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9/23/2015

Top 111 PC Games, #50-41

50. Sid Meier's Civilization V (Firaxis Games, 2010)

Sid Meier's Civilization is a long time favorite among strategy fans, and it's easy to see why - it's a clever concept that's executed well.  Put in command of a civilization, you guide them over thousands of years, guiding them toward one of the game's victory conditions.  Civ 5 marked a substantial overhaul of the core mechanics, giving you things like Culture that can be spent on permanent upgrades and a focus on religion that can be used to build influence with other cultures (and resist theirs in turn), as well as independent city-states to befriend or subjugate.  There are four ways to win - by conquering every other civ's original capital, by winning the space race, by having an enormous influence over every other civilization through tourism and/or religion, or by being voted world leader in the UN after securing enough delegate votes.  A deep and ruthlessly addictive game, and it even supports Steam Workshop so you can add even more to it or tweak the rules however you like.

49. Half-Life (Valve, 1998)

First person shooters were the new hotness in the '90s, and it seemed like every new one was upping the ante, trying to maintain a fun, fast-paced style but working in more story elements and realistic environments to play in.  Half-Life was certainly no exception, and for 1998 it was nothing short of mindblowing.  Set in a research laboratory overrun by hostile aliens (and later soldiers trying to cover up the incident that unleashed them), the environments you trekked through had a ton of personality and danger in themselves.  From tram tracks to vats of toxic waste to all sorts of hazardous industrial equipment, there was just as much of a puzzle element in safely navigating them as there was in defeating the enemies.

48. 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 genuine talent and brilliant humor 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.

47. Sam & Max Hit the Road (LucasArts, 1993)

One of the many LucasArts point-and-click adventure games that surfaced in the 80s and 90s, and still regarded as one of the best in the genre even today.  Sam and Max was nothing short of hilarious with its kitschy American setting, irreverent protagonists and some surprisingly good voiceover throughout adding to the ridiculous scenarios.  They worked in quite a few minigames too - some required to progress while others are just for fun.  As popular and successful as it was, it was little surprise that people were pining for a followup; however despite numerous attempts one never actually came to be until 2006, when Telltale Games got ahold of the license and produced three episodic sequels.

46. 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.

45. Max Payne (Remedy Entertainment, 2001)

Max Payne was the game that put Finnish developers Remedy Entertainment on the map. The game at its core is a tale of revenge as a New York cop goes on a killing spree, gunning down the mobsters who killed his family and partner.  What made it into something really special, though, was the strong writing in the game thanks to Sam Lake; equal parts disturbing, visceral and funny, Max Payne was an experience unlike any other to that date.  Of course, the gameplay also had an innovative element of its own thanks to incorporating "Bullet Time", allowing the player to take on large enemy forces with relative ease by slowing down time in order to effectively dodge enemy fire and draw a bead on them before they could even react.

44. 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. The Zerg mostly rely on weaker units that excel in swarming tactics and harassment, the Protoss have powerful but slower and costlier units that required careful micromanagement to use effectively, and the Terrans fall somewhere in the middle, utilizing their versatility and resilience to their advantage.  Starcraft also sported an incredible map editor that allowed for scripting, enabling complex new gameplay dynamics and even entirely new games at times.  An incredible experience in 1998 and still the best of the genre today.

43. Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth (Firaxis Games, 2014)

More or less a remake/reimagining of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, it takes the formula of Civ into space, having the leaders of several competing ideologies touch down on an alien planet, compete or cooperate for territory and resources and ultimately try to reach one of the five win conditions before anyone else does.  There is a vast web of technologies to pursue, with everything ranging from robotics to gene manipulation to symbiosis with native aliens and the planet itself, and orbital warfare is a new factor, with the player able to launch satellites to augment their territory bonuses, spy over a large swath of land and yes, even launch strikes on their enemies.  The expansion, Rising Tide, expands on the diplomacy system and allows the action to continue over the planet's oceans, including creating floating mobile cities.  An exceptionally complex but extremely rewarding grand strategy game, and arguably the best Civ game ever created.

42. Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game (Interplay, 1997)

Drawing heavy inspiration from their earlier hit "Wasteland" (with the license having fallen to EA years prior), Fallout's creators set out to create a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape for the player to explore, and did so admirably, combining a grim atmosphere with a sly sense of humor throughout.  What really sold the game, though, was the sheer amount of thought put into its story and design - rather than encourage the player to just mindlessly blast everything as so many RPGs of the time were wont to do, the player is given many choices to deal with every questline put before them - a combative approach, stealthy approach and even pure diplomacy will work in almost any situation.  Hell, it's even possible to complete the game without firing a single shot or witnessing a single death.  The first in a great series of games.


41. 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.