Get This Man Up To Speed: PC Gaming Right Now

I don’t know your name, Man, but you came up to me at Rezzed and said the most surprising thing (for someone who had bought a ticket to a PC games event). You said this: “I haven’t played any games since about 1998. I think the last game I bought was Half-Life. What should I play to get myself up to speed with gaming today?”

Caught off guard, I just vaguely gestured at the show floor, and said “uhh”. Eventually I recommended you read this website. But wow. Okay. This article is for you.

And, given our audience, possibly you alone.

So. PC gaming right now. The man needs a snapshot. How do we fill him in on the past fifteen years?

Let’s see if we can hit the main themes in a single article.

We’ll start with where you left off, then.



Half-Life’s great trick was trigger scripted events to take place right in front of you in the game world, capturing your attention and filling the game with drama. It was linear, but the inertia of events propelled you forward. Getting this right was why Half-Life was so compelling, and it’s a trick that has dominated not just shooters, but all kinds of games, for quite some time.

To catch up with this trend you’ll probably want to play the sequel, Half-Life 2, as well as Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which pretty much wrote a template for how the tricks invented by Half-Life created a modern template for the spectacle shooter genre, which currently takes a place in the PC genre map that is something akin to the action movie in Hollywood. The formula is well understood, and it shifts millions of units. It’s a bit shallow, but we try not to judge it too harshly, because so many people have so much fun with it.

To see the other areas that the scripted shooter explored, you might want to look at the Bioshock games. They’ve taken pretty much the same structure as Half-Life and draped incredible set design over it. They departed from the dreariness of much of what we’ve become over-familiar with to create games set in parallel histories. And they’re quite the spectacle because of it.

Things have, more recently, started to depart somewhat from the first-person script. Take a look at things as diverse as Portal 1 & 2, and the STALKER games for a taste of that.


There was another fork in the road that was widening into a highway at around the time you left off gaming, Man. That was the rising popularity of playing games over the net. I don’t know how familiar you were with that in the late ’90s, but games like Half-Life very much took to the proliferation of broadband connections, and began to support large communities around their multiplayer aspect. If you were gaming in the ’90s you would have already seen this happening with games like Quake, but the scene began to mature around specific mods, or alternative games built on the framework provided by a commercial game. Half-Life spawned one of the most important mods of all, Counter-Strike. That was a multiplayer game where a team of terrorists took on a team of counter-terrorists, and they had no tools for negotiation, only guns. I’m not sure if I’d recommend you played that now, to be honest, but it sort of informs everything that we play that has men and guns in today.

If you want to get a taste of the broad spectrum of men with guns online on the PC, I’d say look at Team Fortress 2 – cartoony, friendly, lots of of teamplay depth – and Battlefield 3 – which has a much more serious vision of multiplayer combat, with destructible environments, vehicles, and tonnes of progress-enabling systems – and Arma 3, which sits at the very far spectrum of these things, at where battlefield simulations designed to train real soldiers meets our sphere of entertainment.

Games that exist solely because of the net now make up a huge many-headed hydra of things, which I can’t possibly hope to chart here. Suffice to say that one of the games that dominates the world today will basically be incomprehensible to 1998’s brain. It’s called League Of Legends, and has its roots in a game called DOTA, which was a mod of another game. DOTA 2 turned up recently too, and they’re huge, byzantine competitive multiplayer things that are neither strategy nor action. If you want to understand games now, then you should play them. Just don’t expect to understand them.



Playing online meant more than shooting people in contained arenas of various sizes. It also meant pretending to be an orc. Or an elf. Or sometimes a cat person or a Wookiee. Everquest really kicked off this cycle, but since it came out in March 1999, I’m imagining you missed it. You can’t have missed the game which took its level-treadmill, quest-driven, world-exploring, team-up-with-people in a population of thousands template, and then printed money with it: World Of Warcraft. If you have missed that, then you must have actually been in a deep freeze since 1998, because it has had millions of players, and captured the imaginations (and wallets) of the largest number of PC gamers in history. Since you can now play the first twenty levels for free, and those early levels are actually kind of fun, you should definitely take a look, if just to catch up with where the rest of us are. Even if we say we don’t like WoW, most of us have played it, and understand its habits.

The most important thing to take from World Of Warcraft is, I suppose, that it’s not representative of everything that the online RPG is doing. Sure, it’s probably representative of about 70% of the online games you can play these days, but it doesn’t do all that much to explore the terrain. If you are looking for games that really start to investigate the potential of having thousands of people in the same game space then I’d recommend the sci-fi plenty of Planetside 2, and the austere and brutal micro-managment spacecraft-collecting game, Eve Online.


We still have normal, offline RPGs in 2013, too. Sort of, anyway. You’ll probably want to see where those went in the hands of companies like Bioware and CD Projekt. Bioware invented a new genre of RPG called Guns & Conversation, of which the best example is probably the Mass Effect games, which in themselves represent the past decade’s best attempt at an original space opera saga. For fantasy things, try Skyrim.

To really contrast now and then, though, you should probably play The Witcher 2. It is a game that falls quite some serious distance from the PC RPGs you might have seen in 1998, being heavy on action, and completely full of graphics.

It seems fair to say that this entire genre of wizards and numbers (as well as the ones I previously mentioned around Everquest and World Of Warcrat) was influenced by another trend, too, which was the popularity surrounding Diablo. Yes, Diablo from 1996. Remember that? Turns out it would create its own genre, know as the “action RPG”, and spawn an endless army of imitators. It’s worth playing Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3 to see how that game idea has been carved by a million tiny chisels into a supersonic version of its original self.


They’re quite the thing, and meld both turn-based strategy and real-time battlefield strategy into one shambling titan of a game. The latest one is called Rome 2, and it will be out soon. If anything represents one of the pillars of PC gaming in 2013, that does.


Sports and racing games still exist. They look fifteen years better than they did when you last looked at them. I can’t personally recommend any.


I could write, and probably have written, several essays-worth of material on the other thing that is going on in PC games right now, and that’s confusingly bannered under the “indie” movement. It isn’t really a movement, and it doesn’t have banner at all. Instead it’s a sort of change in focus away from big studio development of the kind that brought you Half-Life, and back to a lot of smaller groups and individuals finding ways to make and sell games themselves.

This has been characterised by some level of experimentation. It’s hardly all original stuff, but it is certainly diverse, and has been increasing moment over the past decade. The highlights of this journey are many, but particularly interesting waypoints are Darwinia, which created a strange sort of tactical adventure out of Tron-like visuals; Braid, which was a highpoint in a scene of mechanically inventive rehashes of the platform game; World Of Goo, which showed just how broad and silly the puzzle game can be when in the hands of artists, and then there’s, well, there’s Minecraft.

Minecraft is the great outlier. It has sold eleven million copies on PC and was made largely by one man. None of those copies came in a box, either, which is another thing which underscores this whole change in how games are made and consumed in 2013. Now that the need for packaging has evaporated, you can shop for and buy, more games than ever before, including Minecraft and games like it. The fact that eleven million people paid online to get hold of Minecraft is proof that nothing is certain: it’s a game about making and unmaking a world out of blocks that might actually have seemed crude in 1998.

The march of time, you see, doesn’t mean everything happens when it should. It just happens, and then we try to digest it. If you play nothing else to sample where games are in 2013, play Minecraft.


Perhaps the weirdest thing about 2013 is that you won’t just recognise some of the types of games from your gaming in the Nineties, you’ll even recognise the names. The past is back, and people want to play it. Only they don’t actually want to play the past as it was, but as it could be, if it’s properly formatted into the visual and aesthetic standards of now or the future. What I mean is: we’re currently in the thrall of the most intense wave of nostalgia the gaming world has ever known, and that means remakes. Old game types are being dug up and redone for 2013. Games that were buried in the 1990s somehow live again, raised from the dead by new trends in fund-raising and the hunger for things as they were the last time you played PC games.

Even point and click adventures are undergoing a renaissance, for some reason. /I know/, but I didn’t say 2013 was actually a better place than 1998, so you have to take the rough with the smooth.

Probably the most important of these modern reworkings is XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which is a virtuoso modernisation of the brilliant turn-based series you might well be familiar with. If you want to know where everyone’s brain is right now, you cannot afford not to play that.

And now, mysterious yet inquisitive Rezzed attendee, I am spent, and must throw open the floor to our readers.

What should this chap be playing if he’s to catch up with the past decade and a half, readers?


  1. Drayk says:

    15 years without gaming… sounds more awful than a jail sentence.

    This article is an amazing gift for that one dude ! Grats !

    • Captain Joyless says:

      A jail sentence probably includes no gaming…

      • Drayk says:

        Depends of the prison I guess. The one I know of tolerate videogames.

        • 00000 says:

          Wow. I assume they don’t allow for unrestricted internet acces, but that prison would still be like the longest LAN-event ever.
          It almost sounds appealing if it wasn’t for the risk of getting shanked for awp-whoring.

          • lordcooper says:

            Dark Souls has kicked off more than one riot.

          • Bo Steed says:

            Luckily, the riot was entirely within WoW and those prissy Alliance totally had it coming.

          • gi_ty says:

            And the laughed out loud comment of the day goes to………….. Bo Steed come on up and take a bow

    • Soldancer says:

      Heck, this is just a straight-up good article! Thanks for the fun retrospective, Jim!

    • Maka Albarn says:

      Agreed that that was a fantastic and very interesting read! Not news to most RPS readers, but always a fascinating history to recount. Thanks!

      • jaugwyda4545 says:

        Even though there are some classic PC games from yesteryear he missed, I doubt he would enjoy those a whole lot now. I think he’d find the primitive mechanics and graphics off putting. Some of those great games are pretty bad by today’s standards. Has he been playing console games, or just not a single game period?

        • Hendo says:

          Very clever spam here folks. Can’t just be a spambot – seems a little bit impractical – but there you are.

  2. Anguy says:

    Wow that was a nice trip back in time. This might be a nice read to accompany the article: link to

    • Lycan says:

      And once you’ve played all these suggested games, I would strongly suggest that you do what I am *so* jealous that you can but I can’t, which is:

      Play the No One Lives Forever games for the first time :D

  3. karthink says:

    Deus Ex, probably. Not that we’ve had many immersive sims since 98′, but I didn’t see any on your list, Jim.

    Deus Ex represents the other direction that first person games went in… briefly.

    • Ross Angus says:

      Bioshok‘s sort of an immersive sim. Obviously Jim was pushed in word count, but yeah, it only seem fair to mention Thief et al.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        No, Bioshock is a controlled narrative shooter more akin to Half-Life.

        Dishonored is the spiritual successor to Looking Glass’s games.

  4. NooklearToaster says:

    He missed Deus Ex, the game that really kicked off the idea of mixing genres and seeing what falls out. I’m not sure if I’d reccommend Human Revolution though, as it felt more like a love letter to the original than an independent whole

    Maybe start with Deus Ex so the whole world of graphics doesn’t hit him in the face at once and spoil him on older gems he’s missed?

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Great as it was, would it really help you understand Gaming *now*? Most of it’s influence as, sadly, been lost.

      • NooklearToaster says:

        Haha, well if we’re really going to try and get him to understand it’s impact on gaming right now I’d point him to E.Y.E., and if you’ve played the game I think you’ll understand why that’s a terrible idea. The man would never come back.

        • Skabooga says:

          Ah, E.Y.E., that beautiful, incoherent, flawed, splintered mess of a game. I love it despite itself. And its a nice demonstration that computer games still have a place for the bizarre and buggy.

    • suibhne says:

      DX is a classic, sure, but your view of its primacy is a bit off the mark. System Shock 2 predated it by a year, and the Ultima Underworld games dropped about 7 years earlier – and all three of those got a ton of attention for their accomplishments, so it’s not like DX was the first one to be noticed, either.

      I love DX, but I’d probably suggest that he try DX:HR instead (unless he’s really sure he’s okay with the 13-year-old graphics). Even tho the guy hasn’t played games since HL, he’s certainly been exposed to them through pop culture, TV adverts, and so on. And all of his desktop computer apps (and mobile apps, for that matter) learned some of the same UX lessons as games; the entire world of interfaces has moved forward immensely since DX (notwithstanding that we still get so many half-assed, crummy interfaces…).

      • NooklearToaster says:

        Fair enough, I got caught in the “gaming in a bubble” mentality. Also skipped over the obvious set pieces that allowed Deus Ex to exist, because, well…I don’t have a good reason. Maybe commenting on things before I’ve had my coffee is a bad idea?

        I just feel like HR would lose something without any knowledge of the original, though I suppose quite a few people played and enjoyed it that way so I could be wrong.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        I love DX, but I’d probably suggest that he try DX:HR instead

        Uh no. There’s no reason to play an inferior imitation just because there are more polygons in it. DX1 is still more attractive to look at than HR’s piss-stained art direction anyway.

        • sebmojo says:

          Deus Ex was butt ugly the moment it was released. The years have not been kind, either.

        • Col says:

          Uh no. There’s no reason to play an inferior imitation just because there are more polygons in it. DX1 is still more attractive to look at than HR’s piss-stained art direction anyway

          This is just a staggeringly incorrect statement. No one is disputing the original is the better game, but better graphics than HR? What on earth are you talking about?

  5. Ashpolt says:

    >Ctrl+F, “Deus Ex”
    >0 results

    You disappoint me, RPS. Glad to see (after initial search) that your commentators have made up for this hideous oversight.

    • Apocalypse says:

      The insult gets even bigger when he recommend instead badly done games like Bioshock or witcher 2, which are a great representation of the technical dumbfucks you have to face these days with modern gaming. FPS Shooters with mouse acceleration, strange error messages and the like.

      • Asurmen says:

        Regardless what you think of them, they’re both better examples of games as they exist now than DX, a 13 year old game.

      • PrinceofBees says:

        Agh, those are fighting words. The Witcher 2 was amazing.

        • colossalstrikepackage says:

          Opinion: I’m glad someone shares my views. TW2 may not be perfect (very few things are), but its ambition and storytelling were mindblowing. Well worth a mention. Also, the way it’s developer thinks about and treats its customers is legendary.

          • Kal says:

            I logged in purely to say +1 to this. However much it might pale beside your nostalgia-tinted memories of discovering Eye of the Beholder or Baldur’s Gate (or PS:T) back in the day, The Witcher 2 is an absolutely excellent example of the single player RPG as it stands today, and CD Projekt Red are worth a mention purely for the way they interact with their customer base. Nobody else is in the same league as CDPR for this sort of thing.

      • m_a_t says:

        What makes Bioshock a “badly done game”?

        • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

          I take it you haven’t played it! All that fancy stuff that you don’t need to use even on hardest difficulty. It’s a poor poor shooter, if you like a story then you may like it I suppose!

          • Timmytoby says:

            Allthough the shooter aspect may not be great in Bioshock (don’t really know, don’t like shooters, boooooring), it was a spectacular achievement in story-telling, set-design, lighting, sound and most of all creativity.

            I loved Bioshock and Bioshock: Infinite (was a bit bored by Bioshock 2, though. It’s apparently a better shooter – don’t really care about that) and think they really deserve a mention as one of the milestones of the last 15 years.
            Just having a non-WWII, non-boring-military-conflict setting makes them special.

  6. Splynter says:

    Hmm. 15 odd years of games to recommend from makes things quite difficult. For starters, I’d say to give Binding of Isaac a try, if only to get up to speed on the recent surge of Roguelike-likes (forgive me) coming out in the independent world. Amnesia would be the second, as its take on horror in games was remarkably fresh, and apparently you all think it has the best doors ever.

    Oh man, The Sims! That’s a pretty big deal.

    • Isair says:

      I pretty much agree with all of these. FTL and Rogue Legacy could also work, but I think Binding of Isaac is probably the more fitting choice. Amnesia is kind of an iffy choice since horror games seem to have problems with drawing inspiration from actual horror game. However as a representative of the genre it works just fine.

    • Mctittles says:

      If you recommend Rogue Likes he might think gaming hasn’t changed at all in his 15 year absence!

  7. Apsley says:

    Robot Unicorn Attack surely?

  8. Tyrmot says:

    I think StarCraft II could get a mention as well! That would be a nice transition/comparison for Mr 1998 as to what happened to classic RTS and could be of extra interest with the E-sport scene that surrounds it..

    (I do miss C&C though)

    • Groove says:

      Forget Starcraft II, he’s probably not played the original!!!

      • WedgeJAntilles says:

        But there’s a very good chance he’s played WarCraft II. SC2 will give him a good idea of just how much StarCraft (1) totally changed the RTS genre.

  9. phelix says:

    If you’re into offline RPGs, Man, I can not recommend Morrowind enough, both with and without my nostalgia glasses. A lot of people would prefer to mention Skyrim, but I find it weaker in novelty, world design and gameplay and quest depth.

    • Drayk says:

      No one mentions Planescape Torment. It’s a shame !

    • ScubaMonster says:

      I think Morrowind would be a hard game to get into in this day and age. Might have been great, but by today’s standards I think it would be a bit boring. Nothing but reading, no real sense of direction (which one can argue is what makes it great I guess). I think compared to something modern like Skyrim the game would be off putting.

      I also think Fallout New Vegas is a good game.

      • Vegard Pompey says:

        Not a problem if you haven’t played games since 1998.

        • suibhne says:

          Why do you say that? It’s not as if games aren’t a pretty ubiquitous part of pop culture, advertising, etc. – and it’s also not as if interface design and UX in general hasn’t progressed by leaps and bounds in the last decade+.

          • MarcP says:

            Smartphones’ interfaces make me feel like I still live in the 90s.

          • Runs With Foxes says:

            Wow, you’re not seriously trying to suggest Skyrim has a better UI than Morrowind?? We’re talking PC games here. Skyrim’s UI was universally ridiculed because it’s a pain in the ass to do anything, designed as it was for navigating with a console controller. Morrowind has resizeable, moveable windows, easy clicking and dragging, an interface designed for PC use.

      • rb2610 says:

        Well with the Overhaul it can be made rather ‘graphicy’ so that’s one of the potential stumbling blocks out of the way.

        As for lack of obvious direction, you could well say the same about Minecraft. As long as it’s played before playing newer RPGs you wouldn’t be conditioned to expect quest directions and instructions to be handed to you on a plate (or whopping great quest arrow as the case may be). So it shouldn’t be too bad, presumably a gamer who hasn’t played anything since the ’90s will be more patient than the average modern gamer anyway.

        • gi_ty says:

          You know you’ve articulated an excellent point for me that I have been trying to understand myself. Recent reviews and comments about pacing in games has been confounding over the last few years. Some games that I loved where mercilessly slammed for their lack of direction, or bad pacing. I think coming from being a gamer in pre-internet days if you encountered a puzzle or obstacle often I would have to spend hours figuring it out. Back then it seems the concept of quest markers didn’t exist, you had to use actual descriptions and deductive logic. Now it seems everything is so hand holding I can breeze through it no problem, often with little thought. Difficult puzzles no longer seem to exist, now they’re called easter eggs and have nothing to do with the main plot or tangible gameplay rewards. I guess its a symptom of increasing popularity, but I do miss rpg’s and adventure games that could be very intellectually challenging. It was always very satisfying coming up with solutions to those kinds of problems and some immersion seems to have been lost as well.

    • Grygus says:

      I’d recommend Skyrim because it’s prettier, has far better combat, and completely lacks cliff racers.

  10. Syt says:

    For everything (well, a lot) that happened between 1998 and now, there’s, a site that specializes in old (and a fair bit of indie) games.

    • Grygus says:

      That’s an excellent point! And they’re having a big sale right now.

  11. fitzroy_doll says:

    Achievements are going to come as something of a surprise. “Why is the game praising me for hiding behind a crate for 20 seconds?”

  12. ScubaMonster says:

    Even though there are some classic PC games from yesteryear he missed, I doubt he would enjoy those a whole lot now. I think he’d find the primitive mechanics and graphics off putting. Some of those great games are pretty bad by today’s standards. Has he been playing console games, or just not a single game period?

    For PC, I can’t recommend Killing Floor enough. Great game I’ve dumped tons of hours into. I also enjoy Planetside 2. I think he might also find MMO’s fascinating if this would be his first time ever playing one, whether it’s WoW, Guild Wars 2, or whatever. Either Civ 4 or 5 would be great choices for TBS. King’s Bounty was enjoyable as well. Skyrim and Fallout New Vegas are good for first person RPG’s.

  13. MuscleHorse says:

    Candy Box.

  14. Yargh says:

    Well there is that one game that seemed fairly popular at Rezzed, that one about being pursued by teat-drinking robots around the English countryside…

    Also no mention of Crusader Kings II, or the Sims for that matter.

    • bcrowe says:

      Teat-drinking robots? Ooh matron!

    • Captain Joyless says:

      The Sims is (probably?) the most played franchise on PC ever. So it probably deserves a mention.

  15. Evilopoly90 says:

    Wait a darn tooting minute! I brought my Dad to Rezzed with me. *he* hadn’t played a game since Half Life in 1998 either… Oh bugger.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      He did seem dadlike. I think we found our man.

      • Groove says:

        I was half imagining 1998 man to be a literary device and the whole article to be a metaphor for gaming nostalgia that was too clever for me to fully digest.

      • Evilopoly90 says:

        Damn. That’s the last time I let him off his leash.

      • The Random One says:

        How is someone dadlike? Did he have a mustache, a ragged blue pullover, and eyes that spoke of unlimited comprehension? Was he an octopus?

        • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

          No octopus could be a dad. That would imply that intelligent and handsome cephalopods can impersonate humans. There is clearly no “octopus-father”. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to wash the ink out of my shirt again. You are a silly air-breathing vertebrate mammal!

  16. Tei says:

    Short List:
    – The mass effect games
    – The Fallout games ( New Vegas, Fallout 3)
    – Plants and Zombies
    – Mount & Blade
    – Space Pirates and Zombies
    – Robot Unicorn Attack
    – Minecraft, Terraria and Starmade.
    – Witcher 1
    – Dungeon Defenders
    – Planetside 2
    – Nexus the Jupiter Incident, The X serie and the AI WAR serie
    – Deux Ex: Human Revolution
    – Skyrim
    – Defense Grid
    – Borderlands and Borderlands 2
    – APB: Reloaded ( much worse than the original APB)
    – Garrys Mod
    – Audiosurf and Beat Hazard
    – The Grand Theaf Auto serie
    – Lost Planet 2
    – Left 4 Dead 1 and 2
    – Portal 1 and Portal 2
    – Stalker
    – Civ IV
    – Tropico
    – Company of Heroes
    – LEGO Star Wars
    – Magicka
    – Dragon Age 1
    – League of Legends

    • Surlywombat says:

      List, yes. Short, not so much.

    • Grey Ganado says:

      And if you’re lucky all these games cost less than 100€.

      • rb2610 says:

        The Steam Summer Sale is imminent, so timing couldn’t be better ;)

        On that note, I’m surprised Steam hasn’t been mentioned in the article, while not a game itself, Steam (and other Online Distribution Platforms) have had a big impact on PC gaming since 1998, what with Achievements, Social features, automatic updating and so on…

  17. Vafri says:

    I’d say he did a fairly good job trying to compact down the major highlights of the last few years. I mean think about it, 15 YEARS of gaming. There is a huge number of titles, I mean if you did game of the year for each genre for each year he’d spend just the next 3 years catching up on that…. And then he’d miss the new games that are coming out now that he should be enjoying. I would give his recommendations a full stamp of approval. Hit the games he’s mentioned and move on to new games as they come out.

  18. Lambchops says:

    Episodic gaming (it’s highs and lows nicely covered by Telltale), the rise of the rougelike (or rougelike-like or rogue-lite or whatever you wish to call it) with particular attention to be paid to Spelunky.

    And while it not may be my cup of milk “free to play” is definitely a trend worth pointing out.

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      The high being The Walking Dead series.

      It throws away player agency in return for an incredible story that still feels deeply personal.

  19. ronintetsuro says:

    I noticed that you had no comment on racing games.

    If I had to pick ONE to catch up one up on the genre in the past 15 years, it would be “Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit” 2010.

    The amazing sense of speed and the ability to make what can only be described as “drift symphonies” more than makes up for the lack of interface and options.

    • Mungrul says:

      Then again in racing games, we’ve also had Burnout Paradise and Driver San Francisco. Completely different and an interesting evolution of the genre. Absolute blasts to play too.

      Away from racers, I think there’s also room for Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament in this list. Mostly Quake 3 though. It was better after all.
      They were the defining online death-match games, and there’s been nothing quite like them since. They were the pinnacles of that species; sleek, fast and deadly. And while UT has aged quite badly in the looks department, Quake 3 (and its current incarnation, Quake Live) still looks grand. It still amazes me how well that engine scales.

      I’ll third or even fourth The Sims too. Love it or hate it, it’s one of the PC’s most popular series in the last 15 years.

      I would dearly love to recommend Dwarf Fortress. I honestly believe it’s the most important game we have. But I also acknowledge that it really isn’t for everyone.

      • Unruly says:

        You take that back! UT was the better of the two, and it still looks wonderful! Quake 3 was an abomination!

        Actually, it wasn’t an abomination, but it didn’t really work for me. I played a lot, and I do mean a lot, of Quake 2 back in the day and when Quake 3 came out it was like they tried to take that speed and amp it up to 11, what with all sorts of jump pads and crap that flung you all over the place. I was perfectly content with the bursts of speed and distance that proper rocket or grenade jumping could give you, but they came at the price of hurting yourself too. Replacing all the slow lifts and elevators with jump pads took some of that away, and made the game move at an overall faster pace that I wasn’t as able to keep up with. So I went to UT instead, because it was pretty much the same speed as Rocket Arena 2 while being more than just a rehash of the same thing.

        As for looks, I do think that UT looks better than Quake 3. But they’re both about as equally bad when compared to today’s stuff.

  20. JeCa says:

    For one who installed his first PC game around 1998 (Roller Coaster Tycoon or StarCraft, can’t remember which came first), this was quite an interesting read.

    The most significant thing I feel the article lacks is a mention of the growth of e-sports the last couple years, which only seems natural to bring up alongside LoL. I’m also slightly bitter noone remembers mentioning Eons of Strife when talking about “where LoL came from”, but then again I’m probably to young to be bitter about such things, so there.

  21. HexagonalBolts says:

    Obviously the article isn’t meant to be all inclusive, but for me a disproportionately huge piece of gaming in the last few years has been indie games and sinking huge amounts of time into addictive games that are pretty far away from mainstream gaming. Things like building mind-blowingly complex transport networks in OpenTTD, Dwarf Fortress, accessible roguelike Tales of Maj’eyal, World of Goo was short but incredibly sweet.

    Highly competitive ranked multiplayer is also very important to me – the advances in technology mean we now have the infrastructure to create matches where players are at a relatively similar skill level and so games are incredibly close fraught affairs, especially when there is a great depth of strategy to master. Games like DOTA 2 or Starcraft 2.

  22. Fox89 says:

    Although I can’t say I’m a fan of the genre, I think the casual/puzzly side of things needs to get a mention as well. Especially good for someone who wakes up from cryo-sleep only to discover he doesn’t actually enjoy modern games and that his hibernation to experience the future was all for naught.

    Before you get too depressed about that, Sir, I implore you to try Peggle.

  23. golem09 says:

    Bombarding someone who hasn’t played a game in 15 years with heav hardcore stuff isn’t the right thing to do again.
    The very first thing that would have to happen, is to just get him HOOKED in general.
    For that I would recommend either Bioshock 1 or Bioshock Infinite.

    • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

      What if the guy wants to play a game rather than participate in an interactive story?

  24. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    Not that it’s the best thing, but if I arrived now from the late 90’s in a time machine, I think I’d be extremely impressed by the new Fallout games. Not due to Fallout lineage (perhaps more impressed if I never played the originals) but the mix of genres and graphics would blow away a 1990er. Certainly New Vegas is the better of these modern Fallouts.

    Sports games only got a passing mention, but really they are up there with the most improved and advanced games over the past 15 years. I’d say the modern football game has taken longer strides than the modern FPS, when compared to it’s 90s ancestors.

  25. Synesthesia says:

    Company of Heroes. Play it!

  26. Matt_W says:

    I recently (last week) had a friend over to play games for a few hours whose last played video game was the original Starcraft. I opened my 300 game strong Steam library to him, which was totally overwhelming. He asked me to choose, so I had to consider what games would be easy to pick up modern conventions from and fun to play. I chose Portal 2 and Limbo.

    Portal 2 is probably the greatest broadly accessible AAA game of the last few years. It’s first person, so reintroduces those mechanics, but also has modern graphical prowess, some of the best writing and voice acting in games, a very nice shallow learning curve, and challenging puzzle action. He enjoyed the game, and it was interesting to watch him struggle with puzzles that I didn’t even notice were puzzles when I had played it simply because I was too familiar with shooter and puzzle game conventions. (e.g. “If you put a portal under the cube it will fall through and end up over there.”)

    Limbo is also great because it’s an indie, developed by a small studio, and so shows what’s possible in that space these days. There’s no HUD, no interface elements at all. The art style is both gorgeous and minimalist. It’s macabre and interesting and has a huge variety of environmental puzzles. My buddy really enjoyed Limbo.

    There’s no way to fill in those 15 years. I’m an avid gamer, but with family and job I can’t even keep up, and I’ve been playing continuously all that time. The only thing you can do is dive in, see what’s possible now, sample the best of the best, and look to the future.

  27. Kaira- says:

    He missed Silent Hill 2, the single best horror game. :(

    • golem09 says:

      After playing SH1 and 3 years ago, and starting SH2 about 10 times, I just finished this game THIS week for the first time.
      Turns out… it’s just as good as everyone alwas said it was.

  28. Jeremy says:

    I would also make mention of the neo-roguelike trend that we’re seeing in gaming as well, and the scope of options out there. Games like Dwarf Fortress, FTL, Dungeons of Dredmor and the just released Rogue Legacy. That might be too obscure, who knows. I would also recommend Mark of the Ninja, just because as far as platforming, stealth, and control.. that game is just really hard to beat.

  29. Misnomer says:

    Yay, a list of things that RPS sort of understands and is willing to play. Excluded from this list oddly is Civ 5 or even 4 because they seemed to understand that and like turn based games, but entirely missing in a way that is simply absurd:

    Zombie games. (Hoard mode as a genre).
    Tower defense games (from Plants versus Zombies to the hoard modes as described above, possibly a combined discussion).
    Racing games (what trackmania doesn’t suit your discussion?)
    What is left of sports games (and their abandonment of PC except for things like FIFA and Football Manager, you can’t just ignore Football manager)
    The rise and fall of flight simulators
    Co-op – (Borderlands, Portal 2, Left 4 Dead … the rise of purely designed co-op type experiences)
    Open world umm crime games? Grand theft auto, Saints Row, and their ilk

    Free 2 Play – How did you miss discussing the effect of free to play on our gaming environment when you mentioned two free to play games?

    I mean if you just go through the top twenty on Steam right now: link to it is obvious how much was simply ignored in this piece. It was a noble effort, but you could have at least hit the top ten.

  30. Metalhead9806 says:

    I would just give him a list of around 20 games and be done with it… 15 years is a long time.

    Skyrim, GTA4, Half-life 2, CoD4, Mass Effect, Minecraft, Amnesia, Binding of Isaac, Bioshock Infinit, Dead Space, Fallout 3, World of Warcraft, Xcom EU, TF2, Path of Exile, DayZ, FTL, Bastion, Portal 2, LoL…

    let him check those out and find his own way.

    Also this is so hard to do, reading through the comments i see people forgetting last gen titles from 1999-2004… like Kotor. this guy missed a ton. Might as well tell to go to gamerankings and play everything from 1999 and up with over a 70% rating…

    This guy missed Planescape Torment… Deus Ex, Morrowind, Freespace 2, Neverwinter Nights, dungeon keeper 2… OMG… I dont think i could help him…

  31. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    – Portal (Half Life with better spatial puzzles and without regular guns)
    – Antichamber (Mind bending)
    – Bastion (Everything you do is narrated)
    – Defense Grid (Tower Defense survived)
    – Magicka (Insane magic combinations and a vague line between co-op and free for all)
    – Blueberry Garden (Good luck figuring it out)
    – Just Cause 2 (Insane Sandbox)
    – Machinarium (Point ‘n Click adventure also survived. Simply amazing atmosphere, music and art)

  32. alex_v says:

    I think the growth of the indie art scene would be big on my list. Facade, Dear Esther, Unmanned, Passage, Digital: A Love Story, Dys4ia being some inspiring modern examples. If you stream your PS3 through your PC, Journey as well!!!

    • Dowr says:

      Starcraft 2: WoT/HotS
      Dark Souls
      Penumbra series
      Amnesia: The Dark Decent
      Hotline Miami
      Escape from Butcher Bay (original version; Dark Athena remake doesn’t include commentary)
      Frozen Synapse
      Call of Duty 1
      Thief 1/2
      Battlefield 2
      Dead Space
      World in Conflict
      Grand Theft Auto Vice City and San Andreas

  33. Azazel says:

    Dark Souls

    • Dowr says:

      Dark Souls

    • Matt_W says:

      I’ll agree that Dark Souls is probably the best game of the last decade. But it takes a certain kind of gamer to appreciate, and I’m willing to bet that someone who hasn’t played games for the last 15 years isn’t that kind of gamer.

      • Unruly says:

        I haven’t played Dark Souls, but I did play Demon’s Souls. Maybe things got a bit easier/simpler in Dark Souls, but I haven’t really seen anything saying that. To say that they’re games that require a specific kind of gamer is a bit of an understatement.

        They’re some of those games that anyone with high blood pressure should stay away from. Seriously. It’s incredibly easy to get frustrated to the point of wanting to throw things out of a window when playing Demon’s Souls. Even though everything technically has a hard counter and you can learn to beat it all, you have to be prepared to fail over and over again until you finally figure it out completely. And even then you have to be prepared to still fail, because you’ll probably screw up the timing on a parry because the window is so damned short. And when you succeed, you’ll feel good. And it will feel like it was worth it. Until about two minutes later when the next thing kills you and you start the cycle over again.

        Which reminds me – I never did finish Demon’s Souls. I got sick of having a seemingly 50/50 chance to parry certain enemies despite hitting the button at the exact same time every time I did it. It made me angry because I kept dieing over things that I had beat in the exact same way plenty of times before, so I shelved the game.

      • Isair says:

        I got my non-gaming sister to enjoy Dark Souls. The trick is to know that dying is not a failure, just an opportunity to improve (also, it helps not to laugh at shaky camera control).

      • bigjig says:

        “I’m willing to bet that someone who hasn’t played games for the last 15 years isn’t that kind of gamer.”

        On the contrary I’d say it’d be right up his alley. He hasn’t had the last 15 years of dumbing down to ween him off games that require actual skill and forethought.

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          Exactly. Someone who hasn’t played games for 15 years isn’t going to wonder where the objective arrow is pointing right where you need to go to trigger the next cutscene.

          Christ videogames are so shit.

        • Harlander says:


          Even 15 years ago, most games weren’t that hard.

  34. SiHy_ says:

    Hmmm, no one mentioned any Looking Glass games yet? Thief 2 and System Shock 2 came out not long after he stopped playing.

    • cunningmunki says:


    • Muzman says:

      Quite. I think he should go back to Thief and System Shock 2 firstly. For a comprehensive understanding of where first person games went at least. Most of the systems in those games are pretty much the basic standard now.

  35. Rovac says:

    On the stealth side, I would recommend Splinter Cell : Chaos Theory, CT is the most polished of the series so far (I don’t count SC : Conviction to be a Splinter Cell games).
    There will be a new Splinter Cell coming out but I still haven’t figured it out what it’s like yet. IMHO, best played with a controller.
    Dishonored is also exist. It’s like super powered Thief, but you’re an assassin instead.

  36. Brun says:

    For all the hate WoW gets, you really can’t deny that it’s probably the most influential online game (and one of the most influential games, period) of the past decade. You can see its reflection in almost every genre, and the fact that it has outlived countless competitors is a testament to its perfection of Everquest’s formula. WoW’s greatest success is that it created the modern MMO audience almost single-handedly, along with a huge portion the modern online gaming audience.

    The really insane thing about it is that it’s very unlikely that any MMO will have that kind of success again*. WoW got to where it is by being far and away the best MMO available for nearly 5 years. Now there’s significantly more quality competition, and while WoW is still the best of its kind, the increased diversity in the market ensures that future audiences will be split among several MMOs. If WoW were to shut down tomorrow its massive user base would go in a hundred different directions, rather than to a single competing game.

    *The possible exception here is Destiny, not because it will be better, but because it has the potential to give the consoles their WoW moment. In other words, Destiny is poised to be the first widely accessible and popular (with non-Japanese markets) console MMO, like Goldeneye for FPS and Halo 2 for online multiplayer. It has the same potential to create a huge new audience for MMOs on consoles in the same way that WoW did on PCs.

    • Urthman says:

      I think you have to say that, in terms of numbers of players, Warcraft was the most influential PC game ever. It had three separate, enormous spin-offs:

      1. World of Warcraft, which is not only the biggest MMO, but the template from which most other MMOs copy.

      2. Starcraft – which has become a legitimate, huge spectator sport in South Korea.

      3. DotA, a Warcraft 3 mod, which led to League of Legends and DOTA2, which together probably have more players that all the other online PC games put together.

  37. Chimpyang says:

    – Deus Ex
    – CoD 2 & 4
    – L4D 2
    – ARMA 2/DayZ – depends on how hardcore you want to start with
    – NOLF 1/2
    – HL2 & Episodes
    – Doom 3 – but only if you’re playing through FPS’ chronologically by release date – to appreciate where it fits in wrt the development of the FPS.
    – Bioshock 1

    – Fallout 3
    – Dungeon Siege
    – TES – Skyrim/Oblivion + mods etc..etc..
    – Bastion

    – Rise of Nations
    – Any of Paradox’s core titles – Vicky II, CK II, HoI 3 (and addons)
    – CoH 1
    – RUSE
    – Empire Earth
    – Civ…
    – Age of Mythology
    – Emperor – Rise of the Middle Kingdom/Pharaoh (Caeser III was Oct 1998)

    – Football manager – any of the recent ones are good value for money – even if it is just to play the phenomenon and give it a whirl.
    – RACE 07/Live for speed/rFactor 2 – good solid racing games – less generally acessable, but more simmy – not sure about less simmy racers – Trackmania is good in short bursts – and Nations is F2P
    – Stickcricket!

    Platforming – not the PC’s strongest suit – but Trine is well worth a play in short bursts with each other. Braid, Super Meat Boy.

    Mount and Blade
    Giants: Citizen Kabuto
    Defense Grid

    • VoidedWarranty says:

      Empire Earth! Someone else remembers! Only the first though, 2 was bad, and then someone managed to infringe on the copyright and make a game called EE3, but it wasn’t actually a game. Just a form of torture. On the opposite end of the rts spectrum, I’d advise Supreme Commander. The original was pretty good, the expansion made it great, and then the sequel was an ok rts, but completely let down everything that had been amazing and unique in the SupCom series.

      • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

        The first Empire Earth was also bad, we just didn’t have anything else.

        And then, of course, came Rise of Nations.

        • VoidedWarranty says:

          Yes, RoN was wonderful. Probably the closest an rts has gotten to the civ games. Not in how good it it was, just the focus on the empire that builds the armies, not just the army itself.

  38. Jabberslops says:

    I don’t know how anyone else feels about it, but I feel offended that a PC gamer would even suggest Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as a “good” starting point for someone who hasn’t played a PC game in 15 years. CoD MW2 has an awful singleplayer story and the multiplayer is a joke compared to Call of duty 4: Modern Warfare. Even CoD:World at War has better multiplayer than MW2 and in some ways is actually better than CoD4. Basically, everything after World at War is garbage.

    • Misnomer says:

      Yeah that is just pretty darn weak choice in that franchise. He meant it as the epitome of the on rails military shooter. I think of that as the lawpoint of the series. COD2 had the best single player, COD:UO and COD4 probably the best multiplayer (COD5 is actually better, but less important than 4 in terms of trends in gaming).

      I am glad he snuck in BF3 because it does show just how far the genre has come from CS (if you can even claim that BF came from CS, Codename Eagle was released in 1999 right after this guy stopped playing games and when CS was barely anything).

  39. Hardlylikely says:

    Past Gaming Man ( Evilopoly90’s Dad?) if you liked Duke Nukem in the 90s you might be interested to know that the sequel, Duke Nukem Forever eventually came out! DO NOT PLAY IT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Life is too short. I know some people found worth in DNF, but some people like marzipan too.

    The saga of hubris and taillight chasing that led to an extraordinarily long development cycle and eventual failure makes for an interesting read if you like such things.

    Obligatory Homeworld recommendation. 3D space RTS with a scripted story that many find quite affecting. An unsurpassed classic in its field, IMO. Rather different from other RTS of the period, therefore worth experiencing, and some modern games are heading back to that territory for mechanical and design inspiration.

    • apa says:

      It might surprise him that DNF came out so many years after its original announcement :)

      But a game for this millennium: the open world in GTA4.

    • nindustrial says:

      How dare you sully the delicious name of marzipan

  40. oyog says:

    I think I’ll cover some of the great free indie games, since no one has really brought them up yet. A lot of these came out of the TIGsource community, a indie game developer’s forum.

    -Cave Story (which, unless you’re fluent in Japanese, requires an easily obtained English translation) is sort of the indie games poster child and is still free even though there’s a more polished version you can buy.
    -Spelunky is a must, tough and satisfying. This too has a more polished expanded version available to buy.
    -Nitronic Rush is an amazing arcade racing game with a tron-inspired theme and cars that FLY, JUMP, and do ABSURD SPINS and SOMERSAULTS! This one came out of DigiPen, a school for game development. It’s particularly good with a gamepad.
    -Super Crate Box is a great little arcade shooter-platformer. It’s simple, tough and charming.
    -Rescue the Beagles is another great arcade game about rescuing beagles who crash landed in the mountains while on their way to an animal testing facility. This one has fantastic gameplay.
    -Sumotori Dreams is an absurd little game about sumo wrestling. The demo is free and all you really need. It’s very silly and fun for two people (on one keyboard).
    -QWOP is the hardest, most hilarious game about running you’ll ever play. Just play it. It’s online. Just- just play it.
    -EnviroBear 2000 is about a bear driving around the forest in a car to eat as much as he can before he goes to hibernate. This is another astoundingly silly game. Only uses the mouse.

    There are lots more though and they’re relatively easy to find if you look for “indie games” on the net. Guess I got a little carried away…

    • Jeremy says:

      Sweet, dearest Spelunky, how could I forget about that?

    • Caiman says:

      Needs more indie games: Monaco, Legend of Grimrock, Vessel, Gunpoint, Unepic, Torchlight II, Space Rangers 2, To the Moon, Dear Esther, Waking Mars, The Walking Dead, Terraria, FTL, Trine, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Eschalon series, Geneforge series, Bastion, Aquaria, Super Meat Boy, King’s Bounty: The Legend, Defense Grid: The Awakening, Psychonauts, Divinity series, Gothic series, VVVVVV, Dungeons of Dredmor. Ok, a few not quite indie games there, but they’ve being included nonetheless!

    • Gap Gen says:

      Digital distribution and indie gaming really really have revolutionised PC gaming and reversed the rot that set in in the early 2000s. Frankly, putting yourself in gaming hibernation at the turn off the century wasn’t the dumbest move ever.

  41. oyog says:

    Oooh, ooh! Also, Octodad! It’s charming and extremely silly. There’s a sequel in the works.

  42. dicenslice says:

    1998 – Half-Life/Grim Fandango
    1999 – Outcast/Planescape: Torment
    2000 – Deus Ex/Counter-Strike
    2001 – Max Payne/IL-2 Sturmovik
    2002 – Mafia/Morrowind
    2003 – Beyond Good & Evil/Homeworld 2
    2004 – Vampie: The Masquerade – Bloodlines/Rome: Total War
    2005 – KotOR 2/Psychonauts
    2006 – Tomb Raider: Legend/Hitman: Blood Money
    2007 – STALKER/COD4: Modern Warfare
    2008 – Far Cry 2/Mirror’s Edge
    2009 – ARMA 2/Left 4 Dead 2
    2010 – Civilization 5/Alpha Protocol
    2011 – Frozen Synapse/The Witcher 2
    2012 – Crusader Kings 2/Hotline Miami

  43. Dowr says:

    Starcraft 2: WoT/HotS
    Dark Souls
    Penumbra series
    Amnesia: The Dark Decent
    Hotline Miami
    Escape from Butcher Bay (original version; Dark Athena remake doesn’t include commentary)
    Frozen Synapse
    Call of Duty 1
    Thief 1/2
    Battlefield 2
    Dead Space
    World in Conflict
    Grand Theft Auto Vice City and San Andreas

  44. trinka00 says:

    Temple Run, Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition and Farmville 2. FTW.

  45. SuicideKing says:


    By Capella, how could you forget the best space sim of all time?

    • Nick says:

      You misspelt TIE Fighter, which came before 98…


      • SuicideKing says:

        No, though i played that too.

        FreeSpace 2 was just epic, both technically and otherwise.

        And as you said, it came out before (sick!) so it doesn’t count.

  46. Jimbo says:

    Dangerous question that. The crushing disappointment of jumping straight from 1998 PC gaming to 2013 PC gaming could easily kill a man. He really ought to take his time and let his expectations be lowered gradually.

  47. Kandon Arc says:

    Lovely article, although I’d recommend playing Modern Warfare rather than Modern Warfare 2 – it exhibits all the same characteristics of the spectacle shooter, but is a better game in most areas.

  48. Zenicetus says:

    “The Rise and Fall of Flight Simulations” was mentioned above, and 1998 was around the time that air combat sims started a long downhill slide, after peaking with classic sims like Apache Longbow (1996). We still don’t have a dynamic campaign as good as the one in that game, but in recent years there has been a renaissance in flight sims. Okay, it’s a tiny renaissance with just a few titles, but they’re very good. Chances are your gaming Rip Van Winkle owns a joystick and might be interested in one or two of these:

    On the civilian side, Microsoft Flight Simulator finally hit a dead end, but there is still a thriving community supported by 3rd party developers. X-Plane is the new contender for long-term civilian sims, with a move to 64-bit support and it works on Mac, Linux and PC. I do all my civilian flight simming on X-Plane these days.

    On the air combat front, there is the excellent Rise of Flight WW1 sim, a worthy successor to Red Baron. For modern air combat there are the DCS series of study sims like Black Shark (helicopter) and A-10 Warthog. Not much happening with WW2 air combat aisde from the ill-fated Cliffs of Dover. The classic IL-2 is still around, and there is hope on the horizon with a new WW2 sim being developed by the crew behind Rise of Flight. If you’re going to buy just one air combat game as a demo of where we’re at right now, get Rise of Flight (and a joystick, rudder pedals, and TrackIR).

    Oh, and speaking of TrackIR — affordable head tracking is something we’re taking for granted now, in civilian and combat flight sims. So I guess that’s one other new thing to catch up on. Back in the 90’s, we had to make do with kludges like “padlock view.” I haven’t touched the padlock view key in any of these sims since getting TrackIR.

    • Brun says:

      We still don’t have a dynamic campaign as good as the one in that game, but in recent years there has been a renaissance in flight sims

      Falcon 4 (1998) and Falcon 4: Allied Force (2005) disagree with you.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Okay, you’re right about Falcon 4.0. I was a beta tester for Falcon 3.0 and that experience was so awful that I blanked that whole series out of memory. It would be nice to see that kind of non-scripted, adaptive singleplayer campaign again.

  49. Hardlylikely says:

    Another suggestion would be to have to him replay Half Life via Black Mesa. Join the new world by replaying the old, shows what modders have been able to do, has a more modern feel but in a familiar context.

    Also lends continuity to then playing Half Life 2 etc and subsequently bitching Valve out for not releasing Half Life 3.