Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Boost your chances of running older PC games smoothly on modern OS by using compatibility mode for Windows versions.
  • Downgrade graphics drivers if needed for outdated games to run properly, then update again to play the latest games.
  • Some older PC games lack proper controller support, consider using software like Xpadder to improve controller support.

It’s fun to go back and replay old favorites and check out games from generations you may have missed out on, and buying them on PC is usually the easiest option. But the experience of getting these games running smoothly can be a frustrating one. Here are a few things you can do to make it a little easier.

Operating System Compatibility Issues

Depending on when the game was released, it may have been made with an older version of Windows in mind like 7, Vista, or XP. This can cause issues when trying to run the game on a modern OS like Windows 10 or 11. Some games will open but encounter crashes or freeze entirely after a certain point, while others will simply crash on startup or refuse to open in the first place.

Fortunately, Windows lets you run programs in “compatibility mode” for previous versions of the OS, which can sometimes rectify this and let you run the game as if you’re playing it on the correct version. To do this, you’ll need to locate the game’s executable file on your PC, which, if you’re using Steam, you can find by simply right-clicking the game in your library and selecting “Browse Local Files.”

The "Browse Local Files" option in the Steam Library tab

If it isn’t a Steam game, have a dig through the Program Files folder on your local disk. Find the game’s title or the name of the storefront from which it came and locate the executable file. Right-click on it and select Properties > Compatibility, then choose the appropriate version of Windows as required by the game (you may need to do a bit of research first). Click “Apply,” and try again. The game should run as if it’s using the proper OS.

You can also let Windows tell you which version it needs by selecting “Run compatibility troubleshooter,” which will attempt to select the correct version.

Your Drivers Might be Too New

The unfortunate side effect of having up-to-date graphics drivers is that older games stop getting support from the developers after a while, which means your GPU might leave them in the dust and make them tricky to play properly. Modern games might run smoothly but, when it comes to titles that came out years ago that were built with older drivers in mind, older titles can struggle to keep up and end up crashing.

The simplest solution to this is to downgrade your drivers temporarily to a previous version on which the game was able to run, which you can usually find on the website for whichever brand made the GPU for your PC.

Simply download the installer for the previous version and run it as you would normally, and it will automatically replace your current version with the older one. Update them again when you’re done playing. While this should work most of the time, we recommend performing a clean install of your graphics drivers if you encounter further problems.

Poor Controller Support

Many PC games support the use of a gamepad by default, so you can plug in a controller to use instead of your keyboard and mouse. A lot of older titles were released before controller usage saw widespread adoption on the PC. This means that many of them either don’t support controller play at all or only in a limited capacity.

There are programs like Xpadder that will let you map keyboard bindings to buttons on your gamepad which will essentially emulate keyboard and mouse controls on the controller instead. Be aware that these can feel a little outdated and archaic. Sometimes it might just be worth using a keyboard and mouse instead.

Steam now supports the use of Sony’s PS5 DualSense controller natively, and a lot of games will change the button prompts accordingly to PlayStation equivalents. Unfortunately, many older titles still expect an Xbox controller.

This means that in-game button prompts and control overlay will still show the Xbox layout by default, so you’ll need to memorize the equivalent buttons or look for mods that might change the prompts to the correct ones.

Game Support Ended Years Ago

Naturally, as games fade in mainstream popularity and stop receiving updates, developers tend to abandon their support lines or online forums in favor of their more recent releases. The unfortunate side effect of this is that many times, this leaves you with nothing but whichever guides may already exist online when troubleshooting for issues that come up while you’re playing.

Fortunately, fans can be easy to find on sites like GameFAQs and Reddit or similar platforms where users can ask questions or look for support from other players about an issue they may have run into. Most of the time, you won’t be the only one who has run into a certain problem, and you can simply look up what others recommended to someone else and fix it that way, or even make a post on a Steam community or another site yourself.

A lot of the time, these problems lead to fan-made solutions. You might be directed to download an unofficial patch that adds support for modern operating systems, control methods, render resolutions, hardware configurations and more. This can be time-consuming but, if you’re keen to play, it’s worth the time you spend digging through forum posts.

Problems with Modern Resolutions and Aspect Ratios

While 1440p and even 4K are becoming much more standard in modern games on PC, older generations of games had different visual targets. Many older games target a 4:3 aspect ratio as opposed to the 16:9 widescreen (or greater) that is commonplace now.

This can mean that you’ll see some black bars on the sides of your screen, but sometimes it can cause strange visual errors, problems with the game’s user interface, and sometimes prevent games from running altogether.

You can usually change the resolution on your monitor to a lower one, which can help overcome problems, but some things still may not appear as intended. Even on the lowest brightness settings, running a game from a long time ago on a high-resolution monitor can mean darker areas still appear brighter than they should and certain lighting effects might be more intense than intended.

On top of this, if you use an ultrawide monitor can fare poorly, as the game may attempt to stretch the resolution to fit or leave you with much larger black bars (less of a problem). You may be able to adjust this in the game’s settings, but a good alternative is to run the game in “windowed” mode if the option exists. This relegates it to a separate window where the aspect ratio is fixed.

Don’t Give Up on Old Games Yet

These issues are no reason to deny yourself some of the best gaming experiences. There is almost always some method of getting older titles to run on modern systems, even if you have to tweak a few things or install a patch or two to make it happen.

With these tips handy, you’re probably about ready to start revisiting some old favorites. You could also try out some titles you’ve never played before, which can be a breathe a breath of fresh air into your gaming collection.

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By John P.

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