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9/23/2015

Top 101 PC Games, #50-41

50. Jazz Jackrabbit (Epic MegaGames, 1994)

Probably the first PC game I can remember really being blown away by, proving that the PC platform could have games that were just as fast-paced, colorful and smooth-playing as anything on a console. Jazz Jackrabbit obviously draws a lot of inspiration from Sonic with its colorful environments and fast paced design (even utilizing similar 3D bonus stages to Sonic CD), though it works in a touch of run-and-gun shooting action too, giving you a number of different weapons and powerups to utilize and plenty of enemies to blow away with them.  Cap that off with a fantastic module soundtrack and you've got a genuine shareware classic.  It also had a sequel a few years after, but I don't like that one nearly as much; the weird unintuitive level design, jerky physics and often-unresponsive controls make it much less fun and memorable than the first.

49. 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.

48. 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.

47. 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!

46. Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (Blue Sky Productions, 1992)

A game that was built from the ground up to not just be a more realistic kind of puzzle-driven dungeon crawler, but a full blown life simulation too.  To that end, you had skills not just oriented around combat and spellcasting, but for swimming, conversing, identifying items and bartering with NPCs among many others.  It had a lighting system and rudimentary physics for platforming, letting objects bounce off of walls (and activate switches) and no single set solution for most puzzles, letting the player take an innovative approach to figuring out the game's mysteries.  Downright mind-blowing stuff for 1992, and the influence it's had on the industry since is immeasurable. inspiring games like Elder Scrolls, Half-Life 2, Deus Ex and Arx Fatalis, and numerous others.  It's a bit clumsy and awkwardly slow to play today, but it's nevertheless a great game and an important building block for gaming as a whole.

45. 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.

44. 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.

43. AM2R (Some awesome fans, 2016)


Nintendo's Metroid series is one that has been oft-copied, but puzzlingly sat idle in Nintendo's own hands for nearly a decade.  AM2R is a stellar fan-created remake of Metroid II for the PC, combining excellent visuals and audio design, spot-on controls and polished gameplay on par with the top games in the franchise.  Naturally, Nintendo quickly became green with envy for said fans doing something better with Metroid than they had in years and had it pulled from the internet, once again reaffirming their philosophy that "If people can't play high-quality fan games or even our old games that were good, they'll just have to buy our new games that aren't so good instead".  Which just seems like terrible business practice to me, but oh well.  If you can get your hands on this piece of forbidden treasure, you should, because AM2R is a game with more polish than most professionally released games, and perfectly captures that feeling of isolation in an eerie alien world that the classic Metroid games provided.

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.