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9/27/2015

Top 50 PC Games, #40-31

40. Magic: The Gathering (aka Shandalar) (Microprose, 1997)


Magic: the Gathering is the granddaddy of all collectible card games, and it began all the way back in the early '90s.  As popular as it became, a number of video game adaptations would naturally follow, including an online game launched in 2002 that continues to this day and incorporates new expansions as they are released.  But before all that started off, Sid Meier (yes, that Sid Meier) created a version of Magic that proved to be quite a bit of fun.  Not only did it let you build your own decks to duel against computer opponents and feature extensive tutorials (with gloriously cheesy FMVs that combined CGI and live actors), but it even had a full-fledged RPG mode where the player tried to save the land from five evil mages, and make no mistake, it was an RPG; defeated opponents would give currency to let the player buy new cards, they would ante up new cards or clues to puzzles as a reward for victory, there were a number of dungeons to earn rewards from (usually in the form of temporary advantages for the next few duels), and one could even upgrade their own character with more starting Life Points and other advantages.  There were even a few expansion sets (Spells of the Ancients, Duels of the Planeswalkers and the unofficial ManaLink) that added new card decks, online multiplayer support and fixed various bugs in the original release. Really cool stuff on the whole.

39. 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 sales 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 storytelling in video games.

38. Carmageddon (Stainless Games, 1997)


A game which blends all things late-90s together into one - charmingly blocky 3D engines (BRender, the same technology behind 3D Movie Maker), metal music, gratuitous violence and pure action.  Case in point, Carmageddon is a combination of an arcade racer, an open-world game and a demolition derby with three win conditions - go through all the checkpoints before time expires, demolish all of your opponents' cars, or kill every pedestrian on the map.  Impacts, checkpoints and dead pedestrians earn you extra time and points which can be used to unlock new vehicles and tracks, purchase upgrades or just repair damage to your car and get you back in the action mid-stage.  You'll also find a variety of hazards and various power-ups and power-downs like Jelly Suspension, Blind Pedestrians, Solid Granite Cars, Damage Multipliers and Free Repairs, all of which only add more chaos to the proceedings.  Gruesome, twisted and incredibly fun, Carmageddon is a blast.  Just steer clear of that godawful Nintendo 64 version and you're golden.

37. Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy! (id Software, 1991)


The fifth and sixth parts of the Commander Keen series (though labeled as 4 and 5... it's complicated) were a big leap forward for not just platformers on the PC, but for the series itself.  Smooth-scrolling, fluid platforming action was almost unheard of in DOS games at the time (compare this to say, Duke Nukem or the Mega Man DOS games - BIG difference!), and the level of graphical detail was sublime and imaginative, looking like a cartoon on your computer.  Many of Keen's trademark elements return - the stun gun, the pogo stick and tons of collectibles - but the smoother controls and new capabilities like climbing up poles, unlocking rooms with keycards and mantling up ledges made its gameplay both more fun and more complex than previous entries.  He may not be as well-known as Sonic or Mario, but Keen was the closest thing the PC platform had for a good, long while.

36. Organ Trail: Director's Cut (The Men Who Wear Many Hats, 2010)


The title and overall format of Organ Trail are undoubtedly an homage to Oregon Trail, but it also does quite a lot to stand on its own.  A plethora of randomized missions and several minigames to play throughout make it a more varied experience for sure, but the consistently grim atmosphere (despite its jokey elements) and moody soundtrack perfectly highlight the carnage as well.  There is even an expansion that adds in features like new cars, branching paths, new boss fights and dangers like radiation and more frequent bandit attacks.  A roguelike I can replay endlessly and never get tired of.


35. Ys: The Oath in Felghana (Falcom, 2005/2012)


Ys was a relatively unknown franchise in the west for many years, only finally getting some recongition around 2010 or so as the series saw a wave of releases on the PSP platform.  However, it's remained a mainstay of the JRPG genre in Japan since its earliest days, seeing countless ports, remakes and sequels and continuing to get more today.  Easily my favorite of the bunch, though, has to be Oath in Felghana, a remake of the much-maligned third game in the series.  Trading in the sidescrolling gameplay of the original for some extremely fast-paced, intense action and upping the series' ever-impressive standards for writing and music to new heights, Oath in Felghana is a standout action-RPG.

34. 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.

33. Out of This World (Delphine Software, 1991)

Created from the get-go to be a Dragon's Lair-esque cinematic action adventure on a much lower budget, OOTW utilized vector graphics for much of its animation, resulting in a style with relatively little visual detail but very smooth animation.  The end result was certainly distinctive and memorable, adding a grim  yet beautiful aesthetic to the game and its many, many death scenes.  The gameplay was also quite solid, if heavily trial-and-error based as you tried to solve puzzles, evade enemies and figure out the correct sequence of events in order to survive another melee with aliens.

32. 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 them 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 excellent remake in 2012 (which had an even more awesome sequel a few years later), but the original is certainly nothing to sneeze at either.

31. 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.