Hi everyone! Over the years as a predominantly PC gamer, I have needed to make use of several programs to get some games to run properly, or to enable features which the devs should have implemented by default but didn’t.
Other times I have used programs to enhance the games that already worked fine ‘out of the box’.
In most of these cases, I wished I had known about these programs earlier as it would have solved a lot of time, not to mention a lot of headaches. To spare you the same hassle I have compiled a list of them below with info about what they do and the download links needed to get them.
1-to-6: Digital Marketplaces
If you are new to PC gaming, you may have wondered why brick and mortar stores such as GAME and GameStop have so few PC games on their shelves. The reason is simple - PC gaming has been ‘all-digital’ for over a decade, so there are very few physical copies in existence to place upon those shelves.
The main sites/services where PC gamers obtain their games are Valve’s Steam, GoG.com (short for Good old Games), Epic’s Epic Game Store, Electronic Art’s Origin, Microsoft’s Microsoft Store, and Ubisoft’s Ubisoft Connect.
It is worth keeping an eye on these electronic storefronts for the sales and giveaways they run regularly. For some time now, the Epic Game Store has been giving away free games every Thursday at around 16:00 GMT. Be sure to snap them up before 15:59 GMT the following Thursday, as the offer will expire when the new free game becomes available.
7 and 8: Zip/unzip programs
Mods and patches are often ‘compressed’ or ‘zipped’ to reduce their overall file size for on-line storage and hosting. To play them, they will first need to be ‘extracted’ aka ‘unzipped’ into their constituent folders. The two main programs for this are 7-Zip and WinRAR. 7-Zip is free, whilst WinRAR is ‘nagware’ - i.e. it is free, but it will keep nagging you to buy the full version every time you use it.
Once you have either of these programs you will be able to zip files yourself of course. This is handy if you wish to share large files on-line, and for condensing large files to free up room on your HDD or SSD.
7: 7-Zip Download: https://www.7-zip.org/
8: WinRAR Download: https://www.win-rar.com/start.html?&L=0
9: Borderless Gaming
Borderless Gaming is a handy program that allows games running in windowed mode to display fullscreen - without those ugly window borders taking up screen space. Its performance impact is minimal and has worked with all the games I have tried using it with.
This could be useful for playing some older games that do not natively support fullscreen display. It is also useful for some relatively recent ones that do feature fullscreen display, but work badly when using it. (The original Crysis and Crysis: Warhead being two notable examples.)
Graphics Enhancement Programs
The next two programs are post-processing programs that can dramatically enhance the look of your games or make them look different to create a different atmosphere.
ReShade is a free ‘post-process injector’ that enables users to alter the appearance of their games in many different ways, be it subtle or extreme. As it is a post-process injector that applies its effects after the game has rendered the image it can be used with almost any game that uses DX9 or higher.
The performance impact can vary quite considerably and depends upon which of ReShade’s many effects you choose to use. For example, Bloom and Film Grain have a negligible performance impact, Dynamic Depth of Field and SSAO impacts somewhat more whilst Ray-Tracing is an FPS killer. You are of course free to mix, match and experiment to your heart's content.
User-made pre-sets can be downloaded, used and tweaked which may save you some time too. The only downside to ReShade is that it applies its effects to everything on-screen, including HUDS, menus and the like. Thankfully a simple press of a key can toggle its effects on and off.
ReShade Download: https://reshade.me/
ENB is more complicated, and each ENB tends to be made on a per-game basis. This means that each ENB is generally non-transferable to other games, but the advantage is that it is more powerful and specific, in that it can distinguish between world and HUD elements, menus and the like.
Because ENBs work at a ‘deeper level’ with a game than ReShade, ENBs can alter how a game renders its images in ways ReShade cannot. As with ReShade, user-made ENB pre-sets can be downloaded and applied to specific games if you would rather not create one yourself.
ENB Download: http://enbdev.com/
System Performance Checkers
The following two programs are handy for showing how much strain your system is under at any given time, and the temperature it is running at.
12: Core Temp
Core Temp allows for real-time monitoring of your CPU on a per-core basis.
Core Temp Download: https://www.alcpu.com/CoreTemp/
TechPowerUp's GPU-Z allows for real-time monitoring of your GPU (graphics card).
GPU-Z Download: https://www.techpowerup.com/gpuz/
It is good practice to keep track of your hardware's temperature to ensure it is not running too hot. It is also wise to keep track of the load being placed upon both your CPU and GPU to ensure they are not being over-taxed. Therefore, these programs are a must have, if only for safety and peace-of-mind.
They are very useful for testing too, such as testing how taxing a game is on your hardware, how effective your cooling system is, the extent that the ambient temperature outside the PC has on the temperature inside it etc.
These programs are especially useful for those who are considering overclocking their CPU and/or GPU, as they can provide warning of when they are reaching undesirably high temperatures.
(NB – I am NOT including overclocking software on this list as I have not personally used it, and so I cannot recommend one program over another. NB - Many GPU manufacturers have their own proprietary overclocking software, such as MSI Afterburner. Since overclocking does come with a risk - and it may invalidate whatever warranties and insurances you may have - I would advise those considering it to do so with caution, and that they research thoroughly beforehand.)
The following are a group of software applications known as ‘input emulators’. They enable the player to use control methods in games that do not natively support them, for example, using a joypad in games that lack joypad support. They also tend to allow for far greater flexibility and fine-tuning of controls than some games do, which is welcome as both an accessibility aid, and as a way of overcoming overly restrictive control options.
Input emulators, once activated, run quietly in the background, and their performance impact is minimal, so there is no downside (that I know of) to using them. They can be turned off again easily when you have finished using them. Their overall file sizes tend to be small as well, so they do not place an undue burden on your HDD’s or SSD’s storage capacity.
Xpadder is a superb tool that allows you to assign pretty much any button on the keyboard to any button on a joypad, thus allowing almost limitless freedom to customise your in-game controls to your liking.
The use-cases for this software a wide-ranging, including the following scenarios;
Would you like to play a game using a joypad, but the game does not support joypads? Simply assign the game’s keyboard controls to the relevant buttons and thumbsticks and now you can.
Wish to play a retro game via your joypad's thumbsticks, but the retro game does not natively support thumbsticks? Simply assign the D-Pad controls to a thumbstick and now you can.
Want to play an emulated 8-bit or 16-bit home computer game but can’t stand using up-for-jump? Assign the up key to the button you want to use as your jump button and away you go.
Xpadder also features several other useful features, such as turbo fire, - rapid-fire by simply holding down the fire button - and the ability to record macros. Macros allow the player to perform complex actions with a single button press. This is great for fighting games such as Street Fighter 2 - instant dragon punches at the press of a button anyone?
NB – unlike the other programs on this list, XPadder is not free, but the one-time cost of £5.99 is well worth the investment.