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9/27/2015

Top 50 PC Games, #40-31

40. Mechwarrior 2: 31st Century Combat (Activision, 1995)

Stomping around kicking ass in a giant robot is what video games were built on, and Mechwarrior 2 remains a standout of the genre, even twenty-five years after its original release and numerous sequels.  I can certainly see why, too - the game looked and played fantastically for 1995, combining elements of vehicle simulation, first person combat and even a surprisingly good storyline with two distinct campaigns.  On top of all that, the game had two expansions (Ghost Bear's Legacy and the standalone Mercenaries) and even featured online play over "NetMech".  A rockin' good time that took full advantage of everything PC hardware was capable of at the time, and a devoted fanbase releasing all sorts of tweaks and upgrades ensures that it remains an excellent experience even today.


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. Toonstruck (Burst Studios, 1996)

I've played more than a handful of point-and-click adventure games that operate on cartoonish logic, but it always felt rather out of place when they were trying to build a serious atmosphere and story.  Toonstruck definitely broke that mold by putting the player in, well, a cartoon.  Bright, colorful and slightly off-kilter environments, professionally animated characters voiced by big-name actors like Tim Curry, Tress MacNeille, Dan Castellaneta and April Winchell, and starring none other than Christopher Lloyd, digitized and superimposed atop the action like Roger Rabbit in reverse.  There's a lot of genuinely entertaining talent on display throughout; it's just a shame that it ends on a very abrupt cliffhanger and, owing to copyright issues, the second part of the story has yet to be released.

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 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. But then it lays on a jokey tone, with aliens that childishly taunt the player, tons of sight gags and a generally absurd feel.  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).  Ingenious, 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. 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.