The 100 best PC games of all time

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30. System Shock 2

Release Date: 1999
Last year: 16

Craig: There are a bunch of games that made me as a PC gamer. Thief and Half-Life and System Shock 2. Of all the three, this was the one that made me realise that game worlds could change. There’s nothing more terrifying than a weapon degrading in a world of blood-scrawled walls, apparitions and zombies talking to themselves.

Tom: Something that really added to the survival horror feel of System Shock 2 was the weapons. I've never played a game where an assault rifle was such a big deal: it's a huge investment to get the skills to use it, a huge expense in ammo to use it, and a huge eruption of power when it fires. It actually sounds like a gun going off five times a second, rather than a vague 'ratatatat'. On a spaceship crawling with horrors, it feels like a desperate last resort.

29. Supreme Commander 2

Release Date: 2010
Last year: New entry

Tom: Its experimental units are nuts: one can drop a fleet of aircraft like gassed fruitflies, one can dump a dinosaur in your base, one is just a giant weaponised magnet. Simplifying the economy had its drawbacks, but it means both players generally get an experimental unit or two out if they want one. In a game that's primarily meant to be a clash of the titans, it helps to have more than one titan on the battlefield before the game ends.

Rich: I don’t think I’ve ever gone into this strategy game with a strategy. I’ve only ever got a unit in mind: one of the UEF’s ultra-chunky gunships, or a twenty-storey Illuminate deathbot with lasers for a face and more lasers for hands. I drop defence, harassment, all those RTS concepts, in the pursuit of a ridiculous superweapon that I can toddle over to the enemy’s base and clap as it fthTOOMs, or kerblasts, or ZZZZaps everything around it into granulated metal fragments. I clap a lot when I’m playing SupCom 2.

Tom S: When you build hundreds and hundreds of robots and then make them fight, the result should be spectacular and Supreme Commander 2's titanic clashes truly are. You get super units wading through a sea of tiny walkers, lasers flashing across the landscape, glowing tracer fire from the ground knocking out incoming missiles and planes dogfighting above. When battle is joined in SupCom 2 my heart sings with robo-joy. This is exactly what ridiculous robot war should look like.

28. Freespace 2

Release Date: 1999
Last year: 72

Tom S: Freespace 2 lathers you up with a sequence of ordinary checkpoints and sedate objectives. Then, just when you feel secure, two warring battleships come careering out of a nebula, swapping energy beams twice the width of your ship. After that you're just a gnat on the solar winds, battling for survival in a universe that's thousands of times your size. Space combat doesn’t get bigger or more terrifying than this.

Desslock: Atrociously overlooked when released, Freespace 2 is not merely a genre masterpiece, but also one of the best written PC games ever. Genuine introspection is proffered in between space battles of monstrous scale. Never has a game exceeded expectations so impressively.

27. Fallout 3

Release Date: 2008
Last year: 10

Craig: I expected Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas to bump this from the list, but it proved that there’s more to Bethesda’s magic than just having a big world with stuff to do. They nailed the quests, creating amazing, inter-weaving storylines throughout the nuclear wasteland. Unlike Stalker, it’s not really about survival. You end up a superhero, powerful enough to take down entire slave camps with a steampowered fist.

Troy: Fallout’s Washington, DC is a dead world brought to life, even if it is a very brown life. Interesting people with interesting problems, and you can blow them apart with well timed shots. The main story line is mostly OK, but adding dozens of sidequests fills out a devastated city with peril and opportunity. It's as much a shooter as an RPG, and Fallout 3 sort of fails at being great at either of those. But it is a great mixture of both that is worth revisiting over and over and over.

Dan: The gameplay of a Fallout game is almost beside the point. It’s about the exploration, and Fallout 3 created a world that you absolutely, positively had to explore the hell out of. The fact that the main story mission is the weakest part of it almost feels like a deliberate measure to get us to go off on our own, wandering the wastes and finding all sorts of amazing things.

Tom: Nothing feels boilerplate in Fallout 3. Every time I see a building, I know there's going to be something worth going inside for. In the Gold Ribbon Grocers, there's a pressure plate. It triggers a battering ram to hit a domino line of cereal boxes, which topple off a counter to trigger a baseball pitching machine to shoot a round into a gas cylinder, knocking it into a beartrap, the blast from which lights the fuses on a bunch of grenades, which detonate the leaking gas from the oven, blow open the back wall, and release someone's stash of munitions. I don't know why someone made this, but I'm happy they did.

Tom S: I remember the day I found my beloved Fisto! It was in a run down old building well off the beaten track. I had no right to be there, I only broke in to have a look around. I made my way to the top floor and there she was, a hulking powerfist so amazing that my waif like wanderer could dismember a supermutant with a single blow when wearing it. In Fallout 3, chance discoveries meant more than any scripted sequence.

26. Age of Empires II

Release Date: 1999
Last year: New entry

Josh: No other game has ever dominated my subconscious like AoE II did while I was in middle and high school. The fold-out tech tree included in the game box was hidden inside every text book I brought to class. Build orders were more closely guarded than lunch money amongst my friends. I still use my email account branded with “AoK” that I made in honor of the game’s full title. Its perfect rock-paper-scissors balance, diverse types of civilization bonuses, and the thrill of taunting my best friend as Huskarls rushed his base--these are the true joys of youth.

Rich: Monk! I need a monk! I spammed this voice command so many times at a LAN party that I ended up crying with laughter.

25. Mass Effect

Release Date: 2008
Last year: 33

Josh: When I finished Mass Effect, I sat on my bed in post-mortem for at least an hour, just taking in the incredible story I’d just watched unfold. The story of Shepard and his/her crew was so beautifully told and with such gratifying combat, that I was ready to be lost in it forever.

Norm: My favorite RPGs are the ones set in convincing game worlds, and the lore-entrenched universe of Mass Effect is one of the best in gaming. It’s one of the few games were I actually read the companion novel before playing the game to prepare myself for the experience.

Tom: The sequel is excellent too, but I'll always choose the original because it knew how to engage you. The very first mission culminates with a clear act of betrayal, and yet no-one will believe you. Saren waltzes around with the council in his pocket. It makes him a properly infuriating character, and the sense of injustice is the kickstart any plot needs to get you interested in its world.

Early on you get to interactively compose a rousing speech to your crew before setting off on the mission proper. It's one of my favourite scenes in any role-playing game: it plays off the emotional investment you've already got, captures the nerdy tingle of any number of Star Trek episodes, and sparks a rush of excitement about what's coming that makes it feel both personal and epic. Almost every RPG developer is trying for that, and no-one - not even BioWare themselves - has done it this well before or since.

Rich: I know nothing of science, so Mass Effect’s science sounds like it could be entirely true. When I read in the game’s codex that capital ships stack their decks vertically up the ship - instead of horizontal like a boat - to use the engine’s thrust as an aid to artificial gravity, I hopped out of my chair and shouted “YES!” Then I went to go and get my girlfriend, called her into the room, and said “read that!” She wasn’t quite so impressed, but I was smitten with Mass Effect. She’s alright, too.

Tom S: Mass Effect is the game of a dream I've been having ever since I started watching Star Trek and reading Iain M Banks. It gave me sleek space ships and aliens to punch, and that made it good, but it was space badass Shepard that made it great. It was surprisingly refreshing to play a character who could tell anyone she wanted to shut the hell up, and her presence made Mass Effect one of the most engaging science fiction games ever made. Those who disagree can all shut the hell up.

24. Unreal Tournament

Release Date: 1999
Last year: New entry

Evan: Instagib and the Flak Cannon. Next question.

Tom: Next question: why are we picking UT over UT2004? I don't get to complain because I didn't put either in my top ten, but I'm curious.

Rich: Facing Worlds, that’s why. My secondary school had a computer room staffed by a lazy IT teacher. We covertly installed UT - a kid in the sixth form went so far as to code a handler that would minimise the game to hide it on the taskbar - and played at lunchtimes. Once, we invited some year 9s in to play against our well-drilled year 11 squad. We loaded up Facing Worlds, set up our camping spots, and laughed like maniacs as we lanced their brains with UT’s perfect sniper rifle over and over again. Stupid kids.

Tom: Not wanting to be the asshole I'm inevitably about to be, but UT2004 had Facing Worlds too.

Rich: Yeah, but those kids weren’t as stupid in 2004.

Chris: Why this above UT2004? Because UT was the first game to give you a portable nuke-launcher, where you controlled the missile via a first-person camera. Best use: sprinting into a room filled with players and shooting it at your feet, vaporizing everyone, including yourself.

23. Starsiege: Tribes

Release Date: 1998
Last year: New entry

Evan: With Quake III, it’s the multiplayer shooter with the highest skill ceiling ever. But as much as jetpack stunts and exploding frisbee guns create a sportlike pace, Tribes has reverence for bases in a way that only the Team Fortress series has mirrored.

22. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Release Date: 2002
Last year: New entry

Tom: You are my kind of gamer if you walked to Balmora. After strolling past a giant tick in a sleepy fishing village, you're dispatched to the nearest proper city to contact an agent of the emperor. You can use the giant tick as fast travel, but look at this place. Rolling hills, misty swamps, rippling water, enticing caves. I'd never played anything like it - a country, with no barriers or cop-outs or gaps. I wanted to see every inch of it, so I set off on foot. I fought weird worm-dogs against a hot pink sunset, and when night fell, two alien planets rose like moons. Oblivion's a more playable game in some ways, but it doesn't have this tinge of the strange. You're a foreigner in this land, and you feel it.

Rich: Even the Cliff Racers?

Tom: Modded them out so fast it took me a minute to remember what they were.

21. Hitman: Blood Money

Release Date: 2006
Last year: 19

Tom: Come on, man, how long does it take to wash your hands? Get out of here! The target is /right there/, and I can't kill him until you leave. Great. Now he's gone. Now I have to kill you to stop this from happening the next time he takes a leak.
I'm dragging the hand-washer's corpse behind a cubicle when the target walks back in. There's an awkward pause. He draws his silenced pistol, I draw mine, and I get ten rounds off to his one. The bathroom is splattered with blood, but the door creaks shut behind him just in time to hide the carnage from the outside world. I drag him behind a cubicle.
It's about studying routines, planning quiet kills, then controlling the situation when it inevitably explodes out of control. Unlike the previous games, you're free to roam most of the levels undisguised. It gives you more space and time to plan a smart way into a restricted area, end someone's life, and get back out without detection.

Craig: And in the game?

Dan: There’s a right way and a wrong way to play a Hitman game. The wrong way - killing everyone in your path until you reach your target, then killing them too - is fun. The right way - getting in, arranging for your target to become the victim of an unfortunate accident, and getting out without anyone ever knowing that you were there - is one of the most satisfying achievements in gaming.

Craig: Silent Assassin, Schmilent Scmasshassin I want people to know I was there. Not when I’m there, but when I’m killing people I leave bodies floating in pools, I pile them high in corridors, I set off bombs just as I’m leaving the level, tossing bodies everywhere and scrambling out wearing a clown outfit.

Rich: I am reverse-Craig, and think I’m doing Hitman wrong. If I was spotted, I’d quit and restart. My photofits were giant question marks, and I was a ghost. A ghost that hides in cupboards and switches fake pistols for real ones, or dresses as a clown to kill a Mafia boss, or fiddles with barbecues until they explode. Slipping away into the night with one, deserved, death on your conscience is a delicious pleasure.

Tom S: I enjoyed the waiting. In the long quiet periods before the violence startes I would scope out each level. I would blend into the crowds, watching my targets and hatching a plan. I would learn each guard's habits and mentally map their routes, slowly slipping into the cold, analytical mindset of an assassin. This must be how Agent 47 feels all the time.