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12/15/2020

Top 101 PC Games, #70-61

70. Star Trek: The Next Generation: A Final Unity (Spectrum Holobyte, 1995)

Star Trek of course needs no introduction, and being the staple of pop culture it is, it's had numerous forays into the realm of gaming since video games were first a thing.  Interplay had a couple of popular and successful games that melded ship combat and point-and-click adventure together, but for my money, the best game in this format was Spectrum Holobyte's entry, A Final Unity.  It looked great, had some impeccable writing on par with later seasons of the show, and it even had the cast reprise their roles for all the cutscenes, which perfectly immersed you in the atmosphere and storytelling.  There were also some tactical combat segments, though these are regarded by many fans as the weakest part of the game.  Still, it wasn't enough to tarnish the game's charm and, like Trek itself, it's a great experience that holds up well today.

69. Rogue (A.I. Design, 1980)

A game that defined an entire genre, Rogue also has a long history itself, being created for old Unix mainframes in 1980 before getting ported to just about every commercial computer platform of the time, and it of course continues to get ports, remakes and copycats to this day owing to how popular and influential it is.  Rogue's procedurally generated dungeon floors, randomized enemies and loot (wands and potions have different effects each time you play, and equipment can randomly be cursed or enchanted, but you never know which in advance) keep it fresh and challenging, and even with its lack of graphics (everything being portrayed through ASCII symbols), it captures your imagination and keeps you hooked.  Lots of games have been built on its model - short but punishing dungeon dives with a heavy focus on random factors - but Rogue remains a highly regarded staple for good reason. 

68. Factorio (Wube Software, 2020)

Factorio is an odd beast for sure, playing like something of a mashup of Simcity and a tower defense 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 so you can survive and make it off the planet.  Stressful for sure, but also loads of fun!

67. Sid Meier's Civilization IV (Firaxis Games, 2005)

Sid Meier's iconic Civilization series has always been a popular one, and many fans consider IV to be the height of the series.  It isn't hard to see why, either, as it takes everything great about its predecessors and improves it tenfold, even supporting player customization and a number of high-quality expansions (including a full remake of Sid Meier's Colonization).  Still, the core element remains much the same - build cities and armies, research new technologies, build world wonders, and reach one of the win conditions before your opponents do.  But as the old saying goes: Don't fix what ain't broken!  Plus, it has Leonard Nimoy doing the narration; you can't argue with that kind of awesome.

66. Xenonauts (Goldhawk Interactive, 2014)

X-COM: UFO Defense is rightfully regarded as a PC classic - one part turn-based strategy and one part business sim, it blended both elements masterfully well and provides a highly entertaining and challenging experience.  It had several sequels spanning various genres (ranging in quality from 'decent' to 'amazingly bad') as well as a solid remake in 2012 that started off a whole new series of games.  Xenonauts is a spiritual successor of sorts to the first game's style, once again emphasizing granular movement, destructible environments and, of course, a heavy focus on managing finances, building new bases and keeping yourself in business while battling alien forces over a long campaign.  Some new features are added too, like tactical dogfights against UFOs and the ability to airstrike crash sites, which spares you from a potentially hazardous ground mission but also significantly reduces the amount of resources you salvage.  Thankfully you also don't have to take part in tedious dragnets for the one straggling alien on the map anymore, either - if you capture the UFO and hold it for five turns, you automatically win the mission.  A brilliant reimagining of a classic.

65. Arx Fatalis (Arkane Studios, 2002)


The debut game of Arkane Studios, and it was certainly an ambitious one to begin with - a first-person action role playing game that drew many cues from Ultima Underworld, even having an open-ended story that would change depending upon your actions.  (In fact, it was originally pitched to EA as a third entry in the Ultima Underworld series, but those plans were scrapped when Arkane refused to acquiesce to EA's provisions for the game).  It also reaps the benefit of a more intuitive control schem and UI, as well as the ability to do useful things like "precast" up to three spells so you don't have to fumble with the interface in the thick of tense situations (like combat).  In the years since it's gotten patches (both official and fan-created) to address bugs and has even had its source code released, allowing for it to get a very nice modern update called "Arx Liberatis".

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

Also known as "Another World", this was a game created from the get-go to be a Dragon's Lair-esque cinematic action adventure on a much lower budget.  Utilizing vector graphics instead of drawn cels, the game's visual design had relatively little detail but very smooth animation, giving it a nicely cinematic flair regardless.  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.

63. Horizon's Gate (Rad Codex, 2020)

A game that has been described by many as "Final Fantasy Tactics by way of Uncharted Waters", and upon playing it, I can certainly confirm that is indeed the case.  You build a character, take part in turn-based battles both on foot and by sea, unlock new classes as the game progresses, and can basically explore, trade or become a privateer at your leisure, taking part in ship battles or legitimate business to earn loot for later upgrades.  Inventory management and item manipulation is simple as can be too, using a keyboard-and-mouse interface that reminds me more than a bit of the classic Ultimas.  It's certainly not the deepest example of anything it attempts to be, but it is a lot of fun, and really, that's what I come to a game for anyway.  Sacrilege, I know.

62. 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.

61. Grim Fandango (LucasArts, 1998)

Grim Fandango, like many LucasArts-produced adventure games, got very good reviews and is regarded as a masterpiece of writing and design; however, it also came at a time when the genre was on very weak footing and sold poorly as a result, leading the company to exit the market shortly thereafter.  But with the advent of high-definition remasters, people can finally appreciate it for what it is - an ingenious, creative title with an art style heavily inspired by Dia de Los Muertos and writing that combines twisted comedy, noir and drama into a masterful and highly compelling blend.  Tim Schafer really is a rare talent.