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12/15/2020

Top 100 PC Games, #60-51

60. Out of This World (Delphine Software, 1991)

Created from the get-go to be a Dragon's Lair-esque cinematic action adventure on a much lower budget, OOTW utilized vector graphics instead of drawn cels, resulting in a style with relatively little visual detail but very smooth animation.  The end result was certainly distinctive and memorable, adding a grim yet beautiful aesthetic to the game and its many, many death scenes.  The gameplay was also quite solid, if heavily trial-and-error based as you tried to solve puzzles, evade enemies and figure out the correct sequence of events in order to survive another melee with aliens and see your way to the end of this strange tale.

59. Shadowgate (Zojoi, 2014)

An updated remake of the classic point-and-click adventure game from the 1980s, Shadowgate's 2014 iteration was nothing short of brilliant.  The game's narrative was significantly expanded over its predecessor, new puzzles and obstacles were added, and elements of the original were changed up a lot, meaning that the old solutions to  puzzles no longer work (and, in fact, will frequently result in your death).  The game also features multiple difficulty levels that further shuffle puzzles and clues as well as lend some replay value to a genre largely lacking in it.  And of course, the remixed music and updated visuals effectively portray a grim atmosphere that only makes the game's story even more compelling.  Bring on the remake of Beyond Shadowgate!

58. Ultima VI: The False Prophet (Origin Systems, 1990)

It seemed that every Ultima title did its best to up the ante over the previous one, and Ultima VI was no different in that regard. While the previous games had a recognizable world to venture through, Ultima VI set out to create a realistic environment that you'd live an alternate life in.  You could hunt animals for food, milk cows, load and fire cannons, move furniture around, and so forth, and as a result, the immersion factor is immense. The story was another great one too, starting with what appears to be a hostile invasion but having you looking at things from a very different perspective by the end.  The somewhat clunky UI and limited viewpoint don't make it my favorite Ultima to play, but even with the annoyance of constantly running into dead-ends and getting lost in towns, it's another fantastic RPG from Origin and a very worthwhile entry to a legendary franchise. 

57. Factorio (Wube Software, 2020)

Factorio is an odd beast for sure, playing like something of a mashup of Simcity and a real-time strategy game.  You locate and harvest resources, use them to build machines and tools, and craft gradually more complex factories to automate mining, transportation, and processing of resources and products, all with the ultimate goal of constructing a rocket.  Along the way you'll be harassed by local fauna who will try to destroy your work, which can be fended off with automated defenses - however, they will grow larger and more dangerous as the game goes on and your factory's pollution increases, so it's a constant juggling act to try and keep everything operational.  Stressful for sure, but also loads of fun!

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.  Play it on a vintage computer or in a VM if at all possible, though - even with patches it doesn't run quite right on modern hardware.

55. Simcity 4: Deluxe Edition (Maxis, 2003)

Simcity 4 had a lot to live up to after the groundbreaking original, the fantastic 2000 and the bigger, flashier 3000, and I was a bit worried that the quality would start to drop without the hand of Will Wright to guide it; however, it did the name justice. Simcity 4 takes the concept of interconnected cities that was given form in 3000 and goes all-in with it, letting you build up not just one city, but an entire geographical region, sculpting landscapes, building cities on them and connecting them together so that they can all trade resources and collectively thrive.  The Rush Hour expansion only makes things better, giving you a ton of new transport options to build (monorails, elevated rails, toll roads and water ferries among them) and even letting you take control of vehicles yourself to complete randomly-generated missions for a boost in approval, money, rewards or to just explore your city; sort of like Simcopter and Streets of Simcity but without all the jank (though sadly you're fixed into the same third-person perspective while operating a vehicle; there's no ground level or first person view options).  The game also accepts mods, and there's quite a few high-quality ones to choose from - improving existing buildings, adding entirely new ones, and even making fundamental changes to core gameplay elements are all represented.  Really, the only downsides to SC4 are its high system requirements, irritating limitations in the engine (with some infamous baked-in bugs and crashes and not being playable in anything above 1080p without third-party workarounds) and the fact that this is the last great Simcity.

54. 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 and 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.

53. Heretic (Raven Software, 1994)

As 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.

52. Starcraft II (Blizzard Entertainment, 2010)

Released more than a decade after the still-massively-popular original game, Starcraft II certainly had a legacy to live up to.  Fortunately they did a good job, keeping what worked with the original while adding in a plethora of new units that have a lot of creative abilities (hopping between terrain heights or teleporting short distances) and gameplay twists like weather hazards and rising lava.  As per the original, it also features a highly customizable map editor, allowing a lot of creativity and even entirely new games to be built.  I don't think it's quite as fun and polished as the original, the story feels a little too "fan-fictiony" for my liking and there are some glaring omissions (like LAN support), but it's a great RTS regardless.

51. 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.