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9/29/2015

Top 50 PC Games, #30-21

30. DOOM (Id Software, 1994)

DOOM was an amazing title at the time of its release for its realistic 3D environments, fast-paced action and varied gameplay, combining elements of puzzle-solving with run and gun action against hordes of enemies.  But when you added on online deathmatches and the ability to create custom maps, the game's replay value rocketed through the roof, and even today it remains an incredibly fun experience, spawning hundreds of thousands of custom maps and countless player mods that remix the experience into something completely new.  Surpassed in technology but still unmatched in gameplay, DOOM is a true classic.

29. Freedom Planet (GalaxyTrail, 2014)


Freedom Planet is essentially a giant love letter to Sega Genesis era action titles (particularly Sonic) with its colorful graphics, fluid animations and emphasis on speedy gameplay and over-the-top boss battles.  But you know what?  That's no bad thing by me!  The levels in the game are a ton of fun to navigate, the game gives you three distinct playable characters to play as, and the multiple routes through stages and hidden secrets give it some substantial replay value.  Not to mention that it succeeds where nearly all of the 3D Sonic games failed and gives a thrilling sense of speed in addition to some surprisingly intense challenge.  Freedom Planet is an excellent homage that even surpasses many of the games it pays tribute to.

28. Half Life 2 (Valve Software, 2004)


Valve Software's followup to the massively successful and innovative Half-Life, and it managed to be quite a landmark in itself.  Not only for its advanced visuals and engine, but for its creative enemies, oppressive atmosphere and some very clever weapon types (including the famous Gravity Gun, which allows you to weaponize virtually anything in the environment).  Half-Life 2 is also a testament to excellent level design, requiring you to do everything from puzzle-solve to last through intense shootouts to numerous vehicle-based obstacle courses, and even face off with building-sized monsters on occasion.  All good stuff; just a shame that more first person shooters didn't follow in its mold...

27. Diablo II (Blizzard Entertainment, 2000)

The followup to Blizzard's mega-hit Diablo, the second game in the franchise upped the ante in almost every way.  Featuring faster gameplay, a choice of five new classes (seven in the expansion) each with their own variety of skill sets and equipment choices, and of course a plethra of new quests, items, bosses and challenges to undertake.  It also featured multiplayer for up to eight simultaneous players, who could choose to tackle dungeons, gain levels or just duke it out in battles to the death.  Other new features, like "Rune words" and the ability to combine gems and reroll equipment properties would also become staples of other games in the genre.  Once again, a major hit for Blizzard that continues to be fun even today.  There are even a few killer fan mods available for those tired of the stock game.

26. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (Remedy Entertainment, 2003)


The followup to the John Woo inspired shoot-em-up hit Max Payne, Max Payne 2 continues the story while changing up its mood considerably.  Rather than a kitschy tale of revenge against drug-dealing mobsters, Max Payne 2 is a complex film noir plot involving a power struggle left in the void of the previous game's actions.  The visceral thrills are also amped up thanks to the implementation of in-game physics and a revamped engine making the bullet-time mechanic into something much more fast-paced and intense.  Of course, being published by Rockstar also ensured that they got to shoehorn in some of their corny humor, which dampens things a bit, but Max Payne 2 was still a very compelling experience nevertheless.

25. Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game (Interplay, 1997)

Drawing heavy inspiration from their earlier hit "Wasteland" (with the license having fallen to EA years prior), Fallout set out to create a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape for the player to explore, and did so admirably, combining a grim atmosphere with a sly sense of humor throughout.  What really sold the game, though, was the sheer amount of thought put into its story  and design - rather than encourage the player to just mindlessly blast everything as so many RPGs of the time were wont to do, the player is given many choices to deal with every questline put before them - a combatative approach, stealthy approach and even pure diplomacy will work in almost any situation.  Hell, it's even possible to complete the game without firing a single shot or witnessing a single death.  The first in a great series of games.

24. Portal 2 (Valve Software, 2011)


Portal was an experimental title in Valve's Orange Box compilation, but it proved to be a surprise hit with its clever puzzle solving and enormously funny character dialog.  Portal 2 is more of the same, upping the stakes with new characters and obstacles and a story that manages to be even more absurd than the last one.  But the things most people remember are the cooperative two-player mode and the "Infinite Testing Initiative", a clever way for users to create and upload their own levels for others to try out, complete with a very simple and innovative editor.  Really good stuff, and easily one of my favorite action-puzzle games of all time.

23. Tyrian 2000 (Eclipse Software, 2000)


I was never a big fan of shoot-em-up games; they all 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 and an armor meter.  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.

22. Unreal Tournament 2004 (Epic Games, 2004)


Unreal made a big splash in the 90s 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.

21. Shadowrun: Hong Kong (Harebrained Schemes, 2015)


The third in the revived Shadowrun CRPG franchise, and like its predecessors, it's a brilliant experience.  The intricate skill system and character customization is certainly a nice draw, but more than that, the writing in the game is nothing short of brilliant, effectively setting up a cyberpunk universe full of corruption, gang warfare and magical forces at constant ends with one another, with some brilliantly-worded character dialog and prose drawing you in and refusing to let you go until you've seen the story to its conclusion.  Hairbrained Schemes' name is a misnomer, as they definitely know how to craft a fine RPG experience - not only one of the best I've played in years, but one of the greatest ever.