The 50 Best PC Games of All Time: Part Three
Is a man not entitled to count down his favourite PC games of all time? Yes, says I! Here's numbers 30 to 21. Don't forget to start at Part One
if you missed out.
30. To the Moon
To the Moon is the only game ever to make me cry. And I don’t mean cry like a single tear rolled down my cheek, I mean big burbling sobs that made me look like I’d washed my face in Nando’s extra-hot Piri-Piri sauce. Don’t be fooled by the cutesy JRPG aesthetic, this game is devastating.
It sees you grant a dying man a last wish, by implanting a memory in his mind about going to the moon as an astronaut. But as you travel backward through his life to implant this thought, you uncover the story of his relationship with his strangely unaffectionate wife.
As a game it is very, very simple, but as a piece of character-driven storytelling, To the Moon is warm, funny, moving, and heartbreakingly sad. I’m starting to well up just thinking about it. Um…let’s move on *sniff*.
29. The Walking Dead: Season One
Oh, for goodness sake. Talk about out of the crying pan and into the cryer, eh? We’ll discuss something cheerful and happy soon, I promise.
It may be sadder than a three-legged dog tied to lamppost during a thunderstorm, but Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead is one of the finest examples of interactive storytelling in existence. The relationship between escaped convict Lee and the young orphan girl Clementine is one of the most believably human narratives in the entirety of the gaming canon.
Gaming has always had great storytelling potential, but Telltale’s ability to establish so many layered and conceiving characters with such economy of narrative is something we’re not used to. Normally it takes 40 hours of RPG for a game to do what Telltale can do in a tenth of that time. Hence it’s even more shocking when Sean Vanaman and co so mercilessly kill off these rounded, believable people, sometimes forcing you to make agonising decisions between them.
It’s a trick the studio has repeated several times now with diminishing returns, but if you’ve yet to experience Season One of The Walking Dead, oh boy are you in for a treat. And by ‘treat’ I mean, ‘enough shocks to make you sick’.
28. SWAT 4
11 years since its release, SWAT 4 is still the best tactical shooter in existence. It sports so many clever ideas, from the fiendishly complex level design, to the random placement of enemies every time you play, to the fact that it’s a shooter which encourages you not to shoot except as a last resort.
All of these concepts result in a sequence of incredibly tense room clearances, as you stack up your team behind a door, breach and chuck in a flashbang, then rush in and end up in a standoff with a criminal who might or might not shoot you dead.
For a game that is ultimately a loose connection of tactical puzzles, SWAT 4 also boasts some mightily impressive environmental storytelling. Each mission has its own little tale behind it, some of them darker than a rainforest night. The Children of Taronne Tenement is a realist horror story that outdoes most dedicated horror games for its creepy cultists and sickening twist. If that sounds a little too grim for you, lighten things up by playing it cooperatively and tasering your friends in the genitals. Just like a real policeman!
27. Papers, Please
Lucas Pope’s bureaucracy simulator is accidentally one of the best detective games ever made. You play a border control officer in the dystopian socialist state of Arstotzka, and you’re charged with vetting who to allow into the country and who to exclude.
The game starts off with you simply stamping passports. But as the regime becomes more oppressive, entry visas become more convoluted, and you have to deal with increasingly complex applications in less and less time. You must scan the documents, identify errors, and decide upon admission based upon the available evidence. Make a mistake and you’ll be punished for it, but play exactingly to the rules and you could be responsible for someone’s death.
Much has been said about the way Papers, Please engenders feelings of guilt and understanding of corruption entirely through its systems, but I also think its ability to encourage the player to make genuine deductions makes it a beautiful stealth detective game.
Not many people know this, but the developers of SWAT 4, Irrational Games, also made an excellent game about underwater exploration. It’s only a little thing, and didn’t get much traction on release.
Okay, okay, Bioshock is one of those rare games that manages to wield both a massive mainstream budget and its own artistic ambitions in almost perfect equilibrium, blending a superbly told story with fierce first-person combat, and one of the most unique virtual places ever rendered in pixels. Indeed, while the game’s reductio ad absurdum critique of objectivism with its now-legendary 'Would you kindly?
' twist, and frenetic splicer-battles remain worthy landmarks in gaming history, it is Rapture itself which is Bioshock’s crowning achievement.
The combination of art-deco architecture and futuristic subaquatic technology was unlike anything experienced in gaming at the time, while Irrational did a sterling job of depicting the weight and inevitability of the ocean as it forced itself through cracks in the glass lined tunnels of Rapture, running down staircases and pouring down walls. There are plenty of games with good stories and fun combat, but few that take place is such a memorable location to boot.