It has happened. The day spoken of in legend. After two years, I am finally to be set free of the Curse Of Steam Charts. All its taken is entirely leaving my job in four days time to end this purgatory. The only decision left is to whom I shall pass this vexation. That, and how to avoid mentioning the actual games for one more week. And this time I’ve come up with a self-indulgent doozy.
I’m just going to absolutely ignore them, and write my personal top ten games currently available on Steam. The highest grossing games of my love. What are they going to do? Fire me? Ha.
My favourite games change at any time – if I put this list together yesterday or tomorrow it’d likely look different. Also, don’t read much into the order in which they’re listed – I didn’t put much into choosing it.
What’s Another Thing You Could Buy Instead Of GTA V Again?
Funny you should ask. You could buy:
Well, it’s the best point-and-click adventure game, isn’t it? The best characters, the best jokes, the best puzzles. And 2016’s remake (WHAT? 2016?! THREE YEARS AGO? Lord) did the most superb job of updating the game, and then letting you opt out of changes you don’t want. Which means you can play with the original lovely graphics, but with crisp, clear sound, which is a joy.
One of my favourite articles I’ve ever written was not for RPS, but for our evil overlords Eurogamer. Called Bastard Of The Old Republic, it was intended to be a short retro piece in which I replayed the original Knights Of The Old Republic, but choosing all the most evil options. It ended up expanding into a three-part, 8,500 word dive into my own psyche.
And it’s all testament to just what an extraordinary game KOTOR is. As someone who never fell in love with Star Wars (no strong feelings either way), this was where I found my connection to that mythology, in a vast, detailed universe, populated by some of gaming’s best characters. That it can offer such radically different experiences based on the choices one makes underlines what a masterpiece this game is. What I’d give to be able to play it for the first time all over again.
I can already feel my mind changing about this top ten before I’ve dented into it. Do I still love Burnout Paradise as much as I once did? How have I not got Dishonored 2 on this list?! But then I find my calm and remind myself of two vital things:
1) I love a lot more than ten games.
2) Top 10/50/100 lists only exist to annoy people.
I think my love for BOP has waned due to my disappointment with last year’s Remastered edition. Still the same best ever driving game, but with all the same colossal issues that were always there, none of them addressed at all. Not even the gruesomely terrible menus.
But it remains the only video game I replay from scratch every single year, and that definitely means something. Primarily to smash the barriers, but also because it’s just the most fun arcade game I know. And, unlike every failed attempt to follow it, it doesn’t have a bloody plot nor cutscenes filled with horrors to interrupt the fun.
7. Anno 1800
፯. Deus Ex
Imagine a person who didn’t include Deus Ex in their top 10 PC games? Gosh, you’d have to cross the street, wouldn’t you? Even Jesus would walk right by that person on the road to Samaria.
Why not drag out one of my most repeated anecdotes one more time: DX came out about a six months after I started out as a games hack, and remains nearly two decades later one of the smartest, most detailed, most interesting games ever made. At the time, playing it, I would regularly pick up the phone and call PC Gamer’s Reviews Editor, Kieron Gillen, and chat at him against his will until he begged me to go away. During one of these calls, chatting about DX, I said to him, “Wasn’t it awful when JC’s brother died?!” To which Kieron replied, “JC’s brother doesn’t die!” And we both gasped. The game was bigger than either of us had realised.
It’s certainly clunky to play now, but the story remains as compelling, and the variety of approaches extraordinary. The recent Deus Ex games have been better than anyone was expecting, but they just don’t touch the original for its intelligence and brilliance.
I can’t, and frankly don’t want to, untangle my feelings about Grimrock from my feelings about the death of my dad. To see what I thought about it before it became something of a epitaph to him, you can read my original review. I absolutely adored it. And then I got my dad to play it.
Dad loved what he would never have called “blobbers”. In the 80s he played all those SSI games, and of course FTL’s games – most of all, Dungeon Master. So playing Grimrock, I knew he’d love it. And remembering that he used to review games for a fanzine called Adventure Probe, I figured he might be up for writing about it for RPS. Which is how we ended up with his almost-delirious meanderings I called A Dad In A Dungeon. It made the game very special.
So Grimrock, undeniably an independently wonderful game (of everything in the list, this is the one I want to reinstall right now), is also an incredibly personal one to me.
5. Anno 1800
What’s the statute of limitations on tricking a publisher? Ten years? Hmmmm, six months short, but I’ll risk it.
I reviewed Dragon Age: Origins for PC Gamer. The game came out in November 2009, but Gamer, with its long lead times for print, would be able to get code earlier than most in those days. For DA:O, a 120 hour-long game, they got it to the mag a full month early. But it came with a condition: it had to be installed on a PC in the PC Gamer office, as they weren’t about to let a full copy of the game just get sent to some freelancer who could then pirate it into oblivion. Except, I was some freelancer, and PCG weren’t going to be having a staffer give up an entire month’s work just to be on one game, and they weren’t going to be paying me a day rate to sit in their office and review a game for that long. What to do?
The plan was genius. I brought in my PC. We set it up on a desk in the office, and the deception didn’t stop there. We covered it in PC Gamer stickers. Stuff was put on top of it. Leaned against it. We disguised my PC. The PR brought the disc in, probably in a briefcase handcuffed to their wrist, dripped a drop of their blood into a sensor to open it, and installed the game while speaking oaths and incantations of protection. And then after they were gone I tucked my PC under my arm and walked home.
And that’s why you should never trust PC Gamer.
I don’t think any game series has developed as fast or as brilliantly as Sorcery! and its incredibly awkward exclamation mark. The first entry is a superb realisation of the choose-your-own-adventure book concept as a videogame, the second an incredibly well iterated version of the notion, taking it into its own unique territory. You can read my review of those two games here. Then in just two years (for the original mobile releases – the PC saw all four come out in 2016) Sorcery! 3 had evolved into something just utterly extraordinary. It still had its origins in Jackson’s books, but somehow – and I just don’t like to think about how it was even possible to program – they introduced time travel. In an open world. In what’s essentially a text adventure. Review of that one here.
By the fourth and final chapter (review) it had become an RPG more morally complex than a BioWare game, while carrying over choices and decisions you might have made three games ago, having real consequences on the story you experience. It’s all utterly astonishing, and so worth picking up.
Oxenfree captured a zeitgeist of which I’m not yet ready to let go. Three years ago we had a little mini resurgence of that wonderful 1980s mystery-horror, perhaps most loudly via Stranger Things. But it happened perhaps most satisfyingly in podcasts. The Message, Limetown, Alice Isn’t Dead, Homecoming… In video games, it was Oxenfree, and it is one of the most superb games I’ve ever played.
Not just the way it captures the spookiness, the tangible sense of the unnerving, but through its astounding calmness. This is a game in which the characters feel like people – idealised teenagers, certainly – but with honesty and naturalism that belies the unsettling circumstances in which they find themselves. It has become my number one game suggestion to anyone looking for something they’ve not yet played, and nothing’s replaced it in three years since.
Also, we can’t not have a song. So how about one of my favourite songs ever – Don’t Haunt This Place by The Rural Albert Advantage:
If I achieved nothing else at RPS, I got people playing Hexcells. It is the best puzzle game ever made. That’s just a scientific fact. It takes everything that’s great about the best puzzle games – Picross, Fill-a-Pix, Kakuro – and combines them into something that visually looks like Minesweeper, but thank goodness isn’t. And then it does stuff that couldn’t be replicated on paper, revealing further clues through the process of eliminating cells.
Even better, the puzzles evolve over the course of the three games – Hexcells, Hexcells Plus, and Hexcells Infinite. The result is by the time you’ve mastered the hardest puzzles on the third game, you’ve essentially evolved to a higher lifeform, for whom the earlier puzzles of the first game – that once stretched your mind – are now child’s play for puny regular humans.
They’re amazing, they’re very cheap, and for goodness sakes, buy them.
Yes, you need a bunch of mods to get it working properly, but it’s worth it. Because while it hurts to miss off Prey and Dishonored and so many other great “immersive sim” (eeeuuuurrgghghhh) games from this list, it all begins and ends in Thief: The Dark Project.
I’ve replayed it multiple times, and it doesn’t get worse. It’s astonishing. It looked dated with shitty textures when it came out, so there’s no concerns about those suddenly becoming a barrier – they never were a problem. It’s just the whole format, the whole stealth-em-up, complete and perfect in its first instance. Everything else since is just trying to capture a sliver of what makes this The Best Game Ever Made.
Today. It’s The Best Game Ever Made today. I may well have changed my mind about this by tomorrow.
The Steam Charts are compiled via Steam’s internal charts of the highest grossing games on Steam over the previous week.