Inspired by this thread on the forums of the ever-excellent PC gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun (and by my FunSquare SuperPlus’s European Vacation), I’ve been pondering what games the complete novice needs to experience to understand the PC as a gaming platform.
It’s been a slow week, OK?
What we’re talking about here aren’t necessarily my favourite PC games ever, but rather the best games that you can’t play anywhere but on the PC or the paragons of those game genres that are fundamentally linked with the Big Beige Box. For that reason I’ve not considered things like Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time, the Max Payne games, Oblivion, Beyond Good And Evil, Fallout 3 or the Grand Theft Auto series – all of which I played and loved on PC, all games for which the PC version is arguably superior to its console siblings but none of which are quintessentially “PC games”. The line’s a bit thin and wobbly in places (especially around the likes of Oblivion) but it’s like art – I can’t reliably define it, but I know it when I see it.
With a certain amount of pain and heartache I’ve whittled my personal list down to the magic ten. It’s entirely subjective and a long way from perfect -I’ve got no point-and-click adventures in there f’rinstance, despite that being pretty much the PC-iest gaming genre of them all. Unfortunately, I came to the PC a few years after the Golden Age Of Lucasarts and so missed out. A mate and I did play through Loom in a slow afternoon while he was nominally in charge of a comic shop and I had a decent enough time, but I don’t have the fond memories of the likes of The Secret Of Monkey Island or Day Of The Tentacle that many of my contemporaries seem to. Sorry.
Enough of this self-regarding nonsense. On with the self-regarding nonsense!
The Top 10 PC Games You Need To Play, Part The First.
10 – City Of Heroes (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, 2004)
The crowning glory of this rather groovy superhero-based MMORPG is its character generator. Practically unparalleled in terms of breadth and flexibility, it hugely increases your involvement in the game by allowing you right from the off to craft an in-game persona that’s recognisably and distinctively yours. Whether you’re starting with a fixed idea of what you’re looking to create, or just playing about with the tools until you come up with a character who’s suitably imposing/cool/ridiculous, the CoH character generator is a terrific bit of kit.
Mumorpergers aren’t my scene, partly because they require a time commitment that I’m unwilling stroke unable to make, partly because they feel a bit too much like actual work, mostly because I hate the overwhelming majority of people that I’m forced to share this ridiculous planet with and deeply resent being forced into contact with them. However City Of Heroes goes out of its way to make life easy even for lazy misanthropic n00bians like me. While soloing adventures is perfectly feasible, the game encourages you to form impromptu teams by offering XP bonuses that escalate with each person you’re teaming with, and gives you plenty of options to help integrate even characters with vastly differing experience levels.
City Of Heroes looks somewhat dated these days, but its graphic style is perfect for the four-colour world it’s recreating, and the game’s immersion is greatly increased by the cute addition of passers-by or enemy cannon-fodder speaking of your past deeds with awe/trepidation. Yes, there are dozens of berks in Spandex running around the streets at any given time but crucially the game never stops trying to make you feel special, like you stand out, like you’re making a difference, like Only You Can Save Mankind. If there were any actual role-playing on show in this so-called role-playing game it’d be close to being my perfect time-sink. But for that flaw you have to hate the players, you can’t hate the game.
As I said, Mumorpergers aren’t my thing but if you have to play one – and to get an understanding of the PC as a gaming platform you really do have to play one – it ought to be City Of Heroes.
Don’t Try That, Try This!
As mentioned, MMORPGs are rubbish. For similar damned-close-to-being-a-job-you-don’t-get-paid-for perverse thrills but without the huge drawback of having to talk to other people, you can’t beat a Diablo clone. My recommendation is the rather lovely Greek-Em-Up Titan Quest. You click. You walk. You click. Monsters appear. You click. The monsters die. You click. You take all their stuff. You click. You juggle your inventory to fit your new stuff in your backpack. You click. You walk somewhere else. Every once in a while you go up an experience level and get to pick new skills that make monsters die quicker when they’re clicked on. Somewhere along the line, you realise you’re being entertained, but you’ve no idea by what. And you realise that it’s gotten dark outside. It’s awesome.
9 – Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (Online Multiplayer First-Person Shooter, 2003)
While we’re biting the multiplayer bullet, let’s go ahead and get the nomination for the essential online FPS out of the way, shall we?
As previously mentioned ad nauseam, 95% of people in the world are worthless gits. If you’re restricting your sample to just people who play first-person shooters online, that number rises to just a few decimal places short of 100%. The general teenage wingnuttery of Xbox Live is deservedly the stuff of legend, but the untamed wilds of PC gaming servers really aren’t a great deal better. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (or ET to its friends), being a completely free, completely standalone team-based multiplayer game originally designed as an expansion for Return To Castle Wolfenstein, attracted more than its fair share of every stripe of online shooter idiots. It had abusive idiots, whiny idiots, loud idiots, over competitive idiots, idiots who didn’t understand the game, idiots who didn’t know the maps, idiots who pursued their personal score to the detriment of the rest of the team, idiots who deliberately set out to sabotage their team and idiots who didn’t even realise they were supposed to be on a team. It should have been unbearable.
It wasn’t unbearable. It was glorious.
Despite the abundance of dipsticks, the sense of teamwork and camaraderie generated by either playing with a couple of chums or finding a few other like-minded, vaguely competent players was wonderful. And you only needed a few players co-operating to get a huge advantage over even the most skilled individual idiots.
And killing idiots is always fun.
With only six maps, even a chump like me learned to find his way around in fairly short order, leading to tense, daring two- and three-man end-run commando raids on enemy positions or ingenious, heroic defences of vulnerable objectives. Objectively speaking, there have been better-designed, better-looking and just plain more fun games than Enemy Territory. But ET is the game that I have the most affection for, that’s given me the most memories and the most war-stories, and it’s the game that makes me smile the most to think of it. And that’s why it makes my list.
Don’t Play That, Play This!
Yeeeeeah. Could try and be clever and confound expectations, but in all honesty it’s got to be Team Fortress 2 really, hasn’t it? I’ve banged on at length about my admiration for the Team-Based Shooter Game Of Champions before, so I won’t say too much more. It’s incredibly polished, it’s wonderfully well put together, it’s got a perfect character for every conceivable playing style, it’s utterly, utterly beautiful and you should play it. Really, play it.
Join us next time, when just for a change of pace I might be talking about games in genres that I actually like.