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9/29/2015

Top 50 PC Games, #30-21

30. Ultima Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams (Origin Systems, 1991)

Ultima 6 is a game as known for its intriguing story as its inventive gameplay, putting the player into a world more intricately designed and realistic than any other seen to that point - cows could be milked, doors could be lockpicked, blown up or smashed down, and virtually every object one saw could be moved around, stacked atop one another or used in surprisingly intuitive and realistic ways.  Naturally, this engine cost Origin a ton of money to develop, so they decided to try and recoup costs with some spinoff games.  The end results, while lauded by critics, were not financial successes, leading to the Worlds of Ultima franchise being cancelled after only two entries. Shame, that, as Martian Dreams is easily one of the franchise's best games.  Set in a fictionalized Victorian era on Mars, it has the player and a number of real-life historical figures unearthing the remains of a long-lost civilization on the red planet, and having to endure a lot of surprisingly realistic obstacles - low oxygen, radiation and an ever-constant struggle against limited supplies.  While it is frustrating to navigate at times, the tale told here is a creative and memorable one, and proof that Ultima remains an important milestone for both design and storytelling in video games.

29. 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.

28. 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.

27. 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.

26. 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.

25. Wizardry 8 (Sir-Tech, 2001)

First person dungeon crawlers were practically a staple of PC gaming since its inception, with Wizardry being one of the very first released and winning a lot of acclaim for providing a strong D&D-like experience with impressive visuals despite the limited technology of the time.  Appropriate, then, that it would also more or less be the one to send the genre off twenty years later.  Wizardry 8 came out nine years after 7 and closed out the story that began in 6, giving the player several ways to start the adventure depending on how they completed the previous game, as well as three endings depending on how they completed this one.  More than that, though, it incorporated a lot of modern sensibilities as well, with detailed 3D environments, heavy class customization and freeform movement more reminiscent of something like Elder Scrolls and a much-streamlined interface over its predecessors.  Not to mention some impressively-produced cutscenes, voice acting and even a good soundtrack.  If you're an old-school RPG fan, this one has it all.

24. 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.

23. Torchlight II (Runic Games, 2012)

There are quite a few Diablo-styled action roguelikes on the PC, but the one that takes the genre to perfection in my book is Torchlight II.  Created by a team partly made up of former Blizzard North (Diablo I) staff, Torchlight 2 takes everything that made Diablo a hit and cranks it up to eleven.  Combat is fast and frantic, the four playable classes in the game can be customized in any way the player wishes, and online multiplayer (sorely missing from the first game) is now back in full force.  The game even has full support for player mods which can even be used in online games, though all players must have the same set of mods installed in order to play together.  Some other clever tweaks, like each player finding separate loot drops and being able to send your pet back to town with a haul of items to trade in for cash or potions, also make sure that the action remains constant throughout.  Torchlight II is pure fun.

22. Worms: Armageddon (Team-17, 1999)


Just one game in the long-running Worms turn-based warfare strategy series, and the one widely regarded as the best in the franchise.  Unlike many of its sequels, it gives players the option to have teams larger than four worms (six or eight, depending on the number of players in the game), allows for custom team voices and terrain to be imported and has just the right blend of weapons, gadgets and options to make for lengthy, yet engaging online battles - from airstrikes to poisonous skunks to jflamethrowers to Street Fighter style martial arts, you won't be wanting for ways to lay down the pain.  Not to mention that it's always more fun dropping a concrete donkey on a bigger group than a smaller one, of course.  A standout in the turn-based artillery combat genre.

21. Might and Magic IV/V: World of Xeen (New World Computing, 1993)

Might and Magic is a  highly regarded franchise among PC gamers, mixing puzzle-solving, dungeon crawling and humor together to great effect.  Might and Magic III was the first to really reinvent the series, retaining the same classic first-person, turn-based gameplay but streamlining it in a number of ways - a cleverly designed graphical HUD that conveys all the information you need to stay on top of the action, a keyword-based loot system that would later be used in games like Diablo, and of course plenty of areas to explore, loot to find, puzzles to solve and a huge variety of monsters to battle both up-close and at range.  Xeen (comprised of parts 4 and 5) took things even further, combine two games into one huge adventure and adding in CD-based music, voiceover and animation to deliver an experience that looked and sounded great, played well and was amazingly fun.  Proof that dungeon crawlers could provide a ton of cerebral content while still retaining a fast pace and an impressive presentation.