The Very Important List Of PC Games, Part 6/5

By Tim Stone on February 18th, 2011 at 2:55 pm.


It becomes clear that the PC gaming faculty at Rock, Paper, University is going to require a consult from Simulated Professor Stone, who occasionally visits us from his laboratory in the woods. We must thank him for this appendix to our round up of the greatest PC games, just as we must thank Intel and their AppUp Developer Program for sponsoring the whole thing.

And now, to the details of war and sims…

Please note: these games are not ranked according to the fidelity of their Panzers.

Close Combat 2: A Bridge Too Far
RELEASE DATE : 1997
IMPORTANCENESS: DSO with bar

Study WW2 aerial images of Normandy, Arnhem or the Ardennes and you won’t see a carpet of giant-sized chicken-wire draping the terrain. You won’t see evenly-spaced houses equidistant from cardinal and ordinal-aligned roads. Close Combat 2 was the first wargame to acknowledge that battlefields are higgledy-piggledy places, the men scurrying over them, frightened, fallible beings. The result was revelatory. Watching from your metaphysical Storch/Auster as soldiers broke and ran, cowered in ditches, or Nicht Schiessen-ed rather than follow orders, it was impossible to remain aloof. Of course there was unscripted courage too, moments when a hundred variables conspired to make a tiny warrior quit the safety of a crater or shell-blasted house and charge a chattering MG. Would Tommy Tompkins or Hans Hartmann succeed? There was no way of  telling. All this exquisite drama was controlled via a gem of UI and given context by an inspired tug-of-war campaign system. The twirly tanks, cramped arenas, and dodgy deployment code were trivial nuisances when viewed against CC2′s grounbreaking accomplishments.

Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord
RELEASE DATE: 2000
IMPORTANCENESS: Victoria Cross


I haven’t played ‘Chance Encounter’, one of the scenarios in the CMBO demo, in six or seven years, but if you gave me paper and a pencil I could sketch out the location of every house. hollow, and thicket. When you can play a scenario a hundred times without getting bored of it, you know you’re in the presence of greatness. CMBO’s greatness was rooted in its impressive realism and unusual (for a wargame) 3D perspective, but the Fun Gas also seeped from less obvious vents. By forcing players to sit on their hands for sixty-second stretches (orders were issued during enforced pauses at the end of a minute’s action) Battlefront created one of wargaming’s tensest and most resonant control mechanisms. Turns often ended with shells frozen tantalisingly/terrifyingly in mid-flight. Like real commanders, you couldn’t intervene at the drop of a hat, you had to trust and cross-fingers. Without resourceful TacAI, the WeGo structure might have been a disaster. Fortunately, Charles Moylan’s coding skills were up to snuff. If a plan started unravelling in the middle of a turn the unscripted AI usually had enough nous to abandon or amend it. Men sought cover and fled burning buildings unbidden, outgunned tanks withdrew behind veils of smoke. It didn’t matter that every infantry squad was represented with three turnip-headed mannequins, or Sherman suspension wasn’t modelled properly, the battle ebb and flow felt uncannily real.

Falcon 4.0
RELEASE DATE: 1998
IMPORTANCENESS: Supersonic


One of the greatest challenges faced by the busy combat flight sim reviewer these days, is finding new, fresh ways of saying “[insertgamenamehere] does a pretty mean dogfight, but fails to provide an interesting context for that dogfight”. When I grumble about missing dynamic campaigns, I’m usually comparing the drab mission sequence in [insertgamenamehere] with the amazing living, breathing conflicts served-up by the likes of Falcon 4.0. Microprose’s campaign people had the kind of ambition high-flying geese mistake for rivers. When you press the ‘Start New Campaign’ button you’re effectively releasing the brake lever on a giant wargame engine. Tension between North and South Korea suddenly escalates into full-on fisticuffs. The theatre map begins to measle with a rash of unscripted incident icons. Ground forces surge, squadrons scramble, infrastructure nervously eyes skies and horizons. It’s tempting to sit back and watch as this magnificent maelstrom intensifies. Tweaking sorties and fiddling with strategy sliders is improbably rewarding, but as one of the most thoroughly simulated aircraft ever is waiting patiently in the wings, it’s rarely long before you’re clambering into a cockpit and experiencing the mayhem first-hand. Falcon 4.0 is the consummate combat flight sim. It has the realism, the avionic substance, the campaign, the documentation, the scaleability, the de-brief tools … everything you could want from a serious aerial diversion. The fact that’s its still flown and modded by many, is a testament to its unmatched importantitude.

Red Baron
RELEASE DATE: 1990
IMPORTANCENESS: Fokking important


At some point during the last ten years Flight Simulation forgot how to make small talk, laugh at other people’s jokes, and use soap. When I see it try to mingle these days, I find myself wincing and wanting to rush over with a copy of Red Baron. RB hit the sweetspot between Sim and Game dead-on. The flight models are plausible without being cruel. The hostile AI is just hostile enough to encourage regular six-checking and occasional hasty retreats. The true glory, however, is in the story, or rather the lack of one. Dynamix let us write our own Flying Fury on the fly by providing a campaign built around randomly generated sorties and engaging inter-mission activities. In the lulls between sky skirmishes, medals are dished-out, promotions gained, transfers requested, newspapers read, and (once you’ve made Captain) planes customised. This is a game that understands that meeting the Red Baron amongst the clouds is doubly exciting when that meeting is the result of a personal challenge dropped onto your airfield by Richthofen himself.

Airborne Assault: Red Devils Over Arnhem
RELEASE DATE: 2002
IMPORTANCENESS: Unmentioned in dispatches


You won’t find AARDOA in other game lists because a) other game lists smell of fox wee, and b) sometimes making 95% of a genre feel moribund at a stroke, doesn’t earn you respect. Before this little marvel skidded to a halt on the wargaming LZ, most people’s idea of an operational wargame involved acres of hexagons and lots of laborious counter pushing. Australian outfit Panther Games took all these boardgame conventions and stuffed them where the sun don’t shine (Scarborough). They were more interested in simulating war than simulating existing simulations of war. Their counters moved freely on hexless maps, and represented tiny interdependent armylets. Yes you could drag-select the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th  Coys of 8SS Recon Battalion, and send all them swanning towards Ooosterbeek, but doing so would make Panther chief Dave O’Connor cry. The cleverer, slicker option was to click on the HQ of 8SS Recon Battalion, give it a nuanced order, then watch as its tiny invisible CO interpreted, planned and executed the instruction. Every link of the command chain was modelled meaning spectacularly lazy wargamers could just select their biggest cheese, issue an order and sit back and watch as the order rippled downwards and outwards. The enemy AI was as cunning and intertwined as the friendly stuff.  Later instalments of the series beefed up areas such as supply modelling and pathfinding while retaining at their cores the magic mix of ergonomy and truth that made Red Devils so devilishly good.

Battle of Britain II: Wings of Victory
RELEASE DATE: 2005
IMPORTANCENESS: Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding


A significant portion of the people currently paid to produce flying games seem to think the fire button is the most important part of a joystick. Pack enough soft targets into a small enough chunk of sky, and, bingo, joy is forthcoming. These people are misguided and dangerous. They need Battle of Britain II in their lives. Based on Rowan Software’s 2001 swansong, BoB2 is a sim that dishes out glory with a teaspoon, and fear, excitement, and failure with a ladle. If you return from a sortie with one Heinkel, Stuka, or Bf 109 under your belt you feel genuinely elated and, probably, utterly exhausted. Thanks to peerless AI code (massaged post-release by a band of official modders) every dogfight is different. Thanks to a campaign approach similar to Falcon 4.0′s, every victory makes Goering that little bit angrier. If the purpose of a combat flight sim is to simulate combat conditions and pilot emotions as well as machinery and flight behaviours, then BoB2 is a strong candidate for genre zenith. Breathless, breathtaking, gritty and gruelling… it will be interesting to see how Cliffs of Dover measures up.

Flight Simulator X
RELEASE DATE: 2006
IMPORTANCENESS: Jumbo


The Flight Simulator series is endearingly modest. That terse moniker doesn’t hint at the riches that reside on the groaning hard-drive of the average MSFS user. 510,072,000 square km of seamless global scenery? CHECK. Accurate recreations of hundreds of different type of machines-that-fly? CHECK. Stress relief more potent than any benzodiazepine? CHECK. In a medium where everyone and their dog is trying to tell us a story, amuse us, scare us, or bury us in steaming viscera, it’s strangely liberating to spend time with a game that simply wants us to leave the ground. The FS user knows why swallows smile, greenfinches grin, and larks lark about. He understands the beatific calm the airliner passenger feels gazing out across frothy cloud tops. Assuming he hasn’t got framerate issues, that is. Predictably, FSX is the neediest of the FS line. It out-importants its predecessors primarily by out-prettying them and outliving them. However the mysterious Microsoft Flight turns out, the tenth FS looks set to endure. The flocks of  plane makers, terra formers, and peace seekers will see to that. The recent wave of gun-free Euro sims can steal Microsoft Flight Simulator’s font, but they’ll never match its majesty.

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.

This feature has been kindly sponsored by:

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129 Comments »

  1. Shooree says:

    Ohmygod YES, Deer Hunter!

    Anyway, just wanted to give a thumbs up to this most emotional of drive troughs down memory lane. All the lists so far were, as far as I’m concerned, of exemplary tastefulness, like finely cut pieces of an expensive pepper salami – bit of this, bit of that, always filling and rewarding.

    Also, Delta Force. Purely because it was my first ever MP experience, and I OWNED those punks.

  2. Metonymy says:

    Good effort, and thanks for the read, but ultimately it was just a rage-inducer for anyone over the age of 30.

    The problems were:

    1. The choice of representative games.
    -Civ1 belongs, Civ# does not.
    -Starcraft1 (and Dune) belongs, SC2 does not.
    -Quake 1 belongs, Quake 3 does not.
    -WC2 is an exception that proves the rule. But really, it could have been safely added as a footnote to Starcraft 1.
    -More than half of your list suffers from this issue.

    2. Way, way too many junk games.
    -This is the other half of the problem, games you included because you liked playing them. Duke does not belong here. In fact, Duke is a perfect example of this problem. It added nothing to FPS or even gaming. It was just a poor-man’s Doom with a few voice clips added.
    -Every game that is like Duke does not belong here. Ie same old game, a few minor additions.

    3. Too many modern games. ME2? Fallout 3? (yes I know its not on the list: use your mind, not your mouth) I adore these games. I like them better than Portal. They are just a great example of what is now possible. These are what modern shooters should strive for, and fail to achieve. They aren’t important yet, and will probably never be. They’re just tiny stepping stones.

    4. Too many omissions. By restricting yourself to PC, you’ve really avoid thinking about the games that have truly changed gaming. Street Fighter 2. Virtua Fighter. Megaman 2, Tetris, many of the early Apple games that never saw a port. There’s no room for a complete list.

    • Mman says:

      I agree there are some very questionable choices, but Duke is not one of those; it obviously wasn’t as important as Doom or Quake (also, Quake 1 was on the list), but its use of interactive (and realistic, for its time) environments and events was almost unseen in FPS games before it. Also, giving the main character a voice and personality was a very noteworthy in itself at that point in FPS history.

    • Metonymy says:

      Couldn’t possibly disagree more. Yes, Duke was better than it’s contemporaries, it’s still not 10% of what Doom was. Doom still has a mod community, and those user-created maps have better gameplay than any modern shooter. If a writer is going to praise games that “added something,” then they’d have to list every PC game that has ever received a positive review. (That’s called logic)

      And thus, Duke was included solely because the writer “liked played it,” or “has fond memories.” You think I don’t? That doesn’t make Duke anything but another FPS.

      Also, the part where I said Quake 1 didn’t appear on the list? That only happened in your imagination.

    • Mman says:

      I listed distinct reasons why Duke was important; those were things that many FPS after had/have in some way (as opposed to being one or two gimmicks that were forgotten), and it directly inspired multiple games that tried to be similar to it (as well as being a very likely inspiration for future innovators like Half-Life) , which is something very few FPS can claim, despite the genre being mostly composed of clones of those few games that manage it. Duke still has an active (and advanced) modding community too, obviously it isn’t as big as Doom, but it seemed you were implying it didn’t as something against it.

      “Also, the part where I said Quake 1 didn’t appear on the list? That only happened in your imagination.”

      In that case, saying Quake 3 doesn’t belong is just as dubious (probably more). Games in its specific genre niche might be very rare now, but Q3 is still considered the zenith of pure deathmatch games; and being the peak of a genre after ten+ years is a huge accomplishment in itself (in addition to it still having an active pro-gaming scene after all that time).

    • BobsLawnService says:

      Metonymy, I’m going to have to disagree with you. The lists are certainly not rage inducing. The main thing about RPS that I enjoy is that everything is passed through some weird, creative Brit-Filter fueled by tea and whatever the hell they smoke on that little Isle. I’ve really enjoyed the fact that they aren’t just a rehash of all the usual suspects. I’ve read about some interesting games that I haven’t played before that I now want to get hold of and I’ve been PC gaming since 1988-1989.

      Also your final point is laughable. This is a list about PC games that have been influential, nobody here cares about consoles in the context of this site.

      I also think one or tow games should have been included (See my Panzer General post.) but I’m more curious about its exclusion than anything else.

      All-in-all, I’ve enjoyed the writing and I’ve learned about some games that I’ve never heard about. It’s a net win situation.

    • bill says:

      If it’s a rage inducer then maybe you should look into that issue. Try some yoga or just not caring so much about people’s opinions on the internet.

      It’s a PC site, so complaining about it not including console classics is getting yourself worked up over nothing.

      Of course it’s a list of games the authors liked. What else do you think it is?

      Which version you think is important depends on your own subjective experience. I wouldn’t have chosed Quake3, but I would have chosen UT1.
      Yet for me Doom2 is much more important than Doom 1 because i played it first and the levels were better.

      I didn’t even like Duke, but it’s clearly a hugely important game. In 3d tech, if nothing else. (and it is important for other reasons too – like having realistic real-world settings. )

      If this list included every game that everyone thinks is important or great then it’d probably include 90% of games ever made and would be never-ending.

    • Acorino says:

      >>Of course it’s a list of games the authors liked. What else do you think it is?

      Maybe I thought it would be what the title advertises.
      Oh wait, it just says that the list is very important, not the games mentioned on it. My bad…

    • bill says:

      Oh yes. I missed the obviously totally serious title. ;-)

  3. Acorino says:

    1. If “The Very Important List of PC Games” is correct, then Myst is unimportant.
    2. Myst is important.
    3. “The Very Important List of PC Games” is incorrect.

    • bill says:

      It’s not important to me ;-)
      And i’ve never played any games based on it….. unless you’d say Penumbra was.

      I heard it did sell a lot of CD drives though. (I got Ultima 8 with mine :-( )

    • Gassalasca says:

      Agreed. Myst was important. Just not sure if it was good. I for one definitely never cared.

  4. Jason Moyer says:

    I love Red Baron and Battle of Britain (I’m assuming 2 is similar, haven’t played it) but if I had to choose a Rowan sim I would have gone with Mig Alley. By far the most engrossing flight sim I’ve ever played and the one that kept me glued to my joystick and dynamic campaign map the longest. Unguided weaponry and jets? Can you really beat that combination?

  5. MadTinkerer says:

    Actually, an on-topic thing I’d like to mention (but had sadly forgotten about until I had gone to bed) is Stunt Island.

    I was never big into flight sims, but a flight sim that had stunt driving missions? And a built-in level editor? And a built-in movie editor? In the early 90s!?!

    I guess in one sense it’s not that important because there haven’t been any games that ever followed it up. On the other hand, if you look at it as one of the absolute earliest machinima tools, one that’s designed for the specific purpose of machinima, long before the term was coined, then it’s incredibly important to machinima makers.

  6. bill says:

    No Mig alley? ;-)
    No helicopter sims? I always liked those the best! No shooting small radar blips, but popping up from behind trees to surprise the tank column by crashing into the trees.
    No Interstate 76? It’s the only funky post-apocalyptic mad max tv show simulator.

    I propose that RPS should have a section that includes all games of greatness/importance. And then they can add games to this list as and when they appear/become great.

  7. Thants says:

    There’s no Myth or Myth II on this list. Clearly, this means the whole thing is invalidated.

  8. Hardtarget says:

    there have been some really weird omissions on these lists sadly.

    Where are the Wing Commander Games? The old Papyrus Indy racers? The X-wing games? etc etc

    • Nick says:

      TIE Fighter was in it and the Wing Commander games were mentioned if not given a place.

    • bill says:

      Oooh, I forgot payrus. Indycar, and GP legends too right?

      I think that’s the thing. There are so many great games out there that it’s very hard to make a list that contains them all.. as you’ll always forget a couple.
      I keep thinking of new ideas that i’d forgotten up to now…

  9. Ziv says:

    You make me want to reach for my wallet and buy a joystick. I’ve meant to for a while but you just give me too many reasons.

  10. Jp1138 says:

    Any way to buy Airborne Assault: Red Devils Over Arnhem somewhere today?

    Another strategy game without hexes I was very fond of was Patton Strikes back, with all that little stories it told about the real Battle of the Bulge. It was somewhat simplified but very fun.

    • Tim Stone says:

      While RDOA is arguably the most important of the Airborne Assaults (being the first) it’s not the best.

      Later Panther titles like Highway to the Reich and Conquest of the Aegean boast an improved engine. Matrix Games is the place to get those.

      The engine appeared most recently in Command Ops: Battles From The Bulge. As a Patton Strikes Back fan, BftB should be right up your street.

      Demo:
      http://www.matrixgames.com/products/377/downloads/

    • Jp1138 says:

      And there´s even a Battle of the Bulge one, I see – Command Ops: Battles from the Bulge. I´ll probably buy some of them, just for reading the manuals as I have around two hundred games waiting to be played ;)

      Thanks for the info

  11. kert says:

    Um.

    Microprose F19 / F117.
    FreeSpace 2 ( The most authentic space combat flight simulator evar. I-War notwithstanding )

  12. RCGT says:

    I agree with the guy who said RPS should ban lists until the commenteriat can stop kvetching about games X Y and Z.

    ps: it’s “The Very Important List of PC Games”

    not “The List of Very Important PC Games”