Updated: Feb 15
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.