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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. 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.

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. The Incredible Machine / Incredible Toon Machine (Dynamix/Jeff Tunnell Productions, 1992-2001)

The Incredible Machine franchise is one that saw a lot of iterations (and a relatively recent spiritual remake in "Contraption Maker"), presenting the player with a number of Rube Goldberg puzzle pieces and challenging them to complete goals that varied from stage to stage.  Toon Machine (originally released as "Sid and Al's Incredible Toons") takes that and applies plenty of cartoon logic to everything, pitting the titular characters against one another in a series of puzzles where they try to outdo one another.  To this end, you'll fire catapults, utilize lights and magnifying glasses to burn things, use elaborate systems of ropes, pulleys and conveyor belts to transport objects, and, of course, cause mayhem with anvils, dynamite and bombs.  The between-level cutscenes were also a lot of fun, having Sid Mouse and Al E. Cat (voiced by Rob Paulsen and Jim Cummings respectively) explain your objectives with bits of animation.

65. Slay the Spire (Megacrit, 2019)

A relatively novel blend of elements, Slay the Spire is one part deck-building card game and one part roguelike, melded together quite expertly.  Building your deck, thinning out your less-useful cards and acquiring various Relics to bolster your abilities (doing everything from restoring HP after battle to damaging enemies every few cards you play) become just as much of a focus as clearing out foes.  As you proceed up floors, defeating progressively tougher enemies, you also get a slew of randomized events - campfires to rest and regain HP or upgrade a single card in your deck, shops, and all manner of random events that can help or hinder you.  Tough and unpredictable as any good roguelike, but with enough of a strategic bent that encourages experimentation and gives it a ton of replayability.

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. 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!