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12/15/2020

Top 101 PC Games, #60-51

60. 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.

59. 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.


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. Stardew Valley (ConcernedApe, 2016)

Definitely one of the most highly-acclaimed indie games of recent years, and it's not hard to see why after playing it for only a short while.  Taking everything great from Harvest Moon and mixing in elements of dungeon crawling, town building and of course, plenty of characters to befriend and items to cook and craft.  Hell, later patches even added tons of new content, including co-op for up to four players, and it's never cost any more money than the entry level price.  A work of passion that pays off for both its fans and its developer hundreds of times over.

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. 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. 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. Ultima VII Part 2: the Serpent Isle (Origin Systems, 1993)

The direct followup to Ultima VII (and also 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 particularly 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. Descent (Parallax Software, 1995)


A relatively unique take on first person shooting action, Descent was basically Doom put into the third dimension - you controlled a spaceship that could move and strafe in any direction and were set in a maze full of various robots and traps, tasked with rescuing a number of hostages, blowing the reactor and escaping before the whole place goes up.  It was a bit hard to get used to (especially if you didn't have a flight stick handy and had to make do with a mouse-keyboard setup), but it was visually impressive for the time and it played great once you adapted to it.  The later levels do tend to get aggressively hard, especially when super-durable enemies with powerful hitscan machine guns start to become common, but nonetheless, Descent is a great time.


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.