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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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

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

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

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

#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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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. Joe says:

    I was a big fan of "Still Life" and now I see that "Still Life 2" is coming out. I ran across it surfing the web recently and can't wait to play.

  2. acce245 says:

    Great list, no question.

    However, what about these:

    The Dig. Hands down, one of the greatest games ever. Katamari? Also a great game. And what about Battle for Wesnoth? A truly great game. Deus Ex? The sleeper hit that rivals half-life. Beneath a Steel Sky is free and awesome, and put out by Virgin! Check your repositories, or go download it for your system!

    Not sure what time periods we are getting at here, but those are some amazing games too. And someone mentioned Total Annihilation, another great game. What about Cannon Fodder, Magic Carpet, Dark Forces 2, High Octane, Descent!? Perhaps the list should be expanded to 50 classic games?

  3. Corgano says:

    I agree with the #1 BG 1 & 2 are still great! I wish I could have seen a game called Starflight 1 & 2 on the list. As well as a game called Bard's Tale – 1, 2, & 3. Anyways, thanks for the list and the screen shots as well! It brought back tons of memories!

    Peace.

  4. momo says:

    NOSTALGY!…but Amiga Forever! :-)

  5. frn says:

    W O R M S

  6. HEEELLPPPPP says:

    Hi if some one could help me im looking for a PC game its idk 5 years old. Well basically you are a soldier and your companion is a dog and something i remember is that at the end your companion is eaten by the boss but he kills the boss if someone could help me

  7. turdferguson says:

    starting with no 1 kinda sucks but by far not the worst list I have seen, could have trimmed it down to about 10 or so

  8. George says:

    Leisure suit larry 1 to 7 isn't classic enough?

  9. GlennsGuides says:

    Still a ton of games missing from that list (although its capped at 30 I guess). All the other great LucasArts games and adventure games in general to begin with.

  10. What, no Total Annihilation? Also: "Battle Go"…a game much like Battle Chess, but more Genghislike in its Khan…OK, I just made Battle Go up, but it probably exists…

  11. The list of 30 Classic PC Games is really good. Many amazing i found in this list. " Quake" is the best one in this list.

  12. Hendrixmars says:

    I just wanted to correct the person who said that the screenshot is not from Dune 2, but the original. You are wrong. The original Dune game was actually an RPG/Strategy (Very strange gameplay if you've never had the pleasure) and the second one was the RTS. After that I believe was Dune 2000 but I'm not so sure about that. So the writer is correct the poster is not.

  13. hendrixmars says:

    Oh and while I'm at it I would like to say that this is actually one of the worst (though I humbly mean no insult by saying this) lists of classic pc games I've ever seen. Here is why:

    Lemmings is actually a great idea for a game, but it is far too easy. On the hardest difficulty I can beat the original and the expansion in about 45 minutes. If you're going to go this "style" of game I would say The Lost Vikings 1 and 2 are much harder.

    WHERE IN THE F*** IS WORMS?

    Heroes of Might and Magic II is STILL the best of the series and one of the greatest games ever. Not a game in the series made the list.

    Every simulation/racing game on the list are absolute travesties to the Genre.

    I'm surpised that FF7 (yup it came out for PC too) wasnt on the RPG list, instead there were awful, cookie-cutter games.

    Lands of Lore?!? Think it's time for a serious reality check.

    Doom and Wolfenstein and the unmentioned Hexen did nothing for the genre. First there was blakestone, then those games that did nothing new, then quake that was the first FPS worth putting your time into.

    Master of Orion II was FAR superior to the original without deviating from the classic gameplay. Think about concepts like this before you write this man!

    Battle Chess is a crappy, sluggish cheezy interpretation of a game hundreds of years old. I love chess, if I wanted to play it I have a board and a better chess program. Also, there was a futuristic chess game that came out (I THINK it was Laser Chess) that added a whole new, fresh dimension to the game in a very tasteful way.

    I believe that Tomb Raider or better yet Alice (or Vampyre: Bloodlines- if you consider it in the same generation that is) would have been appropriate on the list… where are my 3rdPS that are still worthy classics.

    That being said i love when people make lists of their very favorite classic PC games for nostalgia and reminding me "oh yeah, I need to try that out, or I need to play that one again". I commend and appreciate the writer while i disagree with a vast majority of the list :)

    Nothin' but love guys. Tell me what you think about my post please! Good or bad!

    Myth II is the greatest game of all time (multiplayer that is. 11 years old and still 700 regular players… and GROWING). The gameplay is undescribably unique… the physics have never been matched to this day.

    I will allow the absence of such games as Deus Ex, Warcraft III, Grand Theft Auto III, Unreal, Shogun (or any Total War) and others because they could be described as a different "generation" of PC games I suppose.

    And for my last piece of this rant I would like to throw in that I think Total Annihalation is one the most overrated games of all time, and all you posters who think it's so great should try playing it again then playing WC3 or even Starcraft and start rethinking a little.

    I'm not trying to be mean in any way but search the net and you can find great lists for classic PC games that aren't only nostalgic

  14. What a hot stuff here is!!! Playing game is my passion.I have played lots of games which is available here but I was not having any knowledge about X-Wing.Here I have got more information regarding games.Thanks for such a nice stuff.

  15. Haji says:

    Great list, great writing. Hella funny. I really like that you did it categorically. I think I would've included Descent.

  16. Jacob says:

    Star craft And diablo ownage

  17. dian says:

    you're looking for this? ;)
    orion2, privateer the darkening (pc), ghengis khan2, gemfire, inindo [some will like, most hate], uncharted waters & rocknroll racing (snes), suikoden 1+2, breath of fire 3-5, unholy war (ps), twisted metal (not 1 or 3), chrono trigger, archon 1-3 (atari), crystalis (nes), north vs south (nes), mech commander, ur-quan masters, plants vs zombies, armored core (later versions), unreal tourn, vga planets (for ancient strategy types), super metroid, starcraft (with the risk2 map), Empires: dawn of the modern world (i played 20+hrs playing a single game, in real time with a friend), might & magic, galactic civilizations, homeworld, montezumas revenge, descent is awesome but requires stick with a hat for world domination, commander keen, age of mythology, kiloblaster, castle of the winds, solar winds.
    best games for playing with/against gf ~ heroes of might&magic 2 or 3, various tetris spawns (am playing dossun! ganseki battle), super bomberman (via zsnes)…. and she'll probably love Princess Maker 2-4, or 'black & white2', zuma, super smash tv, mario kart, & maybe (depending on girl) super smash bros.
    most challenging strategy game that says you're a HARDCORE gamer? linleys dungeon crawl (though the stone soup version will get about as much respect)
    most infuriating game ever? fallout 2 (bastards didn't ship the game with a gas patch)
    best online collectible card game? (like magic gathering only better; 'the far wilds')
    best way to learn basic math? funnels & buckets
    games you learn from? inwo & combatribes.

    bandaidsrcool Y!, upisdowndie2live aol (ex gaming master)

    *looking for the name of atari dungeon game, and the one with the guy running away/placing barrels, and a copy of archon 2&3. looking for the name of a pc rts with magic & unicorns.

  18. Adam Twomey says:

    I know many of you will criticise me (is that spelt right?) for saying this but…
    Halo? No no, not the other 2 pathetic story lined shooters, the original, it was a game that added real skill to deathmatch, it was different and great!

    Also… No GTA?

  19. JIMBO says:

    You're picture of Master Of Orion is wrong. I have no idea what game that is…

  20. jesse says:

    what about monolith's Blood, that was a good one that shoulde up there

  21. Caleb Bobs says:

    I cannot say how much I like this game, gaming it is just super great! It is not 1 game that beat this game! dont you trust me me?! Check it on your own!

  22. questions says:

    Je trouve ca supers, merci pour ce tres bon post !

  23. SpineBack says:

    Magic Carpet 1&2
    Dungeon Keeper 1&2
    Syndicate Wars

    These were some of the most addictive, excellent games in history to me. Currently messing around with V64+DK2. Big Crash-fest so far.

    When ever Arx Fatalis is old enough to qualify, just automatically include my vote on that too. Exceptional sleeper to many missed I think.

  24. Nick says:

    A lot of people make the mistake of calling Quake the first true 3D game, the first with textured polygon enemies, and extensive multiplayer. This is absolutely not true. Descent beat Quake to it by a considerable margin. What a great game that was, so ahead of its time. Playing it on DosBox, it STILL looks good!

    Descent: March 1995
    Quake: June 1996

  25. Anubisfreak says:

    I'm searching for an old 3D game I think is called Anubis. Anyone heard of it, or know where it can be found?

  26. Mike says:

    AGE OF EMPIRES! 2 is the best I reckon.

  27. marty says:

    That isn't the original Simcity pictured. The original simcity looks like this:http://www.lauppert.ws/screen1/simcity_classic.pn… – what you have posted representing the first Simcity looks like the cell phone version of Simcity. Hardly old enough to be considered classic. I question some of your titles being considered classics, or at least, your definition of classic is so broad that some games look ridiculous being listed next to each other. You might, in the future, want to break your classic up into stuff like "The DOS Years" "The Windows pre-DirectX years" "Windows DirectX on" because all games within those boundaries should have more or less similar capabilities.

    Also, why no love for Ultima 7 + 7 1/2

  28. Gio says:

    lemmings ? Popolous ?

  29. Dick McDuck says:

    This was an awesome article, and I really can't think of anything that needs to be added, with one exception:

    Oregon Trail? That's a game that still holds up. It has never really been remade (that I know of) and no other game has really mimicked it.

  30. shaft says:

    how about warcraft 2? that game rocked for its time. way better than Warcraft 3! Why did they take away the friggin boats!

  31. Shaft says:

    also, Twomey, both those games were primarily console games. This is for pc

  32. Shaft says:

    sorry for the post frequency. Anyone play Homeworld? That was an excellent game. I think it for sure deserves mention.

  33. matt says:

    Lists, i love good lists lol…. and tyhis is a good list. The creator should do another one please! But on the best "Newer" Classic PC Games; i know that may not make sense to some, but if your like me and don't have a very good computer but still love games, you'll definetly want to know what good games you can play on your pc. I've already downloaded many of these bgames, i want more!! and thanks to the writer: Great Choice Of Games!

  34. The Gamer says:

    where is worms, dude?

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