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9/29/2015

Top 111 PC Games, #30-21

30. 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.


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 truly immortal game.

28. Scorched Earth (Wendell Hicken, 1991)

At a glance, Scorched Earth isn't much to look at - a game with tiny sprites and simplistic VGA graphics where tanks shoot missiles and try to blow each other up.  But then you take a closer look and find that this game is steeped in clever mechanics and surprisingly deep tactics.  From MIRVs to Funky Bombs to Sandhogs, the game has a variety of interesting weapons to utilize, some of which can devastate everything on the screen (even their user) in short order.  Further adding to the fun are defensive items like shields and options like having shots wrap around to the other side of the screen, bounce off the ceiling or radically shifting winds making aiming shots more difficult.  In short, it's a game with a lot of options and endless replayability, especially in multi-player combat.  The only real crime is that it never got an online play option!


27. Tetris (Alexei Pajitnov, 1984+)

Tetris had its beginnings all the way back in 1984 for the Electronika 60, and its popularity was (and still is) such that it's gotten numerous updates, ports, rereleases and remakes across just about every platform imaginable.  But before Nintendo got the license and created the monstrously popular Game Boy port, several companies made their own computer versions (the one depicted in this screenshot is the 1987 Spectrum Holobyte version).  While each had minor variances and change-ups, there's no denying one thing - it's a fun, addictive puzzle game that's easy to learn, but nearly impossible to master.  Not that it's stopped any of us from trying for the last thirty years.

26. X-COM: UFO Defense (Mythos Games/Microprose Software, 1995)

Also released as "UFO: Enemy Unknown", UFO Defense served as the first game in the strategic simulation X-COM series. The game expertly combined elements of base building, turn-based combat and business sim as the player had to manage their limited resources, reverse-engineer alien technology and keep their squads well-equipped (and alive) enough to deal with escalating alien attacks across the globe, with their ultimate goal being to take the fight to the alien base on Mars and defeat their leader in a final assault.  It also found just the right blend of gameplay elements, providing plenty of depth and challenge while not overwhelming the player.  X-COM had a remarkably good multi-platform remake in 2012 (which had an incredible sequel a few years later), but the original is certainly nothing to sneeze at either.

25. 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, but it's one that I can get into.  Tyrian 2000 is a standout title and, for my money, the best top-down shmup ever made.


24. Maniac Mansion (Lucasfilm Games, 1987)

Graphic adventure games were a staple of early computer gaming, with countless examples throughout the 80s and into the mid-90s and several big companies that are still going today building their name on beloved franchises.  One of the earliest I recall playing, and still my favorite of the genre to this day, is one Maniac Mansion, a game unique from most in the genre in that it actually had quite a lot of replay value - you could pick two additional characters (out of six) for each playthrough, with each having differing dialog and solutions to particular problems, and there were eleven different endings to see based on the player's choice of characters and actions taken throughout.  Top all that with a lack of cheap deaths (characters still can be killed, but you need to do some really dumb stuff to get there) and a sharp sense of humor that would become the trademark of all following Lucasfilm adventure games, and you've got a true classic.


23. Star Control II: the Ur-Quan Masters (Toys for Bob, 1992)

An undisputed classic, Star Control 2 is an ingenious blend of Starflight's open ended exploration and top down combat inspired by one of the very first video games ever made (Spacewar!).  Set in a future where the nefarious Ur-Quan empire has enslaved countless races, you return home after a lengthy scientific exploration journey aboard an alien ship to find Earth similarly enslaved, it's citizens trapped beneath an impenetrable force field; from there you set out to gather resources, upgrade your ship, make alliances with other races across the galaxy and eventually take the fight to the Ur-Quan.  A great concept for sure, and the quirky sense of humor and excellent music make it a captivating journey.  The game has also since had the 3DO version's source code released, resulting in an excellent modern update (simply called "The Ur-Quan Masters" for copyright reasons) to numerous platforms that's also free to download and play.


22. 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.

21. System Shock: Enhanced Edition (Looking Glass Studios/Nightdive Studios, 1994/2015)

System Shock was another early Looking Glass title that was highly acclaimed for being innovative and surprisingly deep (big shock there).  It utilized the same engine as Ultima Underworld; however, it took things into the future instead, putting the player on a space station overrun by mutants and cyborgs and having them fight to survive and thwart the machinations of the mad AI SHODAN.  In contrast to many other shooters of the time period, though, System Shock is comparatively slow paced and methodical - not quite stealth-based, but you'll do a lot of crouching and peering around corners to take potshots at enemies while avoiding their fire, and you'll also collect a number of upgrades for your cyborg gear - from a camera that sees behind you to speed-boosting leg enhancements to a shield that absorbs some damage you take.  There is also a heavy focus on storytelling, puzzles and mission objectives - hunting down crew logs, keycards and passwords, finding ways to skirt around traps, and solving wiring puzzles are commonplace.  You'll also have to hop into cyberspace which, as in many 90s depictions, is a surreal world full of 3D shapes and vague space shooter elements.  Very much a product of its time for both good and ill, but the Enhanced Edition smooths out its interface a bit and gives it a performance lift, so that's the version to play nowadays.