21 Great PC Games You'll Never Play on a Console
Video games are big business. Stereotypical young males aren't the only market--for example, it's not uncommon for commuters to spend their train ride home with a Nintendo 3DS or an iPad. At home, they might unwind with a few rounds of Call of Duty while sitting on the sofa. But if you are addicted to your 3DS or your Xbox 360, I have to admit that as a PC-game fan, I'm sorry to hear it. Console and handheld game systems haven't always been the most popular platforms. PC titles once ruled the gaming world.
Not long ago, the PC appeared to be the last bastion for hard-core gamers, as home consoles struggled to keep up with the PC's amazing graphics and fast gameplay. These days most great games are released on all major platforms, but you can still find a bevy of brilliant titles that are available only to players with a performance PC. Here are a few of our favorites; take a look, and you might uncover a few hidden gems.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
If you love games set in the Star Wars universe, no upcoming game is more exciting than Star Wars: The Old Republic--and you'll have no way to play it other than your PC. With a development budget of more than $100 million, it’s the most expensive and complex game that EA has ever produced, and that means you’ll need the power and versatility of a PC to enjoy it.
Technically, you could have played the original StarCraft on the Nintendo 64, but you didn't, and for good reason: The keyboard-breaking speed required to constantly build, attack, defend, and control the map simply can't happen on a crude console gamepad. Real-time strategy games may exist on consoles, and some of them might even be kind of fun, but you'll never find StarCraft II--the undisputed king of real-time strategy games--on a console. -- Patrick Miller
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
Games that give you a gun and free rein to roam in a virtual world are a dime a dozen, but no console shoot-'em-up can match the unique survival gameplay of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Set in an alternate reality where a second disaster occurs at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. lets players explore a post-nuclear wasteland, scavenging supplies and playing different factions against one another in an effort to uncover the dark secrets of an experiment gone wrong. You'll find nothing like it on consoles.
World of Warcraft
Do you have a PC with a decent Internet connection, as well as a burning desire to get nothing done for the next six to twelve months? Then sign up for World of Warcraft, the best massively multiplayer online RPG ever made. That isn't just marketing hype: With over 10 million subscribers, World of Warcraft currently holds the Guinness World Record for the most popular MMORPG.
Let the PlayStation nuts have their Final Fantasies. Console-exclusive gamers of the late '90s missed out on the awesome Dungeons & Dragons-based role-playing games built on BioWare's Infinity Engine: Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale. The games featured beautiful hand-drawn environments and enough dialogue and flavor text to fill a novel--none of which would have looked good at all on the standard-definition TVs of the time. Interestingly enough, the folks over at The Lost Levels have unearthed an unreleased build of a Baldur's Gate PlayStation port...and it looks as if it were running on a 386. --Patrick Miller
Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden
Everyone loves games, but some players take their appreciation to the next level and sink hundreds of hours into crafting custom maps, mods, and even completely new games. Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is a freeware game from the amateur developers at Tale of Game’s Studio, and it’s a loving tribute to traditional Japanese RPG design wrapped up in a tongue-in-cheek story about Charles Barkley’s quest to redeem himself in a post-apocalyptic future where basketball is illegal. The game is free for download but difficult to find since the developer's site went down, but a few minutes of smart Google work should net you a working download from fan forums.
Die-hard PC gamers probably have fond memories of whiling away hours solving classic adventure games such as Grim Fandango and Gabriel Knight. LucasArts and Sierra gave up on the genre long ago, but indie developers such as Wadjet Eye Games continue to create excellent point-and-click games like Gemini Rue. This title is an excellent piece of cyberpunk noir fiction blended with a compelling adventure game in which players try to puzzle out the dirty secrets of the Gemini system from the perspectives of two vastly different characters. It's fun, cheap, and available only on the PC.
If you've ever played Minecraft, you know how addictive a simple block-based building game can be. Terraria is a 2D multiplayer game from Re-Logic with the same addictive formula and a few cool new features such as loot, boss battles, and even a leveling system. The developers are constantly adding new features via large content patches, making Terraria a complex game that takes hours to explore and is constantly being refreshed, all for less than $10. Good luck finding a deal like that on your favorite console.
Football Manager 2011
Sports fans who play games exclusively on consoles are limited to shallow titles such as EA’s FIFA 11, which excels at emulating on-the-pitch play but fails to accurately re-create the experience of leading your favorite soccer franchise or club. Console games may be enough for the casual crowd, but dedicated footballers looking to guide Manchester United to virtual victory play PC games like Football Manager.
Sid Meier's Civilization 5
Sid Meier’s Civilization games are legendary among PC gamers, and with good reason: The original Civilization was a pioneer of turn-based strategy gaming that became famous for engendering an addictive, one-more-turn mentality. The Civilization games have kept generations of players up way past their bedtime, and you can play them only with a PC.
The original Crysis was both revered and reviled, demanding so much from PCs that hardware and software manufacturers actually had to take a few years to catch up. In PC hardware reviews from 2008 onward, “Can it run Crysis?” became a common refrain. But it isn't all developer Crytek’s fault: As PCWorld’s desktops editor Nate Ralph points out, Windows Vista and DirectX 10 formed a potent combo of crappy software that brought even the greatest graphic engines to their knees. Thankfully, GPU technology has advanced to the point that your modern PC can probably run Crysis pretty well; consider picking this game up if you’d like to see what a great open-ended PC shooter can look like.
Dawn of War II
Have you ever guided a group of chainsaw-wielding Space Marines to victory in pitched battle against an Ork horde? Would you like to? Check out the Dawn of War series from Relic, a developer known for creating some of the best real-time strategy games ever seen. Great RTS games are nearly nonexistent on modern consoles, so you’ll need a proper PC with a mouse and keyboard if you’re looking for a shot of some old-school strategy gameplay.
We’ve included a number of massively multiplayer online games in this list because no console yet offers a compelling and persistent online world that matches the quality of what’s playable on the PC. Yet even in a crowded MMO market, Eve Online stands alone as the first game to truly embrace player agency, intrigue, and even a working virtual democracy. If you love futuristic space simulators or tangled webs of deceit, you owe it to yourself to download a free trial of Eve Online to your PC. You'll encounter nothing else like it.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
If you can’t afford a pilot’s license but you still want to get a taste of what it feels like to fly an Airbus 320 or to bank a Boeing 747 over the Atlantic seaboard, you have only one place to turn: Microsoft’s legendary Flight Simulator series. With more than ten games released between 1977 and 2006, it may be one of the oldest game franchises around, and each iteration has incorporated a flight-control scheme so complicated that a keyboard, mouse, and joystick are required to play. The common console gamer may not have the time or interest to sink into a simulation like this, but fans know that nothing else can compare.
Vampire: The Masquerade -- Bloodlines
Old-school gamers may recognize the Vampire: The Masquerade name from a series of Gothic tabletop role-playing games released in the '90s, but Bloodlines is a first-person computer RPG that became famous for boasting a mature, nuanced, modern storyline--and a debilitating amount of game-breaking bugs. Thankfully the game has been lovingly restored and patched by devoted fans since its release in 2004, and playing it now is an entirely different experience that’s possible only because of the open nature of the PC platform. Pick it up if you’d like to see what seven major content patches from a dedicated community can do to make a good game great.
Independent game developers consistently sell more copies of their games on PC than on any other platform, so it’s no surprise that indie developer Mode 7 released its cyberpunk strategy game Frozen Synapse on PC and Mac. Indie games are finally starting to be picked up by big publishers and released on the major consoles, but the PC is still the best place to find unusual and compelling games such as this one.
League of Legends
Free games are good, and great free games are the best. League of Legends is one of those games, best described as an action-RPG RTS in which you control one legendary hero on a battlefield swarming with lesser minions clashing against a team of equally outlandish lengendary types controlled by the enemy. League of Legends is a lush, fantastic multiplayer PC title from Riot Games that costs nothing to play.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience life as a flying, shape-shifting superhuman in a persistent online world that you can customize to your every desire, you might want to give Second Life a spin. Despite being initially developed by Linden Labs as an objective-driven MMO, Second Life quickly evolved to become the weirdest virtual gaming environment we’ve ever seen. It isn't for everyone, but curious players with the time and hardware to join Second Life will find an unusual experience that could never work on a console.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
If we haven’t made it clear yet, the computer is the place to be if you love weird, wonderful, and outright strange games. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is the strangest and scariest survival horror game we’ve played, and you can play it on a PC or Mac. To say anything more would spoil the surprise.
Shogun 2: Total War
Shogun 2 takes the Total War franchise back to its roots with some unabashedly intricate turn-based strategic combat in feudal Japan. Complicated top-down strategy games will always be the domain of dedicated PC gamers, because no console controller can match the finesse and versatility of the keyboard and mouse combination.
Sins of a Solar Empire
PC gamers everywhere--including the staff of the PC World Labs--fondly remember classic 4X (shorthand for "eXpand, eXplore, eXploit, and eXterminate") space-strategy games such as Masters of Orion. No console title has come close to re-creating the same feeling of imperial expansion and intergalactic dominion, but PC gamers can pick up Sins of a Solar Empire from Stardock for hours of space-strategy action.