PC

The 12 Best Games On PC

PC gamers have reason to crow, since they get often the best of both worlds. Quirky and cheap smaller titles? Yup. The shiniest, most impressive versions of AAA multiplatform games? Yeah, they get those too. Mostly.

And now you’ve joined their ranks. What should you install? Start out with the dynamic dozen below.

Update (July 24, 2013(: It’s a long overdue update for the PC platform, with three games leaving and three coming onto the list. Skyrim — which was out when this list debuted — jumps onto the Bests because of the post-release addition of Steam Workshop, which lets you seamlessly access and install hundreds of the awesome mods available for the game. It’s joined by XCOM: Enemy Unknown, FTL and Far Cry 3. Wave good-bye to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dirt 2, Mass Effect 2 and Bejeweled 3.

Battlefield 3

An incredible accomplishment of scale, EA’s premiere first-person shooter opens up a massive toybox of guns, vehicles and gadgets for players to deploy on huge swaths of real estate. In the span of 15 minutes, you can go from sniping at enemies hundreds of yards away to a firefight next to a crumbling building to dogfighting enemy fighter jets. And it all looks amazingly shiny and dynamic.

A Good Match for: Team players. Moreso than in rival Modern Warfare 3, DICE’s game rewards gamers who choose to play support roles to the gung-ho alpha males on the frontlines. So, just because you’re playing an engineer or a medic doesn’t mean, you won’t be getting experience and to spend and achievements to brag about.

Not for Those Who Want: Robust singleplayer. Nothing about the feeble twists and turns of BF3‘s solo portion disguise the fact that it’s basically a training ground for the multiplayer ecosystem.

Also available on Xbox 360 and PS3.


Civilization V

The legendary turn-based strategy series changed things up significantly with Civilization V to make would-be world domination much more streamlined. Maps are easier to navigate, crucial information flows easier and it’s the best-looking entry in the family tree.

A Good Match for: Event planners. Like a wedding or a milestone birthday party, Civilization V‘s all about knowing your guests and what they need to have a good time. Of course, those “guests” are rival nations and “a good time” is submitting to the power of your empire.

Not for Those Who Want: Older Civ games. Civilization V is no incremental sequel, and the difference could alienate die-hard fans of the historical franchise.


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

An expansive world, hundreds of hours of content, the limitless potential of mods and nobody telling you how to enjoy it. Skyrim is almost the perfect example of a perfect PC game. It’s testament to a game’s pull that, years after its release, people are still talking about it and exploring it like it was brand new.

A Good Match for: Anyone who loves adventure. And freedom. Skyrim drops you in a world and lets you get on with it. You can walk around picking flowers, or you can fight giant dragons. Up to you.

Not for Those Who Want: A tight, linear experience. This isn’t something that will hold your hand and that you can be done with in a weekend. You don’t buy Skyrim. You invest in the days/weeks/months you’ll lose playing it.

Also available on Xbox 360 and PS3.


Far Cry 3

One minute you’ll be hang-gliding off of a beautiful mountain overlook, the next you’ll be nose-deep in the jungle, sneaking up on an enemy patrol. Our running for your life to escape a collapsing ancient underground ruin, or hunting sharks off the coast, or ramping a jeep off a cliff, or going on a drug-addled vision-quest, or, or, or…

Far Cry 3 is a game of intimidating scope and variety, a first-person shooter that combines stealth, exploration, driving, swimming, all-out combat, and wild-animal hunting… and somehow manages to make it all work together. It’s gorgeous to behold and even better in action, and it shines brightest on PC, where you can see it in all its high-resolution glory. (And some easy-to-use mods let you further tailor the experience.) Far Cry 3 is a wild ride, and one well worth taking.

A Good Match for: People who love open-world games, completionists, tiger-haters, virtual tourists.

Not for Those Who Want: A serious story, great multiplayer or interesting co-op, a game about how fun-loving and friendly tigers are.



FTL

FTL is a roguelike about space exploration and where the biggest draw is that you don’t know what will happen next. That’s a good thing: levels and situations created on the fly mean that nearly every playthrough is memorable. You’ll command a crew and do your best to go into deep space: Chances are, you won’t survive. But hey, maybe next time you’ll do a little better.

A Good Match for: Those who revel in the idea of flying off into the deep recesses of space just to see what they find, and those that love the idea of commandeering a space ship. Also, for those who don’t mind chaos. There’s a lot of randomness in FTL.

Not for Those Who Want: Those who don’t like a challenge, as FTL is a particularly difficult game. Also probably not a good match for people who, for some reason, hate space and space travel.



Half-Life 2

Gordon Freeman’s second FPS foray often gets name-checked as one of the best games of all time and with good reason. Half-Life 2‘s 2004 release marks the moment that first-person games took their first steps towards subtlety, with character development getting as much of an upgrade as the graphics and gameplay.

A Good Match for: Method actors. The crowbar-wielding theoretical physicist you play as never talks but the characters and environment surrounding him do such a good job of telling you about the world and Gordon that you lose yourself in the character.

Not for Those Who Want: A done-in-one experience. All the Half-Life games weave together to tell a larger story and they’re all so good that there’s no way you’ll be able to walk away from City 17 and the world surrounding it. Luckily, you can get them the titles on Valve’s Steam service, in either the Orange Box — which also contains the excellent Portal — or in the Half-Life Complete bundle.

Also available on Xbox 360 and PS3.


Mass Effect 2

BioWare’s sci-fi action RPG series streamlined its user interface for the second instalment and ramped up the scope and the level of action. Your Commander Sheperd continues the fight to stop the Reapers with new crewmates and journeys even further into the galaxy, with even more of the hard choices that ME players love to make.

A Good Match for: Soap opera fans. Even though the fate of the universe is the main driver of the series mythos, it’s the personal interactions with a well-written cast of characters from far-flung cultures that’s won Mass Effect such a loyal following. Who will you try to romance?

Not for Those Who Want: Deep customisation. Players got bogged down in all of Mass Effect 1‘s menus but still wound up feeling like they had unique gear and strategies for all that work. Mass Effect 2 unimaginatively pushes players along singular progression and feels a bit shallower as a result.

Also available on Xbox 360 and PS3.


Minecraft

The best way to explain Minecraft‘s success is to see it as tapping into humanity’s need to build huge outlandish structures. Indie designer Markus Persson’s hit title has let people recreate everything from the Death Star to retro video game levels, while also providing a survival adventure mechanic to keep things interesting.

A Good Match for: Frustrated urban planners. Aside from the dodging the game’s monstrous green Creepers, all you need to build your Tower of Babel is patience and time.

Not for Those Who Want: Hi-res graphics. Part of Minecraft‘s charm is in its blown-out pixellated aesthetics so, if you prefer a steady diet of Unreal Engine-powered content, pass up Mojang’s sandbox phenomenon.

Purchase from: Mojang


StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

It’s one of very few video games that can be called a national obsession. Elite players of Blizzard’s real-time strategy sequel can out-earn corporate middlemen in China or Korea, but the sci-fi conflict simulator’s most significant currency is the devotion from millions all over the world.

A Good Match for: Jugglers. Succeeding in StarCraft II means waging war on multiple fronts as you keep an eye on resources, deployment, defence and offence in skirmishes where you can be overrun in an instant.

Not for Those Who Want: Gentle introductions. New participants to the Starcraft multiplayer experience will get chewed up as they learn the strengths and weaknesses of the Zerg, Protoss and Terran factions.


Team Fortress 2

Valve’s cartoony multiplayer shooter was one of the surprises in their 2007 Orange Box compilation, debuting as a sort of user-powered story engine where the players’ actions — as one of nine classes — determine the drama. Since then, it’s been one of the most robustly supported releases on PC, growing organically like few other games.

A Good Match for: Management consultants. Success happens best in Team Fortress 2 when everyone on a squad focuses on their role and not on individual glories. So, when the Medic sticks to healing, the Engineer to turret placement and the Spy to subterfuge, everybody wins.

Not for Those Who Want: …to avoid the lure of micro-transactions, really. There’s no real have/have-not divide in TF2, but you’re a nobody if your Demoman’s not kitted out in cool duds. Grabbing gear is the main driver for much of the TF2 hardcore and you’ll be hard-pressed to resist its seductive pull.

Also available on Xbox 360 and PS3.


Total War: Shogun 2

You can almost hear the battle cries and smell the gunpowder in Creative Assembly’s newest strategy game, which gives players the goal of ascending to supreme military domination against rival feudal lords. Improvements in AI behaviour and the introduction of skills allocation let you be a more flexible commander than in previous Total War games.

A Good Match for: Akira Kurosawa fans. Some of the Japanese director’s best dramas took place in Japan’s feudal period and this Total War game gives a big-picture view as the kinds of conflicts that daimyo and samurai soldiers fought in. Everything about Shogun 2 — from the artwork to soundtrack to overarching gameplay goals — puts you inside a living history lesson.

Not for Those Who Want: To Rule the World. You only get one country to dominate in TW:S2 game, unlike Empire where the entire globe was your battlefield.

Here’s how it looks in action.


The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

The PC faithful made CD Projekt’s first Witcher game into an unheralded hit, glomming onto the game’s differentiated fighting styles, fluid animations and intrigue-filled plot. Built on a shiny new engine, the sequel exponentially deepened the skills customisation, crafting and world size. Oh, and sex. Lots more of that.

A Good Match for: Would-be writers. Few games can compare to the amount of dynamically changeable narrative offered by The Witcher 2, where the entire second half of the game’s plot morphs according to player choice. Once the spell-casting and sword-swinging’s all done, you’ll want to start all over and see how different you can make Geralt of Rivia’s adventure.

Not for Those Who Want: To learn as they go. Figuring out the best strategies for combat will mean getting your mystical bounty-hunting behind handed to you quite often.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Our game of the year for 2012, XCOM: Enemy Unknown may be well known thanks to the rare success of a turn-based strategy game on consoles. But XCOM’s true home is the PC, and Enemy Unknown honours its heritage with dramatic tension and decision-making that truly feels consequential. Tasked with repelling an alien invasion of earth, some of your most precipitous choices take place away from the battlefield, in choosing what weapons systems to fund, which country to rescue from an alien incursion, and which ally you simply cannot help. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is also a rarity in that it features both a compelling story and near endless replayability.

A Good Match for: Gamers who love a good challenge and have a good imagination, to support the overall context with their own emergent narrative. The investment in individual soldiers becomes nearly emotional, and losing them in battle can be agonizing. A good does of patience and perspective is needed, too. You will not win every match. Everyone will not stay in the alliance. Sometimes, you’ll feel set up to fail. You can still prevail in the end.

Not for Those Who Want: Fast-paced action, or who expect to grind their way to overwhelming victory on the battlefield. The game often throws more at you than you can handle with headlong force. Thinking about your next move is where the gameplay is, more than making it, and XCOM really connects your battlefield choices back to ones you made at HQ. “Why didn’t I research plasma weapons?!”


NOTE: This list will be updated if and when we discover better games. We will only ever list 12 games, at the most.