PC Gamer's games of the year

Let the console cabal strut around on the flimsy floorboards that barely hide the limits of their smug little systems. Let the pundits proclaim (wrongly, yet again) the death of PC gaming. We here at PC Gamer know differently. Indeed, 2008 proved to be yet another banner year for the best system out there - and, in our humble estimation, the only way to really experience the most gorgeous, most precise, and most innovative gameplay anywhere in the world. Be it the hostile wastelands of Fallout 3 or the lush landscapes in World of Warcraft, PC gaming is awash with award-winning interactive entertainment. Following are the very best of the best. Now get going - you’ve got a lot of gaming to do if you haven’t yet played them all!

Game of the year: Fallout 3
Developer: Bethesda
Publisher: Bethesda
Reviewed: 91%, HOLIDAY ’08

It took a full decade to happen, but the sequel to one of the most-beloved PC role-playing franchises finally arrived in 2008 and proved itself worth the wait. While it doesn’t retain the isometric perspective or play like a turn-based tactical combat game, it perfectly captured the sprit of the first two Fallouts. As we wandered through the post-nuclear wasteland of Washington D.C. battling mutants and raiders and interacting with small communities of survivors trying to carve out a living in the harsh environment, we were awe-struck by a world overstuffed with outstanding occasions.

From the first time the Vault door rolls open to your initial encounter with a 15-foot-tall mutated monster with eight-inch claws to a climactic ending battle that we won’t spoil for you here, Fallout 3 is a game you can’t possibly experience by playing just once. It’s all of these memorable moments - just a few of which are captured right here - that put Fallout 3 ahead by a nose in the tough competition for this year’s PC Gamer Game of the Year Award. In an effort to give them huge egos, we asked Bethesda’s Lead Producer Todd Howard and Lead Designer Emil Pagliarulo what they hope that other game developers learn from the success of Fallout 3.

“Great ideas never die. It didn’t matter that Fallout was a series that was silent for 10 years. The world and core mechanics of Fallout 1 are so inherently awesome that they deserved to be done again, but in a new way. So much of reinventing something again is the presentation. Read old game reviews and see how the audience responded at the time, and find a way to make that happen again. Don’t let anyone tell you ‘People no longer like that.’ What I wouldn’t give to see X-Wing or Wing Commander reborn again. Hmmmm.” - Todd Howard

“Only by playing games, and immersing themselves in this wonderful industry, will developers ever truly know what’s good, what’s bad, what’s expected, what’s what been done before, and what’s fresh and exciting. You have to understand the industry you’re serving.

“There’s a second component to that, and it sounds simple, but it’s the toughest thing in the world: Devs, play your own games! And don’t do it with blinders on. If you create gameplay and it sucks, be honest with yourself and make it better. Because if you think back to best games ever made, one recurring theme is really apparent: They’re playable and fun. And that’s because whoever made those game wanted to create something they’d want to play.

“I think this industry gets too wrapped up with demographics, focus testing, and genre classification. You know what gamers want? Good games. So find your passion, understand what your audience wants, and work your heart out to make it happen.” - Emil Pagliarulo

Best action game: Tomb Raider: Underworld
Publisher: Crystal Dynamics
Developer: Eidos
Reviewed: 90%, January ’09

Most games are lucky to pull off a single one, but in Tomb Raider: Underworld, scenes of jaw-dropping awe - the ones that force you to stop in your tracks just to take it all in - happen again and again. Lara bursts through stone doors, rappels vertical corridors, or turns a corner in a labyrinth of subterranean passageways and finds her next epic challenge towering in front of her, some parts cloaked in darkness, others drenched in light. With gorgeous lighting and detailed textures, Tomb Raider: Underworld is a game that deserves as much hardware as you can throw at it.

If you’ve ever been rock-climbing before, you know the feeling - faced with a challenging and dangerous new environment, it’s hard to tell where to even begin. Tomb Raider: Underworld pits you against ruins, catacombs, and ancient vaults the size of football fields on land and at sea, and you spend much of your time making your way through their obstacles and traps hanging by your fingertips. Underworld’s most rewarding achievement is the way most navigable elements in the environment - including vines, rock protrusions, and ledges - are made easy to identify without looking goofy.

Hats off to Crystal Dynamics for delivering the year’s most exhilarating action in a classic Tomb Raider adventure that balances as gracefully as Lara herself on the line between fantasy and realism.