PC Gamer's Best 100: 100-51
7th Aug 2007 | 15:16
The PC Gamer Top 100 has been an annual feature of this magazine for more than a decade now - I've been personally involved in eight of them. But I'm not sure if we've ever really explained what it is, and why we do it.
Put simply, it's love. We're not ordering the games in terms of their review score. We're not re-reviewing old games by today's standards, or including something because it was there last year, or because it's one of PC gaming's supposed heroes - we're celebrating them because we love them.
Here's a message I sent to the nine other PC Gamer men who would be discussing this list, before we started. "At this meeting we will devise a list of the Top 100 Games 2007, and its order. This list is to reflect the games we love, games which we would gladly play today. Argue for the inclusion of your babies - not at the expense of other games, but in support of your favourites, telling us why. Whether released in 2007 or 1987, if you love it and honestly want to play it right now, its inclusion is valid."
With that firmly in mind, we quit the office for a day and locked ourselves into Tim's flat. We had an arsenal of games to play, cash liberated from our boss for pizza and pop, and a whole lot of arguments to get through.
We had a couple other rules, though. In the case of a series of great games, we've usually only picked our favourite of the series, in order to free up space for other games to appear in the list. Also, we're not including expansion packs - just the original game that first sparked our passion. Finally, last year's list has no relevance to this one, hence there's no indication in this list of where a game was placed last year.
Yes, you could argue that we've placed a game too high, or too low, or that we shouldn't have included it at all. You're welcome to disagree with us, but this list is our opinion, not some kind of scientific document or survey. We do it to celebrate our favourite games, and hopefully to make you think about your own top games. In fact, we really want to hear your opinions, and as I write we already have internet-minions working on a clever online system to run the world's biggest ever survey of PC gamers' favourite PC games. It should be ready to roll in the next few months - we'll let you know.
As for why we do it... Well, if you're lucky enough to be able to talk games with your mates in the pub, you'll know why. 'X is better than Y' arguments rage unchecked every Friday night in the pubs of Bath, but here is the ultimate answer to what are really PC Gamer's favourite games, thus letting us talk about other, serious matters. Speaking of which: a gorilla would definitely beat a crocodile in a fight.
Ross Atherton, Editor
To jump directly to part two, click here.
Grand Theft Paradise: in Just Cause's strange world your parachute and grappling hook are your ultimate weapons, enabling you to hook onto jet fighters and speedboats, and hijack them at 3,000 feet above the ground and 300 miles per hour.
Craig:"What Just Cause offers in the way of exploration, sight-seeing and fun is almost enough to save on holidays for the next few years. It's achingly beautiful, and utterly preposterous. I've always wanted an infinite parachute."
Giants: Citizen Kabuto
Third-person action with a sense of humour? Surely not. Letting you jetpack, eat innocent creatures, and play as three different creatures throughout, Giants is a puddle of mad. The dialogue and over-the-top acting of the first third still raises a laugh today.
Jim:"If there was a problem with Giants it was that there was only one giant... but then it did have absurdly complex genre-expanding levels and naked azure breasts."
It says something that a mostly grey Flash game feels more visceral, dynamic and spectacular than almost any other platformer. Everything about N is physics-driven - even your gruesomely enjoyable deaths.
Tom:"Fluidity in a platformer shouldn't be a set of fancy context-sensitive moves, it should be physically simulating the hero's momentum and making the player work with that to whizz round the game's curvy levels. That's N."
Sam & Max Hit The Road Above
LucasArts' most famous - if not quite their best - point-and-click adventure featured Steve Purcell's rabbit and dog crime-fighting duo. A deranged internal 'logic' makes shoving your fist downa cat's throat seem perfectly normal, and rescuing missing Sasquatches an everyday occurence.
Compared to all but a few adventure games that came before or since, the original S&M still stands out for its quality dialogue, offbeat world and consistent humour. The new episodes might have sullied the name somewhat, but you shouldn't hesitate to pick this up if you get the chance: it's a classic that has aged pretty well.
Alec:"I just love Sam & Max's world. Even if its puzzles aren't that hot, something about its type of humour amuses me endlessly, from the totally apathetic leads to the utter futility of locations like The World's Largest Ball of Twine."
Pro Evolution Soccer 6
Modern, side-scrolling football has never looked so good. But it's also far better on the PC than elsewhere, remembering to include co-op play and easy updates to obtain real players and kits.
Graham:"It's not simple, and it's not easy. It's football designed like a beat-'em-up, where endless button combinations prompt your players to dance and skip with the ball, gliding gracefully past opposition players before floating a graceful, arcing shot into the corner of the net. While SWOS is about the art of football, PES is about technique."
The only text adventure to survive the years in our chart. Telling a Lovecraftian story with thoughtful, unsettling prose, white text on a blue background has never been so animated.
Tony:"You have an umbrella. Which is just as well, as it often rains in this moodily atmospheric town. You open it when it rains and close it when you go indoors, and it doesn't solve any puzzles at all. It's there to make the story feel real. It does."
Sensible World of Soccer
Before Sensible Soccer, football games were almost uniformly terrible. The balls acted like hockey pucks; the camera was always too close; the goalkeepers were rubbish. The first Sensi changed that by making the experience much more like the effortless, flowing beauty of real football, and SWoS improved upon it by adding thousands of teams and tens of thousands of players.
Graham:"SWOS made me. Without it, I wouldn't be the person I am today: not a gamer, not a writer, not anything. I made and lost friends in equal measure because of it, and it is as relentlessly playable today, as simplistically beautiful now as it was twelve years ago."
Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast
Here's what's wrong with most arcade racing games: no dodging meteor showers as you drive down the highway. Outrun 2006 puts that right at long last, adding a deranged sense of humour to a streamlined racer, with a soundtrack to live by.
Kieron:"Every time I've been driving through beautiful countryside since, down curved roads at high speed, I've thought of this and wished I were at my PC."
Name two flight sims based on pen-and-paper games. Hah, you can't. Crimson Skies gets you halfway there, set in an alternative 1937, where planes are a confusion of WWII machines and future-o-tech. Splendidly arcade, it's every reason to take to the skies, quick to entertain and reward.
Alec:"The last game in far too long that expertly identified what it is that makes (normal) men love planes - ratatatat, chocks away and all that jazz. There's no take-off or landing in it, and that's pretty much why it's still brilliant."
Bringing together all the ingredients that have made this instant-action racing series so exciting, United conjures the spirit of bedroom racetracks with manic loop-the-loops, daft jumps and all new online competitiveness where you try to post the best lap-times in your region of the world.
Craig:"It's not a racing game, really. It's a puzzler and a platform game that just happens to use cars. And it's got the best jumps in any game ever."
Neverwinter Nights 2
The closest thing videogames have to the magic of playing D&D with your friends. Best character: the kobold working in the market who has visited every other BioWare/Interplay game, and mocks the crappy older engine. ÒThere's a lot less boxes and cubes here."
John:"The camera is FINE. Stop whining, you sissies. And the story is Avellone gold. Khelgar is one of the best party members ever, and Neeshka is as close to KotOR's fantastic Mission as you'll get."
The wind up and watch it go of gaming. Turn-based combat where you and your opponent reveal your moves at the same time. It's super-deep tactical WWII warfare done properly, where infantry break as Tiger tanks crest a hill.
Tim:"I'll never forget my first skirmish in Combat Mission: I positioned all my troops around a farmhouse, and waited for the Germans to close in. They sheltered under a stone wall, but my grenades set the wheat fields behind them alight. Within seconds, the enemy had fled."
Hidden & Dangerous 2
Four men chosen from 40, taking on the infiltration, assassination and demolition jobs of prototype commandos in World War II. It's often unpleasantly tense, leaving you crawling on your belly, inching forward for that perfect sniper-shot, while your three other friends sit in ambush.
Kieron:"H&D's always been like old British war comics come to life, full of high stakes, high adventure and highest tension."
No One Lives Forever 2
Agent Cate Archer is 'hawt'. Also, funny. Highlight of this hysterical comedy FPS: fighting ninjas in a trailer park during a tornado. A far better Bond spoof than Austin Powers ever was.
John:"NOLF1 was funny for its dialogue, and jokes about shagging goats. NOLF2 was much more about hilarious set-pieces. And bombs disguised as tiny cute kittens. I just wish more people with a sense of humour would notice the FPS."
Molyneux delivers. With a KotOR-inspired good vs evil dichotomy, it's a huge story where your behaviour has a massive impact on your experience. Best not go round kicking chickens in the face then: you'll get labelled a chicken chaser.
Tim:"I love how Fable references other (admittedly better RPGs). On discovering I could, I had to spend all my cash on renaming myself Avatar, to satisfy my latent inner Ultima fanboy."
The most unnerving simple graphics could ever be, Introversion's hacking simulator nails the tension as you attempt to sidle in the back doors of big company computers before your illegal activities get rumbled.
Kieron:"When I reviewed this back in the day, I said its minimalist graphics wouldn't age a day and remain atmospheric forever. Yet again, I was right." (We bow to your genius, Kieron - Ed.)
Psychonauts creator Tim Schafer cut his teeth on this: a dark tale of biker gangs after the bomb dropped. It's witty, smart and misunderstood. It seems that adventure gamers would prefer to empathise with a psychotic bunny over a petrol-drinking kick-arse Hell's Angel.
John:"A mature, intelligent, and yet still incredibly silly outing for LucasArts. The funniest moment - bunnies blowing up to the Ride of the Valkyries - is a gag for when you get the puzzle wrong. That's detail."
Lego Star Wars
It takes something special to make us feel affection toward Jar Jar Binks, but this is just it: he has the highest leap in Lego Star Wars, able to reach hidden golden bricks. Spoofing the films while capturing the joy of lightsaber combat, Lego Star Wars will make you smile like a loon.
Is it a kids' game? Who cares? The fact that it can be played and loved by kids and adults alike perahps underlines this game's genius.
Jim:"The idea itself is clever enough, but if you include just how funny it is, and how well constructed the puzzles are, well, you've got one of thsoe rare perfect games."
Diablo wasn't just about wading through dungeons, punching demons in the face. Underneath that was a fruit machine. Every level, every monster and every boss was randomised. Every step forward, and every kill, another pull on the lever. Would your favourite items and armour ever drop?
Tom:"Diablo II's advantage over the near-perfect first game was that it drew you out across the entire world that the original only hinted at. You slew in deserts, rainforests, on gloomy moors and in heaven and hell themselves. Delicious."
Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
What happens when the spaceship from Civilization lands on a fertile new planet? Nuclear war, plague, genetic development, terrorism and horrific violence. Intelligent, turn-based strategy that every Civ fan should try.
Tim:"Beneath my smiling facade lurks the dark heart of a dictator. Alpha Centauri fulfils my sci-fi horror fantasies, allowing me to inflict plagues of mind worms and repeated nuclear detonations on a populace gradually drifting away from its humanity."
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
What would you do with a gorgeous goth girl who wants to see to your every need? that's one of the dilemmas you, as a vampire growing in power, must deal with in Bloodlines.
Ploughing the first-person RPG furrow long before Oblivion popularised it, Bloodlines mixed gruesome violence and vampiric roleplaying with some admirable dialogue and decent tech - it was one of the first games to license the Source engine.
Terribly buggy on release, it has since been patched and fixed by the community, the developers Troika having disbanded.
Kieron:"Hanging around clubs, looking down goth girls' cleavages and being slutty. A welcome flasback to my teenage years."
Running along the side of buildings dodging helicopters! Not quite where you'd think this French adventure game was heading, after you've discovered you've unwillingly murdered someone, must evade the police, and solve the deeply peculiar mystery. Adventure gaming gone interesting, and weird.
Kieron:"The scene where you're controlling both the person trying to escape and the police closing-in is a brain-breaker without compare. Brilliant."
This is hardcode SWAT work. Your four men work by the letter to apprehend the perps, taking down drug dealers, gangsters, hostage takers, and one demented serial killer who lives at home with his mother. Also includes beanbag guns. Oh yes.
Tim:"The best, and silliest, co-op game here, I think. Best, because its tense, randomised assaults on drug-dens and hoodlums' hideouts demand planning, precision and team-work. Silliest, because it will always break down when your best friend Tazers you in the face. And then shoots beanbags at your gentleman's parts."
Colin McRae: DiRT
A complete overhaul for the long-lived McRae series. A new engine combines with a new focus - it's not just about rallying any more. Now you can race dune buggies, or flip Minis in the Race of Champions. It plays a bit like this: "BRRMMMMMM! LEFT! LEFT! SCREEEEEEEEECH! BRRRRRRRMMM!"
Graham:"It's all well and good, driving on the edges of mountains. It's great, cornering at great speed while your sidekick yells at you. But it's even better to be able to slide round dirt tracks in dune buggies, throwing mud on your opponents and slamming into each other with impunity. Colin McRae's now about more than rallying. It's about being dirty."
Silent Hunter III
Leaving port in Silent Hunter III, standing on the conning tower of your shiny new Uboat, you're confronted by options. Where in the Atlantic will you lie in wait for Allied convoys? How many torpedoes will you waste on simple fishing trawlers? And what will you play on the in-game gramophone?
Tim:"I rarely survive a major attack on a convoy, but they're too tempting to leave. My favourite moment? That ultra-tense countdown between the launch of your fish and the plume of water that confirms a hit."
Even games with branching plots don't really qualify as interactive stories. Masq, a line-drawn Flash game, does, because of its sheer breadth. You're a fashion designer with a big show to stage in a few days. Everything that happens before then - the sex, death, betrayal, divorce and fame - is up to you.
Tom:"Your choices might be comparatively few at each juncture in Masq, but every one of them is tempting, interesting and has serious consequences. It leads to a complexity of plot and interaction that virtually no other game can match."
Elaborate designs based on Dia De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), crossed with 1930s art deco, let Tim Schafer take LucasArts adventures to a far more mature level. Manny, a reaper-cum-travel agent investigates the mystery of souls failing to reach their proper place in the afterlife.
Alec:"Awful controls and a couple of LucasArts' lowest-ebb puzzles can't stop this being a masterpiece. It's the only one of their point-'n'-clickers with real heart as well as humour, and one of few early 3D games that understood graphical art is as important as technology."
John:"While occasionally impassable doors was a problem, I forgave it for telling me such a sweet and elaborate story. You get the feeling this was an important project for Schafer and co, and they delivered."
Richard Burns Rally
Pipping Colin to the finish line, the late Richard Burns' game is an uncompromising simulation. It might be too unforgiving for the arcade crowd, but that's the point. When any mistake could cost you a race, the sense of reward for completing a time-trial without writing off your car is immense.
Tim:"It takes a good week of solid playing before you're confident enough to win even the most basic races. But it's worth the effort. One of the great racers."
vPrince of Persia: Sands of Time
You can rewind time! Even years later, this idea still astounds. Sleek platforming with a lead character so nimble he shames Ms Croft, SoT offers a giant playground of four-dimensional acrobatics. And when you die... You can rewind time!
Craig:"It took everything third-person action games threatened to be and showed them how to do it. Slick movement, a quick-thinking Prince and the joie de vivre that comes from leaping, dangling and running."
John:"Ever since I was a kid I've loved it when people run up walls and do that backward flip. But my belly and leaden limbs have always refused. Sands of Time lets me do it. That's enough."
Test Drive Unlimited
It's incredible this didn't happen sooner. An online racing game where everyone shares the same Hawaiian island. Fancy a race? Flash your headlights at another player, and you're off. Bet in-game cash and win, and you can buy yourself a new hillside palace to go with your collection of cars.
Alec:"It's mind-blowing that there are so few car games that are actually about the pleasure of driving cars, rather than endless track racing. TDU does it so well that it's made an auto-fetishist out of me; previously, I only recognised a model of car if there was a Transformer that turned into it."
Alien Versus Predator
Poke this in the eye of those who claim movie tie-ins don't work. Xenomorph vs Predator. vs Marine. And the Aliens have it, with the ability to crawl up the walls and onto the ceiling, lying in wait for their fleshy prey to pass.
Alec:"There aren't many games in which you can regain health by eating brains, and even fewer that are good (hello Stubbs The Zombie). Oddly. this shooter is at its scariest when you play as, rather than against, the Alien - that acid skull is distressingly vulnerable..."
The Secret of Monkey Island
Guybrush is our adventure game hero. He so desperately wants to be a pirate, and he so desperately wants to be loved by the beautiful governor Elaine Marley. But he's got problems. He's rubbish at swordfighting, can't handle his grog, and hes' being chased by the ghost pirate Lechuck. But Guybrush never resorts to violence. Just logic and voodoo dolls.
Tom:"You're underwater, tied to a stone statue head and left to drown, with dozens of rusty sharp objects just too far away to pick up. The solution? Pick up the statue. You have to get the game-logic gag to solve the puzzle, and that makes the first Monkey genius."
Max Payne 2
Max may never smile, trapped forever in an overwrought noir universe where he's doomed to suffer and grimace. But as we leap sideways through doorways, blam-blam blowing away goons, or slide along floors backwards, rat-at-tat ripping apart entire rooms of baddies, we can't help but grin.
Graham:"There's no padding here, nothing superfluous. It's hard-boiled action about a man who has nothing to lose and lives perpetually on the edge of madness. With Hitman: Blood Money's sense of humour, with FEAR's slow motion brutality, but before either existed."
Space shooters are the PC's forgotten genre. Freespace was the grand-daddy - a simulation in which every fighter felt like a mechanical, dysfunctional craft, liable to break down at any moment, and every sortie a smaller mission within a wider war.
Tim:"Freespace is an ever-evolving game: it's effectively open source thanks to an enlightened EULA. Free campaigns and a brilliant Battlestar Galactica mod make this an essential download."
The game that defined Kieron's dress sense. Four trenchcoated hitmen taking on an isometric city with flamethrowers. Among other fantastic weapons. Who could forget the Persuadatron? It equipped your party with a 50-person human shield.
Kieron:"It's a phenomenally influential advanced capitalism dark satire set in a living city (with extra miniguns). The road to GTA started here."
Call of Duty
It was the opening to the Stalingrad level that we remember best. Climbing the banks of the Volga, under constant machinegun fire armed with... a belt of ammunition. And nothing else. A deft inverting of the first-person shooter, for at that moment it became the first-person runner.
Jim:"Hmm, I'm noticing that I have a peculiar weakness for Soviet conflict. In this case it's the superb Red Army missions in CoD. Quicksave for Mother Russia!"
Bullfrog's wry grin at cutesy management sims and twee roleplaying games. This time you play the baddies, creating dank caves filled with treasure, tempting brave knights and heroes into your domain. Then you torture them to death. Hilarious.
Alec:"Still dismissed as stereotypical Bullfrog cuteness by critics who should know better (and who should, y'know, actually play it too), it's a genuine subversion of the management formula, very much its own unique and very funny game rather than just Theme Park with farting demons."
Frontier: Elite 2
If you had a galaxy to explore, what would you do? Start a business transporting meat, wine, and the occasional slave across the galaxy? Hunt down pirates? Join the police force? Or just bum around, seeing where in the universe life takes you?
Craig:"Why do I still play this? Because I started with just 100 credits, a ship and frighteningly large universe to explore. And now I am Elite."
You can ride the roller-coasters. Building those long, looping big-dippers was always the most fun part of being a rollercoaster tycoon: an absorbing mix of engineering and art. But in the third version, once you built them you could leap onboard and ride along with your screaming customers. Genius.
Tim:"For giggles, build a simple ride that's just a giant ascending slope, and then select the 'powered launch' option. Fill it up with guests. And then click 'go'. Congratulations, you maniac! You've just created your first of many coaster cannons."
Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Somewhere among the countless sequels, the lifestyle mag covers and the Lara hype, the creators of Tomb Raider forgot the point of their game: raiding tombs. That magic is back, thanks to vast underground lairs and hidden cities for you to lose yourself in.
John:"I kind of miss the light-hearted banter of last year's Legend, but then I stop caring every time I walk into a new tomb or cavern and gleefully think: "PLAYGROUND!" This is the only game where I've cared about finding secrets - it means I did some excellent acrobatics."
C&C: Red Alert 2
Why we still love this hilarious strategy game, in two words: psychic squid. Westwood's RTS masterpiece plays out a mind-crazy alternative history, where the Russians use mind control, and thanks to Einstein the US can teleport with their chrono technology. Still daft, still brilliant, and a shining example of how to spin a familiar series in a completely different direction.
Graham:"Psychically controlled squid! Zeppelins over New York! Yuri! 'We Romanovs have our legacy to consider.' 'I don't give a wooden nickel about your legacy!' No real-time strategy has ever come close to matching RA2 for its sense of humour, its endless invention, or the unbridled joy of its missions."
Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood
World War II is all about not getting shot. Most games forget this, revelling in violence and bombast. Brothers in Arms is different - it's about taking potshots at frightened German recruits over damp fields. The perfect antidote to the overwhelming Call of Duty.
Tim:"I love that the Brothers in Arms games constantly play-down the heroism, forcing us to analyse every situation rather than blindly charge into battle."
Command & Conquer 3
Finally, the Scrin, responsible for the Tiberium infection in the original C&C game, have invaded. C&C's version of real-time strategy has always demanded quick thinking, but C&C3 is played at light speed. Entire armies can evaporate barrage. Importantly, Cameron from 'House' features in its cutscenes. Yums.
Graham:"After just ten minutes, Tim's hands are in the air and my units are on the floor. I thought destroying the city's bridges would stop his land units from reaching my base. It didn't. It turns out he could teleport across the river instead, and I'd just sealed off my only escape route. Damn."
Outcast offered a template for 3D PC gaming way too early. It was part Zelda, part Gears of War, part Thief - wide open alien islands for you to sneak through, blast past, or quest around. It represents the steam-powered alternative history videogames could have seen.
Jim:"Science tells us that Outcast is the fifty-seventh best game of all time. It's the mathematical combination of messianic story, Voxel fluidity, orange jumpers, and alien ostriches that make it so nutritious."
Supreme Commander knows what we want out of real-time strategic future war. Realising that bigger is better, it gives us insanely huge, insanely powerful robotic units that ensure it's a crazed, intense, brain-wracking experience, ending with an unlimited stockpile of nuclear weapons. Spread it across two monitors to capture the full effect of its ULTRO-WAR.
Tim:"You can build as many nukes as you want in Supreme Commander. Most games would limit you to one to preserve the game balance. SupCom just doesn't care about you - it says, you made your bed, you learn to lie in it."
Behind the statistics, charts, teletext match reports and tactics, there are stories. Roy of the Rovers tales of heroic last-ditch defensive stands, dream runs towards the cup, and dramatic injuries that leave a team without its star player in the final. FM is the only football management game you'll ever need: just bring your imagination to fill in the gaps.
Graham:"It may seem strange to say it, but FM isn't actually about football - although, yes, it is the best football management simulation around. It's not even about spreadsheets. No, it's all about characters, with their own personalities, motivations and emotions. This is why my left-back means as much to me as Half-Life 2's Alyx Vance, and why knowing nothing about football doesn't stop you from loving Football Manager."
Day of Defeat: Source
The little mod that could. Its Source incarnation puts this team-based WWII ker-bang! into the same league as Counter-Strike. Realistic damage from being shot pushes the challenge into the stratosphere.
Craig:"It's the shooter I took the time to become skilled at. A combination of sound, minimap and intimate knowledge of the level has left me accused of being an aimbot more than once. Screw you, I'm that good!"
The second Doom is when id Software decided to just have a laugh, rather than trying to create intricate space-bases. The result: levels like Barrels of Fun - in which you sprinted away from a chain of exploding containers, set off by a single enraged soldier.
Alec:"A refreshingly cavalier approach to sequel-making: the same game, but really, really silly. Doom 2 is packed with the overwhelming arrogance and inventive wit that made id such a fascinating developer in their early days, and remains an endlessly playable proto-FPS for it."
A party-based fantasy set in the rich world of Britannia, U7 remains the high watermark for RPG interactivity and effortless fun. It boasts a smart story too, where evil comes disguised in deceptively reasonable arguments.
Tony:"Open the curtains in any home in the middle of the night, and an angry little peasant will get out of bed to close them again. Interactive, dynamic and clever, U7 puts later RPGs to shame."
Who knew the end of the world would be this pretty? Inspired by Wargames' computer controlled map, Defcon puts you in command of a global nuclear attack, ordering bomb drops, subs and defence from a protected bunker. Darkly satisfying.
Graham:"The music becomes slow and quiet. A woman coughs and cries in the distance. A low rumbling turns loud and bright as you look closer. It's a rare game that so perfectly captures a mood or feeling. That it's a feeling of emptiness makes Defcon as unsettling as it is beautiful."
Click here to read the Top 50.