2004-2008

The era with Half-Life2 in it.

PC GAMER (UK) - - FEATURE -

Tom: Few games in any of these cat­e­gories have had the im­pact of

World of War­craft. Peo­ple have met, mar­ried and started fam­i­lies thanks to that game, and it’s still go­ing strong with mil­lions of play­ers.

I didn’t re­ally play it, though. My ad­dic­tion in this era was Com­pany of He­roes, a beau­ti­fully bal­anced RTS with a great cam­paign that’s aged very well in­deed. It’s tough to get be­hind RTS games some­times be­cause they can feel niche, es­pe­cially when you com­pare

Com­pany of He­roes to a game like

BioShock, which tried its best to el­e­vate games as a sto­ry­telling medium. How­ever, I’d ar­gue that while BioShock was im­por­tant, it hasn’t stood up well all these years later. I’d say the same about Team Fortress 2, Bat­tle­field 2, San An­dreas and Rome. Of all the games in this five-year stretch, Com­pany of He­roes is the one I’d boot up to­day.

Andy: The re­al­ity of WoW never quite lived up to the prom­ise for me. I still played the thing for about 200 hours, but where you’re ex­pect­ing a rich, vi­brant world full of peo­ple in­ter­act­ing with one another, what you ac­tu­ally get is a load of peo­ple silently run­ning around do­ing quests and ig­nor­ing each other. Play­ing with a pal is fun, but I never saw the ap­peal of raids. The few I did I mostly spent be­ing shouted at by peo­ple who knew more than me, in­clud­ing a former PCG ed­i­tor who gave me a dress­ing down in a pi­rate ship for pick­ing up a pair of magic trousers I wasn’t sup­posed to.

Phil: We’ve hit the point where we don’t re­ally need to qual­ify the best games with phrases like “good for their time”, or “de­spite their age”. Com­pany of He­roes is, even to­day, just a very good game. At least, I as­sume it is based on the love Tom heaps on it ev­ery Top 100 dis­cus­sion. As I may have men­tioned, I played a lot of Com­mand & Con­quer, which has left me in­ca­pable of ef­fec­tive mi­cro­man­age­ment. This is also the rea­son why we’re all writ­ing this huge fea­ture on the week of dead­line.

I do think we can dis­miss a cou­ple of games right off the bat, though. I played an em­bar­rass­ing amount of San An­dreas, but I don’t think it’s any­thing like the best GTA. I’m not even sure it was the best GTA of this era – Vice City felt far tighter and more fo­cused, and thus holds up bet­ter on a re­turn visit. Also, what even is Team Fortress 2 now? We gave the orig­i­nal 94%, and bumped its score up to 96% when it went free-to-play. But it’s kept evolv­ing, to the point that nei­ther ver­sion re­ally ex­ists. I’d say TF2’ s best years ex­ist in some sort of lim­i­nal space that’s no longer ac­ces­si­ble, but Pip al­ready used the word ‘lim­i­nal’ ear­lier in the is­sue. What are we? Edge?

Andy: I’m gonna vote for San An­dreas. I don’t think it’s the best

GTA, but as some­one who pri­mar­ily en­joys a game’s set­ting, ex­plor­ing that place was spe­cial. The am­bi­tion of the thing is wild. I mean, three en­tire cities? And although the land­mass is pretty small by mod­ern stan­dards, the shift in at­mos­phere and change in scenery as you drive re­ally gives the sen­sa­tion of a road trip. I re­mem­ber the thrill of rid­ing a bike from Los San­tos, over to San Fierro, then up to Las Ven­turas and feel­ing like I’d crossed a coun­try. That, plus all the sim­u­la­tion stuff like gain­ing weight, makes this the peak of Rock­s­tar’s grand am­bi­tion, and its im­pact on fu­ture open world games is un­de­ni­able. Shame the mis­sions are so pun­ish­ingly dif­fi­cult.

Phil: Okay, I guess I was wrong. We can’t dis­miss a cou­ple of games right off the bat. Dam­mit, Andy!

Pip: Hey, if Bat­tle­field 2 is a can­di­date with its 93% I de­mand we plonk

Obliv­ion (also a 93%) on the list! The thing about Obliv­ion is that it’s the Goldilocks of Elder Scrolls games.

Skyrim gets the adu­la­tion and has the mod­ding scene but it’s just too big.

Obliv­ion is the ex­act right size to be cosy and man­age­able while still hav­ing an ex­cit­ing sprawl. Head­ing off into a Daedric realm tick­les the same re­lax­ing bit of my brain as curl­ing up on a lovely rug in front of the fire with a nice book.

Andy: No votes for Far Cry 2, I see. That game seems to have been reap­praised as am­bi­tious and un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated, but I thought it was rub­bish at the time, and still do. It does some in­ter­est­ing stuff, and

I kinda ad­mire how re­lent­lessly gru­elling it is, but mo­ment-to-mo­ment it’s an ab­so­lute mis­ery to play. Ar­guably that’s by de­sign, but

I much pre­fer the con­tem­po­rary Far Cry tem­plate Ubisoft has adopted. It’s much more ac­ces­si­ble and fun. Far Cry 2 is a game that games jour­nal­ists seem to love be­cause it’s in­ter­est­ing to write about, but those end­lessly respawn­ing check­points just de­stroyed it for me.

Phil: Same, re­ally. I like that it’s a game that forces you to im­pro­vise be­cause half of the time your guns barely work. The best mo­ments in Far Cry 2 are freeform and pan­icked, as you des­per­ately re­assess your plan and try some­thing off-the-cuff. If only the world was more re­ac­tive. I think it de­serves praise for try­ing to be some­thing dif­fer­ent, but if any­thing I feel it didn’t go far enough.

We’ve tip­toed around the ele­phant in the room for long enough. This is go­ing to Half-Life 2,

right? I’d ar­gue there are bet­ter pure shoot­ers now, but Half-Life 2

de­serves to be etched in his­tory be­cause, 1) it was an im­por­tant step in the pop­u­lar­ity of Steam, which was a mas­sive life raft for PC gam­ing in the dark ages of the late-’00s and early-’10s, 2) its mod­ding scene would go be­yond first-per­son shoot­ers to en­able projects like Dear Es­ther and The Stan­ley Para­ble that would push gam­ing’s bound­aries, and 3) it’s Half-Life freak­ing 2. Come on!

Samuel: I feel com­fort­able with it be­ing Half-Life 2, but then WoW is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant. I’ve changed my mind again: I’m se­lect­ing BioShock. This rep­re­sented a cru­cial mo­ment for me in the fu­ture of my taste in games, which at the time leaned to­wards Ja­panese PS2 stuff. I know every­thing else about BioShock has dated, but that world is still phe­nom­e­nal to me. It made me in­ter­ested in the idea of big games do­ing cool en­vi­ron­men­tal sto­ry­telling, which wouldn’t be fol­lowed up in any mean­ing­ful way by any sub­se­quent block­buster game, ever.

Pip: I am con­vinced that we didn’t play the same BioShock.

Phil: Again, we have failed to agree on any­thing. And I am swoop­ing in at the end so I can get my way. Look, Samuel even said above that he’s com­fort­able with it be­ing Half-Life 2. And so it shall be.

I PLAYED AN EM­BAR­RASS­ING AMOUNT OF SAN AN­DREAS

LEFT: We gave Half-Life2 the Big 96, be­cause we are al­ways right.

TOP: Com­pa­nyof He­roes is still a bril­liant RTS.

ABOVE: Is San An­dreas still good? Phil says no. Andy says yes.

LEFT: The first BioShock re­mains a di­vi­sive clas­sic.

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