While most eyes at E3 2013 are on the new Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One consoles, it was only one year ago that PC gaming took center stage. It was at E3 2012 that the current
360 and PS3 consoles were looking more than tired, and many of the best
games on display, from XCOM to Metro: Last Light, presented themselves
best on high-powered PC hardware.
In 2013, despite the massive marketing and engineering effort that is
going to the new living room consoles, no one expects even the
XB1 to be able to match the overall graphics muscle of the just-released
new hardware that will be powering the best high-end gaming PCs.
PC games get a boost from new Intel and Nvidia hardware
First, you have Intel’s new “Haswell” chips, which is the code-name for the fourth-generation Core i-series of CPUs. That the higher-end quad-core versions
of these chips are hitting just a week before E3 is excellent timing
for PC gaming, and we’re already seeing new Core i7 CPUs in gaming
systems from Razer, Falcon Northwest, and others.
In our initial benchmark tests, the new PC hardware performs superbly,
and we’ve also seen some excellent battery life scores for mobile
Haswell systems, which could mean more and better gaming laptops in the
Also helping the gaming PC maintain the momentum it’s had for the past
year is a new generation of graphics cards from Nvidia. On the desktop
side, that’s the GTX 770 and 780, both just starting to hit shipping PCs
now (the single GTX 780 card in the Falcon Northwest Fragbox we used to
test Haswell performance ran BioShock Infinite — at 1,920×1,080 with
very high settings — at 110.81 frames per second). The also-new mobile
versions are the 770M, 780M, 765M (as found in the Haswell-powered Razer Blade 14), and 760M.
The new Razer Blade 14 gaming laptop.
Those new hardware upgrades were all announced just prior to E3 2013,
but at the show, we may see new hardware from Alienware as the
Dell-owned gaming brand always has a presence at the show, as well as
the final shipping version of the Nvidia Shield gaming handheld (briefly spotted at Computex), which is an
Android gaming device that can also stream PC games from a gaming computer on the same Wi-Fi network.
Will the Steambox ever arrive?
Another big PC gaming question mark at E3 2013 comes from Steam — and
no, it’s not “When is Half-Life 2: Episode 3 coming out?” For some time
now, there has been much speculation that the game-maker and PC game
distributor/publisher will release a living room PC, informally dubbed
The Elder Scrolls Online, a PC-only MMO.
The concept is that Steam is tired of relying on traditional PC makers
to provide gaming hardware that’s as reliable and easy to use as a
console — and that also gives PC game-makers access to the big screens
of living room TVs. Frankly, games such as Dragon Age, XCOM, and
BioShock Infinite are all much better experiences on a high-end gaming
PC than a game console. Steam is already part of the way there with its
built-in Big-Picture mode, designed for 10-foot viewing. Will there be
an actual Steambox at E3? Doubtful, but it would be a great way to steal
some of the thunder back from the Sony and Microsoft consoles.
Few big-budget PC exclusives
As for PC games themselves, there are not a lot of PC-centric games on
everyone’s E3 watch list. The military simulator Arma 3 comes to mind,
as does The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMO spinoff of the game series that
gave us Skyrim and Oblivion. Some of the biggest cross-platform games
will also be coming to PC, and it’s very likely they’ll be demoed at
their high-res best via PC versions of Watch Dogs, Battlefield 4, and
The Witcher 3.