En­dur­ing clas­sics from PC Gamer’s first five years.


Phil: Team! I have gath­ered you here for an im­por­tant task: de­cid­ing which of PCG’s high­est-rated games are the best in each of the five-year-long eras I have ar­bi­trar­ily grouped them into. The rules are sim­ple: for each era, we’ll pick one win­ner, based on a what­ever fac­tor you de­cide to ar­gue. Per­haps it’s an im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal mile­stone that changed the land­scape of the games in­dus­try. Maybe it be­came a key part of PC Gamer’s iden­tity, and shifted the way we think and write about games. It could even be that it’s just fun to play. First up, it’s the ten high­est-rated games from the first 62 is­sues of the mag­a­zine.

Pip: I’d like to put in an im­me­di­ate vote for Grim Fan­dango. It’s kinda clunky to play now, but I love the world it de­scribes and the char­ac­ters so much. It also tells a story which has stayed with me over the years. Given my atro­cious mem­ory, that’s no mean feat.

Andy: Grim Fan­dango is still magic. That com­bi­na­tion of film noir, Art Deco, Aztec mythology and the Day of the Dead is un­be­liev­ably stylish. There are some real low points – the un­der­wa­ter sec­tion, the pet­ri­fied for­est – but that year Manny spends wan­der­ing the streets of Ruba­cava is about as good as ad­ven­ture gam­ing gets for me. In terms of puz­zles it’s prob­a­bly one of Lu­casArts’ weaker ef­forts, but as Pip says, the story re­ally sticks with you, and it’s just a de­light­ful world to (not) ex­ist in.

Tom: Agreed, Grim Fan­dango is brill, and the re­mas­tered ver­sion means it’s eas­ier to get run­ning than some of the other games here.

Phil: This is where I should ad­mit to hav­ing never played Grim Fan­dango. Nor Wing Com­man­der III, nor Grand Prix 2, nor Quake II. For me, most of the ’90s was spent play­ing Com­mand & Con­quer. Red Alert was a rev­e­la­tion for me when it came out – shift­ing the se­ries’ set­ting to a more in­ter­est­ing al­ter­nate his­tory world where Ein­stein trav­elled back in time to kill Hitler with a hand­shake. I loved how low-fi it felt com­pared to the orig­i­nal C&C’s fu­tur­is­tic tech, and the sound of a Tesla coil charg­ing re­mains the stuff of night­mares.

Andy: Quake II was one of the first PC games I fell in love with, and it still packs a punch. The lev­els look a bit bland to­day, but the feel of the guns is still pretty much per­fect. It’s a great shooter with bril­liant, labyrinthine level de­sign, and has aged a lot bet­ter than most of its peers. Quake II (and its en­gine) de­fined shoot­ers for years to come, so it’s gonna have to get my vote.

Tom: I was more of an Un­real guy, but that didn’t come out un­til 1998. These were the days when it wasn’t nec­es­sary for a game to be co­her­ent from level to level. It’s easy to for­get that, be­fore Half-Life, shoot­ers just dropped you into a place with no con­text and you ploughed on un­til

you reached the end. Quake seems too brown and un­sat­is­fy­ing these days, for me. I’d rather play new Doom and Wolfen­stein.

Samuel: Red Alert’s Skir­mish mode made up half of the late ’90s for me, while Civ II’s de­tailed World War 2 sce­nario made up the other half. These two made strat­egy the decade’s most ex­cit­ing genre to me. I never played X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, since my dad didn’t get the in­ter­net for our house un­til about two years after its re­lease, but I loved both its pro­gen­i­tors. Wing Com­man­der sounded like off-brand X-Wing to me (sorry!) so I never played them. I have sim­ply en­joyed the Mark Hamill cutscenes iron­i­cally in­stead.

The ’90s were ba­si­cally the decade that dic­tated every­thing that would hap­pen in games up un­til now. I never played Grand Prix 2, but I re­mem­ber see­ing it dis­cussed con­stantly in old PC Gamers. These days, Forza Hori­zon is the most ex­cited we ever get about rac­ing games, but oth­er­wise it feels like a thing that died out as the genre thinned out dur­ing the last decade.

Phil: Hey now, let’s not diss “Ge­off Cram­mond’s new mas­ter­piece”, (as the cov­er­line of PC Gamer #27 said of Grand Prix 2). It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to me how many of these games are from gen­res that have, in the last few years, gone through some form of re­vival. Theme Park- style sims seemed to be dead in the wa­ter for most of the last decade, but now we have Two Point Hos­pi­tal, Planet Coaster, Me­gaquar­ium, et al. Point-and-clicks went on an ex­tended hol­i­day, but now they’re back, and more ex­per­i­men­tal than ever. The

RTS re­mains in trou­ble, but strat­egy in gen­eral is do­ing bet­ter than ever.

The ’90s were a pretty wild time for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, and a lot of these games set the tem­plate for their re­spec­tive gen­res. Just look at Civ­i­liza­tion. It’s still a se­ries that peo­ple get ex­cited about; that peo­ple still spend 100 hours play­ing. It’s been re­fined and ex­panded in each se­quel, but the heart of that se­ries was ar­guably per­fected in Civ II.

Pip: This is the pe­riod I mostly ex­pe­ri­enced via demo discs. That was a great way to get a sense for the va­ri­ety you’re talk­ing about, Phil. Si­mon the Sor­cerer was one which has stuck with me, as did Rap­tor: Call of the Shad­ows. I would also still be play­ing older games I’d some­how got hold of – Lla­ma­tron was a def­i­nite favourite! If mem­ory serves, I was more par­tial to reg­u­lar C&C than Red Alert, but I can’t re­mem­ber why any­more. It might have been as sim­ple as own­ing the full ver­sion of C&C and just a demo of Red Alert.

Tom: I miss Bull­frog. No­body has man­aged to fol­low up on Dun­geon Keeper be­cause ev­ery at­tempt so far has failed to be as funny. It’s a great man­age­ment game and I love the an­tag­o­nis­tic re­la­tion­ship you have with your units, but it’s that Bull­frog per­son­al­ity that gives the game last­ing ap­peal. I love the grumpy sorcerers. I love that all Bile De­mons want is rooms full of chick­ens to eat. Even the ene­mies are piss takes: the way Pal­adins run around, pompously guf­faw­ing, is Monty Pythonesque.

Phil: I’d like to put in a late nom­i­na­tion for Doom II. It may not be specif­i­cally the most in­flu­en­tial – it’s a se­quel, for starters – but it’s the high-wa­ter­mark for this gen­er­a­tion of FPS de­sign. It’s also a game that’s still rel­e­vant to­day. The Doom

mod­ding scene is still con­sis­tently in­ven­tive, giv­ing us the be­wil­der­ingly am­bi­tious WolfenDoom, the won­drously colour­ful The Ad­ven­tures of Square, and, of course, the fas­ci­nat­ingly gory Bru­tal Doom. I’m still play­ing Doom II over 24 years after its re­lease. That, to me, makes it the best of this era. More im­por­tantly, we haven’t come to a con­sen­sus, and I’ve taken up the last bit of space. Ar­gue against this one, suck­ers!

The ’90s were a prett y wild time for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion

LEFT: It’s no sur­prise WingCom­man­derIII im­pressed the re­view­ers of 1995.

TOP: GrimFan­dango is still one of the best ad­ven­ture games you can play.

ABOVE: RedAlert was a mas­sive im­prove­ment over the orig­i­nal C&C.

LEFT: QuakeII or DoomII, which is the best? We re­ally can’t de­cide.

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