Every year, the international PC Gamer team puts its heads together to hash out a list of the hundred PC games you need to play. This year, we're stressing 'play'. With a handful of exceptions, every game on the list is one that you can access and enjoy today. Where that's not the case, it's because that game is special and we feel you should know about it anyway. The hope is that you'll read through this list and discover a classic that you'd never otherwise have played.
Our selection process is democratic and subjective. Every member of the jury put forward their personal top 15 games of all time, and those lists were combined to produce our longlist. Finally, one person each from the UK and US teams entered a room (well, a Skype call), went through the entire thing, and emerged with a final list that we're proud of.
RELEASED March 2001 | LAST POSITION Re-entry
Chris T: In almost all of the great competitive shooters, movement is just as essential as aim. This is the reason that Tribes II remains such an important game to me: it combined exciting spinfusor rocket-duels with a sense of momentum that has never been matched in any other game. It’s hard to go back to plodding around Call of Duty after skiing down a sci-fi mountainside at 250km/h. The series’ persistent commercial failure is almost a badge of honour. Tribes was only ever going to play to a small, dedicated crowd, but that’s pretty much what ‘special’ means.
RELEASED February 1998 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tony: Every time you screw up your infiltration mission in this deceptive text adventure, you wake up back in the chair. “No,” the Interrogator says, “that’s not how we caught you. Try again.” And you’re whirled away into another flashback. In spinning the story of your capture and downfall, can you somehow turn it into a story where you win?
RELEASED November 1993 | LAST POSITION Re-entry
Chris L: Ridiculous puzzles, oddball characters, and a disturbingly accurate portrayal of roadside America feature in this 2D LucasArts adventure. Two freelance cops, one a wry dog in a suit and the other a violent, naked rabbity thing, investigate the mystery of a missing bigfoot. Includes country music and the destruction of the west coast.
RELEASED November 2008 | LAST POSITION 33
Samuel: A unique, arty first-person platformer from a studio renowned for shootymen series, Mirror’s Edge makes parkour traversal and jumping feel convincing in a gorgeously stark dystopia. It’s a divisive game, sure, and the combat is particularly contentious – but a game this original with these production values is well worth celebrating.
RELEASED October 2013 | LAST POSITION New entry
Phil: A game about games; a story about stories. That sounds unbearable, but The Stanley Parable is a wonderfully funny exploration of choice and consequence. As you walk through the halls of a deserted office building, a narrator vocalises your next steps. Do you follow, or rebel against the story? Whatever you choose, hilarity follows.
RELEASED November 2009 | LAST POSITION 52
Evan: I can point to a dozen little features I love about Left 4 Dead 2. The toylike guns. The way its gushy gore tech preserves the act of splitting open basic Infected. The absurd rock stage finale (complete with pyrotechnic weapons) at the end of Dark Carnival. Ellis. Among all of the stuff that forms L4D2’s identity, its structure is one of the most underappreciated.
Whatever map you’re on, whatever your skill level, almost every Left 4 Dead 2 match produces a narrative with a seamless but clear beginning, middle, and an end. Usually it’s a series of highs and lows: “Just as we found a grenade launcher Coach got pulled out the window by a Smoke. But then Rochelle threw a Molotov and we barely made it to the elevator!” I think we take for granted how rare it is for a multiplayer game to reliably produce those kinds of digestible vignettes; it’s something that even Evolve failed to do.
RELEASED August 2013 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tyler: You return from a college trip to a storm and an empty house. Your family is missing and the phones are out, so you poke around their stuff – books, notes, diary entries, secrets – to discover what’s been going on in the past year. It’s an eerie, emotional puzzle that happens in your head, where experience and empathy piece together a thoughtful coming-of-age story.
Chris T: Gone Home proves that a challenge doesn’t need to be something that registers on the screen. There are no threats or countdowns. This is a meditative game, as much about your attention to detail and ability to interpret information as anything else – but it is definitely, nonetheless, a game.
RELEASED February 1999 | LAST POSITION 23
Tom S: In turn-based strategy games the story is normally entirely of your own making, but Alpha Centauri strikes a magic balance that allows your faction’s tale to unfold in parallel with the awakening of the planet. It’s also remarkably atmospheric, thanks to some excellent writing and consistent visual design. From the UI to dialogue and even tech descriptions, there’s a hard sci-fi credibility to Alpha Centauri that most strategy games lack. Even now, my negotiations with Chairman Yang and the environmentalist, Lady Gaia, are lodged in my imagination, part of a corner of space that I will never forget.
RELEASED October 2012 | LAST POSITION 53
Tim: It’s testament to the brutal efficiency of this first game that it only took a few tweaks to the formula for the sequel to feel bloated and substantially less fun. Still, the splattercore joys of the original remain undimmed. Stab, slam and blast your way through gaudy floorplans. Die, rinse (the blood out) and repeat. The very rawest of feedback loops.
RELEASED September 1999 | LAST POSITION 96
Tyler: One of the best space combat games ever. The graphics are dated (that’s what mods are for) and the tutorial is a bit painful (“don’t touch the controls until you are told to do so”), but beyond that it’s a perfect mix of simulation and arcade, with a great story. For the longest time, Freespace 2 kept the glory of the space sim genre alive all on its own.
RELEASED May 2009 | LAST POSITION New entry
Wes: Plants vs. Zombies didn’t invent tower defence, but it eased players into a complex strategy game with a gradual difficulty curve and irresistibly cute characters. At once casual and addictive, it remains the only place you can find an anthropomorphised watermelon catapulting its own fruit at a moonwalking Michael Jackson zombie.
RELEASED October 2000 | LAST POSITION New entry
John: In contrast to Tiberian Sun’s seriousness, Red Alert 2 ramps up the silliness whilst offering a ton of fab new features. Garrison huge civilian landmarks with infantry units and cast sizzling great thunderstorms over enemy bases. Then sit back, relax, and watch the laughably low-budget cutscenes.
RELEASED May 2011 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tom M: A crafting/mining game similar to a 2D version of Minecraft, Terraria puts an extra emphasis on combat with magical weapons, hundreds of different types of enemies, and dozens of large bosses. You could put hundreds of hours into it, and still find something new to do the next time you play. It’s also been updated a huge amount: even if Re-Logic never patched Terraria again, it would have still added more to its game than most developers offer through DLC packs and season passes.
Shaun: A lot of people write it off as Minecraft 2D, but in practice it’s a very different beast – especially if you harbour a lifelong preference for sidescrolling platformers. Spend a couple of hours and it’s nothing but a rote, grindy 2D survival game, but persevere and it becomes an obsession. If I had this game as a kid I’d have never learnt to read and write, but I bet I could dig a pretty mean hole.
Tom S: Every dawn there’s a chance a goblin army will invade the surface world. Deep underground, chests hide items that let you summon huge flying eyeballs, or the feared Wall of Flesh. Terraria is secretly a horror game, and even better enjoyed with friends.
RELEASED July 1992 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tim: It’s safe to say that whatever new whizzbangery EA’s trillion-strong FIFA team comes up with, for sheer ‘GET IN YOU BASTARD!’ thrills they will never surpass scoring from halfway with an aftertouch-enabled shot that looked more like a parabolic curve than anything an actual football might ever do. Such is/was the joy of Sensible Soccer, the top-down, bobble-headed masterpiece that ate lives back in the mid-’90s. It’s considered an Amiga and ST icon, but I came to the series on PC, where I wasted months trying to build the dynastic success on Tyneside that cruelly eluded Kevin Keegan.
RELEASED November 2014 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tony: You tool around a massive open world, shooting bad guys and liberating armed camps singlehanded. But it’s the fabulous, faux-Kashmir setting that nails it: not just one of the most beautiful game worlds we’ve ever seen, but one of the most vivid, so richly detailed you can almost smell the incense at the roadside shrines.
Andy: For my money, the best Far Cry setting. The sheer verticality of Kyrat, and the ability to buzz through its mountain passes and across its rivers in a gyrocopter, makes it one of the most exciting playgrounds on PC. It’s still stuffed with too much open-world filler, mind.
RELEASED October 2012 | LAST POSITION New entry
Phil: You’re a truck driver. Your job is to take multiple tonnes of wood shavings, or other utilitarian goods, to some grim industrial city somewhere in Europe. It’s a game of endless motorways, fuel management and speeding fines. It’s also the most compelling simulator it’s possible to play. ETS2 is plain, functional and yet strangely charming.
Andy: It’s unironically brilliant, but you won’t realise this until you play it. I installed it mainly just to laugh at it, but 40 hours later I count it among my favourite games of all time. It’s a bizarrely peaceful experience.
RELEASED October 2011 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tom S: CoD became famous for set-pieces, full of RPG fire, mortar bursts and low-flying jets. Battlefield 3 generates those war movie moments regularly in unscripted multiplayer warzones. It was competitive enough to inspire our John Strike to run a clan for years, but forgiving enough to let irregular players enjoy the spectacle. I spent hours breaking down choke points in Rush, gasping at the outstanding sound design. Activate ‘War Tapes’ mode to hear BF3 at its best.
RELEASED April 2005 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tom M: A fantastically weird platformer with sharp writing and a sharper sense of humour. Everyone who’s played Psychonauts has their favourite level. It may be hard to choose just one when the quality of them all is so high, but there will be that one that sticks with you. Each level represents the personality of whichever character’s mind they take place in, and your favourite can say just as much about you as it does them. Stylised graphics have let it age well, and the downright absurd amount of collectables can keep you playing for a very long time.
Tom S: I still have nightmares about that rubbish meat circus level, but when every level in a platformer adopts a different dreamlike context, you’re always going to get the occasional duff idea. Fortunately, the rest of Psychonauts’ settings are superb. The fluorescent Spanish streets of Black Velvetopia still look beautiful, and the warped paranoid suburbs of the Milkman Conspiracy are as funny and unnerving as ever. Even though the platforming is straightforward, Psychonauts’ vivid, imaginative world has rightly left fans clamouring for a follow-up game all these years later.
RELEASED April 2013 | LAST POSITION 77
Tim: Wake up in the wilderness. Scratch together enough rocks and twigs to build a rudimentary camp. Forage for veg and trap rabbits. Get eaten by dogs. Start again. Build a bigger camp. Freeze to death. Miscalculate firewood and die to an unseen monster in the night. Don’t Starve is Tim Burton does Walkabout. It is repetitious, adorable, maddening, funny and – unlike so many of the current survival games – a joy to be in at all times. Eventually you gain a sense of control over what once seemed an impossibly punishing world, which is when complacency kicks in and a dumb mistake kills you anyway.
RELEASED August 2013 | LAST POSITION 57
Tom S: A parody of videogames in all their glorious stupidity, this completes the series’ remarkable transition from dull grey GTA clone to hilarious nonsense power trip. Look out for the great rocket sequence set to Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing. Also you have superpowers. And you’re the president of the United States. Just play it.
Shaun: I sometimes boot up Saints Row IV just to jump around collecting things for an hour. Sometimes I spend long stretches of time burning down city avenues crushing every vehicle in my way. It also features the best use of ‘What Is Love’ by Haddaway in a videogame, ever.
RELEASED November 2011 | LAST POSITION 54
Wes: The original version of Cave Story, released for free in 2004, was a one-man labour of love by Japanese developer Daisuke ‘Pixel Amaya’. It was also an indie masterpiece that predated the indie scene in the west (and is still finding its feet in Japan), combining the exploration and secrets of Metroid with faster-paced action and a mysterious setting. The feel of the combat and movement is up there with the likes of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Cave Story+ added remixed music, updated graphics and a new level, but is otherwise the same precisely tuned platformery.
RELEASED May 2015 | LAST POSITION 26
Tom S: There is no better game if you just want to wreck thousands of monsters. Monsters in Diablo III explode with a unique, screen-shaking crunch that remains satisfying after hundreds of hours. The skill system, which lets you swap abilities in and out of your taskbar at will, is merely an enabling device that gives you exciting new ways to generate that crunch. Whirlwind axe crunch. Leap attack crunch. Meteor strike crunch. Diablo III has all the best flavours of death.
RELEASED October 2008 | LAST POSITION New entry
Chris L: Far Cry 2’s detractors are quick to list the game’s flaws – the oft-respawning enemies, the irritating malaria, the crummy guns that explode in your hands – and I completely agree. That doesn’t stop this open-world first-person shooter from being one of the boldest ever. I love the immersiveness (your character has to physically hold the map and look down at it), the harsh and beautiful world, and the story that slowly reveals you’re just as terrible as everyone else. Most of all, I revel in the unpredictable bushfire and combat systems that can turn a well-planned assault into a hilariously chaotic scramble for survival.
RELEASED June 2009 | LAST POSITION New entry
Chris T: Arguably no game has done more to expand the audience for PC gaming than The Sims, and the third iteration, which cut down on the previous micromanagement, is still the best. A mix of creative architecture, social manipulation and plate-spinning that manages to be just as time-absorbing as the best traditional management games.
RELEASED June 2001 | LAST POSITION Re-entry
Tony: Your dead secretary lives inside your mousepointer. One of your party members is a planet, and guns are powered with radioactive rodents (‘glodents’). Ion Storm’s wildly inventive JRPG was crammed with minigames, comedy and fun ideas. It also had some of the earliest in-engine cutscenes, adding a layer of cinematic sizzle and class.
RELEASED September 2002 | LAST POSITION 79
Chris T: Imagine Deus Ex, set in the ’60s, with a brilliant sense of humour and powerful female lead. Imagine comedy spy gadgets that were also great fun to use. Then consider that there are two of these games, that the last one was released thirteen years ago, and there’s no sign that they’re coming back. Then bellow at the sky, helplessly.
RELEASED February 1999 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tom M: A classic strategy game that still stands tall 16 years later – in no small part thanks to modders, who’ve helped the original outshine even a recent HD remake. Heroes of Might and Magic III sports a heady mix of RPG and strategy, putting you in charge of both levelling-up powerful heroes and managing their fantasy armies.
RELEASED May 1994 | LAST POSITION Re-entry
Phil: Yes, Doom II is another great id shooter that builds on the design lessons of Doom to provide more labyrinthine levels filled with demons and secrets. What makes Doom II special isn’t so much what id did at the time, but what the community is still doing to this day. Doom II’s mod community is an enduring phenomenon, and has, over the past ten-and-a-bit years, produced a variety of experiences – everything from the violence-enhancing tweaks of Brutal Doom, to the total conversions of Pirate Doom or The Adventures of Square.
Shaun: I spent countless days building wads for Doom II back in the ’90s. I don’t think I ever beat the game itself, because for me, Doom II was a series of tools for bringing imaginative worlds to life. Much is made of Doom as an early chapter in the story of the first-person shooter, but there was a lot more to the phenomenon than just shooting.
RELEASED Dec 2014 | LAST POSITION New entry
Chris T: Space trading, combat and exploration made special by an extraordinary commitment to making you feel like you’re really there, in the cockpit. This is one of the best virtual reality games around for that reason, but the effect is powerful regardless.
Andy: Elite’s galaxy is a scale replica of our own Milky Way, which means that in the course of playing the game you’ll only see a tiny fraction of it. But what a fraction. Even if you don’t indulge in combat, trading, or any of the other ways to spend your time in this space sandbox, there’s fun to be had just exploring, staring slack-jawed at the stunning cosmic scenery. It’s a game you play your own way, at your own pace.
RELEASED December 1991 | LAST POSITION 55
Andy: This island-hopping piratical adventure is the best Monkey Island. The writing is at its peak and hopeless hero Guybrush Threepwood is even more lovable than before. This time the wannabe pirate finds himself on the trail of the treasure of Big Whoop.
Really, though, the story is just an excuse for genuinely funny jokes, colourful characters, and the series’ trademark absurd puzzles. Some of them are just sadistic – a tactic, many think, to get you to ring the LucasArts hint line. The game even jokes about this.
In this age of internet walkthroughs, you can play Monkey Island 2 without repeatedly getting stuck and just enjoy the world, characters and humour. And who could forget insult swordfighting, one of the best minigames/combat systems ever to grace an adventure game. I am rubber, you are glue!
RELEASED October 1998 | LAST POSITION 21
Tom S: A game about lost souls travelling through the afterlife could have so easily been mawkish, but this post-mortem drama was created by LucasArts developers at the height of their powers. Manny Calavera manages to play the charming underdog while wearing the suavest suits you’ll see in a videogame. Glottis is still one of PC gaming’s cuddliest sidekicks. Together they’re the perfect team to take on Grim Fandango’s scenery-chewing villains. Hardboiled detective fiction, Casablanca and beatniks all receive an affectionate roasting from a script overflowing with gags. The remastered version was released earlier this year, preserving this late-’90s treat, so new audiences can discover how much fun it is in the afterlife.
RELEASED July 2001 | LAST POSITION New entry
John: Do you remember Max Payne for its John Woo-inspired bullet-time game mechanic, or those beautifully written noir-esque illustrated sequences that punctuate the story so well? Max tells of ‘The Beretta stirring nervously under my coat’ which is a particular favourite of mine, moments before he’s ambushed on the station platform.
It was a pioneering game, particularly in how it represented bad drug trips and nightmares. The level where you run in slow motion along a trail of blood is particularly chilling, made even more so by the echoes of Max’s child crying in the background and the empty blackness that surrounds you.
RELEASED November 2001 | LAST POSITION 55
Chris T: I loved the silly, violent, gothic singleplayer campaign as a teen, but multiplayer is where it still stands out. This is a fine example of the attack/defend team shooter template that also finds expression in Enemy Territory, Brink, and, nowadays, Dirty Bomb. Return to Castle Wolfenstein has the Mauser rifle, though, so it wins.
RELEASED March 2004 | LAST POSITION 60
Wes: When a shooter still has an online population 11 years later, it probably did something right. Or, in the case of Unreal Tournament 2004, pretty much everything right, from the blistering movement speed to the tuned weapon spread to the overwhelming array of maps and modes. Or, as Stan Lee would put it: InstaGib. ‘Nuff said.
RELEASED March 2006 | LAST POSITION 72
Chris L: Bethesda’s sprawling fantasy RPG set a new standard for other games to match, offering hundreds of hours of adventure, including a world-saving main quest and loads of engaging side-missions. Best of all, guild quests are tailored for different playstyles, whether you’re a slippery thief, a powerful mage, a deadly assassin, or all of the above.
RELEASED March 2011 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tom S: Total War’s most beautiful armies do battle in Total War’s most focused game. The reduction in scale to feudal Japan means less empire management and more war. The fractured state of the nation during the Ashikaga Shogunate guarantees boisterous campaigns punctuated by shaky alliances and top-notch siege battles.
RELEASED November 2012 | LAST POSITION 93
Andy: Battlefield has been doing big-scale battles for years, but PlanetSide 2 blows it out of the water. Using a variety of land and air vehicles, and several infantry classes, it’s your job to wrestle control of territory from other factions. It’s a pretty basic take on BF’s Conquest mode, but it’s the scale that makes it. Organised assaults on bases are exhilarating, with ground troops clashing, tanks exchanging fire across valleys, and aircraft duelling in the sky. Cresting a hill and seeing a battle unfold is a dazzling, strangely beautiful sight – at least until you charge into the thick of it, then it’s just sheer chaos.
To get the most out of it, however, you need to work with other players. Solo, it’s a lonely and aimless experience. It’s only when you’re charging a base with a group of likeminded players, preferably with a commander organising things, that PlanetSide 2 becomes one of the best multiplayer first-person shooters on PC. There’s something for everyone, whether you want to be a gunship pilot, a transport driver, a spy, an anti-tank trooper, or any number of roles. It’s free-to-play, but uncommonly generous with it. You can enjoy it, and advance your character, without spending a penny.
RELEASED November 2004 | LAST POSITION 86
Chris T: Bloodlines is an open-world first-person RPG and was one of the first games to use the Source engine. The new tech meant it wasn’t particularly stable when it launched, and even now you’ll need community patches to get it working at its best. If anything, however, the tech problems compounded the sense that this game was destined to be a cult classic. Its depiction of vampire-haunted LA is atmospheric and frequently scary despite the well-trodden subject matter, and the story responds organically to how you play and what type of vampire you are. Some of the very best side-stories in the genre, too.
RELEASED July 2011 | LAST POSITION 75
Phil: “He gets up,” the narrator says as you press the button to get up. Thus, in three words, this action-RPG expresses the clever relationship between the on-screen events and the way the narrator folds them into his story. Bastion’s art and soundtrack are oft-praised, and rightly so, but it makes this list because those elements are backed up by satisfying combat.
Tom M: During a fight, every well-timed button press is rewarded, just as every mistake is punished. Bastion lets you choose the way you fight, and all of its weapons and abilities can be effective – if you know how to use them.
RELEASED November 1998 | LAST POSITION New entry
Chris T: The original Thief doesn’t hold up as well as its successors, but it earns inclusion on this list for being such an important part of FPS history. This was the game that established that you didn’t need to run at 60km/h and carry a shotgun all the time. It opened the door to slower, more methodical approaches to play, leading not only to the stealth genre but also horror and, many years later, the ‘walking simulator’. Without Thief there’s no Deus Ex, no BioShock, no Gone Home. If you’re interested at all in the history of game design on the PC, you need to have played it.
RELEASED May 2002 | LAST POSITION New entry
Chris T: The Elder Scrolls’ first foray into 3D (we’re not counting Redguard) is still a classic, despite how far the sequels have moved on. It remains unique among Bethesda’s open worlds, a genuinely alien fantasy landscape populated by people, creatures and factions that take time to truly understand. It offers the experience of being a stranger in a strange land, and over time the modding community has fixed almost everything that you might take issue with.
RELEASED March 1992 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tony: Before Doom, before even Wolfenstein 3D, this was the game that took players out of two dimensions into immersive, texture-mapped, first-person reality. And where id’s games would be mere shooters when they arrived, this was a sophisticated fantasy RPG, where you could swim, talk to people, pick things up, develop skills and cast magic. You could even look up. And incredibly, we got it all at once, all in one game.
Ultima Underworld was a leap forward in gaming technology that has yet to be equalled. In the narrative of videogame evolution, this is the bit where one monkey smashes another monkey’s brains in because he was told to by a monolith.
Chris T: I’m always banging on about how Thief invented the meditative FPS, and that’s true if you stick to shooters. Ultima Underworld is a vital part of the same chain, however, developing the idea of first-person fantasy in a way that The Elder Scrolls would, decades later, run with. This was an RPG developed with the goal of immersing yourself in a world that was entirely yours to explore and manipulate: a fantasy that developers still chase, that players still flock to Kickstarter to support.
RELEASED April 2009 | LAST POSITION 64
Wes: Braid led the charge of the modern independent game movement, and you can feel its influence in every puzzle platformer with lush 2D art released since. We often think of platformers as reflex games, but Braid revels in its braininess, slowly layering new challenges into its time control conceit. Later puzzles are unrivalled in their ability to foster determined experimentation followed by utter despair (surely this is impossible) followed, at last, by the euphoria of success. At the end of Braid, you don’t feel like you’ve simply completed its many puzzles. You feel like you’ve outsmarted them.
RELEASED August 2012 | LAST POSITION 10
Tom S: On the surface Dark Souls is merely an incredible action-RPG, famous for its difficulty and multiplayer that let players invade each other’s worlds. Dig deeper and you discover a masterpiece of interactive storytelling. Ruined statues, item descriptions and seemingly innocuous NPC lines are all fragments of a dark mythology that must be gradually assembled. Soon it becomes apparent that the soul-gathering systems you exploit to grow in power are a fundamental part of a story full of tragic dilemmas. The world is choking on its final breath, but is it better to embrace the dark or recklessly rekindle the flame?
RELEASED August 2013 | LAST POSITION 29
Tom S: This is an exceptional example of game design as an empathic tool, and a careful examination of the mechanics of corruption. As a border official in a fictional state, you’re required to enforce the increasingly draconian rules of your superiors while supporting your family on meagre earnings. It’s a game about politics, immigration, and an unresolvable friction between individual morality and systemic socio-economic pressure. As you stamp visitors’ passports, interrogate them and subject them to body scans, critical choices arise. It’s a harrowing and unforgettable piece of work.
RELEASED December 1999 | LAST POSITION 88
Chris T: Quake-style deathmatch is in the middle of a resurgence and there’s every reason to revisit the moment when it peaked. There’s something about landing a rocket kill in Quake III that no other shooter can match: a combination of ballistics, momentum and instinct. It’s almost cerebral, but then a rocket smashes into a spaceman who explodes into dozens of chunky pieces. Quake III is no longer the esport it once was, but it’s still tremendous fun to blast around in.
RELEASED May 2006 | LAST POSITION Re-entry
Tim: Blood Money was remarkable for its amazing crowd scenes, which arguably remain an unfulfilled promise in game design. The standout was stalking a dude in a giant crow suit through a packed Mardi Gras celebration, but even without the NPC overload gimmick Blood Money felt like a confident ‘best of’ for the series. Part of that was thanks to the evocative locations – abandoned amusement parks, white picket fence suburbia, even a visit from Santa – which made it a true American nightmare. Hopefully this year’s reboot can capture some of the same spirit. If you decide to return to Blood Money now, remember to stick around for the (interactive) ending – it’s an absolute doozy.
RELEASED February 2014 | LAST POSITION New entry
Samuel: The strongest entry of Capcom’s super-refined survival horror classic series, Resident Evil 4 is probably the best-paced action game ever made. The boss battles, ingenuity and variety of combat encounters and puzzles are marks of a game with no filler or dull moments – it’s now better on PC than anywhere else.
RELEASED December 2013 | LAST POSITION 12
Andy: A brutal online zombie survival game, but where other players are often more dangerous than the undead. If you’re not being eaten by zombies you’re starving to death, falling off stuff and breaking your legs, or being force-fed poison fruit by bandits. An amazing anecdote generator set in a vast, beautiful Eastern European landscape.
RELEASED March 2014 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tom M: A couch co-op brawler, Towerfall: Ascension is a fast-paced 2D archery game that embodies everything great about the local-multiplayer renaissance we are currently enjoying. We gave it the ‘Best Multiplayer Award’ in our 2014 game of the year awards, and it has since got even better with the release of its Dark World expansion.
RELEASED August 2009 | LAST POSITION New entry
Chris L: Never before had a superhero game truly made us feel like a superhero. Arkham Asylum changed that by combining Batman’s slippery stealth abilities with an exciting and dynamic combat system, not to mention gadgets galore, fantastic visuals, and an enjoyable story. PC gamers could finally and confidently state: “I’m Batman.”
RELEASED Nov 2007 | LAST POSITION New entry
Chris: There was a time when people were disappointed that BioWare was making a sci-fi shooter instead of another Star Wars game. Those people turned out to be wrong. Mass Effect suffers from dated combat and obtuse RPG systems, but it’s still my favourite game in the trilogy. Beautiful and brilliantly written, it tells a story that still holds together as a standalone piece. It has BioWare’s best ending sequence, too.
Tony: Mass Effect’s good idea was making you the captain in a ’90s sci-fi TV series, complete with a cool spaceship, a quirky crew and sexy aliens with lumpy heads. Its genius was its rich, adult characterisation, that had me rushing through missions so I could get back on the ship and continue that conversation.
Samuel: The original feels far removed from what its successors became. The Mako, contentious enough to be nixed in later outings, embodied a raw sense of exploration still unique to this first game.
RELEASED March 2015 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tony: This was an unashamed attempt to recreate the fondly remembered, low-tech RPGs of old, and it succeeds wonderfully. You’re not some lone, moody superman here, you’re part of a colourful, ragbag team of bickering friends, who go on exciting adventures by day and heal up at night in village inns with more floorspace than an Amazon warehouse.
Andy: More than just an homage to games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, Pillars is an RPG that feels both old-school and contemporary. The dense, well-written dialogue brings you deep inside its hard-edged fantasy world, while the smart, tactical combat makes every enemy encounter a delight. Multiple skills, powers, and spells are yours to combine in interesting ways, rewarding creativity.
RELEASED August 2012 | LAST POSITION 39
Chris T: Why has nobody ever aped Guild Wars 2’s business model? This is a massive, exciting fantasy MMO with no subscription fee, offering a huge amount of stuff to do for the price of the box alone. That’s not even the whole draw: the painterly environment design is, to my eyes, peerless, and the class system does more to break free of the healer-damage-tank trinity than other RPGs dare.
Phil: The amount of content at release easily justified that one-time asking price. ArenaNet then went on to offer one of the most generous update programs I’ve seen in an MMO. Over a period of more than two years, Guild Wars 2 was regularly updated with new story, new events and new zones. Things have slowed down since, but only because they’re about to release a significant expansion that represents a road-map for the next half-a-decade and more of the game’s continued life.
RELEASED June 1993 | LAST POSITION 45
Andy: Of all the wonderful adventure games released by LucasArts, this might be the funniest – and the most absurd. Starring a trio of time-travelling teenagers, it’s a comedy puzzler that takes you from colonial times to the far-flung future, and yet it’s all set around one shabby hotel. The puzzles are absurd to the point of farce, such as shrinking a jumper in a dryer for thousands of years to thaw out a frozen hamster, but that’s all part of the game’s weird charm. The surreal, Saturday-morning-cartoon art style, top-notch voice acting, and historical humour make Day of the Tentacle one of the highlights of Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer’s illustrious careers in adventure game design.
RELEASED September 2013 | LAST POSITION 41
Evan: Plenty of FPS games reproduce fragments of the formative backyard wars most of us waged as kids. But none paint the whole picture: loading your gear piece by piece into a backpack, piling into a vehicle with your buddies, rolling in the grass, screaming for a medic, barking abbreviated words with slightly exaggerated importance to each other over a radio. Arma’s ludicrous fidelity is all in service of this childlike experience of dramatised war. Give this game another year of mods, maps, and new official content (such as Tanoa, Bohemia’s new jungle island coming in 2016), and Arma 3 will have supplanted its predecessor.
RELEASED September 1997 | LAST POSITION 38
Chris T: Post-apocalyptic Fallout isn’t just notable for kicking off one of the most beloved RPG series of all time. It’s special because it allowed you to be an utter monster, expanding the bottom half of the moral spectrum to include ‘helping corrupt crime bosses take over entire towns’ and ‘arranging the death of everybody you know’.
RELEASED Nov 1998 | LAST POSITION Re-entry
Chris L: One of the best and most influential FPS games ever. Favouring scripted events over cutscenes and chapters over levels, Valve showed us shooters could provide more than just gunplay. The platforming feels a bit tiresome today, but it’s still an exciting experience with an inventive narrative that many have aped but few have matched.
RELEASED August 1999 | LAST POSITION 22
Chris T: This was the moment where the shooter and the RPG genres converged, scared the shit out of you, and convinced you that maybe it was OK to fancy an AI just a little bit. System Shock 2 is special for all of these reasons and many more, but not least for being a game both terrifying and substantially about inventory management.
RELEASED May 2015 | LAST POSITION New entry
Andy: Blending a mature, well-written story with a stunningly beautiful open world and some fantastic monster designs, The Witcher 3 is one of the best modern RPGs on PC. Lavish production values, likeable characters, and some genuinely brilliant quests (especially ‘Family Ties’) make this the best game in the series to date.
RELEASED March 2015 | LAST POSITION New entry
Chris L: 2013’s SimCity didn’t just leave fans disappointed and angry, it also left a huge city-building void just waiting to be filled. Cities: Skylines arrived not just at the perfect time but in the best possible way: despite a small development team, Colossal Order produced a fun, engaging, and extremely attractive city builder. Priced at half what most games go for and featuring a slick UI, easy to understand controls, charming visuals, and a surprisingly complex traffic simulation, Skylines instantly became both a critical hit and a hot seller. What’s more, it avoided EA’s missteps by providing a fully offline experience yet still allowing the game to become a communal treasure due to mod support.
Shaun: Cities: Skylines is my favourite kind of game because it’s heaps of fun not to play. Witnessing the mod scene, the bafflingly dystopian road networks and eerie social experiments has been as thrilling as actually playing the game. Colossal Order had a huge task resuscitating the city building genre, but they managed to do so in a way that makes it difficult to imagine Skylines ever being usurped – especially with post-launch support as good as this.
RELEASED October 2008 | LAST POSITION 28
Samuel: Rebooted Fallout is strongly about 3D world design – and there’s no comparison with the layout, detail and variety of the Capital Wasteland. I still think this is the best game Bethesda has made, with thoughtful sidequests and memorable characters. I’d take this over Skyrim every time.
Tyler: When I first stepped out of the vault, I was in awe of Fallout 3’s scope. It lacked some of the charm of Fallout and Fallout 2, and I understand its critics, but to me it makes up for all that in scale, freedom, and the ability to slip live grenades into people’s pockets.
RELEASED March 2013 | LAST POSITION 13
Samuel: Every 30 minutes there’s a skyline of gorgeously detailed floating buildings that makes me stop and say, “Jesus, humans created this!” Infinite feels to me like the last of a dying breed – the supposedly auteur-driven masterwork with an absolute ton of money behind it. I love so much of what’s here: the escalating oddness of the story, the strange dream-like atmosphere of the rich setting and the carefully lean interactions between Booker and Elizabeth. Burial at Sea, too, while clearly drunk on fan service, is a farewell to Levine’s BioShock that’s well worth indulging in.
RELEASED September 2010 | LAST POSITION 25
Tyler: The latest game (I don’t feel like including Beyond Earth) in the vital turn-based 4X series in which you direct a civilisation from early agriculture to the space race, winning through expansion, war, and diplomacy. I was tempted to put Civilization IV down, as I am every year, but with the expansions and the many, many mods on Steam Workshop, Civilization V is the best choice for newcomers to the series.
Tom M: It had a rocky launch and saw many fans return to Civ IV. But after many expansions and updates, it has become the polished pinnacle of the series.
RELEASED May 2003 | LAST POSITION 65
Andy: EVE Online is a space MMORPG and the best story generator on PC. Its completely player-generated tales of political intrigue, corporate espionage, and massive stellar wars have made the headlines of major news organisations like the BBC. There’s an understated, serene beauty to the game that sets it apart from its peers, and if MMORPGs are about living another life, then EVE Online is perhaps the purest expression of that concept on PC.
RELEASED October 2009 | LAST POSITION 66
Tom M: What started out as a clone of the Defence of the Ancients mod for Warcraft III has become the largest esport in the world. Played by millions worldwide – and watched by even more – League of Legends pushed competitive videogames into the public eye. LoL is pretty much the MOBA that made MOBAs cool, simplifying the most complex systems while still maintaining enough depth to foster an enormous competitive scene.
But its popularity didn’t reach this level immediately; it took League of Legends a year or two before it truly found its footing. Riot has given the game constant updates, revamping champions, graphics, and items on a regular basis, and it’s allowed League of Legends to grow bigger than any other game to date. For example, the Season 4 World Championship Finals filled an entire Olympic soccer stadium in Seoul, South Korea.
Through iteration, League of Legends has found its own style and voice, no longer trying to replicate the success of Defence of the Ancients. After five years, it still stands as a shining example of what a MOBA can be, holding up against countless competitors now trying to replicate it.
RELEASED April 2012 | LAST POSITION 20
Wes: Telltale blazed a new corpse-ridden trail in narrative gaming here, abandoning much of the puzzle solving and item collection of point-and-click adventures in favour of conversation and gut-wrenching choices. Strong writing and characters give those decisions real weight.
Tony: This is – brilliantly – a survival game where the character you most want to survive isn’t you. Eleven-year-old Clementine is totally dependent on you for her continued existence, and that knowledge freights every decision you make. In most games you play a jerk. In this one you play a dad, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
RELEASED March 2007 | LAST POSITION 70
Andy: It’s an appropriate name, because Stalker’s wasteland is always in the shadow of the blown-out Chernobyl reactor. It’s where your trek through The Zone inevitably leads, and the journey is eerie and desolate. Whether it’s monsters, radioactive anomalies, or bandits, there’s always something terrible to worry about.
Evan: And so few of those threats are named, explained, or formally introduced before you bump up against them. Stalker trusts you to fumble your way through its nuked zoo without a brochure. I also love the weapon handling, an unusual split between simulation and arcade.
RELEASED August 2011 | LAST POSITION 17
Tim: It’s hard to think of many series that survived a new developer coming in and creating a sequel. Fallout: New Vegas and Max Payne 3, maybe, but the high watermark for cuckoo development is DX: Human Revolution. Here’s a game that captured the spirit of the original, while updating the systems for modern tastes and managing to tell its own interesting story. A feat so impressive that I could even forgive those parlous boss battles.
Samuel: Its extraordinary black and gold environments, gruff-yet-compelling lead and up-to-date combat make this the DX game I’d recommend above all others in 2015.
RELEASED November 2004 | LAST POSITION 34
Andy: Although it’s showing its age, World of Warcraft is responsible for the online RPG as we know it today. It’s a game that broke away from the confines of PC gaming and became a worldwide phenomenon. Celebrities on talk shows revealed that they played it. South Park did an episode on it. And now they’re doing a film, directed by Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code). With World of Warcraft, Blizzard defined the language of the MMORPG.
RELEASED September 2000 | LAST POSITION 24
Phil: Thanks to Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin, the legacy of the Infinity Engine is more apparent than ever. Baldur’s Gate II was the best of the classic RPGs – a perfect blend of well-written characters, tactical combat, and a world of intrigue and surprise. My favourite part of any RPG is exploring its towns and cities. In the original Baldur’s Gate that meant hours of humouring local yokels during a gruelling trek towards the titular city. Baldur’s Gate II is much more generous. Amn is huge; simultaneously beautiful and seedy. You’re free to explore it from the first chapter, and encouraged to revel in its amazing variety.
RELEASED July 2010 | LAST POSITION Re-entry
Tom S: The most polished and refined example of the RTS format invented by Dune 2, StarCraft II boasts a surprisingly excellent campaign bolstered by inventive unit progression and well-paced missions. StarCraft II’s esports profile might be waning these days, but that doesn’t affect the quality of its beautifully balanced competitive modes.
RELEASED June, 2014 | LAST POSITION New entry
Wes: Larian thoughtfully updated the classic cRPG with a turn-based combat system that’s intimidating in its open-endedness. That applies to questing, too: you have the freedom to slaughter every NPC you meet. The modern touches of a physics system (try trapping bosses with chairs!) and campaign co-op make for a must-play RPG.
RELEASED September 2012 | LAST POSITION 11
Samuel: Every time I boot up FTL I think that this is the time I’ll find I’ve finally seen everything. This is the time that I’ll be bored of the variables, and discover I’ve mastered the combat. But that’s never been the case with this tight space strategy game, which has such a perfect balance of personalisation, light narrative and reactive tactics.
RELEASED November 2009 | LAST POSITION 15
Chris T: BioWare’s throwback to classic RPGs was a dazzling success. The series has had its ups and downs since then, but Dragon Age: Origins remains a cracking combat system tied to a powerful (and very long) story with characters that will stick with you for a long time to come. Unless you get them all killed, of course. Then they’re dead.
RELEASED March 2014 | LAST POSITION 44
Tim: Despite the endless grousing about RNG, ‘pay to win’, and card balance (or lack thereof), the success of Blizzard’s spin on wizard poker shows no sign of slowing. Since last this list was compiled, the game has cemented its status as a budding esport, while at the same time hoovering up new users thanks to the phone version. One of the reasons it has caught fire on Twitch – regularly placing in the top three most-watched – is that the slow pace lends itself to casters discussing the players’ decisions. Viewers have time to consider what they would do, and the satisfaction of seeing how other lines play out. A bigger reason for the success, though, is that Blizzard’s Team 5 seems to have kept up a most un-Blizzard-like pace with the expansions, with new cards refreshing the meta just before it gets damagingly stale. With that in mind, don’t be surprised if this climbs even higher next year.
RELEASED August 2013 | LAST POSITION 43
Wes: Spelunky is a game you can play forever. Not just because it’s a roguelike platformer, meaning every death sets you back to square one. Or because its levels are randomly generated and infinitely varied. Or because it’s packed with secrets and challenges a diehard community has been discovering and tackling for years. Spelunky’s greatness lies in how all its systems intricately and thoughtfully interact in predictable (yet somehow still surprising) ways. Everything affects everything else, from AI enemies to traps to the physics applied to your friend’s careening body after death. You can spend years mastering its platforming and still delight in moments of never-before-seen random interaction.
RELEASED December 1993 | LAST POSITION 27
Chris L: There are plenty of classics to remember fondly, but few that you’d actually want to play today. Doom, id Software’s seminal first-person shooter, is still great: fast, frenetic, and fun. It also marked the first time I ever shot a friend over a phone line. It was during co-op. It was an accident.
Andy: What can you say about Doom that isn’t already blindingly obvious? It’s a genuinely iconic PC game, which still has a loyal and passionate following today – from people who still enjoy its multiplayer to a thriving mod scene. Its format is perfectly simple: reach the end of the level, killing every demon in your path. But thanks to some fiendishly clever old-school level design and kinetic pacing, Doom is much more than the sum of its parts. Think of first-person shooters and you automatically think of Doom, such is its legacy. Even today, being knee-deep in the dead is still a thrill.
RELEASED June 2009 | LAST POSITION 48
Chris T: Arma 2’s dedication to a realistic depiction of military life is its greatest strength and the reason it can be quite off-putting at first – my enduring memory of it is the whistle-thunk sound that precedes being shot from three miles away. Put in the hours, however, and it becomes something very special. It inspired a multiplayer community whose dedication to military protocol verges on historical re-enactment, and its sandbox approach to war formed the basis of many incredible mods. I still mostly get shot from miles away, mind.
Evan: Other than the next entry on this list, no other PC game embodies ‘game as platform’ as much as Arma 2.
RELEASED May 2009 | LAST POSITION 18
Tom M: Minecraft is a game that gives you an endless amount of choice. Want to fight monsters? Sure thing. Want to explore an endless world? Go ahead. Want to stay put and build huge structures? That’s fine too. You are dropped in a procedurally generated landscape, told to punch trees, and the rest is completely up to you.
Shaun: I’ll be the first to admit that I never expected it to transcend niche cult status. Then, suddenly, my ten-year-old nephew was playing it and so were all his friends. I think it’s partially responsible for the PC renaissance, but its influence won’t truly be measurable until all these kids reared on it grow up.
RELEASED August 2012 | LAST POSITION 14
Evan: In a couple of years, Valve has taken what was originally meant as a way of repackaging CS for last-gen consoles and transformed it into the premier modern competitive FPS on any platform. Integrated skill-based matchmaking (and, let’s be honest, thousand-dollar knives) has reinvigorated the CS scene.
RELEASED October 2014 | LAST POSITION New entry
Andy: It took a while, but in 2014 we finally got the Alien game we always dreamed of. The one where we’re cowering, terrified prey. Inspired by Ridley Scott’s subtle, masterful original film, rather than James Cameron’s action-packed sequel, The Creative Assembly created one of the most terrifying horror games on PC, with an inspired retro-futuristic art style.
RELEASED July 2013 | LAST POSITION 16
Chris T: Valve’s lane-pushing masterpiece brings out the best and the worst in its players. This is dazzlingly complex competitive team strategy acting as a stage for human drama. It’s a big-money professional sport, a hobby, and a way of life. Soon, with the addition of custom games, it’ll become a game development platform too.
RELEASED April 2015 | LAST POSITION 90
Phil: KSP is deceptive. It’s a game about building rockets, and using them to send bumbling green aliens into space. Yet behind this quirky charm lurks a powerful and realistic physics and space engineering simulator. Kerbal Space Program challenges you to learn actual rocket science – if only to keep those guys alive just a little longer.
RELEASED December 1999 | LAST POSITION 35
Tony: Imagine a fantasy RPG set not in another formulaic medieval Bavaria, but a world where grotesque metal buildings bake under an alien sun, and the tavern regulars include demons and wanderers from every plane in the AD&D Monster Manual. Now imagine that when you respawn, the world doesn’t. That your previous actions and bad choices have left a trail of corpses and devastated former companions behind you. Now imagine that you’ve been doing that for a very long time. Congratulations. You’re in Torment.
Andy: I’ve never been taken anywhere by a videogame that’s quite as weird, fascinating, or surreal as Torment’s world. It’s built on the foundations of the Infinity engine, with a similar interface and feel to games such as Baldur’s Gate, but it couldn’t be more different. It’s famous for its walls of vivid, evocative text, and rightly so. It’s a game brimming with amazing writing, painting its bizarre world in rich, minute detail. I also like how in almost every case, it’s possible to avoid conflict through dialogue or other means. Planescape: Torment is one of the smartest, darkest RPGs ever made, and there’s been nothing else like it on PC, or any format, since.
RELEASED October 2012 | LAST POSITION 6
Evan: Three years later, I’m realising how crucial Enemy Unknown’s art is to its appeal. It is soft and serious, a Saturday morning cartoon hurled against its will into an alien invasion. It’s toylike and gritty – your operatives stand stoic in the barracks, unsmiling, as you dress them up in bright red armour and slap a mohawk on them. Record stores, gas stations, and abandoned bars are perfect dioramas: it’s inherently fun to blast and break familiar spaces with combat.
Samuel: As good as turn-based strategy gets (until XCOM 2 comes out), this is empowering and great fun.
RELEASED April 2011 | LAST POSITION 19
Tyler: It’s not as compact and essential as Portal, but it’s an excellent companion and a much grander realisation of its humour and brilliant puzzle design. The gels are a great addition, but leaping through portals, making trick shots and dunking your own body, is still the star.
Tom S: Portal 2’s co-op mode understands players so well. There are puzzles clearly designed to let your partner screw you over with the press of a button, but you can hug and make up with co-op emotes afterwards. GLaDOS’s attempts to turn you against one another play into the little soap opera perfectly.
RELEASED February 2012 | LAST POSITION 37
Phil: You’re a feudal lord, or maybe even a king. Congratulations, you are now consigned to a life beset by plotting, backstabbing and assassination. Your only defence? Plot, backstab and assassinate right back. Get past the dry delivery and you’ll find a gripping strategy about the twisted relationships of powerful people.
Chris L: What I love is how personal the game becomes, rare for a grand strategy game. Instead of a faceless leader, you’re a person, an individual, and your life is tangled up with friends, enemies, and family. It makes the smallest struggles feel just as important as the largest.
RELEASED March 2012 | LAST POSITION 8
Chris T: However you feel about the controversy that followed the ending, Mass Effect 3 today is a love letter to fans. It’s a game about endings, about seeing characters you’ve spent dozens of hours with get their moment in the spotlight. Coupled with its DLC, it’s a staggering achievement in interactive cinematic storytelling. Also the multiplayer is very good. Nobody expected it to be, but somehow, it is. You can play as a tubby little Volus. Incredible.
RELEASED March 2000 | LAST POSITION 31
Chris T: I’ll always value Thief for the sense it gives you that you’re breaking into real, lived-in places – not game levels. This is what has always made the series special. Garrett is a reluctant hero: most of the time, your objective is to simply get into someone else’s building, steal their stuff, and get out without being spotted. This is a lot simpler than Deus Ex, No One Lives Forever or Dishonored, but somehow more compelling – and the sense of vulnerability you feel when you know you’re about to be caught is unparalleled. Thief II’s approach to combat is bleakly realistic: if you choose to stand and fight an armed guard in this game, he will kill you.
RELEASED October 2010 | LAST POSITION 59
Samuel: Last year I tried to break Fallout: New Vegas by declaring war on everyone. I shot my way out of Mr House’s casino and I insulted Caesar to his face and killed most of his mates. Even so, the main story of this strong successor to both Fallout 3 and the original Black Isle games still offered ways to continue the story. On that level, New Vegas offers a more interesting main quest than Fallout 3 with greater scope for player expression. The world, too, showed us a seedier side of the post-apocalypse.
RELEASED October 2007 | LAST POSITION 9
Tom M: “Now you’re thinking with portals,” isn’t just a cute line from a trailer; it’s a genuine accomplishment. The original Portal essentially asked you to rewire your brain and change how you think about moving through 3D space.
Chris L: To my mind, the perfect game. Hilarious writing, challenges that escalate at just the right pace, and a boss fight that lets you put everything you’ve learned to use. Its short running time definitely left players wanting more, but also meant it never had the chance to grow stale.
RELEASED June 2000 | LAST POSITION 4
Tony: Deus Ex is all about freedom of action, and none of the sequels made me feel as free as the original. Its maps were huge, with none of the constraining stealth-loading and subdivision we’re lumbered with today. You could walk all around the Statue of Liberty before choosing your own way in. And that freedom – Liberty, if you will – to find your own way through a problem was part of the aesthetic at every level.
Phil: Deus Ex is an ugly game with poor combat, laughable voice acting and appalling AI. And yet, despite those incontrovertible facts, it’s once again near the top of this list. That’s how good it is. It’s 2015 now – we have amazing graphics and giant, complex open worlds – and Deus Ex is still one of the best games of all time. It will remain so until someone can genuinely improve on its wonderfully intricate level design.
RELEASED April 2015 | LAST POSITION New entry
Tony: It’s the best open world bar none. Incredibly detailed when you get up close, incredibly varied when you pull back. Mountains! Windfarms! Vineyards! Lumber mills! Half the time, it’s enough simply to drive around this incredible world-in-a-bottle and stare. When I do feel like tackling a mission, the freedom to at least choose which Hauser movie-stereotype I play goes a long way to fixing the one-note characterisation that dogged the previous games.
Samuel: There is no greater pleasure to be had in videogames than quickly stealing a military jet from Fort Zancudo and evading all the anti-aircraft missiles on the way out. A generous masterpiece from Rockstar, GTA V looks stupidly beautiful on PC.
RELEASED October 2012 | LAST POSITION 32
Chris T: The do-it-your-own way stealth FPS is a genre close to my heart and important to PC gaming as a whole, and the first half of Dishonored is one of the best examples of the form ever made. Each of these assassination missions is a network of social interactions, security protocols and inventive architecture that amount to a delicate machine. Your job is to break that machine using versatile gadgets and magic powers, and doing so conveys a powerful sense of creativity and control. You really do own your ideas in Dishonored, and although the morality system is a little underbaked, the feeling that you did it ‘your way’ remains. Years after the game’s release, the very best players are still finding new ways to kill people in it.
Chris L: The quality of Dishonored’s level design really becomes apparent on subsequent playthroughs. No matter what combination of powers you’re using, and how you choose to tackle each target, each level still feels custom tailored just for your style.
Samuel: Samuel can be such a dick. I killed him, because Dishonored gave me that freedom. It’s exactly what a modern immersive sim should be, although I agree with Chris T about the morality system.
Lady Boyle’s Last Party is everything that Dishonored is good at in one level: confident art direction, stories within stories and multi-layered level design that necessitates several playthroughs. One thing in particular the game gets right over some other immersive sims is that it makes every form of interaction feel fun, whether you choose to play in a stealthy way or more aggressively. While the morality system offers narrative consequences to your actions, there’s no fun-penalty if I decide to shoot a guy in the head. And I like doing that as a player. Never being caught might be the default win state, but it’s still great to put a sword through a guy. And if you do lean more towards ‘ghosting’ a level, enemies who turn to dust when you slit their throats, crossbow darts and spring razors all make your hard work worthwhile.
Tony: Dishonored has all Thief’s transgressive thrill of sneaking around someone else’s mansion, learning its little secrets, but it delivers a whole lot more besides. Because here you are powerful. Scary. If you’re caught by a guard, it’s bad news for the guard, not for you. Mainly because he’s dying screaming as he’s devoured alive by magic rats.
RELEASED November 2011 | LAST POSITION 2
Tyler: Skyrim is a playground. I never really cared for the story, and maybe it’s not the best Elder Scrolls on its own, but it is a massive, moddable fantasy world in which I can embrace vampirism, stick buckets on shopkeepers heads, and fight dragons. That’s irresistible to me, and modders have done a huge amount of work adding items, cities, dungeons, and islands, earning Skyrim a position near the pinnacle of Steam’s top concurrent player list for four years.
Chris T: I spent hundreds of hours completely lost in the world Bethesda built, forbidding myself from installing mods so that I could see the campaign through ‘properly’. Then I retired that particular Dragonborn and lost another few hundred hours to breaking the game with mods in exciting and complicated ways. A peerless sandbox.
Tim: I spent maybe an actual month crafting an axe that could one-shot any creature in the game. After that I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was the best of times.
Phil: Skyrim is a brilliant adventure toolbox. Bethesda’s systems-based design lets you do as much or as little as you want. Maybe you’ll take residence in a town, and never leave that town, and murder everybody in that town. Or maybe you’ll visit every corner of the map and become the head of every major institution in the land – even the evil ones.
Tony: Endless adventures are hidden away in this game, like hoards of buried gold. Also there are actual hoards of gold.
RELEASED October 2007 | LAST POSITION 7
Tom M: This is a game with incredible staying power, which has received hundreds of patches over the years. Team Fortress 2’s lasting appeal comes from the well-balanced counterplay that exists between its nine classes, who Valve has given funny and lovable personalities to through events outside the game.
Chris T: I can’t get over how brilliant the comics are. The game itself is one of the best knockabout shooters ever made: you’d never see it in a professional tournament, but it’s a reliable source of gun-centric silliness. Its lasting popularity is a lesson to other first-person shooter developers: make it fun, make it free, something something hats.
Chris L: The cartoony art style was a brilliant idea: the game will never look outdated. And, embracing community contributions means there’s always new items to gawk at. This game’s got legs. Hats, and legs.
Phil: It’s not just hats and legs. It’s got faces too: wonderfully expressive faces that imbue each character with a distinct personality. I have no idea what a Battlefield medic thinks about the horrors of war, but I know exactly what TF2’s Medic thinks about the fact you’re not on that point, dummkopf.
Evan: Like you’re all saying, what separates Team Fortress 2 is the way lore is worked into absolutely every scrap of it. What other game has made the announcement of a Mac port into a bespoke event with its own comic, trailer, and in-game item (that became its own currency within TF2’s market)?
RELEASED August 2007 | LAST POSITION 5
Wes: BioShock’s impeccable writing and immensely detailed world-building are so good that its combat tends to be unfairly maligned in comparison. Sure, the weapon feedback isn’t up there with the best shooters, and Vita Chambers can rob combat of some valuable tension. But I still delighted in exploring the environment, picking out the perfect place for an ambush, and unloading on a Big Daddy the moment it walked into my bolt traps. I loved the frantic dance of juggling between armour-piercing pistol rounds and explosive shotgun shells, and how BioShock’s other systems came into play: hacking turrets and sentry bots, and luring splicers and Big Daddies into fighting each other. The freedom to approach combat however I wanted cemented just how alive the world of Rapture felt.
Chris T: BioShock was such a huge success, and so massively influential, that it’s hard to imagine it represented a risk at the time. It really did, however: 2K took a gamble on a cerebral horror-shooter that didn’t look like any other game out there and tried to do more with the FPS than any other game would dare. From its peerless environmental storytelling to its most famous twist, it’s still the best game in the series. There’s a reason Irrational was so keen to return to Rapture: it was in Andrew Ryan’s undersea nightmare that the team made their strongest statement. This is a world in the process of collapse, a dream gone wrong, a slice of history, ideology and horror waiting to be peeled apart.
RELEASED January 2010 | LAST POSITION 1
Tim: The Godfather Part 2 or Empire Strikes Back of the series, in the sense that the characters felt more vivid and the darkness threatening them that much deeper. The third game ultimately wound up with too much resolution to work through, whereas ME2 still felt pregnant with so much possibility. And mysteries are, or course, always more exciting than their resolutions.
Chris L: Typically I’m the guy who impatiently speeds through the talky parts of games to get back to the action. Here, the opposite is true. I’ve never, ever enjoyed just talking to characters as much as I do in this series, particularly in ME2. Only when I’ve squeezed every last possible word out of everyone do I finally pick up a gun, and when the battle is over I’m excitedly running back through the ship, hungry for more chit-chat. The characters and dialogue are simply unmatched.
Chris T: It’s been five and a half years and I’m still angry that they made me go and work for Cerberus.
Samuel: This had the Mass Effect plot I wanted: the moral ambiguity, the characters who weren’t necessarily allies and – sorry, I’m boring – my Shepard’s ultimate love interest, Miranda. The shooting was much improved, and all the individual character sidequests are outstanding. BioWare ensures that you’re given a reason to care about all of these people by delving into each of their backgrounds – even Jacob, so often written off as the boring guy on the Normandy, has a difficult relationship with his father that tells you a lot about that character’s motivation. The crew is BioWare’s best: new members like Thane, Legion, Samara and Kasumi join the most-liked from the previous game, such as Garrus and Tali. I think what keeps Mass Effect 2 high in this list is that most of us consider it the tightest RPG BioWare has ever made – it doesn’t have the divisive, more traditional type of combat the first game had, and the story is thrilling throughout, with nothing that proved as contentious as Mass Effect 3’s finale. It’s the perfect BioWare game.
RELEASED November 2004 | LAST POSITION 3
Chris L: Expectations for the sequel to Half-Life were high, perhaps even impossibly high, but Valve somehow managed to exceed them. Gordon Freeman returns to find a world destroyed by the events of the first game, and Half-Life 2 sticks with the same excellent environmental storytelling and scripted sequences that made the original so engrossing and immersive. There’s a great blend of combat, vehicle-based action sequences, horror, and of course the game-changing gravity gun that can be used as a weapon, a tool for puzzle-solving, or just for playing catch with a huge, friendly robot.
Chris T: It’s very rare that a modern shooter comes close to matching Half-Life 2’s sense of pace or variety. This is a masterfully-constructed singleplayer campaign that effortlessly moves between moods and modes of engagement, where every part of the experience – from your weapons to your allies to your environment – counts. Over a decade later, I can’t think of a singleplayer FPS that has bettered it in terms of all-round excellence. That, I think, is the real reason the lack of a sequel is such a tragedy: as much as I want to see how Gordon Freeman’s story ends, what I really want is for somebody – anybody – to make a game that is better than this.
Phil: One minute you’re being hunted through the streets and waterways of a dystopian city. Another, you’re using physics to survive a zombie-infested nightmare town. Half-Life 2 is a road trip, a sci-fi adventure, a rebel uprising, and much more besides. It’s a decade old, and yet it’s still impossible to find a singleplayer FPS – even a singleplayer game – that is this effortlessly varied and confidentially brilliant. It’s a hell of a thing to have to follow up, which is probably why, over ten years later, Valve still hasn’t.
That variety extends beyond the game itself to a mod scene that has benefitted from the Source engine’s flexibility. Mods like Dear Esther and The Stanley Parable grew from weird experiments into full, commercial products. Half-Life 2 was the genesis of Valve’s role as an enabler of community-based development. Its existence has made PC gaming richer and more surprising.
Samuel: Half-Life 2’s appeal to me, too, is its variety – it tackles every variant on the first-person shooter set-piece and sets the standard every time. Ridiculously tight.
Tom S: Games are still catching up with Half-Life 2. It doesn’t need to scrawl tutorial hints on the walls. It doesn’t give you objective markers. It doesn’t give you a button prompt to remind you to watch a scripted event you might not be looking at. It uses lighting, level geometry and psychological tricks to guide you without you even noticing. Valve knows what you’re most likely to do in a given room with a given tool, and uses this to gradually introduce the Antlion bugbait, the sawblades of Ravenholm and of course the gravity gun – still one of the greatest toys in FPS history.
Andy: I played this recently, and doing a no-guns run of Ravenholm was the most fun I’ve had in an FPS for ages. It’s the perfect showcase for the gravity gun. You’re madly scouring the environment for things to pluck out and ping at pursuing headcrab zombies. I’d play a whole game of it, in fact, but the great thing about Half-Life 2 is that it’s always giving you something new to do. Valve’s subtle use of lighting and smart level design to guide you to the end of the map is still impressive, and I’m not sure why more developers don’t copy their tricks.
There are some lows, like ‘Route Kanal’, which I always dread whenever I replay it, but the highs are some of the highest on PC. I love when the gravity gun becomes temporarily super-powered and Freeman runs wild in the Citadel. A cathartic moment, especially when Breen is trying to taunt you through his many monitors and you yank them off the wall and throw them down a pit. Very few games have Half-Life 2’s remarkable staying power.
Tony: Open-world games are more popular now than they’ve ever been, yet here at the PCG top spot is a game that is brilliant precisely because it is linear. From its intense battles to its oddly lonely buggy rides, it’s perfectly paced. Half-Life 2 is what happens when a bunch of extremely talented people sit down and say “how can we tell one story, really well?”