Returning to PC gaming: A GamesRadar Editor's tale of madness, pain and wonder

It’s all Valve’s fault. I blame Valve for all of it. 

It was five-thirty. I was just about to leave the office when a friend’s Facebook status reminded me that the Steam sale was on, but was due to end that day. That update was to be the casually-thrown cigarette butt that hit the touchpaper that sent the whole firework factory up.

I was planning on saving money this month, and I hadn’t touched my aging PC for serious gaming since I finished Episode 2 in late 2007. But within a couple of hours, the resulting chain of events was to make me an obsessed PC gamer again. It was a messy and frenzied experience, and one which I didn’t come through entirely unscathed, but it was one that desperately needed to happen. Here’s how it all went down.


Twenty minutes after reading that status post I was hurtling through my front door, whipping out my wallet with one hand, switching on my rig with the other, and taking off my coat via a strange jiggling shimmy motion. There was no time for dignified motor control. There were games to be had.

The sale was ending soon very soon. My machine booted in 30 seconds, as it always has (it may have been neglected in attention, but it’s always been looked after in terms of file organisation), but then horror! The twitchy wireless connection wouldn’t say hello to the internet. Despite being RIGHT NEXT TO the router. Despite my laptop and 360 never having any problems connecting FROM A DIFFERENT ROOM. Head in hands. F*cking PCs.

Several unplugs, replugs, WEP keys and connection wizards later, we were in business, but with literally seconds to go. It was do or die. C’mon Steam, don’t fail me now. With the voice of a ghostly Gabe Newell echoing words of inspiration into my ear, Obi-Wan style, I fired my two purchases into the exhaust outlet of Steam’s checkout, yanked back on the stick, and pulled out, collapsing back into my seat as the galaxy-shaking retail explosion went off below me. F*cking PCs.

An hour later, I had summoned the strength to return.

It was gaming time, but first I had to take a proper look around Steam. It looked completely different to how it had last time I saw it (yeah, it had been that long), and I needed to plough its new furrows and find out what new treats were available in the store.

Suddenly I remembered what a really open platform can do. If you read my recent-ish article on the matter, you’ll know that I’m all about the full spectrum of games as a medium, with less care than most for flavour-of-the-month cool. I’d been conditioned over my last couple of PC-shy years to think that XBLA and PSN had me covered for the more experimental stuff. Pah.

Take away the platform holder and then you get a really healthy spread of game design. Not just that, but you get a really healthy spread of game design at insanely low prices, sale or not. That kid in that sweet shop. That’s who I was. Only with genre tabs instead of sugary jars. Already I was working out a monthly rationing system for purchases. A ban would just be unrealistic. This stuff was now vital, and had to be worked into my budget like electricity, water and food.

That decided, I started playing. First up was my newly-bought copy of Penumbra, Frictional Games’ storming little first-person adventure/survival horror. After years of drifting unwittingly away from PC gaming, it was refreshing like an ice-cold waterfall after a week in a warm mud bath.

A subtle and brief tutorial that hinted at things rather than pushing me around in a pram. A brutal, multi-pronged challenge that expected me to think creatively or die from the get-go. A narrative unafraid to take its time, with no fear of using, like, lots of words and stuff. Gratuitous physics going off everywhere, just because they could. But most blessed of all, most beautifully blessed of all, the mouse!

Oh sweet digital rodent, how I had missed your ultra-quick, razor-sharp, 180-spin-on-a-ha’penny-with-a-flick-of-the-wrist-ways! Screw motion control ‘innovations’. Penumbra’s focus on physics-driven, object-manipulating environmental exploration was the best possible reintroduction imaginable to the original daddy of 1:1 physical interaction.

‘HO HO HO HO!’, I cackled, as I threw planks and bounced ladders off walls with supreme tactility. ‘HO HO HO HO HO HO!’. Then I realised I probably looked a bit nuts and moved on.

Next: It all goes so wrong. But also, oh so right.


Steam Valve

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  • Ravenbom - October 28, 2010 5:54 a.m.

    Considering I got back into PC gaming because of Starcraft II, I feel you. Just got ripped off on a new graphics card and I'm looking into getting ripped off on a new power supply soon. In fact, PC gaming is really about 99% making sure your rig can handle the game you want to play and 1% actually playing said game. Still haven't beat Starcraft II. I felt like I beat it once I was able to max the settings.
  • HonestGuy - July 15, 2010 2:24 p.m.

    the thing i like about PC Games ( especially on shooters)....modding. :)
  • Spybreak8 - July 15, 2010 1:07 a.m.

    I really hope my laptop can play Starcraft II. It's a decent Sony Vaio. Yeah I'm mostly gaming on 360 but yeah always gotta keep some of that gaming time for PCs (I grew up with them).
  • goatse345 - July 14, 2010 10:23 p.m.

    Dave...what is this "buy" you speak of?
  • JD_Method - July 14, 2010 1:01 p.m.

    *pain IN the anus
  • JD_Method - July 14, 2010 1 p.m.

    PC gaming isn't as much of a pain the anus as some people make out. Usually I can just install or download a game from Steam and it works. I hop into the options quick and crank up all the graphics settings, and play. If the frame rate is having a little trouble, I'll jump back into the graphics settings, turn of V-Sync, put the AA down a little, but overall it's not a big deal. For the most part, it's just sticking in a disc and playing for me.
  • adamasunder - July 14, 2010 11:29 a.m.

    Sorry but fucking around with settings and calibrating controls for every game IS work. I'm more than happy with console games being behind the bleeding edge of PCs. They usually catch up. I've never understood why everyone harps on about mouse/keyboard too. Mouse I can understand, but the keyboard is a disgrace as a gaming tool. I'll happily stick to ergonomically designed pads with comfortable buttons and analogue triggers thankyou. I would however love me an open format and some updates for TF2..
  • philipshaw - July 14, 2010 11:17 a.m.

    My thoughts on PC gaming exactly, for every postive there is a massive negative
  • Xemi - July 14, 2010 5:13 a.m.

    I think PC gaming on just about every front outdoes any console simply -because- of these choices that you can make to make your game appear as lovely as you wish, and the expandability is pretty cheap once you got a beautiful, monstrous, unreal-FPS-giving PC. Not to mention the choice of games is oh-so-much wider. I personally also love the keyboard as it allows for infinitely more key settings for more complex control setups, but because you could just as easily plug in a USB controller of any sort, it's even better on that front.
  • Mclovin2 - July 14, 2010 1:15 a.m.

    Open the pod bay doors, HAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Evil_AppleJuice - July 14, 2010 12:38 a.m.

    You sir should write a book.
  • TheCanuck - July 14, 2010 12:26 a.m.

    Spending $900 on a completely new rig, my Pent.4 has been shambling on in life like an asthmatic leper. BUT NO MORE! PC gaming is about true customization, and a certain sense of pride achieved by creating this magnificant beast, more powerful than a pre-built model, and far cheaper. Its a victory that can surpass any other in the gaming world, and when it does, you just sit back, and play around with your new toy! :3
  • Soulhunter - July 14, 2010 12:11 a.m.

    For the people that say it is too expensive, you need to look at it in a different way. Your already buying a 5-7 hundred $ computer, chip in the price of a console, 2-3 hundred $ and buy a video card, and BAM computer that will give you graphics unseen on any console. Done deal, actualy cheaper on the pc since you wait a couple of weeks for a steam game and get it half price :p
  • RebornKusabi - July 13, 2010 11:29 p.m.

    Thanks to Valve, I too recently got a couple of PC games (...and "found" System Shock 2 online) and played them all recently. The keyword is "played" because for the first 3 days (weeks in System Shock 2's case) that I owned them, I had the great pleasure of trying to get them to run on my laptop. My laptop isn't weak... it was all "OS" bull**** and in the case of System Shock 2, it was the games architecture and design that hated me (and others like me) and Deus Ex 2, just very poor designing of the game itself when it came to the PC's. The fact that Deus Ex 2 has a vibration check is kind of indicative of this and I downloaded it from Steam so... what?!?! I dabble in PC gaming when something interesting catches my attention however that ultimately leads me to why I will always be a console gamer: Thanks to my education, I know what every part of the computer does and what it's specifically for as well. I also know that while I could hunt around and for a good price, I could build a mid-level to high-level gaming PC, I can also just spend less and get a console system for less and still pump out the same visuals as well. True, your Crysis will not be run-able on my console but 80% of your games will be run-able on it. Also, I won't have to worry about those niggling issues like OS support, ****ing with system settings so my game looks and sounds good and lastly, DRM >_> I will say this though for PC gamers, while your fanboy tendencies are insanely ****ing annoying and elitist at times, when their games are good, they're games like System Shock and Deus Ex. System Shock 2 has taken Mass Effect 2 down a notch as my absolute favorite game that I've played this year so far. I played it years ago but I played it again recently and it's seriously some good ****! While I still find the Fatal Frame series to be "scarier", it is definitely an insanely deep game, Shodan is hands-down one of the BEST VILLAINS I have ever been around in a video game, like ever and the soundtrack is probably the best techno music I've heard in a game since Bionic Commando: Rearmed; Hear for yourself in link one two (which is my favorite... and also plays during an incredibly hard part of the game...) and three. (MedSci) (Operations 2) (Command Deck) [Love the Hell out of this one since it blares up like it does in the song during a fight between you and a ton of enemies while trying to sabotage escape ships to keep The Many from infecting another ship] Back to the topic, Deus Ex, which I previously played on PS2, is just as deep and far more amazing than anything I've played on the consoles in years (Morrowind and Oblivion don't count, their console ports have issues and most if not all pre-manufactured PC's sold in stores today can run them not only just fine but with high settings on as well). So when it comes down to it, PC games are definitely deeper than console games however unfortunately, more PC games are coming that are just as "bad" as console games and "bad" is written like that due to it being a completely preferential opinion lol OH and if you have to, just suffer through it like I did and try to get System Shock 2 running on your PC because it really did deserve far more attention from the public than it got...
  • Tomkins - July 13, 2010 11:24 p.m.

    I miss the days when my mum would pay for me to upgrade my PC, I loved being a child. Oh well, I'll just stick to playing all of my titles from 2004 and earlier.
  • MaynardJ - July 13, 2010 11:19 p.m.

    I'm about to get back into PC gaming, my brother is building me an 1,800 euro rig with a Solid State Drive and some more good stuff. I haven't been seriously into PC gaming for several years though (Vice City, Far Cry, Chaos Theory, No One Lives Forever 2 and Gun are the last titles I remember playing), and always was kind of an idiot when it came to maintenance. So, does anyone know a good website with n00b-friendly tips to keep this sucker fast? I know about defragmentation and dusting, but managing processes through the Task Manager and stuff like that are still a bit of a mystery to me.
  • Rowdie - July 13, 2010 9:39 p.m.

    "The twitchy wireless connection wouldn’t say hello to the internet. Despite being RIGHT NEXT TO the router. Despite my laptop and 360 never having any problems connecting FROM A DIFFERENT ROOM. Head in hands. F*cking PCs." That's all the further I had to read before concluding your pain is of your own creation. A foot from a wired connection and you user wireless. Shame. Shame on you for not respecting yourself as a gamer. Shame on you for not respecting those you play with online. You should no longer refer to yourself as a gamer, but simply as a guy that plays video/computer games.
  • newgames128 - July 13, 2010 9:37 p.m.

    Great article. It'll be nice to see some more PC focused articles/games showcased on the site too! Does the glitch happen only with Source games or any game? Older and newer? Could be anything, but the bottom line is even if you have to build a new rig, it will be worth it, and you'll have a leg up on the current consoles for the entirety of their remaining lifespan. PC gaming is only more expensive than consoles when you need to have the "latest and greatest" at all times. Other than that, PC gaming is by far the most cost-efficient option available, where you always can get more for the money spent.
  • PaulieWaulie - July 13, 2010 8:27 p.m.

    My first main gaming platform was PC and I stuck with it like a stubborn git for as long as I could. I too had those phases of leaving my PC to just functional chores, mostly work and then when and upgrade was needed I'd always be tempted to add an extra £80 for a better GPU but within a matter of weeks it was back to consoles. I write software all day, I sit at a PC all day, and sadly that's means battling with Windows all day. So when I get I get a chance to play games (now I'm getting older seems to be getting less) I relish in just sticking a disc in, turing it on and just playing (apart from waiting for the persistent firmware updates). No worrying about driver's, no wories about my hardware being out of date, I don't need to be neurotic about FPS, I just get what I'm given, if I don't like it then don't play it, there's so much more else out there. I Don't have to worry about getting that last little bit of juice out of my system, running task manager and killing any process I deem un important. I do see the appeal to PC gaming, I've known the appeal but it is just too much of a pain, too much stress and whilst you can get games cheaper that constant desire for new hardware really depletes funds very quickly and if you're shrewd and patient you can pick up console games fairly cheap. I do also have one major gripe with PC development, optimization is obviously minimal compared to console counter parts because it's not needed,I got sick of the attitude of PC Dev's, that opinion of "Either play our game in sub average settings or upgrade your kit you scab". Also with PC gaming there's not enough multiplayer gaming with people sat next you which in my opinion is the best way to play games. I do like the idea of Steam on PSN though :)
  • lilspooky - July 13, 2010 7:59 p.m.

    @HotCyder Dont know if they are international but, Sometimes you can get a good deal.