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9/29/2015

Top 101 PC Games, #30-21

30. DOOM (Id Software, 1993)


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. Max Payne (Remedy Entertainment, 2001)


Max Payne was the game that put Finnish developers Remedy Entertainment on the map. The game at its core is a tale of revenge as a New York cop goes on a killing spree, gunning down the mobsters who killed his family and partner.  What made it into something really special, though, was the strong writing in the game thanks to Sam Lake; equal parts disturbing, visceral and funny, Max Payne was an experience unlike any other to that date.  Of course, the gameplay also had an innovative element of its own thanks to incorporating "Bullet Time", allowing the player to take on large enemy forces with relative ease by slowing down time in order to effectively dodge enemy fire and draw a bead on them before they could even react.

28. StarCraft (Blizzard, 1998)


The game that tore the real time strategy genre down and rebuilt it from scratch, Starcraft was quite a sight to behold at the time of its release.  Not content to have just two armies with mostly identical units, Starcraft has three to control, and despite having very different playstyles, all are relatively balanced and require quite a bit of differing strategy, with the Zerg mostly relying on swarming tactics, the Protoss having powerful but slower and costlier units, and the Terrans falling somewhere in the middle, utilizing their versatility to their advantage.  That, and it had an incredible map editor that allowed for scripting, enabling complex new gameplay dynamics and even entirely new games at times.  An incredible game in 1998 and still the best of the genre today.

27. Blood (Monolith, 1997)

The Build engine may have looked just a bit dated by 1997, especially since Quake was the hot new game on the market, but Blood proved that superior design could more than make up for older tech.  Blood is a master class of horror elements, with a grim, creepy atmosphere and enemies like giant spiders, gargoyles, cultists and flame-spewing cerberus dogs, all with the same immersive and surprisingly realistic level design that made Duke Nukem 3D work so well.  The weapons are equally inventive, with mundane options like a shotgun and tommy gun taking a back seat to weapons like a flare gun or a spray can/lighter to ignite enemies, a voodoo doll that inflicts extra damage to undead/magical enemies (but will damage you if you stab it when no enemies are onscreen) and a crazy-looking skull staff called the Life Leech that doubles as a stationary sentry gun.  The game was exceptionally tough (not aided by a bug that would cause the difficulty level to cycle every time one loaded a save), but the sheer inspiration behind its design is something that must be seen.  Oh, and grab the Deathwish map set too, which is a fantastic fan-made addon that rivals, if not surpasses, the main game in quality.  It's just a shame the sequel (Blood II: The Chosen) was such a mess.  As for the sequel's expansion pack... well, "avoid at all costs" is about the most apt thing that can be said for that.

26. Slaves to Armok, God of Blood Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress (Bay 12 Games, 2006)

A game that's built up a strong cult following over the years despite its obscene complexity, opaque interface and not even having graphics (utilizing ASCII characters to represent everything).  However, it also stands as proof that complexity can very much work in a game's favor, generating not just an entire world to play in, but intricately crafting every important detail of its history, lore and the lives of each and every one of its inhabitants. As for gameplay, it comes in two flavors - Adventure is a roguelike styled adventure where you create a character and set off to complete quests, explore dungeons and conquer danger, while Fortress mode is more of a simulation, having you manage a colony of dwarves as they try to survive, fend off danger and avoid succumbing to madness.  Each playthrough will inevitably result in disaster and demise as things go wrong for you or your Fort, but as the game's motto goes, losing is fun! 

25. 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 plethora 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 items 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.


24. 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.

23. Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead (Whales/numerous other authors, 2013)


An open-source roguelike set in a rapidly-unfolding apocalypse, Cataclysm is a ruthlessly difficult experience - in many cases you'll begin a game and get killed almost immediately by hordes of zombies, triffids, Lovecraftian horrors or countless other terrible hazards.  But if you manage to survive a bit, build up your skills and keep your morale up, you can do some truly amazing things - build your own bases, farm crops, and craft ridiculous Mad Max style death machines to mow down all dangers in your path, or just become a badass martial artist capable of decapitating enemies in a single hit.  Crazy tough yet also extremely rewarding, you're guaranteed to get a lot of fun stories out of Cataclysm DDA.

22. Castle of the Winds (Saadasoft, 1993)


Dungeon crawlers have always been a pretty PC-centric genre; various attempts at creating them on consoles have always been met with relatively lukewarm reception (Chocobo's Dungeon, Nightmare of Druaga) or relegation to cult classic status at best (Etrian Odyssey).  Out of all of the games in this vast genre, though, Castle of the Winds has to be my favorite, in no small part because it manages to be relatively easy to pick up and play while retaining the challenge the genre is known for.  Simplistic yet charming visuals and a relatively bare-bones yet still captivating story also make it an enjoyable experience, and let's be honest, it's always fun carving your way through an entire swath of ogres or giants and emerging victorious with enough loot to buy a luxurious mansion, only to spend it on some better equipment instead.

21. Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition (BioWare/Beamdog Software, 2013)

Probably the best-known and beloved of the Infinity Engine games, and it isn't hard to see why - the game has a ton to offer with its 60+ playable classes, a great storyline with some very memorable characters (all of whom have their own questlines) and just some downright frantic combat, putting the high challenge of D&D into a game with plenty of creative tactics.  It can get frustrating at times with overpowered enemies that all but require using engine exploits to succeed (Beholders and Illithids in general) but as far as RPG experiences go, this is one of the best you're likely to find for D&D games.  As well as BioWare's best game by far.