3 | Half-Life 2 and Episodes 1 and 2 | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Glacial release schedule aside, Half-Life 2’s episodic content has been consistently outstanding. (Admittedly, it’s easy to be consistent when you move this… slowly…, but still.) Introducing some creepy new enemies and ushering the outstanding original game’s conspiratorial plot in twisty-turny new directions, Half-Life 2’s episodes are stellar continuations of Valve’s saga, and must-owns for fans that’ve waded into their rich world.
Continuing mute leading man Gordon Freeman’s saga started in the original Half-Life, Half-Life 2 is a thrill-ride from beginning to end -- an incendiary end that, as of Episode Two, caps out on such a spectacularly personal note that the lack of an Episode Three has us waiting up at night, Steam windows open, like a jilted lover. If you’re the least bit interested in the Half-Life saga, all three of these games need to be in your library.
2 | Team Fortress 2 | PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Mac
First released in 2007 for the PC, Team Fortress 2 is actually a sequel to the 1999 Half-Life mod Team Fortress Classic. After nearly 10 years of development, the game went from being a gritty war simulator to an interactive Pixar movie that’s coming to kill you.
But don’t let Team Fortress 2’s unique cartoonish graphical style fool you: this is one intense game. Team Fortress 2 is a team-based first-person shooter pitting two groups of mercenaries against each other. Each map has different objectives like capturing the flag, or holding territory, or delivering a mine cart full of explosives towards an enemy’s base.
The free game has frequent updates, lots of player customization, and a fixation on hats. It’s one of the best (and most popular) PC games out there.
1 | BioShock | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Most people talk about BioShock as a blend of shooter and role-playing game. Which it is. But a secret lies in the halls of its underwater dystopia, Rapture: It's one of the best horror games in years. Rapture is full of terrors. The crazed Splicers are out to slaughter you, and many are them decked out in their New Year's Eve masquerade regalia. The Little Sisters' habit of hanging around corpses to drain them of ADAM (the substance that grants you and Splicers their powers) would be creepy enough on their own, but the sea slugs in their gullets make them even more disturbing. And few things in gaming are as terrifying as the Big Daddy, a man sealed in a deep-sea diving suit, turned into a powerhouse of terror. The most distributed residents, though, might be those citizens of Rapture pulling the strings.