The 32 best PC games ever!

It's the granddaddy of all consoles. It defines gaming culture.

  • #2: Quake 3 Arena

    Why It's Great: Has there ever been a finer example of the speed, the glory, and the unbridled bloodletting of pure deathmatch? Hell no. Quake 3 Arena was, is, and will continue to be the single best avenue to free-for-all carnage. It's smooth as a baby's behind, quick as a bird of prey-and quad damage has to be the sweetest powerup ever invented. It's been modded to kingdom come. It's been copied again and again. id is even turning it into a browser-based game called Quake Live, because they know it, too: no game since has done it better. Q3A is multiplayer deathmatch.
  • #6: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

    Why It's Great: Didn't get the memo? That's okay, there's plenty of time to play catch-up. Thanks to its living AI, breathing environment, and some nifty voice acting by Sean Bean and Patrick Stuart, Oblivion ranks among the very best RPGs ever made. It's got a gargantuan world, multiple parallel storylines, and yes, even downloadable armour for your horse. Its only failing point is a ramping difficulty level, which means bandits mysteriously graduate from wearing linen to plate mail as you progress through the game. It's hardly a sticking point, but that doesn't stop us from scratching our heads over the glass armour. Come now, glass?
  • #8: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

    Why It's Great: BioWare has crafted some winners in its day, but Knights of the Old Republic is among the very best of them. The first Star Wars RPG ever made, KotOR took us to a time in Star Wars we'd never seen before, much less dreamed was there, and yet it told the same classic tale of betrayal, redemption, and self-discovery that makes made us all geeky fanboys. KotOR was such a big deal, in fact, that BioWare is currently working on an MMO version of the game. We say: awesome. Just don't forget HK-47, meatbags.
  • #32: The Sims 2

    Why It's Great: There's really nothing we can tell you that you don't already know. It's The Sims 2, after all: the current incarnation of the most wildly popular PC franchise in history. It's got eight expansions packs, eight stuff packs, a sequel on the way, and a movie in production. And just in case you spend your life hiding under the bed, here's a rundown on its gameplay: you live. You're born, you grow up, you procreate, you have babies, you die, and your spawn continues the cycle of virtual life. Who would have thought 10 years ago that one of the most popular games in the world would have a potty meter?
  • #29: System Shock 2

    Why It's Great: Bioshock is nifty, we know. The thing is, you can't die in Bioshock; it's perpetually locked in easy mode. If you want a game that has the feel of 2K Boston's descent into Rapture, but with the added element of absolute terror, then you've got to look at what came before the search for Adam. System Shock 2 was Bioshock's own Big Daddy, and where the latter ventured into a gruesome past, SS2 brought us forward, into a grim and haunted future where a rogue computer system named SHODAN brought your nightmares to life. If you're into fright fests and can get around the dated graphics, this one's an absolute necessity.
  • #16: Battlefield 2

    Why It's Great: It is the exquisite entr?e to Battlefield 1942's appetizer, a game that takes everything that was superb about the first game, just to blow it apart with modern warfare. Classes, control points, and vehicles are great, but then DICE went ahead and gave us helicopters and the M1A2 Abrams to play with, not to mention the Commander system: a top-down strategy interface that's perfect for seeing the whole chessboard and sending your pawns in to take down their queens. The result? One of 2005's games of the year is still a blast to play today.
  • #7: Starcraft

    Why It's Great: It's the only computer game that's ever become a national sport. By itself, that lands Starcraft squarely in the halls of gaming history, but there's so much more behind its success. Starcraft was the first RTS to have three asymmetric sides, and it did so with phenomenal balance. The game became a ruler that's been used to measure every other RTS since. Even its lingo has gone down in the history books: we all know what it means to Zerg an enemy. Starcraft is still played fanatically by gamers all over the world, and it's still as brilliant an experience as it was ten years ago.
  • It's the granddaddy of all consoles. It defines gaming culture. We use our computers to socialize, to communicate, to read news and troll forums. We e-mail, we IM, and despite the systems in our living rooms, a good many of us still game on our computers, too. Because let's face it: there's no better place to play the most hardware-frying games or reminisce about old times than the PC.
    Consoles may have become the centre of modern gaming, but they owe everything to the computer's classics. The thing is, only a handful of those classics remain as fun today as they were in their prime. Add them to recent history's most popular titles, and you've got this list: our take on today's top 32 must-own PC games.

  • #15: The Longest Journey

    Why It's Great: We dubbed it "one of the greatest PC adventure games ever made," and we weren't lying. The Longest Journey tells the story of April Ryan, a young girl of the techno-world of Stark, and how she learns to shift between her world and a parallel dimension of magic and light: Arcadia. It was one of the first adventure games to deal with mature themes like poverty, homosexuality, and disability, and damn if it didn't do one hell of a good job. Few games since have created tales as stirring or characters as gripping as those in The Longest Journey. It is, plain a simple, a must-play experience.
  • #5: Peggle

    Why It's Great: It's Peggle. You've played Peggle, haven't you? It has to be the most excruciatingly addictive game PopCap ever came up with, and it all boils down to shooting a ball at pegs, watching the ball bounce off of the pegs, and then getting rainbows, fireworks, and Ode to Joy played to you for your efforts. Just lost your job? Got a C in calculus? Girlfriend dumped you for another woman? No sweat! Go play some Peggle. It's guaranteed to make you feel amazing.
  • #4: The Orange Box

    Why It's Great: Well, we've said it before, and it's as true for the PC as it is for the consoles: the Orange Box is the best compilation of gaming goodness ever made. Let's put aside the fact that Half-Life 2 and Episode 1 were part of the bundle, because most of us already owned them before plugging our credit cards into Steam. We're still left with three astounding games. Episode 2, the continuation of one of the finest single-player romps in history. Team Fortress 2, a multiplayer masterpiece with a great look to boot. And then there's Portal: the game that, honest to goodness, actually captured our imaginations, only to literally turn us on our heads. Yes, we say. Yes, times three.
  • #20: Fallout 2

    Why It's Great: Where the original Fallout created a post-apocalyptic world that practically bled style, Fallout 2 opened that world up into an extravagant, non-linear RPG. Packed to bursting with Easter eggs, pop culture references, and plain old great gameplay, it proved what a developer could do with humour, mature content, and a universe of conspiracy and mayhem to draw from. In a little less than a month, Bethesda is bringing us back to the world of the Vaults with Fallout 3, and we can't wait to see how it shapes up. Until that time comes, though, Fallout 2 will stay on our playlists. This is one damn fine game.
  • #25: Half-Life

    Why It's Great: Strange as it may seem, until Half-Life came along no one had thought to just let a story unfold around you as you played a shooter. It was new and different and somehow refreshing to spend the first minutes of the game just standing in a train car, watching a world pass you by. It was the first time we'd seen narrative devices like foreshadowing used to such effect, and yet Half-Life itself foreshadowed a new era of FPS gaming. There's never been a more ridiculous ending to a game than a giant floating foetus trying to kill you, but it's hard to care. Half-Life gave us the crowbar, the G-Man, and Team Fortress Classic. We'll cut it some slack.
  • #28: Grim Fandango

    Why It's Great: As the last great adventure game of LucasArts' golden age, Grim Fandango commands a slice of our pastime's history. The brainchild of Tim Schafer, it told the noir story of Manny Calavera, a skeletal travel agent in the Land of the Dead. Aside from being among the first adventure games to venture into 3D space, Grim didn't innovate so much as it polished and perfected the genre's gameplay. Its writing was superb, its visual style was exquisite, and its presentation was nothing short of masterful. Though Escape from Monkey Island came out two years later and was a great game in its own right, Grim Fandango was unquestionably the pinnacle work of adventure gaming's greatest developer.
  • #23: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

    Why It's Great: When gamers discuss excellence in co-op multiplay, they point to Pandora Tomorrow. Its simple, ingenious two-on-two stealth wars were about so much more than the kills. Where else could you climb up a friend's body to reach hanging ductwork, only to help him follow you inside? Where else was a spoken word to a teammate so life-threatening? Where else could you slip your knife through the fleshy folds of an enemy, only to whisper dark words as you lay them to rest on the cold metal floor? Sam Fisher's nighttime outings have always been fun, but in Pandora Tomorrow, you got to share that fun with others.
  • #9: Unreal Tournament 2004

    Why It's Great: Even though it never quite perfected free-for-all, UT2K4 has some of the best team-based gameplay in the genre, and it's thanks to Onslaught: a pioneering gametype of linked nodes, base assault, and vehicular manslaughter. Success in Onslaught necessitates teamwork, and UT2K4 is ready to provide, with vehicles and link guns bringing gamers together like pizza and Bawls. Sure, Unreal Tournament 3 has normal mapping and a hoverboard, but it also has a Malcolm that's gone absurdly urban. We'll take our Unreal sans MC Hammer, Epic. Thanks, though.
  • #19: Supreme Commander

    Why It's Great: The biggest maps in the genre. And the biggest units. And the biggest explosions. And that fact that, when you get right down to it, it's basically a really big version of Total Annihilation. Supreme Commander is just plain big, and that size extends to everything, from the monitors you'll want to buy to play it (big) to the graphics card you'll need to make it shine (also big). Not that we mind, of course. We're computer gamers, after all, and we like to think big. That's probably why we like Supreme Commander so darned much.
  • #22: Thief: Deadly Shadows

    Why It's Great: Garrett is the man. He's got a blackjack in his hand, a zoom lens for an eye, and that cool drawl that'll set his marks squirming-after he's lifted their purses. The Thief series pioneered stealth gaming well before Splinter Cell came to town; it had gamers watching for shadows and dousing the lights when Sam was still in training. Deadly Shadows, the most recent of Garrett's outings, perfected the genre with a sprawling storyline and an attention to detail that leaves the competition wanting. After all, success in Thief has nothing to do with killing. It's all about masking your tracks, hunting for gold, and holding tight to the thick curtain of the darkness.
  • #1: World of Warcraft

    Why It's Great: Hundreds of servers, thousands of guilds, millions of subscribers. It's the most popular MMO in history, and it ranks among the most recognizable brands in the world. Why is World of Warcraft today's best computer game? Oh, let us count the ways. Because it's accessible, a game that anyone can pick up and play. Because it has a depth and replayability that will keep veterans raiding for years on end. Because every facet of its experience has been polished to a sparkling sheen, from its moody, orchestral music, to its rich and epic storyline, to its unforgettable vistas and boundless customizability. We throw the word "redefine" around a lot as games journalists, but when it comes to WoW, it just fits. World of Warcraft has truly redefined online gaming.
  • #27: Deus Ex

    Why It's Great: For its conspiracy-ridden story and awesome, diverging plot, it's been labelled a masterpiece. For its pervasive RPG elements and first-person immersion, it's been heralded as an eternal classic. It's won universal acclaim and been named among the best games of all time over and over again. It doesn't matter if you hate shooters or can't abide RPGs. You simply must play Deux Ex anyways. There are too few games in the world that can capture your imagination and unravel it across a narrative like this to risk missing it.
  • #14: Psychonauts

    Why It's Great: There can never be too much laughter in the world, and if we're ever hungry for more, we can always pull out Psychonauts. Tim Schafer's ingenious adventure/platformer has wit, charm, and the ability to take any possible combination of ideas and make something hilarious out of them. Godzilla, fish, doors in your forehead, and the voice of Invader Zim? Check. It'll play on just about any system that's out there, so there's really no reason not to scoot over to GameTap and grab it. Like, right now. You can finish reading while it's downloading.
  • #18: TIE Fighter

    Why It's Great: As the recent release of The Force Unleashed can attest, Star Wars is freaking amazing. To be more precise, Star Wars' Expanded Universe is, in British terms, the dog's bollocks. And the Empire, being Imperial, is patently uber. So when you combine the Star Wars Expanded Universe with the Empire, and then add in Grand Admiral Thrawn, TIE Defenders, and a massive, seven-act campaign, you get a game that has, unsurprisingly, topped best-of charts for years. It wasn't the original space combat simulator, and it wasn't the last, but it ranks among the best of the best.
  • #26: Command and Conquer: Red Alert

    Why It's Great: Well, Hell March, for one. That was a freaking amazing theme song. There was certainly a lot to love about Red Alert besides Hell March-Tanya, tank rushes, and Tesla coils, to name a few. But the game's title track oozed a style and tone that permeated every level, and it was that style that won our hearts. More so than the Tiberian series and even Red Alert 2, the original Red Alert was simple strategic pleasure. And to top it all off, you got to watch Albert Einstein screw over the entire world by killing Adolf Hitler. C&C's First Decade compilation is worth getting for this game alone.
  • #13: Half-Life 2

    Why It's Great: It's rare to see it happen, but as good as Half-Life was, its sequel is better. Faceless scientists have been replaced with Eli Vance and Isaac Kleiner, and jump puzzles have been ousted in favor of the almighty gravity gun. You break into a prison and out of a city, befriend a mechanical monstrosity by playing fetch with it, and fall in love with a girl without ever speaking to her. All that, and no Xen to boot! Half-Life 2 was branded a classic before gamers had played a minute of it. Once again, Valve had given us something we'd never seen before.
  • #3: Civilization IV

    Why It's Great: Start with a colonist, build an empire, and conquer the world. Civilization was the original king of 4X gameplay, and its successor continues to rule the genre with an iron fist. The franchise turned Sid Meier into a Game God and the industry's equivalent of a household name, and since the first game's release 17 years ago, it has grown from its humble origins to gloriously chronicle 6,000 years of player-guided evolution. Civ4's gameplay comprises combat, diplomacy, trade, construction, religion, spaceflight, and the occasional Wonder of the World. Not bad for $30 at the local GameStop.
  • #10: Company of Heroes

    Why It's Great: We love, we love, we love Company of Heroes. We can even forgive it for being yet another World War II title, because it's got the best RTS action in modern gaming. Relic took everything they learned from Dawn of War and made it better, and the result is a tactician's dream come explosively true. The king-of-the-hill resource system meshes perfectly with the setting, and cover is so well integrated that you'll wonder what's taken RTS games so long to get the hint. And for you graphics whores out there? It's just about the prettiest strategy game ever made. Hitch a ride with Able Company. You won't regret a single minute.
  • #21: Crysis

    Why It's Great: If there's anything the PC does better than consoles, it's graphics. No matter how much oomph Microsoft and Sony can shove beneath their systems' hoods, the infinite upgradability of the PC always wins out in the end. Thanks to games like Crysis, the power users of the world get to point and laugh at the PS3, because there's just no denying that it's the prettiest game ever made. Fortunately, it's also got some great sandbox gameplay, thanks to a super-suit that can do everything but walk on walls. Is it the best game in the world? Not really. But will it make you giggle endlessly at the way a leaf flutters in the wind? God help us, yes.
  • #11: Diablo II

    Why It's Great: From Marius's first weary words narrating his tale of demons and angels, through to his bitter end at the hands of the Lord of Destruction, Diablo II is an unforgettable adventure. The game fine-tuned the hack-and-slash RPG with a superb narrative and Blizzard's trademark polish, and spawned a legion of wannabe clones that struggled to match its brooding, bloody style. Even as great as the single-player game was, though, it is Diablo II's Blizz.Net-powered co-op multiplayer that still has us hacking away. This isometric gem did just about everything right.
  • #17: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War

    Why It's Great: It started out as a great game, but its expansions have turned it into a phenomenal one. Dawn of War took one of the best sci-fi universes in geekdom and transplanted it from the tabletop to the desktop, rendering the tumultuous battles of Warhammer 40K in all their imagined brilliance, right on your monitor. Relic didn't stop at that, though; they introduced new gameplay features like squad reinforcements and the control point system, let you paint your own armies, and even gave melee infantry fatalities, letting them execute downed opponents with flair. Feel free to let the hammer fall: This is what war is all about.
  • #30: Counter-Strike: Source

    Why It's Great: Before there was Halo, there was Counter-Strike: the game that everyone played, even if they didn't play games. What started out as a Half-Life mod turned into the most popular online shooter ever created. Its simple, round-based, terrorists vs. counter-terrorists gameplay was fuelled by a genre-first weapon purchase system, and the elegance and perfection of Dust sealed the deal. CS: Source came along when Half-Life 2 was released, porting the game into a next-generation engine and stopping the rampant cheating. Despite what some critics said, Valve made the right choice with the port; CS is an experience that will stay pure forever.
  • #24: Indigo Prophecy

    Why It's Great: The developer insists that Indigo Prophecy be referred to as an interactive movie, not an adventure game, and we're inclined to agree. The camera angles are cinematic, and the control scheme encourages you to mimic on-screen actions with simple gestures. Even the scripted events are on timers instead of triggers; the game moves forward when it wants to, regardless of what you're doing. It might sound like an obtrusive design, but Indigo Prophecy is as frantic, compelling, and emotional as any film you've seen. It's earned its praise.
  • #31: Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom

    Why It's Great: Genocide. Treachery. Friendship. Defection. Galactic heroism. Wing Commander IV was the last game of the series to be helmed by creator Chris Roberts, and it was, by far, the best. An interactive movie and space flight simulator, it had us playing as a mature and seasoned Mark Hamill, ducking in and out of the cockpit and exploring a vast web of branching storylines. Surprisingly decent acting, awesome gameplay, and a story that belonged in theatres made The Price of Freedom one of the sweetest games of the 90s.
  • #12: Sins of a Solar Empire

    Why It's Great: Who would have thought that a company like Stardock, the folks who got their start making Windows skinning programs, would go on to develop a game like Sins of a Solar Empire? Part 3D RTS, part 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) game, Sins came from the skies to reinvigorate space-based strategy. It has no campaign to speak of; instead, Sins presents various scenarios, most of which boil down to handing you a planet, a credit line, and a galaxy to conquer, and saying "go." And don't forget: Stardock doesn't use DRM or copy protection in their games. Thank you, Stardock. You are not evil.
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