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12/15/2020

Top 102 PC Games, #60-51

60. Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven (New World Computing, 1998)

Might and Magic is a  highly regarded franchise among PC gamers, mixing puzzle-solving, dungeon crawling, loot-gathering and humor together to great effect.  Might and Magic 6 was the first to really reinvent the series, retaining the same classic first-person gameplay but streamlining it in a number of ways - being able to swap between real-time and turn-based action on the fly, a much more streamlined and user-friendly interface, with every bit of data you need to play the game readily available via right-click, and a reworked skill system not unlike those in Ultima Underworld or Elder Scrolls, adding a new layer of depth and character customization to the game.  Plus, I just find the presentation charming - it's that late 90s attempt to be "realistic" by having motion-captured actors and 3D-rendered environments and enemies, and for that reason it's endearingly cheesy.  Great fun on every front!

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 subsequent 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 that, 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 right on modern hardware.

55. Starflight 2: Trade Routes of the Cosmic Nebula (Binary Systems, 1989)

The followup to the groundbreaking original game, and while the core gameplay remains mostly unchanged, the way it all unfolds is now quite a bit more sophisticated. As the subtitle implies, your main source of income this time is from establishing trade routes - buy goods, venture to another planet, sell them and hopefully turn a profit along the way.  Of course, you'll still have to do a fair bit of puzzle solving and adventuring to unravel the underlying plot concerning the Cosmic Nebula, as venturing too far into it takes a severe toll on your sanity for reasons unknown.  However, the sharp sense of humor of the original keeps things fresh, as does a significant technological upgrade from the first making the gameplay faster and the graphics sharper.

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. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos/The Frozen Throne (Blizzard Entertainment, 2002/2003)


Warcraft was one of Blizzard's earliest hits, launching a game with two long and varied campaigns and plenty of charm and atmosphere.  The sequel offered a vastly improved UI and larger-scale battles, and Warcraft III certainly upped the ante too.  The total number of playable factions was raised to four (adding the corpse-manipulating Undead and nature-oriented Night Elves) and working some RPG elements into the proceedings - each army gets their own unique "hero units" that power up after defeating foes, carry an inventory of items (like temporary power boosts or potions to recover HP) and have powerful spells that can quickly turn the tide of battles; however, losing one at an inopportune time can quickly put you at a grave disadvantage, too.  I wasn't a huge fan of this element as it overtakes a disproportionate part of the game's overall strategy, but the polished design and sheer diversity of the four races make it a great RTS nonetheless.  The Frozen Throne is a great expansion too, adding new units for each army, two neutral factions (the Naga and the Dranei), reintroducing naval battles, and of course continuing the storyline from the original game.


52. 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.

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.