The 122 Best PC Games Ever

By RPS on February 21st, 2011 at 12:38 pm.

BOM BOM BOM BOM BOM BOM

…in our opinion. Where once this list denoted the singular tastes of six separate minds, now we are bonded into one, mighty Hivemind. This, then, is The List Of Lists: the 122 Best PC Games of The Last 22 Years. All games have been re-ordered by release date, revealing one year in particular as the best that PC gaming has ever seen so far. Which do you think that might be?

These are Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s most favoured PC games between the sacred period 1989 to 2011: all of these games are each in their own way precious, vital things that deserve to have shrines erected in their honour, first-borns sacrificed to them, that sort of thing. Is your favourite game missing? Well, you haven’t asked us what our 123rd best PC game is, have you? Aha! And don’t get us started on the 177th. This list is, of course, merely the start of the discussion, not the end of it – there are many more gems undocumented here, so please do suggest them. Perhaps one day soon we shall add to the list (and, indeed, expand the years covered). Meantime, clicking on each game-name will take you to a short essay on why we’ve chosen it and a few thoughts on why we believe it has a certain degree of importance beyond mere personal fondness.

Behold! THE LIST!

Why 122? Why 22? Oh, we could never tell you that. A terrible thing would happen if we did. What we can tell you is that we’re very grateful to Intel’s App Up Developer Program for sponsoring this titanic endeavour. Now, onwards, and to battle…


1989



1990


1991


1992



1993


1994


1995



1996



1997



1998



1999



2000



2001



2002



2003



2004



2005



2006



2007



2008



2009



2010

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And there you have it. That’s it – for now…

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218 Comments »

  1. Pijama says:

    “WHY NO *THIS*? WHY NO *THAT*? WHY IS X ON THE LIST? WTF RPS?”

    People, what I am about to say might be earthshaking and rock your world-view to the core, so take a deep breath, sit down, and be enlightened.

    Game lists are subjective.

    Now go forth, and be happy.

    (not directed to those who are obviously joking around of course)

    • Oozo says:

      You did see the part reading “there are many more gems undocumented here, so please do suggest them”, though?

      THEY WANT US TO BE WHINY!

    • Tim Smith says:

      @Pijama
      Owned bitch.

    • mda says:

      Pijama, what I am about to say might be earthshaking and rock your world-view to the core, so take a deep breath, sit down, and be enlightened.

      Game lists are subjective.

      That’s why people say:

      “WHY NO *THIS*? WHY NO *THAT*? WHY IS X ON THE LIST? WTF RPS?”

    • Tim Smith says:

      What’s that you say? Say owned bitch more forcefully, perhaps in capitals? Oh very well.

      OWNED BITCH!

  2. Pointless Puppies says:

    This’ll be the last time I bitch about RollerCoaster Tycoon not being on here but…my god RollerCoaster Tycoon is NOT IN HERE!

    You bet your ass you feel cheated when your favorite game of all time is snubbed from being in a “best PC games” list, especially when crap (yes, crap) like GTA IV makes the list. Just…*shudder. I love you RPS, but MAN did you omit too many great games and included too many poor ones.

  3. Oozo says:

    Ah, reply fail. Nevermind.

  4. Artist says:

    While reading the list Ive noticed that Ive become old! Holy shit, hehe!

  5. hanneswall says:

    I’m so happy Battlezone got on this list. Might just be my favorite game of all time. OF ALL TIME!

    • 7rigger says:

      I’m happy for you, and Imma let you finish – BUT.

      Elite 2:Frontier was the best game of all time! :P

      Battlezone totally rocked too though.

  6. Zaboomafoozarg says:

    No Betrayal at Krondor? Then this list is wrong.

  7. The Great Wayne says:

    You mention EvE but no Ultima Online ? Hmmm, everyone is entitled to his own opinion and tastes, but UO deserves mention if only for the fact that it gave birth to the whole MMO market and was a jewel of innovation.

    Actually it still is from most of the nowadays mmog pov.

  8. Wulf says:

    Wheee. It’s always interesting to see how the RPS team perceives, parses, and interprets gaming. Though I’m beginning to think that there aren’t any romanticists/thinky people on the team with the lack of RPGs and the exclusions of the Myst series. This is why I often miss Kieron these days, as he’d likely pad out these lists in that regard. Kieron always was a terrible, awful nerd. RPS needs more nerdliness.

    • Gassalasca says:

      Whoa there… Isn’t John as romanticky as you get, and Jim as thinky as you get? With Kieron embodying both of those about equally?

    • Wulf says:

      I’m not sure that John is. I know that John likes adventure games, but is he? I was never actually certain about that one. It was always Kieron that actually struck me as more the artsy romanticist. And that’s one thing I really miss about RPS. I know John also likes emotion in some cases, but hm, no Myst?

      For some reason, that doesn’t click in my head. I can’t see how you can be an artsy romanticist and not think at least one of the Myst games was super important. Especially Uru, which had some incredibly alien landscapes, and the only breathing trees I’ve ever seen.

      It just surprises me, that’s all, so I think John is more about adventure games. And thus there’s a bit of a void there in that area at the moment. It’s a good list. Even I can see that it’s a good list and you may have noticed that I haven’t doubted that. I just feel that there are things missing that would’ve been present if a certain old RPS guy was still present.

      I miss him. :p

    • Gassalasca says:

      I miss him too. :sniff:

      But yeah, John can sometimes dislike the weirdest stuff.
      I don’t mean things that are weird, I mean his disliking it is weird. But that was probably clear from the context. So…. yeah.

    • DiamondDog says:

      Hang on! Don’t all trees breathe?

  9. Cinnamon says:

    Is the Minesweeper thing a witty way of saying that everything on PC before 1990 was dross or ports from systems that were not expensive spreadsheet devices?

    • Alec Meer says:

      Not at all. I said it somewhere else, but we have plans to cover the 80s in a follow-up sometime.

    • Cinnamon says:

      It would sort of be a shame from a UK perspective if you guys covered the games from the 80s only from a PC perspective when it wasn’t such a big deal over here at the time. But I expect that there will be a fair crossover of games that appeared on the more popular home computers. Maybe you could get Intel to sponsor a Spectrum retrospective. The Z80 is more like an Intel chip than the others, right?

  10. White Whale says:

    I don’t understand the exclusion of Warcraft 3. Game genres literally grew out of that game, in addition to being a damn fine RTS in its own right. I remember literally 5 straight years of LAN play, all just Warcraft 3 custom games.

  11. mbp says:

    Whether you pick 1999, 2000 or 2001 I certainly agree that the period around the turn of the millennium wa a golden age of PC gaming. It was a time when the technology had advanced sufficiently to give us complex games that looked good while the industry was still fresh enough (And naive enough) to take risks and try things that had never been done before.

    I refuse to be pessimistic and say that it has all been downhill since then though. I think we may be on the verge of a new golden era fuelled by the surge in quality and popularity of indie games.

  12. Sarlix says:

    Some thoughts for the future list:

    Day of Defeat

    Wing Commander games [opinions on best one]

    I have to say I am a bit surprised none of the Wing Commanders made the list.

  13. Anonymous Coward says:

    Was glad to see Startopia in this list. That game was great. Hoping we’ll see it on GoG one day.

  14. Nimic says:

    I really, really, really expected to see Alpha Centauri!

    But other than that, a brilliant list. Thanks, RPS :)

  15. BobsLawnService says:

    It is a great list but I really do think that Panzer General would have been a great game to include. To date it is still the only breakout wargaming hit. It also spawned a host of clones, spinoffs and sequels.

    It was truly the highwater mark for wargaming on the PC.

  16. Mman says:

    With the whole list of important games laid out the inclusion of Tomb Raider: Legend without the infinitely more influential original as well looks even sillier, but I guess it’s not the only notable omission, and I at least agree with the majority of the inclusions on the list.

  17. Rahewino says:

    Games missing from the list

    Betrayal at Krondor
    King of Dragon Pass
    Master of Magic
    Settlers 2
    Transport Tycoon

  18. weizur says:

    Meh I can’t take your list seriously without Ultima Online on it. Especially since it’s just a rehash of the “most important” list which isn’t the same as “Best.” And that list also didn’t include Ultima Online which is obviously the most important MMO.

    • Chris D says:

      You may be able to make the case for Ultima Online but it’s certainly not obvious to me.

  19. arghstupid says:

    I thought Hardwar was a rather good game.

    • arghstupid says:

      And the original dune (the strange french adventury one) was several shades of awesome too if my rose tinted specs aren’t deceiving me.

  20. Frank says:

    I just noticed: you skipped over Heroes of Might and Magic!

  21. Londoner says:

    No Theme Hospital! Bah.
    Theme Park/RCT2,
    Alpha Centuri,
    HOMM3 (although Kings Bounty is there, which I’m now playing because of you),
    Settlers 2,
    Off to the Bloaty Head Clinic for the lot of you, then you really can hang your heads in shame.

  22. Tim Smith says:

    Glad to see Hitman: Blood Money on this listy.

  23. Nachiketh says:

    What about Kingping: Life of Crime that was a pretty good game. Ran on the Quake engine.

  24. P3RF3CT D3ATH says:

    I’m surprised that Battlefield 1942 isn’t on this list but Far Cry 2 is though. Shouldn’t the original Far Cry be on the list? Or even Crysis at least?

  25. Jimbo says:

    Your list is wrong because The Witcher isn’t on it, but here are some others I’d have found room for:

    Full Throttle
    Red Alert
    Rainbow Six
    Operation Flashpoint
    Theme Park
    Pirates! Gold
    Shogun TW
    Lords of the Realm

  26. geldonyetich says:

    To think I’ve played easily 90% of that list. Main thing I passed up on being the strategy board game games and sports simulator games.

  27. scharmers says:

    I’m sure I’m like the 9000th person to mention this for these lists, but where the HELL is Rollercoaster Tycoon? Not only was a superlative, addicting game that made Chris Taylor a bazillion dollars, but it essentially defined a genre. (Sure, a low-rent, bottom feeder genre filled with stuff like “Women’s Prison Typhoon”, but hey).

    • Zaboomafoozarg says:

      Transport Tycoon was WAY better than Roller Coaster Tycoon.

  28. shagen454 says:

    I really respect RPS. My favorite gaming site – but you guys just have no respect for Alpha Centauri and it seems right up your alley.

    It was a randomly generated game – you could craft the details of the world before you began. You could design your own units, the AI was good, the tech trees were super interesting and let’s not even talk about the secret project cut-scenes!

    *hint* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGCaACqy1Ro

    It could be rather dystopian, extremely political, it was scientific, the tech trees predict the direction of science and technology and war for humanity in the future, but if you wanted you could go Green Gaian style and turn those mindworms loose on your enemies – and in the end game they become these ridiculously large baddies being pumped out of many of your 60+ ridiculously overgrown cities as you neared human transcendence.

    Along with games like Doom, System Shock, Half-life, Thief and Planescape – Alpha Centauri is definitely up there as one of the greatest games ever created. I enjoyed AC much more than I’ve ever enjoyed any Civ game – and I was probably 9 playing the original Civ and loving it. Yes, it was Civ in space – but it really was on a whole other level on a whole lotta levels.

  29. OpT1mUs says:

    Where
    THE HELL
    are Heroes of Might and Magic?

    edit: Also, no Alpha Centauri, are you guys serious?
    This list is invalid. For shame.

  30. lurkalisk says:

    Considering how significant the first Starcraft was to the gaming world, I find it bizarre that isn’t on here, and yet its considerably less notable sequel is

  31. mllory says:

    In light of your recent article on the writing in games I find it odd that ctrl+f yielded no results for any Legacy of Kain games which, coincidentally, happens to be my favourite series on PC, console ports or not. I feel like like I’m shouting in an opera house though.

  32. Phillip Culliton says:

    Terra Nova. Oh, Looking Glass. You beautiful people.

  33. MattM says:

    This is a fun nostalgia bit, but the criterion for inclusion is a bit inconsistent. It seems to be a mix of
    1. The best games as judged by how much you liked them when they came out
    2. The best games as judged by how much you like them now
    3. The most historic and influential games
    and
    4. The best games to play today.

    I would love to see a feature on the best games for someone to play today for the first time. Games would have to be at least a few years old to qualify to avoid hype induced bias and a great anti nostalgia test would be to boot up the game for an hour or two to see how it compares to your memories.
    We could all debate how well certain titles hold up in comparison to later games. I think games like Warcraft I & II and GTA III were landmark titles, but I would recommend Starcraft and GTA:VC & SA over them for new players. A few games have improved over time due to genre die-out or fan patching and mods that improve the base game (TC mods should count as separate games.) Freespace 2 is comparatively better today since a player is less likely to have played much like it. The unofficial patches VTM:Bloodlines has freed a great game from many crippling bugs. Far Cry now has very modest system requirements.

  34. Rugged Malone says:

    Nice to see Tribes 2 mentioned, but I think the first one was more influential — AFAIK it was the first team-based multiplayer game to include classes and loadouts…way back in good old 1998.
    Couldn’t help but feel the list was hurting from a lack of space some years, too…
    Oh, and Far Cry 2? The original, yes, but the incredibly disappointing sequel? No way.
    A nice nostalgia trip, but such a surprisingly disjointed list. I expected better from RPS.

  35. MDS says:

    I’d never heard of Startopia before this list.

    Tonight I fought a bloody counter-invasion, and in the aftermath I manually picked the corpses up from the bloodstained floor of my hard-won new disco. Thank you RPS for this gaming experience :)

  36. Metonymy says:

    Are you just trolling us now? It really feels like a 4chan stunt, using copypasta to try to get some of the same rage you did before.

    The list is still terrible. Half of those are garbage filler games, lots of wrong versions, and lots of missing titles.

  37. Bob says:

    *Looks up the meaning of subjective in the dictionary.*

    It’s only been mentioned five or six times but the list is not meant to be taken as the all encompassing, most important games list of all time. As Anachronox, Deus Ex, Freelancer, and Mass Effect 2 were included, I’m satisfied with it. I can understand why some may not be though. That’s why I love gaming sites such as this, people are so passionate about their games.

  38. Gnarl says:

    Outcast, #49.

    Shame.

  39. Matt says:

    The pedant in me must also point out that Mechwarrior 2 was released in 1995, not 1996. Unless you’re specifically referring to the Mercenaries expansion… which did in fact come out in 1996.

  40. MadTinkerer says:

    The last 22 years? Oh so that’s why Alley Cat and Robot Odyssey weren’t on the list.

    Feh, as if PC gaming didn’t start until 1989…

  41. Jinnigan says:

    I want there to be a nod to the city-building sub-genre that was populated entirely by Tilted Mill! Caesar III and Pharaoh are some of the more significant games of my childhood and that hole has yet to be filled. Simcity 2000 is related, but not quite the same – a little TOO high up for my tastes.

  42. dylski says:

    The greatest thing I took away from this list is that the spread of titles over 20 years is reasonably consistent which gives me hope that our beloved pastime still has a bit of growth left it.

    An extension of that thought is that the list also shows that unlike nearly all other media, pc gaming sequels can be equally as good or better than the original – game developers appear to improve over time.

  43. Real Horrorshow says:

    World in Conflict is criminally absent again, just like the Top 100 list in PC Gamer this month.

    • Werthead says:

      WiC is a good game, but I’m assuming their thought process is that it is a watered-down version of GROUND CONTROL’s paradigm with a somewhat implausible Cold War storyline whacked on top, so GC1 should be on there instead.

    • Sir Spankalot says:

      Agreed, a real shame that World in Conflict isn’t on the list.

      Gametrailers didn’t include any of the awesome Wic trailers either. Really bad.

  44. Hensler says:

    Man, this list and these comments make me feel old.

  45. Dougal McFrugal says:

    99 vs 98

    dont make me choose between half-life and homeworld

    my world will end

    sob

  46. Fumarole says:

    1997 through 1999 were amazing years for gaming.

  47. Olero says:

    I noticed quite a big missing game in the list, a game that has been praised a lot by RPS: Men of War! Where the hell is it? I mean, it’s got hats and everything (and the worst voice acting ever, must be worth something as well, right?)

  48. Werthead says:

    Notable abscences:

    HOSTILE WATERS
    FAR CRY
    MAX PAYNE 1
    STARCRAFT 1
    WING COMMANDER
    Anything by Paradox
    ALPHA CENTAURI (seriously, WTF is this doing off the list?)
    DARK FORCES or JEDI KNIGHT (is MotS really better than the other games in the series?)
    GABRIEL KNIGHT
    BENEATH A STEEL SKY
    The original Cryo DUNE
    GTA: VICE CITY
    SHOGO: MOBILE ARMOURED DIVISION

    I’d certainly argue that Far Cry, Max Payne and StarCraft 1 are all superior to their sequels (though MP2 is certainly brilliant in it’s own right, even if it’s ridiculously short). I assume it’s latent mutantism that kept FAR CRY off the list, which is harsh (and mutants > infinitely regenerating enemy checkpoints, frankly).

  49. Madlukelcm says:

    Glad Planescape: Torment made it amongst many others. It’s one of those games I have an urge to play through at least once a year. I always take something positive from it too.

  50. Kerry D says:

    Wow, it’s nice to see so much love for Looking Glass! If there was any studio I could resurrect I think it would be that one.