Back at it once again, nice to have you onboard!
Today’s entry is quite interesting in that…well, it isn’t a console at all. And it actually spans a large period of my gaming life, from 2001 up to the present day. But unlike many who settle on one side of the barbed wire fence between consoles and PC gaming, I’ve flitted back and forth with varied results. So today, let’s take a look at my history as part of the PC Gaming Master Race, shall we?
Like a lot of my earlier gaming life, the specifics of how I came to PC gaming are very unclear. For a long time there was no computer at all in our house, and even when my parents finally entered the 21st century, it was one desktop for the whole house. Some games were allowed to be installed on there, but understandably gaming time was limited, so it was only in 2005 when a family friend built a small desktop PC for me that I finally had a dedicated computer. Since then I’ve built two further desktops and owned a Macbook Pro.
Anyway, the first game my parents allowed me to install on the office PC was…
First Game – Return To Castle Wolfenstein
I’m fairly sure this was a present from the same friend of my dad who got me Gran Turismo 2. Two things; 1) that man has GREAT taste in games, and 2) what was he doing buying me a WW2 shooter with zombies, Nazi super-robots, the occult and gore for days? Good question, but I don’t regret his decision one bit. My first experience of PC shooters was in many ways similar to my other favourite of the time, Medal of Honor on PS1 – WW2 setting, great level design, satisfying gunplay etc – but with a completely different tone all of its own. The story veered all over the place; on any given level you could be fighting regular German soldiers, SS paratroopers, zombies, smegged-up human/monster hybrids gone wrong, super-soldiers, Occult knights risen from the dead and female SS witch troopers. No, seriously. Weapons similarly ran the gamut from regular period-correct rifles (yawn) to miniguns, flamethrowers and lightning guns (schwing) and were all spectacularly satisfying – I drew way more pleasure from watching troops scream and burn to death than I probably should’ve. Regardless, it’s excellent, and the fact it also provided me with my first experiences in online multiplayer – and the shitheads that lurk within – mean it’s an important game to me even now.
5. DiRT Rally
Fun fact: this game was the first ever game I bought whilst still in Early Access on Steam. Two reasons why: a) I was already a long-standing Codemasters/DiRT series fan, and b) it offered the official FIA World Rallycross Championship license and a more simulation-oriented physics engine. That was enough to sell me.
I jumped in, and realised within seconds that it was one of the best decisions I’d ever made.
Even in Early Access, this game was phenomenal. Hardcore yes, and not for the faint hearted, but…you know that scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta stabs Uma Thurman in the chest with an adrenaline shot? Playing DiRT Rally is kinda like being stabbed with the adrenaline shot.
The variety of tracks and cars is staggering, with a Gran Turismo level of love of the craft, but it’s really the sheer visceral experience of high-speed rally driving that this game does so well. Even ragging a relatively low-powered Mini Cooper through muddy Welsh forests is thrilling, but the simultaneous joy and terror of soaring through the air at 120mph in a screaming, 600hp Audi Quattro somewhere in Finland gives the same levels of giddy excitement as the world’s best rollercoaster. And said Rallycross modes are as much fun as it’s possible to have with your clothes on; the perfect hybrid of rallying, touring car racing and Mario Kart. In my Career Mode LP series of this game, I managed 23 episodes – and for someone who normally struggles to keep a series going for more than five videos, that’s a true testament to just how disgustingly fun this game is.
4. NASCAR Racing 2003 Season
Confession time; I’ve NEVER played iRacing. I’ve never been able to justify the monthly cost for a game that a) I’d be terrible at and b) would just make me hate humanity more, given it’s exclusively PvP.
But in another way, I sort of HAVE played iRacing. You see, I’ve played its spiritual grandfather – this.
Still on balance the best NASCAR game of all time, it still leads a happy and healthy life to this day; boxed copies are hard to come by given the original developers went bankrupt in 2004, but the online modding and multiplayer/league racing scene is still massively strong. You can play the game as-is and have one of the best, most realistic stock car racing experiences ever, with phenomenal physics and AI drivers which act in very believable ways. Or, you can explore modding the game and it becomes, much like GTA on PC, pretty much any game you want it to be. A contemporary NASCAR game with updated rosters and tracks? Sorted. A solid league racer? Effortless. A GRID-esque touring car & GT racing selection? Say no more. If you’ve played iRacing, you’ve played a game built on the same engine as this one with largely the same tools. That’s a big enough endorsement of just how good – and timeless – NR2003 really is.
3. Return To Castle Wolfenstein
2. Half-Life 2
Another one in the Metal Gear Solid category of ‘Shit it’s 4am I probably should’ve stopped playing five hours ago’, Half-Life 2 is a mind-bendingly vast odyssey. Like Metal Gear Solid, it tackles sci-fi themes, conspiracy, politics and war. Like Return To Castle Wolfenstein, you fight monsters just as much as you do human enemies. Unlike either game, the neat physics engine allows further gameplay twists that go beyond the realm of simple shooter. The infamous Ravenholm level is a microcosm of the entire game; a level you can beat merely by firing inanimate objects at enemies with the Gravity Gun, filled with odd creatures, surreal storytelling, puzzle platforming sequences and a perfect balance of action and horror. Honestly, if you didn’t blow a hole in your pants the first time you heard the Poison Headcrab’s shriek, you’re going to hell for lying.
The irony then, that the game which beats HL2 to top spot is a game made by the same studio and bundled with HL2: Episode 2…
Because really, was it ever going to be anything else?
The Blitzkrieg Bop of gaming. Short, simple, breathless and captivating. One core concept of thinking with portals, add a light sprinkling of jet-black humour and an underlying story that bubbles under the surface without ever becoming the prime focus of the game, and you have absolute perfection. The fact it’s been taken into the hearts of nerds everywhere and spawned a million memes about cakes being lies says it all, really. And by God, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so upset and conflicted about killing any enemy in a videogame than when knocking over those turrets who apologise and declare ‘I don’t hate you’ in an adorable voice as they deactivate. THE GAME MADE ME FEEL GUILTY FOR KNOCKING OVER KILLER ROBOTS. THAT IS HOW AMAZING THIS GAME IS.
Honourable Mentions: The Sims, rFactor, My Summer Car, Combat Flight Simulator 2, Counter-Strike: Source.
My only beef with PC gaming is that it’s a full-time commitment; the freedom to upgrade and create any spec of PC you want, unconstrained by console development cycles or hardware limitations, is confounded by the ever-shifting market and myriad of problems that can arise. Given how I’ve flitted back and forth from it down the years, that’s maybe my issue – and perhaps that explains why PC gamers have such a reputation for perfection and obsession with their craft. One day I will have the disposable income to craft a proper gaming rig and do this all properly; for now, I have a decent PC which can handle most games with a vague suggestion of 60FPS, which is good enough for me. And PC gaming, inspite of the hair-pulling frustrations like compatibility issues, has generally been good to me down the years.
Are you a proud member of the PC Gaming Master Race (TM)? What have been your favourite memories of PC gaming? Let me know in the comments (and on Twitter @AJV1Beta) and drop back in tomorrow for Part #4, the Sony Playstation 2 – in my opinion, the greatest console generation of ALL TIME. Bring it on, mothertruckers.