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12/15/2020

Top 102 PC Games, #101-91

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 102!

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

102. 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.


101. 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.

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. 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!

98. Alone in the Dark (Infogrames, 1992)

A rare example of a western-developed game that made a splash in Japan; in fact, nearly all of the tropes defined here (tank controls, fixed camera angles, limited items and tons of inventory puzzles)  would later become popularized by Capcom's Resident Evil series, which would go on to become one of the most successful horror franchises of all time.  Alone in the Dark wouldn't fare nearly as well, though, with each game in the series seemingly just getting worse and worse.  The original was still a fun one, though, with some nicely creepy moments even with the comically crude 3D models, a clever storyline and and plenty of traps and horrors waiting to kill you.

97. 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.

96. Metal Gear (Konami, 1987)

Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation is an undeniable classic, with a movie like presentation and a complex story yet never losing sight of its video game roots, and it's provided inspiration for too many other successful franchises to even count.  A whole decade before that game took consoles by storm, though, the series had a relatively low key introduction on the MSX with Metal Gear; so much so that it wouldn't get a North American release until nearly twenty years later as a bonus included with Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence alongside its formerly Japan-only sequel (the 1990 NES version is radically different from the original MSX release; so much so that it's considered a totally different game by many fans).  Many elements seen in those later games - dodging guards and cameras, using boxes to escape detection, fly by wire rockets, and frequent advice from your radio team - all got their start here, and it even managed a decent story with some good twists despite the heavy hardware limitations of the time. 

95. Crystal Caves HD (Emberheart Games, 2020)

Crystal Caves may not be one of the most talked-about games from the legendary company Apogee, but it's a high-quality one regardless.  Platforming, finding secrets, maneuvering around various obstacles, clearing 16 stages in each episode and ultimately trying to rack up the highest score you can.  This HD remake faithfully recreates the original three episodes with more colorful graphics and sound (which sounds a bit out of place - not bad by any means, but it sounds more like NES chiptune music than something appropriate for its inspiration).  It also adds in a totally new fourth episode and even a level editor with Steam Workshop support so you can share your creations online.  Good stuff.

94. VVVVVV (Terry Cavanagh, 2010)

A charming little puzzle-platformer with simple graphics but a very solid chiptune soundtrack, it also has a relatively unique gimmick - rather than a jump, you flip your own gravity.  This gets used in quite a few creative ways throughout, with a lot of creative escort segments, having to survive for a set period of time, or screen-wrapping.  Its a pretty short game overall, but that makes it quite a fun one for speedrunning, and the fact that it's since had its source code released means that there have been plenty of ports and player-created levels to play around with too.

93. 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 source ports to multiple platforms, so there's no excuse to not check out Abuse. 

92. XCOM: Chimera Squad  (Firaxis Games, 2020)

Chimera Squad is a spinoff of the series, combining its gameplay with elements of SWAT and an overall story somewhat reminiscent of  X-Com: Apocalypse.  Basically, you get a squad of premade characters and follow their exploits as they attempt to keep the peace in City 31, keeping tabs on various terrorist factions and thwarting their efforts with a series of raids and covert missions.  As in previous games, collecting resources and researching new tech remains an integral part of the experience as enemies' equipment will quickly ramp up.  Some new twists - room breaches, interwoven player and enemy turns, and some characters being able to combine their abilities for further effectiveness - ensure that it's anything but a standard cashin sequel and that it will require a very different set of tactics.  It's not quite XCOM 3, but it's a very worthy side-game that's well worth the asking price.

91. Kenshi (Lo-Fi Games, 2018)

An independent game in development for over twelve years, released on Steam Early Access in 2013 and finally given a proper Version 1.0 release at the tail end of 2018.  So for all that effort, it had to be good, right?  Well, yes.  In fact, Kenshi actually feels like a fully-realized version of Fallouts 4 and 76 in some respects, providing a game that feels like a well-constructed and cohesive whole instead of a mishmash of half-baked ideas in an engine that wasn't really built for them.  Basically an open world sandbox RPG with a real time strategy bent set in an expansive environment that combines low fantasy and post-apocalyptic science fiction, Kenshi is an oddity in that the player isn't a "chosen one" or anything of the sort; in fact, there isn't really even an overarching storyline.  Just a complex backdrop and several walks of life for you to start in (from being a lowly adventurer to a holy knight to an escaped slave to an exile from a strange insect-like race) and once you start, you're just left to your own devices.  As you play more and more you'll slowly build up your stats and resources, recruit allies, construct bases and steadily make your way to becoming a substantial presence in  the world from basically nothing, and that's always fun.  The strangeness of the setting and the complex, yet intuitive gameplay lend it a lot of charm, and of course, player modding only lets you tweak the experience to your exact tastes.  The kind of engrossing, endlessly deep experience only the PC platform can provide, and Kenshi does it exceptionally well.