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The Greatest Game: Zork: The Great Underground Empire (1982)
Join Grandpa GamesRadar as we regale you with fond memories of one of the best and most influential titles of all time - Zork: The Great Underground Empire. To younger gamers, this all-text adventure may look less like a game and more like an antiquated oddity that belongs on some dusty old shelf next to an abacus and your dad’s 8-track.
To more experienced (i.e. older) gamers, the Zork series laid the groundwork for just about every important genre to come. Searching for the Nineteen Treasures of Zork in the Great Underground Empire introduced the itch for exploration and discovery we’ve come to expect from both classic adventures like Myst and newer RPGs like Fallout 3.
But it was the way Zork enveloped you in a rich and detailed world, full of deadly grues and a fearsome Cyclops, that made it so memorable. When players discovered the “Elvish sword of great antiquity,” they knew they were playing a grand and immersive adventure that was deeper and much more mysterious than the simple candy-colored Pac-Mans and Donkey Kongs of the early 80s.
The second greatest: SimCity (1989)
Build a thriving metropolis or create a hell on Earth, full of congested traffic jams, polluting factories and angry citizens. Besides making Will Wright one of the most famous design gurus of all time, SimCity also spawned the Sim series and introduced gamers to the perverse pleasures of playing god.
The Greatest Game: Half-Life (1998)
Although the title alludes to decay and decrease, Half-Life’s 1998 release was more akin to an evolution. The first person shooter, a reliable stalwart of PC gaming for nearly two decades, had also grown rather predictable by that point. With one mild-mannered scientist and one incredibly unlucky day at the office, developer Valve reinvented the genre forever.
Before Half-Life, the average FPS would open with a clumsily rendered cutscene. Now, thanks to perhaps the best opening in gaming history, players are immersed in the situation as quickly as possible. Before Half-Life, the environment would consist of narrow hallways, flat rooms and color coded door keys. Now we enjoy fully realized, three-dimensional environments based in a recognizable reality. Before Half-Life, enemies were programmed to act as bullet fodder. Now they are taught to hide, retreat, flank and outsmart. Before Half-Life, the shooter genre was all about multiplayer. Now, fans of story and adventure can play as well.
Even today, Half-Life has lessons to teach. We wish every game could tell its story so seamlessly, link its levels so invisibly and create tension so effortlessly. Oh well, maybe in another decade or two...
The second greatest: StarCraft (1998)
Saying that StarCraft was an influential real-time strategy is like claiming that Shakespeare was an important writer. StarCraft may not have been the first modern RTS, but it is the standard by which all new RTS’ are judged. StarCraft’s popularity has survived the test of time and its mark can still be felt in South Korea, where professional gamers continue to rake in big bucks and cheers from their adoring fans.
The Greatest Game (so far): World of Warcraft (2004)
How good does a game have to be to make you fail all your classes or quit going to work? How addicting and immersive does a world have to be to ruin a marriage or long-term relationship? That’s the power of World of Warcraft. It’s so fun that it just might destroy you, transforming your once-normal self into a leet-speaking, loot-loving, full-time raider with three level 80 alts, two mules and an epic flying mount.
Don’t know what any of that means? With 11.5 million subscribers playing World of Warcraft, there’s a good chance that someone very close to you can tell you all about it.
Four years have passed since World of Warcraft was first released, but Blizzard’s proprietary blend of digital crack keeps us playing to this day with excellent expansions that continue to tap our primal urges for leveling up, completing quests, killing other players and exploring vast worlds. We’re not the only ones, either. According to Blizzard, World of Warcraft’s latest expansion Wrath of the Lich King sold more than 2.8 million copies during its first 24 hours of availability, making it the fastest-sellling PC game of all time.
The second greatest: The Sims (2000)
Seven expansion packs - in less than four years - can’t be wrong. By transforming all of human life into an addictive interactive experience, The Sims captured the hearts and wallets of non-gamers, while still managing to earn hardcore players’ begrudging respect.
The Greatest Game: Pitfall! (1982)
As the world’s very first third-party console publisher, Activision didn’t just arrive on the scene back in the early ‘80s – it detonated, setting off a zillion-megaton explosion that changed the gaming landscape forever. And if one single game could sum up all that made Activision fresher, more exciting, and just plain better than stodgy old Atari, it was Pitfall!
First off, laughable as it may seem today, Pitfall! was gorgeous. Main character Pitfall Harry was four different colors, and moved as gracefully as an Olympic decathlete. And the backgrounds and enemies were more detailed than pretty much anything Atari was doing.
On top of that, Pitfall! was vast, with hundreds of screens and a wide assortment of obstacles: Scorpions, snakes and logs that had to be leapt over, quicksand and pits to Tarzan-swing across, snapping crocodiles whose heads you had to jump upon… it felt bigger, bolder and better than other games. Because it was.
The second greatest: Yars’ Revenge (1981)
Tons of shooters enable you to pilot a spaceship. But how many give you control of a giant, fireball-spitting fly made of living space metal? Just one. As a bonus, it also had the best box art in the history of box art.
The Greatest Game: Centipede (1982)
The 5200 took a lot of heat for its controllers, with their side-mounted action buttons and non-centering joysticks that broke all the time. But there was one game that scoffed at such problems: Centipede, which used a high-quality trackball controller half the size of the actual console.
But solid controls weren’t the only thing that made this the 5200’s finest game. There was also the fact that this was a dead-on home port of one of the finest arcade games ever made – honest, Centipede still holds up today, though it desperately needs a trackball controller.
The 5200 would have a strong lineup of arcade ports, including Qix, Pole Position, Joust and a version of Pac-Man that didn’t make players want to stab their own eyes out with their joysticks (see Atari 2600). But Centipede was, and still is, the best.
The second greatest: Rescue on Fractalus (1984)
It was a dead heat between RoF and BallBlazer – even Montezuma’s Revenge got a vote. But the precedents that this LucasArts-developed space shooter set – procedurally generated landscapes, real scares when you “rescued” an alien attacker instead of a friend, and the invention of the word “jaggies” – won us over.
The Greatest Game: Tempest 2000 (1994)
We know what you’re thinking. “How could a crapheap like the Jaguar have any great games?” But not even the typewriter-sized controller of Atari’s doomed gaming kitty could obscure the greatness of Tempest 2000.
Conceived by iconic gaming guru Jeff Minter, Tempest 2000 was an absolute clinic on how to remake a classic arcade game. The essence of the original game was preserved – you were still an abstract crab-thing tip-toeing around the rims of various space tubes and vomiting bullets at other geometric shapes – but it evolved perfectly to suit then-modern technology and new players.
The camera was tighter and mobile. The original game’s sparse line graphics were replaced by vast washes of color and pyrotechnic special effects. There was a pulsing techno soundtrack. Your “ship” could jump. And you could turn most of these enhancements off and just play old school Tempest if you preferred to. What you couldn’t do was stop playing.
In fact, Tempest 2000 proved its greatness by outgrowing the system that birthed it. It showed up later on Saturn, PC, Mac, and PlayStation (as Tempest X3). Today, its greatness echoes in the freeware gem Typhoon 2001.
The second greatest: Alien vs Predator (1994)
With only a passing resemblance to the PC game, the Jag’s version of AVP – the original – put players in the roles of three very different characters: A Space Marine, an armed-to-the-hilt Predator, and a vicious, air vent-crawling Alien. It also had a fairly decent commercial.