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9/29/2015

Top 101 PC Games, #30-21

30. 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.

29. 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.

28. 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.

27. 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.

26. 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.

25. 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.

24. 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.

23. 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.

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 flamethrowers 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. 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.