The era with Half-Life2 in it.
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.