PC gaming giants – both literal and metaphorical.
Tom: I’m going to bat for Black & White. We didn’t know it at the time, but it would turn out to be the pinnacle of the god game genre, and it’s full of ideas that modern games should rip off. It’s easy to celebrate games like Quake III and Deus Ex and see Black & White as a failed experiment, but the idea of training your own beast is so clever. It’s a rare Molyneux game that delivers on some of its promises, and even by today’s standards it’s ambitious. It’s the only game that lets you pet a 20-foot tall monkey to encourage it to stop eating people. Can Quake hold a torch to that? I think not.
Samuel: This was right when I started reading PC Gamer every month, and I bought all of these games on the magazine’s advice (minus Quake III Arena and Grand Prix 3 – sorry, Geoff ). I bonded with my old science teacher, Dr. Hall, over Black & White. I once started working on a Neverwinter Nights mod with the intention of getting a job at BioWare, but gave up when I found it too hard. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was a major milestone for the FPS, as much as Quake was several years earlier. It paved the way for the cinematic shooter that we’d all be tired as hell of by about 2015. Still, that game was extraordinary, mostly for the D-Day bit that everyone has discussed far too many times. As such, it’s the game that gets my vote.
I only played the singleplayer in
Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and I wouldn’t let that be declared a highlight of this bunch. What’s wrong with a good, solid 85%, eh?
Phil: I hope Geoff Crammond never learns of our indifference to the
Grand Prix series. He would be crushed. Probably.
Pip: The majority of my gaming for these years ended up being on the N64, so I feel like I was on a parallel gaming evolution track. Instead of having my wide-eyed, ‘Oh gosh!’ moment with Half-Life at a desk, I was open-mouthed at the scope of
Ocarina of Time while lying on the sofa. My FPS of choice was
GoldenEye (actually a 1997 release, but one I played for years later). I developed such strong muscle memory for GoldenEye that nearly 20 years later I managed to surprise everyone at a party by absolutely obliterating them, slipping into a weird autopilot state and activating secret tunnels and camping body armour spawn points in the way that friends can on Counter-Strike maps.
Andy: Half-Life and Deus Ex are the big hitters here, and I love them both,
but my heart belongs to Max Payne. Nothing captures the zeitgeist of the turn of the millennium more than bullet time, and Max was the first game to let you play The Matrix. I still love its self-aware film noir stylings, and how comically cynical Max is as a character. But what makes it really special is how this sits alongside a pretty dark and harrowing revenge story that’s sprinkled with bits of Norse mythology and Lynchian weirdness. It’s a great shooter, it tells a gripping story, and Max looks like he’s just shit himself. What more can you ask for?
Phil: I’m torn between Half-Life and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Half-Life is still an incredibly enjoyable shooter with a diverse mod scene that spawned Counter-Strike, of all things. Nevertheless, I think it’s Medal of Honor that I’m rooting for. It’s a cinematic FPS made before Call of Duty had codified all the rules, and that makes it fascinating to play today. It’s weirdly, almost offputtingly understated, not least in the aforementioned D-Day assault. Allied Assault is less bombastic and directed than any Call of Duty campaign, and arguably that makes it more impactful and immersive. It lets you experience through action not scripting, and that makes it gripping, even in its quieter moments.
Pip: I’m now going to be that jerk who not only doesn’t help narrow the list down but also introduces an extra candidate. StarCraft: Brood War. I’m not even a StarCraft player but that game is so important to the history of esports and competitive gaming. We gave it a 69% at the time but I feel like it’s gone on to prove its worth far beyond that score. Even if no one else votes for it here, I want to make sure to tip my hat to it.
Phil: Yikes. “A lick of paint and little else,” apparently. I’m not going start questioning old scores, but giving
Brood War a 69 is… a choice.
I’m not going to advocate for it too hard, I don’t think, but I want to at least mention Deus Ex as being a
very big deal for PC gaming. It’s been slipping down our Top 100, but that’s a list designed to reward how playable a game is today. While Deus Ex is janky now, it’s still an incredibly singular, rewarding thing to play. The sheer scope of its options – both in how you make it through each level, and how you proceed in setpiece story moments – demonstrated that first-person shooters could be more than just mindless action. This was a game full of overlapping systems, that rewarded experimentation and thinking outside the box. Like many of the best games, it probably wasn’t as influential as it should have been – I think in part because many developers were intimidated by it.
Andy: Deus Ex is still a great game, and I’m still finding new ways to play it despite knowing the levels inside out. Ambitious games from this period of PC gaming rarely hold up to modern scrutiny, but the variety and freedom Deus Ex gives you makes it a hugely rewarding sandbox. It’s also a reminder of how massive
PC games used to be. Imagine a game today featuring New York, Hong Kong, Paris, Area 51 and a dozen smaller locations in between. The scope of the game is absurd.
It’s also a nice time capsule of the days when conspiracy theories went mainstream, thanks to the impact of The X-Files. If you read the original
Deus Ex design doc, it mentions The X-Files constantly. Its influence on game design is undeniable, and ask most devs working today what their favourite game is and they’ll probably mention this if they don’t inevitably say it’s Ocarina of Time. But I’m still not changing my vote. JC Denton is cool, but Max Payne is cooler.
Phil: The tricky thing about this process is that we’re picking from the best games in PC Gamer’s history. Really, there’s no wrong answer – not even
Grand Prix 3. I was very close to switching my vote to Deus Ex, but if Andy’s sticking to his (slow-mo, balletic) guns, I’m going to do the same. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
is taking the win, thanks in part to me and Samuel having tactically cultivated similar tastes.
MEDAL OF HONOR: ALLIED ASSAULT WAS A MAJOR MILESTONE FOR THE FPS
ABOVE: Big, chunky and endlessly enjoyable. QuakeIII is a classic.
TOP RI GHT : Andy will not back down from his love of MaxPayne.
ABOVE RI GHT :Arguably one of the most iconic moments in PC gaming.
BOTT OM: You can’t say the early ’00s was lacking in World War 2 shooters.