I know you can hear them too – the plucky strings accompanied by pleasant woodwinds that greeted us every time we opened Buy Mode. The Sims is iconic for so many reasons, from its soundtrack that is undoubtedly burned into our brains to cheat code prompts that live in the memory space right next door. This unique simulation game made day to day life exciting. We could concoct drama and design our own stories, complete with the tools to build dream living spaces. The Sims gave us an incredible playground to be creators and destroyers, and though The Sims' newer iterations make Sims far more complex, the original stands as a classic. Plus, it allowed us to drown our Sims in pools, which is, as we all know, an essential Sims experience. The new Sims are too smart for that.
Who can forget the moment they first shot the face off a possessed farmer in Resident Evil 4, only to conjure a lively Lovecraftian horror with tentacles squirming from its neck? This was Resident Evil reborn, its creaky fixed perspectives and klutzy directional controls supplanted by a freer over-the-shoulder, shoot-first perspective that felt at once elegant and intuitive. Instead of cheap haunted house scares in claustrophobic spaces, the story shifted to organic exploration of delightfully creepy areas, punctuated by frenzied scrambles to fend off the series' most inspired adversaries. Capcom's timely embrace in 2005 of action-oriented principles stole nothing from the game's cheerless ambience, and actually amplified the sense of trudging through a phantasmagoric nightmare.
Half-Life 2 forever changed our expectations for what a first-person shooter could be. Its richly imagined world and wonderfully paced gameplay is a delight, never letting up and brimming with invention. The Gravity Gun is obviously the poster child of Half-Life 2, turning each environment into a tactile playground in which you can create improvised weapons and solve basic but clever physics puzzles - and its importance can’t be overstated - but there’s an awful lot more here.
Fortnite changed the playing field of battle royales upon its release in 2017. Originally starting out as a purchase to play cooperative shooter-survival game with the title “Save the World,” Epic Games branched out and opened up an early access Fortnite Battle Royale mode. Over 10 million players amassed over the first two weeks of the release and Epic quickly changed their Battle Royale to a free-to-play model. Almost overnight, Fortnite became the reigning battle royale game to play as consistent updates to the map and limited-time game modes rolled out. With the steady flow of fresh content and updates to Fortnite’s Battle Royale, it stands out in its genre as a colorful and unique title other games have yet to compete with.
Cutscenes were one of the driving forces behind the success of PC gaming in the late '90s and Blizzard was regarded as the king when it came to jaw-dropping visuals. They took things to an entirely new level with StarCraft and the Brood War expansion in 1998, though. Not only were players treated to an excellent RTS experience, but their reward for completing sections of the campaign were evocative visuals that further immersed you in a world where humans are losing a war against brutal space aliens.
In the 1980s, the years that led up to Nintendo's reign were dominated by PC titles, and of these none were better imagined than Sierra's. When honoring their adventure line, critics typically laud the original King's Quest. But it's the third installment released in 1986 that deserves the most acclaim, because it was also twice as big as the first two installments, and as clever as any in the series. Following the adventures of Daventry's 17-year-old Prince Alexander, the game hit closer to home with its primary players, who like it or not were pretty much boys. Yet despite the outmoded graphics (or maybe because of them), the keyboard-controlled adventure is still a joy to play (try it yourself). From amassing all the ingredients to make potions, to avoiding the wizard's evil black cat, to stealing the pirate's treasure, it's pure magic.
The series’ A.I. Director, which in the first game handled how many zombies pounced on you depending on how well you’re doing, got an upgrade. It not only controlled the flow of zombies, but would try to force players to take more difficult paths in a level, and reward players with extra health packs and ammo if they were doing well. Though the original development team went on to create the asymmetrical multiplayer shooter Evolve, nothing has quite matched the visceral thrills and scares of Left 4 Dead 2, which stands as one of the pinnacles of modern co-op gaming.
Contra was one of the few cooperative video games of the 8-bit era where player two didn’t feel like a burden dragging you down with every step. With plenty of weapon drops to go around and hordes of enemies coming from every direction, a partner’s firepower was a welcome addition in most situations. And if a friend couldn’t keep up the pace on the waterfall level, you could easily incentivize them to improve their skills by scrolling the screen upward and killing them, which I did whenever my little brother lagged behind.
L4D2 - developed in-house at Valve - has more creative levels in its campaign, more special infected to kill (or play as, if playing in Versus Mode), a bigger variety of weapons, and protagonists with some actual personality. Even the Source Engine, though already showing its age with L4D1, looked - and most importantly, played, - just fine, considering the dozens of ravenous zombies the game could throw at you at any moment.
Playing the latest installment in a major gaming franchise like Madden, Grand Theft Auto or Final Fantasy makes it easy to get hooked on the story, style and general concept behind the game. Players who experience these video games are often left wanting more from the same franchise. If you're looking to dive more deeply into your favorite video game's backstory, you can browse by game franchise to see what you can find. This is also a great way to discover new game expansion packs and installments for a title you're already playing. Franchises like The Sims and Minecraft are particularly suitable options for this kind of add-on browsing. You could end up finding new ways to play the game you currently own by introducing new expansion packs to your existing setup. Discover new and old options for playing your favorite franchise titles, and stay on top of your preferred virtual worlds by periodically browsing to see what's new.
Thief II gave the player all the right tools for the perfect heist, along with interactive maps for writing notes. It rewarded taking your time, and of course, listening to some of the best guard banter in any game to date. Silently sprinting along rooftops, ducking through secret mansion passages – the game didn't just make you feel like a thief, it made you feel like a master of the craft.
And as is typical of Blizzard as a studio, Diablo II can be played on countless different levels. I never even touched most of what the game had to offer, but ultimately I didn’t need to. The simple joy of wading through thick knots of enemies with my necromancer and his summoned brood of skeletons and mages, setting off chains of corpse explosions and painting the world red was an end game in itself.