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12/15/2020

Top 111 PC Games #80-71

80. Heretic II (Raven Software, 1998)

Most people know about Heretic, 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.

79. Heretic (Raven Software, 1994)

As popular as Doom was, it was little surprise that it would get a number of spinoff games and engine licenses.  Heretic is definitely one of the more memorable ones, taking the basic monster-blasting, puzzle-solving format of Doom and putting a coat of dark fantasy on everything.  Golems, axe-throwing skeleton knights, sorcerers and demons, among many others, stand in your way, while you get several weapons like a magic staff, a triple-firing crossbow, a fireball-launching mace and my personal favorite, gauntlets that launch lightning at your enemies.  More than that, though one could actually pick up many powerups and use them when needed, rather than being forced to activate and use them right then and there.  From temporary flight to powering up all of one's weapons to simply restoring a bit of health on-demand, they were all quite handy to have.

78. The Secret of Monkey Island (Lucasfilm Games, 1990)

The first game in the Monkey Island series and the one that introduced us to Guybrush Threepwood and the undead pirate king LeChuck, who would clash many more times over the years.  The game won a lot of fans for its masterful puzzle design combined seamlessly with its strong sense of humor (the brilliant blend of insults and sword-fighting being an oft-cited favorite for good reason) and for having a surprisingly solid story beneath it all, punctuated with expressive animation and high-quality character artwork.  It was such a beloved classic that it was completely remade in 2009, overhauling its visuals and interface and adding full voiceover.

zzzzz or arcanum

77. Jazz Jackrabbit (Epic MegaGames, 1994)

Probably the first PC game I can remember really being blown away by, proving that computers 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, mazelike levels 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 soundtrack and you've got a genuine shareware action classic that gave the major consoles of the time a run for their money.

76. Against the Storm (Eremite Games, 2022)

Described as a city-builder crossed with a roguelike, and it's definitely a strange combination, though once you start playing the game you find it works shockingly well.  You're given a selection of several randomly-generated goals to meet, and from there it's down to managing your workforce, keeping their morale up, keeping the forest itself from becoming too hostile toward you, and harvesting and utilizing resources while facing adverse weather and hazards in the stretch of forest you're mining your way through.  It does kind of suck when you spend over an hour on a stage only to fall short at the last minute, but you do at least gain experience for the effort so the next attempt can (hopefully) go better!

75. Serious Sam (Croteam, 2001)

In the late '90s tiny Croatian studio Croteam decided that shooters had gotten too brown, gritty and slow in recent years, and set out to rectify that with their debut game, Serious Sam.  Not only did it look fantastic for the time, with enormous environments that were bright, colorful and intricately detailed, but it never lost a beat despite its action being downright manic.  Even with the huge open areas, impressive visual effects and the fact that literally hundreds of enemies can be rushing you all at once, there's virtually no slowdown or framerate stutters.  There's tons of hidden secrets in every level a la Doom or Wolfenstein, and the gameplay is reminiscent of classic arcade shooters like Smash TV - smooth-controlling, fast paced and uncomplicated, but certainly not easy.  Learning enemy patterns, rationing pickups, using the right weapon in the right situation, prioritizing threats and of course circle-strafing constantly quickly become key to survival.  A game where you somehow feel totally overwhelmed and completely in control at the same time, Serious Sam is a rush.

74. Ys Origin (Nihon Falcom, 2012)

A prequel to the long-running Ys action-RPG series and the first to not star Adol Christin (although he is playable in some of the bonus modes), Ys Origin can also be considered more of a straight dungeon crawler - the game takes place entirely within the Devil's Tower, and the player is given a choice of three protagonists to control - Yunica plays most similarly to Adol, relying mostly on melee attacks, Hugo Fact relies on ranged magic and "Claw" (unlockable after completing the game once) is a high-risk high-reward character, with short ranged but rapid strikes.  The overall story changes slightly depending on your character, you earn and purchase upgrades as the story progresses to power up, and extra modes like a boss rush and time attack add plenty of replayability.

73. Cave Story (Dōkutsu Monogatari) (Pixel, 2004)

With the internet's explosion in popularity came an interest in indie games old and new, with sites like Newgrounds giving a lot of developers and fans a place to show off their talents and numerous abandonware sites archiving obscure and forgotten classics.  Cave Story is one that came to peoples' attention not long after its initial release in 2004, garnering a lot of attention for its high quality Metroid-like design, presentation reminiscent of 8 and 16-bit retro titles, having a surprisingly engrossing story and being created over the course of five years by a single developer.  Since then it's gotten tons of attention in the form of fan translations, ports to numerous platforms (official and otherwise), a slew of remakes, mods and source ports, and even a fan-created level editor.  

72. 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.

71. Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom (Origin Systems, 1996)

The Wing Commander franchise is a highly-regarded classic among PC gamers, combining surprisingly challenging and tactical space dogfights with solid storytelling and having your choices and successes (or failures) alter the story as the game progresses.  Wing Commander III upped the stakes by adding in live-action cutscenes with well known actors like Mark Hamill, Tom Wilson and Malcolm McDowell while Wing Commander IV went even further with it, telling a high-stakes story about a rogue militia carrying out indiscriminate attacks on random Confederation ships, a new war building and a sinister conspiracy behind it all.  The game was also among the earliest to adopt DVD technology, with an enhanced version of the game sporting high-quality cutscenes being included with many hardware decoder cards; pretty wild stuff for 1997!