Consoles are really good at what they do well – but what they do well is surprisingly narrow although it is targeted somewhere near the tastes of the median gamer. Also because consoles have identical hardware they normally just work and you don’t have to spend effort fighting or upgrading them.
For consoles to be actively superior to PCs the following all need to hold true:
- The gamer has a budget between about $200 and $400 for the base gaming device (costs based on a second hand PS4 and a new PS4 pro)
- The gamer already has a flatscreen TV to display the games on. (Note: I am not dealing with the PS4 VR here)
- The gamer only wants a range of games that can be controlled with 8 buttons, two thumbsticks, and a D-pad.
This of course covers the centre of the bell curve in terms of what people consider reasonable to spend on gaming and use for gaming but there are wide vistas out there where the PCs crush consoles and consoles barely try to compete. I am of course not including the Nintendo Switch in this evaluation because its nature as both a mobile console and a tablet gives it significant additional strengths and weaknesses that the Playstation and XBox don’t have (and if you’re looking for a second gaming device the Switch is almost always the best choice).
For gamers with a very low budget you can get a second hand PC that an office was throwing out because it’s more than five years old for just a little talking and legwork. And there are plenty of excellent games you can get for them for free or relatively little (personally I recommendas one of the best single player shooters of all time – and will run on a potato chip and then keeping an eye on the and finding ). And there’s a much wider range of very old games available for PC than for console.
On the other hand for gamers with money to throw around PCs can have far far more power. The current most powerful console, the XBox One X effectively has a potato chip for a CPU. You can currently get an 8GB RX580 for under $250 on Amazon. If you’ve money to burn you can get a 2080 for $800 and it’s more than twice as fast – and then there’s the 2080 Ti, the Titan V, and ridiculous things you can do with overclocking and water cooling.
So for gamers who want to spend either more or less money than the standard console range the PC crushes the consoles. But in the standard console range of money and time the console has advantages including that it just works.
Consoles are designed to plug into flatscreen TVs. I don’t have a TV (Netflix. Youtube, and Amazon Prime are more than enough). But most people do and this is a good median choice. It does have a warping factor on the way software is optimised however; premium TVs are optimised for 4k first and refresh rate second because broadcast TV and even 4k blu-rays seldom have anything over 60fps. If you want to passively watch on a large monitor this is a smart choice. On the other hand most gamers will tell you that the responsivity and FPS matters more than 4k graphics for anything even vaguely fast paced. Consoles normally lock at 30fps or 60fps and 4k is hard work and keeps the framerate down. Meanwhile you can tweak the settings on PC games – and on any twitchy game 60, 90, or higher FPS is far more important than 4k so the midrange monitors gaming tend to be 1440p and higher refresh rates. (You can barely notice the difference in image quality except side by side). If you already have a good TV using it is a smart choice – but if you’re on a computer monitor or buying something specifically for gaming you want different optimisatins.
And then there’s the gamepad’s shortcomings. Gamepads are good at what they do – D-pads are amazing for platform games, and thumbsticks are awesome for over the shoulder action RPGs and a lot of other things. On the other hand, and you have so many buttons to bind so can use many more options. Of course there’s a very good argument that the absurd accuracy of keyboard and mouse makes games like Team Fortress 2 more fun on console because you can take risks without it being almost certain you’ll be picked off by a sniper.
It’s this lack of options that mean that consoles are almost entirely devoid of games that require huge numbers of options implemented fast – Real Time Strategy, 4x, Grand Strategy, Management Sims, and “classic” RPGs with dialogue options more complex than the Bioware wheel and masses of options for spells or readied items are almost entirely absent on console. (And where gamepads are superior PCs can use them).
So are consoles better gaming platforms than PCs? Consoles are highly specialist pieces of hardware. If they give you what you want from gaming they do it efficiently, reliably, and without much faff, but there’s a lot they don’t give you.