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2/20/2020

Top 50 PC Games: Honorable Mentions

A few others that didn't make the list for one reason or another.

AI Dungeon 2 (Nick Walton, 2019)


A simple but brilliant idea that could only be realized in the age of artificial intelligence (and pointing it at a website that centers on user-submitted choose-your-own-adventure stories), AI Dungeon starts with a simple prompt, then takes whatever text you put in and writes a story around it.  And does a surprisingly good job at that; though the adventure almost never goes where you would expect (I once picked a zombie apocalypse story and didn't manage to encounter a single zombie), it's always strangely enthralling to see where it'll end up.  Being an ever-evolving piece of tech, it does require a "subscription fee" of sorts (by backing on Patreon), but it's well worth the price in my book, because it never ceases to find new ways to surprise me.

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.

Captain Blood (ERE Informatique, 1988)

Something of a cross between Starflight, the visual style of HR Giger and a big dose of French weirdness, Captain Blood has you traveling through the galaxy in search of your five clones so that you can liquefy them and prevent your own slow, painful death.  To do this, you need to follow a trail of clues by flying down to alien planets, meeting up with them (after flying through a procedurally-generated landscape) and then converse with them using a translator with over 150 icons for various words.  They'll in turn speak back (with synthetic speech) and you go back and forth until you learn what you need to know.  You can also bring aliens aboard your ship to transport them elsewhere (or just liquefy them) and blow up planets to complete various favors to get clues you need.  It's basically a weird Nyquil dream in video game form, and for that, if nothing else, it deserves a look.

Commander Blood (Cryo, 1994)


The sequel to the 1988 cult classic "Captain Blood", a game as well-known for its trippy atmosphere and outlandish premise as for its exploration-driven gameplay and a unique, intricate dialog system - picking 150 different icons from the HUD to string together sentences and communicate with the various aliens you encounter.  Sadly that iconic element didn't return for its sequel, but the surreal atmosphere and weirdness certainly did, being amplified by the advent of CD-based FMV.  A combination of CGI animation and practical effects (with all of the aliens being portrayed by puppets), a funky and original eurobeat soundtrack, and some delightfully bizarre characters, visuals and humor make for an unforgettable point-and-click experience.  There was one more game in the series - Big Bug Bang - but as it's only available in French, few gamers outside that part of the world have experienced it.

CyberJudas (D.C. True, 1996)


The sequel to the presidential simulator "Shadow President", CyberJudas is mostly the same game at its core, just with a reworked interface and a considerably darker, cyberpunk atmosphere on top.  You were basically put in the role of the president and left to pursue your own ends - delivering aid, carrying out military actions against other countries, investing in infrastructure, and yes, even declaring nuclear war.  Cyberjudas also adds two new game modes - Cabinet Wars, where your cabinet have their own agendas and attempt to manipulate you to acheive them, and the titular Cyberjudas, where one or more members of your cabinet are outright traitors, trying to discredit and undermine you at every turn.  To that end, you'd have to track down the Cyberjudas and discredit (or eliminate) them before they destroyed your career or eliminated you.  Dark stuff, but it makes for a very fun and tense game.

Elite: Dangerous (Frontier Developments, 2014)

Elite is an undeniable PC classic, and after being out of the limelight for nearly two decades, it was speculated by many players that it may never return.  Well, we were thankfully proven very wrong in 2014 when Elite: Dangerous was launched, putting players in a persistent, to-scale Milky Way galaxy and letting them hop back into trading, star-skimming, collecting loot from destroyed ships or just getting into intense battles with pirates or other players, and all of it is just as fun and rewarding as it was thirty years ago.  The Horizons expansions took things even further, letting the player visit the surfaces of many planets to collect resources and complete missions.  While it was a turnoff to some that an online connection is required to play (even if you're doing solo mode where no other players can directly interact with you), the captivating gameplay and ongoing storyline make it a treat for those who enjoy the final frontier.

Freelancer (Digital Anvil, 2003)


Built on a similar principle to previous games like Elite and Wing Commander: Privateer, Freelancer is an open-ended space exploration game, letting the player undertake missions to defeat pirates, trade resources, escort ships or even become a pirate themselves, scuttling ships and stealing their cargo to sell on the black market.  Unlike most, however, it utilizes a faster, more arcadey style of gameplay and, with it, a simpler damage model and a point-and-click interface that makes it easy to pick up and play.  There is a single-player campaign (and quite a good one), but the main draw of the game was its multiplayer; players could set up custom servers and play with up to 127 other players.  This, plus a plethora of fan-created mods that add more ships and numerous new features, make it a game both fun and highly replayable.

Heretic (Raven Software, 1994)

Popular as Doom was, it was little surprise that it would get a number of spinoff games and engine licenses.  Heretic is definitely one of the more memorable ones, taking the basic monster-blasting, puzzle-solving format of Doom and putting a hint of dark fantasy on everything.  Golems, axe-throwing skeleton knights, sorcerers and demons, among many others, stand in your way, while you get several weapons like a magic staff, a triple-firing crossbow, a fireball-launching mace and my personal favorite, gauntlets that launch lightning at your enemies.  More than that, though one could actually pick up many powerups and use them when needed, rather than being forced to activate and use them right then and there.  From temporary flight to powering up all of one's weapons to simply restoring a bit of health on-demand, they were all quite handy to have.

Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition (Overhaul Games, 2014)


Icewind Dale is basically Baldur's Gate, but lighter on plot and characterization and with much more focus on combat.  While it does still offer some opportunities to role-play and earn perks with specific character classes, the design is definitely geared more toward its tactical element, with reworked spells and classes, huge hordes of enemies in almost every room you encounter and generally less cheap tactics required (most of the time).  The Enhanced Edition is essentially a complete rewrite that utilizes the same engine as Overhaul (Beamdog)'s other retoolings, working in all of the new classes and engine improvements and giving the game considerably more replayability and strategies to explore.

The Incredible Toon Machine (Jeff Tunnell Productions, 1994/1996)


The Incredible Machine franchise is one that saw a lot of iterations (and a relatively recent spiritual remake in "Contraption Maker"), presenting the player with a number of Rube Goldberg puzzle pieces and challenging them to complete goals that varied from stage to stage.  Toon Machine (originally released as "Sid and Al's Incredible Toons") takes that and applies plenty of cartoon logic to everything, pitting the titular characters against one another in a series of puzzles where they try to outdo one another.  To this end, you'll fire catapults, utilize lights and magnifying glasses to burn things, use elaborate systems of ropes, pulleys and conveyor belts to transport objects, and, of course, cause mayhem with anvils, dynamite and bombs.  The between-level cutscenes were also a lot of fun, having Sid Mouse and Al E. Cat (voiced by Rob Paulsen and Jim Cummings respectively) explain your objectives with bits of animation.

Magic Carpet 2 (Bullfrog Productions, 1996)

Believe it or not, there was a time when Peter Molyneux was a highly-regarded developer instead of just a target of ridicule, and in that period he helped to produce quite a few unique and interesting titles.  Magic Carpet is certainly an example of that, mashing together first-person shooters and real time strategy elements with deformable terrain that gets destroyed and reshaped as you battle your way across it.  Essentially, you were locked in a constant struggle for Mana, vanquishing monsters and marking it so your balloon would carry it back to your castle.  Collecting enough (and keeping your castle intact) would cause you to win.  Magic Carpet 2 retains essentially the same design, though with more polish, higher-fidelity graphics, a more varied single player campaign and levels in general, some new spells and a polished and surprisingly strategic multiplayer mode - almost every spell one has can be countered by another, so simply rushing in and blasting away with your strongest attack won't get you very far.  Innovative and fun.

MegaRace (Cryo Interactive, 1993)

The FMV game genre had a resurgence in the 90s with the advent of CD technology, allowing developers to record and encode videos (usually in very low quality) and stick some gameplay on top of them to create "interactive movie games" (also generally of very low quality).  MegaRace stands out from the pack, though, on the merits of its strong presentation.  While the game itself is a fairly standard combat racer, having the player destroy all the other cars on the track, it's wrapped in a futuristic game show hosted by sleazy corporate stooge Lance Boyle (played by Christian Erickson).  Through that, it paints a picture of a dystopian future, though with a consistently irreverent and humorous tone that makes it quite an enthralling one to experience.  The great soundtrack by St├ęphane Picq is certainly worth a listen in its own right too.

Minecraft (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, spinoffs and player mods 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.  It's a game that has a little something for everybody, which probably accounts for its ridiculous popularity.

Portal/Portal 2 (Valve, 2007/2011)


A simple, but ingenious concept released as part of Valve's "Orange Box" collection, Portal is an action-puzzle game with charm to spare thanks to its twisted storyline and hilarious dialog.  The concept is easy enough - maneuver your character and objects in the environment and clear puzzles - but the titular mechanic adds so much depth to it that it's pretty staggering.  Basically, you get a gun that can create two linked portals on specific surfaces, and using that, you can travel to otherwise unreachable places, drop through a portal and fling yourself over a gap with the momentum, and do numerous other creative things.  The sequel is a natural expansion on the first, adding new puzzle elements to the mix and continuing the story in the most absurd, yet logical fashion.  And like any good puzzler, it includes a two-player co-op mode as well as the ability to create one's own puzzles and upload them to the internet via the "Infinite Testing Initiative".  Great stuff.

Shanghai II: Dragon's Eye (Activision, 1990)


Another variation on the solitaire family of games, utilizing Mahjongg tiles (reskinnable with a variety of flags, letters and numbers, and so forth).  Like any good game of this type, the concept is easy enough - clear the board by matching any two tiles with a free left/right side - but it quickly proves to be quite a challenge; you do have to constantly be careful not to put yourself in an unwinnable state.  There are a number of board layouts, as well as a two-player competitive mode (the titular "Dragon's Eye") where one player tries to build the "Dragon" while the other tries to match tiles to stop it from being completed.  But if even that's not enough, one can make their own board layouts to give themselves a real challenge.  Just a simple, but addictive little game; it's little wonder it appeared on as many platforms as it did (even getting an arcade version at one point).

Simcity (Maxis, 1989)

The story of Simcity is a famous one - Will Wright was a developer on the Broderbund title "Raid on Bungeling Bay", but had more fun designing maps with the editor than playing the game itself.  Eventually he decided to take that idea and expand it into a full-fledged city planning and building simulation, and the end result was SimCity.  It doesn't sound like a particularly fun game - constructing your town while managing crime, pollution, traffic, sim health and entertainment - but its addictive design and disastrous events like fires, floods and monster attacks kept it fresh and engaging.  It has also since been made open-source (albeit under the name "Micropolis" due to copyright concerns), so you have no excuse not to check it out in some form!

Simcity 3000 Unlimited (Maxis, 1999/2000)

Simcity 3000 had a lot to live up to after the groundbreaking original and the fantastic 2000, but it certainly did the name justice.  The game is pretty much what you'd expect, taking the groundwork of 2000, putting it in 3D and adding in a few more features like having to manage your city's garbage and sound alerts when disasters strike. One can also make business deals with other cities to address power/water/garbage storage issues, or take on other cities' problems for some extra cash at the cost of an increased burden to their own resources.  Unlimited added some new content of its own, letting you place numerous real-life landmarks like the Empire State Building, the CN Tower and Notre Dame's cathedral.  Better still, an easy-to-use editor lets you customize the appearance of your buildings or even craft custom ones, letting you build some truly massive and beautiful-looking cities.  The only real downsides were a significantly clunkier UI and the fact that this is the last great Simcity game.

SimTower/Yoot Tower (OpenBook/OPeNBooK9003, 1994/2002)

Despite the name, SimTower technically isn't part of the Maxis "software toy" line.  Rather, it was developed by Yutaka "Yoot" Saito, released in Japan as "The Tower" and published by Maxis in the rest of the world using their brand.  It was an easy mistake to make, though, considering the gameplay can aptly be described as "SimCity on a smaller scale".  You build a tower, provide it amenities like condos, apartment buildings, stores, hotel rooms and so forth, keep them all connected via stairs and elevators, and try to manage the chaos that results.  Tenants complain about noise and roach infestations (and may move out if they're not fixed) and various disasters can strike, like fires or terrorists planting bombs and demanding a ransom.  The sequel, Yoot Tower, is more of the same, though with some new amenities to build and some new locations like a tourist trap or an office building.  A few expansions were released, like a Statue of Liberty or a Kyoto Station scenario, but these never got localized outside of Japan.

Team Fortress 2 (Valve Software, 2007)


A game that spent nine years in development hell, which brings to mind uncomfortable recollection of games like Daikatana and Duke Nukem Forever.  Thankfully, though, Team Fortress 2 turned out to be a much better experience than those games could ever dream of.  Giving the player a choice of nine playable classes and numerous gameplay modes - from capture the flag to point control to pushing a bomb on a minecart deep into an enemy base and detonating it - Team Fortress was a brilliant, immensely fun multiplayer experience, and probably my favorite of that type. The PC version still receives content additions and updates to this day, but it sadly fell into decline once it went free-to-play and the whole game just devolved into a race to sign up dozens of dummy accounts and rack up free items by running bot scripts and idle servers all day.  Still, in its golden days, Team Fortress 2 couldn't be beat.

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness/Beyond the Dark Portal (1995/1996)

Warcraft 1 was a pretty novel game, having you build towns and take on armies, as well as endure tougher missions with no buildings and a very limited pool of units to work with; however, it suffered from slow gameplay and a rather unwieldy UI, especially if you played the second game first like I did.  I played this one a lot, both in single player and over dial-up with one of my buddies who would cheat constantly, and I was hooked for quite a while until Starcraft hit the scene.  You commanded all sorts of cool units - axe-throwing trolls, death knights who could summon tornadoes and decay, battleships, flying gryphons and dragons, and would battle across land, sea and air.  The AI is pretty infamously cheap - building units and seeking your bases out at a rather absurd speed but getting tripped up by mere walls - but with friends it was one of the best RTSes of the time.

Wolfenstein 3D (Id Software, 1992)


While not the first FPS to hit the market, Wolfenstein 3D is arguably the one that popularized the genre.  It also remains surprisingly fun today for its more tactical design - try to run in and gun everything down like in Doom and you'll probably just get killed.  Instead it's better to take a more methodical approach, carefully peeking into rooms and trying to pick off enemies one at a time, conserving your bigger guns for when that's unavoidable (and because they burn through ammo much more quickly).  As per all the classic Id shooters, it's also rife with hidden secrets, has numerous expansions (both official and fan-made) and a very large modding community that ensures it's still being played today.


Yume Nikki (Kikiyama, 2003)

Less of a game and more of an experience, Yume Nikki ("Dream Diary"), simply put, has you exploring a dream world.  There is no spoken dialog and very little legible text throughout the game, but atmosphere to spare as you explore a massive host of surreal and often disturbing locations.  From underground malls to snowy landscapes to a rainy stretch of road in the woods, there is a lot to experience.  A number of randomized events do too, as do various "effects" one can pick up that alter the player in various ways, like making them monochrome, shrinking the character or letting them ride a bike to move faster.  There is an "ending" per se, but like almost everything else in the game, it's all pretty vague and left up to the player's interpretation.