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Honourable Mentions

These are the games which were in the top 50 back in 2018 but got bumped out for something else. We still like ’em loads, though.

Shadow Warrior 2 (2016)

Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Devolver Digital

Shadow Warrior 2 was a worrying prospect. Quite frankly, so was its predecessor. When Flying Wild Hog announced they’d be revisiting one of the nineties Build engine games that seemed best left in the past, hopes weren’t particularly high. Lo Wang’s adventures were a gory good time, ditching elaborate level design in favour of slick melee combat and a fancy skill tree to work through. Slicing enemies into pieces was a joy and the pleasures of carving the flesh were potent enough to make even the feeblest jokes tolerable. More of the same would be fantastic.

In a way, that’s precisely what Shadow Warrior 2 delivered. More swords, more guns, more gore (it’s the best dismemberment and disemboweling system around, for what that’s worth) and more monsters. But it did all of that in randomised maps, taking notes from Diablo and the like with minibosses scattered around with tricky little minions. Half ARPG, all first-person hack, slash and shooter, it could have been very messy indeed.

But it works. The combat system is better than ever, the chainsaw is a delight, and there are more weapons, enemies and quests than you can shake a wang at. Against all reason, a foul-mouthed muddle of dad jokes and infinite demons is precisely what modern shooters needed all along.

Where can I buy it: Get it on Steam.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Other than the predecessor, Serious Sam or Bulletstorm are probably your best bet for ‘not taking this seriously’ OTT action.

Read more: Wot I think: Shadow Warrior 2, Have You Played… Shadow Warrior?

Metro 2033 Redux (2014)

Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver

The post-apocalypse as imagined by the East rather than the West, imagining a future-Russia where what’s left of the population ekes out a fearful existence inside Moscow’s subway system. On the surface, cold and radiation prevents all but the most monstrous life, while below ground various factions violently vie for control. While Metro 2033 is deeply uneven as an action game, with wildly spiking difficulty, an over-reliance on annoying monsters and infuriating quick-time events, it gets away with it thanks to its careful world-building (best underground pig farm in games?) and the decision to make combat low-tech and fiddly, your survival forever on a knife edge.

Notes: The Redux version offers a decent graphics boost, as well as improving the frustrating stealth somewhat, but you’re not missing out on a vast amount if for any reason you opt for the original instead. Alternatively (or in a Redux pack) there’s slicker sequel Last Light, which won’t have you screaming Бля at the skies quite so often, but trades away some of the challenge and strangeness as well the frustration.

Where can I buy it: Steam, or disc.

What else should I be playing if I like this: STALKER offers a less linear, wilder and frankly far superior take on the Eastern European apocalypse, but it’s a tougher nut to crack if you’re coming to these things from glossy American shooters. Rage 2 is probably your best bet if that is the case.

Read more: Metro Redux review, Metro 2033 review

Star Wars: Dark Forces (1993)

Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts

If Jedi Knight was the Skywalker game, its forerunner Dark Forces was the Solo game, or at least as close as we’ll ever get without someone hiring Harrison Ford to sound exasperated for 8-12 hours. This was Star Wars doing (a more ornate) Doom, and (having replayed it just this morning) it’s still the best recreation we’ve got of the pew-pew gunfights and starkly industrial sets of the original trilogy. It’s breathlessly quick, Stormtroopers are useless and fall over brilliantly, and basically you get to just dash around shooting slightly unconvincing laser guns without anyone ever having time for more than a few bon mots. It’s pretty stupid, it’s very Star Wars.

Notes: The XL Engine project moves Dark Forces into a slightly more modern renderer, including 3D accelerated (ooh, doesn’t it feel lovely to say that again?) environments. An alpha version is available and has most of the requisite bits and bobs in it, but progress towards a planned beta seemed to stall around a year ago.

Where can I buy it: Steam and GOG.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Duke Nukem 3D or Blood if you want more throwback shooters with more open environments than Doom, or space combat sims X-Wing or TIE Fighter if you want to explore other quintessential aspects of Star Wars.

Read more: Why Star Wars Makes For Better Games Than Films.

day-of-infamy-free-weekend-2

Day of Infamy (2017)

Developer: New World Interactive
Publisher: New World Interactive

A tough multiplayer slog through World War II that feels like a treasure rescued from a time capsule. In the studio of New World Interactive, killcams and minimap radar never took off. Omnipresent voice communications was shunned. And the fatal danger of friendly fire never went away. You could call Day of Infamy old-fashioned (and it is based partly on the nostalgia of Day of Defeat) but that would ignore how much it refined the atmosphere of first-person WWII warfare.

Here, you can take the usual role of assault troopers or medics, but also the specialist roles of radio operator and commanding officer. The latter two have to work together to provide artillery, and to give the other players direction and purpose. Here, bad leaders call in smokescreens on the wrong hill, or order an assault at the worst possible moment. But good leaders shout at you from the top of a trench, telling you to get the hell out there, into the fray. Although this warlike atmosphere sometimes falls apart in tight corridors and choke points, which become grenade spam hells.

However, each respawn happens in tandem with others, and this forces everyone to move together in waves. As multiplayer conflict goes, it’s a punishing place, enforcing an attitude of “push forward or die trying”. It’s as demanding of your reflexes as CS:GO. But it also delivers the morbid fantasy of being in the landing craft on D-Day far better than Call of Duty WWII.

Notes: It’s a spiritual successor to Day of Defeat, which was originally a free Half-life mod. Valve liked it so much they hired the creators and published the game for real monies.

Where can I buy it: Get it on Steam.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Insurgency, by the same developers, has a similar no-hands-held attitude. The Red Orchestra games are also punishing war zones.

Read more: Our Day of Infamy early access review.

Keep turning pages for our postscript and the complete list…

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.

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