The best games consoles for 2021
Video gaming is about to reach a whole new level. Here are the best ways to play…
There’s never been a better time to buy a games console. Not only have the two biggest names, Xbox and PlayStation, just released their latest machines – both huge upgrades to what came before – but the portable Nintendo Switch is also still going strong and Virtual Reality is just coming of age. Oh, and if you want to play games but occasionally do something more purposeful as well, then a gaming laptop will give the best of both worlds.
PS5 vs Xbox Series X: the biggest beasts of the gaming world have landed
The two newest consoles, the Sony PlayStation 5 and the Microsoft Xbox Series X, are incredibly powerful, and look radically different to previous machines. Both promise leaps forward in processing power, which translates into faster, better-looking, more immersive games with jaw-dropping graphics. A piece of digital brilliance called ray tracing will transform lighting effects, so reflections on water or a warrior’s sword will look more realistic than ever. Sony’s PS5 is big, tall and heavy, with an unmissable design. Microsoft’s Xbox is less striking and more functional – it really does look like what it is, namely a powerhouse gaming computer. As far as content goes, the Xbox is due to get the next instalment of the amazingly popular Halo series, Halo Infinite, though not until 2021. The standout title for the PS5 so far is the Marvel Comics adventure Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
A large number of games will be coming for both consoles next year so should you wait until more Triple-A titles have actually arrived? Not really – both machines are heavily backward-compatible, which means that most games from the PS4 will play on the PS5 and previous Xbox titles will run on the new console. What’s more, the new machines will manage to make these old games look even better.
If you’re looking to get the very best out of the visuals, then both the Xbox Series X and PS5 are compatible with 4K TVs. If you’re less concerned about that, then it’s worth noting that there’s also a smaller, less powerful new console from Microsoft, the Xbox Series S. It’s quite a lot cheaper, has smaller storage for games, no DVD drive and a lower screen resolution, but it's still one of the best gaming consoles on the market.
Immerse yourself in other worlds: the best VR headsets
Virtual reality, or VR, where you put on a headset to see the games, apps or movies, has come a long way in recent years. Previously, you needed to be tethered to a powerful gaming computer to make it work. Now new wireless headset can work without needing to be linked to a PC. The Oculus Quest 2 offers an all-in-one super-light headset that’s comfortable to wear and bright, detailed screens to transport you into the game. It comes with two hand controllers, too. On its own, it has access to plenty of games, but if you also have a powerful PC, you can tether it to the headset to access even more powerful games.
The completely immersive effect of VR can occasionally cause feelings akin to motion sickness in some, but the experience of a world that stretches left, right, above and below is sensational. You need some space around you and the Oculus Quest 2 lets you set up a ‘Guardian’ wall so you won’t bump into the furniture while you’re exploring Anne Frank’s life, visiting Chernobyl or attacking Darth Vader’s fortress.
Gaming on the go: Nintendo Switch specs made simple
While you can’t play VR on the move (wearing a headset on the bus really isn’t practical), there’s one console that works just about anywhere. The Nintendo Switch can connect to your TV as usual, but the console also contains a 6.2in tablet – take that out, attach the controllers to each side, and you’ve got a handheld gaming device which lets you carry on playing games from where you left off on your TV.
This being Nintendo, it’s the most family-friendly of consoles, and there are plenty of games everyone in the family can join in and enjoy, such as Mario Kart 8, while hardcore gamers will like Fortnite, Zelda and the enchanting Pikmin 3 Deluxe. If you’re only interested in handheld gaming, you could choose the Nintendo Switch Lite, which has a 5.5in display and is completely portable – it doesn’t connect to your TV, though.
Work and play: the best gaming laptops
Gaming laptops allow you to at least give the impression that you’re planning to do some work in between game sessions. To make the most of the high-resolution graphics boasted by the latest games, you need serious power under the hood, so the prices are higher than for regular laptops. The key to gaming is a powerful graphics card: look for Nvidia GeForce or Radeon to keep things moving quickly and smoothly.
You can choose from a range of options, from sleek businesslike machines like the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3, through to the eye-catching ASUS ROG Strix G17 G712LV-EV009T with keys that light up in different colours and even LEDs on the underside of the case. Look out too for entries from a brand that’s synonymous with gaming: Alienware. Its M15 laptop is an angular statement-maker.
See every detail: the best gaming monitors
Make the most of eye-popping games graphics with the right monitor or TV. PC gamers will be sitting close to the display, but why not choose something really inviting like the Lenovo G34w-10 Ultra Wide, which measures 34in, or the Samsung LC27JG50QQUXEN, with its compelling gently curved 27in display.
If you want to game on a TV, then big is definitely beautiful. Choose a 4K Ultra HD if you can, such as the Samsung UE50TU8500, a 4K 50in TV which has a low latency mode (so you won’t be watching something that’s a frame or two behind what your opponents are seeing). Go bigger with the LG OLED55CX5LB which has a 55in screen and a faster refresh rate to make gaming video look butter-smooth.
Accessorise your console: the best gaming accessories
Any PC gamer will tell you that a fast and versatile mouse is essential. The Logitech G502 is an updated classic with 11 programmable buttons, lights and even adjustable weights. It’s ergonomic too, provided you’re right-handed. Logitech also makes a great gaming keyboard, the G213 Prodigy, which has five lighting zones, boasts millions of colours to choose from and is designed to be very fast and responsive.
Want to go even further? The Anda Seat Jungle Gaming Chair comes with a removable headrest pillow and armrests to ease pressure on the wrist, both of which will enable you to play for longer. Game on.