The 100 best PC games of all time

PC Gamer

Page 1 of 10

This gets harder every year. Every year new games are released, old favourites are replayed, obscure indies capture our hearts, and games that we once knew are updated until they're unrecognisable. We're fickle, argumentative people in love with the most dynamic gaming platform on the planet, and we're only allowed to pick 100 games?

It should be the top 1,000, the top 10,000, to fit every single game we all love. But it's not. As much as the games change, our task remains the same. Boil down decades of sims and shooters, roleplaying games and real-time strategies, into the top 100. The best games on PC. Those that you must play, now .

Our international team of writers were asked to put forth their ten favourite games, in order. Those individual lists were then collated, a mega-list was formed, and each contributor was challenged to defend their love. Disagree with their choices? Look out for the beginning of the PC Gamer Readers' Top 100 soon on the site. You'll soon know the pain of having to choose. Until then: that Grand Theft Auto IV, eh? What a game.

100. Grand Theft Auto IV

Release Date: 2008

Last year: 15

Graham: I can't stand Grand Theft Auto's cruel, dull missions, so I used to be reliant on its buggy multiplayer if I wanted to have fun messing around in Liberty City. Thanks to a persistent modding community turning the game into a giant toybox, that's no longer true. Now, when I visit the city, it's packed with cars that can travel at infinite speed, and I'm a superman who carries a gravity gun. That the best way to enjoy this game has changed so much two years after its release is the perfect example of why PC gaming is great.

99. Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45

Release Date: 2006

Last year: New entry

Tim S: Quake 3 re-imagined by Remarque or Solzhenitsyn. An ecstasy of brutal fumbling, wild SMG fire, and cold, calculating elimination. What's not to like?

98. Ultima Underworld II

Release Date: 1992

Last year: 90

Tony: It wasn't just the graphics. You could pick stuff up. You could throw it. You could cast spells, repair your armour and fly. You could talk to the monsters. Wonderfully, richly, impossibly interactive, UUII was a game from the future. It took history a long time to catch up.

97. Max Payne

Release Date: 2001

Last year: New entry

Chris: Right when you start, you discover Max's murdered wife and child in his own home at the hands of drug addicts. Has there ever been a beginning of a game more powerful or emotional? Exceptional noir writing and a gritty NYC underbelly setting made Max Payne one of the greats.

Rich: Nothing like trying to gracefully launch Max into a room, guns blazing, only to have him dive headfirst into a doorjamb and very slowly rub his hair down the wood as he floated to the ground. Get up, try again, get it right, and you feel like king of the underworld.

96. Football Manager 2011

Release Date: 2010

Last year: New entry

Craig: Training? Pah! My tactics? Wild and confusing. I'm more of a hands-on kind of manager, giving people calming talks, asking for their advice, before taking my team on a long, unbeaten run in Europe. I've no idea about football anymore, but there are enough switches to flick so that doesn't matter.

Rich: After years of playing it safe and managing with a steady hand, I decided to go full-on mental in FM2011. I started insulting and praising players in the same breath, I changed my assistant manager's registered name to 'Wiggles', and I brought in half of the Slovakian national team. All turned out to be good decisions, and all explain why I love managing footballs.

95. Audiosurf

Release Date: 2008

Last year: 92

Craig: Man up, everyone. Favourite song to surf? I'll start: Girls Aloud's 'Biology'. It makes a super bouncy, fun track to dodge blocks to.

Graham: That was mine as well.

Rich: I like the songs that no one else is cool enough to like.

Craig: Ah, 'Sound of the Underground'.

Tom: I like Feist's version of Sea-Lion Woman - gentle opening, then bumpy with hand-claps, then batshit with a twisting guitar solo.

Cooper: Listening to music is fun and all, but if only there was a way to... play my music. Oh, there is? And it's psychedelic euphoria? Awesome, sign me up. Audiosurf makes a game out of your MP3 library, creating interesting, unique experiences for each song. The ability to “surf” every single song (and compare stats on an online leaderboard) makes it one of the most replayable games of all time, and adds incentive to getting into new bands. Actually, I wonder what sort of level Willow Smith's 'Whip My Hair' would make...

Josh: The faster, the better. I'll toss in any punk rock I can find.

94. The Last Express

Release Date: 1997

Last year: New entry

Richard: It's the eve of World War I, and Robert Cath is up to his ears in murder and intrigue on the Orient Express. Arguably Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner's magnum opus, it's one of the most atmospheric games ever made, notable for its use of real-time action and incredible attention to detail.

93. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Release Date: 2005

Last year: 96

Craig: Splinter Cell: Convicton came pretty close to digitally heisting my heart in the action-spy genre I love, but while the action is sharper, more brutal, it misses Chaos Theory's wonderful characterisation of Sam: he threatens a man with death if he says “monkey” and has funny little chats with his boss. And the wonderful, tactile co-op is still the best of its kind.

92. Red Faction: Guerrilla

Release Date: 2009

Last year: New entry

Tom: The hostage rescue side quests made it for me. You're charged with breaking into an EDF base, untying the three captured rebels inside, and driving off with them alive. But these hostages can die. It's not game over, it just sucks. That makes me genuinely care about their survival, and I'll rip buildings apart to make sure they get out alive.

91. Mount & Blade

Release Date: 2008

Last year: New entry

Evan: The progression of a campaign in M&B feels like one of those scenes from a movie where someone enters a street and starts walking toward the camera, inviting along butchers, housewives and other sidewalk-people to join their happy jaunt. The difference is: you're a conquering swordsman or Robin Hooder, and you take that entourage of archers, pikemen and cavalry from castle to castle, liberating food from innocent farmers or slaying bandits along the way. Not to be overlooked for its graphics; it's the joy of archery, the best sieging you'll do in an action game, you can get married, and all while being a proper, open-ended RPG that makes you care about the troops you recruit in the same way that X-COM or Jagged Alliance might.

Click here to continue reading PC Gamer's 100 best PC games of all time.

90. Mirror's Edge

Release Date: 2009

Last year: 99

Tom: I only have to be mildly drunk before I start swearing this is the best game ever. It's not, but between the fights there's something absolutely unparalleled about the rough and tumble of scrambling around these rooftops and offices. You see yourself roll with every fall, feel every clamber, hear every breath and footfall, and at the same time you have a sense of how quiet and small it all is. Next to this vast, stingingly bright, bleach-clean city, you're completely insignificant. Apparently that's something I want to feel.

Rich: I ended up playing Mirror's Edge on its hardest setting for no real reason. There, Faith feels as fragile as she looks: her tiny frame falling to two bullets. My awareness of her mortality bled into jumping sessions, and I'd find myself wincing as she smacked her ribs into white concrete. It also made running away into an artform: my feet and heart racing as I dodged sniper fire.

Graham: It has its problems, but what strikes me is that none of them feel like they're the result of negligence. DICE didn't make a single lazy assumption in designing their free-running shooter; they considered everything, from how interior design can help guide the player, to what Faith's shoes should look like. Although not everything worked, that's smart design. And hey, a lot of it did work. There's no place in gaming I'd rather be than the gleaming city of Mirror's Edge.

Tom S: Even Mirror's Edge's sewer level was a playground of primary colours interesting level design. There's a huge underground room full of huge green and white pillars and a tiny door at the very top. After ten minutes of breathless scrambling and death defying leaps the guards appear. Cue the frantic escape in a hail of gun fire. In it's best moments Mirror's Edge truly captures the thrill of the chase. Running away like a coward has never been so exciting.

89. Gothic 2

Release Date: 2002

Last year: New entry

Desslock: A spiritual successor to the Ultima series, Gothic II was the first open-world RPG in the 3D age to feature NPCs that weren't static, quest-doling kiosks. These inhabitants had their own chores and agendas, such as luring gullible do-gooders into a mugging and smoking from bongs. No cute pet dog in this one.

88. Dungeon Siege

Release Date: 2002

Last year: New entry

Josh: My friends and I spent an entire weekend at one house bashing our way through Dungeon Siege's zombies, spiders and other ickies. Party combat systems, the ability to pause combat, and 3D graphics were welcome additions to the frantic clicking and character progression of Diablo. Man, that pack mule could kick some serious skeleton ass when it needed to.

87. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Release Date: 2006

Last year: New entry

Tony: That frantic, fumbling escape from your hotel room is reason enough to include this. There are other great, scary set-pieces, and behind the bugs and clunkiness, a genuine and admirable attempt to make a horror-adventure that's both fun to play and true to the spirit of Call of Cthulhu.

86. StarCraft

Release Date: 1998

Last year: New entry

Rich: I only know of StarCraft in retrospect. My utter obsession with GomTV's Global StarCraft II League means I spend hours listening to SC1 ex-players Tasteless and Artosis. For my own selfish needs, their eleven-year experience with the game makes my viewing experience immeasurably better; on another level, I realise that for a game to captivate a swathe of humanity like StarCraft did for a decade and a bit, it has to be special.

Dan: The quintessential edge-of-your-seat, fast-paced RTS. Mastering command of each of StarCraft's three wildly diverse, yet intricately balanced races is a challenge that few will ever achieve, but it's sure fun to try.

85. Sins of A Solar Empire

Release Date: 2008

Last year: New entry

Dan: Bombarding a planet from orbit, killing all its inhabitants and recolonizing it with your own people is a pretty good sin, I'd say.

Rich: Sometimes, when I was colonising space and sending vast capital ships to do ponderous combat against an agonisingly beautiful backdrop, I'd read the title of the game as “Bins of a Solar Empire” and laugh for ages.

Tom: Good one Rich.

84. Silent Hunter 3

Release Date: 2005

Last year: New entry

Andy: The sub sim genre really needed this one. After the disappointment of SH2, Ubisoft brought in an entirely new Romanian team to redefine the WWII submariner experience and boy did they nail it. I experienced real fear the first time I crash-dove my U-boat to escape the depth charges of a relentless British destroyer and that terror didn't diminish one iota in the ensuing 40-minute cat-and-mouse struggle. Even Das Boot The Director's Cut didn't move me like this.

Tim S: The secret of SH3's sublimity is right there in the title. Unlike 98% of combat games, this one doesn't serve-up prey on silver platters. You must *hunt* for those rusty toilers of the sea, and the long hours of zigzagging and hopeful horizon-scanning ensure engagements, when they come, are sweatier than a stoker's y-fronts. Thank God Ubisoft postponed the release in order to implement freelance-friendly campaigns.

83. The Curse of Monkey Island

Release Date: 1997

Last year: New entry

Josh: Technology finally caught up to the genius emerging from the Monkey Island franchise, allowing the devs and artists to craft a perfectly-fitting cartoon world brought to life by voice actors and fueled with the same off-the-wall humor and irreverent plot lines. And who can forget Murray, the demonic talking skull?

82. MechCommander

Release Date: 1998

Last year: 66

Evan: Match all this stuff together: the personal attachment you feel for your soldiers in X-COM; MechWarrior's intense robot customization; Diablo's easy loot; an RTS' pace. MechCommander isn't simply a tactical take on MechWarrior--it's an incredible single-player process of salvaging robot parts and amassing a team of deathbots and skilled pilots, and it plays truer to the board game roots of the franchise than FASA's first-person version.

81. Kings Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow

Release Date: 1992

Last year: New entry

Josh: Shipwrecked on a beach; a nightingale singing in a tree; battling a minotaur in the labyrinth. If none of those spark a deeply-rooted memory in your game upbringing, you've got grounds for suing your parents for neglect. KQVI was a pillar in early adventure games.

80. Grim Fandango

Release Date: 1998

Last year: 40

Ed: Dark, funny and full of more class than a classy cruiseliner filled with first class cabins that host round the clock classes teaching the class system. Grim Fandango is set in a limbo world of the dead, yet is full of appreciation for the deeper concepts of life. It is a tale that progresses so naturallly and wonderfully that by the end I was strangely moved, and ended up feeling more at peace with myself. If you're crap at adventure games play it with a guide, though don't rush through it too fast. Instead, take some time and allow yourself to soak up the story and atmosphere.

Tom F: I'll second that - using a walkthrough just lets you enjoy the characters, the mood of the place and the fantastic visual imagination. There's really no sense torturing yourself with the puzzles, they were never the point.

The amazing thing about Grim Fandango, apart from all that, was that your journey ended up being four years of your life. You reach a dead end in your search for Meche, and suddenly it's a year later and you're running a swanky club. Something felt very real and personal about that.

Tom S: One wonderful scene in Vena Cava has you mumbling nonsense rhymes into a microphone in a room full of dead beatniks. In many ways Grim Fandango is like a beat poem, drawing almost random elements together and fashioning them into something strange and inspired. It opens with a tale of corporate dysfunction set in aztec skyscrapers on the Mexican day of the dead, and goes on to tell a story of love, corruption and posthumous redemption in one of the most imaginative worlds I've ever encountered.

79. Galactic Civilizations II

Release Date: 2006

Last year: 74

Tom F: My graph is bigger than your graph, sing it.

Tom F: OK, that's not helpful.

Tom F: I was going to say something about the sense of adventure that exploring and expanding across an undiscovered galaxy gives you, how its AI opponents feel like aggressively intelligent minds as passionate about victory as you are, the way custom building every ship in your fleet gives you extraordinary tactical flexibility and a personal attachment to your empire. Then I got distracted by a graph.

78. Crysis

Release Date: 2007

Last year: 76

Graham: There are two reasons why Crysis is great. One: it's smart. The suit powers are a clever way to give you wonderful choices about how to approach the game, letting you play as a cloaked killer, a speeding train, or a human wrecking ball. They're all fun, and when used in combination make you a free-running tank. Two: it's so, so dumb. Like a lot of games, Crysis has the subtlety of a Bruckheimer action movie, but it's unique in having the scale to match. As you travel across the game's tropical paradise, mountains crack open, space ships blot out the sun, and nuclear explosions astonish.

Cooper: Crysis got a bad wrap because of the insane gaming rig necessary to play, but if you had a computer that could run it, Crysis was one of the best in the genre. The visuals were, obviously, stellar, but it was much more than that. Over time, the gameplay became... customizable. You could stealth in the middle of a group of enemies, grab one by the throat, throw him, drop a trip-mine, and run away before they even knew you were there. You were Batman mixed with the Predator mixed with The Flash, and it was freaking incredible. The expansion, Crysis: Warhead, turned down the plot and turned up the over-the-top gameplay, so, you know, it was also awesome.

Dan: I threw a turtle at a chicken.

Craig: That turtle had one day left till retirement. :(

77. Command & Conquer: Red Alert

Release Date: 1996

Last year: New entry

Dan: An opening cinematic that begins with a time-traveling Albert Einstein whacking Hitler and ends with the stirring Hell March theme, cinematics star a sexy spy and Joseph Stalin, and some of the best over-the-top superweapons ever to grace a fast-paced RTS make Red Alert one of the most memorable games ever.

Graham: I always preferred the sequel, for its Ray Wise opening (“I don't give a wooden nickel about your legacy!”), but the original was similarly fantastic. In a world where still people struggle to make worthwhile singleplayer RTS campaigns, developers could do worse than aping Red Alerts silliness.

Chris: The reason to keep FMV alive. Hell, the cutscenes in Red Alert were better than anything in the new Transformers movies. I almost felt bad for Stalin when Nadia poisoned him. Almost.

76. Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn

Release Date: 2000

Last year: 25

Richard: While the original was pretty shaky, Baldur's Gate 2 took everything Bioware had learned about making RPGs and produced a classic – particularly the second chapter, which simply cuts your party loose to make money via hook, crook, or epic adventure. And when you've finishedn it, the expansion, Throne of Bhaal, manages to be even better.

Troy: All the Mass Effects and Dragon Ages in the world can't escape the shadow of Bioware's sprawling D&D epic. It had class specific hero quests, a giant world filled with loot and villains and dragons, and a second chapter that went on forever so you could explore the world before being rushed to the ending. It also gave birth to the now de rigeur and frequently annoying relationship mechanic, so it's not all perfect. But when I am asked about my favorite RPG ever, BG2 is the easy and expected answer.

75. Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

Release Date: 1999

Last year: New entry

Richard: Civilisation usually ends with a trip to Alpha Centauri. This is what happens next, as humanity breaks up into philosophical factions and sets out to tame the hostile unknown. With its mix of hard-science, genuine personality, and one of the most advanced strategy worlds ever, we're still longing for a sequel.

Tom S: It's Alpha Centauri's personality that made it stand out. Each of the faction leaders had their own curious foibles. Lady Diedre had that Mind Worm fetish, Chairman Yang had his thing for nerve stapling his citizens and Colonel Santiago wanted to reinvent diplomacy by killing everyone who disagreed with her. They were all as mad as each other, and it was a pleasure to meet them all, and then annihilate them.

74. Burnout Paradise

Release Date: 2009

Last year: 75

John: I almost never replay games. I'm too busy and handsome. I'm on my fourth go through BP. And I don't even like racing games that much. It's madly splendid, letting you smash through, jump over, and race down for ever and ever and ever. Although if I ever hear Paradise City again I might blow up the Earth.

73. Zuma's Revenge!

Release Date: 2009

Last year: New entry

Evan: Peggle for men.

Rich: What is Peggle for, then? Unstoppable global hyper-men?

Evan: Unicorn-loving billiards players. Zuma is the only PopCap game on our list because it takes the best mechanics of the dev's other games and raises the tempo. You're a Aztec frog-gun that spits colored balls into a snaking line of more colored balls to make matches. So like Tetris, it's subtraction by addition--played with a time-limit--and it generates the same sort of narrow triumphs and almost-had-its. The feeling of nestling a ball just where it needs to be, in the nick of time, matches the emotion I get from a game-winning Counter-Strike headshot.

Tom: Peggle is better. This game is let down by its pegless design philosophy. No pegs is not nearly enough pegs.

72. Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger

Release Date: 1994

Last year: New entry

Andy: I remember being blown away by game's demand for over 30MB of hard disk space. Thirty freaking megabytes! What were those insane Origin developers thinking? I only had a 105MB drive in my 386 to start with. Once I got over my initial shock I was lost in this space romp for weeks. The cinematic cutscenes gave Mark Hamill a much-needed career boost (such as it was) and the space combat was as addictive as crack.

Rich: Mark Hammill went on to play Cock-Knocker in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. Wing Commander, what did you do.

71. Spelunky

Release Date: 2009

Last year: 51

Tom: I am not kidding or exaggerating or any wronger than usual when I say this is one of my ten favourite games of all time. Other games have randomly generated levels, but Spelunky is the only one where the randomised elements are the ones that produce the puzzles, hazards and mechanics of the game. Each one it generates isn't just aesthetically fresh, it's something you have to think about in a new way. A genuinely endless adventure.

70. League of Legends

Release Date: 2009

Last year: New entry

Josh: LoL is still the only MOBA game that's dared to innovate on DotA's original formula, and it did so with great success. The added passive skills, persistent meta-game, brush to juke with, and new hero skill mechanics elevate the genre to a whole new level. And it embraced the most sensible business model for the genre: free-to-play.

Cooper: Also, the fact that every single game you'll play in has ¾ of the players using premium (see: expensive) skins shows how much gamers are willing to embrace this F2P.

69. Flight Simulator 2004

Release Date: 2003

Last year: New entry

Andy: This is the one that really brought the series into the modern graphics era. FS9 improved its predecessor's AutoGen scenery and ATC interaction significantly and the featured classic aircraft (celebrating “A Century of Flight”) were an absolute treat to fly. I still remember trying to re-create Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic crossing in the Spirit of St. Louis and marveling at his skill at keeping that flying gas tank aloft. The third-party mod community really adopted this chapter as its own too because there are still almost as many downloadable planes and scenery files for FS9 as there are for FSX.

Tim S: The charisma of those historic crates also nudged me towards re-enactment. I'll never forget my unaccelerated Vickers Vimy trip across the Atlantic in 2006 (http://bit.ly/f9Vsph). It managed to be both the most tedious thing I've ever done in a game and one of the most thought-provoking and satisfying.

68. Dwarf Fortress

Release Date: 2006

Last year: New entry

Graham: We choose to play Dwarf Fortress and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because it's worth overcoming obtuse menus and arcane graphics for the rewards of the fantasy simulation that lies within. Before I started playing it, I'd read a lot about DF's enormous detail - and fair enough, since this is a game where dwarves carve memorable events from their civilization's history onto their coins. But I never realised how funny it would be. After ten hours of play, when my fortress flooded and my cheesemaker went insane and started biting everyone, I wasn't frustrated. I laughed.

Troy: Yes, it is ASCII. Yes, it is punishingly hard to pick up casually. But no other game in the last five years has led to as many interesting stories about what just happened to little computer people. All those memorable events and that elaborate history are often just figments of our imagination, giving meaning and plot to very simple AI action. Hurrah for a game that feeds imagination. With a real budget and real art, this game could be huge. Bay 12 Games prefers to keep it small and free, and that itself is worth recognizing.

67. Anchorhead

Release Date: 1998

Last year: 97

Tony: Home alone on rainy Sunday afternoons, my treat to myself was to play this text adventure. Its low-key sense of gloom seeped out of the screen and into my bones. I poked around its twisty streets for so long it became a real place to me. And clue by innocuous clue, I uncovered the horror lurking below.

66. Torchlight

Release Date: 2009

Last year: New entry

Chris: Torchlight was my favorite friend with benefits: I could stop in, play for 15 minutes, quit out and feel satisfied without a lick of guilt. It also ran on a netbook—making it my ideal travel buddy. I wish my reallife dog would go to town and bring back cash.

Tom: It's called the Draining Epic Boar Cannon of Venom, and it is a gun I have enchanted, socketed, re-enchanted, un-socketed, re-socketed, re-enchanted, re-enchanted and re-enchanted. Torchlight is as smart a progression of Diablo as Blizzard could manage, tailor made for the loot obsessive who wants that spectacular weapon they love to stay useful forever.

Cooper: At one point, I asked the Torchlight developers how long it took, from start to finish, to make the game. It was something like eight months. How could they put together something so stunning in such a short amount of time, but Blizzard can't figure out how to finish Diablo III for 2015?

65. Zeno Clash

Release Date: 2009

Last year: New entry

Dan: What were they smoking? Whatever it was, it needs to be legalized, and perhaps made mandatory for game makers who are setting out to create a unique and interesting world.

Evan: How up-close and personal you get to that world and its inhabitants counted for something, too. You're not just vaguely wandering a world filled with parrot-men, you're battering them with elephant-femur swords and exploding gangly humanoid avocados across a Labyrinth-like scene. The combat system genuinely earns one of the titles we throw around freely about games: it's actually visceral.

64. VVVVVV

Release Date: 2010

Last year: New entry

Graham: A Commodore 64-inspired platformer in which you can't jump, but instead flip your character's gravity to move between floor and ceiling. Its level design is immaculate, its characters are cute, its writing is funny, its soundtrack is so good I bought it and still listen to it regularly, and although some of its levels killed me a hundred times, I never stopped having fun. It is perfectly formed, and you can buy it now for £3.27.

63. SimCity 2000

Release Date: 1993

Last year: 81

Evan: Admit it: it was your evil ant farm for disasters, too. The crisp color of everything made cities that much more fun to wreck. Tornadoes were my favorite; I'd cheat my way to a five-minute metropolis, then deploy a twister or the giant floating eyeball-alien to knock it down. In 1993--before physics, before destructibility--this was the closest thing to gaming havoc that we had.

Chris: Sim City 2000 almost caused me to flunk my freshman year of high school (I also got detention for utilizing the "FUND" cheat during a PC class). I loved making long lines of parks only to pointlessly bulldoze over them to build polluting industrial zones.

62. Left 4 Dead 2

Release Date: 2009

Last year: New entry

Craig: The slapstick sequel, a game that sets me up for a post apocalypse full of clowns and electric guitar-based deaths. When the time comes, you'll find me fending off Jockeys with a frying pan.

Rich: It teased with moments of mastery: when I got an M60 or a jar of boomer bile, it made me feel unstoppable and untouchable. Until the ammo ran out and the horde regrouped. Then it was back to sprinting and shrieking my way to the safehouse like a tiny baby man.

Tim S: Behind the viscera and the vomit lie some delicious ethical dilemmas. I adore those moments when common-sense is telling you to leg it, and common decency is telling you to head back into some seething hell-hole in the vain hope of saving a cornered comrade.

61. Frontier: Elite 2

Release Date: 1993

Last year: 31

Craig: It's nearly 18 years old, and I'm still waiting for a game to hook me as completely as this did back when I was 14. What's remarkable is this space adventure, where you're given no guidance on how to live in the 513982470 star systems, is its simplicity. The complicated balancing act of living in Eve Online is a barrier that Frontier doesn't have. Five minutes to learn; a lifetime of adventure.

60. Counter-Strike: Source

Release Date: 2004

Last year: 13

Craig: When it came out, it felt so clean and precise, my first glimpse of the Source engine in full flow, Valve showing off that they could still pull off a hardcore shooter whenever they wanted to. I'm fickle, so having it in a new engine instantly elevated it over it's older brother. Sharper headshots, sickening blood splats and the amazing ragdoll deaths.

Evan: God, that ragdoll. The greatest possible reward for blasting a counter-terrorist with my AK is watching him tumble over a guard rail and crumple into a pile of limbs.

Cooper: Besides Counter-Strike, what other game could cause mass debates with the naming of a weapon? Seriously, walk into a LAN center and say “AWP” and watch the chairs go flying. Counter-Strike: Source is a near-flawless transition of classic CS to the modern(ish) era, and contains some of the most addictive, pick-up and play combat of any online shooter.

59. Anachronox

Release Date: 2001

Last year: 61

Tony: There's 'unique', and then there's Anachronox - a ramshackle game that doesn't know whether it's film-noir, sci-fi comedy, a JRPG or a superhero comic. Your gun has 250 million different settings. One planet you visit gets cut in half, another shrinks and becomes your team-mate. Why aren't there more games like this?

58. Day of The Tentacle

Release Date: 1993

Last year: 38

John: Monkey Island 2 can suck my tentacle. This is the best comedy adventure of all time. Constantly inventive and hilarious, the puzzles are better than anything previously or since. There should be some sort of law in place that says all games should feature fake barf and wooden teeth.

57. Dungeon Keeper

Release Date: 1997

Last year: 55

Tom S: Where to begin? There was the dark sense of humour, and the OCD pleasure of organising my dungeon and carving it out of the rock. Then there were the units themselves. Those squiggly sprites held more personality than most RPG characters I've met. They were selfish, spoiled little brats, but they were my brats. when I saw my Bile demons obliterate a host of Elves in a cloud of noxious farts, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of pride. Go get 'em, lads.

56. Wurm Online

Release Date: 2006

Last year: New entry

Graham: Wurm Online is all about context-sensitive menus, with 20 clicks to build a wall and 40 to mine some rock, but over a single month and a hundred hours of play, I helped settle a fantasy world frontier. I built my own house, assisted in building a huge underground tunnel, and watched as my fellow villages started creating 3D models to plan a proposed village re-build. Play it with a good community and take down some bears, and clicking is always rewarded.

Ed: I lived in a hut with Jaz, protecting trees from overlogging. When Jaz's wife started playing, I helped make her a nice cosy house next door to ours. Me and Jaz still lived together afterwards though. It was best not to ask.

55. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory

Release Date: 2003

Last year: 69

Rich: Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory was never about the shooting. I played the medic class like a guardian angel, skipping through rivulets of bullets to reach shot-up team-mates and nurse them back to health. These days, clever team play is as important to online FPSes as lethal mouse-skills - so I'm pinning the rise of objective-based shooters squarely on Enemy Territory's proud Allied/evil Nazi chest.

54. Thief II: The Metal Age

Release Date: 2000

Last year: 9

Craig: Garret is a private eye in a Steampunk world. Back when there were new genres to explore, Thief birthed the stealth game. I love the first, but Thief 2 has more thievery in it, rooftops to explore, tortuously difficult mansions to vanish in. It's the game that's informed the way I play pretty every other game since: sitting in the dark, scoping for opportunity, making decisive movements.

53. System Shock

Release Date: 1994

Last year: New entry

Richard: Its engines haven't dated well, but the System Shock series doesn't need high technology to impress. It only needs SHODAN, its unforgettable villain, whose pitch-perfect voicework will chill your spine as you poke around her deep-space mausoleums to find out just what the hell happened. You pitiful insect, you…

52. Star Control 2

Release Date: 1990

Last year: 54

Desslock: A true hybrid, Star Control 2 was an open-ended, interstellar adventure with combat ripped out of Asteriods. You could easily actually lose if you were tardy in unraveling its universe's mysteries, and yet the prospect of finding a precious rainbow world or being berated by new race of witty blobs tempted you to meander.

51. Quake 3

Release Date: 1999

Last year: 22

Graham: The finest deathmatch and capture the flag game ever made. Yeah, I've played Unreal Tournament, and I enjoy it, and I know it's higher placed in the Top 100 this year, but those losers are wrong. Quake 3 is multiplayer gaming distilled into its purest form. Its power-ups are perfectly balanced, its levels reward experience and allow for wondrous aerobic feats of death, and its weapons are the most satisfying in gaming. Fuck Facing Worlds.

50. Neptune's Pride

Release Date: 2010

Last year: New entry

Tom S: Neptune's Pride somehow distills an elegant and simple set of rules into the perfect betrayal simulator. Attacks take days, defeat is a long and painful process and there's no way to win without backstabbing your fellow players. It's a dark work of brilliance that tested my friendships as much as much as my strategic ability.

Ed: Neptune's Pride is like the “I Know what you did last summer” dark secret between me and my friends. We all pulled off some spectacularly dirty tricks, and no one person walked away completely untarnished. Beneath its simple surface, it's a dark game of charades that spill into even the non-gaming world. At one point I'd set alarms to go off throughout the night at 3 hour intervals, so I could wake up, make some moves and check that no-one was moving against me. Which of course they were, because they'd set alarms for the exact same reasons.

49. Battle of Britain 2

Release Date: 1999

Last year: 70

Tim S: Dozens of WW2 flight sims deliver thrilling, challenging dogfights. Only one, this one, manages to make those dogfights feel earth-shatteringly important. In the amazing unscripted campaigns every downed Dornier and savaged Stuka is a personal landmark, a step - a tiny step - towards British salvation. "Per Ardua ad Astra" indeed.

48. Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance

Release Date: 2007

Last year: New entry

Tom: The stars of the first Supreme Commander weren't the massive experimental units, for the most part. There were three tiers of deathbots before you got to those, each five times more massive, devastating and expensive than the last. It was about building dozens of factories, and streaming out enough deathbots to dominate enough of the map to produce enough mass to afford the next tier up. Then: stream out more.

On a 25 square kilometer map, that's just a very satisfying, physically simulated version of a normal RTS. On a 6,561 square kilometer map, it's an apocalypse. Your mind goes into overdrive trying to manage eighteen separate assault groups, balance and defend dozens of income sources while ramping up production to meet your snowballing wealth.

But throughout it all, the game takes care of the boring stuff for you: units defend themselves intelligently while moving, they organise themselves in optimal formations and stay in them come hell or high water. With three clicks, you can tell hundreds of air transports to ferry everything each of your ten factories produces 40 kilometers across the map, avoiding that anti-air on the southern peninsula, then returning to pick up anyone still needing a ride.

Forged Alliance took it further, stripping away useless interface clutter, letting you copy vast chunks of your base to be replicated elsewhere, and adding a whole new race with a strategic bomber the size of Corfu. It still looks great today, it runs marvelously on modern machines, and every gamer should play it properly at least once. It doesn't have to be on a 6,561 square kilometer map, but it should be on the biggest one you can comfortably manage.

47. Battlefield 2

Release Date: 2005

Last year: 36

Norm: Thanks, Battlefield 2, for almost getting me kicked out of university. You made me care about game stats and rankings over grade point averages, and taught me that a kill-to-death ratio of under 2.0 is shameful. The 71 first-place Gold Medals I earned are still a badge of honor in my online gaming career.

Craig: I never cared about my K/D ratio or gold medals or badges of honour. I was too busy running for the jets, taking them high into the air and jumping out. Private Human Missile Pearson reporting for duty, sir!

Tom: I cared passionately about my kill-to-death ratio. My distaste for the enemy was nothing on my livid, roaring hatred for anyone on my team one place higher up the scoreboard than me. NO. GET DOWN. There is a MEDAL for topping that shit, and I MUST HAVE IT.

I did win some medals - I was a Medic, and I'd supplement my kill count with dozens of revives on dead players. I felt pretty good about myself. I'd even lead squads, risking my neck for my men - so long as none of them were scoring higher than me.

Then, after a long and happy career, I looked at my stats page. Kills to deaths? Not good, but that's ok, I was a Medic. Score per minute? Not good, but that's ok, I did a lot to help my team that wasn't always rewarded. Wins to losses? Oh. Oh God.

Apparently I acted as some kind of bad luck charm, or perhaps just a terrible-teamplay charm, because having me on your side made you about 15% less likely to win. In a 64 player game, that's impressively bad.

Rich: I was a medic too. Medic-five!

46. Star Wars: TIE Fighter

Release Date: 1994

Last year: 73

Dan: Face it: the Imperials' fighters are just plain cooler than the Rebels'. Need proof? Just listen to the sounds that each makes when they fly by. An X-Wing goes “whoooooosh!” A TIE Fighter goes “WRRRAAAAAAARWAR!” Winner: TIE Fighter.

Rich: They got the noise from mixing an elephant's scream with a car driving on a wet road, dont'chaknow. I still maintain X-wings are cooler, because you get to say “lock S-foils in attack position”. Oh dear, I've started talking about Star Wars again.

45. The Sims 3

Release Date: 2009

Last year: New entry

Troy: Also known in my house as the mistress collection game. It's often derided as a game about eating or peeing, but The Sims is really a game about humanity and how we choose to fill our time. The Sims captures the ennui of life, the thrill of love and the quest for the right living room set to match the wallpaper. We measure our lives in coffee spoons, and frequency of woo-hoo.

Graham: My favourite thing to do was to visit the graveyard and explore the catacombs beneath. You wouldn't be able to see what was happening, but choices would pop-up asking you whether you wanted to turn left, turn right, open that chest, explore deeper, turn back, and so forth. Sometimes you'd come out with a flashy, valuable artefact, and sometimes you'd come out covered in mud, traumatised into a life-long desire to hang out in graveyards. That's life.

Cooper: Load up The Sims. Play for ten minutes. Look at the clock. Realize it has actually been six hours. This describes an average encounter with The Sims, a game that truly shatters the barriers between “hardcore” and “casual” gamers. Casual gamers will enjoy living out their wildest fantasies, while the hardcore crowd builds mansions comprised of nothing but swimming pools and acting out psychological experiments by removing all of the doors from a house.

44. Planetside

Release Date: 2003

Last year: New entry

Rich: I used to fly escorts for the New Conglomerate. I'd stand next to my royal blue reaver gunship on my spawn island, nonchalantly rifling through my inventory - a pilot for hire. A fat-bellied dropship would rumble by, jet engines superheating the air directly below it. “Anyone want to take a base?” I'd spit out my imaginary gum and hop into my craft's cockpit, gun the engines and lift off. As the rest of the squad dropped in on the target from the sky, I stayed above, bursting high value tanks and buggies with missiles and lancing incoming troops with my chaingun. When the job was complete, I'd fall into formation and deliver my allies home. In Planetside, my feet never touched the ground. I miss it terribly.

43. Medal of Honour: Allied Assault

Release Date: 2002

Last year: New entry

Rich: The cradle of life for the modern FPS. Allied Assault understood pacing and the deployment of cinematic moments better than nearly any of its predecessors, and set the seedbed for the global takeover of the Call of Duty brand. I'm not sure whether that's a good or bad thing, but in 2002, this kind of fresh, film-infleunced, globe-trotting man-shoot was the pinnacle of shooting mans.

42. Mass Effect 2

Release Date: 2010

Last year: New entry

Chris: I remember playing through the beginning and exclaiming "holy #%$@!" as I gazed at a planet from a hole in the Normandy's shattered hull. ME2 was filled with these cinematic moments. Battling the final boss—a skyscraper-sized metal skeleton—was better than a ride at Six Flags.

Dan: Possibly the best ending level (the part before the giant Terminator) of any RPG ever.

Rich: It made you feel like you were assembling a ragtag bunch of the universe's best and badassest desperadoes - and you were their leader. By this point in the series, my Shepard had a mythology and a defined moral compass: getting to imprint that on the deepest, best thought-out sci-fi galaxy in recent memory is a teenage dream come true.

Tom: The claim that 'Y is back and Xier than ever' never excited me until the Y was the Shepard I made for Mass Effect, and the X was 'high-polycount'. I am basically in love with her, so getting to play that character again in a much prettier game, with more satisfying combat, was total nerd overload.

Rich: You're not as in love with your Shepard as I am in love with Tali. Oh, Tali.

Tom: Fuck Tali. I did exactly the right thing on her loyalty mission, but because my fancy speech skill wasn't high enough yet, she hated me for it. Later: "A suicide mission? For someone with technical skills? I know just the twat."

Tom S: The thing I remember about Mass Effect 2 is the M-920 Cain Nuke Launcher. I made that goddamn gun as soon as I could, and I carried it around on my goddamn back for the entire game, but never encountered anything large enough to warrant the ridiculous overkill of a nuclear explosion. Then I saw that end boss. I whipped the cannon off my back and one-shotted it in the goddamn eyeball. It was the best of days.

41. Doom

Release Date: 1993

Last year: New entry

Richard: Playing Doom, it's hard to remember it was released in 1993. Its engine may be obsolete, but it's still an amazingly fun game, with satisfying weapons, an array of unforgettable enemies, and some of the best music ever. You might download it for a retro-kick, but you'll soon be sucked right back into its hellish clutches.

Chris: For me, Doom was all about the sounds. The rocket launcher's foom-pa!, the Baron of Hell's growl, the unmistakable (and terrifying) noise from the Cyberdemon's mechanical legs—this was the first game that I needed speakers and a decent soundcard to play. The Imp fireball's swoosh still gives me chills.

40. Dragon Age: Origins

Release Date: 2009

Last year: 49

Josh: DA:O took the core concepts of classic RPGs--compelling stories influenced by player decisions, character and companion development, and tactical combat--and cranked them all to 11. This is the pinnacle of classic RPG design--utilizing modern technology to realize more than we ever could before, while still leveraging our imagination.

Rich: It's really good, but the beards are wonky. Mine doesn't even connect at the cheeks. An RPG this weighty should get the beards right.

39. The Longest Journey

Release Date: 2000

Last year: 47

John: While time has taken its toll on the graphics, and common sense always took its toll on some of the awful puzzles, the story here transcends it all. I'm trying to think of any non-RPG that has characters, even minor ones, so well defined and so fondly remembered. It's about why imagination is important - a subject that has been idiotically under-explored by the medium best designed to approach it.

Craig: Peggle.

38. STALKER: Call of Pripyat

Release Date: 2009

Last year: New entry

Craig: I love the world of Stalker, the grim sci--fi and dark humour. My favourite tale from Call of Pripyat I about a graphical glitch encountered, a shimmerring effect that was warping a huge area, too big to be an ingame effect. It wouldn't go away: I reinstalled my drivers, stuck an old graphics card in my machine, reinstalled the game. Then I backed off far enough to see that it was an effect, emanation from a massive gouge in the side of a hill, reaching into the sky, all born from an anomaly the size of a football.

Rich: I remember staring out at three pairs of yellow eyes in the dark. Call of Pripyat's dark is dark - like living in a city then staying out in the country for a while. It's the kind of dark that means you can't see your anomaly scanner a foot from your face. It's also the kind of dark you don't go out in, if you value your skin.

37. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge

Release Date: 1991

Last year: 50

Josh: The rare sequel that outshines its predecessor, LeChuck's Revenge easily had the best writing of the series. I dare you to name another game that lets you compete in a spitting contest (with slo-mo loogie camera shots), build voodoo dolls, cross dress to infiltrate mansion parties, and have your pants fall down after digging up bones in a graveyard.

Graham: Monkey Island 2 is in the Top 100. Monkey Island 1 is not. This is definite proof that Tom is wrong and that the sequel is better than the original. In your face!

Tom: This is definite proof of your mother.

36. Fallout

Release Date: 1997

Last year: 7

Rich: The original, and still darkest, take on the end of the world. As one of the survivors of a nuclear apocalypse, you're thrust out into the wasteland in search of a replacement water chip, in this classic RPG. Darker than a black hole, but funny with it, Fallout proves that the end of the world isn't all bad.

Dan: This was the first game that turned me loose in an interesting world and made me feel like I could do pretty much anything I wanted. Don't like that guy? Shoot him in the groin. Want that guy's gun? Steal it. Don't want to fight? Talk your way out of trouble. And the story that comes with it is the best nuclear satire since Dr. Strangelove.

Chris: Instead of castles, elves and magic wands, Fallout had atomic wastelands, super mutants and shotguns. I'd never played an RPG like it. It dropped f-bombs in dialog trees and let you slaughter entire towns if the mood hit you. It also had the best NPC companion ever made: Dogmeat.

35. Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord

Release Date: 2000

Last year: 52

Tim S: TENSION n. (*ten*-shon). Mental, emotional, or nervous strain caused when a CMBO turn ends just as the Churchill VII you've spent ten minutes sneaking into position, fires its last AP shell at the rear of a distracted Tiger tank. If you demand truth and drama from your military entertainment, this and its two sequels, are titles to be treasured.

34. BioShock

Release Date: 2007

Last year: 28

Ed: So rare is it to find an FPS these days that wraps setting, story and combat all together in one nice big plasmid sandwich. Even if the final part of the game felt weak, that's only because the rest of it was so incredibly strong. Also, I do like a game where your starting weapons can be useful throughout. Fear me for I have become wrench, destroyer of daddies.

Graham: Ed's right in that so much of the game was great, but the ending felt weak because it was atrociously, stupidly awful. That aside, what I remember most is Armin Shimmerman's commanding voice as Andrew Ryan. Who knew that Quark from Deep Space 9 had that in him?

Rich: I was never sure I was enjoying BioShock as I played through it - the shooting was off, the upgrade paths too linear. I was struck instead by a pervasive sense of /importance/, like it would change something. I think it did.

Tom: Man, you guys are so reserved. This is the best fucking story-driven game I've ever played. Everything short of the last five minutes was a fascinating, creepy pleasure to explore and fight through, for me. I'd customised myself into a creator of chaos, setting everything in the world against each other with decoys, hacks, pheromones and explosives. And as I danced a sick ballet with plaster-cast dancers in Fort Frolic, bloodied wrench in hand and Tchaikovsky blaring, I knew I was in love with a game.

33. Braid

Release Date: 2008

Last year: 63

Chris: Braid's puzzles destroyed my brain, even after I figured them out. Although it had a simple premise (rewind/fast-forward/freeze time), Braid's cleverness was in masking its complexity—including the plot. A year and a half after release, people are still debating what the story represents.

Tom: Braid is a smart, brain-breaking puzzl game, loved by gaming philosophers. Then the videos of Salsa Boy appeared, pressing the 'rewind' button and cracking up like he's discovered comedium. On a pretty basic level, it's just fun to fuck with spacetime. And it's what games should be doing. The industry wastes so much effort making and remaking the same shoddy imitation of an action movie, while Braid shows the world something that could only ever be a game. Time travel movies are a shoddy knock-off version of /this/. The wonky logic of going when you shouldn't only comes to life when it's interactive.

32. Homeworld

Release Date: 1999

Last year: 30

Dan: The fully 3D space strategy action is pretty much exactly what goes on in my head whenever I watch a Star Wars movie battle scene. I'd be disappointed that it wasn't a licensed Star Wars game, except the impressively emotional story (and the accompanying music) is so brilliantly done that it stands on its own.

Tom S: Platoon can fuck off, this is how you use Adagio for Strings. Homeworld is a beautiful, glacial strategy game that combines the quiet vastness of the cosmos with the fury of dogfighting drones. Its interstellar battlefields were vast, gorgeous and thanks to that haunting sountrack, strangely moving.

31. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Release Date: 2003

Last year: 26

Dan: George Lucas may have beaten the Star Wars franchise to within an inch of its life with his abominable prequel trilogy, but Knights of the Old Republic's epic story is a shining bright spot that proves there's still some life left in that universe - and a reason to call yourself a Star Wars fan.

Rich: What do you do on a spaceship in hyperspace when you're sick of sabacc and holo-chess? Have a chat. The game's planets are intriguing, the quests suitably expansive, but it's the spontaneous conversations that erupt to fill downtime that make this RPG still so vital. Fill your ship with weird aliens and murderous droids, then needle them with questions until they love you.

John: I'm constantly trying to work out whether I want games to offer me choice, or the illusion of choice. KOTOR does a perfect job of the latter, letting you alter your emotional response to the game, rather than your path through it. Smart, funny, and light sabres.

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.

20. Half-Life 2: Episode 2

Release Date: 2007

Last year: New entry

Tom: I replayed the whole HL2 series recently, and Episode Two really is the standout of the entire thing. The open air, the Hunters, the ominous march of the Combine towards White Forest. All the Half-Life games are made up of distinct and memorable sections, but Episode Two is the only one where each bit is a joy to play through every time. Even the antlion tunnels - I love the steep shadows, squelchy grubs, and the violent fizz of the acid blobs the workers spit at you. "We must have misunderestimated them!"

Rich: My recollection of Episode 2 is overcast by a giant, gnomey shadow. I carried him for the entire game, jamming him into gaps in my car's framework and screaming as he flew off into the distance. Clutching his ceramic form to my chest made me feel like a parent, more vulnerable than usual. It also drove home quite how far Gordon's gone. Episode 2 feels like a journey in a way other games can't reach - thanks to his silence, it's your story and yours alone.

Tony: I went on a geocaching date with a scientist's totally hot daughter. Show me another game that does this.

19. Planescape: Torment

Release Date: 1999

Last year: 8

Tony: The trouble with fantasy RPGs? They're not fantastical. They're set in muddy, medieval kingdoms with muddy, medieval stories about The Evil One. Planescape fixes this, taking us to a baroque alien world where streets can give birth, the locals in the bar are demons and succubi run brothels for the intellect.

John: To see this below Ultima VII is proof that we live in a broken world, controlled by demons. Or dumb writers whom I'll fight. I've been replaying it recently, and it's shocking to see how far the standards of game writing have fallen in the decade since. This is a text book for plotting and character design, and all developers should be studying it.

18. Counter-Strike

Release Date: 1999

Last year: New entry

Graham: In its early days, it was the vulnerability that I remember being compelling. The constant risk of death forced players to tread slowly, to crouch and peak around corners, and to be constantly aware of where their teammates were. You'd join a server and immediately fall into step with a bunch of strangers all playing the same way. That feeling faded as the game became faster and less punishing, and its community larger and less friendly, but what remained is still the most balanced and satisfying team-based shooter. I miss my clanmates.

Norm: It's hard to imagine that before Counter-Strike, the concept of online tactical first-person shooters didn't exist. CS not only created an entire genre of shooter, but was (and still is) one of the pillars of competitive gaming as sport. Its purity as a technical twitch-shooter aside, one of my favorite parts of the game were the in-game conversations between dead players waiting for round respawns. In the era of IRC and dial-up connections, this was were gaming communities were formed.

Rich: I don't think I've ever been as excited as I was the night before the Galil, Famas, and riot shield were introduced to Counter-Strike. It was the first game I truly knew to its foundations, and I could picture how these minimal additions would shake up the whole scene. Of course, they turned out to be a bit rubbish, but I wasn't to know that.

Craig: I preferred Counter Strike: Source, so meet me at number 61.

17. Minecraft

Release Date: 2009

Last year: New entry

Craig: Currently on the PC Gamer Minecraft server there's a giant duck towering over an elephant. There's a towering, blocky sheep on the horizon. Every night I log in, and every night there's something new and wonderful to discover. Minecraft's genius is in giving everyone the opportunity to make an impact on the land, to let them carve out a cave, build a house, a tower, a giant phallus, or wander the world taking it all in. Anyone want to go for a walk?

Rich: Not with you, I've seen your TNT stockpile.

Graham: The reasons I love Minecraft change as much as the game does. At first it was the collaborative building: limitless Lego on a multiplayer server with friends. Then it was the wonderful sense of discovery; going for walks and stumbling across natural caves filled with monsters and gold. Then it was the feeling of building a home; carving out blocks to call my own, and making a little garden out front. Now it's looped back around and I'm building those homes and finding those monsters with friends again. I've no idea why I'lI love Minecraft tomorrow, but I will.

Rich: I shouldn't love Minecraft. I like my fun structured and organised; Minecraft is freeform. I think it's the egotist in me: I was never fussed when it was singleplayer focused, but as soon as we got a server and I could go “look, look, I made a giant diamond castle with a hot-tub and a pool table and a log flume!”, jumping up and down as I squeaked, I was suckered in.

16. Sid Meier's Civilization IV

Release Date: 2006

Last year: 12

Tim E: The magic of Civ happens somewhere between the discovery of the wheel, and the discovery of gunpowder. It's there where you have to start figuring out your path to victory. Where are the AI. Where are the borders? What's your preferred victory condition. How many continents are there? Do you have allies? Do you have cavalry? What resources do you have to hand. Can you trade for more? Can you fight for more? All these questions set off a cascade of decisions.

And then it's 3am, and Ghandi's being a twat over Uranium.

Rich: Fuck Gandhi.

Troy: This is not only the best strategy game ever made, but a beautiful fusion of system analysis and character creation. (Screw you, Montezuma.) I expect more hours have been lost to the Civ series than any other single player game, and the fourth version was near perfect on arrival. Major systems (corruption, governments) were thrown out in favor of something better (happiness, civics). It remains one of the few strategy sequels to still seem completely fresh and original, even all these years later.

Dan: If there's a more addictive strategy game created, it could be an extinction-level event for all humankind.

15. Left 4 Dead

Release Date: 2008

Last year: 45

Craig: It's clearly the most unfair game ever made: swarms of zombies, evil bosses, panicked team-mates all conspire to fuck your shit up. Quit fucking my shit up, people! Yet Valve's secret sauce make it an experience that'll keep you coming back. It's hard to be terrified when you're bursting a lung laughing, and Left 4 Dead's balance towards last minute deaths, just inches from safety is... wait, did you hear something?

Rich: I am captivated by Left 4 Dead's potential for dickery. Matches are tense half-sprints and death is never more than a warty tongue away, but come to the safehouse door and someone will always close it in your face. It's the human urge to stare at danger and giggle straight back. Or maybe I'm just playing with bastards.

Dan: Playing with bastards is part of L4D's charm. It makes the decision to leave them for dead that much easier--because you know they'd do the same to you.

Chris: This is why, as a general rule, I kill everyone on my own team if I'm doing poorly. Especially if Evan is on that team.

Craig: Shh. I definitely heard something.

Tom S: Before I played it I always mistook Left 4 Dead for a horror game. In fact it's pure comedy. Freak Tank charges, stealthy Boomers and freak friendly fire incidents are all punchlines in a riotous comedy of errors. Once the horror of the charging undead hordes wears off they're some of the best punchbags in gaming. Who knew the zombie apocalypse would be such a giggle?

Craig: BOOMER!

14. Half-Life

Release Date: 1998

Last year: 4

Craig: It still blows my mind that a developer's first game can be this good. It's a dramatic, epic, even today, more than 12 year on, it manages to get me panicking and backtracking from headcrabs and cursing the Black Ops team and their prescient grenades.

Graham: Black Mesa is a ridiculous place, filled by long corridors with few doors, massive vats of poisonous acid, and riddled with human-sized pipes, but it was the first FPS I played where I was driven forward by the desire to see what was coming next. What lay around the corner of this strange research facility? What scientist would I meet next? Which weapon? I was never letdown by continuing to play, and when I was done, I kept on playing through the mods that extended the universe in a dozen directions.

Dan: It's because Half-Life was the first shooter to understand that these games could be more than simple run-and-gun shooting galleries - and it did it better than most games today can manage. Watching the alien invasion tear apart Black Mesa and its inhabitants is one of the best game openings of all time, and it set the stage for one of the PC's most captivating games.

13. Arma 2

Release Date: 2009

Last year: 21

Tim E: Ambition counts, occasionally more than polish. Arma's ambition - to simulate everything possible on a modern battlefield - is staggering. Yes, occasionally, you might fall out of an open door of a Blackhawk because you couldn't work the controls out. Yes, the animations for helping cauterising and healing a wounded buddy look like a demented mannequin is pouring salt directly through the chest of a falllen comrade. Yes, the AI soldiers sound like an army of robots pleased to discover they can spot a man at 100 yards. And yes, you'll die harder, and more suddenly, that any other game.

But hey. It's does everything a modern war does. That's enough.

Evan: Every Saturday, my e-friends and I assemble to play backyard war.

Rich: I've devoured Evan's tales of bravery and organisation, but I didn't find an inroad into ArmA 2 until recently. Hopping onto a server with Tim and Owen, I expected frightening organisation. That expectation died when I jumped onto a rickety bike and started doing laps around the other guys as they sat in an attack chopper, ringing a little bell as I pedalled. ArmA 2 is an adventure playground as much as it is a war simulator.

Tim S: Arma 2 lets you mount a .50 cal tripod MG on the back of a cow then ride into battle. That's really all you need to know.

12. UFO: Enemy Unknown

Release Date: 1994

Last year: 11

Tim E: That a decade old turn based strategy is still producing hilarious/terrifying stories of alien invasion, assault and experiments should speak volumes. The latest drama: when I sent my elite troop of PC Gamer writers into an occupied farmhouse at the dead of night. Craig was shot dead. Graham panicked, dropping the grenade he had primed. It blew, and the farmhouse caught fire. Tom and Tim died as the entire floor collapsed. Stupid soldiers. Brilliant game.

Craig: :(

Tom: I don't remember this.

Graham: I never panic.

Troy: Everyone named their soldiers after their friends, and they always died bravely. Or stupidly. Most games use death as a signal that you should reload, X-Com made the death of your soldiers a part of the game. There was no guarantee that things would go better next time around, so you took acceptable losses and moved on to the next battle against invading alien scum. The research and construction phases were perfectly integrated into a game whose individual elements have been copied many times but whose charm has never been duplicated.

Dan: X-COM's turn-based tactical combat has more tension and atmosphere than any fast-paced action game could ever hope for. I only wish I could make myself forget I ever played it, so that I could then experience the terror of encountering a Chrysalid, the discovery of new technologies, or the power-mad joy of launching a Blaster Bomb into the control room of an alien battleship from across the map all over again. Or better yet, how about a real sequel?

11. Company of Heroes Online

Release Date: 2010

Last year: New entry

Tim E: There's no question that Company of Heroes was the best deal in PC gaming when the single player game was available for free. It's a fast paced real-time strategy game that somehow manages to incorporate real-feeling tactics: flanking, cover and pinning down, with hectic mission design and real gore. The impact of a V2 rocket on your favourite commandos, leaves you feeling wretched - staring at gibs and a molten hole.

Dan: CoH's combat may have been smaller-scale than SupCom or StarCraft, but its tactical, environmentally aware combat makes it every bit as intense.

Tom S: The thing that really separated Company of Heroes Online from other competitive strategy games is the kernel of chance that lies at the heart of every encounter. Unlike StarCraft 2's rigid, mathematical 'X beats Y' framework, there's an opportunity for even the smallest units excel. With the experience and levelling system, Company of Heroes Online recognises something that was always true of the original. Those men under your command really can be heroes.

10. Ultima VII: The Black Gate

Release Date: 1992

Last year: 24

Ed: For the creatively sadistic roleplayer, look no further. Most people will think of the global Apocalypse spell or the many ways to kill Lord British, but I prefer the start of Ultima VII, where you find a man butchered, his blood everywhere. It's possible to gather the blood and put it in a bucket safe keeping it for later, when you recruit this deceased man's 14 year old son and can then have him haul his father's blood around. Oh, it's not over yet. The game also features baking for which you need a bucket of water and flour to make bread, but, the game doesn't differentiate between liquids in buckets. So it's then possible to bake bread with the bucket of blood and then feed it to the 14 year old. It's the little evils that get you by, really.

Tony: It did provide a mad degree of freedom. In my first hour I wandered off in the woods and found a fantastic flying carpet that let me cross mountains and oceans. Weeks of unfettered, world-romping play later, I met an NPC who told me where to look for this magic carpet he'd lost.

Desslock: Revolutionary for its time and in some respects yet to be surpassed. It was as much about espousing heroic virtues as it was slaying dragons. Turning flour into dough that could be baked into bread and stuffed down the voracious mouths of your companions was as rewarding as thwarting the extra-dimensional threat of the bellowing Guardian. You didn't wander Britannia; you lived in it, and being neighbourly sometimes required moving a farmer's pumpkins or moving a cannon into smiting position.

9. StarCraft 2

Release Date: 2010

Last year: New entry

Tim E: It's one of the few games here that you can be a fan of without playing much of. My Starcraft II time isn't usually spent playing the game, it's watching the commented Korean tournament matches that reach us via GomTV. When I play, I dabble. When I watch, I am consumed.

Tom F: I'm the same, and it's turned me into the one thing I never thought I'd be: a sports fan. I shout at the telly (my browser). I have favourite players (FruitDealer, GuineaPig), and watch all their games. I laugh at the commentators' nerdy jokes ("Double Robo all the way... that's intense, man."). And I could, if you really wanted me to, put together a Fantasy StarCraft team. Don't ask me to.

Rich: I do the watching and the shouting too, but I've also played 547 games online. With the aid of my fingers, I did some quick maths. If we assume the average game lasts 20 minutes, that means I've played StarCraft II for 180-odd hours in six months. Course, that figure gets scarier when you consider I've also watched series two and three of the GSL in their entirety and oh God I can't even count that high. StarCraft II is in my brain, killing my dudes.

Dan: I'm a dedicated Zerg player (and an Idra fan), even though for a lot of good reasons, I should prefer Terrans or Protoss. But I can't quit them - I love the biological lifecycle of their units and buildings, starting from a larvae. I love their aggressive, fast-expansion tactics. I love how they swarm over an enemy base, tearing apart everything inside. I even love the squishy gurgly noises they make when they die. There aren't many games that can make you make decisions that go against your natural strengths, but SC2 manages it.

Norm: The first time I was photon-cannon rushed, I nearly broke my keyboard out of frustration. A few hundred ladder games later, I've learned the intricacies of SC2 play (much of it from obsessively following the GSL) and go to sleep thinking of new strategies and ways to optimize my macro and micro-management abilities. My obsession is such that when I flush the urinal in a bathroom, I don't see water swirling--I see a chrono-boosted Nexus.

8. Portal

Release Date: 2007

Last year: 17

Evan L: Gaming's best vignette. The laser focus of an indie game with the production quality and cleverness that you'd expect from Valve.

Dan: It's cleverness that I didn't expect. Valve's pre-Orange Box games had all been more or less played straight, with a few gags here and there. But Portal was mind-bending puzzles punctuated by increasingly disturbing and hilarious chatter from GLADOS.

Craig: The sequel is next year's most exciting game for me, all because of three hours of wonderful, dark comedy and a new game mechanic. They make it seem so easy.

7. Diablo 2

Release Date: 2000

Last year: 43

Tom F: Turns out if you make an RPG with only the briefest glimpses of plot, zero dialogue options

and no character creation, it's ridiculously good fun. Click click click, smash smash smash, loot, level-up.

The reason Diablo 2 sticks with me, rather than the moodier first game, is the sheer scale and diversity of the thing. After a pretty standard first chapter in what looks like Wales, suddenly you're in the desert . Cat people frisking in the sand, maggots erupting from the dunes, pseudo-Egyptian relics unlocking tombs. And then: rainforest. Whoa.

One of my favourite gaming experiences of all time was four of us lugging our PCs to the same house, stocking up on snacks, and questing through all this together the week it came out. By the end of it I was a corpse-exploding Necromancer with a pet made out of blood and a curved dagger that made even demon's flee. And we all had poor personal hygiene.

Cooper: When I was in high-school you couldn't pry me out of bed in the morning with a crowbar. I did wake up at 4:00am, though, so I could do about two hours of Mephisto runs before catching the bus. I don't know what it was, exactly, that made the game so good. It could have been the visuals, the story, hell, it could have been that they simply perfected the drop ratios and experience curve. Whatever it is, it made the multiplayer an experience that has, as of yet, not been replicated.

Tom S: Diablo 2 wasn't a battle with demons, it was me and my friends versus the very Internet itself. My carefully constructed lag-mancer was finely tuned to summon as many minions as possible. Between them, the exploding poison novas and my friend's volcano spell Diablo's hordes didn't stand a chance. Neither did our our poor, sputtering 56k modems.

If there's one thing that sums up my obsession with Diablo 2, it's the Horadric Cube. It's a magic box. You put certain things in it and better things come out. I learned every recipe for every item weapon and rune. I ran and reran dungeons and obliterated the demon hordes on every difficulty to complete the best recipes, just so I could improve my warrior. It's fast and bloody on the surface, but Diablo 2 turned slow burn character building into an art form.

6. Rome: Total War

Release Date: 2004

Last year: 5

Tony: Rome was the magic point where Total War assumed epic scale, but had yet to sag under the weight of its own ambition. The cinematic wars of the Romans, familiar to us from a hundred Technicolor matinee movies, were perfect for its cast-of-thousands battle technology in a way no subsequent outing has been able to match. No other strategy game at all has kept me so gripped, so caught up in its drama.

Rich: Plus, turtles. Well, tortoises. Well, 'Testudo', that formation where a unit gets into a special kind of cuddle and is technically invincible to all arrow attacks. You can have all the neat battlefield pincer movements and lightning cavalry strikes you like - I'm just going to make a whole load of men wave their shields in the air like they just don't care and waddle their way to victory. I like turtles!

Cooper: Rome: Total War was massive. It was the first RTS that let you actually play out the gigantic battles you read about in history class. Few things can top the feeling of a well-planned flank, with horsemen running through massive battalions of enemy forces. That, or you could play strategic, and never actually fight a battle. Rome: Total War let you do that, and it worked marvelously.

Ed: This was the game that let me see who would win in a three-way fight between elephants, burning pigs and dogs. Turns out it was the pigs, though their victory was bittersweet. And crispy.

5. Half-Life 2

Release Date: 2004

Last year: 2

Graham: It was the first videogame launch that felt like it mattered. Worldwide, at 8am in the UK, the game clicked on for everyone who'd bought it through Steam. I was there, alone in my bedroom, but it still felt like a party. And when it loaded, it felt like a homecoming. Barney! The crowbar! Kleiner! You have a name now - congrats. I don't know who this Alyx is but she seems nice. Manhacks? Combine? D0g? Despite all the new additions, still it felt like home.

Craig: Every year I find something else to admire about Half-Life 2. This year I've not even been playing it, instead I have the soundtrack on my MP3 player. Those tracks are as key to the game as Breen's amazing speeches and glorious physics, they tie into the atmosphere action so beautifully that I get flashbacks whenever any of them pop up on a playlist.

Rich: I agree with you about the soundtrack, but it's not the music I love - it's the incidental noises. The Combine's blurt of static on spotting you is one of gaming's most alien sounds: tenuously human but totally unknowable behind that spooky gas mask. The whine after a nearby grenade detonation becomes a cue to get the fuck to cover, the rumble of a plasma ball carving through the air entices you to sit and watch its path of destruction. Best of all is the strider death rattle. It's so mounful, it almost makes me feel bad for hiding in rubble and twatting the giant tripods with repeated rockets.

Cooper: How does Valve follow-up one of the greatest FPS of all time? With a game that has barely anything to do with the original. Seriously, they ditched the locations, most of the characters, all of the enemies, and even most of the gameplay elements. What remains? Somehow, still one of the best FPS of all time. Little hints of “The Seven Hour War”, rumblings of a plot hidden for those interested, the mysterious Ravenholm... it's jam packed with awesome, and the episodes to come out since release give semi-yearly excuses to jump back in and play it again.

Norm: The fact that Half-Life 2 still holds up to this day is a testament to the believability of the game world that Valve created with its then-budding Source engine. Half-Life 2's characters feel real and alive, a feat more impressive when you realize that they're basically acting opposite a mute.

4. Team Fortress 2

Release Date: 2007

Last year: 3

Craig: Remember this time last year, when I suggested I should probably stop after 253 hours of game time? That took two years of TF2 to accumulate. I just checked, and I'm at 595 hours. Why? Valve keep adding new content to bring me back in. Good content, on top of all the hats and paint, there are fun maps and new weapons to play with nearly every other month. I actually want to stop now, as it's taking up far too much of my time, but they keep bringing me back.

Tim E: Thanks to its classes, a good match of TF2 played within a good and well oiled team often feels like playing a bunch of different games. I'm a particular fan of TF2's interpretation of Quake 2 - the Soldier class. The speed of the rockets, the feel of a crit landing, the height of the rocket jump, the pump of the shotgun feel near perfect to me.

Tom: The Soldier feels like a class tweaked to perfection: the healing rocket launcher makes him as strategic as I want him to be, and the Buff Banner gives him the long-term goal I've always wanted. The game keeps changing enough that I can never entirely quit it: when I've lost my appetite for being outmatched online, I can now play against bots and win games single-handedly. I call it Loner Fortress.

Graham: Team Fortress 2 lets you play it a dozen different ways with a dozen different classes, but all I ever do is go Sniper and click on heads. I click, they die. I click, they die. Click. Click. Click.

Norm: No game since StarCraft has evolved so much due to emergent gameplay strategies developed over millions of hours of collective gameplay. I don't think any of us, Valve included, could have imagined the Team Fortress 2 of today when the game was released three years ago. If Valve's M.O. is iteration until perfection, I like to think that we're all part of TF2's testing team.

Cooper: BONK!

Chris: And everyone has a different opinion on which class is the most overpowered (The Spy) and which class consistently gets boned after each update (The Heavy). Few other games have created such personal connections between player and character. If you insult The Heavy, it's like you're insulting me.

Tom S: Team Fortress 2 taught me that I could play an online shooter without being teabagged, or having a squeaky kid insult my mother. The sense of humour that runs through every virtual plank of TF2's levels has filtered down into the community. Games are still competitive, and we're still blasting each other into bloody chunks, but most of the time a sense of fun prevails. It's hard to stay mad when you're confronted by the Heavy's manic grin.

3. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Release Date: 2006

Last year: 6

Tom: Bruma keeps springing into my head, the snowy rooftops and cobbled streets and the web of lies about the vampire slayer. Leyawiin, planning Adamus Phillida's death. The southern forests, and a hitman by a lake I hunted down on a vendetta. A little waterfall tumbling into a mountain pool I stopped to splash in. A cold peak miles from anywhere.

I loved Fallout 3, and I loved Morrowind, but Oblivion has actually stuck with me more than both. A tour of its most recognisable locations and the early quests would be pretty uninspiring, but if you live in that world for a while, it has an incredible sense of place. And it does feel like living. The total freedom of what to specialise in, what goals to pursue, how to achieve them - none of those things are unique individually, but put them together and you have something that's more of a world than a game. That will continue to excite me more than anything else in the genre until Skyrim comes along and does it all again.

Rich: I found City-Swimmer dead in Bravil after sixty hours of play. Her corpse was draped over the steps to a tavern, and the town's inhabitants were stepping over her lifeless form. I rifled through her pockets, and found the reason for her murder: a pilfered loaf of bread. While I was off at the edge of the world in Bruma, or staring at the sea in Anvil, or holding back the forces of disorder in Kvatch, City-Swimmer was stealing food to get by and living her own life. That's what Oblivion feels like: a collection of independent but intertwined lives - a society - that the player joins.

Tony: The makers of Oblivion know that there are no shortcuts to creating a world. You can create deep, shaggable characters, you can write enough lore to fill a lore-shed, but to create a world you have to get out there and build it. Towns. Dungeons. Secret passages and secret societies. The physics of alchemy. The pathology of vampirism. The social calendars of the nobility and the unexceptional contents of the second drawer of a wardrobe in room no one will ever visit. Oblivion isn't a game: it's somewhere you live.

2. World of Warcraft

Release Date: 2005

Last year: 14

Tim E: WoW leaves me in awe. I look at it's landscapes, recently pockmarked by it's latest Cataclysm, and smile. They spread and undulate for miles, always changing, always gorgeous. I look at it's mechanics, newly revamped, and gasp at their depth. Classes that interlock so perfectly, tricks of each character counter-balanced by traits of another. I play it's dungeons, and smile - think of the times I've shared with raidmates as we took on, and eventually bettered, some of the strangest, and silliest boss fights I could imagine. I tinker with it's battlegrounds and arenas, fiercely competitive and grimace a little: they're as stressful as any FPS deathmatch.

Most impressively, though, I look at it all. At the weird omni-game that Blizzard have created, which can hold players in so many different ways; through questing, through raiding, through battlegrounds and arenas, and through it's lore. World of Warcraft is the best at what it does because it's the best at everything it does.

Graham: I spent the first two months after release in love with World of Warcraft. I flew gryphons, I explored forests, I fought monsters, I saved towns, I chatted with friends. When I grew tired of the quests, I just started running. I sprinted across landscapes filled with monsters I had no hope of defeating. I swam oceans and found islands and fell down mountains. Then, when I grew tired of that, I cancelled my subscription and never went back. World of Warcraft grips some people for years, but you don't have to commit that much time to find it a worthwhile experience. Don't be daunted by your friends playtime, and jump in till it stops being fun. You'll get your money's worth.

Troy: It's too bad that those landscapes are chock a block with pop culture references now. But then, WoW was never really meant to be taken as seriously as other MMOs, which could be the secret of its success. Moving away from realistic avatars to more stylized character art, Blizzard made Azeroth a fantasy theme park that immediately welcomed the masses. Light on innovation, maybe, but that's the Blizzard way - find something that everyone else is doing, but do it better.

Josh: But the true magic of WoW isn't found in sunsets or pop culture references; it's not even in the game's content. Sure, Blizzard refined MMO design to perfection, and prepared the way for every MMO that'll follow after it, but the real reason it's been so damn hard to put WoW down over the past few years is that everyone you know's playing it. Your friends, your family, that shy girl that sits behind you in science class--Azeroth is a massive world filled with people you already know--and so many more ready to meet you. A world where brothers can meet up and adventure together, despite living thousands of miles apart. Most players occasionally log in just to chat and catch up with friends. This is, without a doubt, the biggest phenomenon in online gaming of all time--if you're not here, you're missing out.

1. Deus Ex

Release Date: 2000

Last year: 1

Tony: Just when I thought it was starting to get stale, the doors opened and I was in Hong Kong. Hong fucking /Kong/. Chinese lanterns. Night markets. Signs in neon kanji. Games didn't do things like Hong Kong. This was a real place. And it wasn't just a map, a level - it contained levels. The whole unforgettable VersaLife complex was just one of many areas embedded within its mini-world, along with canals, luxury skyscraper apartment blocks, nightclubs and restaurants. And you could just walk around it, and explore at your own pace. The Hong Kong section redefined what games were capable of, and it's everything that's great about Deus Ex.

Tom: Oh man, the hours I spent trying to break into the police station there. The backfiring tear gas, the scrambled deathbots, the screaming civilians, the unexpected LAMs gibbing everything.

Deus Ex has a lot of elements to it, but they're well-chosen. It's rare that it's just you versus some enemies: bot loyalties are flexible, civilians can be on either side, and every evil base seems to have at least one scientist or mechanic just waiting to defect.

Another Hong Kong memory: I decided to take out Maggie Chow. I didn't know there was an MJ12 base in her apartment. Her maid pulled a gun, the troops came flooding in, and I just smashed her penthouse flat window and hurled myself out.

Landed on a balcony, broke into the apartment there, and discovered it belonged to Jock "JC, a bomb!" Flanagan, my chopper pilot. Sorry Jock.

Rich: For me, Deus Ex is infused with crippling guilt. On one of my early playthroughs, I took a running leap from a set of steps and landed directly on the spine of a stray cat. It meowed briefly, and died. I was distraught - six foot of muscle and carbon fibre, and I'd just stomped a defenceless creature to save myself some time. I quit, and reloaded an old savegame, losing an hour's progress, but regaining the ability to sleep at night. That guilt still pervades: if I stand on a rat, I reload. If I kill an NSF member before the reveal, I reload. Deus Ex's world is so complete and perfect that I'm not killing algorithms and lines of code - I'm killing living things.

Craig: You utter shit.

Tom S: I'm used to saving the world in games, but I always loved that Deus Ex actually let me decide what would happen next. It's a game about choices, both small and large. One minute it's 'do you want to stun this guy or kill him?', the next it's 'do you want to throw humanity back into the dark ages, causing untold suffering but preserving free will?' Deus Ex was never afraid to ask the big questions.

Graham: Still haven't played this. Are you sure it's any good?

The PCG Top 100 panel of judges were:

Andy Mahood ( Freelancer, PCG US )

Craig Pearson ( News editor, PCG UK )

Dan Stapleton ( Reviews editor, PCG US )

Ed Fenning ( Freelancer, PCG UK )

Evan Lahti ( Senior editor, PCG US )

Graham Smith ( Deputy editor, PCG UK )

Jaz McDougall ( Freelancer, PCG UK )

John Walker ( Freelancer, PCG UK )

Jonathan Cooper ( Freelancer, PCG US )

Josh Augustine ( Associate editor, PCG US )

Logan Decker ( Editor-in-chief, PCG US )

Owen Hill ( Web editor, PCG UK )

Richard Cobbett ( Freelancer, PCG UK )

Rich McCormick ( Staff writer, PCG UK )

Robert Hathorne ( Freelancer, PCG US )

Stefan 'Desslock' Janicki ( Freelancer, PCG US )

Tim Edwards ( Editor, PCG UK )

Tim Stone ( Freelancer, PCG UK )

Tom Francis ( Section editor, PCG UK )

Tom Senior ( Freelancer, PCG UK )

Tony Ellis ( Production editor, PCG UK )

Tyler Wilde ( Freelancer, PCG US ).

Around the web

by CPMStar (Sponsored) Free to play

Comments

highlights