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12/15/2020

Top 102 PC Games #80-71

80. Yume Nikki (Kikiyama, 2003)

Less of a game and more of an experience, Yume Nikki ("Dream Diary"), simply put, has you exploring a dream world.  There is no spoken dialog and very little legible text throughout the game, but atmosphere to spare as you explore a massive host of surreal and often disturbing locations.  From underground malls to snowy landscapes to a rainy stretch of road in the woods, there is a lot to experience.  A number of randomized events do too, as do various "effects" one can pick up that alter the player in various ways, like making them monochrome, shrinking the character or letting them ride a bike to move faster.  There is an "ending" per se, but like almost everything else in the game, it's all pretty vague and left up to the player's interpretation.

79. Master of Orion (Simtex, 1993)

A game of space travel, industry and of course conquest, Master of Orion had you pick one of ten races, then start by constructing a space fleet to expand your operations to new planets.  From there, you build up industry, research new tech to expand your reach across the universe and improve your weapons, and eventually conquer all of the other major factions in order to win.  Each race has their own advantages - humans are skilled at diplomacy and trade, for example, while Bulrathi are skilled in ground combat and Silicoids are highly resistant to pollution and hostile environments at the cost of having slow population growth.  It had a few sequels of varying quality and most people swear by the second entry, but I prefer the first personally.

78. 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.

77. Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (Black Forest Games, 2012)

Long time gaming buffs may remember a little game called "Great Giana Sisters", which made no secret of the fact that it was a blatant clone of Super Mario Bros - so much so that Nintendo threatened legal action against its developers, resulting in the game being quickly pulled from store shelves.  Well, over two decades passed and I guess both companies buried the hatchet, as Giana Sisters returned to prominence with a DS game and later a 3D sequel in Twisted Dreams.  The Mario influence is significantly downplayed here, instead melding elements of Donkey Kong Country and Sonic and having the player shift between two forms - Cute and Punk - which seamlessly changes the environment around them as well. In Cute form they can spin to slow their descent while the world becomes darker and more dangerous, while Punk allows them to transform into a ricocheting ball of fire and the world becomes sunny and vibrant.  Not the deepest game of its kind, but very fun and visually captivating. 


76. Path of Exile (Grinding Gear Games, 2013)

A game whose core design is heavily inspired by the likes of Diablo II, though released on a free-to-play model that doesn't rely on scammy micro transactions (shocking, I know). It also seemingly goes out of its way to succeed where numerous other games fail as well, effectively incorporating a cash-free economy into its design and basing power growth not on dull numbers, but upgradable gems that grant abilities and expanding ones path across a large grid to shape one's abilities and characteristics (similar to certain Final Fantasy mechanics, but far better executed here).  A triumph for free-to-play gaming and a great action RPG to boot. 

75. 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 causing all of reality to slowly unravel is going on too, 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 latter half in particularly very rushed and definitely not up to the series' high standards.  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.

74. 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.  The real draw of the game, though, was the interactions with aliens - there are a ton of them 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 a free fan source mod based on the 3DO version's code, so you can play it right now, for free.

73. 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.

72. Master of Magic (Simtex, 1994)

Following on the heels of Simtex's own Master of Orion, Master of Magic took things into a fantasy world, having armies battle across a randomly-generated landscape, gather resources, learn new spells and eventually dominate their opponents.  Heroes and a wide variety of monsters and other creatures can also be added to one's army.  Turtling up isn't an option, either - if one team is simply dominating all the resources for a long period, they can learn and cast a spell that instantly wins the game for them.  Sadly it's not a multiplayer game (single-player only, in fact), but it's still a really good 4X title with a lot of replay value.  Hell, it actually got an official expansion over two decades later for the GOG release, so it clearly has some strong staying power.

71. 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.