Full disclosure: I’m a card-carrying member of the PC master-race. Of course my PC gamer’s innate sense of entitlement meant I needed to shoehorn myself into the “top picks of this generation” action.
The fact that PCs don’t exactly have “generations” wasn’t about to stop me. So, to be fair to my fellow competitors (I use that word as I have vowed to destroy Miklos in page views), I’ve decided to only include PC games which were released after the PS3, that being November 2006.
Contrary to the norm, however, I didn’t have trouble trimming my list down to five. I play a lot of games, but there are very few that have a real impact on me. To make it on the list, a game had to meet the following criteria: it must have either done something to seriously impress me with its originality or brilliance, or it had to be something which I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time on. In addition, it had to be something not on Miklos’s list, because when I beat him it needs to be fair and square (F5-spamming not included). Let’s get to it.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty gets kind of a bad rap these days, but the original Modern Warfare was where it all began. It transformed the franchise into a golden-egg laying goose, one which Bobby Kotick would gleefully beat into submission every year.
Just managing to make the cut with a 2007 release, this was the game that turned the military shooter genre on its head. Clanking machine guns and iron sights were replaced with nukes and red dot optics. The introduction of the perk system and kill streak rewards completely revolutionised online multiplayer; it’s a formula which every comparable game has copied since.
After the very first mission. It was an insane, action-packed race through a sinking submarine. The floors became slippery and the camera shifted; I distinctly remember unconsciously turning my head sideways, my heartbeat accelerating as I struggled to keep moving, mowing down anyone foolish enough to get in my way. The whole thing culminates in a heroic leap for a helicopter, which finds the controls taken away from you as you see your hands scrabbling for grip before an ally grabs your wrist and pulls you to safety.
I remember pushing away from my computer, exhaling, my mouth wide open. I’d never experienced that kind of gameplay before. That loss of control, that frantic sprint and the immersion of the final quick-time event (before quick-time events were a thing). I immediately reached for my phone and SMS’d all my friends (Ah, a time before WhatsApp and BBM), telling them they needed to get this game.
I still play the multiplayer today, and I still maintain it’s the best Call of Duty game ever made.
Super Meat Boy
Somewhat less flashy than a triple-A Call of Duty title, Super Meat Boy is an indie platformer that is unapologetically difficult. If you weren’t dying several hundred times, you weren’t doing it right. No other game has ever made me hate myself for enjoying it quite like Super Meat Boy. To this day I’m not quite sure if I liked the game, or if I just liked beating it.
I’m not sure I did. I feel like I’ve fallen victim to some kind of gaming Stockholm Syndrome. SMB is a game which kept me prisoner for months, taunting me, abusing me, mocking me. That stupid little marshmallow with the beady black eyes has to be the most useless, defenceless and hopelessly kidnappable character since Princess Peach first dragged us from castle to castle, leaving behind her annoying midget to taunt us in every one.
Despite finishing the game, every now and then I load it up again just to throw my worthless self into a spinning sawblade a few hundred times; a little part of me dying inside each time.
Ah, Portal. This innocuous, quirky little puzzle game flew entirely under the radar as a bonus bundled in Valve’s Orange Box. It was quickly discovered to be one of the most original and hilarious games ever created, spawning internet memes, online communities and legions of amateur puzzle-makers.
The maps were beautifully designed and executed, and the entire concept of creating portals in order to manipulate the environment was not only a puzzle unlike any we’d ever seen, it was also pretty groundbreaking for 2007.
I think everybody fell in love with this game the second they heard the first signs of GLaDOS’s transition from helpful advisor to evil overlord. While the gameplay is sublime, what really makes this game special (and what makes me want to go back and replay it) is the brilliance of the storytelling. Despite spending the majority of the game as nothing but a disembodied voice, GLaDOS drives a sinister, darkly humourous plot with increasingly sarcastic, callous and insincere commentary. Her promises of cake became an internet favourite, as well as the protagonist’s suggested romance with the “companion cube”. GLaDOS’s increasing signs of sheer insanity are complemented by meticulous environmental detail; a little exploration reveals hidden rooms plastered with graffiti from previous “test takers”.
Honestly, the game is so simple and beautiful it’s actually hard to fault it at all. This might be the closest to perfect a game has ever come; its only possible criticism being that there just wasn’t enough of it.
I feel a bit uncomfortable putting this on my list. Perhaps it’s because it’s free-to-play and multiplayer only, and doesn’t have quite as much “substance” as the other titles that made the list. There’s no groundbreaking features here, no compelling story, no technical feats and certainly no originality. That being said, I may have spent more hours playing this game than any other. According to Steam, I’ve spent 882 hours of my life playing DotA 2. That’s essentially the same as playing your average Call of Duty campaign more than a hundred times. As unexciting a pick as it may be, it simply can’t go unrecognised.
The moment it was announced. I didn’t actually need to play the game to know it was going to ruin my life. I’d already spent several hundred hours on the original DotA, and DotA 2 was promising to keep the formula the same, right down to hiring the same guy to develop it. It was being handled by Valve; not well known for dropping the ball on this kind of thing.
All I wanted was the original game with a better engine, better graphics and the features we’d always wanted (but couldn’t get) from the aging Warcraft 3 client. And that’s exactly what was delivered.
I may be cheating here since this isn’t technically an original game, but an independent recreation of a game released in 1998. It helps that that game was Half-Life. I am a die-hard fan of the Half-Life franchise, which is a big part of the reason I spend three days at the bottom of my shower in the foetal position every time someone mentions Half-Life 3.
Black Mesa is a mod which spent an impressive 8 years in development, with over 40 people working on it. It’s not just Half-Life with shiny graphics either; it’s a complete overhaul of the original game, using the Source engine. This means a new soundtrack, new character models, better graphics, increased map scale, massive improvements to all textures, new voice acting, minor alterations to levels and story, better use of physics, smarter enemy AI – basically everything that can be made better, was.
It’s hard to say exactly. Have you ever played a game so good, or watched a movie that impacted you so greatly, you wished you could erase that memory and experience it again? That’s what Black Mesa was for me. When I played it, I felt like I was playing Half-Life for the first time again. The two or three days it took for me to finish it was spent in a state of perpetual awe and wonder. Nostalgia wouldn’t do it justice; it was that same excitement and amazement I’d felt back in 1998, when Valve changed the video game landscape forever.
Bioshock and Limbo, which both would have probably made the list, had Miklos not beat me to it. You know what to do, NAGians. (F5F5F5F5F5F5F5F5F5F5F5F5)