Games are getting harder to run: are PC games still held back by consoles?

What we imagine our PCs will look like when playing Control (Image credit: Remedy)

Its no secret that many video games are made primarily for mainstream consoles, like the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. It only makes sense, too - consoles have by far the widest install base, so making your game work best for most people is  an easy choice. 

However, as we're entering into the last legs of this console generation, we're starting to notice plenty of PC games with system requirements that are leaving consoles in the dust. So, we have to ask: are the PS4 and Xbox One continuing to hold the best PC games back, as they arguably have been since the outset of this console generation?

The short answer is no, but you're not getting off that easy. 

Cyberpunk 2077

Even Keanu can't stop Cyberpunk 2077 from melting your graphics card (Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

The future is here

With the graphics card "renaissance" brought about by Nvidia Turing, gamers are now able to play their games in 4K with real-time ray tracing enabled - something that was previously the holy grail of graphics technology. And, because there are certain game developers that will take that as a challenge - looking at you, Remedy and DICE - there are a ton of PC games that look far better on PC than they possibly could on console.

Just take a gander at something like Control. This game is going to pack pretty much every flavor of ray tracing we've seen in a game so far, and therefore its system requirements are very heavy. 

Then there's Cyberpunk 2077, one of the most anticipated games of this entire console generation. We've seen all those onstage demonstrations, just as you have, and we were blown away. However, that familiar dread of "are we going to have to upgrade our PC just to play this game" was playing out in the back of our head the entire time. 

Turns out that was at least a little justified, as that demo was apparently being run on a behemoth of a rig packed with an Intel Core i7-8700K, 32GB of RAM and an Nvidia Titan RTX, according to a report from Wccftech. The next generation is already here, everyone - it just lies in $2,499 (£2,399, AU$4,299) graphics cards. 


Ok, you don't need this much RAM (Image credit: TechRadar)

More than just the graphics

It goes beyond having a game running on a Titan RTX, though. Traditionally, PC games were single-threaded applications, so when you were running into issues, you could just upgrade your GPU and call it a day. But, with the advent of AMD Ryzen 3rd generation, that's kind of changing. 

You see, there are plenty of games that are multi-threaded these days. Battlefield V, for instance will absolutely max out your processor if you're using anything less than an 8-core CPU, with traditionally gaming-centric processors like the Intel Core i5-8600K falling behind. Even with our AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, we see Battlefield V using every single processor thread available to it. 

Hell, even Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a much lighter PC game, uses up to 6 cores in some cases - and that's with nothing running in the background beyond MSI Afterburner and Steam. At the end of the day, PC games used to be single-threaded applications, but that's just not the case anymore. 

The same goes for RAM, too. The 8GB of RAM available to the Xbox One and PS4 is now the bare minimum for PC games, with our recommendation being 16GB. This is because games are eating up a ton of RAM. Going back to Battlefield V, that game uses up 13GB of RAM on the low end. We've seen it eat up the full 16GB available in our system, especially when running something in the background.  

PS4 Pro

Enter the PS4 Pro (Image credit: Future)

Are the the PS4 and Xbox One holding the PC back?

So, there are definitely games that have moved beyond the current-generation consoles, even if they do, in fact, have ports on those systems. And, while we're definitely not saying that games don't look great on consoles - just look at Horizon: Zero Dawn or God of War - it's easy to see that PC games in 2019 are on another level. 

Thanks to the advent of affordable 4K monitors, and the graphics cards that can actually power them without having to invest in an SLI setup, developers are taking advantage of that extra power. Whether its the ray traced global illumination in Metro Exodus or the breathtaking draw distance of Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, PC games have never looked better. 

Still, we just wish that folks who don't have access to the expensive hardware that AMD and Nvidia are pushing didn't have to be left behind. While its true that you can turn down some settings to get games running better, some players may start to feel left behind as they're priced out of the hobby. 

It's easy to look at the next-generation PS5 and Xbox Project Scarlett looming on the horizon that promise to usher in a bunch of games which will take advantage of high-end PC hardware. But, those days are pretty much here, and unless the PS5 is going to cost more than $1,000 (£820, AU$1,470), we doubt it will put modern PC hardware out to pasture. If anything, it will make that hardware even more necessary.  

PC gaming

It's time to hunker down with a PC (Image credit: Future)

Time to build a new PC, we guess

It's getting harder and harder to scrape by with the bare minimum PC components these days, especially if you want to play the latest and greatest AAA games. However, even if you don't have the cash to shove the latest hardware, you can still build a cheap gaming PC and play all your esports and indie games without a care in the world.

Luckily, because RAM prices are extremely low, and we just got a deluge of new hardware from AMD and Nvidia, including the AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT, there's never been a better time to build a PC to handle the inflated specs modern games require. 

Unless you're literally sitting on a mountain of cash, we wouldn't advise doling out hundreds (or thousands) of dollars or quid on a new gaming PC. But, ahead of the launch of the next generation of consoles, it's finally rewarding to get powerful hardware once more. However, no matter how much we love picking up the latest and greatest hardware whenever it comes out, much to the chagrin of our bank accounts, not everyone has that option. 

PC gaming is at its best when anyone can get into the hobby. 

Bill Thomas

Bill Thomas (Twitter) is TechRadar's computing editor. They are fat, queer and extremely online. Computers are the devil, but they just happen to be a satanist. If you need to know anything about computing components, PC gaming or the best laptop on the market, don't be afraid to drop them a line on Twitter or through email.