When 2006 began, I thought that it was going to be a great year for new PC games. 2005 had its highlights for me like F.E.A.R, Guild Wars and Battlefield 2 but I was really hoping that this year was going to blow 2005 out the water. As it turned out, many of the games slated for release this year were pushed back to 2007. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Crysis, and World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade (among many others) fell victim to the development cycle of needing more time to polish and finishing the game (to be fair to Blizzard, Burning Crusade is due out in mid January 2007, only a few weeks after 2006 ends). Other highly anticipated games like Bioshock, Unreal Tournament 2007, Supreme Commander, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, and Spore are all due out next year as well and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of the above games get pushed back to 2008.
That doesn’t mean that 2006 was a terrible year for the PC gamer. There were a number of games that caught my attention this year that offered up more than just an entertaining way to spend several hours in front of my LCD monitor. These games truly provided that extra special something that made them stand out from the crowd. I decided to offer up my own picks for the top 5 best PC games released this year. One of the big trends of 2006 was downloadable titles and it’s no coincidence that two of my picks are primarily distributed in the US using Valve’s Steam service. Steam has evolved into perhaps the best way to give developers and publishers big and small a way to provided downloadable games.
Let’s get to my picks. Feel free to debate my decisions; that’s what these lists are for, after all.
5. The Ship (Outerlight)
First person shooters in my view were in a bit of a rut in 2006; games like Prey and Half-Life 2: Episode 1 and Battlefield 2142 were competently done (and Prey’s use of portals was a neat gameplay trick) but there was little that was truly innovative from the big publishers. Enter small UK developer Outerlight which began as a mod team for Half-Life 1 that released The Ship via Valve’s Steam service. This Source engine based game took the multiplayer first person shooter and turned it on its ear with its setting (a series of ships ranging from river steamboats to Titanic style ocean liners) and its mix of first person action with RPG and adventure elements. Basically your goal is to hunt other players while they hunt you on board these ships. You don’t usually use firearms but rather items that you might find on board ships, like axes or even letter openers. The Ship makes you kill off your assigned target while keeping your kill hidden from prying eyes. At the same time you have to eat, sleep and even go to the bathroom on board in order to stay alive, while also keeping an eye out for a player that might have you as his or her target.
Outerlight’s art style for The Ship is definitely not of the realistic variety but its 1920’s art deco visual adds to the uniqueness of this game. Outerlight has also been constantly updating the game with new features and a few weeks ago offered up a separate single player oriented version of the game which deals with game reviewer’s one real complaint. Happily enough, a free trial of the full multiplayer version of The Ship will be available for play for anyone beginning December 22 and ending December 26. If you haven’t tried out this game this is the perfect opportunity.