ACE Team’s Zeno Clash, released back in 2009 on Source, landed squarely on the number 65 spot, on page 4.
Dan: What were they smoking? Whatever it was, it needs to be legalized, and perhaps made mandatory for game makers who are setting out to create a unique and interesting world.
Evan: How up-close and personal you get to that world and its inhabitants counted for something, too. You’re not just vaguely wandering a world filled with parrot-men, you’re battering them with elephant-femur swords and exploding gangly humanoid avocados across a Labyrinth-like scene. The combat system genuinely earns one of the titles we throw around freely about games: it’s actually visceral.
Awesome! Speaking of which, ACE Team, would you please port the Ultimate Edition to the PC?
Meanwhile, over at number 62, also on page 4, Valve’s very own Left 4 Dead 2 took the prize.
Craig: The slapstick sequel, a game that sets me up for a post apocalypse full of clowns and electric guitar-based deaths. When the time comes, you’ll find me fending off Jockeys with a frying pan.
Rich: It teased with moments of mastery: when I got an M60 or a jar of boomer bile, it made me feel unstoppable and untouchable. Until the ammo ran out and the horde regrouped. Then it was back to sprinting and shrieking my way to the safehouse like a tiny baby man.
Tim S: Behind the viscera and the vomit lie some delicious ethical dilemmas. I adore those moments when common-sense is telling you to leg it, and common decency is telling you to head back into some seething hell-hole in the vain hope of saving a cornered comrade.
CSS walked home with 60th place, on page 5.
Craig: When it came out, it felt so clean and precise, my first glimpse of the Source engine in full flow, Valve showing off that they could still pull off a hardcore shooter whenever they wanted to. I’m fickle, so having it in a new engine instantly elevated it over it’s older brother. Sharper headshots, sickening blood splats and the amazing ragdoll deaths.
Evan: God, that ragdoll. The greatest possible reward for blasting a counter-terrorist with my AK is watching him tumble over a guard rail and crumple into a pile of limbs.
Cooper: Besides Counter-Strike, what other game could cause mass debates with the naming of a weapon? Seriously, walk into a LAN center and say “AWP” and watch the chairs go flying. Counter-Strike: Source is a near-flawless transition of classic CS to the modern(ish) era, and contains some of the most addictive, pick-up and play combat of any online shooter.
Next choice is quite interesting! HL2: Episode Two took the number 20 spot, on page 9.
Tom: I replayed the whole HL2 series recently, and Episode Two really is the standout of the entire thing. The open air, the Hunters, the ominous march of the Combine towards White Forest. All the Half-Life games are made up of distinct and memorable sections, but Episode Two is the only one where each bit is a joy to play through every time. Even the antlion tunnels – I love the steep shadows, squelchy grubs, and the violent fizz of the acid blobs the workers spit at you. “We must have misunderestimated them!”
Rich: My recollection of Episode 2 is overcast by a giant, gnomey shadow. I carried him for the entire game, jamming him into gaps in my car’s framework and screaming as he flew off into the distance. Clutching his ceramic form to my chest made me feel like a parent, more vulnerable than usual. It also drove home quite how far Gordon’s gone. Episode 2 feels like a journey in a way other games can’t reach – thanks to his silence, it’s your story and yours alone.
Tony: I went on a geocaching date with a scientist’s totally hot daughter. Show me another game that does this.
Just two places ahead, on the 18th spot came the original Counter-Strike, also on page 9.
Graham: In its early days, it was the vulnerability that I remember being compelling. The constant risk of death forced players to tread slowly, to crouch and peak around corners, and to be constantly aware of where their teammates were. You’d join a server and immediately fall into step with a bunch of strangers all playing the same way. That feeling faded as the game became faster and less punishing, and its community larger and less friendly, but what remained is still the most balanced and satisfying team-based shooter. I miss my clanmates.
Norm: It’s hard to imagine that before Counter-Strike, the concept of online tactical first-person shooters didn’t exist. CS not only created an entire genre of shooter, but was (and still is) one of the pillars of competitive gaming as sport. Its purity as a technical twitch-shooter aside, one of my favorite parts of the game were the in-game conversations between dead players waiting for round respawns. In the era of IRC and dial-up connections, this was were gaming communities were formed.
Rich: I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as I was the night before the Galil, Famas, and riot shield were introduced to Counter-Strike. It was the first game I truly knew to its foundations, and I could picture how these minimal additions would shake up the whole scene. Of course, they turned out to be a bit rubbish, but I wasn’t to know that.
Craig: I preferred Counter Strike: Source, so meet me at number 61.
L4D1 holds 15th place, yet again on page 9:
Craig: It’s clearly the most unfair game ever made: swarms of zombies, evil bosses, panicked team-mates all conspire to fuck your shit up. Quit fucking my shit up, people! Yet Valve’s secret sauce make it an experience that’ll keep you coming back. It’s hard to be terrified when you’re bursting a lung laughing, and Left 4 Dead’s balance towards last minute deaths, just inches from safety is… wait, did you hear something?
Rich: I am captivated by Left 4 Dead’s potential for dickery. Matches are tense half-sprints and death is never more than a warty tongue away, but come to the safehouse door and someone will always close it in your face. It’s the human urge to stare at danger and giggle straight back. Or maybe I’m just playing with bastards.
Dan: Playing with bastards is part of L4D’s charm. It makes the decision to leave them for dead that much easier–because you know they’d do the same to you.
Chris: This is why, as a general rule, I kill everyone on my own team if I’m doing poorly. Especially if Evan is on that team.
Craig: Shh. I definitely heard something.
Tom S: Before I played it I always mistook Left 4 Dead for a horror game. In fact it’s pure comedy. Freak Tank charges, stealthy Boomers and freak friendly fire incidents are all punchlines in a riotous comedy of errors. Once the horror of the charging undead hordes wears off they’re some of the best punchbags in gaming. Who knew the zombie apocalypse would be such a giggle?
And on the #14 spot… guess who? None other than the original Half-Life. A bit low on the list, I’d say.
Craig: It still blows my mind that a developer’s first game can be this good. It’s a dramatic, epic, even today, more than 12 year on, it manages to get me panicking and backtracking from headcrabs and cursing the Black Ops team and their prescient grenades.
Graham: Black Mesa is a ridiculous place, filled by long corridors with few doors, massive vats of poisonous acid, and riddled with human-sized pipes, but it was the first FPS I played where I was driven forward by the desire to see what was coming next. What lay around the corner of this strange research facility? What scientist would I meet next? Which weapon? I was never letdown by continuing to play, and when I was done, I kept on playing through the mods that extended the universe in a dozen directions.
Dan: It’s because Half-Life was the first shooter to understand that these games could be more than simple run-and-gun shooting galleries – and it did it better than most games today can manage. Watching the alien invasion tear apart Black Mesa and its inhabitants is one of the best game openings of all time, and it set the stage for one of the PC’s most captivating games.
We’re playing in the big leagues now! Top 10, on page… 10?
Portal got 8th place:
Evan L: Gaming’s best vignette. The laser focus of an indie game with the production quality and cleverness that you’d expect from Valve.
Dan: It’s cleverness that I didn’t expect. Valve’s pre-Orange Box games had all been more or less played straight, with a few gags here and there. But Portal was mind-bending puzzles punctuated by increasingly disturbing and hilarious chatter from GLADOS.
Craig: The sequel is next year’s most exciting game for me, all because of three hours of wonderful, dark comedy and a new game mechanic. They make it seem so easy.
Next up, HL2 took 5th place. Not bad, but we were expecting more!
Graham: It was the first videogame launch that felt like it mattered. Worldwide, at 8am in the UK, the game clicked on for everyone who’d bought it through Steam. I was there, alone in my bedroom, but it still felt like a party. And when it loaded, it felt like a homecoming. Barney! The crowbar! Kleiner! You have a name now – congrats. I don’t know who this Alyx is but she seems nice. Manhacks? Combine? D0g? Despite all the new additions, still it felt like home.
Craig: Every year I find something else to admire about Half-Life 2. This year I’ve not even been playing it, instead I have the soundtrack on my MP3 player. Those tracks are as key to the game as Breen’s amazing speeches and glorious physics, they tie into the atmosphere action so beautifully that I get flashbacks whenever any of them pop up on a playlist.
Rich: I agree with you about the soundtrack, but it’s not the music I love – it’s the incidental noises. The Combine’s blurt of static on spotting you is one of gaming’s most alien sounds: tenuously human but totally unknowable behind that spooky gas mask. The whine after a nearby grenade detonation becomes a cue to get the fuck to cover, the rumble of a plasma ball carving through the air entices you to sit and watch its path of destruction. Best of all is the strider death rattle. It’s so mounful, it almost makes me feel bad for hiding in rubble and twatting the giant tripods with repeated rockets.
Cooper: How does Valve follow-up one of the greatest FPS of all time? With a game that has barely anything to do with the original. Seriously, they ditched the locations, most of the characters, all of the enemies, and even most of the gameplay elements. What remains? Somehow, still one of the best FPS of all time. Little hints of “The Seven Hour War”, rumblings of a plot hidden for those interested, the mysterious Ravenholm… it’s jam packed with awesome, and the episodes to come out since release give semi-yearly excuses to jump back in and play it again.
Norm: The fact that Half-Life 2 still holds up to this day is a testament to the believability of the game world that Valve created with its then-budding Source engine. Half-Life 2’s characters feel real and alive, a feat more impressive when you realize that they’re basically acting opposite a mute.
And, the final Valve game to make the list was… TF2?!
Yes, TF2 on 4th place.
Craig: Remember this time last year, when I suggested I should probably stop after 253 hours of game time? That took two years of TF2 to accumulate. I just checked, and I’m at 595 hours. Why? Valve keep adding new content to bring me back in. Good content, on top of all the hats and paint, there are fun maps and new weapons to play with nearly every other month. I actually want to stop now, as it’s taking up far too much of my time, but they keep bringing me back.
Tim E: Thanks to its classes, a good match of TF2 played within a good and well oiled team often feels like playing a bunch of different games. I’m a particular fan of TF2’s interpretation of Quake 2 – the Soldier class. The speed of the rockets, the feel of a crit landing, the height of the rocket jump, the pump of the shotgun feel near perfect to me.
Tom: The Soldier feels like a class tweaked to perfection: the healing rocket launcher makes him as strategic as I want him to be, and the Buff Banner gives him the long-term goal I’ve always wanted. The game keeps changing enough that I can never entirely quit it: when I’ve lost my appetite for being outmatched online, I can now play against bots and win games single-handedly. I call it Loner Fortress.
Graham: Team Fortress 2 lets you play it a dozen different ways with a dozen different classes, but all I ever do is go Sniper and click on heads. I click, they die. I click, they die. Click. Click. Click.
Norm: No game since StarCraft has evolved so much due to emergent gameplay strategies developed over millions of hours of collective gameplay. I don’t think any of us, Valve included, could have imagined the Team Fortress 2 of today when the game was released three years ago. If Valve’s M.O. is iteration until perfection, I like to think that we’re all part of TF2’s testing team.
Chris: And everyone has a different opinion on which class is the most overpowered (The Spy) and which class consistently gets boned after each update (The Heavy). Few other games have created such personal connections between player and character. If you insult The Heavy, it’s like you’re insulting me.
Tom S: Team Fortress 2 taught me that I could play an online shooter without being teabagged, or having a squeaky kid insult my mother. The sense of humour that runs through every virtual plank of TF2’s levels has filtered down into the community. Games are still competitive, and we’re still blasting each other into bloody chunks, but most of the time a sense of fun prevails. It’s hard to stay mad when you’re confronted by the Heavy’s manic grin.
Then came TES IV: Oblivion on 3rd place, World of Warcraft on 2nd place, and the original Deus Ex on 1st place.
Well, great list! Sure, Valve’s games could have made it a bit higher, but we did well regardless.