2013 – A Year in PC gaming

Gaming PC2013 is now over and as another year draws to a close, lots of exciting things have happened in the world of gaming. We saw the launch of two new consoles, the Xbox One and the PS4. Of course, it wasn’t long before the performance of these new machines was put under close scrutiny. In most cases what was most surprising wasn’t the performance of the new super consoles but seemingly the lack of it. While it is still early days for these new machines and performance is bound to improve, it’s still alarming from an enthusiasts perspective.

As might be expected, this turn of events reignited the age-old “PC Vs. Consoles” debate. What’s still surprising is how many console gamers are dismissive of the PC as a gaming platform. Considering the colossal amount of software and the number of PC exclusive features in games, are committed console gamers foolish to be avoiding the PC, or are the barriers to PC gaming still too high for many people? While the thorny problem of cost is still an issue for many, others claim that the platform simply isn’t convenient enough, or that games require technical configuration. Of course, other people will argue that this simply isn’t the case and that these days PC gaming is mostly plug and play.

So, who’s right? Thanks to services like Raptr, I can look back over the games I’ve played this year on the PC and see just exactly what I needed to do to get them all working. Is PC gaming really as easy as some enthusiasts make out, or is it still fraught with complications and best left just to the geeks? Looking back over the games I played this year, I’ll attempt to document the experience I had with each one, and just how much extra configuration I had to do to get them working compared to a console game as well as touch on any extra benefits of the PC versions.

Edit – As a friend just pointed out to me, it would be sensible to include my PC specs. They are:-

Intel Core i7 950 3.06ghz
12GB Ram
Nvidia GeForce GTX 770
Windows 8.1 Pro

So, certainly no slouch though not cutting edge either.


One issue that PC gaming had for many years was a lack of a standard controller. While it was great that you could use any controller you liked for your game, it made it difficult to design games around so many different controllers.

Thankfully, the Xbox 360 controller is now pretty much a standard in Windows gaming. While you can of course use a different pad if you want to, most games assume the button layout of the 360 pad and therefore require minimal or no setup. This isn’t true of every game however, as we will see in a moment.

Below is a table which lists the PC games I played last year, along with the amount of reconfiguring I needed to do to get controllers to work perfectly. To clarify, the amount of reconfiguring is represented thus:-

None – The controller just plugged and played, no configuration issues
Minimal – Required manually remapping some buttons
Advanced – Remapping more controls, minor tweaking etc
Expert – changing or calibrating deadzones or using tools such as Xpadder


Game Control tweaking required
Batman: Arkham City None
BioShock Infinite None1
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box None
Command & Conquer: Generals None1
Dirt 3 None
DMC None
Hawken None
Hotline Miami None
Killing Floor None1
Left 4 Dead 2 None1
Magicka None
NiGHTS into Dreams None
Orcs Must Die! 2 None
Portal 2 None1
Rayman Origins None
Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale Minimal
Super Meat Boy None
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Advanced2
Trackmania 2 Canyon Expert
Trackmania 2 Stadium Expert
Trackmania 2 Valley Expert
TrackMania United Forever Expert
XCOM: Enemy Unknown None1

1 These games were played exclusively on mouse and keyboard.

2 Skyrim actually has plug and play support for the 360 controller, but I personally prefer keyboard and mouse, which again works out of the box but works better with a few mods installed too.

The biggest offenders in the list are clearly the Trackmania games. Despite being modern PC games, these titles do not automatically map the 360 controller. Worse still, in order to properly drift when using the 360 controller, it was actually necessary to use Xpadder to remap the accelerate and brake axis.

For the most part however, as far as controllers are concerned, PC games are plug and play as long as you like the 360 controller.

Sound and graphics

The thorny issue of configuring and optimising PC games for your particular rig never seems to go away. With so many different configurations it’s hard to imagine that most games give an optimal experience right off the bat. Nevertheless, strides have been made here too, with software like Nvidia’s GeForce Experience software making it easier than ever to optimise many games for your system.

Taking a look at the same games again, what kind of configuration was necessary to get the games running optimally? To clarify, the amount of reconfiguring is represented thus:-

None – Game ran with no settings changes, or a simple change to the screen resolution
Minimal – Moving a few sliders or changing a few options to taste
Advanced – Checking online guides for settings, manually benchmarking etc
Expert – Manually editing configuration or ini files, etc


Game Tweaking required
Batman: Arkham City Advanced1
BioShock Infinite Expert
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box None
Command & Conquer: Generals Expert2
Dirt 3 Minimal
DMC None
Hawken None
Hotline Miami None
Killing Floor Minimal
Left 4 Dead 2 None
Magicka None
NiGHTS into Dreams None
Orcs Must Die! 2 None
Portal 2 None
Rayman Origins None
Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale None
Super Meat Boy None
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Expert3
Trackmania 2 Canyon Minimal
Trackmania 2 Stadium Minimal
Trackmania 2 Valley Minimal
TrackMania United Forever Minimal
XCOM: Enemy Unknown None

1 Batman Arkham City actually runs quite well with default settings, but I couldn’t resist tweaking to taste.

2 This is the oldest game in the list and required a few manual tweaks for widescreen play.

3 Most of Skyrim’s problems were fixed in subsequent patches, though for the very best, console beating results, expert users will want to tweak the game by adding various mods.

Clearly, last years biggest offender for PC gaming related headaches was Bioshock Infinite. To solve various texture and sound problems in the game required editing ini files and setting compatibility modes. Most of the other games played required little or no tweaking.

Technical issues

Many people have long held the belief that PC games aren’t as stable as console games. Again, with the wealth of different hardware configurations, this could certainly have some truth to it. In this section we’ll look at technical issues that each of our titles exhibited. For clarity, the terms in the table mean the following:-

None – Game ran without any issues
Minimal – Perhaps the occasional graphics glitch
Moderate – Occasional crash or lock-up or other undesired behaviour
Severe – Blue screen of death or game won’t even start


Game Issues
Batman: Arkham City Moderate1
BioShock Infinite None
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box None
Command & Conquer: Generals Minimal2
Dirt 3 Minimal
DMC None
Hawken None
Hotline Miami None
Killing Floor None
Left 4 Dead 2 None
Magicka Minimal
NiGHTS into Dreams None
Orcs Must Die! 2 Moderate
Portal 2 None
Rayman Origins None
Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale None
Super Meat Boy None
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Moderate3
Trackmania 2 Canyon Minimal
Trackmania 2 Stadium Minimal
Trackmania 2 Valley Minimal
TrackMania United Forever None
XCOM: Enemy Unknown None

The Trackmania games and Magicka all ran virtually without a hitch, but had at least one instance of either freezing or crashing to desktop. This is over many hours of gameplay, however.

1 Issues with this game were largely believed to be caused by Games for Windows Live, which has now been removed from the game.

2 Again, with this being such an old game, it actually runs incredibly well.

3 Come on, it’s Skyrim, expect issues on the console version too.

Clearly the limited study here is too small to draw any hard conclusions from, but certainly for the majority of time PC gaming runs relatively smoothly. Remember this little study doesn’t look at the wider issues of PC maintenance. Things like installing Windows updates, which can (and did, just once) go wrong, are issues that can keep you from your games.

Exclusive games and content

Of course, the big draw to PC gaming for many is the exclusive content. Take a look below for an idea of how the games in our lineup match up to the console versions.

Game PC Exclusive? Visual Enhancements Content Enhancements
Batman: Arkham City No Higher resolutions, higher framerates, enhanced graphics, enhanced physics on supported cards None
BioShock Infinite No Higher resolutions, higher framerates, enhanced graphics None
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box No Higher resolutions, higher framerates, enhanced graphics None
Command & Conquer: Generals Yes N/A N/A
Dirt 3 No Higher resolutions, higher framerates, enhanced graphics None
DMC No Higher resolutions, higher framerates, enhanced graphics None
Hawken Yes N/A N/A
Hotline Miami No None Gamepad support slightly better on console
Killing Floor Yes N/A N/A
Left 4 Dead 2 No Higher resolutions, higher framerates, enhanced graphics Huge amount of downloadable levels, mods etc not available on console
Magicka Yes N/A N/A
NiGHTS into Dreams No Higher resolutions None
Orcs Must Die! 2 Yes N/A N/A
Portal 2 No Higher resolutions, higher framerates, enhanced graphics Huge amount of downloadable levels, mods etc not available on console
Rayman Origins No Higher resolutions None
Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale Yes N/A N/A
Super Meat Boy No None Downloadable levels
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim No Higher resolutions, higher framerates, enhanced graphics Gigabytes of mods, extra quests, graphical enhancements and more only on PC
Trackmania 2 Canyon Yes N/A N/A
Trackmania 2 Stadium Yes N/A N/A
Trackmania 2 Valley Yes N/A N/A
TrackMania United Forever Yes N/A N/A
XCOM: Enemy Unknown No Higher resolutions, higher framerates, enhanced graphics None

Clearly the PC really shines when it comes to exclusive content and that goes way beyond just graphical enhancements in some games. Only one game on our list (Hotline Miami) possibly played better on the consoles and only then if you prefer a controller to keyboard and mouse. Personally I played the game on the PC using a controller and didn’t encounter any issues. Anyone who claims there isn’t enough content on PC to justify owning one is almost certainly mistaken.

Online play and in-game experience

These days, most of my online playing is done in coop, I rarely play even death match against strangers. That said, I do still try to play online most weekends, so I can make some comments about the state of PC multiplayer gaming.

It’s interesting that the open nature of the PC, one of its greatest strengths, can also be a weakness too. This is particularly true when we look at in-game overlays for PC games. Like the modern games consoles, most PC games support in-game overlays of one kind or another. These overlays give you access to features from within your game, such as voice chat, instant messaging, friend tracking, a simple web browser and various other functionality.

Play a game on your Xbox or Playstation console, and the in-game experience is standardised. As long as your friends play on the same type of console as you, you can expect the online experience to be pretty smooth. This is particularly true on the Xbox 360 where the Xbox live service makes it especially easy to communicate and organise gaming sessions. Admittedly the in-game dashboards on the consoles are somewhat limited compared to those on the PC, but that’s only part of the story.

Compared to the online experience on consoles, things aren’t so straightforward on the PC. Typically you will have to deal with several overlays. The main three being Raptr, Steam and Xfire.

Starting with Xfire first, this was the best and most feature complete overlay. Typically it supports more games than the competition and has advanced features like video recording. It also has superb voice-chat support with full support for headsets such as the Xbox 360 headset. Sadly, Xfire’s newest owners seem hell bent on ruining the service. First by closing the community forums then by redesigning the client into something nobody particularly liked. The Xfire website is a mess, with dead links everywhere and it really feels like the service is stagnating. Luckily the old, classic client can still be downloaded and this is certainly the one to recommend.

Then there’s Raptr, a service that is going from strength to strength. Raptr offers a great set of features on its in game overlay, including the ability to track friends on games consoles as well as PC while you play. Bizarrely however, the Raptr client has no support for voice chat whatsoever, curiously omitting a feature that most users take for granted on other platforms.

Finally, there’s Steam. The Steam overlay obviously only works with Steam games. it includes a browser and messaging facilities that work with other Steam users only. It also has somewhat limited voice support, with no proper support for headsets. Start a voice conversation with another Steam user while using your Xbox headset, for instance, and their voice will play through the TV or monitor speakers, rather than your headset, typically creating a horrible echo effect.

There are of course other systems too. Programs like Game Ranger are tailored to running older games. Blizzard has their own system with Battle Net and Teamspeak, Skype and/or Jitsi are preferred for voice chat by some gamers.

The net result of this is that you will frequently need to run two or more overlays in order to access all the functionality you want. You will also need to organise with your friends which service to use. A far cry from the smooth experience you should get on a games console.

Once you have made it over these hurdles however, online gaming on PC typically works smoothly. As you might expect it works more smoothly in some games than others. Playing Orcs Must Die! 2 for instance has been somewhat hit and miss in some sessions and completely stable in others.

LAN play is available on several PC games too, while some require you to connect through Steam even when playing with another PC in the house. LAN play can actually be more complicated than internet play sometimes, requiring firewall settings to be changed which can be daunting for the average user.

System maintenance

It’s worth briefly mentioning system maintenance here before we wrap the article up. Some users still insist that Windows requires regular maintenance. Running several Windows PCs in the house, I can safely say this is, for the most part, false. You do not need to run registry cleaners (they do more harm than good usually), manually defragment your hard drive or any of the typical day to day maintenance tasks you may have needed to do in the past. That’s not to say that issues don’t arise. The PC is a multi-purpose machine after all. I have faced random resets (due to me changing something I shouldn’t have done in my computers BIOS), a Windows update that stuck the machine in a constant restarting loop (eventually this resolved itself) and as if just to prove a point, a problem with corrupt hard drives that I had to solve just prior to Christmas (turns out this was due to a faulty controller or driver). Hardware failures happen on consoles too of course, but when you have built a system yourself, pin-pointing the point of failure can be frustrating and time consuming. Buy a pre-built machine with a warranty and this is much less of an issue.


Certainly the PC platform isn’t without its drawbacks, but for anyone heavily invested in gaming, the PC is really the must-have platform. We haven’t even touched on other exciting features such as extensive backwards compatibility (the only next gen platform to not only play older games but enhance them too in many cases) and emulation (often tricky to get working but very rewarding). It’s fair to say that the convenience factor that games consoles have over PCs hasn’t gone away, but it has certainly diminished. Consoles clearly still have a market, but for those of us for whom gaming is a passion as well as a hobby, a gaming PC is the platform to have. If you are still on the fence, theres really never been a better time to dip your toes into the warm waters of PC gaming, even if you can only afford a modest machine.

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