only way to go. You’ll begin to claw back that initial outlay with the volume of games you purchase, and you’ll appreciate the superior resolutions and frame rates only a PC can provide.
If all you want to do is play the odd AAA title in the few spare hours you have in your week, a games console is almost certainly the best way to go.
Steam Machines – The best of both worlds?
This has all been done without even pondering the imminent commercial existence of Steam Machines. Looking to marry the design and user-friendlessness of games consoles with the power and choice of PC gaming, Steam Machines could offer a great alternative for those struggling to pick a side. We’re eagerly awaiting their release in the winter.