Friday, August 03, 2007

Byte: PCG Top 100

I got my subs copy of the latest issue of PC Gamer a couple of days ago. It's a good 'un. Not least for Tom Francis's splendid Bioshock review (thankfully spoiler-free), which has suitably reassured me that I made the right decision in pre-ordering it.

What's most likely to catch most peoples's eyes as they skip through the mag in WH Smiths, however, is the annual bun-fight that is the PCG Top 100. I actually agree with the Number One this year (World of Warcraft) and it's also reassuring to know that I've played all of the Top 10, even if I don't quite agree with some of the games that are in it. All in all, I've got sixteen games of the Top 20, 36 in the Top 50 and 56 of the Top 100, so I think I'm doing pretty well. A lot of the gap (particularly in the 51-100 bracket) can be put down to games being in genres I don't get on with (RTS and Adventure, most notably), with the rest being either just too obscure or games I simply don't rate or have absolutely no interest in.

I was particularly pleased to see the inclusion of UFO: Enemy Unknown in the Top 10, though I was surprised to see Deus Ex sneak above Half-Life 2 into second place. Is there an unwritten rule in the PCG Top 100 that Deus Ex must *always* be Number 2, regardless of what is Number 1? I'm seriously beginning to think there is, you know...

Fortunately, I don't have to obey such rules when compiling my list of top PC games. I'm not going to give you a Top 100, because you can take lists too far - besides, a Top 100 would give you a list of half the PC games I own, which hardly narrows things down from a quality perspective. So here's my (current) Top 10.

1) World Of Warcraft - This belongs at the top not just for the number of hours I've played it, but because for me at least, it really does go beyond being a simple game. It's a refuge, a home from home; a place where you can lose yourself - where you can relax and have fun, adventure, explore or engage in personal combat with other people. It's the most coherent virtual world I've ever experienced. By turns amusing, irreverent, awe-inspiring, exciting and occasionally frightening, you could spend years playing it and still never discover it all.

2) Star Wars: Knights of Old Republic - The best Star Wars game ever made, and in my opinion, the best single-player RPG as well. Great characters, a superb story and one of the most astounding plot twists in a game ever. And, of course, lightsabers.

3) Half-Life 2 - The ultimate First Person Shooter. Stunning technology, innovative design, great AI and a fantastic game setting. Getting the Gravity Gun is one of those seminal moments in videogames - it just makes you look at the game in an entirely different way: using your head and the environment, rather than just your reflexes and the guns.

4) Deus Ex - Probably the first game in which I felt I was given a world and left to experiment and play in it, rather than being lead through it by the nose. If you analyse the game in isolation, it doesn't really stand up, as even at the time the graphics weren't so great, the animation sucked, the combat was flaky and the plot had a few holes, but when you put everything together, it just *worked*. I remember being dropped into Liberty Island on the opening level and having gone about five steps before you're confronted by your "brother" Paul, and he asks you to pick a weapon from a sniper rifle, GEP gun or crossbow. I was horrified, even appalled: "I don't want to make a decision yet! I'm not ready!" Being dropped into a situation with an almost total lack of context and being asked to react to it and make blind decisions was something I'd never encountered at the time (in a game, at least). Deus Ex was the game that started me playing RPGs, and for that alone, it deserves a place on the list.

5) UFO: Enemy Unknown - This was the first PC game I ever played, and even today, it's still one of the best. The depth of management, the intensity of the squad battles, the variety of enemies and the complexity of the research tree - none of it has been surpassed in any of the X-Com imitators that have sprung up in the last five years.

6) Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn - The pick of all the Forgotten Realms AD&D RPGs. A fine balance between story, stats, and characterisation. I've lost count of the number of Friday evenings/Saturday early mornings I've lost to this.

7) TIE Fighter - Being a Hero is good. Being The Bad Guy is better. Enough said.

8) Civilisation 4 - Not so much a game as an institution. The entire history of the world in twenty hours - except you get to call the shots. One of the few games to be fun and educational without being "edutainment", and dangerously compulsive to boot. Just. One. More. Turn!

9) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - Best game soundtrack ever. I play it just to drive around and listen to the music. That the actual *game* part is at the peak of the freeform action-adventure genre is just a bonus. Cars, bikes, helicopters, boats, planes... there's just so much in this game you can do - the sheer level of variety makes it the perfect Desert Island game. It's hard to get bored with a game when there's so much to do, and it's all done so well.

10) Star Wars: Supremacy - This game is simply heaven for a megalomaniac like me. Who wants to run a planet when you can run a GALAXY instead? Macro-economics, micromanagement, logistics, espionage, subterfuge, insurrection, invasion, assassination, sabotage and armed conflict - the scale of your task is mind-boggling. It might not be particularly clever or pretty, but it *is* big and very, very addictive. Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design! And that's just the way I like it...
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