Updated: Feb 15, 2021
If you have read my other articles or my bio, you will know I have been an avid gamer since I was a child in the 1980s. In that time I have spent many an hour in video arcades, and I have owned the following platforms - in chronological order; Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, Amiga A500+, Amiga 1200, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, PS1, Xbox, PS2, Xbox 360, PS3, and the Nintendo Wii.
Nowadays I am almost exclusively a PC gamer, except for when playing multiplayer with the children on the Wii U or Nintendo Switch. My PS3 is now used only as a blu-ray player, and my Xbox 360 now serves only as a DVD player for another TV.
Edit: Nor do I have any interest in owning a PS5 or Xbox Series X.
It is fair to say that I have a lot of experience of gaming on multiple platforms, both computers and consoles. So why am I now a full-time member of the so-called ‘PC Master Race’, as opposed to the multi-platform dilettante I was before?
This video sums it up nicely...
PC MASTER RACE 4K ULTRA EDITION ft DAN BULL
Video by mashed
However, if you want a more in-depth - and slightly less rude - investigation, please read on...
1. PC Exclusive Releases
When asked "What system should I buy?", my invariable response is "Which games do you want to play?’ If you are a Mario fan, buy a Nintendo, if you enjoy Halo*, purchase an Xbox, if you want to play Uncharted, invest in a Playstation.
However, many of the games and franchises I am most interested in are PC exclusives. Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Homeworld, Freespace, System Shock, Black Mesa and many others can only be found on the PC.
I would argue that many multi-platform and cross-platform games are better on the PC as well. For a start, a PC game often looks better than its console counterpart, and may run at higher Frames Per Second - more on that later.
PC games usually allow for far greater customisation as well. This is especially true for the controls. Whereas console games usually offer a limited number of control ‘presets’, PC games allow you to use any combination of keyboard, mouse, joystick and gamepad you wish. This allows the player to create a control scheme tailored to their exact requirements. With console pre-sets, it is often a case of choosing the set up you dislike the least.
Edit* Almost all Xbox games are now available on PC, either via Steam and other digital distribution platforms or through Xbox Game Pass.
2. PC Centric Genres
There are whole genres of video games which work very well on PC but have never ported well onto consoles.
One major example are RTS – Real Time Strategy games. Titles such as Starcraft 2, Command and Conquer, Cossacks 3, and especially the fully three-dimensional Homeworld series, its expansion pack and its prequel, were all made for the keyboard and mouse control scheme.
Attempts to translate this genre to consoles, such as Aliens versus Predator: Extinction, had mixed results. Even the later Halo Wars, designed around the Xbox 360’s joypad, had to be simplified compared to its PC contemporaries.
MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, and MOBAS, such as Dota 2 are also most at home on the PC. Again the keyboard and mouse combo offers far greater control, speed and precision, especially when the keys or mouse buttons can be assigned macros, allowing complex instructions to be issued with a single tap.
Flight sims, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator X, and space combat games, such as Elite Dangerous and Freespace, are also far more at home on the PC. They benefit greatly from the sheer number of keys a keyboard has to offer, and using a joystick or HOTAS adds greatly to the immersivity.
Even the ubiquitous First-Person Shooter is best enjoyed on the PC. The whole genre, starting with Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, started on the PC. Again, the keyboard and mouse control scheme offers far greater speed, fidelity and precision than what a joypad can deliver.
Halo: Combat Evolved, hailed as 'the first great console FPS', was frankly a rather mediocre FPS by PC standards. Much of its success can be attributed to it being the first console FPS with a workable gamepad control scheme. Previous Console FPS games, even the much-lauded GoldenEye, had control setups that were best described as ‘awkward.’
This difference in speed and precision will be obvious to anyone who has tried to play a fast-paced, online multiplayer FPS game, such as CS:GO, with a gamepad. Let's call this player ‘Bob’. If Bob’s opponents were using a keyboard and mouse setup, then Bob’s performance, relative to theirs, would plummet from expert level to noob almost instantly. Bob would then get fragged. Repeatedly. Rage quitting and throwing the offending gamepad across the room may well follow.
3. Backwards Compatibility
Something which irks many console owners is their console’s lack of backwards compatibility. For those who have not heard this term before, 'backwards compatibility' is the ability to play older, previous-generation games on a newer system.
Some consoles are backwards compatible - to a point. For example, the Xbox 360 could run some Xbox games, but not all. Only the early versions of the PS3, those with the Emotion Engine chip installed, could run PS2 games. This was due to the early PS3s also having a PS2 chip-set squeezed inside them. This was one of the reasons why the early model PS3s was so expensive. To reduce both size and cost, Sony deleted the emotion chip from the later 'PS3 Slim', thus deleting its backwards compatibility.
Granted, efforts have been made to bring older games to newer systems via digital downloads, however, this entails having to pay extra for them. Your old physical copies may well be useless in your new devices.
True, you could simply use your old console – assuming you can find it and it still works – but this takes up a lot of space, and may create a cable management nightmare.
The PC generally experiences far fewer problems with backwards compatibility. Quite often your old physical media CDs and DVDs will still work in a brand-new PC – assuming it has a physical drive that is. For those without physical drives built-in, an external USB plug-in DVD drive is a viable solution.
Another solution is ‘cracking’ the disk. Note that this should not be taken literally. In this case ‘cracking’ means copying the data from the physical disc onto an HDD or SSD. You can now enjoy your game without having to use the physical disc at all.
FYI - ‘cracking’ for personal use is a legal grey area since it is technically a form of piracy.
If you do not have the physical media, this is usually not a problem, as the PC has digital downloads too. Sites such as Steam and GoG.com have a vast library of games, some of which date back to the 1990s. Many of these have been tweaked to make them compatible with modern hardware and operating systems.
Better yet, they are often sold at a fraction of the price of a new AAA game, and significantly cheaper than what they retailed for at release. For example, I picked up the highly atmospheric - and terrifying - System Shock 2 for only £1.75 ($2.37.)
£1.75 for twenty + hours of 'brown trouser moments' is exceptionally good value for money. If you do the sums, this equates to about £0.08 ($0.11) of entertainment per hour. And that is for just one play-through. For games that deserve multiple playthroughs, the value gets even better. £0.04p per hour anyone?
These old classics can often be updated via mods and community patches, which may make them even more enjoyable now than they were at release. 1080p widescreen support, enhanced textures, lighting, shaders and modern-day eye candy, such as dynamic depth of field, lens dirt, lens flares, bloom etc., can all be added. This new lick of digital paint can bring these games up to something like modern-day visual standards.
Where PC gaming really shines is its large modding community. A mod, short for 'modification', is a fan-made alteration of a retail game. Some games are more ‘moddable’ than others, and this depends on the original developers.
Some developers – or their publishers – jealously guard their intellectual property and will not do anything to make their games ‘mod-friendly.’ This is not to say that it can’t be done of course, because if a modder has the will, they will find a way.
Mods come in all shapes and sizes. At the smallest end are minor alterations to files that most users can do themselves. Expanding Metro 2033’s nausea-inducingly narrow field of view is a prime example. I owned it previously on the Xbox 360, but I found I could not play it for long, as the field of view gave me a headache and motion sickness. There was no way to alter this on consoles.
On the PC version, this problem could be fixed by entering the game files and manually adjusting some of the settings. This made the game playable and far more enjoyable. It is worth noting that Metro was not a ‘mod-friendly’ game, but modders found a way to fix this problem anyway.
Metro 2033: Field of View Tests
Video by AurAlien
Further up the hierarchy you can find mods that make significant alterations to the game. This usually requires that the game be mod-friendly from the start. GTA V, Skyrim, S.T.A.L.K.E.R, the Half-Life series and Homeworld are notable examples of this.
At the top of the hierarchy are Total Conversions, which use the base game’s engine to create entirely new games. Diaspora, a BSG total conversion of Freespace 2 is a good example. Morroblivion – a re-creation of Morrowind in the more advanced Oblivion engine is another, as is Skyblivion, which re-creates Oblivion on the even more advanced Skyrim engine.
It is worth mentioning that unlike the overpriced DLCs plaguing the AAA games scene, most mods are free.
For even older games, and for games that were never developed for the PC, there is emulation. Emulation uses software to recreate the hardware and software of other systems. This includes games from the arcades, consoles and other computers.
Emulated games are often superior to the original versions running on their native hardware. As with mods, emulation is free. Therefore, via emulation, you can access a library of hundreds, and quite possibly thousands, of free games.
To find out more about the wonderful world of emulation check out our in-depth two-part article miniseries on the subject:
The videos below show many of these emulators in action.
Top 10 Emulators of 2017 - Part 1
Video by Simply Austin
Top 10 Emulators of 2017 - Part 2
Video by Simply Austin
6. Retro Remakes
Another feature of PC gaming are 'Retro Remakes'. A retro remake is a modern reimagining of an old classic game. These too are usually free, and the best of them can match modern-day paid for HD remasters. One memorable example is ‘Hurrican’, which combines the best elements from all the classic Turrican games, with some of the shooting mechanics of the Metroid series. In my opinion, this makes it one of the best platform shooters around.
Hurrican Preview Video by Poke53280
NB - the game looks far better than this video suggests. I suspect it does not 'play nice' with recording software. Video by winterworks GmbH
7. Megamix Games
Sitting somewhere between an emulated retro game and a full-blown retro remake is the 'megamix game'. A megamix is a game which combines the best elements of several games from a franchise and mixes them into one complete package.
The exceptional 'Streets of Rage remake', which combines the best elements of Streets of Rage 1, 2 and 3, is a fine example of a megamix game.
And yes, you guessed it, megamix games are free.
Streets of Rage Remake 5.1
Video by GLEclipseGaming
8. Play With Your Friends Online for Free
Playing most PC online multiplayer games will not involve any additional expenditure over what you are already paying your Internet Service Provider for your broadband. What's more, the days of needing specific high-speed internet connections for online gaming is now long gone, since high-speed unlimited broadband is now ubiquitous. If you can stream Netflix, Amazon Video or YouTube in HD, your internet is more than capable of handling online gaming. Therefore if you have broadband, you can start online gaming with your friends on PC for free.
However, if you wish to play with your friends on-line on an Xbox One or a PS4 you will need a Xbox Live or PS Plus membership first. At the time of writing, an Xbox Live annual subscription costs around £39.99, whilst PS Plus cost around £49.99 - assuming you purchase the annual subscription in one payment that is.
If you need to 'spread the cost' and pay monthly, you can expect to pay £5.99 and £6.99 per month for the privilege. Note that this totals £71.88 and £83.88 for the year.
This is on top of your regular ISP monthly bill of course.
Granted, these subscriptions do include other perks, such as free games every month, however, what these games are is out of your control. If you are not interested in the games they have selected, or indeed, if you own them already, this will not be a great incentive.
The additional annual cost of playing online with your friends for twelve months on the PC is £0.00. Granted, this does not come with a free game of the month, however personally I prefer to use the money saved to purchase the games I actually want.
Edit: The Epic Game Store now offers free games every week. The Epic Game Store itself is also free, and it is currently exclusive to PC and Mac. Another win for PC (and Mac) gaming.
9. Hardware Support
The PC market is flooded with-third party peripherals, including external disc drives, external HDDs and SSDs, joysticks, HOTAS systems, steering wheels, gaming mice, gaming keyboards, gaming monitors, speakers, headsets, adaptive gaming lights, TrackIR devices and now VR systems such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
Most of these devices come in a wide range of configurations and price points, so you should be able to find a setup that matches your budget and needs.
Console controllers, such as the Xbox and PlayStation gamepads, and even the Nintendo WiiMote, can all be made to work with the PC as well.
The hardware of the PC itself can also be tailored to your budget and needs. If you do not need a particularly powerful PC, at the time of writing you can build one for around £370 / $500 if you shop smart and build it yourself.
However, if you have money to burn, you could create an absolute beast of a PC, containing multiple top-end Graphics Cards, 128GBs of RAM, a 4.5GZ CPU, multi-terabyte HDDs and SSDs, water cooling system, multiple fans and of course RGB lighting. Such a beast will be significantly more powerful than even the best console on the market.
You can also create or purchase custom cases, some of which will not even look like a PC.
With consoles, your choices are limited to a few models, usually only differentiated by the capacity of their hard drives. Secondly, a console’s hardware will remain static. If you purchase a console today, it will be the same console in ten years time, with the same hardware and at best the same performance.
A PC however, can be upgraded over time. So long as you plan ahead, and you purchased a PC with good upgrade potential, you can turn your budget build PC into an enthusiast-level beast gradually over time, by adding or swapping components one-by-one.
Damaged or worn-out components are less of an issue with PCs too, as it is usually a simple process to purchase and install a replacement. If this is beyond your level of technical know-how, there are plenty of businesses that can do this for you.
Do you want to increase your gaming PC’s performance, but do not have the budget to invest in new hardware?
With PCs, there is a solution - Overclocking. Via overclocking, you may be able to squeeze additional performance out of your existing hardware. It's like getting a free upgrade, although it does come with some risks.
What is Overclocking as Fast As Possible
Video by Techquickie
12. Digital Distribution
Digital distribution, provided by platforms such as Steam, GoG.com, Epic Game Store and Origin, and facilitated by high-speed internet connections and large capacity Hard Disc Drives, has been the norm for PC gaming for some time. As such, physical copies of PC games have been a rarity for over a decade. Ever wondered why your local video game store does not stock many PC games, but hundreds for those on consoles? This is why.
Digital Distribution makes purchasing games far easier, since you do not even have to leave the house to do so. In fact, you probably will not even have to get up from the PC you are using at the time.
Digital distribution allows access to literally thousands of games, especially if you include the Indie titles. Granted, consoles are starting to catch up with this, but with only 500GB to 1TB of HDD space, they will fill up quickly. At the time of writing, you will not find a console with an integral 4TB HDD or any type of SSD, although external plug-in options may be available.
NB - 1TB HDD capacity is considered quite small by modern PC standards, with 4TBs being the current recommendation.
13. Digital Sales
Other benefits of digital distribution are the sales that sites such as Steam run regularly. These sales can see some games discounted by up to 90%, with discounts of 50% being common. How did I purchase System Shock 2, for only £1.75?
Via the two most beautiful words in the English language - ‘Steam Sale.’
This applies to more recent games as well. For example, at the time of writing, you can pick up Dying Light: Enhanced Edition - which usually retails on Steam for £34.99 – for only £10.49.
Other digital distribution platforms, such as GoG.com and Origin, also hold regular sales. Therefore a savvy consumer, i.e. one who only purchases games during sales, can build up an extensive game library at a significant discount.
A PC game, paired with a sufficiently powerful PC, can look and run noticeably better than on their console counterparts*. 1080p resolution at 60FPS has been the standard for PC gaming for some time, long before the Xbox One and PS4 were able to. I actually consider this to be one of the least important advantages the PC has over consoles, which is why it is so far down the list, but if eye-candy is your thing, PC gaming has you covered.
*Edit: this section may become outdated when the PS5 and Xbox Series X become readily available.
If you are wondering what the difference between 30 FPS and 60FPS looks like, the video below will show you. What it cannot convey is how much better it feels to play at 60FPS. This is something you have to experience first hand.
60 FPS vs 30 FPS Gaming Smoothness Comparison
Video by Digital Storm
Indeed, for a while, 1440p was the gold standard of PC resolutions. Now it is 4K at 60FPS or above. There is even talk of 8K PC gaming in the near future.
Frame rates above 60FPS have also been supported on PC for a while now, with 144HZ 4K HDR monitors being the current 'enthusiast' screen. These should be hitting the shelves by the middle of 2018.
NB, a 144HZ refresh rate is faster than what most TVs are capable of, despite what some TV manufacturers may claim.
Fake TV Refresh Rates As Fast As Possible
Video by Techquickie
For gamers who are happy to forgo 4K resolution to maximise frame rates, then 1080p at 240Hz is now an option.
144Hz vs 240Hz - Can you see the difference? ft. ASUS PG258Q Gaming Monitor
Video by NCIX Tech Tips
Slow motion - 240Hz vs 144Hz vs 120Hz vs 60Hz - Monitor refresh rates
Video by WASD.ro
Another advantage that most monitors have over most TVs are their noticeably shorter ‘input lag.’ TVs which feature lag reducing ‘Game Modes’ help to narrow this gap somewhat, but at the time of writing, monitors still have a distinct edge here.
Are TVs as good as Monitors for Gaming? 144Hz Monitor vs 120Hz TV
Video by NCIX Tech Tips
"So what do higher refresh rates and lower input lag result in?" you may ask.
"A faster, smoother, more responsive and thus more satisfying gaming experience." would be the answer.
The graphical settings on PC games are usually scalable to ensure compatibility with a range of hardware. When these settings are 'maxed out', the PC version of a game can look noticeably better than its console counterpart. The PC version may feature more detailed graphics, a greater draw distance and less 'texture pop-in'. The video below shows this in action.
1080p60 PUBG – PC Ultra vs. Xbox One Frame Rate Test & Graphics Comparison
Granted, this is a fairly extreme example. Most Xbox One games look better than PUBG. However, it shows just how noticeable the differences can be.
Video by Candyland
A more typical example is shown below. You should be able to see that the PC version has more detailed ‘textures’, but the differences are more subtle.
4K UHD Ghost Recon Wildlands – PC Ultra vs. PS4 Pro 4K Graphics Comparison
Video by Candyland
15. Multi-Screen and Ultra-Wide Monitors
If one gaming monitor is not enough for you, why not have three?!
Via NVIDIA Surround or AMD Eyefinity, you can link multiple screens together. The video below shows just how good this can look. Also note the high-end steering wheel, pedals and gear shift peripherals.
DiRT Rally H-Pattern + Clutch 1st place in (Elite Mode) Lancia S4 Group B!
NB - if the black bars of the screen's bezels ruin the immersion for you, there is a solution in the works.
Video by SSi Racing Team
If multiple screens feel like overkill, then an ultra-wide monitor can deliver similar results.
Should I Upgrade To An Ultrawide Monitor? ft. LG 34UM95 34” Ultrawide Screen
Video by NCIX Tech Tips
NB I am old enough to remember gaming on a 14" Black and White CRT TV with only one speaker.
16. In-Browser Games
PCs, of course, have full-blown web browsers – it is what web browsers were first designed for after all.
This allows for 'in browser gaming'. There are probably thousands of in-browser games available to play for free via a multitude of websites.
Some, such as FRIV Games, are aimed at children. Others such as Happy Wheels are aimed at teenagers and adults who find body horror and accidents amusing. You can even play-full blown emulated retro games in browser, and retro remakes of PC classics such as Quake III Arena. And in case you were wondering, yes, most of these are free as well.
17. Alt-Tabbing to Other Applications – walkthroughs, YouTube etc.
PCs are capable of multitasking; therefore, you can easily swap between applications via the magic of Alt-Tab.
Stuck in a game and not sure what to do?
Then pause it, Alt-Tab out and Google a walkthrough, then Alt-Tab back to the game, un-pause and use what you learnt to get past that sticking point.
Want to take a break from gaming and binge on Netflix/YouTube/Amazon Video etc?
Alt-Tab out of the game, fire up your video platform of choice, binge, then Alt-Tab back to your game. You can do all of this without having to get up from your seat or even mess around changing HDMI feeds.
The final advantage of gaming on a PC is that you can also use the PC for non-gaming tasks. Even a mid-range gaming PC will be a powerful ‘work PC’ by most people’s standards.
By the magic of multi-tasking and Alt-Tabbing, you could be downloading a game on Steam and listening to music via YouTube, whilst creating a presentation on PowerPoint for an upcoming meeting and using Google Maps to find out how to get there. All from one machine, all at the same time, without having to leave your desk.
Purchasing an all-in-one machine may prove less expensive than purchasing a PC for work and a console for gaming.
Granted, having your workstation also being your 'battlestation' could prove a temptation for those who are easily distracted. Just one of the perils of working from home.