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9/30/2015

Top 50 PC Games, #20-11

20. Tyrian 2000 (Eclipse Software, 2000)


I was never a big fan of shoot-em-up games; many of them start to feel very samey to me after a while, not to mention the fact that they feature one-hit deaths and swarming enemy patterns that are generally extremely trial-and-error based and require spot-on precision, and I don't really have the patience for that kind of thing.  Tyrian 2000, however, is more my speed.  An updated re-release of 1995's Tyrian, the game also features a lot of elements not normally seen in the genre - an in-depth storyline told between stages, a wide variety of customizable ship parts, weapons, sub-weapons and ship types, and even a pretty good sense of humor as you play through various minigames and collect giant fruits for points and have the option to pilot a ship that fires bananas and hot dogs at its enemies.  Of course, the colorful graphics and sweet soundtrack also help, as does the fact that you actually have a health bar (in the form of a shield meter that regenerates over time and an armor meter that can only be restored via powerups).  It still manages to be quite a challenge in spite of everything, but it's one that I can get into nevertheless.  Tyrian 2000 is a standout title in the genre.

19. Unreal Tournament 2004 (Epic Games, 2004)


Unreal made a big splash in the 90s with its polished engine and stunning 3D visuals, and its spinoff franchise, Unreal Tournament, only continued its legacy with its fast-paced gameplay, a ton of crazy weapons to use and clever game modes like Capture the Flag, Mutant and Double Domination.  UT2004 continues the trend but adds vehicles and gun turrets into the chaos, building a new layer onto the gameplay without disrupting its balance.  All of that, plus modding support that allowed players to create custom maps, models and even game modes and basically tweak almost every aspect of the game to their own liking, make this an excellent experience both in multiplayer and solo play against bots that's still incredibly fun today.


18. Starflight (Binary Systems, 1986)


A game as groundbreaking as it was fun to play, Starflight puts you in the role of a galactic explorer, roaming the galaxy in search of habitable planets and tradable resources and searching for a way to stop a series of devastating solar flares that have left numerous star systems barren of life.  To that end you'll also interact with a number of alien species both friendly and hostile, collect artifacts and gradually uncover a plot that proves a grave threat to all life in the galaxy.  And even though the game shipped on a floppy disk, it certainly did not suffer in terms of scope, providing hundreds of randomly-generated planets for the player to get immersed in.  A stellar game for its time and still an amazing one today, Starflight is the gold standard for the space exploration genre.

17. Deus Ex (Ion Storm, 2000)

Ion Storm was a company as well-known for the names on its payroll as for its comically extravagant office space and outlandish development costs. But despite some questionable management decisions, they managed to turn out several high profile titles in their short existence.  The one that easily stole the show was Deus Ex - a dystopian science fiction tale set in a world where every conspiracy theory imaginable is real.  It was also an early example of a game where one's choices actually matter, with significantly different play styles depending upon the player's choice of skills, story events changing based on choices and even three different endings.  A compelling dark tale in a surprisingly credible future, there's a good reason that it's the centerpiece of a meme: "Every time someone mentions Deus Ex, someone installs Deus Ex. "


16. Quake (Id Software, 1996)


Quake is a game with a complex history, beginning its life as an action-RPG titled "the Fight for Justice", slowly changing over the years to incorporate a 3D engine and ultimately turning into a shooter with some fantasy and Lovecraftian elements.  That ended up being no bad thing, though, as Quake was a great, fast-paced experience with a creepy atmosphere (in no small part due to featuring audio design by Trent Reznor) and some creative level design.  It even brought us elements like "Rocket Jumping" which lent themselves to all sorts of crazy (and impressive) speedrunning stunts, as well as some killer mods that would become successful franchises in their own right like Team Fortress.  Even with its chunky, blocky 3D models, grainy textures and choppy animation overall, Quake is another classic title from Id.

15. Shadowrun: Dragonfall/Hong Kong (HareBrained Schemes, 2014/2015)


The second and third entries in the revived Shadowrun franchise, and easily my favorite of the bunch so far.  Set in an anarchic future Germany, the game has you take command of a small group of Shadowrunners and investigate a growing conspiracy that led to your friend's death... and could hold grave implications for the world as a whole.  Further adding to the compelling narrative are some brilliantly-written characters and quite a bit of moral ambiguity; the choices players make can have a long-term impact on how events unfold, and what seems like a good idea at the time can lead to some very dire consequences later on.  Shadowrun is what quality CRPGs are all about.

14. Thief Gold (Looking Glass Studios, 1998)

Looking Glass returns to the list with the first entry in what is probably my favorite stealth franchise of all time: Thief.  Thief Gold is an update of Thief: The Dark Project, adding in three new levels as well as some minor tweaks to existing ones to make things more in line with the revised storyline.  But what makes Thief so great?  Well, the gameplay, for one, which requires the player to use shadows and diversions in order to draw enemies away so they can slip past unharmed.  To that end, the player also has a wide variety of tools to utilize - flash bombs, gas arrows, mines, rope arrows and noisemakers to name a few.  Also adding a nice twist to things was the fact that it was one of the first objective-based games out there - instead of just killing everything in your path, you now had specific goals to carry out in each stage, and the less attention you attracted along the way, the better off you were (not to mention that the higher difficulty levels forbid you from killing people anyway).  Of course, beneath it all was also a menacing atmosphere and pretty solid storyline involving the resurrection of a dark god whose existence is a threat to the world itself, but that tends to take a backseat to the thrill of the heist the game so effectively pulls off.

13. Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny (Origin Systems, 1988)


The Ultima series surfaces again on this list, but that shouldn't surprise anybody by now as I absolutely adore the franchise; it was an incredible innovator for its era and continues to be a major influence on every game that followed it thanks to the merits of its innovative concepts and strong writing.  Ultima V is no different; taking place in Britannia after it has slowly been turned into a brutal dictatorship under the corrupted ruler Lord Blackthorn, the player must follow a trail of clues to reunite with their former allies, recover the crown jewels of Lord British, free him from his prison and restore him to power.  Of course, with a very ambitious development team also comes a very high demand on the player, and Ultima V doesn't pull any punches in terms of difficulty - getting started in the game is a very steep task since you're frequently outnumbered and have little in the way of decent equipment, and it only gets tougher once you venture into the dungeons and start meeting reapers, demons and dragons who can lay waste to your entire party in no time flat.  Ultima V is a harsh experience, but ultimately an extremely compelling and rewarding one once you're used to it.

12. Undertale (Toby Fox, 2015)

Is it fair to put a game that hasn't even been out a month yet on the list?  Well, I'm doing it anyway, because Undertale is totally worthy of the honor.  Taking inspiration from the SNES classic Earthbound for its simple yet charming visual style, quirky sense of humor and sincere charm, Undertale also adds an element of player choice to the proceedings.  The player is given full reign over their actions in this world - they can fight their way through everything, or resolve battles more diplomatically (which entails all sorts of silly dialog options), and each choice is perfectly valid and can lead to one of several endings.  The game's combat system is also innovative in itself, being based on timed button presses to land attacks and a shoot-em-up styled bullet dodging experience to avoid enemy attacks (which you will have to get very good at in order to reach the Pacifist ending).  The game is also overly short, but in an era of 50+ hour games that are that long just for the sake of being that long, I don't mind this fact one bit.  Undertale is a stroke of genius and deserves all the acclaim it's gotten in the short time since its release.

11. Fallout 2 (Black Isle Studios, 1998)


An excellent title from Black Isle, and one of my favorite games of all time to boot.  The original Fallout definitely had charm to spare with its open-ended character development, multiple ways to complete objectives, heavy world lore and a wry sense of humor despite itself, but Fallout 2 took all of that and expanded upon it tenfold.  Bigger guns, new monsters, a wide variety of recruitable characters, and tons of new locations to explore and characters to interact with - some lovable, some you just love to hate.  There's also a reworked Perk system and a very handy new feature in the form of a drivable car, which makes transportation around the landscape more convenient and gives you plenty of extra carrying capacity to boot.  A stellar RPG experience from beginning to end and, again, one of the finest games in the CRPG genre.