Sorry I’m a little late posting this week, I was working on a project that didn’t quite pan out.
As most PC Gamer readers will know it’s Top 100 time again, although it has been pushed back to a later time than usual, with the writers list appearing in the latest January 2010 (PCG209) issue. Following on from that will be the PC Gamer Readers Top 100, with the site already up and taking votes.
Now I’ve never submitted a list to anything like this before, I’ve always struggled coming up with a definitive list of my favourites, whether it be in a simple forum thread or something more official like this. If you ask me to name the games I have most enjoyed, I can regale you with tales from distant mystic lands, beautiful beaches and hard fought conflicts. But when it comes to quantifying that in a list I have never been able to do it. This time I was determined, I would submit a list all I needed to do was to decide on which five titles deserved a place.
I have thought about which titles would make it to my list several times before, the last time the Readers Top 100 came around I even started a little text file with some quick notes which still resides on my desktop:
Probably not Top 10
Giants: Citizen Kabuto
Three out of my old list I knew I wanted on my new one somewhere; Evil Genius, Morrowind and Homeworld. I don’t think I need to tell people who have read my little blog before about how much I like Evil Genius, having written about it for an entire week, then going on to write-up a final section when I eventually managed to complete it. Morrowind I haven’t written about before, mainly because I haven’t played it in over a year, but I still often think back fondly to my experiences in that amazing world. It has even gone so far as to influence my choice of online personality, M_the_C.
Homeworld is another game I remember fondly from back in my earlier gaming days, and then again more recently in its sequel. Since you can only select a single game title and not a game series I could only pick one, and that one had to be the original. Apart from sparking off not only a great series, but a whole company in the form of Relic, its innovative gameplay, amazing choice of soundtrack, and brilliant tale of a wandering people looking for a new (old) home all come together in one amazing package. Homeworld 2, I think, does a good job of living up to the original with some interesting tweaks on the gameplay and graphics that look amazing even today, however it failed to capture my imagination as the first did. I also knew the fourth title that had to be in my top 5, it only made the possibles list before, but is so deserving of a place for total play time if nothing else. Team Fortress 2 is the only online multiplayer game that I still play often, twice now I’ve taken a break for over a month, but then I always come back refreshed and ready for action.
With four out of the five already selected, all I had to do was decide on one more, sadly this would be the most difficult choice to make. There are so many games that I have played over the years that deserve a place. Going back to my old list, my first consideration was Psychonauts, which is an absolutely fantastic game, yet sadly it is let down by often annoying platform gameplay culminating in the final level ‘Meat Circus’. This doesn’t drag the game down in it’s own right, it is still very worth playing, but I think that games in the top five should not have any such problems. Carrying on from my old list, Portal is brilliant but ultimately limited, Giants: Citizen Kabuto is hilarious but hardly has the best gameplay and the KOTORs have too many minor niggles (especially the second, which I consider my favourite of the two). Startopia and Starlancer were definite contenders, but I wanted to keep searching. Another game that came to mind was Mirror’s Edge, I really enjoyed playing through it and was also sparked by it’s strangely low place of 99 in PC Gamers list. But I decided what I was feeling was that it deserved to be higher, but not so much that it should be included in my top five.
As I lay in bed last night trying to get to sleep I racked my brains, but I struggled to think of which games I had played that needed consideration. Then I thought of my list (that I still keep updated) of completed games, surely if any game is going to make my list it should be on this list? So the next day I went to the page and started scrolling down, the usual flood of fond memories came but I felt some reservation about each of the games, they were good, but not quite deserving. Baldur’s Gate did spring to mind, I spent quite a lot of time playing that when I was younger, but when I played more recently I hadn’t found it quite so appealing. That is probably because I started right at the end, at the most difficult part, but something still kept me back. I sighed as I reached the bottom of the list, none of them had jumped out at me, so I went to my list of games that I hadn’t completed (not updated), after all it was perfectly possible that the illusive game might be in there, I only completed Evil Genius recently. But it was to no avail.
I also considered Wurm Online, which members of the PCG village are currently hoping to push into the chart. I haven’t even been playing for a year but it still manages to match TF2 in total play time, and I do have a lot of fond memories of playing it. However the only real reason I continue to play is because of the PCG Village, with it’s villagers and all that I have invested in it, you could say that this is a feature of the game but I can’t help feeling it still isn’t quite deserving of a place. (Sorry guys. 😦 )
Having searched through every game I can remember playing I still couldn’t think of any more contenders, so I was left with two options, Startopia and Starlancer. At first I had put Startopia on the list, but on remembering Starlancer I was torn between them. That’s when I put my judgemental hat on, the only way I could decide between the two was by looking at it from the other side, which had the most flaws? I very much enjoyed Starlancer, but it didn’t have any amazing ideas, space combat games were still pretty prevalent when it was released. Whereas Startopia had new and interesting ideas in spades, yes there had been management games before, and there are at least several other ones based around running a space station\outpost. Yet Startopia stands above them all in my opinion, everything from the medical system, to the trading goods, to the character back stories, to the Biodeck was brimming with ideas. The station combat system wasn’t so well thought out though, I never managed to take over many sections in a sandbox game. The sandbox also shows up the balance issues over the long term, the missions only lasted half an hour at the most (except the last) so everything tended to run smoothly, but the longer sandbox games often became muddled and hard to manage. Startopia does have it’s flaws. Whereas Starlancers gameplay is mostly excellent, and the quality of the game was very high, I can’t remember ever running into a bug, and I did so love the stories. Tales of heroism and betrayal, sure it was all a bit too patriotic, my ideals versus yours, and it could largely be said that it was based around the Cold War should it have escalated into a full on conflict, but it was still enjoyable.
And that’s when I found it, the deciding factor, when measuring the overall quality of the game Starlancer beats Startopia. I love games with great ideas. I am quite happy having bought Crysis, Mirror’s Edge, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, and only really played through them the once. I get most of my enjoyment out of the experience. But I have never been able to complete all of the Startopia missions, and I have played through Starlancer in its entirety.
With my list now full, it all comes down to deciding the order, something I am still doing as I type this. Before I had even decided between Startopia and Starlancer I knew the winner had to be in fifth, if I had been more certain of them they would already be on the list. Team Fortress 2 shouldn’t be at the top, nor at the bottom. In this way PC Gamer’s list matches up to mine as I think it should be third, it could be pushed to second or fourth if I run into troubles with the others but right now third place looks comfortable. At first I had Evil Genius at the top, it was the first one I thought of for this list, but I don’t feel comfortable with it there. I have largely left it alone when it comes to it’s flaws, but now we’re down to the nitty-gritty they do make an impact. Second place about Team Fortress 2 looks good, and with Homeworld in fourth (I haven’t played it in ages, I’m too worried it won’t live up to my original experience.) that pushes Morrowind up to first. But still, something doesn’t quite feel right with it up there. I still feel it’s a toss-up between Morrowind and Evil Genius, and I think I’m less certain about Evil Genius (procrastinating sentence much?).
If I had another option for the top spot, I might have thought about Morrowinds position relative to Evil Genius more, but although I can still think of several possibles for fifth place none of them could also move to first so here we have it.