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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Top 25 Modern PC Games

The best PC games released between now and 2006.

This is not a best PC games of all-time list, so if you’re wondering about the omission of X-Com and Deus Ex and Baldur’s Gate II, please consider the date range. We’ve shifted the years of eligibility for IGN’s Top 25 Modern PC games to more closely line up with the current generation of consoles. Anything released from 2006 up through this article’s publish date was eligible for this list.
We also limited the list so only one entry per franchise could appear. So in the case of something like Mass Effect, we simply chose the best one. This Top 25 was compiled by Charles Onyett and Anthony Gallegos.

An open world first-person shooter, Ubisoft Montreal’s sequel to Crytek’s original occupies a unique space. Enemy encampments can be approached from any direction and assaulted with rockets or grenades or slowly picked apart by sniper shots. Light a fire and grass will erupt into flame and spread across dry fields, forming barriers, blocking enemies and forcing them to gather together in clumps, making them easier to take out with a well-placed explosive. Day or night, in vehicles or on foot, with an AI partner or alone, combat is refreshingly flexible. Layer on a story where all could be labeled villains, an uncompromising commitment to the first-person perspective where the dizzying effects of malaria and grisly self-surgeries are presented with nauseating detail, and the experience of playing Far Cry 2 transcends simple body counts and becomes a desperate struggle to survive in a nightmarish prison, where despite all the freedom of choice, all seem doomed to burn and bleed.
-Charles Onyett

For years licensed games were the butt of jokes, often viewed as cash-ins rather than experiences designed to be legitimately good. But Warner Bros. did something different with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Instead of tying it to a movie, Warner Bros gave it to developer Rocksteady who hired legendary Batman writer Paul Dini to pen a narrative based on the comic books. What resulted was the best Batman video game ever, with stealth-action and combat that nailed what fans envisioned while reading the comics. With a cast voiced largely by the same people from Batman: The Animated Series, Arkham Asylum surprised critics and fans alike, establishing one of the coolest new franchises in the last decade. Arkham Asylum ultimately proved licensed games can be amazing when you let creative people do creative things with the source material, rather than chaining them to the latest Hollywood release.
-Anthony Gallegos

There’s no way to attack in Frictional’s survival horror game, only flee. The roaming beasts charge madly through caverns and stomp through flooded basements and lurk in flickering halls, all lethal, all terrifying. The only hope for survival is in hiding, in watching and observing patterns of behavior, and running like crazy if anything gets too near. Filled with elements vile, grotesque and fantastic, Amnesia is an unforgettable experience, achieving a raw kind of tension few games can match. The element of vulnerability is present throughout as the game spirals deeper into a Lovecraftian nightmare, and through visual effects and sound Frictional is able to destabilize to a fascinating degree the trust that what’s presented onscreen is reality. As companies commit bigger budgets to projects that favor gory action over horror, Amnesia serves as a powerful example of how mechanics that enhance mood can be far more interesting than firepower and the occasional shock scare.
-Charles Onyett

It’s a blockbuster shooter that doesn’t lay objectives along a narrow corridor and send out enemies like plywood cutouts at a theme park’s haunted house. Particularly in its opening third playing Crysis requires thought and creativity, offering huge environments populated with devilishly smart enemies. Sneak around a boulder with a stealth field active to surprise an unsuspecting foe, then put up armor when his fellow soldiers return fire. Drive a car into a group of heavily armed enemies, speed away and detonate the gas tank from afar and watch the trees shake from the force as their bodies go flying. Hurl objects at high speed to knock out distant targets, then high jump over a fence to escape before too many are able to react. Alongside its sandbox elements, Crysis delivers the awe-inspiring, visually stunning scenes typical of rollercoaster shooters that boosts the sheer spectacle of the experience beyond the reach of most others in the genre, even five years after its original launch.
-Charles Onyett

Ironclad’s epic space strategy game isn’t such a success solely because of its marvelous visuals or brilliant gameplay – it’s a triumph of interface design. All conquered planets, constructed armies and in-progress actions are displayed with an ingeniously configured set of icons that at-a-glance communicate a matrix of information so there are minimal hindrances while observing and commanding. Games of Sins play out in real-time but contain many elements of turn-based strategy: giant maps and huge tech trees that in long games can dramatically affect production capabilities and battle bonuses. Even though it’s not a lightning-fast style of real-time play, the tension never lessens as considerations need to be made for when to build armies when to build static defenses to ensure planets will stay captured after their original inhabitants are forcefully removed through orbital bombardment. Sins is an endlessly rewarding, replayable competitive experience that’s over the years been built up into a richer, denser and ultimately more satisfying experience.
-by Charles Onyett

Minecraft’s a title that’s overcome the odds. With no marketing or PR budgets to get its name out there, no fancy graphics engine and almost no team behind it, Minecraftproliferated thanks to a passionate fan base. No other recent game unleashes a person’s creativity like Minecraft; the limits of what can be done are really determined by a user’s imagination and effort. Whole worlds can be turned from untamed wilderness into some sort of advanced civilization. Adventures can be as epic as questing to slay a dragon, or as simple as venturing into the unknown to find a precious stone or jewel that’s needed to complete a long-term project. The sheer sense of power and freedom Mojang’s game gives its audience captures the attention of people of all-ages, and has propelled this simple-looking indie game into the homes of millions.
-Anthony Gallegos

So many things could have gone wrong with the newest Deus Ex. Human Revolution is the prequel to a arguably one of the best games ever made, where goals are given but no paths toward them are recommended, where experimentation is expected and ingenuity constantly rewarded. Eidos Montreal succeeded where so many could have failed, creating challenges that could be bypassed by sneaking through enemy facilities, turning security systems against those they were supposed to protect, or simply throwing a vending machine at anything decides to intervene. Throughout its dirty urban streets and neon-drenched backalleys, Adam Jensen’s relentlessly self-serious quest to unravel multilayered conspiracies and ultimately define himself in a world where the nature of humanity is bewildering to all but the brightest minds is a deep and challenging experience. It’s a game that could be played with a finger on the trigger in slave-like pursuit of quest directives, or with less defined goals – hack an email account simply to spy on personal affairs, invade someone’s apartment because why not, flip a basketball through a hoop in the forgotten space between Detroit’s night time streets. Human Revolution rewards the intrepid, the adventurous, those who like to peel back surfaces because sometimes it’s the grime underneath that’s most interesting.
-Charles Onyett

As the gore, loot and gold flow freely, as the experience trickles in unlocking yet another new power, it becomes harder and harder to stop playing. The cliché story touches upon classic themes of good vs. evil, but its effect on the overall product is inconsequential. The important parts lie in the sense of power and gratification that comes from playing a hero; the way that tens of hours of play translate into a very real feeling of progression that few games ever even come as close to mastering. While the need to have a constant internet connection may turn off some, the constant updates, social options and increasingly robust auction house have helped Diablo III blur the line between single-player RPG and MMO. Regardless of whether people are playing Diablo III in ten years, Blizzard's addicting progression and forward thinking infrastructure design choices will long be remembered.
-Anthony Gallegos

The infected never stop. They erupt from around corners in ravenous packs, screaming and flailing and quaking with murderous rage. Even more terrifying, they’re not all mindless. Some crouch on rooftops waiting to lash unsuspecting survivors with noose-like tongues. Some sit in the shadows waiting to puke on their enemies and call reinforcements. Some throw cars and charge from a distance and can kill in seconds. Even worse, they work together and perfect their killing techniques. The only way to survive is to team up, to trust those fighting back with shotguns and pistols and assault rifles will aim well, that they’ll stay close and heal and share, that they’ll wait until all are through the door before closing it. Always unpredictable, always entertaining, there are few more demanding, more rewarding co-operative experiences than Valve’s Left 4 Dead 2.
-Charles Onyett

Riot Games’ League of Legends has a history of defying expectations. Other companies had tried to release free-to-play games with micro-transactions in the West, but none of them have achieved the same success of LoL. Other games have tried to copy the gameplay mechanics of the popular Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients (DotA), but none of them took off the same way as LoL. The reason is simple: none of these other games or companies have built upon what’s come before quite as smartly as Riot. League forgoes a lot of the punishing aspects of DotA, yet still manages to create an experience that’s equally satisfying to score kills in and feels every bit as competitive.  Building up a hero over the course of an hour only to lose can be crushing, but also makes the moments where your team comes together to overcome the opposition all the sweeter. With a constantly growing roster of heroes and a growing professional gaming presence, League of Legends shows no signs of slowing down.

The biggest problem any MMO runs into over its long lifetime is how to remain relevant. Most developers just opt to release expansion content, adding new zones, a higher level cap and additional classes and races. Blizzard did all that with Wrath of the Lich King and Burning Crusade, and then shocked everyone with the literally world-changing World of Warcraft: Cataclysm expansion. Cataclysm not only added two of the most unique races to WoW, but it also completely destroyed the old world, redefining everything from the geography of zones to the available quests. Everything in World of Warcraft’s old lands suddenly became new again, and players rushed back in droves to slay pigs, demons and build up characters like it was 2004 all over. Cataclysm has not only ushered in a new age for Blizzard’s aging and popular MMO, but set a new standard for the sheer scale and creativity the audience could expect from expansions going forward.
-Anthony Gallegos

Grand Theft Auto IV’s Liberty City managed to feel strikingly realistic while maintaining the familiar satirical tone developer Rockstar was known for. One second protagonist Nico Bellic was in an intense conversation about the harsh realities of a fresh-off-the-boat illegal immigrant, the next he was cracking wise with any number of the city’s silly and sleazy denizens. No game before or since has managed to create a city that feels as alive as Grand Theft Auto IV’s, nor has any managed to so deftly mix melee combat, shooting and driving into a cohesive package that didn’t feel compromised by the scope of its vision.
-Anthony Gallegos

Borderlands surprised the hell out of people when it was released in 2009. The desert wastelands of the planet Pandora oozed personality. The sheer volume of randomly generated weapons ensured that the most loot-hungry players always had something else to entice them to return. The story may have ultimately been a bit of a let-down, but the personality and wit in Borderlands’ writing mostly made up for it. The first time a claptrap dances or sings a ditty sets the tone for the entire game – the residents of Pandora are out to for blood, but it shouldn't be taken too seriously. Ultimately Borderlands ended up one as one of the best treats of the last decade, combining smooth first-person shooting with fun enemies and a Diablo-style loot grind. It’s the type of combination no one even knew they wanted, but now that it’s here it’s hard to imagine a gaming landscape without it.
-Anthony Gallegos

Throughout the span of human civilization vast nations have risen, conquered others, been conquered and went from being cradles of culture to a few sentences in a history book. And while reading about them is interesting, actually taking a fledging people and turning them into something great is the entrancing part of Civilization V. The decisions each leader makes in Civilization V have repercussions for centuries. After all, every choice comes at a cost: is rapid conquest worth running a nation of illiterate savages early on? Those first steps towards perfecting a war machine could result in glorious expansion, but that won’t mean much when a rival civilization who maintained peace launches a rocket into space and wins a technological victory. No other turn-based strategy franchise has connected with as large an audience as Civilization, and V masterfully combines the best parts of the series with a smart tutorial system that makes it vastly more approachable.
-Anthony Gallegos

Developer BioWare has become known as the king of western-made role-playing games, and Mass Effect 2 might be the team’s best game to date. With tighter gunplay and vast improvements to the Unreal Engine 3 used to make it and its predecessor, Mass Effect 2 blew people away regardless of whether or not they liked the original. The story is still one of the best written and most compelling narratives in games, artfully weaving traditional sci-fi tropes with some of the coolest and most endearing characters to create a story that manages to be exciting, action-packed and touching. While the third game in the franchise may be what everyone is talking about in 2012, there’s little doubt that the second will be the one people remember years after this generation is a distant memory.

No game recreates the thrill of battles quite like Shogun 2. Armies of thousands line up at either end of colossal maps, some mounted, some equipped with fire arrows, some with katana ready to charge through the heart of a fight to obliterate the morale of their opponents. Play well and soldiers will be encouraged, fight harder and refuse to flee, making it easier to assault cities and secure victory when outnumbered. Use tree cover to hide units while an opponent overcommits, then surge down a hill to wipe out all those caught on lower ground. As orders are given the war music swells on the soundtrack and suddenly all the chaos of battle seems both mesmerizingly complex but also effortlessly controllable. It’s the complete wartime experience, letting you tend to the minutiae of battle behavior as well as build the roads, the farms, the ports and the trading routes that will keep armies fed, the cities obedient and the enemy clawing feebly at the periphery, desperate to broker peace. It’s been the Total War formula since the series’ inception, and it’s brilliantly executed in Shogun 2.
-Charles Onyett

It’s almost like this game isn’t meant to be enjoyed. The fiction is so dense, the combat initially so unforgiving, the protagonist so crude and vile that CD Projekt RED seemed to do have done all it could to ensure  Geralt of Rivia’s adventure felt uninviting. Yet that disregard for spoon-feeding is part of what makes The Witcher 2 so fascinating. It’s just unfriendly enough, with enough mystery surrounding Geralt and the characters he meets to spark a slow-burning, motivating curiosity. The Witcher 2 feels distinct and defiant, an unfamiliar place that challenges you to explore instead of invites you in. The characters are repulsive, murderous thugs. The cities are scarred by battle and magical catastrophe. Geralt seems to find peace only in the depths of his weariness. Such brutish consistency in tone throughout ensures the occasional flourishes of genuine excitement and earnestness are all the more affecting, enhanced by deeply-woven choice-driven gameplay where the direction of many quests can veer in entirely unexpected directions that consistently steer clear of triviality.
-Charles Onyett

With some of the best art direction in games, the personalities of Team Fortress 2's characters shine. Their constant quips, facial expressions and great animation make them feel like something out of Saturday morning cartoons. Unlike so many other shooters that have striven to become increasingly authentic, Team Fortress 2 eschews realism in favor of unadulterated insanity, with characters rocket jumping through the sky, blowing up into hilariously gory chunks and uttering loud and humorous battle cries as they leap into the fray. With continued support from both Valve and the community, Team Fortress 2 shows no signs of slowing down, and continues to be one of the most popular online shooters around.
-Anthony Gallegos

Ejected from the womb and directly into a hostile post-apocalyptic era, there’s little inFallout 3 to be hopeful about. Water is scarce, compassion scarcer. Hardly anything works properly, and if it does it probably also emits radiation. Giant scorpions and glow-in-the-dark mutants prowl what used to be known as Washington D.C. In the ashes of what was the American seat of power there are cannibals, secret laboratories running dream-prison experiments and men who think of bombs as toys. Buried beneath the desperation, white knight posturing and goofball humor derived from the hopelessness of being surrounded by bandits that are just as ferocious as the beasts, all anyone’s looking for in Fallout 3 is a way out. In nearly every quest there’s an opportunity provide one, a way to mark the world with a choice, and to unload shots of .44 caliber ammunition with 90% accuracy directly to the head of anything that doesn’t agree.
-Charles Onyett

Valve’s first-person puzzler is a startling reminder of how much of a difference great writing and voice acting can make. Its characters get to the point quickly, emphasizing their comical incompetence or excessive passive-aggressive badgering without ever seeming forced or overstaying their welcome, turning machines, the recordings of the long-departed and a certain starchy perennial into some of the most expressive, memorable personalities in video games. It turns what’s otherwise a terribly lonely journey into the crumbling underbelly of a maliciously designed testing facility into a hilarious one, helped in part by the characters’ delightfully warped pursuit of noble science. Every exercise in creative puzzle solving – connecting holes in walls to permit gobs of speed-boosting goo, redirecting energy beams, opening portals in new surfaces in mid-flight across vast and deadly spaces -- isn’t a self-contained bubble of entertainment, but a smaller portion of an ongoing war of will, an extended deathmatch where victory isn’t determined by headshots but wits, which as it turns out is far more satisfying.

Company of Heroes brings real-time strategy combat to life in unprecedented ways. The destructible environments and cover system make every battle feel vastly more authentic and visceral, and the AI for the units make them more lifelike than any other contemporary strategy game. Combine Relic Entertainment’s penchant for historical accuracy, such as making tank armor stronger in the front and allowing for the changing of a weapon facing, and the result is one of the most tactically rich multiplayer experiences to date. To the uninitiated it may seem slow compared to other RTS titles, but anyone familiar with the franchise can analyze the intricacies of every skirmish, seeing calculated layers of design that make every fight as riveting to watch as they are to play.
-Anthony Gallegos

Obsessively balancing three factions with such diverse mechanics for unit construction, movement and attack wasn’t simply a matter of pride for Blizzard, it was a responsibility. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty has a single-player component with cheesy story and wonderfully varied mission design, but that’s not really what makes this one of the best real-time strategy games ever. Blizzard’s sequel amplified what was already a global phenomenon; an expertly wrought competitive experience where all know the rules but few can truly master the gameplay. Where there’s a counter-punch to even a seemingly invincible advance, where an action as simple as revealing a small portion of land through scouting can have implications that eventually topples enemy infrastructure and wins an entire match. Where an approaching group of Colossi seemingly poised to decimate a base can be swiftly beat by the neural parasites of suddenly unburrowed Infestors, and where it seems fitting to describe highly skilled blink Stalker micromanagement as artful. It’s a game that never runs of out surprises, that somehow becomes more interesting the more it’s played, and remains part of the vanguard of a booming age of international rivalry.
-Charles Onyett

In an industry increasingly obsessed with experimental pricing models and always-on social connectivity, Skyrim stands as a towering exception. It is a colossal single-player space packed with content that offers direction but doesn’t require blind obedience to the whims of needy quest givers to make progress. Aimless excursions into the wild can prove just as rewarding as any other activity in Skyrim, a world where the thrill of exploration drives all behavior and something wondrous feels like it’s only ever a few steps away. Everything from swinging a sword to trading items with shopkeepers earns progress toward the next tier of power, fostering a fierce sense of independence and encouraging experimentation. Days can be spent mining for materials to build new swords, hunting for butterflies and chewing on their wings to broaden alchemical knowledge or trekking up and down colossal mountain ranges if only to enjoy the view. The townsfolk go to work and dragons soar above ancient cairns and nearly every mountain is honeycombed with deep warrens and piles of treasure. In Skyrim the mundane is modeled right alongside the wondrous, creating a world where the authentic overpowers the blatantly artificial to create the most complete fantasy experience in video games.
-Charles Onyett

The unflappable and mute Gordon Freeman has been thrown into a host of terrifying and seemingly impossible situations over the years. Yet he’s overcome them all just like he’s overcome the dorky scientist stereotype, showing that just because you’re a geek doesn’t mean you can’t crush some skulls, be a hero and (maybe) get the girl in the end. Episode Two pushed Gordon to his limits, and truly elevated him from the likes of a scientist-cum-hero to the savior of mankind. It also gave deeper insight into the minds of some of the most well-written characters in any shooter ever, making legions of fans fall for the lovely and intelligent Alyx Vance and her endearing father, Eli. With some of the most heartfelt moments in any shooter ever, and a story that ends with a heart-stopping cliffhanger, Episode 2 established itself as one of the greatest modern PC titles.
-Anthony Gallegos

Minutes after entering a dead underwater city devilish denizens warped by overzealous gene splicing jump from the shadows. They attack with hooks and guns and fireballs clearly eager to impart their anguish. Picking through Rapture’s watery halls reveals how unchecked human ambition can warp even the noblest goals, and how mastery of the dynamic rhythm of BioShock’s guns and spells gameplay is necessary to survive. Yet between all the grotesque desperation are scattered pockets startling compassion are reminders that BioShock isn’t all blood and guts and blunt cynicism. It becomes clear that BioShock isn’t just a game about shooting things, but aspires to establish a consistent underlying philosophy, skewers the notion of the Randian hero and eventually transcends the virtual world to rattle the relationship of creator and player, merging the idea of choice with covert slavery. Though its third act can’t match the bewildering momentum of its preceding parts, BioShock’s unforgettable mix of mechanics and story has yet to be surpassed in the modern era.
-Charles Onyett

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