1997’s “game” is a late entry on this list.
If you looked at the thumbnail previews before today, you might have been able to identify a screencap from Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, which is most certainly not what is pictured in the banner above. I wanted desperately to feature Turok as a part of this retrospective, as a game very dear to my heart, and one of the first I can recall that was a real social gaming experience. I didn’t own it, so I was forced to go to friends’ houses and play, and those friends and I spent many a lunch period boasting about our ingame feats and what new level we’d reached.
But I scrapped everything I wanted to say about Turok and I’m writing this fresh mere minutes from when it needs to be posted because, well… I changed my mind. The heart wants what it wants, as they say. As much as I love Turok, my heart belongs to another. I hope you’ll forgive an indulgence: venturing into the world of game mods just this once — for the Doom mod that changed everything for me.
I know, I know. This isn’t technically a game, and it feels a little bit like Doom cheating its way onto two separate years of this list. But this isn’t about Doom really; it’s about STRAIN — a separate and complete artistic vision that beats out almost every commercial game I’ve played, and whose praises I will never, ever stop singing.
STRAIN is more than a mod to me, and it’s more than Doom or Doom II. STRAIN almost single-handedly made me a modder. It was everything I’d dreamed a mod could be: design as good or better than the “official” content, interesting gameplay additions, a genuinely well-written story, and a fleshing-out of a world I already loved.
I played STRAIN in 2002 when I returned to Doom as a teenager. Doom was a game I thought was long dead at the time, but in reality the community was stronger than it had ever been, with almost a decade of modding history under its belt — ten years of passion and love by talented people who were creating just for the sake of creation. There’s no money in game mods, after all, and the recognition you get is niche at best. Mods like STRAIN exist solely because of the love we have for games.
I might have thought it was dead, but Doom had been waiting all that time for me to come back and find exactly what I hadn’t known I was looking for: a community that did exactly what I’d been trying to do in Lode Runner and WarCraft II for years: to tell stories and to build worlds.
STRAIN embodies all that; it introduced me to the vast landscape of Doom modding, and like some wise old mentor figure, set me lovingly on the path toward making my own. But beyond that, it’s one of the premiere Doom mods on its own merits. Heck, I wouldn’t have made a mod of the mod if I didn’t think it was the greatest thing this side of the moons of Mars.