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12/15/2020

Top 100 PC Games, #100-91

This was a challenging list for me to come up with, as I've never really been a die-hard PC gamer by any means. However, I was always fascinated by how different its library was from what I had gotten used to on consoles - for the most part, games on computer platforms, particularly in the '90s era, were a very different experience in that they had so much more ambition to them. Like most of the best-known console developers, they were always pushing technology to its limits, but they also had to contend with a huge variety of different hardware setups and operating systems, which made their games considerably more difficult to develop and run. Still, it was all worth it to play some very in-depth and interesting experiences that consoles simply couldn't deliver, whether due to a more limited player interface or just not having the technological advantages of the PC platform. And of course, it is quite nice to still be able to play nearly all of them today, even if many do require fan patches or virtual machines or some other emulation option in order to run on modern hardware.

The only criteria I chose for this list is that all of my picks must have been designed with a computer system in mind as the primary platform (and have a release gap of at least three months between any console ports), or be PC-exclusive.  Oh, and they have to still be fun to play today, too.

As ever, keep in mind that this are my personal picks and no-one else's.  Oh, and these are by no means the only PC games I like.  Trust me, I had quite a lot of trouble sticking to my rules and narrowing this down to only 100!

A few honorable mentions if that's your sort of thing.

100. 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 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 you really need them (especially because they burn through your limited ammo supply 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 dedicated modding community that ensures it's still being played today.

99. 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.

98. Rise of the Triad: Dark War (Apogee Software, 1994)

Originally built as a sequel to Wolfenstein 3D and using a much-improved version of its engine, Rise of the Triad soon evolved into a very different beast, with much faster-paced gameplay and a crazier atmosphere in general.  While you can still collect power-ups and coins that grant extra lives, they attempted to add more of a 3D element to the game with things like flying platforms and stairs to walk up and down.  The weapons were similarly upgraded - you can now dual-wield pistols, as well as collect weapons like a rocket launcher or a heat-seeker to gib enemies in a pretty spectacular fashion.  The game had a bit of fun with its ideas too, incorporating powerups that grant "God Mode" (making you invincible and able to hurl bouncing balls of electricity at your foes) and even "Dog Mode" (turning you into an invincible dog with a killer sonic bark).  It may have been outshined by Doom and later Quake and Duke Nukem 3D, but Rise of the Triad is still a game that shouldn't be overlooked.

97. 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 on paper - 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) and ported to just about every platform imaginable, so you have no excuse not to check it out in some form!

96. 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.

95. Abuse (Crack dot Com, 1996)

A run-and-gun shooter that plays like one part Contra and one part Smash TV, Abuse was like nothing else on PC at the time.  Basically a 2D platformer with 360-degree movement via the mouse, the game certainly took advantage of this by having enemies be fast and ruthless, attacking from every angle and quickly overwhelming you if you weren't quick to react, aim and fire.  Of course, it also took cues from games like Doom with multiple hidden secrets and powerups to find I each stage and even a few alternate pathways to discover. Its source code has also been released, allowing it to get ports to multiple platforms, so there's no excuse to not check out Abuse. 

94. 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.

93. Organ Trail (The Men Who Wear Many Hats, 2010)

A game which is very clearly a parody/homage to the classic "The Oregon Trail", though it does much to set itself apart too and become a fine title in its own right.  Visually it resembles its predecessor with its low-color visuals and hatched graphics to simulate shading in particular scenes, but gameplay-wise it's a very different beast.  Instead of a wagon you drive a beaten-up car, and you'll frequently have to choose between different routes, fend off attacking bikers or hordes of zombies, and occasionally shoot it out with bandits.  Radiation, infection and vehicle breakdowns are constant threats, and scavenging enough supplies to make it to the end are an endeavor in themselves.  A game that melds humor, grim atmosphere and a constant sense of unease and uncertainty together in perfect fashion, Organ Trail is a fine homophonic homage.

 

92. Serious Sam (Croteam, 2001)

Croteam decided that shooters had gotten too brown, gritty and slow in recent years, and set out to rectify that with their debut game, Serious Sam.  Not only did it look fantastic for the time, with enormous environments that were bright, colorful and intricately detailed, but it never lost a beat despite its action being downright manic.  Even with the huge open areas, impressive visual effects and the fact that literally hundreds of enemies can be rushing you all at once, there's virtually no slowdown or framerate stutters.  Like Smash TV, the gameplay is smooth-controlling, fast paced and uncomplicated, but certainly not easy - learning enemy patterns, rationing pickups,  using the right weapon in the right situation and of course circle-strafing almost constantly quickly become key to survival.  A game where you somehow feel totally overwhelmed and completely in control at the same time, Serious Sam is a rush.

91. Command & Conquer (Westwood Studios, 1995)

Real time strategy games were absolutely huge in the '90s, and Command and Conquer was one of the first to really make a big impact.  While predated by games like Warcraft, it ran circles around it in presentation and design, with a killer CD soundtrack, a running storyline with some campy yet enjoyable acting in its between-level cutscenes, and even a surprisingly awesome installer that remains the best I've seen to this day.  The game itself was great too, with some large-scale battles between infantry, vehicles, planes, tanks and even the sea, and two factions to play as with their own sets of units to utilize.  Come for the high-quality presentation, stay for the kickass gameplay.