45. Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
Thirteen years on from release, Jedi Outcast remains the best melee combat game in existence. It’s surprising more developers haven’t looked to Raven’s sci-fi swashbuckler as a template for creating dynamic, compelling sword fights. There are no locked animations or passive 'takedowns' here. Battles in Jedi Knight are entirely player driven, and Kyle Katarn’s lightsaber is deadly even when he isn’t swinging it.
Combined with the game’s lithe acrobatics and smartly designed array of Force powers, what results is a beautiful, occasionally hilarious blend of tactics, skill and dumb luck. Jedi Outcast also spawned a surprisingly popular multiplayer scene, pockets of which still exist to this day. Some players prefer the later Jedi Academy, which expanded the combat to include dual wielding and the double-lightsaber. But I think the original is more well-rounded.
44. The Stanley Parable
Davey Wreden’s delightfully subversive choice-‘em-up was already a cult classic in the Half Life 2 mod-scene. But the expanded version co-written and designed by William Pugh is genuinely one of the smartest and funniest games ever created.
It’s ostensibly a game about choices in video games, but each door you choose to walk through is really the setup to a joke that can cause a cascade of punchlines. The way the developers have thought two, three, a dozen steps ahead of you never ceases to surprise. The official release version expands upon the basic premise, becoming more of a send-up of the games industry itself, poking fun at everything from Minecraft to moral choices.
43. Company of Heroes
Relic’s World War II RTS was a howitzer to the face of the genre as a whole, proving that strategy could be as intense and exhilarating as the most pulse-pounding FPS. But it isn’t simply cinematic flair that makes Company of Heroes such a remarkable strategy game, although the stunning sight of an artillery barrage obliterating an enemy strongpoint is a pretty strong case for the defence in and of itself. The storied single-player campaign had some splendidly conceived missions, perfectly balancing available resources with enemy pressure to create terrifyingly tense scenarios.
Company of Heroes dispensed with almost all of the slow and tedious build-up that forms the meat of many RTSes, throwing you into the thick of the action within minutes and never letting up the pressure.
42. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Black Flag is both the best Assassin’s Creed game ever made and the best pirate game ever made. Edward Kenway’s adventures through the Caribbean are a splendid mashup of the traditional Assassin’s Creed systems with superb sailing and ship-to-ship combat. Few experiences in gaming are as thrilling as trading broadsides with a galleon during a pummelling thunderstorm.
Black Flag doesn’t do anything to address the long-running problems of the series. It’s still hampered by clumsy melee combat, stealth that doesn’t work, and persisting with all that Animus nonsense. But the excellence the game exhibits in all other areas, is more than enough to make up for these enduring flaws.
41. Grim Fandango
The last great LucasArts game and Tim Schafer’s masterpiece, Grim Fandango is a huge, sprawling adventure that takes place over literal in-game years. It sports all the wry humour and fiendishly difficult puzzling the world had come to expect from a LucasArts game (I will never forget the Petrified Forest puzzle until the day I die). But it blended this with a singular setting and surprising depth of character. It’s the studio’s most coherent and, arguably, most original work.
Be sure to tune in next Friday for a rundown of games 40-31!