Retro Deep Dive: PC Gamer

Before the internet was a regular fixture in our lives and gave us access to unlimited amounts of opinion, analysis, news, and salt-mining hot takes, gamers turned to magazines as our primary source of information about our hobby. There were magazine lines dedicated to every platform, and while I subscribed to several at various points in the 1990's and early 2000's, the most important to me, since I focused the largest portion of my gaming time on my PC, was PC Gamer.

Founded in 1993 in the United Kingdom, a US version of the magazine found its way to our shores in 1994. I honestly can't say when I read my first copy, though it would have likely been shortly after it's premiere, when I picked up a copy at my local Babbage's in the mall. Or was it Electronics Boutique?

Regardless, I fell in love with the magazine from the get-go, and was a regular subscriber for more than a decade. Perhaps the biggest draw to the magazine was the included demo disc, a CD-ROM that held the latest and greatest demos of upcoming PC games, and eventually some suitably cheesy mid-90's full motion video menus to navigate. Alongside Zip-discs and floppys, these CDs were an important currency among my fellow nerds in school.

But in retrospect, the more valuable aspect of the magazine was the quality of the copy itself. PC Gamer held within its covers a treasure trove of insider information about upcoming games, strategies, and insightful and honest reviews. Going back to these magazines today, most of which I inexplicably held on to all these years, is truly enlightening.

I wonder if the influence of trademarked British acerbic wit was to blame, or if it was simply a true independence that most of the console-based gaming mags lacked, but PC Gamer's reviews were excellent and fearless. Looking through back issues, it's entirely realistic to find half of the reviews in an issue giving games scores of less than 50% out of 100%. Modern video game reviews are, I think it's fair to say, a publisher paid-for farce. Anything less than a 9 out of 10 is the kiss of death for any modern AAA title. Something rated 7 out of 10 is perhaps the worst release of the year for most websites.

But it was exceedingly rare for PC Gamer to give a game anything much beyond an 80. And if a game was a 90+, you knew it was something really special, and would be a must buy. And heck, there were plenty of games featured that rated between a 50 and 70 that I loved and still enjoy playing to this day. A game that they rated, say, a 65%, which would signal to a modern gamer "this thing is bargain bin trash", simply meant "if you are a fan of the genre, you'll like this game a lot, but it's not for everyone" back in those days.

It's refreshing, and it's honest. It's an environment in gaming that simply doesn't exist anymore--this was before the days of the AAA GAME, before gaming grew into Hollywood-lite, where you had to like-no...LOVE- the big releases or else you just weren't a true gamer!

These were the days when PC Gaming was a niche hobby. Even console gaming, spread into the mainstream by the NES and SNES, was still a nerdy pastime that most folks were only passively familiar with. And these 1990's issues of PC Gamer truly were a hobbiest's magazine; the staff's love of the hobby, and their dedication to an unbiased dissemination of opinion shines through across every page.

So that's enough of this love letter to a bygone edition of a magazine--yes PC Gamer still exists, but it can't hold a candle to the old days. And in upcoming posts, I'd like to take a deep dive into some interesting issues of the magazine. We'll look at what the industry looked like in the 90's, from reviews to marketing to hardware to fandom.

And first up? Let's find out what the 50 Best Games Ever are!