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12/15/2020

Top 101 PC Games, #90-81

90. Command & Conquer (Westwood Studios, 1995)

Real time strategy games were absolutely huge in the '90s, and Command and Conquer was one of the first to really make a big impact.  While predated by games like Warcraft, it ran circles around it in presentation and design, with a killer CD soundtrack, a running storyline with some campy yet enjoyable acting in its between-level cutscenes, and even a surprisingly awesome installer that remains the best I've seen to this day.  The game itself was great too, with some large-scale battles between infantry, vehicles, planes, tanks and even the sea, and two factions to play as with their own sets of units to utilize.  Come for the high-quality presentation, stay for the kickass gameplay.

89. 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.

88. Lode Runner On-Line: The Mad Monks' Revenge (Presage Software, 1995)

Lode Runner was a pretty popular game in the early days of computer gaming and spawned a ton of ports, sequels and updates, even getting an arcade version at one point.  On-Line is a tuned-up version of 1994's Lode Runner: the Legend Returns, fixing numerous bugs and featuring new levels and obstacles, a custom stage builder and online co-op for up to two players.  The core concept remains the same - collect all the gold while evading the enemies, using your ability to dig holes to trap foes or drop to a lower level and escape.  Pretty simple stuff, but as with any good puzzle game, it gets very challenging in the later stages, requiring some very spot-on timing and movement to succeed.  This version is among the most popular too; so much so that it inspired a full fan remake, which also adds four player co-op and gamepad support.

87. Diablo (Blizzard Entertainment, 1996)

Warcraft and Lost Vikings were fairly popular games in their time, but Diablo is the game that really put Blizzard on the map.  Taking the concept of games like Rogue, adding an action bent and dousing the whole thing in a heavy grim atmosphere, it definitely awed people at a glance. It only became more immersive thanks to its fantastic soundtrack and a surprisingly good story with some high quality voice over, and the fact that you got a random shuffle of quests, items and spells each time you played lent it quite  a bit of replay value. It had an official (though non-canon) expansion in Hellfire as well, adding in several new quests and three new playable classes (though you do have to do some file-editing to make them all accessible). While largely overshadowed by its sequel these days, Diablo is still a very worthy game that is not to be missed. 

86. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (CyberDreams, 1995)

A point-and-click adventure based on the Harlan Ellison story, which sparked quite a lot of controversy for its twisted themes that depicted all the worst elements of humanity.  The protagonists are far from innocent themselves (one notably being a Nazi doctor with a story taking place in a death camp), which only adds to that feeling.  But its themes of redemption and overcoming failure to face a greater evil won out, turning it into a very compelling story even if its puzzles were not always the best and the voice acting was, as per the period, mediocre (save for AM, voiced by Harlan Ellison himself, who is clearly having a lot of fun with the role).  It's recently gotten a number of modern ports thanks to Nightdive, and the original is playable in both DOSBox and ScummVM, so it's well worth a look for fans of good stories.

85. Might and Magic 4/5: World of Xeen (New World Computing, 1992/1993)

Released initially as two separate games (Clouds of Xeen and Darkside of Xeen), if both were installed on the same system, they would essentially combine together into one massive experience, with a few new quests added in for good measure; pretty cool stuff for the early '90s.  In terms of gameplay it remains very similar to Might and Magic III, with a party of six characters venturing across a large world, combatting all manner of bizarre monsters with spells and weaponry, and solving puzzles to ultimately free the world from villainy and reunite the two halves of Xeen.  Not the most inventive RPG experience in itself, but the expressive sprites and odd humor throughout give it a lot of personality.

84. 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.

83. Freedom Planet (GalaxyTrail, 2014)

Beginning life as a Sonic the Hedgehog fangame, Freedom Planet quickly turned into something grander - an homage to Sega Genesis era action games in general, working in elements of games like Rocket Knight Adventures and a dash of Treasure style action as well.  There are three playable characters - Sash Lilac (who has a speed dash and a spinning cyclone), Carol Tea (who fights with short-ranged claw swipes and can ride a motorcycle that both makes her fast and deals more damage) and Milla Basset (who can hover for short distances as well as summon magical barriers and cubes, which serve as both projectiles and a short-ranged but powerful burst attack).  The fast-paced action and fluid animation also fit the aesthetic perfectly, creating a game that's flashy and intense and whose puzzles don't intrude on the fast pace.

82. 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.

81. 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.