The Very Important List Of PC Games, Part 4/5

By Alec Meer on February 17th, 2011 at 12:12 pm.

I don't look like this. Yet.

Young people. Good grief. Your ignorance is as plain as those spots on your greasy face. Don’t you know anything? Can’t you be bothered to learn anything? Did you even read the words of esteemed colleagues Rossignol, Walker and Smith detailing the first three parts of this Olympian list of The Most Important PC Games Of All Time? I am quite sure that I, Deacon Meer, am wasting my time attempting to impart my own wisdom on this matter to your feckless minds, as is Intel’s AppUp developer program for having the consideration and grace to so thoughtfully sponsor this series. You’re probably all too busy fiddling with your genitals and snorting heroin at one of those ‘rave parties’ I hear young people go to every night. I shall say my piece regardless.

These, you snivelling little godless wretches, are a selection of the PC’s finest hours. Put down whatever bestial pornography you’re staring at on your portable telephone device and pay attention. You sicken me. You probably won’t even bother reading the phrase “Part 4/5″ at the top and thus will have an ignorant whine that your favourite game or genre does not appear. I shall take this as an open admittance of your stupidity, and recommend to your parents that you are immediately taken out of internetschool and kept locked in an airing cupboard for the good of society.

PLEASE NOTE: these games are ordered according to a cryptic logic code based on Aztec sun prophecies that you are far too backwards to possibly decipher.

Aliens versus Predator (original)
RELEASE DATE: 1999
IMPORTANCENESS: Clamped forever to our faces

Games based on populist movie licenses aren’t all mindless thumpathons with dreadful level design and ludicrous bossfights, you know. If someone actually bothers to fully examine the nature and behaviours of the characters in their license, they can achieve magical things. AvP was not just another game about killing monsters in the dark: it was a game about being inside the skulls of iconic movie monsters, and fleshing out those beasts far more than any movie ever did. Three playable perspectives – alien, predator, human marine – and all so distinct, and each’s motivations rendered sympathetic despite encountering them all as enemies from the other perspectives. To boot, AvP made much more of the first-person perspective than most of its gun-crazed genre-mates ever did. While the telltale targeting reticule was ever-present, this is a game about survival and observation, a claustrophobic odyssey of fear and strange abilities. Add to this multiplayer modes that deftly realised the fantasy of the titular What If? and have you a smart, far-reaching reinvention of first-person shooters. It’s one that puts the lie to the oft-made claim that only Half-Life saved the genre from stifling cynicism and machismo in the twilight years of the 20th century.

Audiosurf
RELEASE DATE: 2008
IMPORTANCENESS: Can hear it in our dreams

I’ve said this before and it provoked great outrage from readers and colleagues alike – so I shall say it again. If you don’t enjoy Audiosurf, I truly believe you do not fully understand the importance of music. Criticism of Audiosurf’s puzzle and point-scoring mechanics – slight, strange thing that they are – is to completely misunderstand its purpose and achievement. It identifies the tiny, beautiful crossover point between games and music – that microgalaxy of emotion and imagination, of colours and sound, where we lose ourselves in a euphoric place that doesn’t exist outside of our minds. Neither arch nor overcomplicated, it is simply about interpreting music as something visual, and the fizzing pan-sensory consequences of this. The constant dance of the player’s ship from left to right is all that’s necessary to turn the game from sensory observation to real engagement, and that wonderful sense that the song is all around you. True, there is plenty of music that simply doesn’t work, with many ‘courses’ feeling awkward and even irritating, but when it does – wow. The rush of colour, the curve of a track at a crescendo, the sharp downward plummet as a finale looms, the joyful bobbing of an itchy beat… And the rush of sheer pride when you beat your own, or better yet a friend’s, high score on a beloved song. It is, after all, your song. No-one else should own it.

Blade Runner
RELEASE DATE: 1997
IMPORTANCENESS: It did things you people wouldn’t believe

The adventure game is not dead. Far from it: I find it to be vampiric in its deathlessness, forever feeding on its past, never growing old, never growing wise. Others will argue that point and present fine evidence to the contrary, but when I think of Blade Runner I become furious. That was what was supposed to happen. A few annoying pixel-hunt puzzles aside, Blade Runner was this genre growing up, moving to new places, finding evolving purpose and relevance. Why was it so alone? Why were we so much more distracted by traditional adventure games going 3D or having more grown-up stories? Blade Runner, for God’s sakes, introduced choice and dilemma, change and chaos theory, action and detective work into a staid setup. This could have been the branching point to another age. It is so completely, absolutely different from anything else in its venerable genre, throwing down a forward-looking gauntlet that no-one’s picked up some 14 years later. Maybe it happened too late, maybe it was too clever for its own good, or maybe the appetite just wasn’t there as shooters rose and rose. Perhaps that’s for the best. Blade Runner remains singular, a lone tear in the rain of so many lesser, cowardly games.

Bioshock
RELEASE DATE: 2008
IMPORTANCENESS: Beyond that of the sea

Uh-oh. If there’s a poison chalice in this list, it’s Irrational’s spiritual sequel to System Shock 2. Of course, if it had never been described as a spiritual sequel to System Shock 2 there never would have been a problem. But this is a list of importance, not a list of perfection – and while we can all agree Bioshock was a less mechanically ambitious game than its remarkable predecessor, had it not happened, and had it not been a commercial success, the action gaming landscape today might look very different. Do you want endless pseudo-military shooters, whose greatest use of the brain is a cover system? Or do you want something that creates a tantalising new fiction and aesthetic from the ground up? Rapture is one of the most remarkable gaming worlds ever created, creating instantly iconic figures that stood out a mile and posed a glut of fascinating questions in an age otherwise dominated by same-faced growly soldiermen. Though unfortunately mis-hyped as offering far more roleplaying and decision-making than it ultimately did, its real achievement was to calmly state that action games did not have to be merely glossily violent games. Art and thoughtfulness stood proudly equal to the action – and perhaps even surpassed it. Dwell not on the missteps that so troubled us at the time of release; dwell on how well it proved that even the most mainstream of shooters can be so much more than weapon-obsessed power fantasies.

Colonization (original)
RELEASE DATE: 1994
IMPORTANCENESS: Imperial

A sequel that looked inwards rather than outwards. This is, to this day, so unbelievably rare. Civ follow-up Colonization, focusing slowly on one continent during the period 1492 to 1850, didn’t seek to be bigger – it sought to look closer. The history of the world is all well and good, but it does not truly put you in the mind or shoes of a nation and its ruler. Colonization does: the greed and pride of burgeoning national identity, the slow, painstaking steps necessary to achieve survival, subsistence and eventually economic success, and the complex and violent consequences of that latter. It concerns the struggle to even be a nation, not the struggle to be the biggest nation, and that strikes a profound difference from its conquest-hungry peers. Sure, it side-stepped the more unsavoury elements of America’s birth, but it achieves the remarkable feat of telling, essentially, a hero’s journey within a strategy context, without silly cutscenes or achingly earnest exposition. Most of all, it’s a lesson that if you’d just dig a little deeper where you stand, you don’t need to move anywhere else.

Command & Conquer (series)
RELEASE DATE: 1995 and beyond
IMPORTANCENESS: Tiberionic

While largely we have looked to specific installments rather than series in this list, C&C is a rare exception: it is its near-constant presence throughout the history of PC gaming that creates its importance, not so much the particular achievements of particular iterations. C&C, for at least the first two-thirds of its lifespan, has defined strategy gaming. While nominally an evolution of systems created in Dune 2, it has always been about pursuing the extremes. Although that old core chestnut – drag a box to command, click on a power station to conquer – has never quite gone away, at the same time C&C has never taken the easy route. Madly switching from apocalyptic sci-fi to grim alterna-history to pantomime soap opera to open comedy to shockingly exploitative modern conflict to all-out gloss and, sadly, to a well-intentioned but cramped and misjudged finale, it has changed and striven far more than it’s often given credit for. In recent times it has ceded its position as strategy flag-bearer, but none of the other RTS games in this list would possibly exist without it – and that includes those that strove to not be like it as much as it does those that so shamelessly copied it. A years-long inspiration like no other, for both good and ill.

Darwinia
RELEASE DATE: 2005
IMPORTANCENESS: Artificially high

A milestone moment in indie gaming – the first time I can remember that there was same level of anticipation and excitement as there was for a publisher-funded game. While much of that was admittedly within jaded journalist circles rather than the outside world, there was nonetheless something incredibly striking about those screenshots. It looked bold and weird, lavish and beautiful: a world away from the spiky visual crudity we at that time expected from the then tiny field of indie gaming. It also bucked the trend of selling games based on high-tech graphics, instead employing an immediately memorable art style instead. We get a lot of that now. We didn’t then, and I’m quite sure it contributed highly to the current indie wonderland we live in. Of course, Darwinia was a distinctive action-strategy game in its own right, throwing out direct control in favour of herding pixels and employing directional surges rather than targeted strikes.

Deus Ex
RELEASE DATE: 2000
IMPORTANCENESS: C’mon, it’s Deus Ex

I feel deeply anxious whenever I have to write anything about Deus Ex. It’s that important. There is a reason it’s the first game on so many PC gamers’ lips. While today it may offer a hilariously cartwheeling narrative, hideous voice-acting and far too much ‘We’ve seen the Matrix 20 times!’ it still carries that unmistakable air of wanting videogames to be so much more than they’d been before. It’s a protest, a call to arms, an uprising against what games were in danger of becoming. A world that explores you as you explore it, the constant choice of how to behave and how to fight and the still-rare sense of wanting to educate you while taking your own intelligence entirely seriously. That, and reminding men that it really is not cool to walk into the women’s toilets.

Diablo II
RELEASE DATE: 2000
IMPORTANCENESS: Hellishy so

HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT DING HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT DING HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT DING HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT DING HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT DING HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT DING HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT HIT SPLAT LOOT DING. If you don’t understand the sheer entertainment of this salt-moreish formula, I don’t understand you. Many have tried and failed to sieze Diablo II’s title as king of the hack’n’slash tribe (Torchlight is probably the most successful) but no other has truly nailed its magic mix of idiocy, perseverance, grit and pride.

Dune 2
RELEASE DATE: 1992
IMPORTANCENESS: Controls the universe

Our great-grandfather who art in strategy heaven, Dune II be thy name. Thy House come, thy will be done, on Earth as it was on Arrakis.
Give us this day our daily spice, and forgive us our harvesting, as we forgive those who harvest against us.
And lead us not into sandworms’ mouths, but deliver to us Fremen.
For he who controls the spice controls the universe, for ever and ever, Westwood.

Dungeon Keeper
RELEASE DATE: 1997
IMPORTANCENESS: Anti-heroic

Another one of those what if/genre truncation moments. Dungeon Keeper should have been the launching board for the calcifying management genre to explore new territory, but outside of the incredible Startopia and the underwhelming Evil Genius, that ambition apparently curled up and died when Bullfrog did. Perhaps there’s another chance for the business-building concept to reach for the skies, as the current glut of FarmVille clones surely has to give way to more ambition at some point. Dungeon Keeper though: probably my most-played game on this list. This has relatively little to do with the concept of being the bad guy, which was forever pantomime at best, and a whole lot to do with an easy blend of construction and destruction. You admire what you’ve built, and you feel compelled to defend it. It just works, to coin a phrase. Of course, also key was the rarely-explored idea of imbuing the unseen strategy/management overseer with real vestiges of character. That the cursor is a taloned hand that, with a click, can cruelly slap a passing minion and be rewarded with fear or rage, achieves more scene-setting and personality than 1000 cutscenes every could.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
RELEASED: 2002
IMPORTANCENESS: It’s the last of a lost race, baby

When I worked out which games I was going to write about it, there was at least half a dozen I worried about what I could say, how I could possibly summarise their importance. Turns out, they weren’t a problem. Morrowind, a game I’ve written thousands of words about previously, has however proven to be. I can’t compress it like that. It’s a huge, incredibly strange, endlessly surprising world that I can’t quite believe was actually made, and so many years ago. It doesn’t seem possible that anyone could or would do it now, let alone then. If I’ve seemed ungracious to Bethesda’s RPGs in recent times, it’s purely because I expect so very much of them based on this incredible, impossible achievement.

Fallout / Fallout 2
RELEASE DATE: 1997/1998
IMPORTANCENESS: Apocalyptic

All RPGs owe a debt to Dungeons and Dragons, but Fallout at least has the good grace to not be so totally brazen about. The post-apocalypse is one of gaming’s most appealing settings, and I’d say Fallout and STALKER are twin kings of our beloved wasteland. Casually amoral and calculatedly unfocused yet almost scientific in their statistics, the original Fallouts are a world away from the earnest epic narratives of fantasy roleplaying. That it is so often hard to mention these games without nodding to the famous ferocity of its fans speaks volumes: in a dry desert of lightweights, an RPG that really does the heavy-lifting was always going to inspire grand passion.

Freelancer
RELEASE DATE: 2003
IMPORTANCENESS: Galactic

Speaking of RPGs that stray bravely from the beaten path, here’s this shiny relic of a time when Microsoft still cared about PC gaming. A space sim with a heart of roleplaying, it twins trading with purpose rather than pure economics. It’s not nearly referenced enough. Sure, it may not have the sprawl and hands-off approach of its great ancestor Elite, but it has bravado, gloss and excellent starship argy-bargies. It’s also hugely accessible compared to the niche-catering handful of space sims we’ve seen in the last decade. While the hardcore will always call for more hardcore, making such complex systems open to all is by far the harder achievement.

Grim Fandango
RELEASE DATE: 1998
IMPORTANCENESS: More than heaven

Or, the day that LucasArts grew up. I don’t envy the great adventure company at that period – surely stuck between the rock of an enormously successful formula and the hard place of innovating within it without scaring anyone off. Grim Fandango failed to move the puzzles on in any meaningful way (and in some cases even regressed), but it did bring a new seriousness to the table without losing any of the playfulness. As sombre and introspective as it is wry and ludicrous, it moved us to care about a Mexican skeleton and his fat, orange best mate. Tragic, beautiful and charming, it is for me the last word in traditional adventure games.

King’s Bounty: The Legend
RELEASE DATE: 2008
IMPORTANCENESS: Legendary

More than anything, Katauri’s first King’s Bounty exemplifies my increasingly repeated mantra that the best thing about the PC as a gaming platform is that you can never, ever second-guess it. With no one company calling all the shots, every day bears the legitimate chance of discovering something completely unexpected and brilliant. Back when this Russian rethink of the Might & Magic formula cropped up, I confess to having been feeling a little cold-footed about RPS’s purpose. All these rubbishy low-budget Euro-games, militaristic multiplayer shooters and indenti-strategy fare: was this really what we wanted to write about every day? Then, all of a sudden, the most generic-sounding thing I’ve ever heard of has me fighting battles inside my own clothing, divorcing zombie wives and making snakes fight ghosts. Sure, it was far too long, often incoherent and aggravatingly unbalanced, but sometimes pointing out a good thing’s flaws is completely redundant. Unhinged, unbelievably good-natured and Pringle-like in the happy ferocity of how compelling it was, it completely transformed my feelings about PC gaming – and even my very concept of what PC gaming had become.

Mass Effect 2
RELEASE DATE: 2010
IMPORTANCENESS: Massive

Throw it all out and start again. There was absolutely no reason Bioware needed to do that: one of the advantages of having so few competitors with enough resources to actually compete is essentially having a captive audience. Bioware could have carried on pushing out derivatives of the KOTOR formula again and again. Clearly, they didn’t want to. Mass Effect 2 might be pretty sparse on what we tend to call roleplaying, but like so many of the best games (for instance, the one below this) the result is something that’s easy to comprehend but hard to categorise. So much so that we felt compelled to give it its own genre: guns and conversation. Big, bolshy space opera with action and character in equal quantities, a world away from its more expansive but plodding predecessor. ‘Shephard’ is such an astonishing creation – so generic in so many ways, especially the male version, but being the vanguard of these 21st century star wars’ pounding purpose and thoughtful action-drama makes him/her the hero that we all ache to be.

Minecraft
RELEASED: Not yet, technically
IMPORTANCENESS: Still building

Not a single advert. No tutorial. A game about reconfiguring blocks in a more pleasing way. A game about survival. A virtual online world without any of the cynicism or hollow pseudo-socialising.

The world sat up and took notice. A man become a millionaire without the support of a corporation. People who barely even played games built impossible creations.

People still talk, almost with a degree of horror, of the strangeness that such a thing would be such a success. Why can’t they see that it was inevitable? Don’t fight so hard and spend so much to bring people to your door. Just leave it wide open and see what happens.

Minesweeper
RELEASE DATE: 1989 and onwards
IMPORTANCENESS: Explosive

Match-3 hogs all the glory, but it was Minesweeper that birthed casual games and played a profound role in the establishment of the PC as a gaming platform. While a console did and does require the specific decision to be a gamer, Minesweeper created legions of gamers by stealth. ‘I’m not really gaming, it’s just a little thing I do between spreadsheets.’ I’m amazed how much Microsoft has failed to capitalise on the power of bundling a game with its operating system, but at the same time I appreciate that this was bottled lightning.

Farmville’s sort of doing the same thing for the modern age, as is Angry Birds on iPhone, but without unnecessarily disparaging either I’d argue that both will prove to be far less valuable despite being far more profitable. Minesweeper encouraged thinking and the lure of being smart, rather than being simply a matter of chance and time (though both do play their part). It is maths, it is strategy, it is gambling. It is also, to this day, one of the most tension-building games ever created.

Peggle
RELEASE DATE: 2007
IMPORTANCENESS: PEGGLE!

You’ve probably noticed I’ve tended towards describing these games’ importance in terms of context rather than specific achievements, and that’s a tune I really can’t change for this. Before Peggle, the gulf between ‘our’ games and what we rather dismissively called casual was enormous. We’d sneer in contempt, convinced they were for stupids and bored housewives. Peggle proved how wrong we were – it united the cold-warring tribes. And all because it was incredibly enthusiastic; excited about it existing, and steeped so completely shamelessly in goofy humour that any lingering aroma of cheese was discarded. Most of all, it understood that games, that collection of flickering pixels and electronic sounds, can make people feel good. Peggle is, at its heart, a game that wants to reward you simply for playing it, simply for the act of pressing and button and watching things happen. And just say its name, out loud. Peggle. Peggle! Peggggg-ullll. Doesn’t that feel good? Truly, an ode to joy.

Planescape: Torment
RELEASE DATE: 1999
IMPORTANCENESS – Can change the nature of a man

The game that breaks all the rules. Far too wordy, far too grim, far too peculiar, steeped in cynicism about humanity and absolutely determined to give you a hard time at all stages. That’s exactly why Black Isle’s dark opus works so well. The game of heartbreak, the game of mortality, the game of treachery, the game of philosophy, the game of life. The mentality of the most determined, individualistic fan art game, somehow given a budget and dozens of hours of playtime. The impossible game, the greatest cRPG ever made.

I’ve met a lot of big-name developers in my time, normally to point a microphone in their faces and ask questions they’ve already heard 30 times. I’ve bever been moved to say anything fannish, as my interest as a gamer and a hack has always been the product not the people. Planescape lead Chris Avellone, though: that’s the one and only time I didn’t keep my awkward cool. God forever bless him for laughing at my shitty talking skull gag and clinking beer glasses with me.

Plants vs Zombies
RELEASE DATE: 2009
IMPORTANCE: Organic

If Peggle was the game to make traditional games embrace casual, PvZ was where the waters became entirely muddied. Taking the tower defence genre and carving it into something both insanely accessible and thrillingly imaginative, it’s a lot closer to being a bona fide phenomenon that we might realise. It’s everywhere right now, still cropping up on new platforms and on new players’ lips even though it’s two years old. Everyone knows the song, there’s garden ornaments, it’s a quest inside World of Warcraft, there’s even going to be a boardgame, for Crazy Dave’s sakes. It’s seeped in the mass cultural consciousness more than most of the list, and without anyone entirely realising. It’s also deft, endlessly charming proof that games for non-gamers don’t have to be non-gamey. This is, after all, a strategy game at its heart, and even if much of it relies on timing, it casually introduces concepts and systems the world at large would otherwise have run screaming from. PvZ broke down barriers just as surely as would a troupe of bucket-headed zombies chew through a Wall-Nut.

But never, of course, a Tall-Nut – gaming’s greatest-ever hero.

The Sims
RELEASE DATE: 2000
IMPORTANCE: Severely underestimated

We’ve observed a few times how perplexing it is that no-one really tried to take on the Sims, in terms of simulating human behaviour and relationships. The other strangely unexplored element of it, to me, is that as well as being a sorta-management game it’s an RPG where your character often doesn’t do what they’re told. That is, of course, because they’re supposed to be human. My girlfriend told me to do more cleaning the other day. I haven’t done it yet: which is not to say I won’t, but purely that humans don’t operate in such a blindly say-and-do way. At least not in a healthy society. I’d love to see a full-on RPG explore that – a character that broadly shares your intentions for them but whose own urges, interests and exhaustion often takes precedence. That, as well as the sex and aspirational house-decoration, is the key to the Sims – the arrogance and thrill of controlling people who don’t really want to be controlled. Which is, of course, why it’s all the more entertaining if you recreate people you know in it.

Spelunky
RELEASE DATE: 2008
IMPORTANCE: Crusading

Ah, the procedurally-generated Indiana Jones game. I suspect RPS’ greatest-ever oversight was not going absolutely grade-A fuckin’ crazy-nuts about Spelunky. Mangling roguelikes and platformers together in a fashion that revealed their truths rather than trod old ground, it gets back to that singular importance of having your world, your game. I could never have the slightest bit of interest in seeing someone beat Mario 3’s World 3-4 (or whatever the hell else Nintendo bores go on about) in 24 seconds. What on Earth’s that got to do with me? Spelunky, like Minecraft or Desktop Dungeons, gives me my own world, my own challenge, my own epic narrative. Get the treasure, save the girl, blow up a load of rocks and monsters and probably die doing it. Sounds good to me.

Total Annihilation/Supreme Commander
RELEASE DATE: 1997/2007
IMPORTANCE: Totally supreme

Apologies for the slightly awkward double-whammy there, but I trust you’ll appreciate the lineage. As discussed earlier, C&C has been the backbone of so much of real-time strategy’s history, and that also includes inspiring rival games to not be like it. TA almost aggressively bellows “this is not how war should be.” It wants big, huge machine genocide, not a handful of chunky things picking each other off. It is grand and epic, cold and fiddly and completely, proudly inhuman. Supreme Commander continued the tradition, and proved it was just as relevant a good decade later. It indulges warfare rather than fiction, and with that bird’s eye view the stakes seem so much higher.

Ultima VII
RELEASE DATE: 1992
IMPORTANCE: Ultimate

While we’ve covered a fair few RPGs in this list, they’ve tended to be games focused on specific areas of the genre. Ultima VII, the main series’ highpoint, is the RPG that does it all. It’s a society simulator as much as it is a free-form fantasy tale. Baking, survival, law, music-making, vomiting, crime, drugs, racism, buying bus tickets… It’s a project of astonishing scope – so much so that it was split into two parts, each with their own expansion pack. To recreate the sheer scale of U7’s ambition in a modern game would surely involve enough gigabytes to sink Ireland. No wonder the Ultima series slumped so dramatically following VII – this game aimed so high that there was almost nowhere left to go but down.

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
RELEASE DATE: 1995
IMPORTANCENESS: A portent

Perhaps not one of the more interesting strategy games on this list by today’s standards, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a landmark game. This is where Blizzard really became BLIZZARD, the goliath that we know and love/fear today. Battle.net (well, the first RTS to use it), expansion packs, the semi-toon visual style, eyewatering sales figures, uber-lore: it all started here. And while Warcraft 1 had started the multiplayer RTS ball rolling, it was WC2 that really got it doing so at speed. WC2 is why we have WoW, and why we have StarCraft. This is the tap that the money-hose is connected to.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
RELEASE DATE: 2004
IMPORTANCENESS: There is no importanceness. Only war

Relic’s Warhammer 40,000 real-time strategy game didn’t really come into its own until its second expansion, Dark Crusade, where suddenly it all made sense. This wasn’t just a C&C-like with Games Workshop art – it was an attempt to create an absolutely enormous wargame, packed with units and factions and abilities. Not for this the laser-focused dual- or tri-race balancing act of its peers, but instead a giant toychest stuffed with science-fictional conflict. Forever a bit of a let-down in singleplayer terms, it flexed its enchanced muscles in skirmish and multiplayer: so much choice, so much indulgence. While final expansion pack Soulstorm was not its strongest, just glancing at the total unit roster following it remains extraordinary. It’s a huge game, and it also expertly pulls 40K out of its tabletop ghetto and into something far more universal. Dawn of War II has so far been a much bolder game, but perhaps a less impactful one. I’m pretty sure Relic are absolutely determined to correct that latter, however. In a couple of years and a couple of expansions, no doubt it will be similarly huge.

World of Warcraft
RELEASE DATE – 2004
IMPORTANCE – All the money. All of it.

Oh, it’s too easy to sneer, isn’t it? WoW might be built upon a troubling foundation of feeding incessant virtual goods hunger, but it’s vitally important. It keeps the PC the world’s foremost gaming platform, it proves that massive creative ambition and scale is not a barrier to massive financial success and it’s entered popular culture at large in a way that few games ever have. It is shaping and evolving not just a genre, but an entire industry. And it’s still growing: there’s still so much more it might yet do.

Personally though, the first year of the game, early adventures with friends in fantasy lands before they became dominated by stat-fiends, will forever be some of my most memorable gaming time. Making it up as we went along, finding ways to defeat what we thought we impossible odds, laughing at ridiculous hats, being thrilled by unlocking a brand-new ability. I am deeply, deeply sad that WoW -and probably no other MMO – can recapture that. We just didn’t know we were in for or what we doing then. I miss that so, so much.

X-COM: UFO Defense AKA UFO: Enemy Unknown
RELEASED- 1994
IMPORTANCE – God-king

Ah, how fitting that this list should end with this. As your didactic tutor, there is simply no other game I could more strongly recommend to you as homework. The hybrid of all genres, the never-bettered original. A game of fear, elaborate plotting and terrible, terrible sacrifice. That the Gollops are not regularly releasing big, successful games with their names in the title, Meier-style, is a constant mystery to me. I mean, Julian’s next game is a barely-credited, barely hyped Ghost Recon spin-off for 3DS (though excitingly it sounds a little X-COMesque). Absurd.
Sometimes, I must admit, all I really want from gaming is a re-release of this with a modern interface. I don’t need new graphics or new units or improved AI or a first-person-perspective. I just want to play this, forever.

Please note that this post is but one fragment of a larger list, which in total covers over 100 of what RPS feels is the PC’s most important games (but not all of them). You can find the other parts to date here. More is yet to come.

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275 Comments »

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  1. Falfa says:

    I hope Part 5 includes finally some important racing games. We have seen Burnout etc, but no games such as iRacing, GP Legends and so on.

    • thegooseking says:

      I would nominate Vette! It allowed you to run over nuns. Perhaps more importantly, it allowed you to ignore the race and just explore San Francisco some 15 years before GTA: San Andreas.

    • empty_other says:

      Carmageddon?
      Colin McRae Rally.
      Sega Rally.
      Need For Speed 3?

      Those were at least my best remembered driving games.

    • Premium User Badge

      aequidens says:

      I may betray my age a little, but Street Rod and Stunts.
      Street Rod was the first time I remember getting to modify a car, and Stunts, even more awesomely, was the first time I ever got to make tracks in a game, it’s what Trackmania would’ve been in 1990.
      And to include Codemasters, Micro Machines.
      I also very much agree with NFS2/3 and Carmageddon.

    • Coillscath says:

      Star Wars Episode 1: Racer, all the way. It was my first game for my brand spanking new N64 and I loved the shit out of that game. It is, to date, in fact the only racing game I ever enjoyed.

    • roryok says:

      I was just about to say, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that Interstate 76 is going to feature on here, surely the importanceness of that game can not be underguesstimated

  2. Premium User Badge

    WeeMadAndo says:

    Best thing about AvP? Dynamic, deforming explosions. Only game that I’ve ever seen with it.

    But hey, maybe they’ll come back in the next CoD and be touted as the next big thing, like “ballistic penetration” was. I guess no one remembered SWAT 3 either…

    • Premium User Badge

      Zephro says:

      I was just thinking about those explosions earlier, they were beautiful.

  3. airtekh says:

    Ah my beloved Grim Fandango, I was worried it wasn’t going to show up! Still my favourite adventure game ever.

  4. rocketman71 says:

    Freelancer reminds me that we still haven’t seen a Wing Commander (haven’t we?).

    Even if it’s only the third for the FMV, the budget and the jedi :-P

    • RakeShark says:

      The trouble with a new Wing Commander game is straight forward:

      1) FMV – Wing Commander was one of the few games to do FMV right, or at least right for itself. The performance of latest C&C/RA games with FMV seemed to have left a bitter taste of the series’ in the fans mouths (moreso for gameplay, not the actual FMV stuff), and I’m sure internally EA can/will blame some of that shortcoming on the FMV. Screwing up a new FMV Wing Commander would leave future prospects more bleak than they are now.

      2) FMV Kilrathi – I don’t think anyone has a good clue how to pull them off. WC3 did alright by them, but they went down the tubes in WC4 and then the movie.

      3) WC Arena wasn’t the hit EA was hoping it’d be – It may surprise you that there is a new WC game on the CrossCrate Cricle, it’s just a downloadable multiplayer arcade shoot’em up. Obviously any new WC game from EA would have to come out on the console, and people could whine about it being a failure because it wasn’t a real space sim game, but a big reason this new game didn’t do well is because it didn’t land on the fanchise’s/fanbase’s home platform, and sales were missed. Strangely though, you can buy WC Arena from Microsoft’s site without needing a console.

      4) No other competing space sims are being re/released – What I mean by that is no other major developer/publisher is making or re-releasing space sims. LucasArts stopped their Steam back catalog campaign before the X-Wing series, Jumpgate Evolution and NetDevil itself are in big financial trouble, and the world’s space programs aren’t frothing at the mouth to go to Mars to make us wonder about space. Hell, Barnett over at EA Mythic was trying to put together some kinda Wing Commander anniversary release according to his twitter, but that seems to have fizzled out. All that’s left are independent and amateur productions, and if they don’t have the same impact as Minecraft did, I doubt EA will budge while the other big publishers sit on their hands as well.

      So, for most Wing Commander fans, the best thing on the horizon is the Freespace2 mod Wing Commander Saga. Unless hell freezes.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      I suspect rocketman means we haven’t seen wing commander on the list. but your points are all valid. I am not sure I would want a new developer to come along and further ruin my beloved WC. As far as I am concerned, the last thing to happen in the WC universe was Mark Hammil got it together with mechanic Rachel and bombed the merry hell out of Kilrah before the remaining Kilrathi fleet came to its senses and surrendered. And so shall it remain.

  5. dancingcrab says:

    Yes. Well done Alec Meer.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Crimsoneer says:

    Why does nobody discuss Starlancer? Did nobody play it, or was I the only person to see it as the best scenario driven space shooter ever? Freelancer was good, and all, but I couldn’t help but think it was a shame to drift so far away from the prequel’s path…

    • Azradesh says:

      Freespace 2 tops Starlancer by miles, not that Starlancer is a bad game, it’s just not Freespace 2.

    • Premium User Badge

      Zephro says:

      Yeah Starlancer was always stuck playing second fiddle to Freespace really.

    • Premium User Badge

      Crimsoneer says:

      Really? Why? I always felt Freespace 2 lacked the storyline “oomph” for me. Starlancer had a far better sense of place, at least to me.

    • Zyrxil says:

      Uh, what? Freespace 2 had absolutely top notch storytelling, great voice acting, and a very subtle and well executed plot. It wasn’t a ‘thriller’ type plot of unwavering suspense, but it was quite good. Starlancer on the other hand, was the West vs Commies in Space. It had no sense of flow, incredibly poor pacing both in missions and out, and was just incredibly bland and straightforward.

      This is not even mentioning its non-story related shortcomings, such as bland missions, much too much torpedo chasing, and brain-dead AI (even compared to Freespace 2, which is pretty stupid AI already. Starlancer AI could only stop, turn at target, rush at full speed 100% guns ablaze. This is at Hard difficulty). Starlancer was very pretty, but it was also very forgettable.

    • Premium User Badge

      TeraTelnet says:

      Because ALL THOSE BLOODY TORPEDOES, that’s probably why. :)

    • frenz0rz says:

      @Crimsoneer

      Someone with the same opinion as me! Finally!

      I’ve been proclaiming the greatness of Starlancer for years now, since it was one of the most defining games of my childhood and it seems to have gone almost criminally ignored by everyone. I’ve never read a single recent article relating to it, not even a brief mention of noteworthy praise – nothing at all. I remember picking up Freespace 2 and actually being disappointed by the lack of depth and character in comparison.

      In Starlancer, you felt like you were just one small cog in a crumbling war machine – every victory was one small step forward, and every loss was a seemingly catastrophic step back. And you could FAIL missions. Oh, the guilt! I let those people in the escape pods die, ME! Oh, why was I so inept? Now I have to live with the consequences of my actions. Remember when you let the CSS Krasnaya escape, when you failed to destroy her engines before she would jump out? Remeber the SHAME you felt? Well now she’s returned, 10 missions later, to make your current task even harder.

      Failure did not just present you with a ‘game over – retry or exit?’ screen. Failure means you’ve failed the Alliance, and its gonna make the rest of the game a lot more difficult. Plus you wont get promoted and get any shiny medals. And your failure will be all over the news. And everyone on the ship (which you can goddamn walk around on) will hate you and call you names.

      What about the gloriously over-the-top cutscenes? The betrayal of Viper? The dear old ANS Reliant along with her captain suddenly ramming the Coalition capital ship, DURING A MISSION, leaving you only a few seconds to sit there and process what just happened. And what about the manual launching and landing? The thrill of getting literally fired out of the broadside of the ANS Yamato during takeoff!

      Seriously, why doesnt this game get the attention it deserves? Why does Freespace 2 get to hog all the damn limelight? Sure, it was a good game, but Starlancer was more innovative and, ultimately for me, far more engaging and immersive.

    • Torgen says:

      I so very loved playing Starlancer two-person co-op, but after literally hours of playing and replaying the mission where the endless fighter/bomber swarms attack the fleet, and failing each time, we gave up on it.

    • Premium User Badge

      Zephro says:

      “In Starlancer, you felt like you were just one small cog in a crumbling war machine – every victory was one small step forward, and every loss was a seemingly catastrophic step back. And you could FAIL missions.”

      Both also true in Freespace as I remember…

    • Premium User Badge

      Lambchops says:

      Starlancer and Freespace 2 are indeed both better than Freelancer (this is genuinely the first time in the list where I’ve been a bit confused by a choice). Freelancer still had decent enough gameplay but it didn’t have that cool feeling both Starlancer and Freespace 2 did so well about being part of a war effort and having small but potentially significant victories which could help to turn the tide of battles.

      I love both for slightly different reasons. Both have great stories, both have great set piece missions. Starlancer, despite its national stereotypes and action movie cheesiness, manages to have some truly memorable characters whereas Freespace nails the gameplay interface better.

      Overall I’d say Freespace 2 is the better game but along with Tie Fighter they are the most enjoyable space sim games around and well worth playing and enjoying.

    • Archonsod says:

      That’s because Freelancer is a space sim while Freespace is a dogfighter. It’s a bit like trying to compare 1942 : The Battle for Midway and Il2-Sturmovik. They’re different types of games which just happen to share a setting …

    • Zyrxil says:

      Freelancer a sim? What? Freelancer is no more a sim than Freespace is, that is not at all. Freespace is a space combat game done superbly, while Freelancer is a space-trading game done mediocre-ly (wtf, there’s no adverb for mediocre?).

  7. bokadam says:

    This part seems like the best. Finally Minesweeper made it into a best of list :)

    • Dozer says:

      The inclusion of Minesweeper made me laugh, a lot.

      It’s part of the Windows PC landscape for so long it’s not a ‘game’ any more than a 3.5 inch disk drive is – just something that exists as part of the PC. Or so I thought!

      Goodness me, my thinking has been challenged. Over Minesweeper.

  8. Premium User Badge

    AndrewC says:

    I do love how the opening two paragraphs contain no irony.

  9. unimural says:

    Or the four lists thus far, I find this to be the most agreeable to my interpretation of the word important. What I still find sorely lacking is the 80ies. If Bioshock is a PC game, then so is Alley Cat! What about Microprose? Early Sierra. Or the first shareware titles.

    • Alec Meer says:

      That’s something we’ve been discussing internally, in fact – an 80s addendum at some point strikes me as a very good idea.

    • Premium User Badge

      Oozo says:

      I agree with that. I really enjoyed all of the lists, but so far, they often seemed more like an expansion of the “Gaming Made Me”-series. Which is, of course, very much true to the ethos of RPS, but I would have been a wee bit uncomfortable if games like “Minesweeper” or “World of Warcraft” would not have shown up.

      So, Alec’s list is closer to what I would have turned up with, if somebody had presented me with the herculian task of a list of the most “important” games. Well done. Looking forward to part 5. Context, and all that.

      Oh, and you should really provide us with a printable version of the final product, something that could easily be folded and put into the back of the – often interesting, but irritatingly focussed on the time of 2000+ – “1001 Video Games You Have To Play Before You Die”-book.
      I’d pay for that. Seriously.

    • Novotny says:

      oh, Paradroid. Little Computer People! Knightlore! How cruel is time.

    • Grubblik says:

      Fort Apocalypse! Blue Max! Gateway To Asphai! Montezumas Revenge! Shamus! Archon! Yeah, there were some good games back then. Can the hive mind give me my years back so I can be young and innocent again please?

  10. sneetch says:

    “Sometimes, I must admit, all I really want from gaming is a re-release of this with a modern interface. I don’t need new graphics or new units or improved AI or a first-person-perspective. I just want to play this, forever.”

    I agree. A “HD” release would be wonderful though. They’re becoming increasingly common on the consoles so Shirley something like X-Com also deserves them.

  11. McDan says:

    I hate those young people, anyone younger than me (19) should be shot for being young.

    • Jonathan says:

      Young people should be shot at birth.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      19 is younger than me, just hold still while I reload my gun for no particular reason.

    • Novotny says:

      I can barely remember 19. It’s probably better this way.

    • McDan says:

      I can only hope to one day, be as old and bitter as you fine gentlemen.

    • Kaira- says:

      If you order your package of bitterness and oldness today, you get another dose of bitterness absolutely free. Of course there’s some catch, because those young rascals are never up to any good.

    • Inglourious Badger says:

      Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now

  12. Valvarexart says:

    I had the kind of experiences you mantioned regarding WoW vanilla in RuneScape. Looking at it now, it might be a crap game, but so is WoW. That huge world with so many things to do, so beautiful, so amazing.

  13. Premium User Badge

    pauleyc says:

    Freelancer, Deus Ex, Colonization, UFO and finally Ultima VII. The Tin Man approves of this list.
    In fact it’s quite unbelievable how many things U7 did right in terms of complex world simulation, the baking being my favourite example. Bethesda might be full of praise for its Radiant AI but Origin accomplished this already in 1992. Ultima 7 aimed high – and ultimately (heh) delivered.
    And just in case someone is interested in replaying a true classic: check out Exult.

    • Premium User Badge

      Horza says:

      Couldn’t agree more. I really wasn’t into cRPG:s until U7 came and swept me off my feet. And it still remains unparalleled in so many ways.

  14. Teronfel says:

    Great list,Deus Ex,Fallouts,Planescape Torment,Blade Runner,Morrowind…but…why the hell is ME2 on this list???

    • faelnor says:

      Mirror’s Edge 2 was cancelled, you terrible and insensitive person :(

    • Urael says:

      Why shouldn’t it be??? C’mon, don’t just sneer – start a conversation. Put some opinions out there and let’s chew them over.

    • Teronfel says:

      because ME2 is overrated,it’s a good game but i don’t think it deserves to be on this list.
      In ten years from now it won’t be remembered as one of the greatest or most important
      pc games,that’s what i think,time will tell.

    • Nallen says:

      Mass Effect 2 is one of the most interesting and engrossing games I’ve played in years. Imagine if ME2 ended up like Blade Runner (one of the most interesting and engrossing games I’ve played. No caveat.)

      Waaaaaiit a minute. Is ME2 in that line? Was Bladerunner Guns and Conversation with a very heavy Conversation slant?

    • Leelad says:

      How do you know what we’ll be talking about in 10 years?

      @Teronfel

    • 1stGear says:

      Hopefully it’ll be remembered as the point that Bioware realized they didn’t need to remake Baldur’s Gate every few years.

    • Evilpigeon says:

      @ 1st gear, what the hell are you talking about O.o

      I wish they’d redo what they did with baldur’s gate instead of slowly dilute the formula, game after game til they run out of rpg elements to simplify or remove… Not saying the games aren’t any good but it’s a sad trend that makes the more recent games much less interesting.

    • JFS says:

      Oh… but they do! Albeit in a way that does the original justice. Perhaps just an official widescreen HD mod. Like for X-Com. And Blade Runner. And Freelancer. And Morrowind.

      This is the best list so far, I think, although there have been fine games on the others as well.

    • 1stGear says:

      I really have no problem with Bioware “diluting” their formulaic approach to story and gameplay. ME2 was their first step away from their predictable Hero’s Journey storyline that they’ve done to death, as well as a step from Generic Fantasy Setting. It was a weak, shuddering step, trading the Hero’s Journey for a a weak character story and trading Generic Fantasy Setting for Generic Sci-Fi Setting, but it was still a step.

      And I don’t really mind them stripping out stats and inventory management and curse the day those became more of an RPG element than actual role-playing.

    • Shagittarius says:

      I really don’t think conversation trees are any more of a role-playing element than stat keeping.

    • Shadram says:

      Choosing how your character responds to a given situation is always the most important thing in an RPG for me, which is what conversation trees are meant to enable.

      Stats are just another way to enable choice: how to develop your character, how they behave in combat. In Mass Effect, stats aren’t needed so much. You choose your class, you choose your abilities to level up, and the rest of the choice of how your character behaves in combat is based on how you actually play. Hit chance isn’t needed when you’re actually able to aim and pull the trigger yourself.

      ME2 is important because it shows that RPGs don’t have to be about numbers, about the choice between adding 1 to strength or 1 to agility being more important than actually role-playing your character. It’s important because it showed how episodic gaming should be done (it just happened to pack all the episodes in one box, like a boxset of Only Fools and Horses, or something). And it’s important because it’s just bloody brilliant.

    • Shagittarius says:

      I hated Mass Effect so much that I actually stopped playing video games for a couple weeks. I have no interest in Mass Effect 2.

      If I wanted to watch a soap-opera I would. I prefer gameplay.

    • Bret says:

      Gameplay?

      Like charging a football field away to shotgun someone in the face, then spinning and punching a zombie to death?

      ME2 has really good gameplay, not janky like ME1. Just give it a go.

    • Shadram says:

      “If I wanted to watch a soap-opera I would. I prefer gameplay.”
      Yes, all games shoud be about shooting people with no context or characterisation. How dare they interrupt my shooting with a plot more complex than “alien bad, shoot alien.”

    • unimural says:

      I wanted to like Mass Effect, but I just couldn’t. It was so unsatisfying. Tons of equipment, most of it meaningless. Combat system I never quite understood, and never required me to understand it. Or use any gadgets. And the oh so overblown dramatic storyline, the ultimate boredom. Mostly I disliked ME, because I could constantly see what they should have done differently in order for me to like. Most importantly, a more personal and less epic a story.

      I also wanted to like Mass Effect 2, but I couldn’t. Yet, with ME2 I finally understood, that these guys really really do not want to make a game I would like. In fact, what they are trying to create comes closest to one of those FMV interactive movie thingies we saw in the mid 90ies. The point obviously being that the technology is pretty much here. Now they just need to figure out what to do with that stuff.

      Still, in this regard I do believe that Mr Meer is right, ME2 is massive important. It will, and already has created a genre, evolved this bastard child of cRPGS and Hollywood. I may not like it, but it is important, no doubt about it.

  15. Jhoosier says:

    But what about Far Cry 2!!!??? Or Startopia? Or Doooooooooom?

    Ahem. Sorry.

    Great job on the lists! Despite not playing casual games so much, I think it’s really important we accept gamers who come in via this gateway. It’s the marijuana to our crack.

  16. Brumisator says:

    I would have put Peggle’s importanceness as “Ode to Joy”, but I will accept your verdict.

    See how I’m not being angry? See? Look! this is me not being angry!

  17. Kaira- says:

    I must be the only one who prefers Diablo 1 over Diablo 2. The atmosphere is just that much better.

    • MadZab says:

      I’m with you on that one. Diablo I had a far better athmosphere and I personally like the purity of the three basic character classes it offered.

  18. torchedEARTH says:

    UFO enemy unknown. The only game to admit that the politicians will give up faster than anyone else and fuck us all over for inifinity.

    • MadZab says:

      Game:
      “Japan has signed a secret contract with the Alien agressors and is withdrawing all funds from the X-Com-Project”
      Me:
      “Assholes!”

    • Eschatos says:

      Well maybe you shouldn’t have ignored that Terror Site just because you’re scared of Chryssalids.

  19. CMaster says:

    Funny how this ancient aztec cipher happens to produce results similar to one using an antique roman script ordering system.

  20. Radiant says:

    Blade runner.
    What do you mean /you people/?

    • Radiant says:

      Great shout with Audio Surf btw.

      Usual conversation about it goes like this:

      “I don’t get audio surf”
      “It’s because you dance like you were injected with the strength of 20 dads”

    • MrMud says:

      I dont get audio surf

    • Primar says:

      It’s because you dance like you were injected with the strength of 20 dads.

    • Starky says:

      I don’t get Audiosurf, I found it dull, and only detracting for my enjoyment of listening to music.
      I’m a musician (bass and keyboard mainly), spent 5 years playing in a gigging band (rock/metal with electronic influences), write my own music (now as a hobby, any dreams of fame are long since squashed under the heel of the music industry), have a music collection of several thousand albums (real albums too), and worked for a good number of years in a small recording studio (first as IT support eventually just doing full on sound engineering).
      I -get- music.
      But I do dance like a dad at a wedding, so there is that.

  21. idiotapocs says:

    I’ve never seen anyone acknowledging Colonization this much. Cheers for that, as I’ve always loved it much-much better than Civ. The graphics, the music, the overall tension as taxes are risen by the bastard king, they just add up to a brilliant piece of gem. Not to mention how many different methods there were to finish the game. I’ve recklessy plundered the south americas with the spaniard, built strong armies with the british, and created massive trade routes with the dutch, all my games were fundamentally different in their feel. Deserves every praise it gets. Too bad the remake lost its soul completely.

    • Megadyptes says:

      I agree with you entirely. Col 1 is one of my all time favourite games. I played the hell out of it when I was younger and still have some fond memories of it. Then I recently played the remake and it just wasn’t the same, the atmosphere was completely different and it felt nothing like those good old times I spent on the frontier even if a lot of the base mechanics were the same. Just the soul, as you say, I guess.

      It’s great to see this game on the list as it’s rarely mentioned outside of current day Col fan circles. I always mention it amongst friends if we’re talking about classic games though.

    • Archonsod says:

      Funnily enough I preferred the Amiga version for reasons I only barely remember. Something to do with the UI I think.

      It was a good game, though I’m not sure whether I’d plump for it over SSI’s Imperialism 2 in terms of colonising the new world and exploiting it’s resources.

  22. StingingVelvet says:

    The only game missing for me as we head toward the last list is Crysis (or the original Farcry). I know some people talk about it being just a pretty face but reviews at release were very good and I personally love the game.

    A lot.

  23. Vrokolos says:

    WOW I was expecting Grim Fandango and Planescape Torment on these lists and here they are both on the same one :)

  24. Alec Meer says:

    It’s worth stressing again, by the way, that despite the per-author presentation these really do constitute one unified list – not individual ones.

    • disperse says:

      Admit it Alec, among the hive-mind, you have the best taste in games.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Well, obviously. Shooty, Weepy and Obtusey ain’t got nothing on me.

    • disperse says:

      Did Quinns get a choice or did you shove Kieron’s stack of obscure, sexually deviant, games into his arms and say ‘you’re our obtuse game reviewer, welcome to the team’?

    • dysphemism says:

      Ha! My humor bone, it is tickled!

      I should say, though, this list is shit-hot. Not that others haven’t been! But to read this was to experience an ever-deepening sense of yes.

      I wonder, though, if we might see anything from The Learning Company pop in for a quick hello in next installment. Surely the Super Solvers series is responsible for influencing (read: brain washing) a whole generation of children into becoming PC gamers. Not sure if that was their real intent, but hey.

  25. afarrell says:

    I am deeply, deeply sad that WoW -and probably no other MMO – can recapture that
    It’s a good thing that it did recapture it with Cataclysm, then :)

    • Premium User Badge

      Flimgoblin says:

      Was wondering if WoW was Alec’s first MMO, or possibly first addicted-to-MMO :) – would have assumed not given Ultima (offline) is on that there list , but I know that no other MMOs I’ve played since DAoC have come anywhere close to the experiences running around the Salisbury plains getting stomped on by giants, getting toasted by the dragon in Dartmoor and latterly fighting tooth and nail “For albion!”.

      But I think it’s more because I’m no longer the person I was rather than that the games aren’t as good.

  26. qrter says:

    What will part 5 entail? Will Richard Cobbett get to have a go (something I’d be interested to read, myself)? Or will it be the return of Kieran Gilman?

    I can hardly contain myself!

    • Shadram says:

      My guess is we’ll have a bit of Cobbett, a bit of Gillen and maybe even a bit of Stone and Bickham all thrown together in a melting pot of “stuff nobody else understands”. Like the sims conspicuous by their absence so far, and more MMOs than just WoW (no Guild Wars? Everquest?). Surely Microsoft Flight Sim has to appear tomorrow, or some other game about flying a plane? Not really my thing, but definitely important to the PC gaming landscape.

  27. Juiceman says:

    Very much agree with the sentiments expressed about WoW. Some of the most memorable moments in that game were just exploring the snowy dwarf starting areas around level 7. That and battling endlessly up the same hill for hours in Alterac Valley. Classic was very simplistic in retrospect, but in my opinion it embodied the notation that sometimes less is more.

  28. John P says:

    One game I’m not expecting to see in part 5, but would love to, is Severance: Blade of Darkness. It might not fit the criteria for this list (depending on how ‘important’ is interpreted), but for me it’s the epitome of the hack and slash. And so much a PC game too, before God of War came along and turned the genre into a quicktime nightmare.

    • JohnnyK says:

      Wow. I kind of forgot about this game, but damn that was great. I wonder if I still have it lying around somewhere…

  29. Kdansky says:

    A great list, except for two abominations that do not belong here.
    Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock? One was boring whack a mole and had plot that made no sense whatsoever (watch Spoiler Warning if you don’t believe me), and the other was like System Shock 2, except worse in all aspects (especially game play) but graphics. Truly, we are going the way of IGN now. Since Dragon Age also managed to sneak in: What is it with Bioware? Baldur’s Gate 1 was ground-breaking, everything afterwards not.

    What a shame.

    • John P says:

      I don’t think this is supposed to be about the best games ever. Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock are clearly important games in that they made a big impact in their genres, and I think they belong on a list like this.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Yes, because IGN so often writes about Minesweeper and Russian strategy games.

    • Premium User Badge

      Zephro says:

      What’s this “we” part? I loved Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock. Not as much as Planescape or System Shock 2, but they aren’t really directly comparable so don’t care if they all appear on the list.

    • Juiceman says:

      I disagree with your notion about Bioshock. I’m sure there have been games who did it first, but the morality choices presented in Bioshock have really spurred a lot of games to offer the same kinds of choices and thus creating emotionally deeper games. That and the surreal landscape was really a first for me and a lot of other gamers.

    • Shadram says:

      Bioshock and ME2 were excellent, as is just about everything else BioWare have made. Just because you have no taste and don’t like something doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong on the list.

    • Premium User Badge

      Nogo says:

      As Alec said, Bioshock is immensely important because it shows publishers that something daft and risky, like “Ayn Rand underwater,” can be profitable. Furthermore it’s a major step forward for storytelling because it’s a perfect example of “in medias res” done right.

      Haven’t played ME2, but everyone seems to really like the characters, so there’s that.

  30. MadZab says:

    I must say you lot are really missing out on RogueSurvivor but that’s a totally different story. I really agree with the observation that the Sims are interesting because your character doesn’t always obey you. I always thought that a morale/discipline thing in RTS would be fun – like that soldier you put somewhere to guard getting bored and eventually wandering off or taking a nap, or a group of infantry simply refusing to rush into that machine-gun line…

  31. chiroho says:

    Whether you call it XCOM:UFO Defense or, more properly, UFO: Enemy Unknown, I cannot agree more wholeheartedly with your sentiments about the game. And just like you, I wish that someone would release an updated version of the game with new graphics that I can run at high resolutions, but with little else changed. I’d be a happy, happy, man.

    • Premium User Badge

      Zephro says:

      It’d be nice to get some pausable real-time on top of the high res.

    • Robin says:

      @ Zephro

      No.

      Stats (weapons,armors, etc..) for realtime and for turns cannot be the same, for balance reasons; It would result unsatisfying like Apocalypse.

    • Premium User Badge

      Zephro says:

      @Robin, no they don’t necessarily.

      a) Apocalypse is actually a great game and the problems with it are totally unrelated to the real time element.
      b) The 1 example of someone attempting this does not demonstrate that it is therefore impossible to ever do it.

      The other rip off games weren’t ruined by real-time either. They were ruined by a lack of imagination, rubbish base building, a boring campaign and a plethora of other daft design decisions.

      I go, You go is a really awful system for modelling anything other than a boardgame and is only satisfactory then because we are constrained by the miniatures.

    • Urthman says:

      Zephro, “I go, You go” is not a realistic simulation of anything, but it is a rock-solid time-tested fun and satisfying game mechanic. Real-time strategy games can never be strategic in quite the same way as turn-based. They really are two different genres.

      You’re asking for a new and different game in the X-Com tradition, which is fine. But the other folks just want to play the original game with a modern interface and maybe/maybe not a graphic upgrade (how awesome would it be if they did it like the Monkey Island re-releases and let you choose?)

  32. Collic says:

    It’s great to see Morrowind getting a special mention. As good as the other games are none have the same dark, ridiculously ambitious, weirdly fantastical feel of Morrowind.

    Where are the mage towers you can only traverse by levitating? The huge insect taxi-cabs, icarus scrolls, and culturally accepted slavery?

    And where are the jokes about necrophilia?

    • Eschatos says:

      Oblivion still had the necrophilia.

    • Collic says:

      It referenced the joke from Morrowind, but it didn’t include anything original and hilariously unexpected of it’s own, did it?

  33. Wulf says:

    There are so many games I could talk about here. Such as the first time I looked up and saw a silt strider, or how impressed I was with the AI in Ultima VII, the likes of which has been rarely matched, let alone beat. But I’d instead like to talk about the Fallout games.

    They were odd, and I actually think my favourite of the lot was Fallout 2, mostly because it cranked up the silliness and did things that appealed to me, and it gave me memories of things that I will never forget. Blowing up the oil rig with a low INT character … have you done it? No? You should. And I got to beat a talking radscorpion at chess thanks to the aid of a talking spore plant. It was just a really funny game that didn’t take itself too seriously.

    I don’t know why but I feel that RPGs take themselves too seriously and play it too safe of late. i thought that New Vegas was one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played, but even that was dry compared to the original, and I could never play it without Wild Wasteland. I did start to get hints though of the most perfect RPG imaginable when I began tossing mods like Methclaw into the mix. I daresay that with more funny, silly mods, and maybe a deathclaw presence, New Vegas would’ve won a 100% score from me, rather than merely the 96% I’d say it did win. But that’s besides the point.

    I think my perfect RPG actually rests somewhere between Fallout 2 and New Vegas. There is so much of Fallout 2 I could take and drop it atop New Vegas. I think my only problem with Fallout 2 is that the way to save the talking deathclaws was cut for a really foolish reason, in my opinion. It was cut because they had to die to illustrate the atrocities of the Enclave, apparently. But then, they could’ve left it in and made how to save them not entirely obvious, so that you don’t save them on your first playthrough, but you do on the second.

    I loved that killap’s Restoration Project actually restored that, and it restored the cut ending where the talking deathclaws drafted a peaceful plan of expansion Northward, and thrived. That was a moment of triumph for me, and etched into my memory forever, it was something that made me exceedingly happy. The Enclave were monsters, yes, but I snatched the deathclaws from their clutches and saved them. And I might have even have given them a damn good chance at becoming their own race, with their own culture, beliefs, and entitlements that come with being a sentient being. As an ethical person, I was very pleased by this.

    But that’s what was so magical about Fallout. It was like the best films I’ve ever seen. Somehow it could be so silly and yet so serious at the same time. How did it do that? I have no idea, but it could be dark, there could be things on the line which were so important, and yet I never stopped laughing. I think a lot of that was due to the dialogue options, low INT or not, which always had me cracking up. The Chosen One never lost hope, or his sense of humour, so it was hard for me to, either.

    That was an interesting juxtaposition for such a dark game. I just felt that there was so much hope in Fallout 2, which was threaded throughout the entire game. If you look at Vault City … I mean, Vault City was an amazing thing, and that was a chance for humanity to do well, and to proceed the right way. All of this I had a hand in as the Chosen One, whose hopeful nature seemed infectious to the people of the wastes. He would say that he could do something, and others? They would believe that he could.

    That was something I felt that Fallout 3 completely lost, it didn’t understand that about Fallout 2. Certainly, you could be a hero in Fallout 3, but the game failed to understand the hope of the Chosen One. And generally it failed to comprehend his acerbic wit, too, or even the silliness of that world, opting more for a slapstick approach. New Vegas did a better job at conveying that the player character was an infectious hopeful, and really, the only things that New Vegas lacked for me were the humour and the deathclaw presence that should’ve been there. But Avellone’s a racist. :P

    New Vegas did come so, so close though, and I’ll always love it for that. New Vegas was one of the best RPGs I’d played in years because it came damned close to Fallout 2, and it gave me some memories that matched those of Fallout 2, and it even gave me some very powerful ones, like the Vault 34 question. Where the weight of reality weighed down on my shoulders, and I dutifully accepted that and even played deity when necessary, but I never lost hope. And this is why I’d love to see another Fallout game from Obsidian, because I think with another stab at it, they might even surpass Fallout 2.

    But Fallout 2 stands as a special game. Despite the devastation, I never felt like I was lost or doomed, the Chosen One’s sense of humour, and undeniable hope was something that I fed off of vicariously, and it saw me through that wasteland. It saw me through it a number of times. And once, it saw me to an end where I had created a damn near perfect world, with next to no one left out. (That was thanks to the Restoration Patch.) And that was special. Perhaps without the Restoration Patch, Fallout 2 is less special, I cannot say. I wouldn’t play it without that, these days.

    I can only hope that Fallout Online will remember the spirit of Fallout 2. But even Fallout Tactics managed to remember the spirit of Fallout 2, even if it misunderstood some of the clerical details (which I couldn’t care less about), so that MMO might just be okay.

    • Premium User Badge

      blind_boy_grunt says:

      the most i remember of fallout2 is the tempel at the beginning and the first town, god i hate them so much. But i can’t remember why i started the game over so often or why i so rarely made it past Den. I still won’t play fallout2 again because i know i’d have to once more kill a thousand scorpions and rats.

    • Bureaucrat says:

      Fallout 2 is undoubtedly the more re-playable of the first Fallouts, but it was too incomplete, too lacking in thematic consistency, and strayed too far into the silly end of things (I prefer F:NV without Wild Wasteland) for me to prefer it over the original. Parts of F2 are indeed fantastic– Vault City, New Reno, the Den. And then there’s the nothing-town of Redding. And the “what 15-year-old designed this ridiculous mess” of San Francisco…

    • Wulf says:

      @blind_boy_grunt

      You could just be really good at dodging and running away, like my diplomatic character was!

      “Oh no, a fight! I’ll… be over there.” *flee*

      @Bureaucrat

      I think that this is a case of different strokes, really. Some people like animated films, some don’t, some people prefer chocolate, some spice. But fantastic was a good word to use, and that’s why I liked the silliness, because it did add a degree of fantasy and fairytale to that wasteland that was hard to ignore. It never felt entirely dark, it felt like some black humour version of something that was trying to be dark, but it was too light-hearted, and too fun. I loved it for that.

      It was a wonderful, wonderful wasteland. I felt the first was stale and dry by comparison. Again, different strokes, because this was because the humour was so much less pronounced. It was easier to buy into it as a reality where people were constantly suffering, and where nothing my guy ever did would ever actually make a difference (not necessarily for the better, I’m not always about that, but it’s nice to have my footprint felt as though I’m actually doing something, otherwise I feel like a minor character in a dull film, which is a bit how I felt in Fallout 1).

      Even at the end of Fallout 1, I got kicked out of the vault, and that was that. About the most you could do in Fallout 1 was take down the Master, and the Master was a very black & white villain. You were good (or an anti-hero), he was evil, he dies, yay, and that’s about it. My memories may be flawed here, but I don’t recall changing much in Fallout 1. In Fallout 2, I remember my footprint being left across the wastes, much like what happened in New Vegas. There were numerous correlations between the endings of Fallout 2 and New Vegas in that regard.

      It’s the strangest thing. See… in Fallout 2, I felt that everything was sillier, yes. But I also felt that everything mattered more. Or at least to me. The people, the places, what I did, it all mattered so much more than any of those categories of Fallout 1. I mean, even my choice of intelligence stat made so huge of a difference in Fallout 2, to the point where even a tribal who’s normally friendly (you may know who) was so terrified that he told my character to go and get a hole drilled in his head to let the evil spirits out. >_>

      And that’s where I think what you said about the replayability of Fallout 2 comes in. Fallout 2 is so silly, but amidst the silliness, there are so many things to care about, and so much where your footfalls can be felt echoing wherever you’ve gone. Fallout 1 didn’t have that same feeling to it.

      You’re not alone in your thoughts, though. And at the end of the day, it’s a shame that more people didn’t value the silliness, really, because that helped to depict a really magnificent reality. One where people had been through a post-apocalypse, and were now in a state of post-post-apocalypse, and they had something truly amazing going on there. And aside from the Enclave, there were worthwhile examples of humanity that I really wanted to preserve – like Vault City.

      I feel that the humanity in Fallout 1 and 3 were just dregs, they had nothing going for them in the manner of being particularly fantastic, they didn’t care for anyone other than themselves, they weren’t interested in building for the future, and even Elder Lyons in 3 was a pale imitation of the Vault City sentiment who didn’t really understand that, or what the Brotherhood even was about (monastic order, damn it Bethesda). I felt like the Brotherhood in 3 was … patronising, by comparison. Like a joke that was being had at the expense of the players.

      Vault City though was amazing, and there were other instances like that, the deathclaws were worth saving too, I realised that the moment I started talking with Grunthar. And so on. There were people worth caring about there. There were glimpses of this in New Vegas too, it wasn’t as pronounced as Fallout 2, again, but having glimpses there of people who were truly worthwhile and were trying to build the future? Well. Even Mr. House I could’ve almost believed would’ve done the right thing, despite my philosophical disagreements with him. I really have to go back and try the game the House way, eventually. But I digress.

      Fallout 2 was very much about people, more than any other game, and there was something telling about humanity in that game that other Fallout games haven’t managed to live up to quite yet. And for that, Fallout 2 was something of an art form, I always felt.

    • Archonsod says:

      I’d agree, FO 2 remains my favourite.

      The funny part is, it’s not actually that silly. You have the Monty Python references and the like sure, but as random encounters, which helps set them apart from the main game (in fact it turns them into comic relief). There is of course humour throughout the game, but it’s a cynical, Douglas Adams style of humour rather than more out and out wackiness which matches the tone and style of the game perfectly.

  34. mod the world says:

    The first list i can’t rage about, well done Mr. Meer.
    Now it’s time for you to visit The Carrousel. Your Lifeclock is already blinking red.

  35. Premium User Badge

    Shakermaker says:

    Still no Tetris ….

    • MadTinkerer says:

      That’s like putting Megaman on the list. Yes, Megaman technically had it’s own version on the PC (specifically DOS), but frankly Tetris and Megaman are more important to the Nintendo consoles than the PC. .

      Now Bejewelled on the other hand, may be a shallow jewel-matching game, but it’s the original jewel-matching game that spawned a bajillion imitators on the PC.

    • Optimaximal says:

      There’s still one day left!

      Heck, they haven’t mentioned the importance of Plants Vs. Zombies or Velociraptor Safari yet!

    • Jad says:

      @MadTinkerer : That’s like putting Megaman on the list. Yes, Megaman technically had it’s own version on the PC (specifically DOS), but frankly Tetris and Megaman are more important to the Nintendo consoles than the PC.

      So, wait, you’re saying that tomorrow’s list won’t have Final Fantasy 7, Metal Gear Solid, Halo: CE, or Resident Evil 4? Insanity!

  36. Premium User Badge

    James G says:

    Alec wins. Only managed to give his list a quick scan as on a tiny mobile screen in a cafe, but I enjoyed the mix of games. Pleased to see ME2 get a look in, I worried at the time that the innovation would get overlooked, as it didn’t involve lots of new ideas, but rather a reformulation of how those ideas could be combined together. The original G+C post on RPS made me very happy, and I’m glad those ideas haven’t been forgotten.

  37. juandemarco says:

    You have listed both Grim Fandango and Plancescape: Torment. Now I feel complete.

  38. JackShandy says:

    Planescape, Fallout, Spelunky, Grim fandango. The light is strong with this list.
    If part of the intention is to get people to play some of these games, you’ve succeeded. My next order of business is to fucking find Blade runner. Right after I fiddle with this heroin and snort some genitals.

  39. Premium User Badge

    Fitzmogwai says:

    An excellent list today. So much goodness, so many fantastic memories. Ultimately, though, it is X-Com (in my case Terror From The Deep) that me ensnared in its clammy alien grasp for all time. It is the only game I own that I have returned to year in, year out without exception. 16 years – 16 YEARS – I have been playing it. It’s still terrifying, and it’s still brilliant.

    If there was any justice in this cold world, the new XCOM would be headed by the Gollops and they would have all the time and resources they needed to catch that lightning in a bottle one more time.

  40. Kefren says:

    AvP is fantastic. Shame that Rebellion updated it to run on modern systems but ripped out multiplayer (unless you buy it on Setam).
    http://www.gamersgate.co.uk/DD-AVPC/alien-vs-predators-classic-2000
    Now I have that version for single player, and my original CD versions for multiplayer LAN. I just want one version! And ideally without the ‘Classic 2000′ nonsense.

  41. Sarkhan Lol says:

    Oh, that DoW pic brings back memories. 3v3 IG versus Orks on a large map, by half time the earth would be a shagpile of blood and persistent, mangled carcasses.

  42. wahnstrom says:

    There’s still hope that part 5 will include Conquest: Frontier Wars…

  43. OldRat says:

    Oh ye gods, X-com. I still remember the horror that was the tiny pixel-alien rushing from the shadows with a plasma-belching weapon that might as well have been the fury of gods to my hapless troopers awkwardly clambering out of their ship.
    They never stood a chance. The poor bastards.

  44. Duke of Chutney says:

    imo best list so far
    avp gold .. what a game, anyone here remember the bonus level with rotating gravity? (it was a bonus run of the gateway station as a marine) Why has no one done this since? (or have they and ive just missed it).
    The other great thing about AVP gold is if you could access the console, you could spawn any ai entity in the game. Doing the final marine level and droping a couple of predators and a dozen marines in was a great watch.
    Also i agree with your assessment of Freelancer. As a spacesim fan id rank others higher now, but it was the game that brought me in, because it was accessable. It carved exploration up into manage chunks, had a reasonable even hooking story, and intutive interface and gameplay to boot.
    dont think theres anything i can complain about on this list

  45. Selix says:

    I don’t see the point of mentioning merey “impactful” titles like Audiosurf, Minecraft, Peggle, Sims, World of Warcraft.
    Mass Effect 2 might be overall a more satisfying beast than its predecessor, but it’s partly a result of jumbling lots of cool and trendy things together. It doesn’t offer anything unique, rather being the videogame market’s proud and showy embodiment, pushing around the TV shows and blockbusters of the old media, without being any more substantial. But after all, there’s some justification to mentioning the ME franchise, since it’s also a perfect “science fiction” embodiment, what with all the convincing high tech feel and look…

    • Chris D says:

      Which definition of important are you using that doesn’t include impact?

      This isn’t necessarily a best games list. It’s which games have influenced game design up to this point and which ones will influence it in the future.

    • afarrell says:

      If the measure is “most money thrown away trying to specifically out do it”, then WoW is probably on top (and if it isn’t, then it surely will be at the end of next year when it’s sitting on its magnificent throne of the smoking corpses of Rift, DCUO, Guild Wars 2, SW:ToR, The Secret World….)

    • sinister agent says:

      If you deny that the Sims and World of Warcraft (in particular WoW) are some of the most important PC games ever released, I have to inform you that your brain is faulty.

      Go into the street now, and ask someone about the Sims or WoW. They will have heard of at least one of them. Do the same thing with almost any other game listed so far, and they probably won’t. That alone is reason enough, and there are others besides.

    • Phydaux says:

      I would happily argue that The Sims is one of the best games ever released. I know there is an element of elite gamer snobbery when it comes to The Sims, people often try to dismiss it labelling it casual when it’s anything but.

      Will Wright is one of the most important people in gaming and The Sims is his masterpiece.

  46. woodsey says:

    I’m glad you didn’t give more than a passing mention to Mass Effect 2’s “lack” of RPG-y-ness.

    It may have been a “worse” RPG than the first (it wasn’t, it just knew where it wanted to invest it’s RPG chips – conversation and choice) , but it was by far a better game.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I feel it has left the RPG genre and is now a member of the “Guns & Conversation” genre. Which is a genre I am a fan of.

    • JibbSmart says:

      It’s definitely still a game about role-playing, and so it’s a role-playing game. It’s a shame that what makes a game a Role-Playing Game is not role-playing, but a rulebook that stifles the genre. Mass Effect 2 was meant to bring something different to a genre it was still definitely defined by, not make a genre of its own.

    • Shadram says:

      Role Playing Games should not be about stats. Stats are a relic of the times when combat and skill couldn’t be modelled well enough in any other way, so the designers resorted to dice rolling. Mass Effect is the first real push away from this system: you still get to choose class and character, but you don’t need the numbers any more since player skill can take their place.

      Role Playing Games are about role playing: choosing how your character acts and responds to situations and shaping a narrative based on these choices. BioWare are currently the best at making these games by a long way (at least until Witcher 2 comes out, maybe).

    • Premium User Badge

      phlebas says:

      But surely the stats were never intended to be a substitute for player skill? Stats represent skills and attributes of the character, not the player. It’s an abstraction, not a clumsy substitution to make up for the fact that nobody’s invented shooty games yet.

  47. Dominic White says:

    King’s Bounty (the new one) felt like an insane Russian mad scientists attempt to genetically splice Heroes of Might & Magic and Disgaea. It somehow worked.

    That said, I think I still slightly prefer the Disgaea series as far as ‘madder than a drunken llama’ strategy-RPGing goes.

  48. Cinnamon says:

    I deem Mr Meer’s selection to be the strongest so far.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Hmm. Yeah, I agree. The other lists while having some good titles felt a bit.. meh to me. Then again, I have a different gaming experience than many, with my early experience being mostly mac games.

  49. MadTinkerer says:

    Still no Deus Ex!?! Oh, wait…
    Actually, I think it was overrated. ;)

    • HeavyStorm says:

      Finally, someone to agree with. Deus Ex, at first glance, it’s incredible. Nice blend between action, adventure, etc. After a few hours playing… we come to the point where you are always doing _the same thing_. Bypassing cameras, hacking panels, it all feels exactly the same.

      What keeps it from being a mundane game is the fact that the plot keeps evolving and involving.

    • sinister agent says:

      To be fair, I think almost every very famous game soon becomes overrated. I never quite agreed with the entire universe’s worship of Half life, for example. But I think that’s partly because at the time, those things were so influential that their reputation grew far larger than the reality. They’re still good, of course (well, usually), but almost always disappoint if you’re a latecomer, or you revisit them.

  50. Gaytard Fondue says:

    Again no love for Outlaws or Il-2? I’m a sad pc gamer.