Welcome to Part Two of The RPS 100, our brand-new annual countdown of our favourite PC games of all time. Hopefully, you've just read Part One, where we counted down numbers 100-51. Here, we're into the final stretch, ranking numbers 50 to our ultimate Bestest Best at number 1.
The RPS 100
Before we get into the top 50 games of The RPS 100, here's a brief reminder of the rules, in case you've sneakily skipped straight here without reading part one first. Rather than create a list of the best PC games you can play right now, The RPS 100 aims to celebrate the greatest games from across the ages. It's not a ranking of the most important or influential games of all time, but rather our collective Bestest Bests, as voted for by the RPS staff and some of our finest contributors.
For the most part, we've limited ourselves to one game per series in order to reflect the breadth and variety PC gaming has to offer - although, as I mentioned in part one, there is one exception to this. See if you can spot it.
Remember, if there's a favourite game of yours we haven't included, know that it's at number 101. Indeed, why not write your own celebration of your all-time Bestest Bests in the comments below, so you can convince others (and us) to give it a try. Perhaps it will make an appearance next year. For now, though, please enjoy the second part of our very first RPS 100.
50. Fallout: New Vegas
You've been shot in the head. But when has that ever stopped you? The nuclear wasteland has been traipsed upon by many a Fallout game, but New Vegas is the one with heart. Essentially a road trip with quite a lot of detours, this first-person shooter RPG entrusts you with the future of Nevada, including a revived city of gamblers and rogues. Highlights on this tour of the radioactive desert include: being shot at by a sniper embedded in a dinosaur's mouth, finding a bunch of people crucified by men dressed as Roman centurions, cracking the skull of the blazer-wearing scumbag who put a bullet in your brain and left you in a ditch. This makes it sound all action. In reality, much of New Vegas is spent jabbering. Thanks to the complex branching storytelling that other Fallout games neglected, talking your way through some conflicts is a viable strategy. See for yourself, postie. Pay a visit to the megalomaniac who has styled himself after Caesar, and try to play him off against the army of prissy Californian soldier boys. It'll probably work out.
49. Extreme Meatpunks Forever
Clamber into your meatsuit, friend. It's time to kill some fascists. This is a visual novel about a group of gay messes served up with some top-down mech brawling. Oh, and the mechs are made of meat. Its story of a band of multicoloured friends united against hate-spewing neonazis is being told as a serial. At time of writing the gang is going on a quest to "steal the sun". The combat itself is a rough, crudely implemented Sumo battle where you have to push your enemy's fleshmech into ditches and off cliff edges, using a big whiplike attack and managing your stamina. There's not much else to it. You may ask yourself: neonazis, gore, queer rebels - isn't it all a bit on the nose? Friend, the developer's motto is "subtlety is for fuckers". You're here to bash fash. Get in the damn meat suit.
Sci-fi horror at the bottom of the sea, from the same developers as Amnesia, the first-person horror series about forgetting things and hiding in cupboards. In Soma, the horror is two-fold. There are the disturbing monsters that make your screen tremble and go bleary with fear, yes. But more importantly, there is the constant gnawing fear of its unravelling premise. You are an average Joe who goes for a fancy MRI scan and finds himself waking up in a deep sea facility 100 years in the future. That mysterious, but not totally frightening. But as you tramp through the zapping, messy remnants of a malfunctioning research station, you start to realise the facts. With each onward step the story cranks up the existential dread. This is an unsettling game about an identity crisis like no other, and it has the punchy ending BioShock wishes it had. A last-minute gamble that will leave you both satisfied and troubled at once.
47. The Binding Of Isaac: Rebirth
Yes, I know: poo. I understand Isaac's edgy dressing repels many but I now barely notice the poo, the wee, the bibles, and the satans. As my naked dead child dodges aborted fetuses and weeps aggressively at jobbies, I mostly see enemy patterns, room layouts, item combinations, rules governing secrets, and ways to bend the odds in my favour. The roguelikelike dungeon-crawler is an awesome system to have slowly duplicated as a model running inside my head, a joy to know and still a joy to play after— let me check— 1344 hours. I still relish building ludicrously broken runs, or pulling off wins even when I pull straight trash. And, honestly, I quite like the repressed Christian childhell.
Wildermyth is a genuine marvel. On the surface, it's a tactical turn-based RPG about shepherding a bunch of would-be adventurers around a fantastical world full of monsters. Its battles scratch all those lovely strategic itches you know and love - the flanking bonuses, the cover tiles, the adjacency-depending support skills - but it's also one of the best story generators of the last decade. Thanks to the dozens upon dozens of scripted micro-stories that play out over the course of its story - all based on your characters' personality traits, skills, background, relationships and your own decisions, I might add - Wildermyth's narrative ambitions put other RPGs to shame. You never play the same game twice in Wildermyth, and once you've experienced it, you'll never want to go back to the humdrum tomes of other Tolkien-esque fantasies ever again.
45. Alien: Isolation
It is the perfect organism, unclouded by conscience, remorse or morality. You are an underpaid engineer, with a big can wot makes noise. Alien: Isolation is the best video game based on everyone's favourite phallic monstrosity. You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of the lead character from the Alien movies. She's part of a team investigating the seemingly derelict space station Sevastopol. From the slow-burning and tense opening to a teeth-gritting finale, Isolation stuffs in a whole lot of stealth, terror and holding your breath in cupboards so the big bad doesn't hear you. A Xenomorph on the loose is only one of your worries. There are frenzied human stragglers and malfunctioning androids to watch out for too. But crank up the volume on that noise-making can and get ready to chuck it, because you'll soon learn the trick to making your way past these foes: the alien isn't picky about what it eats.
44. Thief 2: The Metal Age
This is a first-person sneak 'em up about bonking guards in the back of the head and scuttling along the rafters, trying to get that bit closer to a treasured possession that belongs to mechanical weirdos or pagan street-fighters (two of the sects that inhabit the game's Victorian-meets-Medieval city). Step on a loud wooden floor and a guard is likely to spin round and spot you. Better to lurk in shadows, tiptoe on soft carpets. The world has undergone a religious schism, and you might need to play the previous Thief to understand every detail of plot here. But if it is simply a gloomy creep around a canal you're after, or a bank heist where you don't need to kill a soul, know that Thief 2 drew up the blueprints for all heists afterwards.
For all that TV shows like Black Mirror are mocked for boiling down to a simplistic, "What if technology… but too much?!", that question is an interesting one to ask when you apply it well, and to interesting concepts. In Eliza, a challenging yet uplifting visual novel, you play as Evelyn, who now works as the human proxy for Eliza, an AI counselling programme that generates things for Evelyn to say to 'clients'. At first you must pick from the list of Eliza-written responses, but later Evelyn has the option to go off-script, with all the potential effects that implies. Eliza is not only beautiful to look at, but compelling to play, and asks difficult questions - right down to your clients being clients, not patients. Is something better than nothing? Is it worse? What, as we have learned from The Good Place, do we owe to each other?
42. Company Of Heroes
A birds-eye view of the HBO war series Band of Brothers. Strategy games have often relied on numbers. Countless tanks or an endless river of troops. There is a reason the "Zerg rush" of Starcraft has become a ubiquitous term for swarming your enemy with overwhelming numbers, even outside of strategy games. Company Of Heroes said no to all that. It is a real-time strategy in which you might have only a dozen men at your disposal at any one time. If you've been prudent, maybe a jeep is on its way to help your men pinned down by a machine gunner. Or a tank trundling along too slowly to be of any use for another two critical minutes. Here, cover fire is more important than numbers, and an engineer stretching barbed wire across a lone bridge can be as useful as a whole squad of riflemen.
41. Rocket League
It is car soccer. And the easiest video game to describe to your pals. Two to four players per team, each player in their own toylike rocket car, hoofing a ball around a stadium encased in transparent walls. The goal is goals. Rocket League is fun from the first minute. You can boost your car with a tank of refillable rocket juice, ping the ball with stylish flips, and soar through the air like an ascendant eagle looking for a header. There are plenty of skilled players out there (not to mention a lot of people passive-aggressively spamming the quickchat dialogue - "Wow! Nice save! Wow!"). But play with friends and it becomes the perfect waste of time. An idle kickabout for the modern world.
40. A Short Hike
Animal Crossing for people who don't have the 900 hours to spare. A Short Hike puts you in the wings and beak of Claire, a birdwoman who is expecting a call from her mum. But the only place with good enough reception on her island is at the top of a mountain. So off you pop, hiking and gliding your way across the island. It isn't a straight shot to the end, of course. You can pause to do a bit of fishing for a friendly gull, or chat to a turtle on the beach about island politics (she wants to be mayor). This is a small, friendly world to get totally lost in, but not hooked on.
39. Crusader Kings 3
When you play Crusader Kings 3, you win or you die. And then your son inherits the kingdom and you keep playing anyway. Game over in this grandest of grand strategy games doesn't come from a single death. It comes with the death of a dynasty. So long as you have an heir (and maybe a spare) you will be safe. Of course, that doesn't guarantee your kingdom will be a healthy or thriving one. There is a lot to click on in this sprawling world map, and plenty of events popping up to keep a king or queen busy. The Byzantine Emperor wants to talk to you. Your bastard child is growing up cruel. And your spymaster has news from the shadows about "that thing" you want done. The game has been informed by years of its predecessor, Crusader Kings 2, which arguably is still the deeper game of medieval meddling. But this younger monarch is less cranky, and much more welcoming to guests. Besides, developers Paradox have a habit of rolling out years of updates for their strategy games. Every culture and expansion that CK The Second has gathered in its eight years of life, CK The Third is in line to inherit.
38. Total War: Shogun 2
This biggo strategy game is not the newest in the Total War series of map-colourers. And it probably isn't the most widely loved. But it does land squarely in the Goldilocks zone between the flashy hero-managing of the recent Three Kingdoms, and the simplistic geometric shape-pushing of much older games in the series like Total War: Medieval 2. You are in an ahistorical struggle for the Shogunate, fending off irksome Christian rebels with one sword, while threatening a rival feudal lord with the other (samurai warlords dual-wielded, right?) There is a grand map of parchment to turn into known, fully realised 3D land, and plenty of close-up clashes to fall into, both on land and off the shore of Japan's ravaged coasts.
37. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
You are the Dragonborn. Your superpower is that you talk loudly and it hurts people. This first-person fantasy RPG is the fifth in a beloved series, and takes its player to Skyrim, a frosty, mountainous region of Cyrodiil, inhabited by the rebellious and Viking-esque Nords. Also, dragons. This is a massive open world, filled with off-the-beaten-track adventures, and ripe for modding. Skyrim is the best example of a single player phenomenon. It isn't as universally loved as the currents of gaming culture would have you believe (at least a couple of folks on the RPS team consider it hot cold trash). But it is the go-to classic for many, played and replayed so many times that the developers feel it savvy to re-release it every couple of weeks. (That's a joke, they've only remastered it once… so far). Still, in time it may become the most replayed game in history. At least judging by a popular bait-and-switch joke in which characters of other media fade out of consciousness and come to in Skyrim's opening cinematic, as if to say: what, you're playing this AGAIN?
36. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Capcom's courtroom lawyer 'em up series of Phoenix Wright games are some of the best visual novels around - and the Ace Attorney Trilogy finally gives us definitive proof of that on PC. Bundling HD versions of the first three games of the series into one, finger-waving treat, the Ace Attorney Trilogy sees newbie lawyer Phoenix Wright fight for the lives of his clients, gathering clues to prove their innocence and finding flaws in witness testimony with a big bellowing cry of "OBJECTION!" All three games have devilishly good mysteries at the heart of them, and courtroom scenes are a real thrill from start to finish - especially when the climactic third game ties them all together. You could quite easily start with its more recent, flashier prequel, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, if you prefer - they both hold up as equally brilliant standalone experiences that don't require any previous knowledge in order to enjoy - but for us, the Ace Attorney Trilogy shows Wright in his best and purest form. And that, my friends, is the honest to goddamn truth.
35. Spelunky 2
Q. How do you make the perfect platformer better? A. Moles. Earlier in this list, Celeste was described as "platforming at its peak". That is a good joke, because Celeste is about climbing a mountain. Sadly, it's unture. Spelunky 2 is peak platforming. It's just set underground, that's all. Everything about this platformer feels good and right. The ledge-grabs, the rope-climbing, the head-bopping, the item-pilfering. You will die often in these dangerous, randomly generated caverns. Sometimes you will only make it to the second world, where giant firetraps turn you to ash. Sometimes you will make it to the Temple of Anubis before being bitten to bits by a crocodile. Every attempt to reach the final level will feel juuust different enough to encourage the next one. It is so sound, so lacking in flaws, you could probably play Spelunky 2 every day for the rest of your life and be content to play nothing else.
34. Planescape: Torment
You have awoken in a morgue, and you have no idea about anything. It's a standard enough beginning for video games. Amnesiac hero needs to find out who they are and what just happened. In this isometric RPG, doing that requires a little legwork through multiple dimensions. The Nameless One (as you soon discover your character is called) is an immortal being who is resurrected with a new body and personality with every death. If PST is revered for its characters, then ol' Billy no-name is not the even the highlight. Take your pick: Morte, a floating skull. Ignus, a pyromaniac mage. Fall-From-Grace, a brothel matron with bat wings. As a good story to click through, it is getting on a bit. But a remaster has given some spit shine to one of 1999's many instaclassics.
Henry Ford simulator without the union-busting. The principles behind the assembly line come to an untouched alien planet in this management sim. You start as a wee man on the surface of this pristine world, but full automation is the aim. The human element must be stripped out (and the alien element also because sometimes the wildlife likes to attack). This is a mechanistic self-determined puzzle for efficiency freaks, where position, timing, speed and quantity all have to be weighed up as you plop down little conveyor belts and electricity pylons to keep your factories running smoothly. In some ways, it is the final form of Farmville, a seemingly endless procession of upgrades and new goods keeps you from ever truly "finishing" your factory. But the pyramid of products is only the result. The satisfaction comes from zooming out and appreciating the huge machine you've made. Just, uh, try not to think about all the deforestation you've done...
32. Half-Life: Alyx
This is how you do VR. Just as Valve revolutionised first-person shooter design with their original Half-Life games, so too have they shifted the goal posts for what's possible in virtual reality with Half-Life: Alyx. There may be 13 years between this and their last foray into the world of Half-Life, but Alyx is clear, undeniable proof that Valve are still very much at the top of their game.
Set in City 17 five years before the events of Half-Life 2, you play as a younger Alyx Vance on a mission to rescue her father Eli from the shackles of the Combine. Shooting in VR remains as tense, taut and tactile as ever, and the screech of a head crab has never been more terrifying. After all, it's not your monitor screen they're leaping at any more, but your actual, literal face. Away from the fighting, though, it's the little details that really make Alyx sing, from scribbling on window panes with in-game marker pens in real-time, to playing the piano and simply watching bottles of liquid slosh around in your hand thanks to their impeccable physics. And what hands they are, too. Clad in a nifty pair of gravity gloves, they not only let you reach out and grab whatever object the Combine haven't nailed down, but they also double up as your health and ammo meters, elegantly removing the need for a traditional HUD. Is it worth buying an entire headset for? Maybe not, unless you have very deep pockets, but if you do have one, this is about as essential as it gets.
31. Dwarf Fortress
Sure, RimWorld is all right. But can you get drunk on mushrooms and build a subterranean zoo? Can you create a sept of bizarre and distinct heroes, each and every one named "Ulrist"? Can you break through the depths of stone to the Underworld itself? These are rhetorical questions and if you attempt to answer them, you will be expelled from this article. Dwarf Fortress is a management game in name, and a big bag of stories in effect.
It isn't an easy thing to learn or play. It's played exclusively with the keyboard, everything is presented in ASCII, and only by downloading graphical mods and fiddling with the innards can you make it semi-understandable. But it is free from the Dwarf Fortress website. And the reward for learning to speak its language, however, is being able to harness the power of the best story generator ever conceived. Various Dwarf Fortress diarists have chronicled the events of this random, chaotic fantasy world. Don't you want a chronicle of your own? If you just took one look at the ASCII screenshots and answered "sheesh, no thanks", maybe try waiting for the upcoming Steam version, which will (maybe) be a bit more accessible.
30. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Sometimes you just want a general from Edo-era Japan to step on your neck. Sekiro is a brutally precise action game about getting disciplined. I mean conditioning your reflexes, not being punished by a disappointed father figure. Although, yes, that too. It's made by the same people who make Dark Souls, that other misadventure of masochism. But it is a different type of pain and a different feeling of reward.
This is a single-player sword 'em up, with an actual plot to go with it. As Wolf, the ashen-faced bodyguard of the child emperor, you must leap your way across rooftops and stealthkill legions of katana bros to bring some semblance of order to the warring states period. But bosses and minibosses will not make it easy for you. The only solution is to refine the art of deflecting strikes (don't worry, there's a button dedicated to it). Dark Souls teaches you how to defend. Bloodborne tells you to press the attack. But Sekiro's wisdom is in applying both principles simultaneously. When you finally clock the patterns and timing of an enemy's spear, or a forgotten mentor's throwing knives, the resulting finale of clashing steel is more like a beautiful, choreographed routine than a scrappy fight to the death.
29. Team Fortress 2
The hero shooter for people who don't want to learn the names of thirty weirdoes. Here you've got nine simple roles. A spy, a soldier, a heavy weapons man, a flamethrower trooper, a sniper, a demolitions man, an engineer, a medic, and a scout. Their goal: to capture the enemy team's briefcase of paperwork. It's a fast-paced multiplayer shooter, yes. You will get shot in the bonce from across the map. But the chaos is manageable. There is nobody called "Wanda Wildcard" with 5 distinct powers and 2 ultimate abilities that fill the arena with one of the 12 coloured attacks currently turning a ballroom into total havoc. Team Fortress 2 calls a spy a Spy. Yes, it has evolved since its 2007 debut. It has gone free-to-play, for example. There are new maps and modes and choices of weapon. But at its core, this is still that solid, funny shooter of attack, defence and fashionable headwear.
28. The Sims 4
Interior design simulator. The Sims has always had that doll's house appeal of offering you a way to build your dream home, your fantasy family. You can create a house, drywall by drywall, put nice art in all the hallways and fill the bedrooms with friendly people who will chatter in nonsense Simlish about food and sports. Or you can fire up one of the game's seemingly infinite expansion packs and get specialising. There are island vacation homes to be made, chalet mountain retreats, dogmatically ecological households, and teeny tiny cottages that bring yet more shame to the "cosy" flats of inner city reality. You make your favourite surreal bedrooms from other video games. The Sims 4 doesn't stop at letting you build dream homes. It encourages you to build mood homes. Places for your miniature housemates to rest while you mumble through catalogues to find whatever decor you fancy that evening. In short, it is the only way many of us are ever going to own a nice house. This is a depressing thought. But imagine if there was no Sims 4 to soothe it away.
27. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Okay, let me lay it all out for you. 60 years ago Big Boss, aka Naked Snake, was sent to Russia on a mission to… actually, let me start again. At the turn of the century, the Shadow Moses Island Incident shook the US establishment when… no, that's not a good place to start either. Okay. In 2014, the shadow organisation known as The Patriots had extended their influence to… Ach, this is not working. Look, there's a lot going on in the Metal Gear Solid series, and to pick through the conspiratorial world history of this trivia-obsessed universe is a mission even the most leathery of special ops agents would refuse.
MGS V: The Phantom Pain is a glorious third-person muckabout not because of the winding nonsense happening on-screen between levels (well, maybe a little bit) but rather because of the wide open world. You have the carte blanche of a lone soldier operating behind enemy lines, under the orders of no government. You can deploy inflatable dummies on the road in Afghanistan and lie in the sand nearby until a truck hammers the brakes and the drivers get out to apprehend the balloon man. Then you can steal the truck and drive it into the desert. You can run back and tranquilise the drivers, and take them into the desert too, and wake them up surrounded by a circle of more inflatable dummies. No, this has nothing to do with your mission. You're supposed to be infiltrating an outpost and bringing a hostage to safety. But look at these idiots. This is much more fun.
First-person shooter with a story that is the twisted collision of Jules Verne and Ayn Rand. You are the survivor of a plane crash, washed up at a remote lighthouse in the middle of the Atlantic. Soon, you find yourself deep beneath the waves with a big wrench and a shotgun. C'est la vie. You should probably blast those shouty mutants crawling on the ceiling. For all its schlocky shootiness, BioShock suffers the indignity of being one of the most discussed games in writer circles. Journalists and game designers have pored over every detail to back up their readings of the game's polemic. This is the "here's my take" game of a whole generation of critics.
But dive in with hands-up willingness, knowing nothing but its subaquatic setting, and you are not going to be thinking about any of that. You'll be too busy hacking helicopter drones and setting oil on fire and getting both heebies AND jeebies from the excellent horror-flavoured set pieces. If BioShock is a theme park ride of animatronic story-telling, then it is a really good ghost train. You should leave your skepticism on the grass outside and embrace the nervous scares (hell, bring it with you and appreciate how good the props look). It is only fair that a game with such a strong opening (and one infamous moment in the mid-game) be cursed with a limp finale. You can't have everything.
25. Divinity: Original Sin 2 - Definitive Edition
If you ever wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons but are too socially anxious to play-act the role of a stuck-up lizard prince, perhaps Original Sin 2 is the game for you. This is a fantasy role-playing game that throws you onto a prison ship with a band of scoundrels destined to become the "loveable" kind of rogue at some point. The combat is an isometric turn-based affair that encourages you to mess with the environment. Set oil slicks ablaze, electrocute soaking enemies, turn that corpse into a bloated bag of flesh and force it to fight for you. Just magic things. It's also, er, quite big. There is a central tale about the gods and the fickle games they play with this gang of potential chosen ones. But there are also enough off-beat sidequests and hidden storylines to inspire, oh I don't know, 82 episodes of a "good cop, bad cop" style Let's Play series. It's a huge, chunky RPG that will keep you enraptured for weeks, possibly months, is what I'm saying. And that is before you get into the open-ended co-op or the custom adventure creator that lets you design your own stories to take friends through as a benevolent (malevolent?) gamesmaster.
You could describe Undertale as the plucky underdog of the RPG scene. But that would be ignoring the hundreds of thousands of fans standing behind it with bats and clubs and socks full of snooker balls. Undertale is a plucky, pixelly story about a silent kid who falls into a world of comedy skeletons and sinister flowers. It pokes gentle fun at outdated JRPG tropes, like turn-based battle menus and tileset floor puzzles. But you don't need to be an alumni of Final Fantasy or Pokémon to enjoy the sheer density of its absurdo comedy. There are boney knights who pride themselves on being monstrous, even though they really just want to be friends. There are cute, wordless dogs whose necks stretch to the heavens and back. This is a sweet, well-meaning journey through a world whose only real darkness comes from its traditional black JRPG void. Unless, of course, you ignore the message of the game entirely...
23. Slay The Spire
Basically spawned an entire genre overnight. Slay The Spire is a card game about cutting your way through a surreal dungeon world to stab the giant, pumping heart at its centre. The basics of damage and defence come from other card games before it, like Hearthstone. But this is not a competitive game of collectible minions. It's a taut, single player roguelike where you grow and trim your deck according to the random cards you win between fights. Every death brings you back to the starting deck of plain attacks and standard defences. This all sounds quite simple but, as easy as it is to drop and drag a pummeling bash of a mace onto an enemy birdman, reaching the end of the game is a challenge. You must be economical with your cards, strip away the bloat, gather bonus-granting artifacts, lean into risky strategies that leave you hurting or vulnerable. Fights will feel fierce, sometimes even unbeatable. But behind those armoured brutes and thorny beings of abstract shape lies some perfect, unseen arithmetic. This is an elegantly designed icon and it will probably eat your life.
Have you considered: not killing the wildlife? Survival games place you in a harsh environment, usually populated by monsters, zombies or other threats. Subnautica puts you in a world that is only harsh because you don't belong there. There are no monsters here, only animals you haven't seen before, only life. In this first-person survivathon, you are Robinson Crusoe without his island - a survivor from a crashed spaceship marooned in a lifepod floating on the sea of an aquatic planet. You've got to dive among the reefs and sci-fi shipwrecks to find the materials you need to stay alive. Quench your thirst with some Bladderfish, eat a salted Peeper, take refuge in the big underwater cylinder of titanium you will call home. Other survival games would be content to leave it at this - a loop of crafting and getting by. But here, the radio crackles. A beacon! Somebody else might still be alive! This is how the subtle storytelling begins. Off you go on one of the many exploratory dives through this massive, handmade seascape. As a survival game, Subnautica is the best, with perhaps one blocky exception. As a journey of discovery, it is incomparable.
21. Hotline Miami
An up-tempo bloodsport for anyone with a John Wick DVD collection and six hours to spare. It is the 1980s and everyone is a bad person in a white suit. Observed from its top-down, old-school GTA perspective, Hotline Miami seems like a simple room-clearing shooter. But guns only make up a little of your grim-faced method. You play a man in a chicken mask with the thinnest of plot reasons to do any of his killing. And its the moment-to-moment manicness of the levels that get you. You can bust into a club and daze a nearby guard with the door you've just slammed open. Straddle a knocked-down foe and punch his head until it leaks all its contents on the disco tiles. Pick up his crowbar and throw it at another guard across the room. Dash towards him before he comes to his senses and crush his skull. Only now do you have the gun. This all happened in about three seconds. There are four more men to kill. They're all aiming at you.
20. Apex Legends
The fun person's battle royale. 60 players divebomb onto a colourful map in teams of three and proceed to kill each other off with all the enthusiasm of a murderous clown. This came out at the height of the battle royale fad, a games industry bonfire that had been bellowsed to forest fire size by a similar little game called Fortnite (you might have heard of it). Apex could have been another quick and dirty follower of the craze. Instead, it brought plenty of its own ideas and style. Every character has their own abilities, and they are all extremely quick and nimble. There is something very action movie slick about bumsliding down a hill and firing off a canister of smoke to cover your final sprint into a house where you will thrash your opponent to death with melee attacks in a panic after running out of bullets for the Mozambique, the game's worst gun and butt of all jokes. There's no denying Fortnite's supremacy of numbers, or the mainstream, straight-to-business appeal of Call Of Duty: Warzone. But in terms of fun, Apex Legends runs rings around these games. Then fills the ring with toxic fumes and surrounds it with laser fences.
19. Psychonauts 2
The original Psychonauts became a cult classic for good reason, and the more recent sequel Psychonauts 2 took the established premise and ran, leapt and jumped with it. Raz, everyone's favourite psychic secret agent, is back helping the Psychonauts to defeat an old enemy who's about to return. To do this, you jump into the minds of people around you, exploring their weird and colourful subconscious where trauma is processed as beautiful visual metaphors. A flooded town made entirely of hair. Sensory overload via a psychedelic 60s music festival. An office full of teeth and gums. It's absolutely astounding.
18. Kerbal Space Program
If they taught Kerbal Space Programin high school, we'd be on Mars by now. I don't say this entirely as a joke. KSP is about managing a NASA-like organisation of little green people and getting them into space, further and further, until you have three stranded Kerbals on the moon and have to figure out a rescue mission to get them back. It is an educational game in the same way Minecraft is educational. It is game first, and learning second. But you can't help but pick things up, even if it is just the terminology and meaning of space travel. Apogee, perigee, delta-v. This is space nerd talk, but even a surfer considering the tides can benefit from knowledge of the moon. Anyone who has read a horoscope can appreciate the true meaning of a planet in "retrograde". This isn't to say KSP is an accessible game. It's biggest flaw is perhaps that it requires some education via YouTube before you can even get a ship into orbit (this is rocket science, after all). But stick with it and you will soon plant your Kerbals' waddling feet on another world, and experience the accomplishment a whole nation must have felt during the broadcast of the Moon landing. Except you're not just watching, you're the nerd who made it happen.
17. Half-Life 2
Welcome to position 17. Half-Life 2 is the first-person shooter equivalent of Solitaire. Everyone has it installed. The ubiquitous shooter of crowbar-wielding fame sees its hero, unspeaking physicist and MIT graduate Gordon Freeman, appearing in the oppressed City 17. It doesn't take long for the game to shunt you along its rollercoaster and into the arms of a resistance movement trying to overthrow the quisling overseer of the city and his croaking gunmen. As a shooter, it is a plain thing. There are no special powers or abilities. No wall-running, no backstab animations, no slow-motion bullet-dodging or fancy teleportation (at least none you can control). Yet the appeal of Half-Life 2 is in the momentum of Gordon's tireless stride. It is one long journey from railway track to sewer to secret base to abandoned neighbourhood to beach to prison to city streets, travelling without blinking from one setting to another, like a war movie made from a single long shot. Half-Life 2 may have aged since it zapped into existence in 2004. But it still has some of the best pacing of any shooter you can load up today.
16. Mass Effect 2
Go to space, punch a reporter. Mass Effect 2 covers all the major power fantasies in one intergalactic third-person sci-fi RPG of guns and conversation. The galaxy is under threat from the Reapers, a dormant anti-civilisation made of country-sized squidcraft and conveniently soldier-sized ground troops. It is up to you and a posse of specialists to stop them. The problem: you don't have the posse yet. So off you pop on a round-the-spiral-arms trip to collect and convince some old friends and new buddies to join a suicide mission that will (hopefully) save all sentient life.
This is developer BioWare at the peak of their powers. The game is structured almost like a series of Star Trek. Everyone on your crew has their own problems and, at the heart of their troubles, a loyalty mission. Each one is an episode fully dedicated to that character, and every one unique. Whether that's dealing with Jacob's daddy issues. Or Miranda's daddy issues. Or… Tali's… daddy issues… Okay, so that's 3 out of 12 loyalty missions about dads but the rest are quite varied. You can help your war-hungry Krogan crewmate get through his brutal Rite of Passage. Or aid Mordin the Salarian in a quest to find his scientific protege. The outcome of these sidequests is important too, because depending on how your relationship with your crew has developed the final mission of the game might go awry for any number of them, leading to their deaths. So you better do Thane's personal quest. He is looking for his son and… hey, this is another mission about dads!
15. Kentucky Route Zero
Good things come to those who wait, and it took seven years for all five acts of the strange, wonderful journey of Kentucky Route Zero to come out. Wrapping up with the final act just last year, you play as Conway, a truck driver making his last delivery via the titular Route Zero, a mysterious and secret Kentuckian highway. The focus here isn't on challenges or puzzles, but on storytelling - on the people Conway meets and the magical realist adventures he has, in a world that sometimes looks like a play or supernatural shadow puppet show. It's melancholic, otherworldly, but sweet and thoughtful all the same. One of the best stories yet told in games, Kentucky Route Zero is proof positive that the road less travelled is worth taking.
14. Hitman 3
Kill the boss simulator. Hitman 3 is all about dressing up as the chef and sticking a cake knife in a bad person's back. Or maybe poisoning their champagne. Perhaps planting a bomb under their chair. Making a statue fall on top of them. Pushing them off the roof of an unfinished skyscraper. And thanks to IO Interactive's all-inclusive access passes, you can also do the deed by sabotaging their Formula 1 car and feeding them to a hippo by playing all the best missions in Hitman 1 and 2. You get the idea.
Agent 47 is only the "hero" of this third-person assassinate 'em up because the developers go to such pains to make your targets pantomime villains. Weapons manufacturers, cartel kingpins, movie producers with a side hustle in extortion. They're all a bit rough. But more important than their questionable occupations is that they all have one thing in common: they are just plain rude. Some make snide comments, others talk down their nose to you as you pass them in the game's spacious, detailed levels. Some parade around making open threats. It's all there to keep you psychologically fuelled for the kill. These people are irredeemable. Even Pablo Escobar had a kind smile, you think, as you gore an impolite drug lord in the eye with a tattoo gun.
13. Disco Elysium
Take your need for combat and leave it at the door, friend. Disco Elysium is an isometric RPG without the gunfights or speelcasting. It is set in the crumbling fictional city of Revachol, where people are nasty, violent and broken, but rarely want things to come to blows. At least, not with a police detective as stinking of booze and desperation as you. How are you ever going to solve the murder behind your hotel with such a thundering hangover? Storytelling in games rarely focuses on character development, preferring the broad strokes of baddie vs goodie to give you sufficient reason to gun down the next hundred boys in balaclavas. This role-playing game is all characterisation, all the time. And I'm not just talking about the sweary kid throwing stones at the corpse that you need to examine, or the programmer testing soundwaves in the crumbling church across the canal.
The real character-building is done by you, in the head of your disgraced policeman protagonist. Multiple voices vie for attention as you go about your murder investigation. The calm voice of "Logic" clashes with a supernatural voice called "Shivers". The voice of "Suggestion" entreaties you to convince people with charm, a voice called "Half Light" invites you to threaten them. It's a great trick, turning the skill tree of the common RPG into a set of competing demons that plague your character according to the points you invest in them (or the gaudy jackets and stained neckties you wear that improve these loudmouthed stats). Playing Disco Elysium is like entering and navigating a parallel world while the ghosts of your home dimension still flock around you.
The hero shooter for those who thrive in cartoonish chaos. Overwatch is on the office dartboard of every other competitive multiplayer shooter, mostly out of envy. Six heroes, each with their own handful of abilities, go to smallwar against an opposing group of six on the other side of a scientifically perfect map. Sometimes the goal is to capture and hold a point. Sometimes you've got to push a hoverwagon full of explosives into the opposing team's spawning area. Either way, you are going to be pressing a lot of buttons in a panic.
There's a strategic diversity to this cast of bulletmongers that is influenced by the complicated and slow-moving Moba genre. It started with 12 characters on release and has since expanded like a tracksuit waistband to 30+ land-grab enthusiasts, with plenty of chopping and changing to various characters along the way. The beauty of the roster is that everyone is likely to have their go-to reprobate. Reinhardt with his big hammer (who needs to aim? Just get close). Symmetra with her zappy mini-turrets (great distractions). Sombra's predator-vision and invisibility cloak (they can't kill what they can't see). These are just my three main picks. You could play Overwatch on and off for years and never fully settle on a favourite.
11. 80 Days
Interactive fiction is a dry way to describe this itinerant train-hopper. You're there to make choices as the valet of a wealthy globetrotter, yes. But 80 Days is more than just a book wot you click on. It is the winding garden of forking paths we are so often promised in games, yet so rarely receive. In a steampunk retelling of Jules Verne's novel, you are Passepartout, servant to the stuffy Phileas Fogg, a man who has made a hasty wager to get around the globe as quickly as possible. Your trip might take you through the cold wastes of Siberia or the hot badlands of America. You might book passage on an airship stacked with fellow passengers, some suspicious, some friendly. You might get taken prisoner by a pirate and lose two whole days sitting in the jungle waiting to see what she'll do with you. At some point in your trip, you will step outside onto the streets of Paris or Hong Kong or Constantinople and lose yourself in the streets and the prose of game. It is these quiet moments, free of your master, that you understand what travel is all about. The days drip by more slowly, you explore at a leisurely pace. The 80-day deadline passes and dissolves into the past. If the game didn't tell you, you'd barely notice. Seeing the streets of Pague or Kabul or Lima - that's more appealing than winning any bet.
10. Yakuza 0
The adventures of Tokyo's best agony uncle. This is an action brawler in the same way Die Hard is a "Christmas movie". Yes, the brawling is everywhere, but it also is the least important thing about this story-heavy third-person runaround. You play Kiryu Kazama, a low-ranking member of the Dojima crime family in the seedy demi-fictional city district of Kamurocho. Your superpower is fists, feet and thoughtfulness. There is a twisting, melodramatic plot with all the characters and tropes of Yakuza movies or long-running TV dramas. And Kiryu is in the centre of it all, implicated in a murder he didn't commit (he only beat the guy up, promise) and determined to unravel the mystery.
And that is only the main story. Listen. There are video game sidequests, and then there are Yakuza sidequests. Kiryu is the perfect mark for the city's many conmen, and the hero-about-town for its put-upon citizens. He is naive and well-meaning, an avatar of Power Ranger wholesomeness. Supportive, friendly, loyal, violent when needs must (and needs often must). There are downsides to the game's long-running formula. Even fans will lament that, yes, there sure is a lot of samey fighting. But Yakuza 0 is not about that. It's about helping the members of a rock band become more authentically "tough". About helping a kid win back his copy of much-loved 1980s RPG, Arakure III: Quest For The Quantum Quill, which has been stolen by a thief. Only to find that even these small stories have layers of their own.
Punch a tree, make a house, invite some pals, wake up to find your entire back garden is now a castle. Minecraft is computer Lego, yes, the easy brick-by-brick nature of its world invites anyone to go buck mad with imagination. In vanilla mode, it is a cracking survival game that lobs you into a randomly generated wilderness and asks: what's your plan when night arrives and the bad things come? In creative mode, where you can fly around with an infinite palette of bricks and gadgets, it asks nothing but what type of cornicing would work best in your palatial lobby.
The things people build in Minecraft are, by and large, reminders that humanity is not so bad. From simple beautiful houses to whole towns spreading vertically across the hillsides to an entire modern city. And let's not forget its functioning computers. All this, and we have still not exhausted everything this literal blockbuster has to offer. Because once you go online and discover the vast spread of servers, you'll see how much your understanding of the game can change, how versatile it really is. These can be strange places, worlds with arcane rules and bizarre minigames like "bed wars" and "death run". If that is a bit much, the best Minecraft experience is still one of the simplest: grab a friend or two and start a realm of your own.
8. Portal 2
For a medium that prides itself on the manifestation of bizarre physical impossibilities, video games often simply recreate the phenomenon we know from reality, and then give it a fantasy name. An interstellar tempest in Stellaris is just a really high storm. The gravity gun of Half-Life 2 is a big magnet. In first-person puzzler Portal 2, you shoot a couple of separate walls with a weird gun and thin doorways appear connecting one wall to another in what has become the most wonderful magic trick ever performed in games. It feels like a true phenomenon.
Give either Portal game to someone for the first time and they all react with the disbelief of that baboon who sees the paper disappear. They will create an infinite hall of mirrors to walk down, they will put portals on the floor and ceiling to make an endless tunnel to fall through. Eventually they will do the game's actual puzzles, rooms of three-dimensional thinkiness that will earn your grudging respect. The sequel offers all the wonder and comedy of the first game with added slip-slidey goo and bouncey floors, not to mention a couple of jolly co-op robots who will give you and a close friend some of those severe trust issues you've heard so much about.
Escape hell, annoy your dad. As the little-known Greek god Zagreus, you've got to stab and dash your way out of the underworld, death after death serving as a reset button for the isometric roguelike combat. Of course nobody can escape Hades, don't be foolish. But why would you want to when so many interesting people live down here? The popular joke is that every character in this realm is as hot as the spicy green fire that licks around the edges of the screen. They are all fully voiced thirst traps, who will offer different lines of dialogue depending on a frightening number of variables, somehow keeping the traditional repetition of a roguelike from turning its accompanying storyline stale.
Not all deities and demi-gods want to help you out either. Others might require a random dice roll of providence to soundly beat with a particularly good spear or bow. Whatever the case, you'll probably find yourself clashing with your old flames time and time again, dashing back and forth across the room to avoid a literal bullrush from Asterius the Minotaur, or dodging a barrage of pink spit from a bony Hydra's head. Get it wrong and its another clamber out of the blood pool at the start of the game. Another disapproving glare from dad.
6. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Gruff-voiced fantasy role-playing game set in a kingdom beset by war and big griffins. Your hero, Geralt of Rivia, is a sort of white-haired Wolverine of a parallel medieval era. He slurps potions and solves crimes. His occupation is "monster slayer" but he does a bit of world-saving on the side. Really, it is all an excuse to track down and find his adoptive daughter Ciri, and you spend a lot of the game ambling from town to town doing odd jobs and quests for friends (fairweather and otherwise) in an effort to discover more on her current whereabouts.
If Mass Effect 2 offers you the best Star Trek game your measly earth bucks can afford, then The Witcher 3 is a playable Game Of Thrones. Well, sort of. Based on a book series by novelist Andrzej Sapkowski, the monsters and myths of the game come from Eastern Europe's lorebooks more than anywhere else. There are fewer dragons and more bloated unborn babies, long-limbed drowners, and antler-sporting leshen. Once upon a time, if you had asked the perpetrators of this list for the best fantasy RPG that sends its player on a cross-country adventure where their choices matter and new companions live or die on the back of your actions, you would have simply been handed whatever Dragon Age came to mind and told to "romance Alistair". The Witcher 3 has long butchered and barbequed that sacred cow, becoming the fanciest third-person choose-your-own-adventure on PC.
5. Dishonored 2
Dishonored 2 is a first-person stealther that has you explore the splintered, sunny region of Karnaca in search of some high-profile baddies to assassinate. What separates this game from any other stealth adventure is its Arkane heritage. These devs really know how to make an immersive sim, and they've crafted some masterful levels for you to unpick with your supernatural powers. A Crack In The Slab and The Clockwork Mansion are frighteningly clever missions that bend to your blade as much as they boggle the mind.
If anything, Dishonored 2 is a masterclass in design. Not only do you feel like your stalking targets, you feel like you're creeping through an architect's showroom. You can choose to leave everyone alive if you wish or you can opt for a more chaotic approach. Whichever you'd prefer, I mean, you're in control here. Whatever methods you opt for, the outcome is the same: delight. Is this stealth perfected? Quite possibly.
4. Dark Souls: Remastered
The hard game. Let us not mince words, as Dark Souls will mince your body and bones. This is a grim-faced, fantasy action RPG where you will get hurt and often frustrated. People will say to you "oh no, it's not a hard game, it wants you to learn, it is a game about perseverance". That's all fine. But also, you will be crushed by a boulder. You will be set on fire by a dragon and have to start from the last checkpoint all over again. This is still a game of third-person sword-swinging and panicked dodge-rolling. Everybody's pain threshold comes at a different point in the gloomy world of Lordran, where the only direction is provided by sour-faced chucklers in armour, or big, bearded leviathans hiding in the ground.
But if you do manage to burst through that wall of hurt with the stubborn tenacity required by its punishing bosses and sadistic traps, you'll become a seasoned wayfarer of the single best level in video game history. Yes, it is all one giant level, a "closed world" rather than an open one (show me the loading screen that says otherwise). The city ruins lead to the sewer depths, the depths give way to the blighted slums, the slums stick out of the swamp, the swamp drips into ancient volcanic ruins. Every step in this landscape is the furthest you've ever been from the shire, numbskull. Until you find a mysterious contraption, an elevator, a doorway, a shortcut along a cliff that leads, oh my word, all the way back home.
3. Stardew Valley
Farming simulator with a whole life attached to it. You can happily spend every day growing carrots or wheat or flowers on your outskirts farm by this pixelly village, ambling into town once in a while to sell your beetroots and buy seeds for next season. But you won't. You'll go fishing on the pier for a whole week. You'll explore caves and meet some slimes. You'll hand a homemade pie to your favourite neighbour and watch their face distort with polite yet unimpressed acceptance.
Stardew Valley is the spiritual successor to ye olde Nintendo farm 'em up Harvest Moon. But the density of stuff to do in this little hamlet surpasses anything your nostalgic memory of those older games can manage. You can rebuild a community centre with the help of some magical pipsqueaks. You can start a one-person jam industry. You can stick your nose in the dramas and problems of the villagers. You can woo and marry that pie-hating neighbour, and have a baby with them who will sit in the house all day and do nothing while you toil the earth, what an ingrate. Stardew Valley offers its players low-key control over a small patch of land. It is less a power trip and more the manifestation of that simple life that so many of us, at some point, wish we could have.
2. Return Of The Obra Dinn
The best game about an insurance man ever made. Obra Dinn is a first-person detective sim set aboard a ship in the 1800s that has been found mysteriously emptied of its crew (the skeletal remains of the captain and a few other notable corpses notwithstanding). You have a magical pocketwatch that allows you to see the deaths of all those on board in flashback-o-vision. The problem: you don't know their names. So begins a 60-person murder mystery that requires all the logical deduction of a maritime Miss Marple. To say any more would be to spoil its many secrets, which are best left discovered for yourself. The less you know about Obra Dinn going in, the better.
1. Outer Wilds
A homebrew NASA mission in a spaceboat made of wood, and certainly the PC game that's left the deepest mark on our memories in recent years. You are an explorer from an alien world who has noticed something funny about your sun - it seems to be exploding every 20 minutes. With each explosion you are flung back in time with another brief window to sojourn around the solar system and discover secrets. It's Groundhog Day in space. Russian Doll without the hangover.
The suggestion is that you go find out exactly why this stellar time loop is occuring. But before you unravel this mystery, you will take your first-person spacesuit to a handful of planets and planetoids, scooching from one globe to another to find ruins and runes hidden on the surface (and sometimes below the surface). Another race of alien beings once lived in these places, and only a few scattered members of your own species can be found on these worlds, toasting marshmallows on their campfires, lying in hammocks, playing banjo or harmonica or drums, all completely unperturbed by the regular spasms of time travel assailing their bodies.
This is a sci-fi folk tale that lets you be the bumbling protagonist, bonking your head on rocks and falling to your 19th death. Perishing in clumsy spaceship crashes, suffocating in space, drowning in cold sand, falling into the sun, being eaten alive by something you swear you've seen before so many lives ago on your home planet... You will die a lot in this playful orrery of exploration and discovery, where the laws of physics and weather that apply on one planet do not apply on another. But you will always come back, warming your feet in front of a campfire. As a game, it is a wholesome, beautiful thing. As a story, it's a soothing meditation on death and why - if you think about it - it's pretty silly to be afraid of whatever comes after the ultimate head bonk.
We didn't think Outer Wilds could possibly get any better, either. Then developers Mobius Digital released their sensational expansion Echoes Of The Eye at the end of September, and well... we almost threw ourselves into the sun out of sheer disbelief. This is a game of rare imagination, and one that captures that sense of awe and wide-eyed adventure like few others. We won't say anymore for fear of spoiling its many secrets, but know this. Outer Wilds has firmly planted its flag on the quantum moon of our collective hivemind, and that's why it thoroughly deserves its place as our ultimate Bestest Best of all time.