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12/15/2020

Top 111 PC Games, #100-91

100. Diablo (Blizzard Entertainment, 1996)

Warcraft and Lost Vikings were fairly popular games in their time, but Diablo is the game that really put Blizzard on the map.  Taking the concept of games like Rogue, adding an action bent and dousing the whole thing in a heavy grim atmosphere, it definitely awed people at a glance. It only became more immersive thanks to its fantastic soundtrack and a surprisingly good story with some high quality voice over, and the fact that you got a random shuffle of quests, items and spells each time you played lent it quite  a bit of replay value. It had an official (though non-canon) expansion in Hellfire as well, adding in several new quests and three new playable classes (though you do have to do some file-editing to make them all accessible). While largely overshadowed by its sequel these days, Diablo is still a very worthy game that is not to be missed.

99. 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.

98. Harvester (DigiFX Interactive, 1996)

A point-and-click adventure that drew a lot of heat back in the day - its over-the-top violent imagery, twisted characters and shocking interactions seemed engineered to do little more than push peoples' buttons, especially back in the '90s when controversy over super-violent games like Mortal Kombat was still fresh on everyone's mind.  If you dig a bit deeper, though, you find that the game is heavily steeped in satire, poking fun at the very controversy it seems to be indulging in, with a sardonic tone that mocks the supposedly "innocent times" video games trampled on.  It also helps that the voice acting is really well done, with spot-on deadpan delivery in even the most absurd of moments.  Admittedly the last leg of the game is a slog, with some rather crappy puzzles and combat to power through to make your way to the story's conclusion, but that's a relatively minor downside to a very memorable experience.

97. CyberJudas (DC True, 1996)

A very in-depth presidential simulator with some cyberpunk overtones (you're plugged into a rotating VR-chair a la the Lawnmower Man that lets you monitor all global communications and manage basically everything from a convenient UI), it's basically just a sandbox game - you can try to improve relations with neighbors, crush them through military force (even nuclear war), fund insurrections, develop third world nations or do whatever else you please.  Of course, you also have to manage your approval ratings and, in CyberJudas's case, a cabinet that will try to manipulate you for their own ends or even outright betray the country and make you try to take the fall for it, so you have to discredit and/or eliminate them before irreparable damage is done (or they kill you first).  Grim stuff, and for better or worse, I've never seen another game quite like it.

96. 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, Microprose 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.

95. 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 before time runs out, it's wrapped in a dystopian space-age game show hosted by sleazy corporate stooge Lance Boyle (played by Christian Erickson).  Through that, it paints a picture of a zombie-like populace permanently enamored by trashy TV, though with a consistently sardonic and humorous tone that makes it quite an enthralling one to experience; not completely unlike Robocop.  The great soundtrack by St├ęphane Picq is certainly worth a listen in its own right too.

94. Wasteland (Interplay Productions, 1988)

Most RPGs from the '80s were heavily inspired by the likes of Dungeons and Dragons, but whether due to technological limitations or just a mass case of carbon-copying what was selling well (or both), they usually just focused on the dungeon crawling and combat and exhumed most, if not all, of the actual role-playing part.  Wasteland was an early attempt to reintroduce that by not just giving you combat skills to master, but a bunch of other creative ways to interact with your environment - lock picking, safecracking, alarm and trap disarming, sleight of hand, metallurgy, and even some very niche ones like Cryptography and Toaster Repair (which is more useful than you'd think).  It wasn't the most fleshed out of worlds, though, so not every skill was very worthwhile to have, and it still put heavy focus on combat so you couldn't do a purely diplomatic or stealthy approach to most problems. But, it was a solid attempt at expanding beyond the tropes of the day, and it told quite a fun story with a quirky sense of humor, even if you did have to have the manual handy for much of it (and it included quite a few fake passages with bogus passwords, so just reading straight through it wasn't an easy cheat). A fine precursor to games like Fallout. 

93. Simcity (Maxis, 1989)

The story of Simcity is a famous one - Will Wright developed the top-down shooter "Raid on Bungeling Bay" for the Commodore 64, but had more fun designing maps with the editor (which crudely simulated actual cities with vehicular traffic and factory supply lines) 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 on paper - constructing your town while managing crime, pollution, traffic, sim health and entertainment - but its addictive design and random 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) and ported to just about every platform imaginable, so you have no excuse not to check it out in some form!

92. 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; a huge mainstay on shareware discs and even including limited versions with some OEM computers back in the day, it certainly impressed 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.

91. Lode Runner On-Line: The Mad Monks' Revenge (Presage Software, 1995)

Lode Runner was a pretty popular game in the early days of computer gaming and spawned a ton of ports, sequels and updates, even getting an arcade version at one point.  On-Line is a tuned-up version of 1994's Lode Runner: the Legend Returns, fixing numerous bugs and featuring new levels and obstacles, a custom stage builder and online co-op for up to two players.  The core concept remains the same - collect all the gold while evading the enemies, using your ability to dig holes to trap foes or drop to a lower level and escape.  Pretty simple stuff, but as with any good puzzle game, it gets very challenging in the later stages, requiring some very spot-on timing and movement to succeed.  This version is among the most popular too; so much so that it inspired a full fan remake which also adds four player co-op and gamepad support.