Video game development is a tough business. The games cost millions to develop, produce, market, and distribute, and then, in most cases, really only get a couple months of solid sales ’till their product gets thrown in the discount rack—not to mention pirated off the internet! Because of this, video game developers are too often guilty of cutting corners, rushing deadlines, and generally skimping on the polish that can make games great. Only a rare few have what it takes to make it past those first few weeks, let alone to gain entry into the pantheon of PC gaming perfection.
If you haven’t heard of this one, you’ve been living in a hole for the last year, or at least not been paying attention to video games. This is the long awaited follow-up to the original Starcraft, which was released in 1996, the game so addicting that a Korean man played it for forty-hours straight and died. It’s developer, Blizzard, is basically the Pixar of computer game companies since they only release one game every two or three years, and each one is the best game ever. They’re responsible for other famous games like World of Warcraft and Diablo.
Starcraft II is an RTS (Real-Time Strategy) game in which you take command of an army and attempt to kill another army. Users can choose to play as the versatile Terrans (humans), the resilient Protoss (big-headed aliens), or the HOLY-FREAKING-CRAP-THERE-ARE-SO-MANY-OF-THEM Zerg (creepy bug-monsters). While it’s a fairly simple concept, Blizzard has balanced the three factions so meticulously that the game plays more like Chess or Risk than it does like rock-paper-scissors. Its story mode is fun and engaging, with great characters, campy humor, and a compelling plot, but its real treasure is the multiplayer mode. Seconds from launching the game you can be pitting your army against a rival opponent anywhere in the world! The game play is fast, stressful, and wonderfully addicting.
Mass Effect is a game for anyone who loves Starwars, Startrek, or anything else with the word Star in front of it! It’s developed by Bioware, a company previously known for Baldur’s Gate and Starwars: Knights of the Old Republic. Mass Effect is actually a trilogy, the first of which was released in 2008, the second in 2010, and the third is slated to for a release late this year.
Players in this game take command of Commander Shepard, a human hero, who embarks on a galaxy saving quest against a race of sentient machines called “the Reapers.” The story is extremely interesting and is fully voiced by a terrific cast, but what makes this game so remarkable is the degree to which the player can shape the story. Events are set, but the player gets to choose how to respond to these events, causing the story to fork down hundreds of different possible paths. The effect is compounded through the series, since the choices you make in the first game are saved and transferred to the second game and soon the third as well.
The Fallout series is an old one, its roots dating back as far as 1997, but the modern releases, Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, are far and away the series crowning jewels. After laying fallow for years, the franchise was picked up by the RPG giant, Bethesda Softworks, the company responsible for the über-popular Elder Scrolls games.
While the graphics are great, the story is interesting, and the game play is phenomenal, the main tug that keeps me coming back to Fallout 3 is the atmosphere. Bethesda has crafted a world so detailed and convincing that it takes only the lightest suspension of disbelief to feel like you’re there, in the game! Rather than following a set path as in most games, the world of Fallout 3 is completely open, allowing the player to explore and progress the story as he or she wishes. If you’re like me, you’ll spend hours simply exploring, forgetting where you’re “supposed” to be going in favor of figuring out exactly what that gang of super mutants is guarding.
This series is definitely the oldest on this list, and may even be the most successful. The first Civilization games were released in 1991 by Microprose, a long-extinct developer. The mastermind behind the games, Sid Meier went on to develop an army of games with a studio he co-founded, Firaxis games. Over the years, the Civilization series has seen five major installments, as well as a host of spin-offs and expansions.
The most recent version of Civilization, Civ V, was released just last year and shows the benefits of years of polish. Players of will assume leadership of one of history’s civilizations; there are tons to choose from: Roman, American, Mongolian, Aztec, and any others you can think of, and will guide their people through time, from prehistoria to the distant future. As the leader of the civilization you’ll dictate the paths of technological research, the building of national infrastructure, the waging of wars, and the maintenance of diplomatic relations. It’s tough, it’s complicated, and it’s hopelessly addicting! Give this one a try and you’ll soon be skipping showers in favor of “just one more turn . . .”
The Sims 3 is the most recent offering from the best selling PC game series of all time! To compare, The Sims have collectively sold 125 million copies, tying it squarely with Tetris in popularity. While the Sims series is currently in the hands of an EA games subsidiary, The Sims Studio, the series’ roots stem from Maxis, a developer founded in 1987 by gaming legend, Will Wright.
The Sim 3 is like a digital dollhouse; you create a character, build them a home, and they live their lives while you watch. Players can intervene of course, teaching their Sim new tricks like cooking, gardening, writing, and more! They can even marry their Sims off, taking them through the process of meeting, courtship, and, finally, the plunge! If you choose, your Sim can have a baby whom you’ll have to raise and whom you’ll take control of once your original Sim gets old and dies (you’ll have to take them to visit the grave of their deceased parent sometimes, of course.) Addictive, fun, and easily accessible, the Sims 3 is a great game.