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12/15/2020

Top 101 PC Games #80-71

80. 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.

79. 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.

78. 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.

77. 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.

76. Betrayal at Krondor (Dynamix, 1993)

A groundbreaking and influential title in the genre, Krondor was based in the same universe as Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar novels and made a strong attempt to replicate their style, with in-depth descriptions and well-written prose for even the most mundane of interactions.  They definitely didn't skimp on gameplay either - while all of your characters are pre-generated, their skill growth is surprisingly open-ended, improved through active use and paying for training sessions, and you can even choose skills to focus on to have them grow faster.  It was a surprisingly tough game, too - managing stamina and health was a big part of the experience (moreso because all actions drain stamina, and once that's gone, they start eating into your health) and healing felled characters was extremely expensive, meaning that keeping your party in top shape was paramount to success.  It later had a spiritual successor of sorts (Betrayal in Antara) and an actual sequel later on (Return to Krondor), though neither was as well-received as the original classic.

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!

74. Jazz Jackrabbit (Epic MegaGames, 1994)

Probably the first PC game I can remember really being blown away by, proving that the PC platform could have games that were just as fast-paced, colorful and smooth-playing as anything on a console. Jazz Jackrabbit obviously draws a lot of inspiration from Sonic with its colorful environments and fast paced design (even utilizing similar 3D bonus stages to Sonic CD), though it works in a touch of run-and-gun shooting action too, giving you a number of different weapons and powerups to utilize and plenty of enemies to blow away with them.  Cap that off with a fantastic module soundtrack and you've got a genuine shareware classic.  It also had a sequel a few years after, but I don't like that one nearly as much; the weird unintuitive level design, jerky physics and often-unresponsive controls make it much less fun and memorable than the first.

73. 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.

72. 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.

71. Blade Runner (Westwood Studios, 1997)

A tie-in to the classic science fiction film, taking place at the same time as its events and occasionally intersecting with them.  It was also a relatively unique experience as point-and-click games go, as rather than focusing on inventory puzzles it was built around detective work - examining clues, questioning witnesses and suspects, and of course administering the Voight-Kampff test if you suspected someone to be  a replicant, with a combination of randomized elements and your choices throughout leading to one of the game's thirteen (!) possible endings.  There was an occasional spot of combat - right clicking at any time has McCoy draw his gun and left clicking fires at enemies.  A pretty ambitious game in terms of presentation, too, as it came on four CDs packed to the brim with full motion video, voice acting and a voxel-based 3D engine.