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12/15/2020

Top 101 PC Games #80-71

80. Wildermyth (Worldwalker Games, 2021)

A game that combines 4X-style resource gathering and territory expansion with turn-based combat and character building similar to the newer XCOM games.  Wildermyth is also notable for the fact that it procedurally generates not just a map to explore, events and encounters, but a full-blown narrative, generating unique characters, relationships and story beats, and having you build the lore and history of the entire game world through your actions (even having later campaigns take place in that same world you've built up).  Great stuff, and just more proof that indie studios, not soulless AAA wheelhouses, are where gaming's true talent lies.

79. Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura (Troika Games, 2001)

The first game of the tragically short-lived studio Troika, whose games were ambitious and filled with great writing but were always hampered by their severely limited budgets and development times.  (Debuting at a time when PC gaming was struggling to maintain sales probably did them no favors either).  Arcanum was certainly a notable one, with a relatively unique fantasy setting (set during an industrial revolution) and your choices actually having a tangible effect on the story - what you say and do will open some paths or close others, and the different outcomes you can get are pretty vastly different from one another, which definitely sets it apart.  It was a pain in the ass to get running in its day and featured some prominent faults - plenty of bugs, mediocre combat and bad party AI - but thankfully, some heroic fan patches in the years since have made its stronger elements available to a wider audience.

78. Heretic II (Raven Software, 1998)

Most people know about Heretic - a pretty popular dark fantasy take on Doom - but not too many people know it had a sequel.  Mostly because it didn't sell particularly well and owing to a dispute over rights to the game, it has not resurfaced on any digital distribution stores.  Which is a shame, as it's quite a unique and fun experience in its own right.  A third person action game that takes a few cues from Tomb Raider, with some polished platforming mechanics and a bit of focus on puzzle solving.  It doesn't lose sight of what made the original popular, though - after all, it's built in the Quake II engine, which lends itself perfectly to fast-paced projectile-slinging action against hordes of monsters.  Even melee brings some clever mechanics, with sweeping blows that deal heavy damage (and gory finishers) to enemies and even letting you use your staff to pole-vault, which both serves as a longer jump and a powerful mobile attack.  Heretic II is far less famous than its predecessor, but no less fun.

77. Mechwarrior 2: 31st Century Combat (Activision, 1995)

Giant walking mecha are pretty impractical in any realistic combat scenario, but that's what the realm of fiction is for, right?  Mechwarrior 2 is part of a long-running series, but still considered the best by most fans, and it isn't hard to see why - it's pretty mindblowing stuff for 1995.  Not only did it put you in a detailed 3D world, but it gave you granular control over your mech - from between-mission loadout customization to being able to control virtually element of it while in the field (and you will quickly have to master aiming in one direction and moving in another to get far, trust me).  A surprisingly good running story, some nicely atmospheric and intense music and varied mission objectives, as well as getting to command your own squads later on, make it a really fun experience.

76. Sam & Max Hit the Road (LucasArts, 1993)

One of the many LucasArts point-and-click adventure games that surfaced in the 80s and 90s, and still regarded as one of the best in the genre even today.  Sam and Max was nothing short of hilarious, with its kitschy American setting, irreverent protagonists and some surprisingly good voiceover throughout adding to the ridiculous scenarios.  They worked in quite a few minigames too - some required to progress while others are just for fun.  As popular and successful as it was, it was little surprise that people were pining for a followup; however, despite numerous attempts, one never actually came to be until 2006, when Telltale Games got ahold of the license and produced three episodic sequels.

75. Shadowgate (Zojoi, 2014)

An updated remake of the classic point-and-click adventure game from the 1980s, Shadowgate's 2014 iteration was downright inspired.  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!

72. Arx Fatalis (Arkane Studios, 2004)


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".

73. Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters (Toys for Bob, 1992)

A game that melds elements of Starflight with one of the very first arcade games ever made (Spacewar!), Star Control II was a space game that was just plain fun.  Your goal was ultimately to liberate Earth from the Ur-Quan, and to that end you'd have to upgrade your ship, recruit other aliens to your cause, battle those loyal to the Ur-Quan, and visit planets across the universe to farm resources and gather information.  The real draw of the game, though, was the interactions with aliens - there are a ton of different races to meet and exchange information with, and much of the dialog in the game is inspired and really funny.  In the years since it's also had its source code released and a number of fan ports and upgrades, so you can play it right now on a modern PC, for free.

72. D/Generation (Robert Cook, 1991)

An action-puzzle game with nicely-detailed isometric graphics and smooth controls, D/Generation also had atmosphere in spades thanks to its bleak cyberpunk setting, a surprisingly good storyline (revealed through NPC dialog and computer files) and a huge variety of traps waiting to nail you.  At first they're relatively self-explanatory - electrified floor tiles, turrets, land mines, et cetera, but they quickly get more and more devious as you go.  Probably the worst are the shapeshifting enemies, which can disguise themselves as hostages or even just as mundane objects in the environment, quickly making the game a much more tense endeavor.  One can also find the occasional bomb to blow down doors and skip some puzzles, though as these tend to be rare, they should be used sparingly.  The game never got a lot of attention in its day, though it has acquired enough of a cult following over the years to get a re-release on the Nintendo Switch (as well as a 3D remake, released at nearly the same time).  No matter what platform you visit it on, though, D/Generation is a game worth your while.

71. Half-Life (Valve, 1998)

First person shooters were the new hotness in the '90s, and it seemed like every one was upping the ante, trying to maintain a fun, fast-paced style but working in more story elements and realistic environments to play in.  Half-Life was certainly no exception, and for 1998 it was nothing short of mindblowing.  Set in a research laboratory overrun by hostile aliens (and later soldiers trying to cover up the incident that unleashed them), the environments you trekked through had a ton of personality and danger in themselves.  From tram tracks to vats of toxic waste to all sorts of hazardous industrial equipment, there was just as much of a puzzle element in safely navigating them as there was in defeating the enemies.