THE OLD DAYS
From the beginning of home gaming all the way up through the last generation, games were quite different across different platforms.
Last generation, if you wanted the best gaming experience, that was probably on a PC or an Xbox 360. Most games were optimized for the 360’s large, ravenous online audience, and PC ports started to get better and better.
It was pretty easy to pick a system to play on. You went with the 360 if it was a big online game, you went to the PC for graphical showpieces, and you went to the PS3 for smaller games and Sony exclusives, and also on those rare times where the PS3 managed to push a third-party game to 1080p instead of 720p.
And then there was the Wii for Nintendo stuff.
Then x86 wormed its way into the modern consoles and the differences largely evaporated, and it got messy.
Except for Nintendo they’re still over there Nintendoing.
Oh sure, Sony could claim at launch that the PS4 was the most powerful system, and that helped them get to a sizable sales lead…but the differences between the two base versions of the consoles were not that huge. The PS4 Pro is a pretty big step up on the GPU side, and the Xbox One X will be a slightly bigger step over that…but the fact remains that both consoles are essentially gaming PCs.
And due to their specialized hardware/low power nature, they are often outperformed by PC hardware.
Online infrastructures on both systems are rather similar. I think the OS on the PS4 is more pleasant to use overall, even though the newly-released Xbox One OS is a big improvement over the thing that we’ve been stuck with for a couple of years now.
(I still miss the big picture-in-picture live video window from the first Xbox One UI).
Controller-wise…it’s a toss-up too. The Xbox controller has a classic feel and design, and I really like the impulse triggers even though they are hardly used in games.
The PS4 controller mixed things up, and it’s a bit leaner and more pleasant to hold for really long sessions…that is, if your battery doesn’t die. Which it will. Possibly in one afternoon of playing.
The touchpad on the Dualshock 4, so touted at launch…is now more or less just a big place for developers to map extra buttons onto. Which is sometimes cool but not revolutionary.
PC IS KING?
I have a pretty good PC that I purchased earlier this year, not only for its gaming capabilities but also for my “Real job” of audio editing.
It can outclass both my Xbox One S and my PS4 Pro, and I have no doubt that it’ll handle many games just as well as the Xbox One X, also.
I don’t have a 4K monitor. I’m still using a 1080p monitor. So take that into account.
But still, the improved control fidelity/responsiveness and general graphical oomph of the PC is very appealing.
The social platform…less so. Steam is the main player in PC gaming, and its UI is a cobbled-together mess in desperate need of a refresh, or at least some more customization options for users. Big Picture mode was a good first step, but then they never took the second one.
The Big Picture UI still has graphics talking about the launch of the “new” Steam controller. Which is two years old.
Also, I’ve done a terrible job of cultivating my Steam friends list, and the UI is so haphazard I never really interact with people there anyway.
Maybe that’s on me.
There’s no denying that PC has the best and biggest library and is the most capable, performance-wise. And with Microsoft bringing all of their exclusives to PC through the Play Anywhere program, that’s a big gain for PC and a big loss for Xbox.
THE NINTENDO FACTOR
You know, after going through all of that nonsense…I can see why the Switch has been so popular.
It provides something genuinely different from the mess I just described above.
It’ll work as a console or a handheld. It offers its own library of exclusives from Nintendo, and some okay third party ports. But honestly, you’re better off playing the more demanding ones on the more powerful machines.
Before you start furiously clicking that reply button, I’m not denigrating those ports at all. I think it’s super cool that developers are getting some big games to work on the mobile chipset of the Switch. I used to love renting the Super NES, NES, and Genesis versions of a game to see how different they were…and I love it when weirdly complex PC games get crammed onto a console with way less buttons.
So even though the Switch doesn’t have the best graphics currently, it’s still neat to see what it can do.
WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?
I’ve been playing Shadow of Mordor. I own all three versions of the game, thanks to digital sales. On Xbox One, I have the GOTY edition, which contains all of the DLC. But it’s also the worst-looking version, with a lower rendering resolution and lower-res shadows that leave the whole thing looking a bit dirty.
(When I say worst-looking, I’m ignoring the old PS3 and 360 versions. Those were…a thing).
On PS4 Pro, the game looks better, but still runs locked at 30 FPS. Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems like the hardware should be doing more there.
30 is a totally fine and good framerate for a game…until you’ve played that same game at 60 or higher on a PC.
Shadow of Mordor’s combat system relies on very specific timing and combo windows. It works just fine at 30 frames, but it feels that much better with the added responsiveness that comes along with a higher framerate on PC. Higher framerates aren’t just for prettier animations…they also have a huge impact on controller response.
Plus, on the PC version Talion’s cloak is a little bit more fuzzy thanks to more tesselation.
THIS IS STUPID AND NOT A REAL PROBLEM
I’m whining about not being able to pick a platform to play a game on.
But I also think that it’s troubling how little difference there is between three competing platforms that all have large audiences. Price is a factor, and that helps keep console sales going…but with both Microsoft and Sony moving to an iterative hardware model, are we just turning console gamers into stealth PC consumers? And what are the implications of that?
Platforms matter less than they ever did, and I probably just need to give up the mindset that was borne out of the vast differences that used to exist. Hell, I’m the one always telling people to chase software instead of hardware.
It’s just hard to know which piece of software to chase when there are a bunch of different versions that are 90 percent similar, and with discounts… will all probably be stupidly cheap at some point in their first year on sale.
At the very moment where the console market should probably be collapsing in on itself, it’s thriving in all sorts of different directions thanks to price and social factors.