This week I have been mostly playing Company of Heroes 3.
Well, until I couldn't cope with how much like a fan-made mod of Company of Heroes 2 it feels. Seriously, it's like they don't want you to play it. Fingers crossed it gets better, because the start of the thing is turgid.
This month I have been testing everything.
I've found an RTX 40-series laptop I actually like, a Lian Li chassis homage, tested some CPUs, next-gen SSDs, and a rather lovely wireless gaming headset of Planar Magnetic type. Mmmm.
It's like I'm sat in front of my old Windows 95 PC again. In my mind's eye I can see the inexplicable Turbo button protruding uselessly from the front of my beige, landscape PC. I can feel the intricacies of the autoexec.bat and config.sys files flooding back into my frontal lobe, and can almost feel the special pain of trying to free up a few kb more of conventional memory filtering into my nerves again. That's how it feels trying to get FIFA 23 running on PC.
Though at least I now have the internet with which to help me search for why the hell the game is not running today.
Because, somehow, six months after launch FIFA 23 is still in such a state that from one day to the next you won't know whether the game will boot, or what hoops you'll need to jump through in order to get it to run.
That's what it was like in the late '90s, especially when we were first coming out of the DOS interface to launch our games from a GUI in Windows 95. Simply launching a new game felt like a Herculean feat back then.
But it's baffling to me that it can still be such a problem in 2023, and this far into the life of a game that was like this right at launch. Personally speaking, I gave up on FIFA 23 pretty darned quickly after its September release and only came back a few weeks ago after an enjoyable evening of co-op career mode around a friend's house. I was sure that in the intervening time it must have been fixed.
But no, there are still issues with the Electronic Arts AntiCheat stuff the company jammed into the PC game to stop people playing. Which, if you think about it, has been super effective. No cheaters gonna cheat if people can't even boot the game.
It actually got worse recently, too, as the company finally dumped Origin and forced everyone over to using the EA app instead. Who'd have thought anyone would ever actually miss Origin? Because, sadly, this move also seemed to break a bunch of peoples' access to the game, making it all but impossible to boot into FIFA 23 even if they'd previously managed to get a stable install in place.
I get that FIFA hasn't classically been a particularly 'PC' game, but it's somehow become so nostalgically PC, so ancient don't-want-to-go-back-there PC. That's not the reason I'm now writing about it on PC Gamer; I'm a bit of a football game obsessive and have been playing Kick Off, Sensi, Champ/Football Manager, Pro Evo, and FIFA consistently for literally decades. And it's never been like this.
In fairness, there will never be another FIFA. EA will be ceasing to license its footie game from one of the most historically corrupt1 organisations in sport2, and so maybe there's been little encouragement for the publisher to fix anything and actually make this final version something that will live long in the memory.
Maybe it's better for EA that FIFA 23 leaves a bitter taste in players' mouths before the franchise dies forever and is reborn.
You may or may not be interested to know that I have finally managed to find a relatively consistent method of booting the game myself. But it's a combination of things, with the hope that one of them will likely work in the end. Still, it's a case of having to sit there, starting the EA app, starting the game, crashing, ending tasks, uninstalling and installing apps, tweaking settings I really don't feel comfortable tweaking, and then eventually something will hook and FIFA 23 will deign to boot.
The main levers that seem to have an impact are either uninstalling and reinstalling, then updating, the EA AntiCheat software, or temporarily running my system with real-time virus protection disabled. Which doesn't feel great, if I'm honest.
Which is all kind of a shame cos I'm actually enjoying the game itself, now that I've sorted out the sliders into a fashion that makes playing FIFA much closer to real life ball kicking. My League One sluggers no longer feel like Messi, they're far more pleasingly pub football than that if you tweak it right. Yes, I'm a dedicated lower league manager, always and forever.
But I don't know if it's worth all the hassle anymore. I have such little game time left to me now that I have two small children and am always up by 6.30am even if I crash out at 1am having played just one more match in FM. So, when making the decision on what to play I have to take into account the time it might take to actually load a game. Which, now I'm thinking about it, makes it less of a PC experience and more of a Commodore 64, tape-loading, leave-the-room-or-it-might-not-load kind of experience.
And you can look back on those days through as many layers of rose tinted lenses as you wish, there's no way that nostalgia is going to make me long for either the days of tilting tape decks or fighting for that last few kilobytes of conventional memory. And no way I'm going to keep messing around with FIFA 23, either.