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9/23/2015

Top 50 PC Games, #50-41


This was a challenging list for me to come up with, as I've never really been a die-hard PC gamer by any means. However, I was always fascinated by how different its library was from what I had gotten used to on consoles - for the most part, games on computer platforms were a very different experience in that they had so much more ambition to them. Like most of the best-known console developers, they were always pushing technology to its limits, but they also had to contend with a huge variety of different hardware setups and operating systems, which made their games considerably more difficult to develop and run. Still, it was all worth it to play some very in-depth and interesting experiences that consoles simply couldn't deliver, whether due to a more limited player interface or just not having the technological advantages of the PC platform. And of course, it is quite nice to still be able to play nearly all of them today, even if many do require fan patches or virtual machines or some other emulation option in order to run on modern hardware.
The only criteria I chose for this list is that all of my picks must have been designed with a computer system in mind as the primary platform (and have a release gap of at least three months between any console ports), or be PC-exclusive.  Oh, and they have to still be fun to play today, too.

As ever, keep in mind that this are my personal picks and no-one else's.  Oh, and these are by no means the only PC-built games I like.  Trust me, I had quite a lot of trouble sticking to my rules and narrowing this down to only 50!

I may have also compiled a list of honorable mentions though.

50. D/Generation (Robert Cook, 1991)

An action-puzzle game with nicely-detailed isometric graphics and smooth controls, D/Generation also had atmosphere in spades thanks to its bleak cyberpunk setting, a surprisingly good storyline (revealed through NPC dialog and computer files) and a huge variety of traps waiting to nail you.  At first they're relatively self-explanatory - electrified floor tiles, turrets, land mines, et cetera, but they quickly get more and more devious as you go.  Probably the worst are the shapeshifting enemies, which can disguise themselves as hostages or even just as mundane objects in the environment, quickly making the game a much more tense endeavor.  One can also find the occasional bomb to blow down doors and skip some puzzles, though as these tend to be rare, they should be used sparingly.  The game never got a lot of attention in its day, though it has acquired enough of a cult following over the years to get a re-release on the Nintendo Switch (as well as a 3D remake, released at nearly the same time).  No matter what platform you visit it on, though, D/Generation is a game worth your while.

49. Microsoft Flight Simulator (Asobo Studio, 2020)


Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the longest-lived franchises in PC gaming (and gaming in general), having entries dating all the way back to 1982.  The newest one as of this writing, released in 2020, took things to an entirely new level by incorporating real-life into the game in a literal form - namely, utilizing data from Bing Maps and OpenStreetMap to generate the entire world for you to fly around at your leisure, and even tracking real-time flight traffic so you could take command of virtual versions of planes that were actually in the air flying.  Of course, you're hardly limited to just one type of plane - from commercial airliners to biplanes to even a remote controlled  drone to check everything out at ground level, you get to try them all out, plotting your own paths or following real-life air traffic.  You even get to tweak weather effects as you play, which adds a new later of challenge to the proceedings and looks awesome to boot.  It does have a few weird hiccups with it's world generation (most famously a bizarre 212-story tower near Melbourne), but these are amusing rather than distracting.  Microsoft Flight Simulator is an incredible achievement on a technical level, and with real life air travel as restricted as it was in 2020, it couldn't have come at a better time.


48. Jazz Jackrabbit 2 (Epic MegaGames, 1998)

A rare example of a platformer on the PC that was well-received in the '90s, Jazz Jackrabbit certainly set out to impress from the get-go with its excellent soundtrack, colorful visuals and fast-paced gameplay that felt more than a bit like the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise.  Jazz 2, released a few years after, further upped the ante, mixing in puzzle solving elements and a few mechanics reminiscent of Earthworm Jim, as well as a new playable character in Spaz Jackrabbit (and a third in later versions, Lori).  Better still, the game had online multiplayer competition (which still persists to this day) and support for custom-made levels, giving it quite a bit of replayability.  A solid exclusive title for PC proponents and still a fun game for fans of sidescrolling action.

47. 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, and still surprisingly fun.

46. 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 instead of drawn cels, 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 and see your way to the end of this strange tale.

43. Shadowgate (Zojoi, 2014)

An updated remake of the classic point-and-click adventure game from the 1980s, Shadowgate's 2014 iteration was nothing short of brilliant.  The game's narrative was significantly expanded over its predecessor, new puzzles and obstacles were added, and elements of the original were changed up a lot, meaning that the old solutions to  puzzles no longer work (and, in fact, will frequently result in your death).  The game also features multiple difficulty levels that further shuffle puzzles and clues as well as lend some replay value to a genre largely lacking in it.  And of course, the remixed music and updated visuals effectively portray a grim atmosphere that only makes the game's story even more compelling.  Bring on the remake of Beyond Shadowgate!

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

Civilization is doubtlessly one of the most popular and successful franchises associated with PC gaming and Sid Meier, and they're all quite good in their own ways, keeping the same basic underlying gameplay while adding their own mechanics and tweaks.  5 is my favorite one so far, overhauling the gameplay in numerous ways with things like "Social Policies" (cumulative bonuses that the player can purchase with Culture) and city-states that the player can curry favor with or conquer at their leisure.  In addition, you can now achieve victory through military might, winning the space race, diplomacy, or just having the most developed culture to the point where all others bow in reverence to you.  That, plus modding support, make it a game (and series) more addictive and replayable than almost any other strategy franchise I've seen.  It's little wonder that Civ has been as popular as it has for well over two decades, even as it only recently started to gain a major presence on consoles.

43. The Oregon Trail (MECC, 1985)

If you're of a certain age, you probably remember playing this one in your school days, mostly because it's one of those rare educational games that was actually fun.   In fact, it was actually rather like a roguelike in some respects - you picked one of three career paths (determining your starting money and score multiplier at the end), dealt with a lot of randomized hazards and splitting paths, and tried to reach Oregon with as many people still alive as you could.  There were a lot of updates, remakes and rereleases over the years (still continuing to this day), but the fact that this game still remains popular despite having iterations going all the way back to 1971 speaks to its timeless charm.

42. Epic Pinball (Digital Extremes, 1993)

Video pinball games generally aren't really my thing, but a few have managed to grab my attention over the years due to their brilliant execution.  Epic Pinball is definitely one of them, impressing me with its high-fidelity and colorful graphics, fantastic music and the sheer variety it brings to the proceedings; the CD version of the game includes a whopping 13 tables to play on.  They also match a variety of themes, from race cars to futuristic androids to a bizarre, threadbare table called the "Enigma" that awards bonuses based on a cryptic set of conditions.  Good stuff all around, whether you're a pinball fanatic or not.

41. 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 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 combatative 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.