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9/23/2015

Top 101 PC Games, #50-41

50. Starflight 2: Trade Routes of the Cosmic Nebula (Binary Systems, 1989)

The followup to the groundbreaking original game, and while the core gameplay remains mostly unchanged, the way it all unfolds is now quite a bit more sophisticated. As the subtitle implies, your main source of income this time is from establishing trade routes - buy goods, venture to another planet, sell them and hopefully turn a profit along the way.  Of course, you'll still have to do a fair bit of puzzle solving and adventuring to unravel the underlying plot concerning the Cosmic Nebula, as venturing too far into it takes a severe toll on your sanity for reasons unknown.  However, the sharp sense of humor of the original keeps things fresh, as does a significant technological upgrade from the first making the gameplay faster and the graphics sharper.

49. 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.

48. Stardew Valley (ConcernedApe, 2016)

Definitely one of the most highly-acclaimed indie games of recent years, and it's not hard to see why after playing it for only a short while.  Taking everything great from Harvest Moon and mixing in elements of dungeon crawling, town building and of course, plenty of characters to befriend and items to cook and craft.  Hell, later patches even added tons of new content, including co-op for up to four players, and it's never cost any more money than the entry level price.  A work of passion that pays off for both its fans and its developer hundreds of times over.

47. Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress (Bay 12 Games, 2006)

Dwarf Fortress is a game as famous as it is intimidating, creating an entire world from scratch and meticulously generating every life and major event that ever takes place in it, so you're fully immersed in a unique history each time.  There are two game modes - a civilization-management sim called Fortress Mode and an open world roguelike called Adventure Mode, both of which are strikingly different and endlessly deep in their own ways.  Dwarf Fortress's amazing complexity comes at a cost, though - the game doesn't have graphics, instead being rendered entirely in ASCII, and its interface and mechanics are downright opaque, all but requiring you to comb through the help file and the online wiki to get your bearings and puzzle out the hundreds of things you can do.  You'll also inevitably meet your end to any manner of hazards from madness to lava flows to goblin raids to demons breaching into your realm and murdering everything in their path, but as the game's motto goes, Losing Is Fun!

46. Heroes of Might and Magic II (New World Computing, 1996)

Might and Magic has had a number of spinoff and side games over the years, and easily the most successful and long running one is the Heroes series.  Basically a turn-based, fantasy themed 4X franchise incorporating a lot of series names and story elements, it's gone on to have seven entries and a number of expansions, outliving the series it spawned from.  2 is my personal favorite, though, as it's gameplay is just the right blend of both worlds and its presentation is utterly fantastic. It's a ton of fun collecting resources, upgrading your castle, outfitting your heroes and their armies and setting out to conquer everything in your path, and the fact that it supports online play makes it one you can still compete with friends in. 

45. 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.


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. 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.

41. Epic Pinball (Digital Extremes, 1993)

While I'm not really a big fan of video pinball games, 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.