While gamers have fought for decades over which video game console is the best to play video games on, the general consensus has been that PC gaming provides the most technically advantageous experience. While PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo all have their pros and cons that attract gamers to their respective consoles, it’s the high frame-rates and pretty graphics that gave PC gaming the edge over the rest.
However, as we move into Phase 2 of the next generation of consoles, namely the PS5 and Xbox Series X, where 60 and even 120 FPS has become the standard, and newer technology, such as ray-tracing and controller haptics are being included, does the PC still hold up as dominantly against its contenders in 2023 as it did in years prior?
How Did We Get Here?
To better understand how consoles are faring against PCs today, we first need to know why PC gaming has been considered by many to have more advantages than console gaming in the first place.
One of the first arguments that you’ll hear when discussing the differences between PC and console is the difference in frame-rates. Up until the introduction of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, 30 FPS was what you’d get when playing any console game. This is in stark contrast to the unlocked frame-rates that have been available on PCs for years, providing a much smoother gaming experience.
PCs are able to achieve these higher frame-rates because of how customizable they are. You can build your own PC at home, and because of that, you can choose whether you’re going to put the top-of-the-line technology inside of your PC for better performance and more impressive graphics, or if you’re going to save some money and build a computer that’s still capable of gaming, but doesn’t reach those astronomically high benchmarks.
In addition on to the customization of the computer itself, you can also modify the games you play on it in various ways. Mods allow players to change and add new features to games that keep them feeling fresh, unique, and tailored to each gamer’s specific wants. They’re typically only able able to be taken advantage of on PCs due to the nature of how games are installed to consoles and how much access the consoles give players to game files. Whether it’s fun mods like making Resident Evil Village’s Lycans appear as Barney the Dinosaur, or straight-up useful mods like Elden Ring’s Seamless Co-op, mods bring new experiences to games that increase replayability and are only accessible on PCs.
Overtaking The Throne
Consoles have always been playing catch-up with PC gaming capabilities, but the distance between the two platforms began to close in 2020 with the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X. These consoles released with the ability to run games at 60-120 FPS, 4K visuals with ray-tracing enabled, and for the PS5 specifically, the introduction of DualSense controller-specific haptics and adaptive triggers. The difference between gaming on a console and a PC became a lot more marginal.
These advances on the console side become even more significant when you look at their prices next to that of a PC of comparable performance power. PS5s range from $400-$500, while a PC of similar quality can cost well over $1000. High-end PC gaming is pricey, and it’s only getting more expensive. The recently released NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090 graphics card is priced at $1599, 2020’s NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080’s retail price is $699, and the RTX 2070 Super from 2019 retails at $499. This means that you’ll be paying, at minimum, the price of a PS5 for just one component of your PC.
Performance is Key
With such high prices, you’d expect a significant improvement in gameplay experience, and while PC gamers do have access to an expansive library of quality games through services like Steam, Epic Games Store, PC Game Pass, and websites like Itch.io, there are too many cases of AAA games releasing PC ports with poor performance.
One of the more recent examples of games that fell subject to the less-than satisfactory PC port was 2022’s Callisto Protocol. The game released on Steam to a dispiriting “Mostly Negative” review score, with players upset at the game’s constant stuttering even on higher-end computers. Eurogamer even went as far as to call the game “almost unplayable.”
The Last of Us Part 1’s recent PC port also received a “Mostly Negative” on Steam due to long load times, unstable frame-rates, egregious visual bugs, and frequent game crashes. In my impressions article on the game, I detailed my performance issues with it running on a computer with its recommended specifications, as stated on the Steam store page.
Both of the aforementioned games had consistently stable performance at launch on PS5, with the option of the 60 FPS Performance mode that runs at 1080p without ray-tracing, and the 30 FPS Quality mode which runs at 4K with ray-tracing enabled.
Although PCs technically have the ability to run these games with unlimited frame-rates, if the game isn’t optimized well for that PC, it can sometimes be tough to even reach a stable 60 FPS with high settings.
Anti-Tamper Tech and Consumer Contention
The addition of anti-tamper technology also has anecdotal evidence of possibly impacting performance on various PC games. One of the more notable examples of this was from Resident Evil Village, which suffered from several performance issues at launch and included Denuvo’s DRM technology in order to prevent piracy.
After Digital Foundry released a video analyzing a hacked version of the game that removed Denuvo and ran with a significantly more stable performance, many players concluded that Denuvo was the culprit. Capcom recently removed the anti-tamper tech from the game, leading many to believe the theory even further.
Denuvo continues to be implemented into new releases, with Bethesda’s upcoming video game, Redfall, seemingly a new holder of it, as stated on the game’s Steam store page.
The Final Verdict
In spite of the above stated flaws regarding PC gaming, consoles do have their drawbacks as well. On April 12, the official Redfalltwitter account put out a tweet stating that the game will launch on console with only a 30 FPS Quality mode, and that a “60 FPS Performance mode will be added via game update at a later date.”
Gotham Knights, which was released in October of 2022, also launched with a 30 FPS cap on consoles, and still to this day hasn’t seen a frame-rate upgrade.
While PlayStation first-party games like God of War: Ragnarök and Horizon: Forbidden West provide stable performances on the PS5, It’s possible that third-party video games could see a decline in 60 FPS modes due to catering to multiple consoles while simultaneously utilizing new engines, like the breathtaking Unreal Engine 5, in order to deliver higher fidelity pictures, in turn, sacrificing the potential for higher frame-rates.
When it comes down to it, choosing a system to play on is all about what you prioritize when it comes to gaming. For gamers who want to experience the big hit new releases as they come out, they may want to opt for playing on one of the next-gen consoles like the PS5 or Xbox Series X, because more often than not, the performance and the visual fidelity is stable and impressive. If you’re someone who wants to get a bit more custom with your games, or you’re just looking to play some unique indies and/or games that aren’t too graphically demanding, PC gaming is still likely the place to go.