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The “PC vs Console” argument is hardly news anymore often resulting in a rage-spittle keyboard-pounding frenzy; eventually the original thread of the matter is lost and it all degenerates into puerile bickering. To compare PC and video game consoles without maintaining at least some degree of objectivity, is likely asking for trouble; Sony fans laugh at the pricey upgrades PC’ers have to put up with, while the PC brigade come across as pipe-smoking, silk-gown wearing gentlemen, with eyebrows like Roger Moore and the mannerisms of James Mason.
This squabbling is something which evolved with the release of 6th generation consoles, like the PS2, and is likely to escalate further, as gamers learn how to nitpick while becoming used to increasing realism from the game industry. PC players are calling for more exclusives capable of fully realizing PC-hardware’s potential. The console players instead keep enjoying maxed-out titles with full MSAA support, while snickering at the continuous mix-and-match for parts the PC brigade have to put up with.
In truth, there are positives for both platforms.
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Flexibility vs Out-of-the-Box
One very clear advantage that consoles have over the PC is that they are ready to go out-of-the-box, meaning everything is there with a single purchase – parts which can be easily replaced at will on a PC, such as the PSU, motherboard, CPU or the choice of a USB pad over keyboard controls (particularly for sports titles).
Buy your XBOX or PS3 console, connect your HDMI/AV cables, hook up your controllers, plug it in and you are off. No need to worry about minimum/maximum specs on the game box, no need for continuously tweaking video settings – medium shadows? Distant LOD? Do I really need 8x MSAA? – or worrying about your hardware conking out on you while you’re shooting your way through your favourite war theater.
Consoles also offer fairly constant frame-rates, though not like a high-end PC gaming rig. Demanding titles like GTA IV or Metro 2033 will play smoothly while not falling under the 30FPS mark, ensuring an enjoyable experience without needing to benchmark. Of course, the trade-off for this consistency is visual quality, as games with maxed-out detail settings look better on the PC.
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Fat Controllers Off the Rails
The 360’s bulky controller offers easy maneuverability, particularly if you are playing action/arcade titles or sports games like NFL, FIFA or PES. The PS3 controller is also easy to use, a design which has been adopted by Logitech and many others. While the standard keyboard-configurations of the PC are easily overcome by buying a separate controller, there is the old problem of tinkering with drivers/settings remains.
However, the standard console controls fall short when playing RTS/TBS titles (Civilization still remains a PC exclusive, folks) as it becomes difficult to control units in a micro-managing hot-key bonanza. Flight-sims also present problems, as the long list of keys to manage various aspects of your plane are simply missing.
Another problem I see with console controllers emerges in FPS titles, though consoles are extremely popular for shooters. The WASD + mouse configuration makes for fluid movement and aiming is easier with the mouse.
As examples I would pick Birds of Prey, a less enjoyable experience on the Xbox, and GTA San Andreas (both "older" games); I played GTA SA with a Logitech pad on PC, and had considerable problems aiming in “Just Business” which were solved by switching to the mouse.
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Spending about $400 on a PS3 (320GB model), or slightly less on an XBOX 360, should ensure a solid 5 to 6 years of gaming. Though new console releases are slightly more pricey than PC, rental remains a popular option, and may save you even more dough.
While you could well be gaming with a $400 dollar PC, if you plan on spending a large chunk on a second-hand GPU, it will not necessarily ensure that you can run the latest releases as they are meant.
Tweaking settings on PC games can be annoying, but it also favours the platform in some cases. One of my computers runs a Prescott 3.4 GHz CPU with a Radeon HD 4670 and 4GB RAM, and I am comfortably able to play new releases at med-high settings with low screen resolutions. Sure, it is hardly high-definition, but it's simply not possible to play new console games on hardware this old (try sticking a 360 disk in your original Xbox).
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As you can see, or perhaps already knew, there is room for both platforms depending on what you want out of your gaming experience. If you are the tinkering type then you'll enjoy choosing parts for your next PC build. If, on the other hand, you want to worry less about cryptic acronyms, unintelligible new technology or that fallacy that is “disposable income” when buying parts, then consoles are for you.
Another aspect worthy of mention is the ability to mod your game. Though it is possible to do it with hacked console units (note: you'll be banned from online play), or by shifting files around, it is less user friendly than on a PC and not all games allow mods on consoles. For instance The Elder Scrolls offer a much richer experience on PC, because the series is about its modding community as much as anything else.