Gadgets

Ready Your Shift Key: 30 Classic PC Games That Still Rule


Versatility is the major strength of personal computers, and indeed PCs are good at just about everything, at least anything software-related: spreadsheets, word processors, audiovisual applications, net-access and way, way more.

Until fairly recently though, they weren’t all that flexible when it came to gaming. Traditionally, PC games have been very light platformers, beat-‘em-ups, and shooters. PC games still tend to be heavy on FPSs, RTSs, RPGs, and (to the extent they’re still around) adventure games.

This concentration of deeper, more mature gaming titles is exactly what most PC gamers wanted. Rather than bashing the hell out their keyboards, they left the arcade-style games to those with joypads. Keyboards just weren’t up to the task and, even today, simultaneous key-presses tend to cancel each other. Pulling off special moves in fighting games or having two players on a keyboard is mostly unworkable.

Instead, PC games made the most of their keyboard-and-mouse combo, and set to work owning the world of strategy and first-person gaming in particular. Secondarily, they came to dominate the more intellectually-demanding RPG and adventure games.

Similarly, keyboards are digital rather than analogue, so controlling driving and flying games felt more natural with a joypad equipped with an analogue-stick.

Though the inequality between gaming styles across PCs and dedicated consoles has balanced somewhat, it can still be seen. Here are some of the games we liked best, many available for free and legal download as abandon-ware at sites like Abandonia.

baldersgate

#1. Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2

There have been many, many electronic variants of Dungeons and Dragons, and the Baldur’s Gate games were by no means the first. They were, however, the best. They succeeded in capturing the pen and paper experience most accurately. Even though later games set in the Forgotten Realms (and beyond) have fancier, 3D graphics and more recently rule books, none approach the epic majesty of Baldur’s Gate.

The game begins with the creation of your character, who then finds him or herself in an inn. From there, you are quickly bid to leave the city, along with your childhood friend Imoen. From there, the meticulously detailed fantasy D&D world awaits. The Sword Coast is to be explored, and along the way you’ll recruit new members to your party, battle monsters with the real-time (though pauseable) interface, and add to your character’s inventories, stats and abilities. It’s a complex, involving RPG with perhaps the greatest storyline in gaming.

fallout

#2. Fallout 1 & 2

Fantasy is the default theme for RPGs, so it’s great when developers break from it. Fallout went for the post-apocalyptic theme, and executed it beautifully. Coming from Black Isle, the same team behind Baldur’s Gate, you know they have the role-playing elements down pat. The character system is superb, and allows you to create most any character you like, from an ox-like brawler to a brainy scientist to a glib charmer. This allows for multiple paths through the game, and thus for fantastic re-playability.

The game starts off with the player emerging from, respectively, their underground Vault or tribal village on a quest to scour the Wasteland for the technological means to save their people. The nuke-scoured badlands are all that remains of America, a dark world, where what little remains of society has mutated (often literally) into a kind of Wild West. Some high technology remains, but for the most part it’s a primitive, third world Hell of violence and desperation.

Fallout’s environments are huge, with seemingly endless potential for side-quests and exploration. Dialogue and characters – recruit-able or otherwise, are flawless, and the combat system works well. You can’t ask much more from an RPG really, and these first two titles in the Fallout series stand as monuments to gaming excellence.

diablo

#3. Diablo 1 & 2

Hack and slash, or more accurately point and click, RPG gaming at its finest! These two games were decent audio-visually, decent in terms of interface and storyline, but just absolutely astounding in terms of addictive gameplay. Character creation and development is compelling, and in part two expands exponentially to add huge replay value. In fact, replay value is a lot of what makes the gameplay so addictive. Many maps and items are randomly generated, so it’s a game that’s always full of surprises.

Really, what Blizzard did with these games was genius. They gutted the niche elements from RPGs, kept the most parts that appealed to the highest number of people and just poured everything they had into those bits. The result is a lot of stuff that appeals to the hunting instinct: exploration, items collection and killing stuff. Lots of killing stuff. That focus, and the cool cinematics, made these games hugely popular, and rightly so.

The plot is the usual good over evil excuse for a fight, and the action takes place largely in dungeons, though the second game added more outdoor environments. Notably, the online aspect of the games was massively popular, and this was probably influenced Blizzard’s decision to go with the whole World of Warcraft thing. You can’t go wrong giving the people what they want.

systemshock

#4. System Shock

Before BioShock, there was System Shock. The similarity in naming is no coincidence either, and Bio admits to being a “spiritual successor” to System. So what’s System Shock about then? Well, basically waking up to find yourself stranded on a space station that’s been taken over by an evil AI. Think Hal from 2001.

It falls to you to first-person your way through all the madness, collecting weapons, stimulants and items as you go. There are plenty of mangled corpses clutching personal diaries, which fill you in on the story as you go. There are also plenty of scary enemies, from the robotic to the mutated organic. Oh, and cyberspace elements… Basically System Shock is BioShock with a lot more freedom, features and non-linearity, though admittedly less pretty graphics.

landsoflore

#5. Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos

Ah, first-person, flick-screen, party-based role playing games… There were a bunch of these, the Wizardry and Might and Magic series being particularly worthy, but Lands was probably the most successful. That success lay in its accessibility and cinematic quality – having Patrick Stewart as a voice actor didn’t hurt here.

Though not a very deep RPG, Lands has the advantage of a strong storyline (the witch Scotia has poisoned King Patrick Stewart and you have to find an antidote and, ultimately, dispose of the troublesome hag) and what were at the time cutting edge graphics, pre-rendered sequences, and (gasp!) speech. Westwood, who went on to do the Command and Conquer games, were starting to flex their “movie muscles” here, and in so doing they brought some welcome style to the RPG genre.

First Person Shooters

wolfstein3d

#6. Wolfenstein 3D

The first first person shooter in 3D? Well… Almost. See, it’s not quite full 3D, as characters and items are sprite-based and you can’t look up or down. Not that there’s anything to look at, ‘cause the floors and ceilings are uniform and at a consistent height… Still, iD Software got real close to the 3D “Holy Grail” with this one, and eventually cracked it with Quake. But Wolf3D remains a classic in its own right.

You play a man named, rather ominously, BJ. He escapes from his cell in a Nazi prison, with only a thirst for blood and the knife he took off his erstwhile guard. From there, it’s up to BJ to collect weapons, namely a pistol, machine gun, and chain gun as he takes on the entire Nazi war machine, up to and including Adolf Hitler (suitably outfitted with a robotic body). Oh, and German Shepherd dogs, those must die too.

Silly as it is, it’s a fun, action-packed shooter with thrills, spills and kills a-plenty. Plus it launched the FPS thing, so much like its World War 2 theme it’s a piece of history that strongly shaped our world today.

doom

#7. Doom

Doom was a massive graphical improvement on Wolfenstein. Sure, you still couldn’t look up and down, but you could move in full 3D. Walls weren’t restricted to right-angles either, so now you could have really complex level architecture, complete with drops, elevators, curves and so on. Items and characters were still sprite-based though, but the animation was good enough that it was hardly noticeable. Sound effects were powerful, with some memorable squishes, thumps and death rattles, and the music comprised some catchy rock tunes.

In case you haven’t seen the movie (good call), the plot revolved around a Marine sent to Mars following an experiment there to open an inter-dimensional portal. Predictably, the experiment has gone awry, and the portal opened on Hell. As always, it’s up to the Marines to clean up the mess.

You go up against the Hadean horde armed with your fists, six types of guns, and, our personal favorite, a chainsaw. You’ll have to put down possessed soldiers, flying skulls, floating tomato-monsters, enormous Spiderdemons, and more. It’s as bad-ass as it sounds, and the multiplayer Deathmatch mode Doom brought in is even better.

quake

#8. Quake

This game featured a soundtrack by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame, but don’t let that put you off. It also featured full-3D graphics. You could look and move up and down, and all character and item models were finally skinned polygons. Even better, iD took what they’d learned from the multiplayer experience in Doom and really ramped it up for Quake. In fact, Quake was pretty much the first FPS you could play over the net. It’s still one of the fastest FPS games around, and chances are that if you can own people in Quake, you can own them in any other FPS.

Single player is structured much like Doom or Wolf: roam around levels collecting weapons, health and armor, while searching for keys to open doors or switches to move scenery. The plot is, well, Doom with a gothic horror twist. Levels are rather monotone and gloomy, and also rather cramped. The Quake engine lends itself more to complex architecture than big open spaces but, like we said, it also lends itself to speed and craziness. All you Halo 3 heroes might like to test yourself against the old guard sometime, but just remember to bring your crying shoes…

halflife

#9. Half Life

First person shooters up to when Half Life came out were all about graphics, 3D engines, and multiplayer action. Half Life added the element of great storytelling, and FPS games were never the same again. Playing the role of Gordon Freeman, a physicist at a top-secret research facility, you have to deal with the aftermath of an inter-dimensional portal. Yeah, one of those again.

The game’s intelligent plotting told the story through scripted sequences that left you in control of the action. This made for a more compelling experience than the free-for-all of previous games, without forcing the story down your throat via cut-scenes. Combat is viscerally exciting, but tempered by puzzle-solving. Half Life will be remembered as a true classic, and the title that brought brains into FPS gameplay.

Adventure

manicmanshion

#10. Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion was one of Lucas Arts first hit adventure games, and they certainly started off as they carried on. In fact, it was the first game to feature their SCUMM interface, which they refined over their next decade of games. The system allowed you to combine items and hotspots with several verbs, which made a vast array of combinations possible.

In Maniac Mansion, you select a team of teenagers then head off to the old spooky house. A local girl has been kidnapped, and it’s up to her boyfriend and the two friends he selects to rescue her. This sets the scene for a wacky adventure that blends adventure games with the Rocky Horror Picture Show – though thankfully there’s no singing.

The puzzles are inventive and challenging without ever being ridiculously abstract, and some of the characters and dialogue are truly hilarious. Though the sound and graphics are dated by today’s standards, this is a game which holds up well today due to its ingenuity and wit.

kingsquest

#11. King’s Quest

The Sierra adventure games… It’s hard to pick a single one. Sierra produced so many of them that they became largely synonymous with adventuring gaming, and all the games they produced were high-quality affairs. That’s not to say uniformly good, just that they had high production standards. Still, we’re going to have to go with the King’s Quest series as their crowning glory (sorry). As for a specific game within the series, uh, buy the compilation pack!

King’s Quest is set in the fantasy world of Daventry, a mash-up of fairy-tales and invention. The game was ground-breaking for its time, as it was the first adventure game to take place in “3D.” You could walk towards and away from the screen, and go behind stuff. Sure, you can sneer, but it’d be like sneering at the Wright Brothers…

Anyway, the interface went from text-input to a sophisticated, mouse-driven icon system in later games. Graphics were consistently good, and the retake on classic fairy tale themes made for a kind of interactive Shrek experience. That’s to say, the addition of humorous winks towards the mature made the material enjoyable to all. If you’re looking to rekindle some memories of the past, or play a game with your kids that you can enjoy too, check out King’s Quest!

monkeyisland

#12. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge

What we have here is gold. Pirate gold. You play Guybrush Threepwood, a luckless swashbuckler who has to contend with undead pirates, voodoo curses and an angry ex. On the plus side, there’s treasure to be found, seas to sail and grog to swill (and spit in a spitting contest, but that’s another story).

The game uses the same SCUMM engine as Maniac Mansion, only polished to a high gloss. You can also now choose different dialogue options, and some of the conversations are themselves a puzzle. Graphics and animation were pretty fantastic, detailed in that hand-drawn style that’s becoming increasingly rare in the age of 3D modeling… In fact, the entire experience is proof that the older generation of games knew what time it was and which end was up. Even if all the sprites are made of wood, you owe it to yourself to get hold of this one.

Real Time Strategy

dune2

#13. Dune 2

This great game was the first RTS – almost. The first one to let you use a mouse anyway, and what’s an RTS without a mouse? Answers on a postcard please, console-gamers… Anyway, it’s based on the best sci-fi series in existence, Frank Herbert’s Dune. The theme is an abstraction of the Middle Eastern situation during the Cold War. Three factions battle for control of Arrakis, a desert planet rich in the vital resource, Spice. You can play as the noble Atreides, insidious Ordos or evil Harkonnen. These factions translate roughly to America, Israel and Russia, though your political mileage may vary.

Anyway, you select a territory to conquer on the world map, then dive into the base building, Spice harvesting and combat of the strategic map. Though not as streamlined an interface as that seen in later game, the moody music and tense atmosphere of the game made for an involving experience. The cut-scenes and comprehensive speech (for those who overcame the stiff 640 KB memory requirement anyway) deserves a mention too – but what would you expect from the fledgling Westwood? The only aspect of this game which can be fairly criticized is the AI, which suffered from several blind spots. Apart from that, it’s surprising to see how little RTS games have deviated from the classic format laid out by Dune 2.

commandconquer

#14. Command and Conquer

Westwood expanded on the Dune idea with Command and Conquer, an RTS game with improved graphics and sound set in the “real” world. The control system was also substantially improved, and now allowed you to select multiple units as well as conduct base building on the battle map without the need to enter a separate building browser.

What the game’s really remembered for are its cinematic sequences. Hammy acting conveys the story from either the Global Defense Initiative or Brotherhood of Nod viewpoint, depending which side you select. The two are contesting control of the game’s resource, Tiberium. This strange substance has appeared in random locations around the world, and only building bases, troops, vehicles and defenses is an appropriate response. C&C introduced a new cinematic quality to single-player RTS gameplay, and the multiplayer modes flat-out rocked.

starcraft

#15. Starcraft

Now we come to the best strategy game ever made. Is it the best because it still has the best graphic, sound or cut-scenes? No, of course not, it came out eleven years ago. Is it the best because it has the best storyline? Well… The storyline’s very good, following the conflict of three races, the Genestealer-like Zerg, the Eldar-like Protoss and the Space Marine-like Terrans… Yeah, Starcraft ripped off Warhammer 40,000, not the other way around.

Anyway, it’d be hard to say Starcraft has the best storyline, particularly with the C&C series in the running. What Starcraft does have is the best balance. The three races are radically different, without any of them being superior. The range of units and their abilities is massive, without any of them breaking the gameplay… Starcraft’s greatest strength is its phenomenally refined gameplay. For this reason, it remains a multiplayer favorite at LANs and over the web.

Turn-Based Strategy

scorched earth

#16. Scorched Earth

Sure, it’s a simple little freeware title but it’s also “The Mother of all Games.” Scorch is a 2D tank artillery game, in which the goal is to change the aim and power of your shot and, compensating for the wind of course, blow the hell out of other tanks. Your tank can move if you buy fuel, put up shields if you buy them and use any of the weapons you can also buy between levels. Of these weapons, there are tons.

With simple graphics and sound, and the ability to edit the things your tanks say when they fire or die, this is basically Worms Lite. Still, it did it first, right down to the turn-based multiplayer mode. It’s still worthy of a download as a coffee-break game.

xcom

#17. UFO: Enemy Unknown

UFO, also known as X-Com, is a turn-based, squad-level tactical combat game combined with a strategic management game. Aliens are invading the earth, terrorizing and abducting people (and cows) so the X-Com organization is set up to combat the threat. You’re responsible for locating their base on a 3D global map, which will be the first of many bases if you play your cards rights and your funding continues: neglect countries and they’ll close the tap.

From there, your role is to manage the base. You’ll need to construct facilities, buy, sell and make supplies as well as hire and fire soldiers, scientists and engineers. You’ll also need to research the alien technologies and the aliens themselves – but first, you’ll need to get into combat. After you’ve shot down an alien craft, you send the troops in to eliminate surviving aliens and bring back the pieces. Researching these eventually gives you the tech to take the fight to the aliens…

All of the above doesn’t even begin to explain how great this game is. The managerial portion is surprisingly fun in its interlocking details. The combat is tense and demanding, and the overall feel of the game is mysterious and eerie… They’ve had about five remakes of this so far, and still come nowhere near close to capturing the original magic.

mastersofmagic

#18. Master of Magic

Master of Magic is one of those strategy games in which you start out with a small base, build it up, send out forces to explore and secure resources and, eventually, wipe out all your enemies. Or get wiped out yourself if you suck. Master of Magic was a bit different due to its fantasy setting: you select from a number of magic-users: wizards, witches, warlocks and liches. Then you raise an army of fantastic creatures, learn ever more powerful spells and dominate the realm.

Though it had huge potential, the game’s first release was marred by bugs. Once these were ironed out however, the result was a very playable, very addictive fantasy strategy game, with tactical battle elements. These last saw you managing your troops by turns, in an isometric view of the battlefield. So, if you’ve ever wanted to play a “Sauron simulator”, MoM is your man.

mastersoforion

#19. Master of Orion

MoO has a fair bit in common with MoM, in that it’s also a turn-based game of exploration and development set on a strategic-level map as well as combat set on a tactical-level battlefield view. The major difference is that MoO is set in space.

You choose your species – from insectile to crystalline entities, with humanoids in between – then develop your home planet and establish colonies on alien worlds. You send out exploration, military and expansion vessels until you inevitably encounter your alien neighbors. At this time you can cooperate with them diplomatically, by trading technologies for instance, or you can seek to conquer them.

Conquest is always more fun, so you’ll have to research technologies to give you the military advantage. You then incorporate this tech into new ship designs, so that your space-combat and planetary attack capabilities are maximized… It’s a deep and highly addictive game that plays out like Civilization in space. Highly recommended.

God Games

railroad

#20. Railroad Tycoon

Railroad Tycoon is another of those brilliant “sim” games by Sid Meier. The idea is to manage a railroad in America or Europe, and grow that company to monopolistic greatness. A lot of economic savvy is required for this, as you’ll have to satisfy the rules of supply and demand as well as deal in stocks to achieve fat-cat status. You’d also benefit from some interest in engineering, as you’ll have to lay tracks, install signals and switches, and build bridges and tunnels if you hope to establish a profitable railway network.

Despite all the train and railway-related bits and pieces offered to train-spotters and hobbyists, the game is at heart an economic simulation. Goods, passengers and mail need to be delivered in the most efficient way to maximize profits, and if you mismanage your company its game over as there’s no friendly government on hand to bail you out. Railroad Tycoon is an impressively intelligent game that will serve as a great introduction to economics as well as lot of choo-choo fun.

dungeonkeeper

#21. Dungeon Keeper

This isometric / first-person strategy game from Bullfrog is basically an evil-overlord-simulator. As the Dungeon Keeper, your task is to oversee the expansion of a subterranean lair of villainy. You mine and hoard gold, recruit ever more nasty minions and defend against rival Keepers and crusading goody-two-shoes heroes. This interesting twist on the classic sim theme allows for endlessly amusing touches, from the sarcastic mission descriptions voiced between levels to small graphical touches.

Managing your dungeon successfully takes great skill. It’s impractical to directly control your minions (the only way to do this is by possessing them, in which case the game switches to a first person mode which makes strategic command impossible) and so you must instead learn their likes and dislikes, and so coax them into doing your will. Keeping your creatures happy while still running a tight ship is a challenging task, but one you’ll keep coming back to for the fun and humor found in this game.

simcity

#22. SimCity

The original city simulator, and the game that spawned a thousand imitators as well as the popular Sims series. Essentially, you play the role of an urban planner. Starting with a bare patch of earth, you must designate industrial, commercial and residential zones, install power and water infrastructure and the road network. You need to maintain good public relations and balance your money supply through wise taxation. You must also provide social services in the form of police and fire stations, schools and take care of all (or at least most of) the other elements that result in a thriving city.

This game was hugely popular, and it’s not hard to see why. Everyone at some point has had the idea that they could build the perfect society, and SimCity is the best illustration that such ideas usually lead to tragedy, whether through unforeseen circumstances like floods, earthquakes and uh, monster attacks, or through lack of planning. Still, it’s great fun trying to build that perfect city by hitting the right balance, and very addictive too.

civilization

#23. Civilization

Sid Meier’s best-known game, Civ, as it’s affectionately known, sees you building a civilization up from barbarism to modernity and beyond. It’s a turn-based game, which sees you directing your units across a world map, managing your cities within a separate browser and directing other vital activities like diplomacy and research within their own dedicated screens.

Few games offer the scope and depth of play as even this first version of Civ, and its replayability value is immense. Unlike real life (or at least the politically correct version thereof) every race has its own strengths and weaknesses. You’ll have to use these to your advantage, as well as cite your cities in favorable locations and formulate effective military, diplomatic and economic strategy. There are many ways to win the game, either through global conquest, achieving the highest score or winning the space-race that carries your people to a new planet. It’s a fantastic game that really brings history alive, by weaving real-world developments and buildings into the fabric of a massively open-ended and intricate game. Civilization makes a lot of other games look primitive by comparison.

Survival Horror

aloneinthedark

#24. Alone in the Dark

Before the Japanese jumped into the scene with both feet, the West invented the survival horror genre. French software house Infrogames came out with this Lovecraftian masterpiece in the 90s, and the world seized on it instantly as the next big thing.

You played Edward Carnby or X X, respectively a private detective sent to examine the death of X, or his daughter doing the same. The graphics were great for their time, giving you a third person view of your 3D character as they explored a pre-rendered house across various camera angles. The house was creepy as hell and filled with all manners of ghoulies. Books you would pick up and read deepened the terror of the story, opening all manner of doorways to the insanity-inducing world of the Old Ones. The original is, in some ways, still the best.

Simulation

xwing

#25. X-Wing

You can simulate something that happened long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, right? If so, X-Wing was the first simulator of George Lucas’ Star Wars. You get to pilot the alphabetical gamut of Rebel craft, from A-Wings through X and Y-Wings. The game takes place around the time of Episode 4, and eventually you get to take down the Imperial Death Star.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First you should know that the game is designed around a fully 3D engine, in which the fighters, capital ships and installations of the Star Wars universe are faithfully rendered. Between missions, you receive mission briefings laying out your squadron’s role within the scenario, though often this role is subject to change depending on developments. Nicely rendered cut-scenes do a lot to further the plot, which is always nicely reflected by the gameplay.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced dog-fighting game which incorporates tactical decisions and wingman dynamics, X-Wing is pretty rocking for a game from 1993. It does play a lot better with an analogue joystick than a mouse and keyboard however, so you may want to consider getting one for the full experience.

grandprix

#26. Formula One Grand Prix

Another hit from the now-defunct Microprose, F1GP did a bang-up job of conveying all the thrills, spills and endless technical and driver challenges of professional racing. The 3D graphics were nicely detailed, with all sorts of cool textures down to the gravel of the track. The sensation of speed was also impressive, with said gravel becoming a streaky blur at top speed.

Although the game wasn’t officially licensed, it did feature accurate jumpsuits and helmets as well as tracks, and was customizable to the point that you could recreate the actual roster of drivers and teams. Another point in the game’s favor was that it could be played as an arcade racer or full-on simulation by tweaking the “driver aids” accordingly. This allowed people to ease into the realistic simulation of Formula One racing at their own pace – and once there, the game was so excellent that there was no going back. Released in 1992, this game remains the gold standard by which many modern racing sims are judged.

flightsimulator

#27. Microsoft Flight Simulator 5

Sadly, there are reports  that the economic situation is forcing the latest version of this venerable flight simulator to be either delayed or canceled. This is sad news indeed, for the games have only gotten closer to the real experience of flight since the first release in 1982.

The release of Version 5 finally ushered in the era of textures over the 3D models, which went a long way towards creating the illusion of flying the friendly skies. New aircraft, scenery and weather effects also added to the realism, as did a host of new control and customization features. The graphics were quite stunning for the time, and the inclusion of proper sampled flight noises took this simulation to uh, new heights.

Puzzle

lemmings

#28. Lemmings

Anyone who’s ever tried to wake people up to the real world behind its media screen will be familiar with this game’s plot. You have to stop a bunch of brain-dead, suicidal Lemmings from plunging to their doom – not only off cliffs but into meat-grinders, lava, acid and all other kinds of deadly peril.

To save them, you have a limited number of tasks you can assign to specific Lemmings. For instance, you can make them build steps over pits, tunnel below obstacles, or block their fellow and send them back the way they came. Managing the incessant flow of cute Lemmings across static or scrolling screens was an exercise in quick-thinking and calm under pressure. Getting them safely to the level’s exit was always massively rewarding, and easily made up for the occasional frustration of this challenging puzzle game.

Board Game

battlechess

#29. Battle Chess

There’s no shortage of chess games on computers, but Battle Chess was one of the most popular for its gimmicky animations. You’ll find the AI weak if you’re an accomplished player but, on its hardest level, it should be more than a match for the chess amateur. Most amateurs will also enjoy the graphics. Every piece is represented as part of medieval society. Stately queens stroll regally about the board as kings shuffle to and fro, knights clank about in their armor and castles transform into stomping rock monsters. That last one’s a bit of a surprise, admittedly.

Even more fun is when pieces eat one another. Epic battles play out, in a sort of pre-rendered and cartoonish version of Mortal Kombat. Pieces are swallowed, chopped apart and magicked into oblivion, and it’s all great fun. Well, at least the first few times you watch it. After that, you may wish to turn off the animations and get down to the nitty-gritty and the game, as mentioned, the game performs adequately in this department provided you’re not some Russian grandmaster. All in all, it was a great and entertaining way for casual computer gamers to get into what is still the best game invented by man.

Other

starcontrol2

#30. Star Control 2

A game that defies classification, Starcon 2 synthesized elements of role-playing, shooter, and adventure gaming to create a sci-fi spectacular. You start the game as the captain of an advanced spaceship, a technological remnant of the master race who seeded the galaxy. Taking the ship back to earth, you discover that it has been conquered, and placed within a slave-shield. Communicating with the captain of an orbital station, you learn that the entire galaxy has come under the dominion of the Ur-Quan. Thus begins your quest to free your galaxy from the Ur-Quan, and their satraps… And the plot only gets more interesting from there.

The game plays out in several modes: the star-chart mode in which you plot your next moves, the galaxy map in which you steer between planets and stations, the planet view in which you send landing craft to collect minerals and biological specimens from planets, the combat view in which your main vessel or its fighters do battle with aliens, and the communication screen, in which you select from conversational options to bend others to your will. It’s an incredibly deep game, full of plot twists, surprising humor, explosive action and unforgettable characters. Perhaps… the greatest PC game ever made?

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Leave a Comment

  1. DK Master 92 says:

    Dungeon Keeper 1 and 2 kicked a**, i wish they had gone through and made the third. i think it was on of the graphic artist that decided to quit half way through. 🙁

  2. omghihi says:

    jagged alliance and albion tbh.

  3. microwaveb says:

    Ha ha, quake, old guard, nice. I saved two summers to get a box capable of running quake, but those null modem matches were FTW.

    Great post, but wolf3d was positively new school by my day. Try Morraff's Dungeon or Rogue even. Also I think Catacomb Abyss got in before wolf3d as the first ID FPS, which wouldn't run on my EGA 286. . Doom blew my mind. But the first time I played it was on a friends sega 32X. lol, happy days. Exactly as it is now though, scrounging up enough pocket money to upgrade, then being blown out 3 months later. :'( .

  4. Matt says:

    No mention of Marathon? Or Pathways Into Darkness? Pathways created one of the first blends of RPG and FPS, with Marathon introducing a lot of elements (NPCs, motion tracker, involved storyline) that shooters of the time just didn't have. And Damage Incorporated should get a mention for the early introduction of squad based tactics.

  5. Biggles says:

    arrrhhh the sweet sweet memories! Great list!

  6. evilnod says:

    where is Wing commander?? WC come out loong before xwing, i still remember i get soundcard for my 386 just to play this game.

  7. Skilla says:

    Heroes of Might and Magic ?!

  8. fred sterk says:

    a small tear has appeared in my left eye corner…
    Where is the original Settlers game?

  9. Signsnake says:

    1st rts on a console: Herog Zwei.

    Why the hell do I know this….*sigh*

  10. Ergo says:

    Great list, but I have to agree with several other posters here: Tie Fighter was vastly superior to X-Wing. Better controls, graphics, etc. The missions were more balanced and less punishing as well.

  11. raf says:

    happy to see monkey island, but missing sam and max and indyana jones. classic lucas art games

  12. gigel says:

    no planescape? i think that should be on top of the list….

  13. ugur says:

    good list but sensible soccer not list..

  14. Ashley says:

    I wonder whatever happened to the Keen series, or am I one of the only people to remember that game?

  15. adamant says:

    In the domain of RTS, the Age of Empires franchise was far superior to Starcraft in particular. The random maps and extensive civs provided far greater variety, and the games continue to see relatively good play online.

  16. dbspeakers says:

    2 words. Deus Ex. Awesome first person shooter involving a government that uses a paranoia of terrorism to leverage power. Sound familiar America? I still find my self saying "GOD DAMN TERRORIST".

  17. Torn says:

    Myst! Where the heck is Myst on the list??

  18. HoneyBakedHam says:

    No doubt that some exceptional titles are on this list. One is, in my opinion, conspicuously absent. Interstate 76. Based on the Mechwarrior II engine, it was muscle cars and sideburns in the crazy 70's with roof mounted rocket launchers… What is not to love?

  19. Tim says:

    What about Worms? That is the best turn based LAN game that I know of.

  20. Ward says:

    As much as I like Sid Meier's games Transport Tycoon is tons better than any version of Railroad Tycoon. It's so good people are still developing homemade addons for it.

  21. anon says:

    wicked post. . .wow it reminds me of a game, with these weird alien blob things, and they travel through time, they meet george washington who cuts down cherry trees. . .wtf was it called. . .anyone? its like a puzzle game

    oh and two other amazing puzzle games are the 7th guest and the 11th hour

  22. samus says:

    what about The Legend of Zork?

  23. rms says:

    Descent: Freespace and Descent: Freespace 2.

    Best space sims ever.

  24. Chicxulub says:

    Deus Ex. Only game better than System Shock 2.

  25. Sheldon says:

    Sorry if this has already been said, but there is a game called the ur-quan masters which is a freeware remake (true to orignial though…) of star control 2, and is damned good. download it!

  26. Jeremy says:

    I've always felt that TIE Fighter was an even better game than its amazing predecessor X-Wing. Plus the concept of playing as the "bad guys" and being rewarded for doing so was still pretty new back then.

  27. John says:

    Nice collection. I was about to write an angry email when I didnt see Starcon 2 under Adventure, but happy to see that you're aware of this hidden gem.

  28. Ragequit says:

    Where the FUCK is the first Unreal?!?!
    That thing kicked the hell out of ya!
    >:(

  29. techmog says:

    Some great recommendations, keep 'em coming!

  30. Shazbot says:

    Hmm that's my screenshot. (Command and Conquer with the flame tanks) See it here: http://imbacore.blogspot.com/2009/02/freeware-str… I'd appreciate if the owner of this article can link the pic to my site. Thanks.

  31. Chris says:

    Yikes, good trip down memory lane. Although would have like Populous: The beginning in there but maybe it is a bit too progressive year wise. Cool list.

  32. afkbradshaw says:

    would add to previous comment that tie fighter was a major advance and improvement over x wing, being able to coordinate wingmen etc for tactics. i lost many months in that game probably the most intense playing i ever had of a game

  33. trail mix says:

    OMG… OREGON TRAIL!!! for your egregious omission, you have died of dysentery.

  34. Lolface says:

    Your screenshot for SimCity is actually SimCity 2000. Please get a real screenshot of SimCity 3.1 at the very least. This probably seems nit-picky, but only to the uninformed.

  35. Man I loved these games, great list. Truly brings back fond memories. Games felt different back then, and I long for that feeling again.

  36. Michael Davis says:

    Great article. I've played many of these games and still play some now and then. That said however, I was disappointed that you did not include Unreal. This game came out at the same time as I bought my 1st computer. Unreal and Mech Commander were the 1st. computer games that I ever played. I'll never forget the magical atmosphere created by the graphics in conjunction with the music. I would seldom have more then 10 or 20 health points and was constantly in panic mode. When I came to the water levels I stopped for a while and played through Quake II to build some skill. Which by the by is another of my favorites. Not the least for the music.
    Still, I greatly enjoyed this compilation. It was very nicely done. Thank you.

  37. Sasquach says:

    When i see lists like thes, i scroll through. If Total Annihilation isn't on there, i move on. Why is it never on these lists. It's one of the most amazing games ever made.

  38. w00t w00t says:

    where was Unreal Tournament 99 on taht list lol, personally i think it should be there, played that game soo much.
    but yeah, good list and sum up of some great games.

  39. NAMAMA says:

    FUCK U

  40. Trv says:

    I'd also like to see Jagged Alliance and Total Anihilation on thus list.

  41. G-Slice says:

    Um…Warcraft? Worms? the original GTA?

  42. Critta says:

    Star Control II, best game ever. Open source port at http://sc2.sourceforge.net

  43. I would have included Descent II.

  44. gman says:

    Noone remember Elite?

  45. Frankie says:

    Roller Coaster Tycoon anyone?

  46. Phil says:

    Worms dudes, worms. What happened to Worms.
    Worms 2, specifically. All the sequels after that kinda went downhill.
    I'm going to hunt that down right now.
    Then maybe tonight me and my buddies can get stoned and hot-seat it the whole night.

    You know what I'm talking about.
    Let me know if you're interested.

  47. Stephen says:

    I enjoyed your list, but it’s not entirely accurate to say Alone in the Dark was the first survival horror. Capcom’s Sweet Home for Famicom came out earlier than Alone in the Dark. It was developed by the team that would go on to make Resident Evil.

  48. Starcrap says:

    "#15. Starcraft Now we come to the best strategy game ever made."

    MAXIMUM FAIL! You mention Starcrap but fail to mention Total Annihilation. Starcrap came out well after TA. In Starcrap, do you have units called the Karganeth, Krogoth, Buzzsaw*, and Bob**? Can you select 500+ units? Can you tell those 500 units to attack somewhere and expect them to find their way intelligently through the terrain? Can you play with up to 9 other teams? Can you add on 300 community-driven custom-built units? Can you have up to 10,000 units on a single map? Can you hot-swap A.I.'s from hundreds of community-built A.I.'s?

    Starcrap is just that. Total Annihilation is still the BEST RTS hands-down. The only reason you think Starcrap is the best is because you have likely never even heard of TA, let alone played it. So what if Cavedog didn't know how to market a game? You are claiming to be a gamer and game reviewer – go do your job.

    * Buzzsaw – formidable heavy defense platform capable of firing across half the average TA map. Inaccurate as hell, chugs a ton of energy reserves, but, if your team has the energy, it will crank out up to 300 rounds per minute. Nearly invincible when coupled with heavy anti-air and anti-nuke platforms. Can single-handedly wipe out enemy bases in range.

    ** Bob. Silly name. Will wipe the smile off your face if on the receiving end. 1/4th a Buzzsaw……on wheels. Build 50 and watch the minimap.

    TA + Core Contingency + TAUCP + TACC + Bob + cheating A.I. (nuke-capable in 30 minutes or less) + 1,000 unit limit per team "hack" + 10 team "cheat code" = awesome.

    Plus there are a bunch of tools to make all sorts of modifications. There is even a Star Wars mod for TA – fairly cheesy, though, once you've played with unit packs like TAUCP. Yes, the game is old and doesn't use DirectX (released well before hardware acceleration existed!), but the hardware only recently exists to play with 10,000 units on a single map without hiccuping.

  49. arun says:

    i wonder if any of you remember Pac-man , digger, frog and Cat. i remember playing them on my 286 machine.