The top 9 PC games of 09

Star Trek Online
Boldly game where no man has gamed before

If there’s ever been a franchise that would benefit from the vastness and limitless expandability of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, it’s Star Trek. Seeking out new life and civilizations to phaser-burn for EXP is right up our alley, especially from a series that brought us wormholes and warp drives, transporters and tribbles. Star Trek Online’s promise of being able to customize your captain’s race and the design of your Federation or Klingon starship, and then recruit a crew to take that ship on a mission have us eagerly practicing our Picard Maneuver. The addition of hour-long chunks of content being released on a regular schedule, or engaging in combat with enemies like the Borg sounds as close to the Star Trek experience as we can hope to get in this generation of gaming.

Online in ’09: The future of gaming on the intarwebs

Steam is the undisputed leader in the online gaming arena, but Valve isn’t waiting around for competitors to catch up. In November, Valve rolled out Steam Cloud, a new add-on to the service that stores your profile’s saved games and preferences (like keyboard configurations) online, so that when you log in from another computer and download Left 4 Dead you don’t have to rebind voice chat to your mouse’s thumb button. Valve is also planning features such as auto-updating your video drivers (about time!) and automatically checking your PC to make sure you meet a game’s system requirements before you purchase it.
Currently in public beta and boasting a growing selection of games from years past, GoG (short for Good Old Games) will launch for real in 2009. What sets GoG apart from the rest of the crowd is its focus on classic games, such as Fallout, Unreal Tournament, Sacred, and more, all offered up for low prices ($5.99 to $9.99) and without digital rights management (DRM) that might prevent you from enjoying them years from now. Many games also include extras such as a PDF manual, icon art, wallpapers, MP3s from the game’s soundtrack, and more. Your account also serves as a social network, putting you in touch with hundreds of other classic game fans.

Xfire packs all the services you’d expect in a stand-alone social games app - a buddy list that can link you up with friends in multiplayer games, voice chat, in-game IM, stat tracking, clan managment - plus the recently added ability to take screenshots and video, and even broadcast live video of your matches.

Impulse enters Phase 3 this year, which will include a vastly expanded selection of games including Stardock’s own Demigod as well as games from THQ, 2K, and Atari, as well as Impulse Reactor multiplayer technology that removes the need to open ports on your router to make multiplayer games work properly, enhanced matchmaking, “cloud” storage (similar to Steam Cloud). Impulse will also support for free and paid micro-expansions, such as Sins of a Solar Empire’s Entrenchment.

Games for Windows Live
Games for Windows Live, now a free service, got its first update in November of last year, which changed the interface from a straight knockoff of the Xbox Live version to something more PC-friendly, and debuted a desktop client that serves as a gateway to the (somewhat limited) downloadable content available through Microsoft’s Marketplace. The feature set hasn’t grown since launch (it offers multiplayer matching, achievement tracking, voice chat, and basic friends list functionality,) but Microsoft has promised to continue to update the service. And now that the service is free, expect many more games (such as Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II) to take advantage of its multiplayer matching abilities.