Over the past couple of months, I’ve attempted to capture my top 100 PC games of all time. As I mentioned at the beginning of this journey, I made no attempt to rank these games — I simply don’t believe it is possible and is ultimately a meaningless affair. Even for myself, what I consider to be “number 1” can change from week to week depending on what sort of mood I’m in.
One thing I’ve learnt, from a writer’s perspective, is to plan ahead when doing these sorts of articles, and this is something I did not do. I had a rough outline of the games I wanted to include, but as I wrote these articles over several months, I started to remember a few games I’d forgotten to include. This had the effect of bumping a few of my previous picks off the list — something that is very hard to do when you are emotionally invested in these games due to the impact they’ve had on your life.
Another thing I did was not leave myself sufficient room in the latter half of the countdown. Remember when you were about eight years old, and you had to write your name on something in big, block letters? Inevitably, the first few letters of your name would take up 70% of the space on the paper, with the remainder having to be squeezed into the last 30%. I basically did the gaming countdown version of this — I wanted to save some of my favourites until the end, and what I ended up doing was not leaving myself enough space to cover them all.
Last of all, there are the games that are simply too new for me to make any definitive call on whether they will stand the test of time. These games are brilliant, and have incredible potential, but only time will tell if they stand the test of time.
So in this article, I’ll highlight some games that, for a variety of reasons, missed out on the Top 100. I hope you enjoy!
The ones that were ripped off…
These games really should have made it, and I kind of regret not giving them the recognition they deserve.
- Spec Ops: The Line (Yager Development, 2012): I don’t know how I missed this one. At first appearance, it seems like just another soulless action game, but what actually unfolds is a cerebral and brooding commentary on choice, violence, player agency and PTSD, portrayed through the lens of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
- Deus Ex (Ion Storm, 2000): This one was definitely ripped off. Warren Spector’s magnum opus stunned the industry with its intricate plot and hybrid of genres. I didn’t spend as much time with this one as I did with Human Revolution, but the game’s overall influence over the industry is worthy of recognition.
- System Shock 2 (Irrational Games, Looking Glass Studios, 1999): The sequel to Warren Spector’s System Shock, this is a brilliant sci-fi game that perfectly combines RPG and FPS mechanics. The persistent aura of dread, punctuated with moments of outright horror, is a terrifying experience not to be missed.
- Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance (Totally Games, 1999): The final game in the classic era of the X-Wing series, I spent endless hours in the excellent campaign, and even more hours playing online in the LSF League as part of the Empire’s Marauder Wing clan.
- FreeSpace 2 (Volition, 1999): Hands down, one of the best mission-based spacesims ever made. The plot is epic, the visuals are breathtaking and the scale of the starships is staggering. Unmissable for fans of the genre.
- Thief: The Dark Project (Looking Glass Studios, 1998): Another Warren Spector game, this “first-person sneaker” bucked genre trends by encouraging players to avoid combat at all costs, giving rise to widespread adoption of stealth mechanics in PC games. Thief and it’s sequel, Thief II: The Metal Age are excellent games that hold quite well today, and live on through their spiritual successor, the Dishonored series.
- Ultima Underworld (Blue Sky Productions, 1992): Yet another Warren Spector game, this Ultima offshoot is credited as influencing possibly more games than any other. An amazing dungeon romp with phenomenonal freedom and depth for its era, and an absolute work of art.
- The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall (Bethesda Softworks, 1996): Daggerfall is the game that first truly defined The Elder Scrolls. And absolutely enormous world (equivalent to the British Isles in size) with endless quests, dungeons and villages. Truly epic in scope.
- Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (Obsidian Entertainment, 2018): The original Pillars of Eternity heralded the return of Infinity Engine style RPGs, and introduced the lovingly crafted world of Eora. But it was Deadfire that really made that world come to life. It’s also admirable for being one of the only games to showcase a world inspired by Polynesian culture, rather than the somewhat overused European mythology. I’m not sure how I missed this one, because Pillars of Eternity is a really great series that deserves a place in the top 100.
The ones that almost made it…
These are the games that almost made the countdown, and on another day might have done so if I’d been in the right mood.
- Quake II (id Software, 1997): Quake II did so much right, and I played an absolute tonne of it. But it also represented a series in transition. It didn’t have the innovative influence of Quake, nor did it herald a new era like Quake III. Still, it’s a very, very good game. And it has one of the best soundtracks ever.
- SiN (Ritual Entertainment, 1998): SiN was a bit of a buggy mess on release, and it wasn’t exactly revolutionary. But it is notable for the fact that it combined a Half-Life style interactive world with the satisfying action of Quake 2. It was also full of subtle humour parodying the hyper-masculine tone of its shooter contemporaries. Everything is cheesy and over the top, such as the name of the central law enforcement body — Hard Corps.
- Civilization IV (Firaxis Games, 2005) Civ 4 is probably the peak of the Civilization series, and it perfected every aspect of the Civ formula. In doing so, however, it restricted itself to that same formula. A brilliant game, but not quite the revolution that Civ 2 had been.
- Battlefield 2 (DICE, 2005): In my mind, Battlefield 2 was the last great objective-based multiplayer shooter before the genre experience a big decline that is only recently improving thanks to games like Squad, Hold Fast and Post Scriptum. Battlefield 2 played up to the zeitgeist of its era — it was released in 2005, at the height of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Railroad Tycoon II (PopTop Software, 2000): An incredibly deep management sim, set during the golden era of rail. This follow up to Sid Meier’s original classic incorporated beautifully handcrafted graphics and an incredibly complex economy. However, I often ignored the core mission entirely, and focuses purely on creating a complex network of trains. An excellent game for fans of management sims.
- The Settlers III (Blue Byte, 1998): The Settlers III is the peak of this charming managment series, and is the perfect game to while away the hours on a rainy day. I have spent hundreds of hours managing colonies in this charming little game that is all about developing a balanced economy.
- Icewind Dale II (Black Isle Studios, 2002): The Infinity Engine’s swan song, Icewind Dale II is a brilliant RPG, a well executed interpretation of D&D 3rd Edition rules, and a thoroughly enjoyable story. Sadly, it will probably never get the Enhanced Edition treatment, as it was released in the dying years of Black Isle Studios and the source code has been lost.
- Powerslide (Ratbag Games): Powerslide was proof that Australians could compete with the best devs in the world. This is a white-knuckle, post-apocalyptic racing sim with amazing physics and graphics that still look respectable in 2020. It also has some of the most imaginative track design I’ve ever come across — one of the best tracks takes place on a disused bobsled track, ending with a massive ski jump.
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (BioWare, 2003): KOTOR is one of BioWare’s most beloved games, and took a unique approach to the source material, delving deep into the distant past of Star Wars and doing more to enrich the lore of the universe than any other game.
- Pathfinder: Kingmaker (Owlcat Games, 2018): Kingmaker is one of the best RPGs of the modern era, and is unapologetically old-school in its execution. If you grew up playing the Infinity Engine RPGs or Neverwinter Nights, then you’ll love this. Owlcat Games will be an RPG developer to watch in coming years.
- The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios, 2011): Skyrim has its issues, and I’ve previously written about how ultimately overrated it is. Simplistic RPG mechanics, a cookie-cutter story, a mostly uninspired world. But somehow, Skyrim draws you in, and the modding scene brings this game to life. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in Skyrim, and that alone means that it deserves at least some recognition.
- Grand Theft Auto 3 (DMA Design, 2001): GTA3 took the GTA series into the 3D era, a decision that would eventually revolutionise the entire industry. Although a little dated by today’s standards, GTA3 has all the hallmarks of what makes the series great, and is an interesting game to see how the series has evolved in its storytelling.
The new kids on the block…
These are the games that have real potential to be great, but I’m yet to spend enough time with them to really make the call.
- Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (Asobo Studio, 2020): The presentation and scale of this game is utterly mind-boggling, and I’ve already spent dozens of hours playing it. Whether stands the test of time remains to be seen, but what is certain is that this is a monumental achievement in game design.
- Project Warlock (Buckshot Software, 2018): An amazing achievement by a Polish teenager who developed it while still at high school, Project Warlock manages to feel like a retro classic and a refreshing new game at the same time. This is a game worth playing for any old school FPS fans.
- Fall Guys (Mediatonic, 2020): Infinitely approachable, light-hearted, honest and fun. Fall Guys is no story-driven masterpiece, but what it does do, it does incredibly well.
- Mount & Blade: Bannerlord (TaleWorlds Entertainment, Early Access 2020): Still in early access, but showing all the hallmarks of what will be a brilliant game that stands to greatly exceed it’s predecessor’s legacy. If you’re looking for a stable, bug-free experience, then this probably isn’t for you. However, keep an eye on how this game develops.