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9/23/2015

Top 111 PC Games, #50-41

50. 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 swarming tactics and harassment, the Protoss have powerful but slower and costlier units that required careful micromanagement, 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.

49. 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.

48. Day of the Tentacle (Lucasarts, 1993)

The sequel to Maniac Mansion and Tim Schafer's first game as project lead, Day of the Tentacle was another hilarious and well-made point and click adventure from LucasArts.  Starring Bernard and two of his college roommates as they attempt to foil the Purple Tentacle's scheme for world conquest, the setup is quite a clever one - each of the three characters is trapped in a different time period, able to pass objects between one another but otherwise unable to directly interact, and changing things in the past will affect things in the future, opening paths for puzzles to be solved. This, plus the sharp writing, acting and animation, make for a truly fun and creative adventure. Though it sadly lacks the multiple paths and endings of the original game, Day of the Tentacle is nonetheless a worthy sequel to a classic. 

47. Wartales (Shiro Games, 2022)

A game that obviously draws inspiration from the old cult classic "Darklands", Wartales is very similar in concept - a small band of adventurers traveling around the land in search of fame (or infamy) and fortune.  Unlike that game, though, it does have a bit more of an involved class system; characters earn sets of skills depending upon their chosen vocations and interact with the world in different ways, too.  As you travel and face danger you'll not only power up your characters, but learn new tools to craft and abilities that benefit the entire group like rationing food (slows food consumption), outrunning enemies to avoid fights, carrying more weight or even more ghoulish options like being willing to resort to cannibalism to survive.  There's no real overarching story to go through - you carve out your own.  But it's deep and engaging enough to keep you coming back for a good while.

46. 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 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.


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 many 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 resources and 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. Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds (Looking Glass Studios, 1993)

The followup to the groundbreaking original game, which definitely tried to up the ante, taking place across numerous worlds rather than one big, sprawling dungeon.  Each has a pretty distinct feel to it, with some fairly similar to Britannia and others just downright bizarre, but all with one thing in common - they're under the thumb of the megalomaniacal Guardian, so it becomes a matter of rallying what resistance you can to try and turn the tables on your persistent and powerful foe.  The game plays much as the first one did, though it wasn't as well-refined owing to being developed under heavy crunch.  Even with that, though, Labyrinth of Worlds is nevertheless a worthy sequel that's still well worth playing.

41Minecraft (Markus Persson/Mojang, 2011+)

I don't think any "top games" list, PC or otherwise, can go without at least mentioning Minecraft; after all, it is far and away the best-selling video game of all time as of this writing and has spawned too many imitators, alternate versions and spinoffs to even count.  Essentially a procedurally-generated sandbox game where you battle monsters, collect resources, find food and water to survive, and build... well, whatever you want to build.  Towns, skyscrapers, castles, giant pieces of art, Beetlejuice-themed rollercoasters, you name it, it's probably been done (and if not, soon will be).  Those with a more goal-oriented mindset can also opt to collect enough resources to enter "The End" and slay the Ender Dragon, winning the game in a more traditional way, and there are no shortage of mods that change up the setting or make huge alterations to the core gameplay.  It's a game that has a little something for everybody, which probably accounts for its ridiculous popularity.