25. Diablo II
YEAR 2000: The dungeon crawler par excellence, Diablo II is for many still untopped in the realms of fantasy hack-and-slash. There's no denying the repetitive gameplay, but the devil of Diablo was in the intricate character stats - the bigger, better weapons and the endless quest for self-improvement. Add random generation, high production values and the marvel that was battle.net and you get a game that may never be surpassed.
24. Call Of Duty
YEAR 2003: More Nazis? Oh go on then... From developers split from the MOH: Allied Assault team came another title to raise the WWII shooter bar into the stratosphere. From aerial insertion into France to a dread-filled river crossing before the smoking ruins of Stalingrad, the tension rarely relented - and when it did you'd usually been killed.
23. Baldur's Gate II: Shadows Of Amn
YEAR 2000: From the RPG masters at BioWare, BGII truly felt as if you were living an adventure through a real world. Romance, deceit, your own stronghold digs and weighty decision-making were just as important as stabbing vampires in the heart. There was so much detail that it just boggled the mind.
22. Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
YEAR 2003: Here's what happens when RPG heroes BioWare raid George Lucas's cupboard: the best Star Wars game ever. Set thousands of years before Luke Skywalker was even a twinkle in Anakin's evil eyes, KOTOR was a sprawling RPG with fantastic characters (assassin droid HK-47 was unmissable) and genuinely intriguing missions. Persuade an escaped droid to return to the mourning widow who'd taken to humping him as a replacement for her dead husband, or tell her to stop being mental? The choice is yours! With a third act twist better than all the prequels combined, it was a meatbag-delighting work of art.
YEAR 1997: A candidate for 'brownest game ever' (along with Quake I and II), Fallout was also an intricately written jaunt through sex, violence, drug addiction and hulking green mutants in a world where the bomb has dropped. Gripping storyline, strong characters and even a few Monty Python references if you looked hard enough...
20. Eve Online
YEAR 2003: Deep down, every MMO feels the same - grind, level, repeat, move on. But not EVE - the first high-gloss persistent game world to truly live beyond the minds of its creators. With player corporations constantly battling it out both via diplomacy and the occasional space fracas, it's more like the real world than any MMO. Plus it's teh pretty.
19. Quake III: Arena
YEAR 1999: id Software's greatest multiplayer frag-a-thon, yet to be matched in its sheer frenetic speed. Unreal Tournament's varied environments and alt-fire modes made many new fans, but to the hardcore shooter fraternity, nothing matched Quake III's unforgiving and brutal gameplay. Rule the railgun and rule the universe.
18. Operation Flashpoint
YEAR 2001: War isn't about pretty explosions, nor is it about regenerating health: it's about patience and getting killed from a very, very long way away. Like a grumpy-faced single-player Battlefield holding a tank manual, Flashpoint has trapped countless gamers in its cruel embrace. A legendary title.
17. Company Of Heroes
YEAR 2006: An epic WWII strategy game with incredible graphics, realistic physics and superb AI soldiers that find cover wherever they are in the dynamically destructive environments, Company Of Heroes is a rock-solid classic. When you've finally finished slaughtering the Nazi war machine in the story-driven single-player campaign, the multiplayer skirmish mode should keep you entrenched at your PC for months.
16. Max Payne 2: The Fall Of Max Payne
YEAR 2003: From the rewound whip sound bringing you back into real-time to the effortlessly cool film noir stylings and soundtrack, destruction has never been quite as satisfying as it was with Payne. A thrill-packed funhouse of violence and inventive design, it even contained a glimpse of Mona Sax's bare behind.
15. World of Warcraft
YEAR 2004: So, according to official figures, you've got almost eight-and-a-half-million players paying £8.99 per month. So that's, let's see, 77 million quid a month. Cripes! Luckily, the experience justifies the global obsession, as WOW is beautiful, addictive and a genuinely wholesome experience (in game terms, if not life terms). It's also the first MMO to funnel in players from the true mainstream - a remarkable feat.
14. Football Manager 2007
YEAR 2006: It may not have the eye-sizzling graphics of other titles, but few could deny a high-league placing for the addictive footy management series begun by the Collyers in 1992. Previously known as Championship Manager, FM is the closest most of us will get to being Jose Mourinho (thank god).
13. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
YEAR 2006: Held below Morrowind after a populist revolt in the PC ZONE offices due to qualms with the levelling system and an enduring love for its predecessor, Oblivion is nevertheless an outright triumph. Beautiful, bold and endlessly inventive, it's one of the greatest fantasy RPGs of all time. From its first moments, it makes you kiss goodbye to
any other waking thought.
12. Unreal Tournament 2004
YEAR 2004: Featuring an arsenal of alt-fire weaponry (the Flak Cannon remains peerless), nimble vehicles, innovative multiplayer modes and excellent AI bots, UT2004 is a violently colourful gib-splattering FPS classic and Epic's most complete shooter experience - at least until UT3 lands on terra firma.
11. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
YEAR 2003: "It should be San Andreas!" "Bollocks - how about the original GTA?" "F*** off. The first 3D Grand Theft Auto is the most genre-defining." The GTA series caused more trials and tribulations than any other in our top 101 discussions, but we eventually settled on GTA: Vice City as our choice of free-roaming adult playground. Vice City enjoyed some hilarious missions (trying to photograph a congressman in congress with porn star Candy Suxxx, for instance), a cast of Hollywood legends (Dennis Hopper and Ray Liotta), plus an unforgettable 1980s setting and soundtrack. Plus it wasn't too big, it wasn't too small: it was just right.
10. The Secret Of Monkey Island
YEAR 1990: They don't make 'em like this any more. You see, Monkey Island was funny. Be it the hilarious insult swordfighting or Threepwood screaming "Elaine!" Graduate-style as his beloved was about to marry the evil LeChuck, barely a single gag fell flat. The puzzles were great too. None of this 'find rusty key put in rusty lock' rubbish. Add in a cast of unforgettable characters (not least Stan the dodgy owner of a used-ship dealership), and an ending that involved a heavily shaken can of grog, and you get a game whose innate lovability will last forever. Plus Guybrush could hold his breath for ten whole minutes: now that's impressive.
09. Battlefield 2
YEAR 2005: Are you an online FPS? "Sir, yes sir!" Are you a frag-infested representation of modern warfare packed with infantry and vehicular combat? "Sir, yes sir!" Do you have boot-and-shoot, instantly playable (well, sometimes instantly playable) 64-player online wars between gruff military types? "Sir, yes sir!" Well, that's nice. Seeing as you've taken the precedent set by BF1942, then added decent tactics and squad-play - and on a good server are the pinnacle of drive, crash and shoot gameplay - you're in the PCZ elite list. "Sir! Thank you Sir!" Good, now go and jump around on an assault course or something...
YEAR 1993: The opening chapter was free to download, and immediately it changed everything. It was single-minded, it was obsessed with keycards, it wouldn't let you look up and down. And yet it was absolutely bloody terrifying: the growl of a pinky, the distant flare of an imp readying a fireball. Doom provided the foundations of the shooter genre we know and love today, from its use of atmospheric sound and lighting all the way through to the omnipresent cult of the exploding barrel. As iconic today as ever it was, its success and its legions of fans have made it pretty much synonymous with the concept of PC gaming. Hooray for hell.
07. System Shock 2
YEAR 1999: "Where am I? Why are the crew's innards smeared into cryptic sentences over the walls? What's that alarm saying? Compartment? Depressurising? Evacuate? Shit, what do I do now?" System Shock 2 was packed with desperate moments like this. Masterfully designed, perfectly paced, fundamentally terrifying and, in Shodan, boasting the most ingeniously portrayed arch-villain ever to occupy a hard drive. System Shock 2 is the ultimate in abject, lidless terror. If you've never played it, then dear god track down an (unforgivably rare) copy of the game. You'll thank us. After a fashion...
06. Rome: Total War
YEAR 2004: From the mists they emerge, marching like one beating drum in columns of red and gold. Arrows streak down from the darkening sky. Siege towers roll towards crumbling walls, their creaking wheels thunderclaps of doom. Then, you fancy a cup of char, press escape and put the kettle on. Rome: Total War contains an inordinate amount of goodness - to label it as a mere military RTS would be an outright crime.
History, technology, entertainment, unreliable drunken generals in your northern territories and heaps of bloody death make it the greatest PC game ever crafted in the British Isles. There's no strategically minded game studio that can currently match The Creative Assembly; Medieval II: Total War is good, but the grip of Rome will last as long as the civilisation it's based on. Or at least until the next game comes along.
YEAR 1998: Half-Life was infused with genius. Even if you were grumpy enough to dismiss the superb level design and robust combat, Valve created an unprecedented sense of immersion. Starting with that monorail ride, the lack of cut-scenes and indirect style of exposition made you feel like part of the storyline in a fashion that was both effective and understated. The illusion of intelligence was just as cunning; hearing the marines talking about what to do, seeing them do it, then getting flushed out by a grenade was superb, and created a feeling that was never quite equalled in the sequel. Just one thing; forget about the last level in Xen. Someone had been playing Crash Bandicoot and got carried away.
04. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
YEAR 2002: Ooh, aren't we controversial? Yes, but constant bickering among the PCZ team has left the Vvardenfell lobby victorious. The argument runs thusly: Morrowind is a better game than Oblivion, if only for the things that Bethesda sacrificed in their pursuit of making the latter that bit more action-orientated. Consider that moment three hours into the game when you realise you've covered only a minute fraction of the map - the sheer scope of Morrowind's world is breathtaking even by today's standards. It focused on creating a rich, deep back-story for every faction and race, and its lore and fantastically varied environments were more enjoyable to delve into than Oblivion's.
You were also more attached to your character and his role in the story. More practically, the taxi-like Silt Striders were infinitely better for RPG gameplay than the adventure-impeding Fast Travel feature, while the levelling system made you feel like you were actually getting progressively stronger and pushing further into the game's wilderness. The absence of voice-acting allowed characters to move beyond the somewhat restrictive vocal talents of Oblivion's actors. In retrospect, the combat was pretty crap, but hell, we stuck with it regardless, and if that's not a measure of this game's brilliance we don't know what is.
03. Civilization IV
YEAR 2005: Looking deep inside the code of Civ IV would be the gaming equivalent of climbing inside the Total Perspective Vortex from The Hitchhiker's Guide - so vast, complex and limitless in potential that your mind would be mulched instantly. Thankfully then, Sid Meier saw fit to nestle a beauteous interface over his creation - letting it feel like you'd got raw history ticking away beneath it all, but keeping it manageable and non-terrifying.
From the very first selection of a decent place to settle to the point at which you first dropped the nuke (and all the pointy-sword squabbling in between), Civilization was
so captivating that bedtime was always pushed into the wee small hours. You couldn't help but give human qualities to your AI opponents, analysing their movements and trying to see through their meaningless platitudes and offers of bananas in exchange for plutonium.
There was just no other game that provided such feelings of glory or impending doom - all through one simple 'end turn' key-press to boot. And with Civ IV, well that's the iteration that just nailed everything: multiplayer, looks, religion, music, modding, engine, Leonard Nimoy... Everything.
02. Half-Life 2
YEAR 2004: We gamers have become steeped in Half-Life - its engine, its Counter Strike bedfellow, its sci-fi lore, its physics, its characters spreadeagled in humorous Garry's Mod poses, and the unexpected desktop disturbance that was Steam. Because of all this white noise, the fuzzy appendages of a game installed on countless hard drives worldwide, it's easy to forget just what made Half-Life 2 (and its offspring Episode One) so damn special.
For a start, it was one of very few games that developed true emotional attachment to its characters, through dialogue, remarkable facial animation and even the odd hug and kiss. Better yet, it allowed you to play a role in some 3D action set-pieces that wouldn't be out of place in the very best of Spielberg or Cameron; to be a part of a stunningly realised future-scape not a million miles away from the mind of George Orwell. It's fair to say that elements of HL2 were slightly too in love with its own physics system; it's also fair to say the squad bits at the end were clunky - but these are flies in a jar of ointment the length and breadth of the North Sea. Valve's creation is, was and remains a vital stepping stone between the games we all love and the games our children will be playing in years to come...
01. Deus Ex
YEAR 2000: Yes, Deus Ex. The greatest step the PC has ever made towards total immersion in plot, character and interactivity. A game that truly made you feel like star of the show - the fulcrum in a global conspiracy upon whom everything hinged. It was a page-turning interactive thriller, fulfilling every action-hero daydream present in the big book of male insecurities.
Hacking into mainframes without being detected, becoming a oneman killing machine as well as a creature of shadows and stealth, and turning on your cruel masters in support of the little man. Who wouldn't want to be the hero?
Deus Ex's plot was always in flux - it delighted in putting you on the spot. Do you put the bloody icing on the cake of your defection by filling Manderley with bullets, or do you walk out the bigger man? Do you protect your brother in his seedy hotel room as Men In Black start banging on the door, or do you start running? In your Half-Lifes and Dooms, the bottom line was that you were playing a game. In Deus Ex, on the other hand, you were breathing a narrative that felt as if both it, and you, truly mattered.
There was some pure trickery too, points at which the game would pull the cybernetic rug from beneath you. Who can forget being shot like a dog on the street before waking up in the evil Majestic 12 base - and slowly realising you were beneath the familiar halls of UNATCO? All this is nothing compared to the freedom Deus Ex forced on you: to use your own brain, think outside the box. Stranded on top of a building with next to no ammo and an enemy to one and all? Why not attempt to cushion your fall with cardboard boxes, jump down four stories, break your legs and crawl away at a painfully slow pace?
With its role-playing depth, its feeling of character ownership and countless ways to approach offing your foes, the fact we were never given a worthwhile sequel is among the greatest of gaming crimes. For sheer immersion, for so brilliantly disguising linearity, for convincing us that we were the centre of our own little universe and for giving us orange when we wanted lemon-lime, it's number one. We wear our sunglasses at night, and probably always will.