60. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 / Yuri's Revenge (Westwood Pacific, 2000)
Red Alert is an offshoot of Command and Conquer that takes its concept much more into comic book territory. Beginning with Albert Einstein creating a time machine and using it to assassinate Hitler before he ever rises to power, he inadvertently creates a new timeline where the USSR becomes a global threat. That story gets taken even further in 2, when the ambitious USSR agent Yuri causes them to rise again and invade the United States, but has rather megalomaniacal ambitions of his own as well. The gameplay remains largely unchanged from the originals, though it's made more fun by some of the sillier units you get to command this time - from giant squids to dolphins to giant brains on tank treads that mind control your enemies, both the silliness and the badass factor are ramped up to eleven, but still as intense and strategic as ever. Sadly this was also the last great Command & Conquer, as like so many other companies of the era, Westwood was bought out by EA and turned into a soulless sequel wheelhouse until they became unprofitable and were scrapped.
59. Half-Life (Valve, 1998)
First person shooters were the new hotness in the '90s, and it seemed like every one was upping the ante, trying to maintain a fun, fast-paced style but working in more story elements and realistic environments to play in. Half-Life was certainly no exception, and for 1998 it was nothing short of mindblowing. Set in a research laboratory overrun by hostile aliens (and later soldiers trying to cover up the incident that unleashed them), the environments you trekked through had a ton of personality and danger in themselves. From tram tracks to vats of toxic waste to all sorts of hazardous industrial equipment, there was just as much of a puzzle element in safely navigating them as there was in defeating the enemies.
58. Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga (Dancing Dragon Games, 2022)
Another example of a game clearly inspired by classics of the genre (Fire Emblem and Ogre Battle in particular), but which ends up being so well-made that it stands out and becomes a fantastic title in itself. Case in point, you move across the map with your squads (consisting of up to nine units of varying classes), capturing towns, utilizing strongholds and terrain to give themselves an advantage in skirmishes, and exploring characters through mid-battle dialog scenes. Battles get surprisingly large in scale (sometimes overwhelmingly so), though you get powers to do things like grant units extra turns or deal damage over a large area to help speed things up or get yourself out of a jam. A wonderful and engrossing strategy RPG.
57. Sun Haven (Pixel Sprout Studios, 2023)
A 2023 game built around farming and character interactions. One might be tempted to write it off as a Stardew Valley clone, and while the overall setup is similar, the gameplay is considerably more complex and refined. For one, you don't have to contend with a stamina meter (definitely a bonus in my book) and can adjust how quickly time passes, with each day lasting between 10 and 40 minutes. It also blends in a lot more RPG elements - completing various tasks in the course of your day, as well as optional quests, earns experience points, and once you hit a certain plateau in one of your five fields of expertise (exploration, farming, mining, combat and fishing) you gain a level and earn a skill point, which can be spent on various upgrades to make you more efficient in numerous ways. From granting more materials per resource farmed to earning more money for selling to damage buffs to a dash that lets you move faster. Food also grants permanent stat boosts, but only to a point for each type, so mixing it up is essential. Even the multiplayer element is more pronounced, giving each playable race a unique bonus that also benefits anyone else in the current game. Basically, there's a lot more RPG here than there was in Stardew, which is probably why it appeals more to me.
56. Interstate '76 (Activision, 1997)
A game that feels like a mix of Mad Max and Mechwarrior (in fact, it uses a heavily modified version of MW2's engine), Interstate '76 was definitely a novel idea. The execution was quite a solid one too, with a surprisingly good (and well-acted) episodic story, numerous cars to command and outfit, and salvaging parts from destroyed enemy vehicles being a major mechanic in the game - swapping in salvaged parts while your other ones are being repaired is necessary to keep your combat abilities at their peak. The game also featured multiplayer combat and an addon called the "Nitro Pack" which added 20 more missions, giving you even more chaos for your buck. It had a sequel in Interstate '82 and a more arcadey spinoff series on consoles (Vigilante 8), but the original remains the best for its impeccable execution. I76 is also a notoriously tough game to get running these days, as many elements of its gameplay including physics, enemy AI and weapons functioning properly are all tied to its uncapped framerate, but with a little wizardry in DXWnd
you can get it pretty close to how it would have operated on a period machine.
55. Shadowrun: Dragonfall/Hong Kong (Harebrained Schemes, 2014/2015)
The second and third games in the rebooted Shadowrun franchise, and easily my favorite ones so far, expanding on everything the original brought to the table while losing nothing that made it great. The story is nothing short of brilliant, bringing together a cast of diverse and complex characters to solve the mystery of their friend's death and the underlying conspiracy behind it. Throughout the game, every choice you make seems to be the wrong one, making you new enemies and seemingly digging you deeper into a pit you can't escape from, while the combat only gets more intense with enemies bringing out bigger guns, setting up nastier traps and summoning bigger monsters to get in your way. Stellar stuff all around, and a perfect example of how to do a grim, atmospheric game experience right.
54. Simcity 3000 Unlimited (Maxis, 1999/2000)
Simcity 3000 had a lot to live up to after the groundbreaking original and the fantastic 2000, and I was a little worried since it was the first game in the series that Will Wright didn't work on. However, 3000 did the name justice. The game is pretty much what you'd expect, taking the groundwork of 2000 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 (and often a hit to land value). 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.
53. Ultima VII Part 2: the Serpent Isle (Origin Systems, 1993)
The direct followup to Ultima VII (and the spinoff game Ultima Underworld II), Serpent Isle was also a callback to the franchise's earliest days, returning to worlds not seen since Ultima 1 and showing a world very different and considerably more troubled than the Britannia we've come to know. The stakes were higher too; not just with the looming threat of the Guardian and his underlings, but a cosmic imbalance is causing reality itself to slowly unravel, adding considerably to your woes. Unfortunately the game was also the first to really suffer from the EA buyout, as the world feels much more barren and the latter half in particular very rushed and definitely not up to the series' high standards in design. Nevertheless, the story is captivating and the solid engine of 7 is tuned up in quite a few ways, making it another very worthwhile Ultima adventure.
52. Serious Sam (Croteam, 2001)
In the late '90s tiny Croation studio 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. There's tons of hidden secrets in every level a la Doom or Wolfenstein, and the gameplay is reminiscent of classic arcade shooters like Smash TV; smooth-controlling, fast paced and uncomplicated, but certainly not easy. Learning enemy patterns, rationing pickups, using the right weapon in the right situation, prioritizing threats and of course circle-strafing 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.
51. Toonstruck (Burst Studios, 1996)
I've played more than a handful of point-and-click adventure games that operate on cartoonish logic, but it always felt rather out of place when they were trying to build a serious atmosphere and story. Toonstruck definitely broke that mold by putting the player in, well, a cartoon. Bright, colorful and slightly off-kilter environments, professionally animated characters voiced by big-name actors like Tim Curry, Tress MacNeille, Dan Castellaneta and April Winchell, and starring none other than Christopher Lloyd, digitized and superimposed atop the action like Roger Rabbit in reverse. There's a lot of genuine talent and brilliant humor on display throughout; it's just a shame that it ends on a very abrupt cliffhanger and, owing to copyright issues, the second part of the story has yet to be released.