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.