One day I’ll write a Desert Island Discs about the games I’d keep with me until the end of days, given a choice of ten. It’ll no doubt be a Desert Island Digital Downloads given the absence of physical media in my life. I live with the ghosts of entertainment.
Rather than compiling the list of games I’d take to the Vault with me though, today I’m aiming to put together a collection, one from each genre, that I’d use to introduce those genres to a PC gaming newcomer, or a lapsed gamer. A friend inspired this particular bundle of joy, someone who grew up with an Amiga but developed other interests and hasn’t touched a game for more than a few minutes at a time, either console or PC, for over fifteen years. A recent illness has left him unable to engage in his usual outdoor hobbies and games have filled the gap.
This is a person who thought of Cannon Fodder as the greatest marvel of digital gaming until recently, someone who has no preconceived notions as to which games he might enjoy. That’s why I’ve picked what I consider to be the best introductions to each of five genres. Games that don’t require the player to bring knowledge of their particular genre to the fray, and that (preferably) demonstrate the best of modern tech and design. And, yes, as that latter point suggests, I’ve chosen games released in recent years because sometimes, pointing someone toward the past can be immediately off-putting, either suggesting that nothing worthwhile has happened since or that they need to respect and learn from history in order to appreciate what is being released in this decade.
Without further ado, here’s what I picked:
The New Order is perfect for my needs. There’s continuity – my buddy played a whole heap of Wolfenstein 3D back in the day – and the game itself is fantastically entertaining. More than that though, it’s a superb introduction to many of the modern trends in FPS games. There’s the optional stealth kills that make The New Order more than just a shooter, the gloriously dramatic setpieces (including the ruined bridge level that reminds me of my favourite Half Life 2 area), and the presence of characters and cutscenes that sit alongside the action but never overwhelm it and rarely overstay their welcome.
I rarely make the time to play the latest big budget shooter but The New Order not only feels like a decent tour of modern FPS conventions, it’s also a game that looks to the past but holds great promise for the future. I can’t wait to see what MachineGames do next.
Puzzle: Portal & Portal 2
The first game sets the scene, introducing one of the most brilliant concepts I can remember seeing in a game and telling a simple but effective story in the background as the puzzles jump from chamber to chamber. Portal 2 is the main course though. While solutions are more prescribed – or at least seemed that way when I first played – the pacing suited me perfectly. I always wanted to see more of the story and never felt as if I was being kept from it for too long by the puzzles. A puzzle would interrupt the story for just long enough to trigger a happy response in my brain when I managed to move on, and the entire game is a masterclass in narrative design, embedding characters and voices within the player’s experience so that they accompany rather than demanding attention from afar.
Strategy: Civilization V
As with Wolfenstein, there’s continuity here. I remember comparing notes about our first games of Civ 1 many years ago. Firaxis’ latest entry in the series isn’t my favorite (Civ IV, still) but the user interface is one of the smartest pieces of design I can remember seeing in a strategy game. I bet my old mum could pick up Civ V and have moderate success if she spent half an hour with it and she still thinks it costs me 50p every time I send an email.
With its two meaty expansions, fleshing out every portion of the game, Civ V is an excellent, attractive turn-based strategy package. It might not be open to as many actual long-term strategic approaches as some of its predecessors and peers, but there’s so much pleasure in that first playthrough and it’s the perfect gateway into Endless Legend and the rest. Of course, I’d love to throw everyone straight into Crusader Kings II but, for many, that’s the pathway to frustration and an enduring hatred of the entire genre. It seems incredible to refer to a game that covers six thousand years of human history and culture as a baby step – but in strategy terms, Civ V fulfills that function perfectly.
We’re skipping the first in the series this time around, not because the original Legend of Grimrock isn’t a decent game but because the sequel is superior in every way, and requires no knowledge of its predecessor. It’d be easy to dismiss Almost Human’s grid-based first-person dungeon crawler as an exercise in nostalgia and while that’s certainly part of the appeal, it’s far from the whole story. Grimrock is Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master as I remember them rather than as they actually are, but it’s also a pure expression of the kind of party-based adventuring that we enjoyed as kids. The story is loose enough to allow for lots of creative input from the player(s) and while it’s an authored experience – nothing procedural here – the journey always felt like it belonged to me.
More RPGs: The Witcher 3 and Divinity: Original Sin
I’m cheating but it’d be pigheaded in the extreme not to include two of my favourite games of recent years. Divinity will be played in the form of its Enhanced Edition and it’ll be our cooperative game of choice. The Witcher 3 has to be on the list because it’s just that good and bollocks to anyone who reckons you need to play the first two – I managed a couple of hours on each, and The Wild Hunt is one of my favourite games of all time.
Games Like Cannon Fodder: Hotline Miami and Broforce
Cannon Fodder is the last game we enjoyed together, my pal and I, back when we were at school and had almost all of life ahead of us. I’ve never tired of killing tiny men on my screen, but I wonder if my two Cannon Fodder proxies will appeal. Broforce almost certainly will but I wonder if Hotline Miami leans too heavily on its small loops of killing and dying. I love it and I’m one of the few who adores the sequel as well, but I’m not sure it’ll appeal. The soundtrack is excellent though and considering how much we loved that daft War’s Never Been So Much Fun tune, it seems fitting.
If you have suggestions of your own, drop them below.
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