Half-Life 2

We're digging into the PC Gamer magazine archives to publish pieces from years gone by. This article was originally published in PC Gamer UK 2005, and you can find more classic pieces here. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US. 

Great games don’t just appear. They’re moulded and shaped over years. Millions of man-hours are poured into their development. To create even a mediocre game is a massive technological and artistic challenge. To create one of the finest games of all time, one that demonstrates everything this entertainment medium can achieve, to rise head and shoulders above your peers... that takes genius.

Right now, three of those geniuses are sitting across the vast table that dominates Valve’s Seattle boardroom. Marc Laidlaw, Valve’s in-house writer. Bill Van Buren, a producer and designer. Bill Fletcher, senior animator, formerly of Disney. These three quiet, understated men are nothing less than magicians, responsible for bringing to life virtual characters, and at the same time satisfying players who just want to break things. The walls are covered in testaments to their skills: magazine covers, box-art, countless awards and trophies, and trinkets sent in by their legions of fans. The whiteboard behind us is bursting with arcane scribbles: profiles, plans for the future. They can wait.

We have other questions to deal with. What makes Alyx tick? Why does Dr Kleiner keep a pet headcrab? How did Valve bring these virtual people to life? These are all important questions. First though, we need to clear up something about a scientist’s beard.

PCG: I’ve just noticed, Marc, that your beard is an exact replica of Gordon’s.

Marc Laidlaw: Oh, er. It came from...

Bill Van Buren: Actually, the beard is from another member of staff. Gordon’s actually a morph of four or five Valve employees.

ML: Yeah. He’s the average dad developer.

He’s certainly an unconventional game hero. The biceps aren’t there, he doesn’t have rippling pecs, he even wears glasses.

ML: Imagine what he looks like when the suit comes off. He’s probably just about 90 pounds. It’s all exoskeleton and suit support.

Yet when a player enters Half-Life, you’re asking them to take on that role. I wondered, Marc, if in your writing, Gordon has a voice or some kind of internal dialogue.

ML: Not really. Gordon’s just the narrative conduit. I’m interested in everything else. What does all that say to the player? If you’re just a pair of eyes looking into a scene, how do we let the rest of the world tell you they know you’re there, or that they’ve been thinking about you, while you’ve been gone? There have to be hooks—they have to glance at you, occasionally. My favourite is the final scene, where Mossman is talking to Breen, and Breen is looking at you, he rolls his eyes. That’s clearly for your benefit.

I’m guessing that beneath all the storytelling you do, a lot of your work is in choreography... I don’t think anyone really talks about what’s a great ‘choreographed moment’ in a game. When you’ve got an idea for a great scripted moment, how do you begin working it into the game. Maybe you could describe how the teleporter scene in Half-Life 2 came to be?

ML: Well, we started talking about that scene many, many years ago. We always knew we wanted to do a parallel to the teleport disaster in the first game. Originally it was going to be Doctor Kleiner and Barney—you weren’t going to meet Alyx until much later on. Through our process of figuring out how and where we were going to introduce characters to the game, we realised we should bring her forward, into that scene, so you would meet her in the context of characters who you were familiar with. We could make it feel like “Oh, I’m back with old friends, she’s one of their friends, so she must be good, she’s one of my friends, too.” That just created an instant bond with the player.

That scene is all about setting up expectations. It’s very different from the first game, where you didn’t know what was going on. This time every player expected to jump into a teleporter. We set up the idea that something good could happen this time. We’d let Alyx get ahead of you, you see everything that you’re about to do. From the first-person point of view it’s hard to picture yourself in context. When you let someone else do it you have a good mental image of you getting in the teleporter, you know what to expect. Again, playing with people’s expectations.

As for drama, we knew we had to do some suit training, we had to re-introduce the characters somehow. But also, one of the important things was “we want to build characters”, and “we wanted to build other details in to the game”. We wanted to create something you hadn’t seen in a game: a family. We wanted to do a stepmother-daughter uneasiness. Then there’s the non-essential stuff—like the thing with Kleiner, Lamar and Barney. The more of these details we put in, the more real characters feel. They have a life that extends outside the boundaries of the scene, and the game. You get this feeling that “they know each other, they have history”.

BVB: This is all about emphasising the importance of other characters. We wanted to make the point that you’re not going to save the world alone. You’re a catalyst, you’re important, but other characters are setting up the scene. The goal isn’t just to liberate the world, or even to liberate you, originally it’s just to get Eli, the father of this girl who puts trust in you. You can’t do that alone. You need to work with the other people in this world. If you want to do something big, you need to have other people working with you.

ML: In Half-Life, things happen because you show up. We don’t have you turn up, as the thing starts. We have you show up, and the thing begins as the result of you showing up. You’re the first domino that knocks all the other dominos over. What we do is let you arrive, walk around, see a bunch of dominos, you push on them, and they fall. That’s what we like to do.

Marc, you were a published author before you came to Valve. Did you have to adapt your writing style to work in games?

ML: From a writing perspective, everything you want to reveal about characters should come through dialogue. It’s not like there was a bunch of backstory about the characters we wanted to deliver. We knew the characters, we knew a bit about their history, we wanted to make sure that when they were talking, they were referring to this whole backlog of things that have gone before, that they don’t have to explain to one another, just like if you walk into a room where two people who’ve known each other for a long time are talking. They wouldn’t spend any time at all talking about the stuff they already know. But you’d pick up a lot about their relationship just by watching them interact. That was the dramatic thing we wanted to aim for. But that’s not any different to how the scene would be laid out in a movie or a book.

But surely the demands are different. You’re going to be writing to fit the game, aren’t you?

ML: Yeah. Things change in the course of building the game. We’d cut a level, and that would alter a relationship.

Is it always that direction? Are you always writing the story to service the level design? Are you just fitting the story together?

ML: Yeah, that’s part of my job. We’re all interdependent. They might make a decision from a level design point of view, and it’s more like a fun challenge. “How can we do without that plot point? What does that afford us? Now that we don’t have to do this piece, what can we do instead?” Usually I end up with two pieces that are not connected, but right up next to each other and I have to think of a way of linking them. But you see this really, really obvious connection, that was there the whole time. Then you organise around that.

That could have an odd effect. We eliminated the guy who was supposed to be Alyx’s father, and suddenly that changed the whole balance of the cast. Originally, Alyx was a go-between for rebel forces, she was can-do, rugged and tough. Her father was an army general who’d been caught, and planted into a Combine installation. In the end we cut the Combine installation, losing him. We felt this was one character too many; we had a bunch of older men characters who started to feel kind of similar. At some point, I went “I don’t think we need this Captain Vance, it’ll be one less character to worry about.” We weren’t giving enough development to the characters we had.

As we did that, for a little while Alyx was on her own, just floating over here. Meanwhile, we had Eli, here on the other side of the table, unconnected. We just pushed them together, saying “Ooh. We think they’re related.”

We eliminated the guy who was Alyx s father.

Marc Laidlaw

Did that cause any conflicts?

ML: It wasn’t like there was big resistance to it. Everybody just went... oh.. yeah, OK, this really helps us. We rewrote her story, basically just filling in gaps we weren’t happy with anyway. If we had her be the daughter of any other character, that would have introduced a lot more complications, whereas, when you meet her as Eli’s daughter, then you instantly understand her connection with Black Mesa, and to you as the player. All those connections are shorthand—they help us in not having to explain a lot of stuff, in the background. That means we can spend the time in our scenes just doing the really direct, emotional thing.

So now you have the script. What happens next?

ML: The script represents things we want to accomplish with the story, and the stuff that the animators, that Bill, wants to get across and spend time animating. This is really abstract, but while this level is being built, we have to roll it out. We have this problem of making a scene come about in a space in the game. That’s pure choreography.

BVB: We actually have a choreography team, that’s what we call them internally, who deal with a character’s audio, animation, acting and scene design. A feature of the way we work is that the scene is constantly coming into focus. We have such an adaptive process, some of it is even collage-like. The more information you get into it, whether it’s the script, the acting sessions, the effects or the animation, the better it is.

We’ll have very good character profiles that inform the script, then some people will take that and bang on it. Marc takes their suggestions and rolls them in, then we’ll go back and do a recording session. The actors then bring in a whole new different level of intelligence and interpretation to the stuff that has been written. With some direction, knowing how it’s supposed to be played in the game, we’ll come back and put it in the level. Then, even more changes happen... “This is too long, we can’t fit it here. We can’t afford this line... but, this line the person did was a much better take, we didn’t realise that in the studio.

Sometimes even lines come up that were accidents, they weren’t even intended to be used... They’re so well said that we grab them and put them into the scenes. Bill, driving the animation/visualisation, knows what he wants to do with them in terms of body language... so that takes it again to another level.

How do your voice actors react to giving ‘game’ performances. Are you after something different from what they’re used to?

ML: I think it’s probably like radio. It all has to be there in the voice. We do a bunch of alternate takes – “give me this performance as if you’re right next to me. Now do it like you’re 20 feet across the street.” One of the things they provide is a range of experiences that we can get back here to see what works. We can do mix and match... It’s not like we go into the studio and get the fullblown radio-play version of the thing. We have to bring it back here and cook it for a while. It’s like the mad scientist in the laboratory. We put all these performances into a pot, some of them bubble away, some of them explode, some of them do something you don’t really expect.

Bill Fletcher: We might be having a quiet, whispered line, but we need it to be heard from across the street, or right up close. We need the same line, but different projections. We look for a different type of voice than other people. We’re not after ‘voice talent’, we want actors. We’re not looking for a funny voice, or a sexy voice, we’re looking for someone who adds character behind the voice, to create someone that you believe in.

BVB: We’ve worked with some of the Half-Life guys before, like Mike Shapiro, and Al Robbins, who did Barney, Dr Kleiner, and the G-Man. But I think in general, we found that it was great at the beginning of the sessions, and each successive take continued to get better. We brought some knowledge about who the characters were, and what was happening in the game, they brought this great wealth of acting experience. It was a flexible, open partnership. We’d have different ideas and make suggestions, they’d do the same. For them, I think it was a great leap of faith. They didn’t have the other person who they were acting with there, they were in isolation, and most of them didn’t have much experience of games at all.

The moment that really stood out for me was when Alyx passes through the teleporter. You see her on the monitor: when she arrives, she gives Eli a little peck on the cheek. I’ve never seen that in a game... it just nails the relationship, and perfectly sets up the later jeopardy. I don’t think I’d ever seen such a kiss like that in a game before.

ML: That was when the scene really came to fruition. It wasn’t in the script. It was implicit in their relationship, but that visual language is not... like... I’ll do everything I can with the words, but I’m finding that we can actually cut lines because the acting and animation supports silence. That’s what I’m shooting for, to get stuff into the animators’ hands that lets them go even further. We know there’s affection between them, we build it up like scaffolding, but when you’re on top of that... A lot of the animation seems to be the extra one percent that tips it over. In that scene, the kiss seems really simple. Even to me, it came out of the meaning of the scene.

It sounds almost like you improvise the final touches. Is that fair? Is there room to improvise?

BF: Not really. It’s impossible to improvise because of the sheer amount of planning that has to go in. Every movement needs so much work.

ML: You know, it seems like improv to me, when I see it. It feels like the little nugget that we’re working toward the whole time. You’re not quite sure what you’re going to do, or how you’re going to pull it off, until all the pieces are in place. You don’t really know what you’re going to work with.

BF: One thing I’m always conscious of, is that Marc handles all the dialogue, storytelling, and all that but I’m thinking “what can I do with that dialogue”, or “what can I do between the dialogue”. I’ll look at each scene and say “OK, there’s got to be a couple of moments here that I have to create. The kiss was something I was thinking about, but didn’t put in until the very end. I knew we had to put in this physical contact between Eli and Alyx. The first time I went through the scene, I couldn’t get it quite the way I wanted. Toward the end of the project, I came back to it, and worked on it again. It seems a lot of people had exactly the same reaction you’re talking about.

You seem to embed a lot of details about characters into their bodies, not just in the writing or dialogue. Like, for instance, the way Alyx wears a battered old Black Mesa hoody.

BVB: When we start creating characters we have ‘character profiles’. Instead of designing them totally from drawings, we cast faces. We’ll look at photos, find people who we think would look like the character. That would draw them into focus. We’d make sketches about what their body types are... Alyx had a sketch before we cast the face, then we ran a big casting process for the voice, which again helped inform us about her as well.

ML: Really, it’s just a bunch of individuals thinking about the hard problems. The people that think the hardest about those are the artists – they’re the ones who came up with the Black Mesa hoody. It comes from being immersed in the world, wanting to do it right. I love it when stuff like that gets thrown up, though, because it’s recognition that we’re all inhabiting the same world. It’s almost like we were all at Black Mesa together, that we recognised that she would have a Black Mesa hoody. The level designers have that level of inventiveness, too, the same level of creativity when they’re working with their tools – you see each person’s contribution as “what’s the coolest thing I could do with the little piece I’m working on”.

When you’re working on a scene, do you use pre-visualisations? Do you storyboard? Lamar beating up Barney, for instance, must have needed a lot of preparation.

BF: We probably should use storyboard. Yeah.

BVB: Yeah. [laughing] That would really help.

BF: It’s just brainstorming, really. Then we just block it in, a bare-bones scene. It’s just characters walking around, hitting their marks, saying their lines, then walking off again. Then we slowly start adding things...

ML: The Lemar sequence started as a little idea in the script. We have a lot of those off-the-wall moments. When I bring them up, mostly people will just go “pfah,”, or they get this little look in their eyes, and they’ll start to do it. My instinct is, if no-one has any really strong misgivings about an idea, I’ll pursue it, until people finally accept it. I think the Lemar sequence happened that way. I had a crazy idea “What if Dr Kleiner had a pet headcrab?” It just seems like a silly idea, but if you keep repeating it and repeating it, when people start working on it, they buy into it. It would just never occur to them that he wouldn’t have a pet headcrab.

That would happen time and again: the little thing that you thought was crazy actually gets people excited. We’re not just building the game because you have to go from point A to point B. We’re building it because there’s fun little things you get to do on the way. The details, the non-essential stuff, is actually half the fun. Things we think would be cool, but we wouldn’t put them on the box. That’s the kind of thing I look for in a game. What’s the extra bit they did, that they didn’t have to do. That’s when you really see the personality behind the whole thing.

It s like the mad scientist in his laboratory...

Marc Laidlaw

It sounds like you really enjoy what you’re doing.

ML: We’re having lots of fun doing this. If I were working on a Star Wars game, there’d be a bunch of in-jokes we could do, but it wouldn’t be as if you were creating the universe as you did them. You don’t get that creative buzz where we’re not just making jokes; we’re actually suggesting things about the world itself. I think that other games are kind of constrained in their inspiration because they’re given a story-Bible. Everyone here knows that if they have an idea that doesn’t quite fit the world, we can sit down and talk about it and adjust the world to make it work.

BVB: There’s a certain amount of empowerment that people here have. You’ve already heard the huge amount of influence everyone has over each part of the game. It’s not one person driving their vision. Do you remember coming down into Eli’s lab, seeing the Vortigaunt chefs? That’s an idea Dhabih Eng [One of Valve’s Senior Artists] had. That wouldn’t have made it into the game at any other company. It’s silly, our game’s supposed to be a scary game, but somehow, we have Vortigaunts in chef hats.

ML: Dhabih did the most amazing models you’ve never seen. We were watching him building this stuff, putting so much detail into something no one will ever see. But he’s so excited to be doing it. Even like a curmudgeon would look at it, and say “Normally, I’d say we shouldn’t be doing this. But this is so cool we have to keep it in the game.” Then we try not to draw attention to it, we just leave it there for people to discover.

I’ve noticed that you tend not to integrate storytelling and player action. It’s rare for the player to actually be able to interact with the scripted sequences. Is that a fair observation? Is it just ‘hard’.

ML: Yeah, it is. We can do it, but it requires involving more people in the development process. We do it in Nova Prospekt, when Mossman is putting Eli in the mechanical thing while all the doors are breaking down... We don’t want to do that in every scene, it’s complicated to pull off, and a high point. It has its place. But the gameplay has to be very, very solid. It is what we aim for, though, but those scenes are definitely the hardest to pull off. Compare that scene, which is just action, to the scene where Breen has you captive, and you’re basically just watching theatre. That’s something the level designers and animators could build entirely, without having to wonder “how strong is the gameplay going to have to be to support this?”

BVB: Gordon doesn’t talk, so the player can only participate by picking something up, hitting a button, turning something on, throwing something, shooting something, moving something, breaking something. We’re really taking a lot of that control.  We try and keep hyperactive players interested with some little things, so they can bounce around, or look and play with certain toys. It’s funny how some people want to go into the scene and set up the perfect two-shot or three shot on every dialogue, and see exactly what’s happening. Other players just want to smack the characters and jump on their heads.

But there are scenes where it’s much more open, where it’s all about the gameplay, yet the characters interact with you. That’s certainly something we want to expand on, and go much deeper into, in future games that we do.

We re not creating it, but discovering it as we go.

Marc Laidlaw

One of the interesting quirks of Half-Life is that you never actually complete the story. You never get to explain everything to the player. Why is that?

ML: Part of it is that we’re always creating the world, like we were saying before. Everyone wants to add something to the world. Because the technology changes all the time, and we want to take advantage of that, we don’t want to limit ourselves to hard statements about the world that, maybe a year down the road, we’re suddenly able to make playable, but we’ve screwed ourselves out of doing that because we cut ourselves off a year ago. It’s a function of the medium, I think. We don’t know what we might be able to do tomorrow.

The Seven Hour War, for instance, why show that when, say, in the future we could actually put you through this experience. In a sense, the world extends beyond the narrow limits of the game. It’s a fact of this medium we work in, that we don’t know what the territory is that we can reach next. It’s a function of this technology curve, new areas that are opening up right in front of us. We’re not creating it—we’re discovering it as we go.

BVB: It never occurred to us to stop and put some kind of expository section in the game, that we couldn’t actually support without the player experiencing it. That’s what we’re always trying to support, to keep you in the world. I think part of the fun is telling that story with the environment.

I thought you didn’t finish the world out of deliberate choice. That you wanted to preserve an air of mystery.

ML: More so with Half-Life than Half-Life 2. There is definitely a desire to make the game play out inside people’s heads when they leave their computer. A lot of the fans of the first game, kept wondering about it, telling themselves stories. I don’t mention it because it’s so much part of our mindset in the way we build these games. If we’re going to answer any question, we have to make sure we’re raising even more questions that are even more interesting.

How often do you play-test these scenes? Surely, as they develop, you become immune to their charms?

ML: The cinematic stuff is difficult. Usually, these scenes are a work-in-progress, so the feedback we get can be a little off. And play-testers will like all kinds of things which aren’t necessarily the point of the scene. They don’t like stuff that’s really important  to get across. At the beginning of the game, for instance, we felt a lot of the combat started too soon. Play-testers loved it, because they had a gun in their hand, and they were already breaking stuff. It was hard to say, “we shouldn’t do this, yet” because the feedback was really positive. We thought it was too early.

We wanted the combat to start after meeting the couple who are being beaten up by the metrocops. For a while there was more before that, you’d go from instantly being in the lab, to beating up cops. We wanted you to witness the cops doing something horrible, and feel like what you were doing was a response to that—not that you were just a killing machine. Of course the play-testers are going to love this, but they don’t know what notes we’re going for.

You’re fighting against their urges, to an extent?

ML: We have to be extremely clear about what we want to achieve before we go in. We’re testing it to see if they can play the game without getting stuck. Not to see if they enjoy the combat.

BVB: No one ever says “Ohh, you know what. I’d love another emotional scene right here.”

ML: Exactly. People would have been happy just to be given a crowbar in Kleiner’s lab, so they could go around smashing glassware. But they wouldn’t have had the moment where Barney drops it to you. And a lot of people love that moment. We would have had great play-tests if Alyx had given you the crowbar as you enter the lab. But holding it back, holding it back... Players won’t say “Don’t give it to me, yet.” It’s about learning to have faith in the whole arc of the thing. We’re pacing it, holding back for the payoff.

I do adore that moment. It’s such an emotional moment, where you’re suddenly empowered.

ML: Yeah. It’s amazing how those little scenes have the big payoff. That’s one people mention over and over again. It’s the first time in a game, as far as I’m aware, that a character actually gives you a weapon. In the first game we wanted Barney to give you a shotgun, but we could never get it to work. It was like “Dammit, characters are going to hand you your weapons this time. You can either catch it, or it lands on the ground. We’ve been wanting this for years. We’re not leaving a weapon on the ground, ever again.

Bill, you came to Valve from Disney. Does working in an interactive environment offer a different kind of challenge?

BF: It’s a lot harder. In films, you have it all laid out for you. Everything is in there for specific reasons, you have close-ups, you have long-shots, we use them to tell the story. In this medium, we don’t have that to fall back on.

We have to make these characters live in this space. I can’t make my life easier and animate just in close-up. You have no idea how close the player is going to be, you could be trying to create a nice, quiet, tender moment but the camera is right across the other side of the room. Controlling the camera gives you so much more power over emotions. We’re not able to do that—what we try to do is draw you across and closer in, we do it so you feel you need to get in and close to the acting.

But you can’t just concentrate on the facial, like you would want to do in a traditional animation. You’ve got to work on the body-language, too. By the same token, you can’t have them bouncing around if the player is really close to them. You choose your battles. I try and keep it pretty low-key in the more emotional moments. It’s that much more gratifying, we’re creating a character, not a movie clip.

There’s something about your work, actually. It’s in the eyes. Sometimes, I swear Alyx fancies me. Are you playing tricks on me?

BF: I can’t say there are any basic techniques. It’s about making them feel natural. I have in my head a shy but very alluring pose.

ML: Characters in the scenes do really over the top, crazy stuff to pretty subtle, day to day ordinary interaction. There’s Father Gregori, who is really over the top and crazy. The more time you spend with a character the more you have to tone it down, though. It would drive you nuts if every time Alyx looked at you, she was leering in. I was really surprised to hear people get quite choked up when you go in the elevator. She’s looking at you going down, hands pressed against the glass. It’s what we were going for... I’m just amazed they responded.

BVB: I think, too, that Ken Birdwell, the guy who set up our character technology, did a lot of work on eyes. That was the first thing he really solved. I’ve never seen a situation where they’ve got the eyes so right it actually feels like they’re looking at you. There’s that thing about the eyes being the window into the soul—it’s true.

BF: Oh yeah. If the eyes are wrong, there’s nothing I can do to make that character feel like she’s looking at you, or she’s grateful to you. Without that, this would be impossible.

ML: It gives the illusion of reality.

BF: Yeah. They can look not quite at you, at something behind or around. They actually focus, too. As you get further, or closer to you, they’ll track and narrow their field of vision. Otherwise there’s this feeling that they’re always looking slightly past you. We’re so cued into eyes. We can project so much via them. We can project intention.

That attention to detail in Half-Life 2 still surprises me. Even now, I don’t think we’ve really seen a competitor to Half-Life, no one’s really attempted to take you on. Why is that?

ML: After Half-Life came out, people pushed on it a bit, but immediately ran away. You could see, in the beginning, there were a bunch of games like that, with scripted sequence events, but no one tried to roll it through the whole game. You quickly run into how hard it is. And, it requires a really limited set of constraints for your game. I mean, the way we do it only really works in this type of game. I mean, we have a mute character. As soon as you put some dialogue in there, if Gordon speaks, or has a conversation tree, or something like that... then you might as well blow all these limitations off, and explore a completely different kind of space. I just don’t think that unless you’re building a Half-Life game, it makes sense to do it exactly this way.

Maybe a lot of games could benefit from emphasis on more non-essential character development. The other thing is that Bill’s comment on scenes coming into focus gradually... that’s one of the problems I have with the way writers are usually used in the industry... where they come in at the beginning, or the end, and they leave, or they take a developer’s script and polish it up. They never get to do that process where the game is continually focused on. We have our eye on every part of the game throughout development, and story is just one part of that. The scenes get to be that good because we’re all focusing on a little bit every time. It’s not like I came to Valve twice, looked at the script, went away, came back... We all have access to each other.

BF: A lot of people don’t see the whole picture, of what it takes. They’ll say, “We want to do great characters, I guess we’ll do it with more polygons... Or we’ll get some famous voice to do it.” It takes so much more than that. It takes everything. It’s all about the good acting, the good animation, the good writing, the good voices, the good technology... it’s all those things.

ML: The usual idea is to want characters that you’d care about as much as you would in a movie, or a book. Then they’ll make a movie. They’ll try and imitate a movie, and do a cutscene, or a bunch of text, so it’s like a book. But the reason I came here was to make games. Having these things happen for the first time in a game is what’s really cool. A lot of the stuff that we play around with is cliché and generic in any other medium. But there’s a whole dimension of it in the game space that’s completely unexplored. We don’t want to make movies. We want to figure out how we do these things in a game.

BVB: There’s a huge barrier to entry, too. It accounts for why Half-Life 2 took so long to ship. We started on our character presentation systems in late ’99, early 2000. Creating the system so characters can address you wherever you are, and other characters wherever they are, blend smoothly into a scene where Bill wants to take total control over how they’re interacting with each other... it’s a massive amount of technology. It’s how they blend walking in different directions. It’s about how Bill makes someone act when they may, or may not be walking. We had to create the system here, then expose it in tools so animators could actually function. I’m so grateful that Gabe [Newell—Valve founder] and Ken Birdwell [Senior Software Engineer] made it a priority to create this technology, so we were able to author for it.

I have in my head a shy but very alluring pose...

Bill Fletcher

I have this pet theory, that games are the pinnacle of human achievement. They combine every form of media, and squeeze them into a kind of playable state.

ML: Yeah. One person can’t do very much. It’s so granular. That scared me about games, originally, and it still overwhelms me occasionally. If you’re building that world, you have to build it from the atom, up. You can’t just get an actor, record them in a studio. There are so many stages—every little thing in the game has been worked on by multiple people. Are they worth the effort?

ML: Yeah.

BF: Yeah.

BVB: Yeah, definitely.

ML: When I was a writer, I would look at this huge range of people who wrote books. There was this overwhelming thought of getting into Hollywood and working on movies, all these millions of people who’ve made movies, it’s hard to figure out where you’d go to do your thing, and be really distinctive, to go and make your mark. This is the frontier, the edge. By definition, everything we’re doing is pioneering. If you did that in writing, you’d just have no audience, because experimental tends to mean so obtuse that no one enjoys it. We get to experiment in this popular form of entertainment. We’re creating worlds that have never been seen before. That’s totally worth it.

Half-Life 2

A wide-ranging Half-Life 2 mod called MMod, which has been in the works for nine years, is out now, and it reworks Valve shooter's visuals, gunplay and enemy AI.

Combat is the focus, and the mod adds new weapons, changes weapon handling, and introduces new animations. I'm a big fan of the new idle weapon animations that you can see in the trailer above: when stood still, Gordon Freeman will wipe the scope of his crossbow to clean smudges, or lovingly stroke his trusty rocket launcher.

As for new weapons, the video above shows that you can grab a turret and haul it around, spraying down enemies. You'll also be able to aim down sights on some weapons, such as the basic pistol. 

The mod redesigns both the audio and visual effects, and tweaks the graphics in general. It certainly looks prettier than what I remember of the original—I like the new glowy eyes for the Combine soldiers—and particle effects are far flashier. 

MMod also "hardens" the AI and gives the Combine new actions to perform, such as firing underslung grenade launchers. 

It's already garnering praise over on its ModDB page, where you can download it. Make sure you have a clean install of Half-Life 2 and both Episodes 1 and 2, as well as the free community-made Half-Life 2: update, which the mod runs off. 

Thanks, Dark Side of Gaming.

Aug 31, 2018
Half-Life 2

For a constantly updated list of our favorite games on PC, check out our list of the best PC games right now. 

Every year, the PC Gamer team embarks on an epic quest to choose the top 100 PC games. Where previously we voted for our favourite games, this year we talked: discussing each of our nominations and deciding which games should make the list. The result is a more honest, considered reflection of our conflicting tastes and opinions as PC gamers.

This list represents what we think are the greatest PC games you can play today. We wanted to celebrate the breadth and variety of PC gaming, and so, for the most part, have restricted ourselves to one game per series. You'll also find a selection of personal picks: games we individually love that didn't quite make the cut. Enjoy!

If you're looking for a list of the games that helped shape PC gaming as we know it, try the 50 most important PC games of all time.

100. Path of Exile


Steven Messner: Path of Exile has quietly become one of the best action RPGs around thanks to its almost incomprehensible depth and wildly different seasonal leagues, where whole new systems are introduced. But the best part is its character customisation and spell crafting system. Path of Exile encourages players to make marauders who let spell totems do all the killing for them, witches who melt hordes with a fiery beam, or duelists that cover every inch of the map in a deadly rain of arrows.

99. Twisted Insurrection


John Strike: Tiberian Sun's best mod brazenly shames the original Firestorm expansion in almost every way. It’s bigger and bolder, offering new buildings, a whole fleet of new units and even a new faction. There’s a completely new musical score and dozens of single player missions, some of which are based on the original Command & Conquer. Not only are new missions and units still being added, but, as a standalone free download, it's the most accessible way to play one of C&C's greats.

98. Killing Floor 2


Evan Lahti: There are disturbingly few places in video games where I can cut an evil clown in half with a quad-barrelled shotgun. Killing Floor 2 is the world’s greatest gore effects system laid atop an enjoyable skeleton. Hordes of monsters trickle into the map, magnetized to your position, and you mulch them with buzzsaw-spitters, incendiary shotguns, rocket launchers, or a microwave cannon that heats enemies from the inside until they burst. The dynamic slow-mo system adds so much, dampening the chaos just enough—granting extra moments to take aim or take in the sight of an intestine flying across the screen. Tripwire is a skilled digital gunsmith, and the detail lent to particle effects and reload animations holds up wonderfully even under the scrutiny of these plentiful, slowed-down sequences. I also love that KF2 doesn’t simply make these mutants into bullet sponges. On higher difficulties, enemies adopt different behavioral triggers that make them genuinely harder to handle.

Wes Fenlon: The precision and teamwork it takes to play Killing Floor 2 at higher difficulties is especially thrilling. Also, I once played a community map that was monochrome purple and themed after Game Boy-era Pokémon. It was pretty bad, but I appreciated the option.

97. Night in the Woods


Phil Savage: A coming-of-age platformer starring an anthropomorphic cat returning home to a dead-end town after dropping out of college. On paper, Night in the Woods sounds like it could be intolerable, but its relationships are so well developed—so warm and fraught and human—that it’s impossible not to get drawn into Mae's world, and to want the best for her and her friends. I particularly love the frequent use of minigames as a way to highlight the need to escape the monotony of day-to-day responsibility.

Andy Kelly: A beautiful, heartfelt story brought to life by flawed, nuanced characters who just happen to be talking animals. It says something about life, but always knows when to crack a joke—and always with perfect timing—when things get too heavy.

96. Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut


Philippa Warr: Deadly Premonition is always a gamble of a recommendation. It's a gamble worth taking, though, because if you get on with its strangeness and its idiosyncrasies, it rewards you with a weird and beautiful experience of a kind you don't often get in gaming. Yes, the cars handle horribly. Yes, the PC version has crashed on me extensively. Yes, it starts off more as an irritating pastiche of Twin Peaks. Yes, it has frustrating quicktime events. And yes, some reveals draw uncomfortably on lazy tropes. But within that is a supernatural-tinged mystery that alternates between survival horror third-person shooter and a horror comedy investigation. None of the game's shortcomings were dealbreakers for me and several of the characters I encountered as I hunted for the Raincoat Killer have stayed with me for the best part of a decade.

Wes: The jank may be part of the charm, but at least make sure you install Durante's DPFix, which lets you select resolutions above 720p and fixes many minor graphical issues—mitigating some of the PC port’s shortcomings.

95. Stick Shift


Pip: Stick Shift is my go-to example of a game which invokes complex subject matter while also being really fun to play. As per developer Robert Yang's description: "Stick Shift is an autoerotic night-driving game about pleasuring a gay car." It's part of a trilogy alongside Hurt Me Plenty and Succulent, and together they explore aspects of eroticism, consent, arousal, politics and more. It's also a game where you move your mouse rhythmically, working your car to a climax.

94. Elite Dangerous


Phil: Frontier's galactic sandbox treads a fine line between excitement and tedium. Aliens! Dogfights! Smuggling! Interdictions! Ferrying pesticides to an outpost six lightyears away! However you decide to play, though—whatever amount of excitement you desire—Elite is still a masterfully crafted spaceship simulator. I love the design and feel of its ships, particularly the holographic UI and peerless sci-fi sound design. The thrill of warping to another solar system is never entirely diminished, meaning Elite remains entertaining even if you’ve chosen the life of a glorified space trucker.

Andy: Whether it's a chunky cargo hauler or a nimble fighter, every starship in Elite has its own distinct personality. They're all a delight to fly. Even the most mundane task feels wonderfully tactile.

93. Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom


Andy: While the original Ni no Kuni was co-designed by Spirited Away creator Studio Ghibli, it wasn't involved in this sequel. But developer Level-5 has done fine on its own, creating a rich fantasy world with a cast of vivid characters worthy of the Ghibli name. This is a sweeping JRPG about an usurped boy king on a quest to rebuild his kingdom and reclaim his throne. It's also one of the most colourful, vibrant games on PC.

Wes: The cutscenes are remarkably Ghibli and full of pep and puns, but what really made me fall for Ni No Kuni 2 is just how many systems it layers atop systems, like a big-budget JRPG of old. The sprawling kingdom builder is the centerpiece, with characters to recruit and buildings to construct and upgrade.

92. Mu Cartographer


Pip: Mu Cartographer is initially obtuse. You'll probably feel utterly lost as to what you’re supposed to do for a while. But once you start tinkering with all the different buttons and dials on the interface you begin to see how to explore the strange map. The peaks and troughs of digital noise on your display suddenly turn into recognisable shapes as you tweak the settings and find the sweet spot. Stepped pyramids rise up where seconds ago all you could see was a fuzzy mess.

91. Guild Wars 2


Phil: Guild Wars 2 is full of clever quality-of-life features—it's still one of the few MMOs that's figured out how to let you easily play with friends of a different level. The flow and pace of its maps are a thing of beauty, too. Groups expand and contract naturally, as people wander off to explore on their own, before coming together for a small-scale event or organising to complete a single map-wide objective. You get all the joy of cooperation without the need to commit a significant amount of your time. Just turn up and play. Then, when you eventually get tired, go off and do something else. There's also no subscription, and none of the expansions have raised the level cap, so you're free to come and go as you please, playing at your own pace without ever worrying that you're falling behind. You can play for hours every week if you want—ticking off the hardest achievements and earning the rarest loot—but I'm happy to log back in every six months or so, safe in the knowledge that I'm ready for whatever's next.

Tom: I have fought huge dragon bosses and a marionette the size of a skyscraper, and I didn't need to grind for 200 hours for the privilege. Guild Wars 2 earnestly tries to reinvent the MMO by reshaping the bullshit grinding and levelling systems that had become rote in the genre.

90. Super Mega Baseball 2


Wes: I'm about as bad at this surprisingly deep baseball game as I am at real baseball, but as a lapsed fan of America's pastime I appreciate how good this rendition is. It walks the line between a hyper-detailed sports sim and an arcadey NBA Jam-like, with simple controls but tons of nuance in pitching and hitting.

Chris Livingston: The customization is great, letting you change everything from player abilities to team logos, and its Pennant Race mode makes every online game feel important.

89. The Stanley Parable


Samuel Roberts: You start in an abandoned office with a narrator telling you what you're supposed to do next. If you obey his instructions it will lead you to an ending. But if you don't, you'll discover many more fascinating, exciting little stories.

Phil: An antagonistic dialogue between a man with no body and another with no voice. Weird, funny and full of ideas.

Pip: Games often struggle with comedy. The Stanley Parable manages to be consistently funny as well as whip smart.

88. Drawful 2


Wes: A chill, surprisingly hilarious party game I can play for hours. Everyone joins in on a smartphone and gets a phrase to draw on the touchscreen, then writes their own descriptions of everyone else's drawing to trick the crowd or simply get the most laughs. It's like millennial Pictionary, so inevitably people draw a lot more dicks.

87. Nidhogg 2


James Davenport: The back-and-forth struggles of Nidhogg were already unpredictable, but bows, axes, swords, and daggers transform simple fencing standoffs into tense, sweaty battles for control. Nidhogg 2 is an excellent way to graft friends to the couch. 

Evan: A see-sawing melee mess. No PC game produces more smile-yelling than Nidhogg 2.

86. Stephen's Sausage Roll


Pip: Stephen's Sausage Roll and I are on a break. I can't remember exactly why, but I know that I definitely rage-quit the sausage-grilling puzzler a while ago and haven't become sufficiently not angry to go back. That isn't a criticism, though; this is the puzzle game I recommend to the friends who want a real challenge.

Phil: I managed one level.

85. Battletech


Evan: It's turn-based MMA with walking tanks. Unlike XCOM 2, the durability and modular design of mechs makes for drawn out, back-and-forth exchanges that become micro-stories of attrition and mettle. You trade blows with an Atlas, weave and evade it, it cleaves off one of your body segments, you circle around, knock it down and KO it with a face stomp. I love BattleTech's degrees of failure. You might complete all objectives but lose your rare, damage-boosted PPC, put a pilot in a two-month coma, or have to spend every nickel you just earned fixing up your battered Highlander. The campaign wrapped around BattleTech's granular combat is a bottomless well of procedurally generated missions with a heartwarming story of underdog regal revenge at its nucleus.

84. Football Manager 2018


Joe Donnelly: Following some less comprehensive annual instalments, Football Manager 2018 gives us the most sophisticated soccer management simulation yet, where success is no longer determined by match performance alone. Piss off the wrong combination of players, and you'll risk a dressing room revolt. Suck up to the most popular, and you'll isolate your fringe stars. You need to balance influence and social standings to prevent the beautiful game from turning ugly.

83. Thumper


Pip: I don't think many people can consciously identify a 'fast-moving rhythm action space beetle combat game with a heady metal album aesthetic' void in their lives. But it exists and Thumper can fix it.

Phil: The dark, grungy synths and unusual time signatures create a fascinatingly ominous soundscape that draws you into the claustrophobic, reactive action. Thumper offers a mesmerising blend of palpable dread and empowering mastery—at least it did for me until the later levels, which required a degree of dexterity I'm not sure I possess.

James: That scarab scrapes down the interdimensional highway at the centre of Thumper with so much speed and ferocity that the game almost literally breaks apart by the end. Nod your head to dull the pain. 

82. Euro Truck Simulator 2


Andy: The problem with simulators is that they're often badly designed, technically janky or both. But Euro Truck Simulator 2 is neither of these things. This is a deep, polished, and immensely playable driving game set in a vast, mostly accurate replica of Europe. You can drive seamlessly between countries, and there's an understated beauty to the scenery that passes you by. It's also incredibly atmospheric, especially at night or in the rain. There's no better game to play while listening to music or catching up on podcasts, and it's deeply customisable too, meaning you can make each road trip as realistic or accessible as you like, depending on how deep you want the simulation to be.

Phil: In many ways I prefer American Truck Simulator. That's not because I love weigh stations—they're fine, if that's your thing—but because America's vast, terrifying emptiness feels more isolated, more epic, and, dare I say, more romantic. Euro Truck Simulator 2, on the other hand, is dense and busy, but also muted—it's altogether greyer and more moodily atmospheric. Both games are fantastic, and which one you prefer is likely a matter of which style of road trip speaks more to your personality. How many simulation games can you say that of?

81. FTL: Faster Than Light 


Samuel: It turns out being the captain of your own spaceship is stressful as hell, but you'll take part in some great stories along the way. FTL is a superior mix of roguelike and strategy. While Into The Breach is taking its place in my life, this is still one of the best space-set games around. 

Wes: It can make for a great party game, too. Put someone in the driver's seat and let the crowd make choices. Suddenly half your ship is on fire and you've accidentally vented one of your crew into space.

80. Stalker: Call of Pripyat


Chris: This grim and unforgiving open world FPS never turns you into an invincible superhero. No matter how much gear and weaponry you scrounge from the irradiated exclusion zone, you're still mortal and fragile, alone in a terrifying world of mutants, monsters, and roaming factions of AI-controlled humans. This lends Stalker an unending tension and fills every encounter with dread. From start to finish, there's a sense that at any moment you could meet your unceremonious end.

79. Doom 2


Wes: People are making mods and maps for this game like it was released a year ago. That's awesome. But what really strikes me about Doom 2 is how fun it still is, and how different it feels from decades more advanced shooters. There's a purity in how it moves, how it sounds and the minimum frames of animation it takes to sell firing the super shotgun.

78. Grim Fandango Remastered


Pip: Twenty years after its initial release it's still a real pleasure to revisit the film noir world of Manny Calavera, travel agent of the afterlife. Nowadays I play purely for the story so I keep online hints at hand for when progress stalls.

Tom Senior: Shout out here to Glottis, the giant orange demon who's too big and happy to quite fit into the world he’s in.

77. Warhammer: Vermintide 2


Samuel: There's a long tail to Vermintide 2 if you're willing to stick with this four-player Left 4 Dead-alike set in the Warhammer universe. It looks prettier than the first game, offers more in-depth character progression, and has much better combat.

Phil: It feels really good to stab up a rat, and if that's not worth a spot on this list, I'd love to know what is.

76. Oxenfree


Samuel: This spooky adventure game has a group of young friends inadvertently unlock a supernatural force on a haunted island. The relationships and various tensions between all the characters feel very real, and the dialogue is funny and poignant. These characters feel like they could've been people I went to school with.

Phil: The snappy, fun dialogue makes Oxenfree feel more theatrical than realistic, but that fits perfectly with the eerie mystery and interpersonal drama.

75. Regency Solitaire


Pip: I added Grey Alien's card-game-slash-Regency-romance to our Top 100 discussion list, then reinstalled the game and spent three hours of the Top 100 discussion playing this in the background. I'm fighting the urge to play it again now instead of finishing this incredibly short paragraph about why it's good. The solitaire aspect is really strong, it's super easy to play just one more round, and the story is light but charming. Are we done? Can I boot it up again?

74. Metro: Last Light Redux


Tom: Not many shooters have you frantically pumping up a pneumatic gun before you can fire it, but that’s Metro for you. These ramshackle weapons carry you through a filthy, atmospheric corridor shooter set in the depths of the Moscow undercity. The tunnels hide mutant creatures and nests of horrible spidery things, but the most dangerous enemies are the human clans trying to scrape out a living in the post-apocalypse.

Samuel: A beautiful and grim FPS that's refreshingly bleak for a modern triple-A game. The world building in Metro: Last Light is dazzling to me—the little snapshots of human civilisation that show how there are children in these underground settlements who never knew the world before it got into this bleak, decrepit state. And the story features some unforgettable moments, such as an early flashback that shows—from the perspective of the pilots—how a passenger plane was destroyed in the nuclear blast. It's a chilling world that's hard work just to exist in, but I love that it's a post-apocalyptic setting that doesn’t succumb to the desire to over-stylise anything. It commits to showing the horrors of what a nuclear war would do to the modern world, and I'd recommend it to absolutely anyone.

73. Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn


Steven: Square Enix's from-the-ashes MMO enjoyed another stellar year following the release of Stormblood, a revolution-themed expansion that whisks players across the sea to Eastern-inspired worlds that add much richness to an already great story. Though its endgame has become a predictable grind at this point, Final Fantasy 14 is still able to keep things exciting thanks to the steady pace of new bosses, dungeons, and raids to clear. Each one is just as memorable as the last thanks to a stunning soundtrack and beautiful world design.

72. The Norwood Suite 


Pip: Cosmo D's first-person jazz hotel exploration has you poking around a converted mansion and uncovering the secrets of its former owner, celebrated pianist, Peter Norwood. Musicality shapes the whole experience, warping the space and affecting the denizens. As you dig around you'll also discover the game's sense of humour via visual gags and surreal chats with guests and visitors. For a related experience you should also check out the developer’s free game, Off-Peak.

71. Mount & Blade: Warband


Evan: Mount & Blade: Warband is what we so often clamour for: an RPG where you're not an intergalactic savior or chosen one, but just some dude leading a small army on a sprawling, simulated map filled with other dudes leading other armies. It's sandbox in the truest sense, and the feeling of loosing an arrow into a line of galloping cavalry still holds up.

Phil: You start with nothing: left for dead in a town with few weapons, no supplies and barely any gold. From such inauspicious beginnings, you're free to do just about anything. Hunt bandits, befriend lords, rob pretty much anyone. Or, if you don't fancy leading hundreds of soldiers, just go fight for prestige in the arena. We've been waiting years for Mount & Blade 2, but Warband still has much to offer.

70. StarCraft 2


Andy: Across its three campaigns, StarCraft 2 boasts some of the best, most cinematic single-player RTS missions on PC. New challenges are constantly being thrown at you, forcing you to try new units and tactics, and the story isn't bad either. When you're done with all that, you can take your newfound skills online, which still has a huge and dedicated following. There's a bottomless pit of tips, tutorials, and strategies online, meaning new players have a decent chance of catching up.

69. Galactic Civilizations 2


Tom: Maybe a game like Stellaris will knock this classic spacebound 4X strategy game out of the Top 100, but not this year. It's hard to beat a game that's so smart and complete, and that can generate so much strategic intrigue with every campaign. The AI is so cunning that former PC Gamer staffer-turned-developer Tom Francis once wrote an entire book about one of his attempts to thwart it. Singleplayer games don't get much deeper than this.

68. Prison Architect


Chris: There's an engrossing amount of depth to the management simulation of Prison Architect, where building a workshop for inmates to make license plates doesn't mean they'll just walk in and begin working. First they'll need training, which requires classrooms, which require instructors, who require work and class schedules and their own facilities. Oh, and metal detectors to make sure the inmates don't smuggle out tools to use as weapons against guards or other inmates, or to tunnel under the walls of your prison. It's not easy building and managing a small city where most of the population is plotting escape.

Andy: I love it when things go to shit in management sims, and Prison Architect is enormously fun to watch (and manage) when disaster inevitably strikes. A streak of black comedy runs through the game, and there's something darkly hilarious about a riot erupting—these cartoonish little characters shivving each other, starting fires and beating up guards. Something as simple as a fight in the canteen can be the flashpoint for a full-scale riot, and trying to suppress it safely and quickly is a real test of skill. But that doesn't mean you can't have some fun observing the chaos before rolling your sleeves up and stepping in to deal with it.

67. Ori and the Blind Forest


Pip: An adorable Ghibli-esque aesthetic—particularly the opening cutscene—gives way to a rock hard Metroidvania platformer. Your eyes are as likely to tear up with emotion as they are with absolute fury if you fail a boss one too many times. 

Tom: It looks like sugar but tastes like salt. Ori is not the moonlit animal paradise it appears to be at first glance. It’s a game about loss, revenge, and bastard-hard jumping challenges. The art is absolutely gorgeous. It's a hazy, dreamlike world of artfully twisted overgrowth and spike pits. The movement is so quick, precise and responsive I just want to squeeze it, even as it stabs me repeatedly in the heart. Approach with caution and keep some hankies and a swear jar within reach.

66. Frostpunk


Chris: A survival and crisis management sim about building and sustaining city in a frozen world. In addition to providing food, warmth, and shelter to your citizens, you have to provide them something much trickier: hope for the future. That's immensely difficult when people are starving, freezing, and working themselves to death under your direction, and the choices you face are grim ones that never leave you feeling like a hero, even when things work out. Frostpunk is a game that asks two questions: 'How far are you willing to go to save lives?' And, 'No, really, how far are you willing to go?' It's a masterful exploration of the burden of leadership, the true costs of survival, and the balancing act between guiding your citizens and controlling them.

65. Diablo 3


Tom: 'Maybe I should start another Crusader run': seven words that could take up 60 hours of my life. Diablo 3 is still a stellar action RPG that has only become more generous year on year after its unsteady and controversial launch. The necromancer is a fantastic addition that calls back to Diablo 2 without nostalgically retreading the same ground. If you want to smash up thousands of monsters for gold and loot, there aren't many games that do it as well as Diablo 3.

64. Bayonetta


Samuel: A superb hack-and-slash game that rewards mastery with feeling like a badass. It's pretty much the first place I'd send anyone new to this genre of game that has its modern roots in Capcom's Devil May Cry series. This, from that game's creator, is funny, stylish and satisfying to learn. Its sequel, which Nintendo published, doesn't come close to matching the original. The range of weapons here fits together perfectly.

Phil: The fast-paced combat is yet to be bettered, and the world and story are equal parts stylish and absurd.

63. Crypt of the Necrodancer


Pip: The rhythm combat in this game is so polished that I love it even when it's at its most stressful. You have to move on every beat or risk losing your cash multiplier, which means there's no downtime to plan your next move. Is a multiplier all that important, you ask? "Oh," I reply, "Only if you want to keep being able to afford new items at the shop where the amazingly catchy soundtrack is suddenly given an EVEN MORE AMAZING operatic flavour thanks to a singing shopkeeper called Freddie Merchantry."

Wes: This would be a great roguelike in its own right, but it's almost unfair how cleverly the musical element is threaded through exploration and combat. Try dungeon dancing to your own music for a new challenge.

62. Sunless Sea


Pip: I bounced off Sunless Sea so hard when it first came out—I remember clunky combat and irritating resource grind as core objections. Returning to the game with the Zubmariner DLC I found myself well and truly suckered in—devoting hours to pottering away in the Unterzee, drinking in Failbetter's expert prose and luxuriating in the art style. Sunless Skies is shaping up to be another step forward so I'm singing Sunless Sea's praises now, lest seas be eclipsed by skies in the near future!

61. Baldur's Gate 2: Enhanced Edition


Tom: Baldur's Gate 2 is still a magnificent achievement. Few RPGs since have been as broad, deep or fully featured as this sprawling classic. Pillars of Eternity and other games are steadily bringing the classic RPG back to prominence, but Baldur's Gate 2 is still very much worth playing today, and is still one of the most faithful videogame interpretations of D&D's Forgotten Realms setting. It's a great party RPG too. Few modern games would be brave enough to implement a morality system that causes party members to fall out with you and leave the party—the closest you might get is Wrex's rebellion in Mass Effect. While we all remember Minsc and his space hamster companion Boo, the roster went much deeper and accurately reflected the spread of D&D classes, from lawful good paladins to chaotic neutral thieves.

Phil: After the slightly too long tutorial dungeon, Baldur's Gate II hits the ground running, setting you loose in the massive city of Athkatla to earn money to fund the next leg of your journey. It’s a great way to encourage you to explore the city, seeking out its stories and adventures.

60. Fez


Phil: A vast, beautiful mystery that's equal parts intriguing and relaxing, Fez is a puzzle-platformer that forgoes enemies and peril, instead offering a pleasant adventure about a strange world full of questions to answer. At its most basic, you rotate between four 2D planes, shifting the world in order to create a path to the next door. But over the course of the game, you'll solve riddles, uncover secrets, and even decode languages. Fez is a tantalising puzzle box just waiting to be unlocked.

59. 80 Days


Samuel: Take a journey around a steampunk-infused world as Passepartout, Phileas Fogg's indispensable assistant. Then, whether you succeed or fail, take the journey again and again, and see all the places and stories you missed the first time around. 80 Days is almost entirely dependent on great writing and little bits of art, and it's enough to bring the entire world to life. While it feels made for mobile, you should definitely pick it up on desktop if you've never played it. 

58. Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age


Tom: This feels like the most PC-friendly Final Fantasy to me. Like the rest of the games in the series, it's a beautiful big RPG with a cast of characters that span from annoying (Vaan) to awesome (Balthier). This entry is the only one with the excellent gambit tactics system, which lets you program your party's AI to blitz dungeons and bosses with satisfying efficiency.

Samuel: You can fast-forward this version of the game, too, giving the combat the pace and catharsis it desperately needed back when it came out on PS2. 

57. Hexcells Infinite


Pip: This is the third game in Matthew Brown's hex-grid logic puzzler series, and it's the best of the bunch. The 'infinite' part of the title refers to the fact that it can generate infinite puzzles if you want to keep playing. But the real joy, and the reason I keep replaying it, is the set which Brown has hand-crafted. Absolute puzzle bliss.

56. Homeworld Remastered Collection


Tom: The saddest spaceships in games must travel the galaxy looking for a new home in Relic's classic RTS. If you love brain-scrambling 3D battles then this is the only strategy game that really delivers. Deserts of Kharak is excellent too, but I'd sooner play a game bold enough to deploy Adagio for Strings in a scrap.

55. Dota 2


Pip: I have spent north of 2,000 hours in this game. You do not need to know how much money I have spent in this game. But that investment, both temporal and financial, was because this MOBA continued to reward me. There's a rich esports scene, a daft and creative community, the ability for friendships to blossom and for groups of players to cross pollinate as friends of friends move in and out of your teammate invite list. I only stop by occasionally now, but Valve continues to offer interesting updates. Turbo mode is my favourite addition in recent times, not least because it affords newbies a space where they can try characters out without as much pressure as a normal match.

54. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds


Samuel: It's a phenomenon I'd recommend trying to anyone who plays on PC, even if they bounce off it. That tension of landing in this world and seeing what plays out is an experience everyone should have. Evan put it best last year, so allow me to repeat it here: "it compresses the time and space that survival games like DayZ give you, forcing you into contact with other players and out of your comfort zone."

Andy: I play PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds as a stealth game, moving carefully between cover, keeping out of sight, biding my time. But the thrill here is that the 'guards' are real people, which makes sneaking under their noses even more exhilarating.

53. Deus Ex


Tom: This one has slipped down the list this year, largely because in recent times we've seen developers pick up the immersive sim baton and run with it—see entry number two in this list for the results. Deus Ex is still a classic, though. Even though the visuals, UI, dialogue and sound design seem more creaky each year, the scope for experimentation and emergent player-authored action is still impressive. 

Phil: It's creaky for sure, but Deus Ex's freedom still feels remarkable, as does its level of respect for the player. Most games feel compelled to clearly flag when you’re about to make a narrative choice that might have a consequence. But Deus Ex thrusts you into a paranoid world where everyone has an agenda and every command should be questioned.

52. Fallout 4


Samuel: I'd recommend all of the modern Fallout games to someone who’s never played them for various reasons, and this, in essence, represents that entire era of the series on our list (we were very close to including the original Fallout, too, but ultimately stuck with our one per series rule). New Vegas is the best for reactive storytelling, Fallout 3 has my favourite side quests, and Fallout 4 feels the most refined when it comes to combat, presentation and world design. Even if the choices towards the end didn't produce outcomes I was happy with, I loved journeying around that world with Nick Valentine and Piper. And taking on the role of pulp-style hero The Silver Shroud represents my favourite superhero experience in any game. 

Evan: There's nothing quite like Fallout's setting. Its cynical, post-apocalyptic, Atomic Age sci-fi is dripping with black humour and absurdity. I'm grateful that something so esoteric continues to get the big-budget treatment.

Phil: We're big fans of immersive sims at PC Gamer, and yet I love Bethesda's RPGs for being practically the opposite. Fallout 4 lets you be a silent stealth killer who wears a giant suit of power armour—not because it makes sense within the world, but because it makes sense within the underlying systems. It's an anti-immersive sim, offering satisfying freedom in how you build your wasteland wanderer.  

51. Stardew Valley


Andy: A miserable office worker inherits a farm and starts a new life in the idyllic Stardew Valley. This Harvest Moon-inspired farming sim is pleasantly freeform and lets you live the way you want to, whether that's just lazily growing a few crops here and there, or starting a ruthlessly efficient mayonnaise empire.

Bo: Stardew Valley is everything I ever wanted out of Harvest Moon, but unchained from Nintendo's puritanical approach to content.

50. EVE Online


Tom: It's obtuse, and it takes a lot of time and effort to become properly mixed up in the corporations that drive EVE Online's greatest dramas, but I have taken a lot of pleasure in hopping into a vessel and mining for a few hours, quietly turning in a small profit and enjoying the vibe of EVE's cosmos. It looks beautiful stretched across two monitors, and if I do find myself yearning for the grand stories of war and betrayal, I can always read about them later in PC Gamer.

49. BioShock


Samuel: While as a shooter it's far from best-in-class these days, exploring the different parts of this underwater world and learning its story is an experience no other game has matched for me.

Andy: Rapture is still one of the most atmospheric settings on PC, letting you explore a bizarre, broken society in a state of fascinating decay.

48. Warframe


Steven: Digital Extremes' cooperative loot shooter quietly became one of the best free-to-play games and people are only just now catching on. In the years since its rocky release, Warframe has grown into a deeply satisfying and complex online game with thousands of hours worth of quests to complete and gear to farm.

47. Darkest Dungeon


Evan: Even as DLC has made it a bigger experience, I continue to value Darkest Dungeon's focus. It's an intimidating game for all the right reasons: difficulty, uncertainty, risk and reward. The audio and combat camera effects deserve an award for how they make fights between illustrated paper characters feel like Eldritch kung fu.

46. Opus Magnum


Tyler: Solving an Opus Magnum puzzle isn't satisfying the first time. You build an alchemy machine with tracks, rotating arms and flowchart instructions—producing gold from lead, for instance. Your sloppy contraption may look beautiful in motion, but how could you move on to the next challenge when your friend solved the same problem more elegantly? That quest for perfection is deviously engrossing. Few puzzle games feel so good to finally master.

45. Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition


Andy: The Enhanced Edition of Torment is currently the best way to play this supremely weird RPG on modern PCs. You play as an immortal being with amnesia, trying to piece his past together. The writing is the star here, bringing Dungeons & Dragons' Planescape setting to life in exquisite, wordy detail. Think of any RPG convention and Torment will subvert or twist it in some fascinating way, and the characters who join your party along the way are truly strange.

44. Civilization 5


Tyler: I vacillate between them, but even though I like Civ 6's city districts, Civilization 5 with all the expansions is still the evening destroyer I'd recommend. I wish the series would reexamine its assumptions about the world and make more radical changes in the future, but for now, Civ 5 is still the standard bearer for turn-based empire building: complex enough not to become too rote, but accessible enough for just about anyone who enjoys rewriting history.

Evan: I prefer Civ 6—it's shallow, but I need my 1440p boardgames to look as pretty as possible, and the expressive, animated leaders of Civ 6 add a lot. But the fact that there's still a debate between the two is an endorsement of Firaxis' approach to putting meaningful new spins on one of PC gaming's longest-standing, most celebrated genres.

Andy: In all the time I've played Civ 5, I've never actually won a game. And so it's a testament to just how compelling and accessible its strategy is that I keep coming back, trying new tactics and shaping my civilisation in new and interesting ways. It's the journey—taking my people from humble beginnings to advanced empires—that I really enjoy. The destination ultimately isn't that important.

43. Invisible, Inc.


Tom: This turn-based tactics game has you controlling a squad of superspies in missions to knock out guards and steal data before the alarms detect you. I love Klei's angular art, and it's miraculous that the team were able to build such a tight and nuanced tactics game with procedurally generated offices. As with Into the Breach, Invisible, Inc. gives you tons of information about what's going on with enemies. You can see their sight lines clearly and judge their intentions. Your main decisions come down to your use of power points to hack systems. You can disable alarms or unlock doors to access tantalisingly placed upgrade terminals. Do you grab your objective and flee before security arrives, or take a gamble for an upgrade that might make future missions a lot easier?

42. Overcooked


Evan: Pure co-op calamity with a deceptively cheerful art style. You will never yell "I need lettuce!" with more anger and urgency. 

Samuel: So enjoyable to pick up, then appallingly difficult to master as you chase those three star ratings. If only I could take it less seriously—me and my partner had to stop playing because I was treating it like a part-time kitchen job. "Plates, plates, PLATES!"

Phil: It's like if the TV show Hell's Kitchen was a game—swearing and all.

41. Super Hexagon


Jody Macgregor: Terry Cavanagh of VVVVVV fame's twitchiest game, Super Hexagon makes you a triangle trapped in pulsing, multicoloured hexagons, dodging through gaps in spinning walls at high speed. It's the definition of easy to learn and bloody impossible to master. I used to think hexagons were fine. Perfectly respectable shapes. Maybe not as fun as parallelograms, which are basically drunk rectangles, but pretty good overall. Now I've played Super Hexagon I hate them. They give me a rash. Terrible shapes. To hell with hexagons.

Phil: Before writing this paragraph I fired up Super Hexagon for the first time in five years, and after only a few tries I was already pushing up near my best times. This is the kind of game that sears itself into your subconscious; burrowing deep down into your muscle memory just waiting for you to return. As a shortform arcade game it's practically perfect—a pulsating, rotating, constantly shifting assault of shapes and sounds with an instant restart that has you back in the action before the voiceover can finish saying "game over".

40. Mass Effect 2


Samuel: The facial animations really date BioWare games, but Mass Effect 2 is still the best at showing darker, more interesting sides to its dense sci-fi universe. Plus it still has my favourite party of characters from a modern BioWare RPG. Maybe it's time for another trilogy replay.

Andy: The greatest ensemble cast in RPG history. The idea of recruiting the galaxy's most notorious warriors and criminals is a brilliant excuse to gather up a motley crew of weird, flawed, interesting people, and I cared about all of them.

39. Hearthstone


Tim: Hearthstone is in a funny spot. It's as gigantic as it's ever been, but with the departure of game director Ben Brode and the looming threat of Valve's Artifact, now would be a good time for Blizzard’s CCG to shake things up a little. The arrival of a tournament mode later this year may do that, but despite an atypically diverse meta, I've felt my desire to grind the ladder wane. Regardless, for now Hearthstone remains peerless in terms of the quality and polish of the experience.

38. Grand Theft Auto 5


Andy: GTA 5 is one of the most lavish singleplayer experiences you can have on PC, with impeccable production values, superb mission variety, and a wonderfully vibrant city. It's massive, but I've finished it three times—that's how much I love being in Los Santos. For me, Michael is Rockstar's best protagonist: a weary, slightly pathetic crook past his prime trying to make it in a world that’s left him behind.

Samuel: I change my mind about GTA Online every few months, but the fidelity of the world is unbeaten. I adore the original heists, and I've had a lot of fun playing the game with other people. I've seen those streets so many times now, though, and am desperate to play whatever comes next in the series. Or, you know, they could bring Red Dead to PC.

Phil: Whatever you think about GTA Online (relationship status: it's complicated), that first set of multiplayer heists are among the best co-op experiences you can have on PC. The way they divide your team of four into smaller groups, each performing a specific task that slowly draws everyone together for a single, action packed finale is—when you successfully pull it off—tense, exciting and memorable.

Joe: GTA Online is a shop window, and few games let you observe other players' wares with such impact. Seeing that new car, aircraft or chopper hurtling towards you makes you want it—which makes grinding to get it less of a chore.

37. Company of Heroes 


Tom: It's Relic's best game and frankly still one of the best real-time strategy games ever made. Jumping into a skirmish against the AI, it holds up today as well as it did at launch, which is a testament to the quality of the art and sound direction, and the success of Relic's squad-based take on unit control. The expansions are decent, but I still relish the purity of Company of Heroes' asymmetrical core matchup. The US has a slight numbers advantage in the early infantry stages of a battle but the Axis forces can bring halftracks to the mid-game and elite tanks into the endgame. A few games have tried to imitate Company of Heroes over the years, but none have really come close.

36. Half-Life 2


Andy: Gordon Freeman awakes from stasis to find Earth transformed into a dystopian hellscape by an invading alien force. Valve's influential FPS is still fantastic, particularly its eerie, understated atmosphere. The Combine are genuinely unnerving antagonists, but they didn't anticipate going up against a mute physicist who can yank radiators off the wall and launch them at high speeds.

Chris: A linear FPS but one that makes you feel as if you're finding your own path through it, rather than being shoved along rails by the developers. And the gravity gun is still the most enjoyable multitool in games: perfect for solving physics puzzles, playing catch with Dog, using a metal door as a shield, or flinging a toilet into a Metrocop's head.

35. Devil Daggers


Jody: FPS design often copies the Halo idea of a single, repeatable loop of fun, but Devil Daggers really boils it down. Here the loop is backpedalling in an arc while shooting daggers at nearby enemies, clearing enough room to aim at the weak spot of a distant, tougher enemy, then spinning around to take out the skull-face jerk sneaking up behind you. It's just you and infinite bastards to shoot. Perfect.

Evan: If you die and don't go to heaven or hell, you play Devil Daggers until you win.

34. Forza Horizon 3


Phil: A gloriously silly arcade playground that takes the Forza Motorsport series' deep love of cars and customisation and transports it into a vibrant, luscious world full of ridiculous races and entertaining off-road mayhem. Forza Horizon 3's best feature is the skill chain system, which transforms an otherwise basic drive between events into a challenge to string together stunts without crashing.

Andy: Driving pretend cars doesn't get any better than the Forza series, and Horizon brilliantly softens the simulation while still maintaining a feeling of weight and realism.

Evan: All racers should be set in Australia.

33. The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim


Andy: Skyrim remains one of the most evocative settings on PC. It's not as big as some game worlds, but the varied biomes—from the bubbling hot springs of Eastmarch to the snow-battered coastline of Winterhold—make it feel much bigger than it is. The role-playing is shallow and the writing isn't great, but the sense of place and feeling of freedom make up for it. Picking a direction, going for a wander, and seeing what you'll find out there among the snow and ice is The Elder Scrolls at its most captivating.

Chris: You can finish (or completely ignore) the main story and still have a couple hundred hours of self-guided fun—especially by adding mods to the mix. Skyrim gives you a special kind of freedom seen in few RPGs.

32. Proteus


Pip: If this was Pip's Top 100 Proteus would be in the number one spot. It's a contemplative experience where you wander a procedurally generated island, delighting in what you find. I often find myself drifting back to it in moments of stress, treating myself to a short digital holiday. One time I forgot I'd tweaked the game files and accidentally turned everything red, so that was a surprise. Seas of blood. But if you don’t make seas of blood it's gloriously restful!

31. Crusader Kings 2


Phil: Crusader Kings 2 isn't just a grand strategy about medieval kingdoms. It's a grand strategy about the people in charge of those kingdoms. You're not the abstract concept of the country of France; you're the King of France, a 60-year-old man who, after a protracted battle against the rebellious Duke of Burgundy, is now on his deathbed, about to leave the fate of his dynasty to an idiot son. You're not the ever-expanding territory of the Holy Roman Empire; you're an increasingly deranged emperor who people think has been possessed by the devil. By generating stories about people, Crusader Kings II is an endlessly fascinating soap opera that's different every time. In my last campaign, I didn't even play. I used the command console to simply observe the action, watching as an epic period drama played out across the map.

Chris: What's most interesting is how your relationships change when you die and continue playing as your heir. Those three children you had don't seem so wonderful once you've assumed the role of the eldest. The other two, while devoted to their father, now hate you and may plot against you. Your entire view of the world changes regularly, not just because the players change but because you yourself do, by dying and playing as someone new.

30. Portal 2


Chris: It should have been impossible to top the near-perfect Portal in comedy, storytelling, and physics-bending first-person puzzles, but Portal 2 somehow manages it, and even throws in some fantastic multiplayer on top. 

Andy: Portal 2 brings a funny and sometimes disarmingly poignant story to its mind-bending puzzles, and the results are exceptional. Your journey through the various eras of Aperture Science make the game a constant delight.

29. World of Warcraft


Andy: Blizzard's long-running MMORPG simply refuses to die, and in fact seems to be getting better with every expansion. The most recent, 2016's Legion, brought in a swathe of quality-of-life improvements and some of the best questing in World of Warcraft's nearly 14-year history, making it worth playing all over again. It's still pretty grindy, especially compared to the more streamlined Guild Wars 2, but there are few online worlds this rich and storied to spend time in.

Don't miss Steven's Battle For Azeroth review for some more recent WoW words.

28. Undertale


Tyler: Undertale subverts RPG cliches with constant self-reference, but unlike many 'parody games', it's not cynical or derivative. It plays on expectations without succumbing to them, with characters we’d love even without the metacommentary on game design, fandom, and authorship. Undertale is a great RPG even if you don't get every reference.

27. Fortnite Battle Royale


James: Fortnite's battle royale mode started as a weak PUBG imitation, but an unprecedented update cycle has made it not just the best battle royale game, but one of the most fascinating games in development today. With map changes, new items, and one-off world events almost every week, Fortnite is endlessly entertaining to live in.

26. League of Legends


Wes: Regular changes to the meta have kept League alive and on top for years. It’s still the best entry point for the MOBA genre.

Pip: I favour ARAM—a five-vs-five battle where randomly assigned characters let spells and punches fly across a single lane. I visit the pressure of the three lane Summoner’s Rift from a safe distance—as an esports spectator.

25. Cities: Skylines


Andy: While the most recent SimCity did everything it could to stifle creativity, Cities: Skylines gave players the power to make anything they want—in part thanks to the deep mod support. The result is the best city-builder around.

Samuel: The best game of its kind in a genre that people have enjoyed and will play forever, well supported by compelling expansions. Plus, you can destroy your city with meteors if you're having a dark day—like I did when I was mayor of Pipville several months ago.

24. Arma 3


Evan: Arma 3 stands alone as the highest-fidelity FPS, the best multiplayer story generator, and a bottomless trough of community missions and mods. You can play it with the utmost seriousness, with an add-on that lets you administer simulated CPR on injured comrades, or as a silly military take on Black & White with its Zeus DLC. It's no coincidence that Arma was the fertile terrain that produced the last two biggest trends in PC gaming: battle royale and survival games.

23. Her Story 


Phil: You start with a police database open and the word 'MURDER' entered into its search field. Hit enter and you’re given four short video clips from a police interview. In one, the woman being interviewed says, "I didn't murder Simon." OK, let's search 'SIMON'. More video clips—more hints at a tantalising mystery that twists and changes as you unlock more of its parts.

Samuel: Probably the best mystery game ever made, because Her Story is over when you feel you've found the answer (or when you've discovered all the clips, depending on the type of player you are). It truly puts the drama of uncovering the truth in your hands, which is so hard for a game to do in any meaningful way. One of those games I would recommend to someone who has never played games. 

Tyler: A fantastic performance that made FMV, for once, not cheesy.

Andy: A narrative game that really makes use of the medium. The mystery unfolds differently for everyone who plays it, which is a wonderfully original way of telling a story. What you think happened might be different to someone else’s interpretation, turning us all into unreliable narrators.

22. Total War: Warhammer 2


Tom: Total War is a complex grand strategy series that fuses turn-based 4X-style empire-building with vast real-time battles. So far we've mostly seen the format used to explore historical scenarios, but it turns out the Warhammer universe is a perfect fit. For fans of the setting it's a joy to see each faction rendered so vividly, but I would recommend Total War: Warhammer 2 to any strategy fan regardless of your Warhammer knowledge. If you want to command a traditional army, the Empire is there for you. If you want something more adventurous, you don't need to know much about the undead Tomb Kings to enjoy sending hordes of skeletons after magical relics. The sequel's campaign is brilliant. Four factions fight for control of a big magic vortex in the middle of the map, which keeps the campaign interesting all the way into the endgame.

Jody: Replay that campaign and eventually you'll see behind the curtain, but what makes it worth replaying is the factions. Warhammer 2 gets its factions right in ways that should please all but the fussiest fans, even though they're a diverse collection of uptight magic elves, dinosaur-riding lizards, sneaky rat bastards, and "we're really into leather" sex dungeon kink elves. That's no easy feat.

21. The Sims 4


Pip: The latest instalment of the long-running life sim has absorbed many hours of my life as I generate idiotic stories starring my beloved cast of citizens. Four years after release it's at the point where features missing at launch have been patched in (toddlers! pools!) and you can use the glut of expansions, game packs and stuff packs to tailor the game to your playstyle. I'd like to see the pricing model better support people who dip in and out, but overall there's still no other game like it. 

20. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive


Evan: Valve's half-hearted updates dented its ranking this year, but CS:GO remains the purest team FPS on the planet. Every round is a joust of plays, counters, and outmaneuvering, where a smart flash or reflex AWP pick shifts the balance. You can spend a lifetime improving your grenade technique, your de_inferno mid push, your eco round playcalling. It'll never be enough. Each gun is a wild animal with its own unique spray pattern and tendencies that can take dozens of hours to learn.

19. Rocket League


Tyler: I've hit a skill plateau in the best and only rocket car soccer game (I play the hockey variant), but I just have to find the next slope. I don't think one can ever stop getting better at Rocket League. There's always a better position I could've been in, an aerial I shouldn't have botched. It hasn't changed much over the years, but I feel like I could play it forever.

18. Hitman


Phil: This stealth sandbox about a bald assassin features six huge, absurdly detailed maps, each filled with interesting ways to bump off your targets. Hitman's social stealth systems—where disguises are more important than not being seen—gives you the time to plan, experiment and refine your approach. It's now the best game in the series.

17. Kerbal Space Program


Phil: Build a rocket, launch a rocket, fly a rocket, crash a rocket. And then do it all again—tweaking and experimenting until your design is bona fide spacefaring craft, able to maintain orbit or visit nearby celestial bodies. Kerbal Space Program is a sublime mix of physics and slapstick that makes for the perfect playground for space exploration.

16. Spelunky


Wes: No one's topped the way Spelunky's pieces play off one another to make its world feel deeply knowable and random at the same time. It's a game you play for hundreds of hours, until getting the key to unlock the chest to find the Udjat Eye to reach the black market to buy the ankh to die and come back to life to fight Anubis to take his sceptre to unlock the City of Gold to find the Book of the Dead to journey through Hell to fight King Yama just feels like another day playing Spelunky.

15. Alien: Isolation 


Andy: The best horror game on PC, because the thing chasing you has a mind of its own. There's no pattern to predict, no patrol route you can exploit. The alien is intelligent. It will learn your habits and it will fuck with you, and that is terrifying.

Samuel: I replayed it this year, and it's amazing how much mileage they get out of the same two repeated enemies by making clever use of set pieces and different types of environments. Probably the best horror game ever.

14. Overwatch


Andy: I love Overwatch because, as someone lacking the skill to play most other online shooters competently, I can still make a difference in a match. The sheer variety of brilliantly-designed characters and their wildly varied toolsets means there's something for every kind of player, even if they can't pull off a decent headshot. It's also impressively accessible, cleverly explaining the intricacies of its heroes' abilities without overloading you with information.

Bo: A year ago, Blizzard told me they had "barely scratched the surface" of abilities and character archetypes they'd like to explore in Overwatch. With the newest hero being a giant hamster ball mech with a Spider-Man-style grappling hook piloted by a literal hamster, I'm finally inclined to believe them. Overwatch continues to be one of the most unique and accessible shooters. And on the esports front, the Overwatch League's adoption of a city-based team model has ignited local enthusiasm in a way that no other game, tournament, or organization has been able to thus far.

Phil: We decided this list's order before Wrecking Ball was announced. I'll leave you to speculate whether he would have raised or lowered Overwatch's position.

13. Life is Strange


Pip: Dontnod's episodic, time-rewinding teen drama develops (Look! A photography pun! Because the lead character is into photography!) from a gawky, awkward-but-sweet first episode with slightly clunky dialogue into a story capable of delivering real emotional sucker punches. It's not perfect—some puzzle segments outstay their welcome and the plot often throws subtlety out of the window—but OH MY! The cast of characters and the strength of their relationships elevate the whole thing, and the Instagrammy aesthetic bolsters the teenage intensity. 

Phil: It also features probably the best use of mid-'00s indie boys playing sad acoustic songs about relationships and feelings in all of gaming. Max listening to José González while riding a bus across Arcadia Bay is a beautiful, understated sequence that gives us the time to empathise with the character and her feelings about the town she's returned to.

12. Hollow Knight


Wes: The best Metroidvania since Super Metroid. Hollow Knight is open-ended almost to a fault, giving you a massive, decaying, interconnected bug kingdom to explore and frequently find yourself lost in. It can be overwhelming at first, but the feeling of discovery ends up being immensely rewarding as a result. The super responsive platforming and combat keep backtracking from ever feeling like a chore, something similar games have struggled with.

11. Doom


Tom: A modernisation of Doom that puts the focus firmly on speed and sweet guns. The DOOM reboot resists decades of shooter trends that either ape Call of Duty or try to crossbreed the FPS with other genres. There's nothing wrong with that sort of experimentation, but it's so refreshing to boot this game up and blow gooey chunks out of the forces of hell. Bring on the next one, id.

Samuel: The best single-player FPS there is in 2018. A clever update of Doom that turns fights into melee-heavy duels, with a not-overly-serious tone that hits just the right spot.

Wes: And the levels are actually intricate mazes full of secrets, just like classic Doom! I expected good shooting in bland corridors, but this is so much more.

10. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain


Tom: I loaded back into my MGS5 save a month ago to find Snake decked out head-to-toe in a leopard skin combat suit. I forgot that my dog had a knife and my horse had a face shield, and I forgot that I named my squad TACTICAL OCTOPUS. It’s a terrific open world stealth game, but its quirky sense of fun makes the supernatural military nonsense bearable. 

Samuel: My favourite stealth action game ever, that sits somewhere between immersive sim and Metal Gear of old.

9. Dark Souls Remastered

RELEASED 2018 | LAST POSITION 2 (Prepare to Die Edition)

Tom: Have you met Gravelord Nito? He's a roiling mass of skeletons shrouded in a cape of souls. He lives deep in Dark Souls nightmarish catacombs, and he's just one example of the game's extraordinary art direction, and powerful sense of dark fantasy horror. People go on about Dark Souls' bottomless lore with good reason, but underneath the theatrics it's actually a very simple game. You raid dungeons, chop up monsters, loot chests and level up. Without strong, enduring combat fundamentals I wouldn't have kept playing long enough to uncover the gods' tragic stories.

8. Subnautica


Pip: Subnautica is my game of 2018 so far. I usually tap out pretty fast when it comes to survival games but this one takes place in a gorgeous underwater world, involves a compelling plot, AND I adore tinkering with my little underwater base. It also lets me choose how much survival-ing I care to have as part of the game experience, meaning I can switch off thirst. It's not exactly better down where it’s wetter given the wealth of creatures and situations which can kill you, but it's exactly where I want to be.

Andy: Exploring is genuinely rewarding, both in terms of finding resources to build cooler submarines and environmental detail. It's a world with a story to tell, and it tells it brilliantly.

7. XCOM 2


Tom: Strategy games are good at making me care about numbers and systems, but XCOM 2 is one of the few I can name that translate the numberwang into emotional investment. Losing a squad member can feel devastating. You nurture them between fights, gradually upgrading their gear and unlocking sweet new skills, only for an alien to cruelly blast them in a routine mission. When things go wrong in XCOM, they go very wrong indeed, which is all part of the drama in a game that casts humanity as the underdog.

Evan: XCOM's art direction is ridiculously underrated. Its maps are believable, colorful dioramas that shatter into pieces under the heat and intensity of your insurgent combat. 

6. Rainbow Six Siege


Evan: Sure, you can play Siege as if it's Counter-Strike, pre-firing and out-angling your opponents with snap marksmanship. But the real joy is in outsmarting the other team by poking clever holes in the maps, placing your gadgets in unexpected positions, and careful drone scouting. I also love Siege's tempo: this is a shooter that gives you time and a canvas of breakable space to stop, strategize, and execute a dumb plan with absurd gadgets like an eyeball turret that shoots lasers, invisible poison mines, and a drone that shoots concussions. Ubisoft remains devoted to supporting Siege with meaningful systems renovations and with four annual updates that add new characters and maps.

5. What Remains of Edith Finch


Samuel: This first-person narrative game is constantly inventive. Edith Finch ventures into the home where her family used to live, before they all died in various tragic circumstances and their rooms were sealed up. You uncover each of their stories. It's the high point of this genre.

Andy: Exploring the abandoned home of the eccentric Finch family and uncovering their history is one of the most satisfying storytelling experiences a game has ever given me. But it's a game I'll never play again, simply because one scene in particular was so emotionally-charged that I can't face it. Any piece of media that holds that kind of power has to be special.

4. Into the Breach


Tom: Into the Breach is a game about quick turn-based battles between mechs and kaiju-sized bugs, and it's almost perfect. Unlike many turn-based strategy games, Into the Breach doesn't use chance to inject battles with tension—the UI tells you pretty much everything that's going to happen next turn. The pleasure comes from solving the next turn state as efficiently as you can. It's a small game—battles only last a few turns on an eight-by-eight grid—but the varied mech teams and increasingly nefarious bug types create a huge amount of tactical variation. It shows that strategy games don’t have to be long and laborious.

Wes: There's so little randomness that random moments have immense impact. In one run, I had two buildings resist damage at a pivotal point. I've never done a more exaggerated fist pump.

3. Divinity: Original Sin 2


Tyler: Divinity: Original Sin 2 feels less stodgy than other classic RPG revivals while heightening their best qualities: turn-based combat (I hate real-time, sorry) with physics-based spells and exploding barrels (necessary), great characters, and a commitment to letting players do what they want, even if it breaks everything.

Wes: It offers you an intricate RPG sandbox to play in, and it invites you to break the rules in as many ways as you can imagine. The first game did that, too, but this one marries that freedom with across-the-board great writing and genuinely thoughtful roleplaying. It walks the walk and talks the talk.

2. Dishonored 2


Samuel: This is the best stealth game there has ever been. While the high-concept levels like A Crack in the Slab and Clockwork Mansion get a lot of attention for their clever one-off twists, more traditional stages like Royal Conservatory and Dust District are so detailed and fun to explore. There's no sense of repetition, and each level feels like a huge event. It's the precision of Dishonored 2 I love. Every successful takedown or evasion feels like something you've earned. 

Andy: Dishonored 2 has some of the best level design on PC, both in terms of the architecture and aesthetic, and in how the environments are rich playgrounds that let you really flex your creativity. Every location has something interesting about it, whether it's the time-hopping of A Crack in the Slab or the intricate house-sized puzzle box that is the magnificent Clockwork Mansion. And the sheer volume of ways to navigate the levels and complete your objectives really captures the spirit of PC gaming.

Tom: I want to savour every moment in Karnaca, because those levels are so dense and fun to explore. Immersive sims have always been good at creating broad levels like these, full of sandbox opportunity, but I really value that simple acts of moving, shooting and fighting feel great in Dishonored 2. Your regenerating mana bar gives you license to use your traversal powers freely, and I love blink and Emily’s tentacle leap. The introduction of Emily just broadens your toolset further. Domino, which lets you chain NPCs fates together so that one attack affects them all, is an inspired ability, and it's emblematic of the way Dishonored 2 builds on the tenets of immersive sims like Deus Ex, and spins them out in spectacular new ways. Augmented special forces dudes are cool, but warlock assassins are even cooler.

Phil: For me it's the reactivity of the world. Yes, the combat is fluid and satisfying, the level design is intricate and beautifully balanced, and the abilities perfectly tailored for absurd displays of skill and problem solving. But what ties it all together is the lengths Arkane has gone to make it all feel believable and real. Immersive sim is, I will admit, a clunky term, but it’s a useful way to encapsulate a core philosophy: that a game’s systems must work to make you believe in a world, even if that world features magical parkour assassins. I believe in Dishonored 2's world because throughout I encountered ways Arkane had anticipated player behaviour. The most extreme example is found in the standout mission A Crack in the Slab, which features an alternate timeline that only occurs if you do something that’s never asked of you—that most people will probably never try. Arkane knew someone would try, and so made a response. That's amazing dedication to the craft.

1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt


Tom: It's a great execution of the ronin fantasy set in one of the most beautiful worlds on PC. The craggy Skellige isle might be one of my favourite places in games, or is it Novigrad, or the sunlit vineyards of Toussaint? Even the dripping bogs in the early areas are pretty, in their own miserable way. Within these gorgeous places you meet people with interesting problems. Maybe their local well is haunted. Maybe their spouse is haunted. Usually something is haunted, or cursed, or being pursued by a hideous mythical beast. I treated the sidequests as the main quest, to be honest, roleplaying a mutant outcast on a mission to make the world a slightly better place. Oh, and let's not forget Gwent, one of the best games-within-a-game since Final Fantasy VIII's Triple Triad. 

Jody: The fact you play a character with his own place in the world, including allies, enemies, and ex-girlfriends, is a definite strength of The Witcher 3. But it wasn't always this way. In the first Witcher game Geralt was an amnesiac sleazebag and honestly a bit of a tool. He wasn't a fun person to be around, let alone to be. But by The Witcher 3, Geralt's a caring father figure with a heart of gold beneath layers of beard and gruff, and more than that he feels like someone you personalise. How much he cares about getting paid, who he loves, how seriously he takes his creed, that’s all you. The Witcher 3's version of Geralt is the perfect videogame protagonist not because he's more integrated into his world than a character you make from scratch, but because he's a solid outline with room to manoeuvre inside that. He contains multitudes—but not too many. He has well-defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.

Wes: "Place" really is what makes The Witcher 3 so spectacular, and like no other game I've played. It's not just that the world is gorgeous and detailed, though it is both of those things. The Witcher 3 has this unparalleled combination of artistry and technology that makes its locations and characters feel authentic. Accents and architecture differ between the mainland and Skellige. The characters you encounter out in the world have quests that involve their families or monsters native to their region, and the more of these quests you take, the more you appreciate how natural and human they seem. No one's asking you to go out and slay five wolves because that's a good way to spend ten minutes in an RPG. If you're killing beasts, it’s probably to save a village's flock or get revenge for a grieving father, and even straightforward quests often end with surprising deviations. Depending on how you play Geralt, you can be a mercenary in search of coin, or calmly talk someone out of a decision you know they'll regret. You can haggle with assholes who don't respect the value of a witcher's work, and you’ll have to decide what to do when a poor farmer doesn't actually have the money he promised you. Those touches, along with the motion capture, the voice acting and the wind on a blustery night in Velen, make the whole thing come alive. What a world.

Phil: A thing I hate about most RPG writing is that something as simple as asking to be rewarded for your time and effort is treated as the most evil thing a protagonist can do. But in The Witcher 3, Geralt is a professional doing his job. His haggling with clients over money isn't a deviance or a crime, but the expected cost of hiring a man who is good at what he does for a living. 

Andy: I love The Witcher 3 because it’s a game where almost everything is meaningful. When you pick up a quest, it isn't just some thinly-written excuse to get you to go kill a monster. There's a backstory, a motivation, and often a twist. Quests can spiral, turning an encounter with a peasant in a tavern into a sprawling epic that ends with you fighting some great, mythical beast atop a crumbling tower in a raging storm. The game is heaving with interesting characters and worthwhile things to do, and Geralt is the foundation of it all: a complex lead who makes other videogame characters look like cardboard cutouts.

Personal picks

We love many more games than we can fit onto one list, so here the PC Gamer team has spotlighted a few of their favorites that didn't make the cut. 

Philippa Warr: Cradle

Cradle, like Deadly Premonition, is wonky but fascinating and stays with you for years. It's a transhumanist puzzler where you try to repair a mechanical girl who is also a vase in a yurt on the Mongolian steppe next to an abandoned theme park which dispenses block-based minigames.

Joe Donnelly: Kentucky Route Zero

Kentucky Route Zero is wonderful. Its storylines are weird and interesting. Its minimalist art style is gorgeous. Its sprawling open road and Mark Twain-esque Echo River are a joy to explore. Its cast of characters are quirky and often funny. And it's not even finished. Look for its final act this year.

Bo Moore: Prey

The first 20 minutes of Prey form one of the most inspired sci-fi set pieces of recent memory. An immersive sim that offers fantastic problem solving, enjoyable enough combat (even if the enemies are a bit uninspired), and, true to its pedigree, a level of environmental storytelling that rivals Rapture.

Steven Messner: Slay the Spire

This deckbuilding roguelike isn't out of Early Access and already I've sunk more hours into it than I’d care to admit. It's a deceptively simple game that anyone can easily pick up and play, but learning to build the perfect deck—and getting all the lucky drops to pull it off—can make hours vanish.

Tyler Wilde: Chess Ultra

For online chess, I recommend Chess.com. But if you want to relax with a few AI games, Chess Ultra has many of the features of pro chess software without the complexity. It's for people who just want to play chess, and it works wonderfully. The Twitch integration and VR support are cool, too.

Chris Livingston: Duskers

Issue text commands to drones to steer them around abandoned space stations where terrifying aliens lurk. You can only see what your drones see, giving Duskers a spooky found-footage feel. It's a scary and surprising roguelike where everything going wrong is as much fun as everything going right.

Tom Senior: Thief Gold

It's surprising how well 1998's Thief still holds up. It's tense and atmospheric, and the labyrinthine levels feel huge, substantial and ambitious even today. It's punishing, and the spindly NPCs look kind of ridiculous now, but I still get the fear when I snipe out a torch with a water arrow, hoping that nobody sees it.

Phil Savage: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun

A stealth puzzler that's not afraid to make you wait. You embark on missions throughout Edo period Japan, silently breaking into well-guarded strongholds using wits, patience and an adorable raccoon dog. Deep, tactical and rewardingly tricky.

Andy Kelly: Else Heart.Break()

In a digitised world, anything can be hacked. That’s the premise of else Heart.Break(), a unique game about love, freedom, and cybercrime. You can hack objects to change how they behave. Hero Sebastian uses his newfound coding skills to join a gang of hacktivists.

Evan Lahti: Oxygen Not Included

The intricate systems-maths of a sim wrapped in the handmade charm of a Klei game. Within hours of starting a new colony, you're optimizing airflow and figuring out the right number of toilets to fertilize your plants. It's still in Early Access, but this is already my favorite ant farm on PC.

Samuel Roberts: Assassin's Creed Origins

I'm not traditionally a fan of Ubisoft’s series, but almost everything here, from world layout to combat to quest structure, has been revamped. I think everyone should see this open world before they die. It's a staggering creation.

James Davenport: Stories Untold

Using a computer shouldn't be scary, but Stories Untold makes it so. The fidelity of the keys and knobs draws you into its world. Sitting at your computer while the protagonists are tormented by their own makes the events of these four short stories feel more real and unnerving. 

Half-Life 2

The best Half-Life 2 singleplayer mods pull from other games. Silent Hill, Mission: Impossible, The Stanley Parable, Half-Life 1 and… Super Mario? MobilityMod's Mobility Mod for Half-Life 2 lets you dispose of enemies by bouncing on their heads—just like Nintendo's iconic Italian plumber.    

In the same way Pulse Rifle fodder vaporises enemy Combine soldiers, the Mobility Mod makes quick work of baddies by way of head bashing.

A year in the making, creator MobilityMod says they "probably will" release the mod's source code at some point down the line, and that they're also likely to eventually support Episode 1 and 2. Likewise, while it'd be cool, the creator has no plans to incorporate multiplayer—and instead suggests checking out Titanfall 2's "excellent multiplayer". 

It's no surprise then, as teased in the above footage, that the Mobility Mod is inspired by Titanfall 2. It allows double-jumps, powerslides, wall-runs, ledge climbing, airboat rockers (similar to the shooter's Acolyte rockets), the ability to 'cook' grenades, and exploding bullets among other things.

More on all of that can be found via the mod's ModDB page.Cheers, Kotaku

Half-Life 2

Last year Marc Laidlaw published a Half-Life 2: Episode 3 synopsis. Named 'Epistle 3', it contained similarly-named, gender-swapped characters from HL2 and explored the ex-Valve writer's vision of what might have been. Speaking to our sister site GamesRadar, Half-Life 2 writer Chet Faliszek says he was "surprised" by his one-time colleague's decision to publish his ideas.   

"I'll let Marc speak for that," Faliszek tells GR. "I… I was surprised by it coming out. I'll let Marc speak for that."

Faliszek joined Worlds Adrift developer Bossa Studios last September, and wrote on Portal and Left 4 Dead way back when. Despite also writing for Half-Life 2, he tells GamesRadar he's never felt inclined to speculate about the game's elusive third episode—and even if he did, videogames are the work of entire teams, not individuals.  

"I think one of the things when you’re working in a company [like Valve] is the realisation that there’s a whole bunch of people working on things," says Faliszek, "and sometimes people would falsely equate me [as a spokesman] since I was out doing press or something and that’s BS. 

"There’s a whole bunch of people working on it, and it’s their group ownership of it that keeps it going. A million people with names you don’t know, that are more instrumental on that game that made it better, funnier, more interesting. At this point, I’m a fan, and waiting to see what's going to come out of it."

Read Laidlaw's Episode 3 fanfic here, and know that while we might never see Half-Life 2: Episode 3/Half-Life 3, this Half-Life mod will let you replace Gordon Freeman with Spyro the Dragon

As reported by Chris, this mod from Blendo Games lets you play Marc Laidlaw's Half-Life 2: Episode 3 synopsis, kind of

Half-Life 2

This weekend, we've asked the PC Gamer writers about the upcoming games that have made them the most excited over the years, sometimes from reading ancient issues of our own magazine. You'll find a mix of old and new games in here, and we'd love to hear your choices in the comments below too. 

We've also thrown in some answers from subscribers to the PC Gamer Club membership program via our exclusive Discord channel. Find out more about the PC Gamer Club here.

Tyler Wilde: Max Payne

I remember reading a preview in PC Gamer which stated that you could go from an indoor environment to an outdoor environment seamlessly—and in New York City! That was really all it took to get me hyped. I was a Quake 2 map maker, and the best you could really do there is have an outdoor area with a skybox surrounded by architecture. The idea that I could walk around inside an NYC apartment building, and then walk right outside into the street was huge to me (and with physics!). I was getting tired of sci-fi settings at the time, too. In the late-90s and early 2000s, even most historical war shooters were mods (this is before MoHAA and Call of Duty) and there wasn't a lot of modern day stuff (there was Rainbow Six, but that wasn't really up my alley). So I was playing a lot of Action Quake 2 (a mod that attempted to turn Q2 into a modern day action movie) and watching movies like Enemy of the State and Rush Hour and wondering why games weren't reflecting that stuff. And of course I'd seen The Matrix. So Max Payne became my obsession after I read that preview—the only game I wanted. I don't recall feeling let down at all when it came out.


Evan Lahti: Starsiege: Tribes

Image source: MobyGames

I owned Starsiege: Tribes for a full year before I had internet. I had the instruction manual, which featured generous descriptions of the Diamond Sword, Blood Angels, and other factions. I had the CD-ROM, but all I could access were a handful of dull tutorials and some demo files (replays, basically) of the developers playing real matches—just another way that Tribes was years ahead of its time, now that I think about it. I bided my time, writing fan fiction of imaginary battles. I don't know if a game has ever built up in my mind so much... and then actually delivered on the fantasy I'd cultivated in my mind. Tribes was the first shooter I'd played with bases—the whole concept of bases with tunnels, generators, turrets, and infrastructure that could be attacked and defended was so cool to me in '98-'99. It paved the way for addictions to stuff like Unreal Tournament's Assault mode in '99, which, thankfully, featured bots. 

Tim Clark: Operation Wolf

The one which springs immediately to mind is Operation Wolf on Amstrad CPC 6128,  a conversion of the arcade game which had a big metal Uzi strapped to the cabinet. I first played it on Eastbourne Pier (sadly RIP), during a visit to my grandparents (even more sadly RIP). As this would have been around the time of Arnie's Imperial Phase—ie Commando and The Terminator—the chance for a young boy to go hog wild on 8-Bit sprites with a bucking SMG left a sizable impression. Once I learned it was coming to computers I was basically beside myself. I would spend literally hours staring at the paltry couple of screenshots in my copy of Amstrad Action which contained the preview. And when the game finally landed months later? It was okay I guess. Turns out the fun really was in the Uzi. 

Philippa Warr: Skyrim

I pre-ordered Skyrim based on my love of Oblivion. (Don't pre-order, kids). I actually booked a week off my non-games journalism job to luxuriate in it. It was okay, but I realised after booting it up that what I'd really wanted was more Oblivion. Skyrim felt too different—it wasn't cosy or weird in the ways I liked it being weird. I mean, there was no speechcraft minigame—how do you have conversations with people if you can't manipulate a pie? And why was it so big? And why wasn't I massively overpowered through hundreds of hours of wandering about? Actually, thinking about it, these are pretty much the same complaints I have about Destiny 2. It's not Destiny 1 but I'd really like it to be. Anyway, that week off work ended up involving very little Skyrim and a lot of finding things to do in London in the middle of November. 

Chris Livingston: Half-Life 2

It's probably boring to say Half-Life 2 which feels like my answer to most "What game did you X or Y or Z" questions, but it's definitely Half-Life 2. And that was a hell of a long wait, plenty of time to get excited and disappointed and excited again. Remember the early gameplay footage of the strider (see above)? It's probably the video I've watched the most in my lifetime apart from maybe Bob's New Boots. I studied it the way investigators studied the Zapruder film. As a follow-up to Half-Life it seemed impossible that HL2 could actually be better but there was also the possibility that it somehow could be better. I pre-loaded it and stayed up late to unlock it and of course Steam went down for a while and I couldn't play it, and by 3 am (with work at 7 am) I had managed to play like 20 minutes of it. I guess I should have taken a week off like Pip did. 

Andy Kelly: GTA 5

Of the many trailers released in the run-up to V's launch, it was this one that really sent my excitement spinning into overdrive. Moody synth music and atmospheric shots of Los Santos give way to a detailed, narrated breakdown of (almost) everything you can do in the game. It's a great format for a trailer, and I'm surprised more developers haven't stolen it.

Compared to the cinematic trailers it actually gives you a sense of how the game will play, and I watched it so many times, dreaming of finally getting my hands on it. I've been writing about videogames for my entire adult life, and while some people in this line of work get gradually more jaded over time, I'm glad I can still get excited about a new Grand Theft Auto. I hope GTA VI, whatever that turns out to be and whenever it gets announced, gives me the same feeling.

Andy Chalk: Wing Commander

A friend of mine, who had previously shown no interest in PCs or videogames, decided one day to jump into it with both feet, buying himself a hot setup with a massive 19" monitor and a super-sweet Gravis joystick. I went over one night and he was playing this amazing deep space combat sim with all these different types of ships and weapons, wingman interactions, and incredible between-mission interludes where he was talking to people and climbing a kill board and socializing and doing stuff, and WOW! It was called Wing Commander, and I had to have it. And I did! Took a while—no Steam back in those days, kids—and I recall that my own rig didn't run it nearly as well as his. But damn, it was good—totally lived up to the self-induced hype. Shame about the rest of the series.  

Jarred Walton: Baldur's Gate 2

I've sort of fallen out of love with D&D games, but for most of my early years and into my twenties, I devoured anything and everything D&D. I played the tabletop version as well, but that took more time and often involved a lot of arguing about rules and other stuff. With the computer games, going back to the SSI Gold Box and Pool of Radiance, I didn't have to roll dice, track stats, etc. Anyway, Baldur's Gate was one of my favorite games, and when the sequel was announced I pre-ordered as soon as I was able. Thankfully it didn't disappoint.

Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn arrived on a Thursday. I skipped the remainder of my classes at uni and waited for the mail to arrive, as I had paid extra for express shipping. As soon as the box arrived I commenced the install process. I also had the foresight to stock up on Mt. Dew, Dr. Pepper, and Totino's pizzas, and I barely left my room much for the next five days. I definitely didn't bother showering. I ripped through the entire game, including most side quests, by Sunday. My roommates all laughed at my insanity, but two of them were secretly just jealous. The only real casualty was my grades.

Samuel Roberts: GTA 5

Like Andy, it was GTA 5 for me. It promised GTA 4's detail crossed with the openness of San Andreas. I kept thinking about that idea for months after watching the above trailer, which when the Lazer jet flies over Los Santos for one brief moment near the end, made me do a little somersault inside my brain. 

I was so hyped, in fact, that I audaciously booked a meeting room for two whole days at my old workplace while I reviewed it. More important people with folders and computers would walk past, looking for a place to meet, and see me in there with my legs practically up on the table while I shot down police helicopters on a giant TV. That's what meeting rooms are for. 

Some choices from the PC Gamer Club

Thanks to those who contributed this week via the PC Gamer Club Discord. User Imbaer says, "Vermintide 2 for me. I played Vermintide 1 for close to 1700 hours so when they announced Vermintide 2 I pre-ordered it as soon as it was possible pretty much (one of the rare cases where I pre-ordered a game). I was right to be excited because Vermintide 2 ended up being my main game now instead and I still play it regularly to this day."

User Marko goes for Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord. "I'd say Bannerlord is the game I've been the most excited about ever since its announcement because I spent more than two thousand hours playing the multiplayer of its predecessor (Warband), and the prospect of a game like Warband but bigger, better looking, more advanced, moddable etc. seems like potentially the greatest game ever to me." Topperfalkon adds this: "Also Bannerlord for me. I love Warband and the general idea behind it, but stuff like sieges were janky as shit in Warband, hoping when Bannerlord finally does come we'll be able to see the improvements."

Here's a neat one from Logicbomb82: "In response to your question, It was Pirates of the Burning Sea in 2005. Sid Meier's Pirates in MMO form with more features! I was beyond excited. The Flying Labs teams was at Gencon and I met with them and got some sweet swag. They took my email address down and said they'd send me a beta key, which they did. Still got the mug! :)" A picture was included of the mug, which we've cropped here to fit our website:

User Truzen opts for playing Minecraft in the year 2018. "Yeah, I know it's been out for quite some time, but because it's not on any of the storefronts (Steam, Origin, etc), I would always forget about it. Just picked it up today and installing it as we speak, but I'm excited to play the game that arguably mainstreamed survival crafting. Plus it'll be interesting to experience something that has become part of the Maker/Computer Science community."

Finally, here's a cool story from user WinD about The Witcher 2. "The most excited I have been for a game release has to be when I received an email from the office of Adam Badowski, Head of CD Projekt RED studio on the 17th of September 2009. Inside was included full press access with an FTP username and password. Below that information was a message that read, 'We deeply value your continued support of our game The Witcher. You posted one of the first North American video reviews for The Witcher and continued with numerous playthrough videos on YouTube. You have been selected as a CD Projekt Red 'Community Influencer'. With this title comes great responsibility to report the rewards within the FTP directories to the world.  Duettaeánn aef cirrán Cáerme Gláeddyv. Yn á esseáth. vatt'ghern twe. a'taeghane aen'drean aép 'FTP' glosse evn'gesaen y Temeria.'

"This is in the Elder Tongue / Elvish language used in The Witcher, no translation had been given although I was able to figure it out from a Polish website dedicated to the book series and game. 'The Sword of Destiny has two edges. You are one of them. The Witcher 2 today enter in to (the) 'FTP' to look and watch. Ambassador of Temeria.' We really want to hear what you and your friends think about our game, that is why we have given you hi-quality assets intended for editors from gaming media. On the FTP server you will find a brand new video, screenshots and documents you might use in your work. We would appreciate it if you would spread the word using your own social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc.).  

va faill (farewell) 

Adam Badowski, Head of CD Projekt RED studio.'

Inside the FTP was the debut trailer for The Witcher 2 alongside screenshots and documentation regarding the REDengine. I was so excited I could not wait to spread the word and to eventually get the play the game. Although I had to wait quite a while (May 17th, 2011), the wait was worth it. The Witcher 2 became my all time favorite role-playing game. I have played The Witcher 2 nine times twice using Nvidia 3D Vision which in my opinion is the best example of Nvidia 3D Vision. I built a brand new PC for the release of the game and it was not until 2012 that I upgraded SLI GPUs and could play the game on the very demanding UberSampling option. While The Witcher 3 had me more excited and surpassed The Witcher 2 as my favorite RPG, this was a special and personal reveal of the game for me. I've never had a feeling that could quite emulate that experience."

Half-Life 2

Earlier this week, we asked you to tell us the last physical copy of a PC game you bought, while sharing our own choices. Today, as a kind of sequel to that question, we ask, what was the first downloadable game you bought on PC

In the PC Gamer Q&A, we ask the global PC Gamer team for their thoughts on a particular subject, then invite you to add your thoughts in the comments below. We'll also feature a few answers from the PC Gamer Club Discord, accessible to anyone who's a part of our membership program.

You'll find our answers below, and we'd love to hear what your first paid downloadable game was too. 

Jarred Walton: Half-Life 2

I'll take the easy route on this one, because it's also true: Half-Life 2 was the first downloadable game I bought. I also played Counter-Strike 1.6 on the platform (including using the Steam beta), but that was a mod for Half-Life so I didn't pay for it. Anyway, HL2 required Steam, so what else was I going to do? I'm old enough that having a credit card and high-speed internet back in 2004 wasn't a problem, and I was luckier than some, in that Steam worked basically without a hitch for me. Sure, there were a few outages, but I don't recall them ever really affecting me. 

I played (and benchmarked) Half-Life 2 all the way to the end in the first week or so after its release, and I thought the convenience of downloading a game was pretty awesome. Others hated the idea, but I don't think any of us could have guessed how huge Steam would become over the next decade. It went from a place where you bought Valve games and maybe a few others, to eventually becoming the virtual storefront for 95 percent of all the games I own. No wonder EA, Ubisoft, and Activision want a piece of that pie.

Jody Macgregor: Uplink

I kept buying boxed copies of games for ages because slow Australian internet made downloading them a hassle, until I got into small indie games that wouldn't bust my data limit. The first was Uplink, which let me live out the fantasy of being an elite computer hacker and also the fantasy of having really fast internet.

It's designed to make you feel like you're in the movie Sneakers, and for a while it did. Like every other hacking game I've tried—games like Hack 'n' Slash, and else.Heart.Break()—it eventually started to feel like work instead of fun. Now when I want to pretend I'm a hacker I just go to hackertyper.net. What it did get me into was playing more small, personal projects and I found plenty of those to love. The next two were Atom Zombie Smasher and Audiosurf, both of which became favorites.

Samuel Roberts: Audiosurf

Right when rhythm action games were blowing up on console, but tended to focus on guitar music that I didn't really like and plastic controllers that took up way too much space in a single person's bedroom, a friend explained how there was a rhythm action game where you could play your own songs. The novelty of this was huge to me. I was 20 at the time, working on a PlayStation magazine, and I didn't really have the cash for a good PC, having wasted hundreds of pounds on a PS3 I needed for work—which broke a year later. Sigh. At least I got to play Uncharted, I suppose. Eventually, my parents bought me an okayish laptop, and one of the first things I did was download Audiosurf on Steam. 

It was pretty amazing, to upload my favourite tracks into the game and to have so many cool and challenging ways to play them, along with leaderboards. This was one of the first PC games of the modern era that really showed me why playing on PC was better—both in terms of the variety of games available, and the experiences that only PC could give you. If I wanted to play the theme tune from Max Payne 2 in a rhythm action game, I could do it, damn it! 

Now I own close to 1000 games across Steam, GOG, uPlay, Battle.net and Origin, and I don't know why I've done that to myself. 

James Davenport: SiN Episodes

Remember the short-lived SiN Episodes reboot? I can't remember why I chose to make that my first digital purchase rather than, say, Half-Life 2, but it was. It was this whole ordeal. I didn't have a credit card and Steam bucks weren't really a thing back then, so I went to a friend's house (hey, Anton, I'll find that copy of Kingdom Hearts and return it as soon as I can) just to ask their older sister to let me use hers. Digital game marketplaces were a new concept back then, and she didn't play many games anyway, so it 100-percent came off as a con. 

Your little brother's good friend rolls in with wearing the edgiest Linkin Park t-shirt he could find at Goodwill, then asks, under his breath, to borrow your credit card to purchase something from "Steam" called "Sin". My ma had just started preaching at the local Presbyterian church and everyone knew it, so the look Anton's sister threw my way had me worried her eyes might pop out. Not sure why she agreed in the end, but thanks, Roxie. Only had dial-up internet at the time, so my parents paid for it next with a phone line that wouldn't put a call through for a day or two. And when I finally played Episode 1, the only episode ever released, I remember feeling like all the trouble was worth it. The novelty of a game floating somewhere in the ether that I could call mine and play from any computer was incredibly empowering. Bit of a shit game, but SiN Episode 1 got me hooked on Steam, and set me right in the path of innumerable indie games I would have missed otherwise. 

Phil Savage: Prey, the original one

I spent most of my 2000s dealing with a laptop that became too hot to handle after just 20 minutes of Command & Conquer: Generals. As such, the advent of Steam passed me by—if it wasn't a sedate isometric strategy game or RPG, I wasn't prepared to suffer the third-degree burns required to play it. In 2008, though, I got a real job and saved enough money to buy a desktop PC. I downloaded Steam, fully intending to finally play Half-Life 2. Instead, I ran face first into a Steam sale. Prey was on offer for about £3. I didn't know what it was, or if it was any good, but at that price how could I not immediately buy it?

It was good. Prey is far from amazing, but if you don't know any better—for instance if you hadn't played an FPS since Quake because your last decade had been spent ordering many sprites to gib many orcs in the various Infinity Engine RPGs—it looked spectacular. I also bought Audiosurf on the same day, because everyone bought Audiosurf in 2008.

Chris Livingston: Half-Life 2, probably

My Steam purchase history only goes back to 2007 for some reason, but I have to assume it was Half-Life 2. I remember staying up late to unlock it. It launched fine, and I remember seeing those Combine metrocops walking around on the menu screen. Instead of playing, though, I decided to change a couple graphics options, and then had to restart. And that's when Steam completely tanked. I couldn't get back in. I missed my window to play a game I'd been waiting years for, and after about three hours of not being able to connect, I just had to give up and go to sleep because I had work in the morning. I'm sure glad that 15 years later games no longer have launch day issues, huh? Huh?

The PC Gamer Club

We got a few answers from the Club Discord, so thanks all who responded. "I'm pretty sure my first digital game was Mass Effect 1 &2 in 2010 because I'm old and until that point I always got games from a store," says user IronGnomee. "A podcast I listened to at the time was always saying how amazing Commander Shepard was so I finally tried it out." 

"As far as I can remember, it would be The Orange Box," says user Buttface Jones in Discord. "I had played PC games before TOB, like Quake, Command and Conquer, and WoW but always from a disc. I bought TOB on Xbox and fell in love with TF2, despite how bad and limited the Xbox version was. I eventually got fed up and downloaded Steam specifically to play 'the real TF2'."

User Buttz says Garry's Mod on Steam. Imbaer adds, "Orange box in 2008 for me." Fellow user erdelf adds "Stargate Resistance honestly, before that I bought games in the store or played f2p online games." 

Let us know the first downloadable game you bought below!

Half-Life 2

Former Valve writer Marc Laidlaw outlined his ideas for the story of Half-Life 2: Episode 3 last August, a bizarre, bare-bones tale of a research vessel in the Antarctic that's phasing in and out of time and space. That led a team of die-hard fans to launch an effort to bring Laidlaw's vision to life in the form of Project Borealis, named after the ship at the center of Laidlaw's story. 

The team announced today that its first-draft take on Laidlaw's tale, which was at roughly the half-way point at the end of 2017, is now complete—and work has come along far enough that it has also released a short "in-engine" video showcasing weapons, movement, and flashlight animations. 

"The writing team has taken the plot points outlined in Marc Laidlaw’s Epistle 3 and fleshed out the details and gameplay elements into a full and engaging script," the Project Borelias team wrote. "Since finishing this first draft, the rest of the team have had the opportunity to give constructive feedback, and the writing team is now working on incorporating some of those suggestions into a second draft."

Gordon Freeman's animations are working well, on the same timing as in the original games but with "some subtle flair of our own." Early levels are on the process of being blocked out for preliminary testing, and "huge strides" are being made in the creation of new environmental assets. Work on rendering techniques, physics updates, a graphics settings menu, and a new sound system are also underway.

There's a bit of new concept art to look at too, including a few images of an updated Combine Elite helmet and Alyx in some winter duds.

It's still a very long way from complete (and you should probably temper any "play it soon" hopes you may be holding onto: If there's one thing we've learned over the years, it's that large scale fan projects are slow going) but with the project picking up speed, the mod team is also looking to fill some spots. If you have relevant experience and want to get involved, you can sign up for some action on the Project Borealis recruitment page

Half-Life 2

Oh, snap! It's yet another PCG Q&A, where every Saturday we ask the panel of PC Gamer writers a question about PC gaming. You're also very welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below. This week: which game actually lived up to the hype?

Jody Macgregor: The Witcher 3

I hated the first Witcher game, and although the second one's an improvement in a lot of ways I still thought most of it was dull—apart from the bit where you get drunk and wake up with a tattoo, obviously. So when glowing reviews came out for The Witcher 3 I ignored them. There was plenty of other stuff to play in 2015: Tales From the Borderlands, Rocket League, Life is Strange, Pillars of Eternity, Devil Daggers, Her Story. I was busy.

It took a solid year's worth of articles about how incredible every aspect of The Witcher 3 was, from the side quests to the potion-making to the characters to the wind in the goddamn trees, before I finally caved and tried it. Everyone was right, it's now on my "best games of all time" list, and I've become one of those people who says you should turn the music down so you can hear the wind in Velen. There's an entire subreddit devoted to whinging about games journalism's never-ending love affair with writing about The Witcher 3, but without that constant praise I wouldn't have pushed past my disinterest to give it the chance it deserved. And now I've become one of those people who won't shut up about The Witcher 3.

Samuel Roberts: Metal Gear Solid V

Not everyone will agree with this one, but I've lived through multiple Metal Gear hype cycles (MGS2 and MGS4 most memorably), and this is the one game that really deserved it. While this Metal Gear has the worst story in the series by far, it's also a superior stealth game. With its suite of upgrades and repeatable missions, I easily played MGSV for over 100 hours, and I have no doubt I'll reinstall it someday. 

Chris Livingston: Portal 2

I think the original Portal was a near-perfect experience. You learned to play as you played and each test chamber increased in complexity at a rate that was challenging but never frustrating. It was funny and surprising and satisfying, and short enough that it didn't have time to wear out its welcome. When trailers for Portal 2 began appearing, I was just as excited as anyone else, though I wasn't really expecting to love it in the same way. More complex, more characters, more story, more puzzles, more more more. I just couldn't imagine it matching the original, which proved (to me at least) that less is more.

It definitely lived up to the hype, though. Portal 2 is amazing, funny, challenging, surprising, and every bit as brilliant as the first. Maybe it's still true that less is more, but that doesn't mean more is less.

Jarred Walton: Half-Life 2

Piggybacking off Chris here, Half-Life 2 was an incredible follow-up to one of the best (if not the best) games of the '90s. The original Half-Life surprised the hell out of me with ways it changed the first-person shooter. After playing a ton of Quake and Quake 2, story seemed to be an afterthought, but Half-Life revolutionized the genre. Okay, the Xen levels at the end almost ruined it, but I still wanted more.

And then I waited, waited, and waited some more. Daikatana proved that games too long in development could suck, and HL2 felt like it might be doomed to the same fate. But with the addition of the gravity gun and physics, plus a great setting and story that made you care about the characters, it exceeded its source material in every way. I'm still holding out hope for HL3, naturally, but those are some massive shoes to fill.

Tom Senior: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

I was dangerously excited when a new Deus Ex was announced. I was hyped to the extent that it would have really stung if a new Deus Ex fell well short of expectations. Human Revolution had a few problems, but it was exactly the atmospheric cyberpunk playground I wanted and the art direction added a new dimension to the Deus Ex universe. Due to the technological limitations of the era the old Deus Ex games struggled to show art or architecture (apart from that silly Earth-in-a-giant-claw statue at the start). Human Revolution decided that everything would be gold, and full of triangles, and its depiction of futuristic augments was gorgeous. I would quite like a pair of Jensen arms.

Human Revolution really got Deus Ex. It had hacking, vents, and intricate levels. But it also had something else, something new: retractable arm-swords. Not many people would look at the groundbreaking masterpiece of Deus Ex and think 'this needs retractable arm-swords', but Eidos Montreal had the vision to make retractable arm-swords happen. I will always respect them for that. 

Andy Kelly: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

I remember the buzz around Vice City vividly. Every time I saw that stylish advert on TV, the one with 'I Ran' by Flock of Seagulls, I got a tingle of excitement. Magazines were full of gushing previews, treating every morsel of information like it was the biggest scoop since Watergate. And then when it came out, it was everything I dreamed it would be. A bigger, more detailed city. An incredible soundtrack. More fun and varied missions. A better story. An all-star cast. HELICOPTERS. Being able to fly around a city of that size back then was a genuine thrill.

GTA III was great, but it felt like an experiment in places; a concept for what a 3D Grand Theft Auto game could be. But Vice City was the first time Rockstar really nailed it, and laid a solid foundation for the 3D era of their world-conquering series. The '80s (or at least some exaggerated, romanticised version of it) has begun to saturate pop culture to an annoying degree lately, so I can't see Rockstar returning to that setting. It's too obvious. But I would like to see Vice City again in a different, more contemporary era, perhaps showing the bleak, faded aftermath of its hedonistic '80s heyday.

Andy Chalk: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The first time I saw this teaser I made a noise like a ten-year-old opening the latest issue of Tiger Beat. Then I saw this teaser, and I pretty much hyperventilated and passed out. I knew in my heart that DX: Human Revolution couldn't be that good, because Deus Ex was lightning in a bottle: Ugly, clunky, with terrible voice acting and a ridiculous, incoherent story, all of which somehow got smushed together into basically the best game ever made. How do you fall down a flight of stairs and land in a bed of roses twice? 

But then Human Revolution came out, and it was that good. Not perfect, and I will never not be mad about those boss fights. But Adam Jensen is the perfect successor (predecessor, I suppose) to JC Denton, I loved the visual style (including the piss filter) and the music (because it's not Deus Ex without a great soundtrack), and the whole thing just felt right: Not as off-the-conspiracy-theory-hook as the original, but big and sprawling and unpredictable—a legitimate point of entry into that world. It took more than a decade to get from Deus Ex to Human Revolution, and it was worth the wait. 

Half-Life 2

Gabe Newell gives a presentation at Valve about upcoming card game Artifact.

At a presentation for upcoming Dota 2-themed card game Artifact at Valve's offices in Bellevue, Washington today, Gabe Newell reiterated that Valve is getting back into developing new games beyond its current roster of multiplayer titles. After talking about Valve's focus on Steam and hardware during the past several years, which he described as "an investment in the future", Newell said "Artifact is the first of several games that are going to be coming from us. So that's sort of good news. Hooray! Valve's going to start shipping games again."

That's games, plural: Artifact isn't the only game Valve is working on. In a January 2017 Reddit AMA, Newell did confirm that Valve was working on at least one fully-fledged singleplayer game. And the following month, in roundtable interviews with PC Gamer, Newell said that Valve was working on "three big VR games." Today's statement doesn't make it 100 percent clear whether Valve has projects in development beyond these previously mentioned games, but it is a possibility. "We aren't going to be talking about it today," Newell said, "but sort of the big thing, the new arrow we have in our quiver, really, is our ability to develop hardware and software simultaneously."

Newell gave some background on Valve's projects from the last few years, like SteamVR and the Vive headset, explaining that the company was worried about the PC heading in the direction of an iPhone-esque closed ecosystem. "You can see that Microsoft was like, wow, how can we make Windows more like that? Or Zuckerberg is saying, 'well I tried to compete in the phones, I got my ass kicked, so I'm going to create this new thing, VR, which will allow me to recreate the kind of closed, high margin ecosystem that Apple's done.' And that really started to worry us, because we thought that the strength of the PC is about its openness … So we started to make some investments to offset that."

"We've always been a little bit jealous of companies like Nintendo."

Gabe Newell

Those investments, Newell said, meant they hadn't released a new game since Dota 2—but that work wasn't wasted time. "The positive thing about the Vive is, in addition to making sure that nobody created an iOS closed platform for it, was also that it gave us the opportunity to develop our in-house expertise in hardware design. Five years ago, we didn't have electrical engineers and people who know how to do robots. Now there's pretty much no project in the hardware space that we wouldn't be comfortable taking on. We can design chips if we need to, we can do industrial design, and so on. So that added to that."

With Valve's new hardware chops, it seems like we can expect more than new games from the company. "We've always been a little bit jealous of companies like Nintendo," Newell said. "When Miyamoto is sitting down and thinking about the next version of Zelda or Mario, he's thinking what is the controller going to look like, what sort of graphics and other capabilities. He can introduce new capabilities like motion input because he controls both of those things. And he can make the hardware look as good as possible because he's designing the software at the same time that's really going to take advantage of it. So that is something we've been jealous of, and that's something that you'll see us taking advantage of subsequently."


Search news
Jul   Jun   May   Apr   Mar   Feb  
Archives By Year
2019   2018   2017   2016   2015  
2014   2013   2012   2011   2010  
2009   2008   2007   2006   2005  
2004   2003   2002