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9/27/2015

Top 50 PC Games, #40-31

40. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos/The Frozen Throne (Blizzard Entertainment, 2002/2003)


Warcraft was one of Blizzard's earliest hits, launching a game with two long and varied campaigns and plenty of charm and atmosphere.  The sequel offered a vastly improved UI and larger-scale battles, and Warcraft III certainly upped the ante too.  The total number of playable factions was raised to four (adding the corpse-manipulating Undead and nature-oriented Night Elves) and working some RPG elements into the proceedings - each army gets their own unique "hero units" that power up after defeating foes, carry an inventory of items (like temporary power boosts or potions to recover HP) and have powerful spells that can quickly turn the tide of battles; however, losing one at an inopportune time can quickly put you at a grave disadvantage, too.  I wasn't a huge fan of this element as it overtakes a disproportionate part of the game's overall strategy, but the polished design and sheer diversity of the four races make it a great RTS nonetheless.  The Frozen Throne is a great expansion too, adding new units for each army, two neutral factions (the Naga and the Dranei), reintroducing naval battles, and of course continuing the storyline from the original game.

39. 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 1 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.

38. Simcity 3000 Unlimited (Maxis, 1999/2000)

Simcity 3000 had a lot to live up to after the groundbreaking original and the fantastic 2000, but it certainly did the name justice.  The game is pretty much what you'd expect, taking the groundwork of 2000, putting it in 3D and adding in a few more features like having to manage your city's garbage and sound alerts when disasters strike. One can also make business deals with other cities to address power/water/garbage storage issues, or take on other cities' problems for some extra cash at the cost of an increased burden to their own resources.  Unlimited added some new content of its own, adding numerous real-life landmarks like the Empire State Building, the CN Tower and Notre Dame's cathedral.  Better still, an easy-to-use editor lets you customize the appearance of your buildings or even craft custom ones, letting you build some truly massive and beautiful-looking cities.  The only real downsides were a significantly clunkier UI and the fact that this is the last great Simcity game.

37. 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.

36. Lemmings (DMA Design, 1991)

A popular puzzle game that spawned a horde of rereleases, updates, sequels, expansions and parodies, Lemmings is a simple concept - get a quota of Lemmings safely to the goal.  To this end, one picks a few out of the crowd and assigns them jobs meant to help the others avoid danger or bypass obstacles - whether simply stopping and forcing them to go the other way, digging through dirt, climbing up walls, or blowing themselves up to clear an obstacle from the others' path.  Once enough are safely through the exit door, the next stage begins.  Simple enough concept, but many of the later stages get deviously difficult, requiring some very fast thinking to succeed.  Given just how prolific and popular the series was, if you owned basically any platform out in the early '90s, you probably played Lemmings or one of its sequels/spinoffs/expansions at some point.  And thankfully, all of them were pretty damn fun.

35. MDK (Shiny Entertainment, 1997)

MDK is an imaginative and unique mashup of platforming and run-and-gun action that could only come from the minds that brought us Earthworm Jim.  It sets out to impress with its detailed and surreal visual style reminiscent of HR Giger (and some impressive visual effects for the time, like "bullet cams" that chase up to three of your sniper shots at a time) and an impressive score that really gives the feel of an epic battle to save the earth. Btt then it lays on a jokey tone, with aliens that childishly taunt the player, tons of sight gags and a generally absurd feel to its levels.  Between all that, though, it's pure run-and-gun action, having you battle hordes of aliens, tanks and robots, collecting powerups like hand grenades, "World's Smallest Nuclear Explosions" (which blast open certain doors) and "The Very Large Hamster Hammer" (creates an earthquake that damage all nearby foes).  Varied, imaginative, hilarious and fun, MDK is a fine action game that's very overlooked these days.

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. Tetris (Alexei Pajitnov, 1984+)



Tetris had its beginning 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.

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 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.

31. Elite: Dangerous (Frontier Developments, 2014)

Elite is an undeniable PC classic, and after being out of the limelight for nearly two decades, it was speculated by many players that it may never return.  Well, we were thankfully proven very wrong in 2014 when Elite: Dangerous was launched, putting players in a persistent, to-scale Milky Way galaxy and letting them hop back into trading, star-skimming, collecting loot from destroyed ships or just getting into intense battles with pirates or other players, and all of it is just as fun and rewarding as it was thirty years ago.  The Horizons expansions took things even further, letting the player visit the surfaces of many planets to collect resources and complete missions.  While it was a turnoff to some that an online connection is required to play (even if you're doing solo mode where no other players can directly interact with you), the captivating gameplay and ongoing storyline make it a treat for those who enjoy the final frontier.