Must-Have PC Gaming Apps: In Game Browsers, Messengers, and More +
How many of us, when playing our console games, have our laptop or desktop within reach, browser open to pages of walkthroughs, hints, maps, charts, etc., of that game we are playing? (Don’t say you don’t, because I know you didn’t learn about that exploit that has you perched in mid-air where you can snipe noobs who are trying to figure out where those shots are coming from!)
Now, how many of us PC gamers have been Alt+Tabbing it to access the web pages of Wowhead or the Armory when playing World of Warcraft? Or any other game site while playing their fave PC game? How many have wanted an alternative to Ventrilo for voice chat or an alternative to the in-game IM system? How many of you have been frustrated trying to get a screenshot during that Crysis battle massacre? And what about documenting that raid or deathmatch with a video of it?
I’m here to offer you a few solutions, and my impressions, with these handy free apps and clients for the PC gamer.
Rogue is brought to us by GotGame, and is nothing but a basic in-game web browser. The Rogue site makes no claims other than “Surf Your Favorite Sites While Playing the Most Popular PC Games” and “Watch videos, read news, check email while gaming.” And that’s exactly what you can do, and all that you get from this basic app. What I do like about one is that it does not appear to affect framerate of the game; you can access it and play your game while the browser is open; and you can adjust the transparency of the overlay. Basic, bare-to-the-bones in-game browser. You can get Rogue here: http://rogue.gotgame.com/
My rating: B-. It does exactly what it sets out to do. Nothing more, nothing less.
We’ve all heard of Steam, I hope. If you haven’t, then I’m not quite sure how you even got to be reading this blog. Steam is the baby of the people at Valve. And for those who don’t know Valve, they are the people behind such cross platform mega hits as Left4Dead, Half Life, Counter Strike, Portal, etc. etc. I kind of have a love-hate relationship with Steam however, because it is a necessary part of activating any of Valve’s PC games. But, you don’t have to have a Valve game to have Steam. Steam, basically, is a game launcher and IM chat client for any game you have on your PC; chat provided those that you are chatting with also has Steam. Steam also allows you access to download demos or purchase a vast catalog of games by Valve and other publishers. They really have an impressive catalog. If you have any of the games in their catalog, Steam also doubles as an automatic patch downloader, and will keep your games up-to-date. Steam also allows you to browse multiplayer game servers, which is real handy for those Unreal fans such as me. There are a few other perks to Steam that are associated with their catalog of games. If you have any Valve game, or bought the box version of F.E.A.R. 2, you probably already have Steam. If not, you can get it here: http://store.steampowered.com/about/
My rating: B. I’d give it an A if I didn’t have to have it to activate some of my games. I don’t like being forced into a program, although, in all honesty, I would install it anyway. Also, it does eat up some system resources, not much, but enough to notice your CPU running a little hotter or an occasional drop in frame rate when chatting.
This puppy has been around for awhile. I started using GameSpy when UT 2004 came out. What started out as an IM chat client and game launcher, it has since evolved to having a download and patch manager as well. GameSpy was developed by the IGN community and as a result you have a direct line to FilePlanet and Direct2Drive from it. If you haven’t stumbled upon FilePlanet yet, they are probably the best source on the web for game files of all types. Direct2Drive is one of the first digital game purchase sites around. Also GameSpy is a great multiplayer server surfer. I use it every time I play an Unreal Tournament match. The only drawback is that it only acknowledges games that are in its database. While there are several hundred games that GameSpy recognizes, some will be left out in the cold. However, whether or not GameSpy recognizes your PC game, it is still a solid IM client for gamers, and a great multiplayer server browser and updater and downloader for games that it recognizes and other files. What GameSpy does lack is an in-game web browser, which seems to me, would be a logical extension of the app as it is.You can grab your GameSpy Comrade client here: http://comrade.gamespy.com/Default.aspx
My rating: B. What it does, it does well. I’m only taking away points because I wish it had an in-game web browser, and you can’t make it recognize a game not in its database.
This one is the new kid on the block, and probably the most exciting, yet little known, app out there. I started with this one when it was a buggy beta. It has now evolved into something that serious MMOers or PC gamers shouldn’t be without. What is it? Well, let me quote from their website:
“PLAYXPERT is the next-generation in-game community management toolset developed for PC-based and MMO games. Built around a completely unique in-game overlay technology, PLAYXPERT brings the tools that you use into the games that you play.”
“PLAYXPERT is no ordinary in-game overlay. It’s the first of its kind to offer configurable semi-transparent overlay without impacting frame rates. True Overlay is unique because it provides integration at the kernel level of your operating system, so it supports virtually ANY game, doesn’t ‘break’ each time a game is updated and is optimized at the hardware level of your GPU. This is totally unique from any other mechanism of overlay on the market today. While other point tools use the shared memory of your game and hijack DirectX, True Overlay doesn’t compete for game resources, and it will not be detected as a hack tool. You’ll never miss a frame of the game with PLAYXPERT.”
So what’s it all about? Well, first, there’s the in-game web browser which is this app’s reason to be. Its customizable transparency makes sure that you are not missing any part of the action of your game. There is also an IM client that will import your buddies from other IM clients. There is a Wowhead search widget for my fellow Warcrack enthusiasts. It even has a media player widget that you can set for iTunes, WMP, or Winamp, so that you can play other stuff if you tired of the tracks playing in your local game. They also have a library of widgets that you can plug into this app that is ever-growing. From Twitter to the Armory, there’s a lot going on here. PLAYXPERT is available for download here: http://www.playxpert.com/web/guest/home
My rating: A. It’s come a long way in a short time. It runs well on Vista and is Windows 7 ready. It is powerful, and doesn’t slow down your game or eat up system resources.
While it’s apparent my excitement over the above mentioned PLAYXPERT, I won’t play a PC game without having Xfire running. Xfire, believe it or not, is part of the MTV Network. How this ever happened still befuddles me, but I’m glad they did it. Xfire, like GameSpy and Steam, is an IM chat client and game launcher. It includes a file downloader and will patch most of your installed games. It has a variety of skins available (I love pimping the looks of my things!). It claims to have an in-game browser, but that part of it is very buggy when it does work.
What sets it apart from the rest, and why I am a huge fan of it, are three key features:
1) It is voice chat enabled. Ventrilo be damned, this one works perfectly fine for those WoW raids.
2) Screenshots. For some reason, developers of some PC games don’t always put a screenshot function in their games. I like screenshots. I like to be able to show off my achievements and gear. A simple key combo does this, AND you are prompted when you get out of the game to choose whether or not to upload your pix to your profile page on the Xfire site.
3) Video capture. Yes, that’s right. With a simple key combo of Scroll Lock+V you can capture hi-res (or medium or low depending on your PC) videos of your battles or in game exploits. You can upload your videos to your profile page, or share them on YouTube or wherever you can upload videos. Xfire also sponsors some cool video contests that are always amusing to watch.
Xfire is available here: http://www.xfire.com/
My rating: A. Despite its browser problems, it is a solid chat client and file manager. Add to that voice chat, screenshots, and video capture and you have one of the most valuable apps for PC gaming enthusiasts.
All in all, I recommend all the above clients. They each offer some valuable tools for the PC gamer. Your opinions will depend on your needs. I must say, I use them all at some point or another, but PLAYXPERT and Xfire are, in my opinion, the two hottest must-have apps for PC gamers out there.