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12/15/2020

Top 102 PC Games, #90-81

90. The Stanley Parable (Galactic Cafe, 2011/2013)


Beginning its life as a source mod but later being remade from the ground up in Unity, Stanley Parable takes the concept of a narrative-driven "walking sim" and completely flips it on its head.  Sure, you can go straight through and follow the narrator's directions and get a good story out of it, but the game's also cleverly set up to react to basically anything you do - dawdling around, taking wrong paths and such will all get a variety of amusing reactions from the narrator and lead the story in some truly bizarre (and often unsettling) directions.  I always love a good fourth wall breaking gimmick and Stanley Parable does it quite expertly every step of the way.

89. Organ Trail (The Men Who Wear Many Hats, 2010)

A game which is very clearly a parody/homage to the classic "The Oregon Trail", though it does much to set itself apart too and become a fine title in its own right.  Visually it resembles its predecessor with its low-color visuals and hatched graphics to simulate shading in particular scenes, but gameplay-wise it's a very different beast.  Instead of a wagon you drive a beaten-up car, and you'll frequently have to choose between different routes, fend off attacking bikers or hordes of zombies, and occasionally shoot it out with bandits.  Radiation, infection and vehicle breakdowns are constant threats, and scavenging enough supplies to make it to the end are an endeavor in themselves.  A game that melds humor, grim atmosphere and a constant sense of unease and uncertainty together in perfect fashion, Organ Trail is a fine homophonic homage.

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. Ion Fury (Voidpoint, 2019)

A prequel to the 2016 flop "Bombshell", but thankfully, it proves to be a much more successful return to form for 3D Realms.  Built on the classic Build engine and incorporating many tropes of classic FPSes - tons of hidden secrets, a wide variety of enemies, crazy boss battles, powerups and fun weapons like homing grenades, a five-shot crossbow and a massive chaingun.  Shelly also fits in perfectly with characters like Duke, Lo Wang and Caleb, having tons of one-liners and a generally irreverent attitude throughout the proceedings, and Jon St. John (the Duke himself) plays the game's villain, so there's a lot here for classic FPS fans.


86. 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.

85. 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.

84. MegaRace (Cryo Interactive, 1993)

The FMV game genre had a resurgence in the 90s with the advent of CD technology, allowing developers to record and encode videos (usually in very low quality) and stick some gameplay on top of them to create "interactive movie games" (also generally of very low quality).  MegaRace stands out from the pack, though, on the merits of its strong presentation.  While the game itself is a fairly standard combat racer, having the player destroy all the other cars on the track, it's wrapped in a futuristic game show hosted by sleazy corporate stooge Lance Boyle (played by Christian Erickson).  Through that, it paints a picture of a dystopian future, though with a consistently irreverent and humorous tone that makes it quite an enthralling one to experience.  The great soundtrack by St├ęphane Picq is certainly worth a listen in its own right too.

83. Cave Story (Studio Pixel, 2004)

A definite cult classic among fans of indie titles, Cave Story was a major success story as they go, attaining worldwide popularity and acclaim despite being developed singlehandedly by one developer in their spare time.  Pixel designed all the graphics, wrote all the music and penned all the dialog too, so he's definitely got a lot of talent, and being self-published, it wasn't subject to moronic publisher demands either.  Of course, it helps that the game is fun too, combining elements of Mario, Contra and Metroid into one killer experience overall, even featuring multiple endings depending on your actions throughout.

82. Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness/Beyond the Dark Portal (1995/1996)

Warcraft 1 was a pretty novel game, having you build towns and take on armies, as well as endure tougher missions with no buildings and a very limited pool of units to work with; however, it suffered from slow gameplay and a rather unwieldy UI, especially if you played the second game first like I did.  I played this one a lot, both in single player and over dial-up with one of my buddies who would cheat constantly, and I was hooked for quite a while until Starcraft hit the scene.  You commanded all sorts of cool units - axe-throwing trolls, death knights who could summon tornadoes and decay, battleships, flying gryphons and dragons, and would battle across land, sea and air.  The AI is pretty infamously cheap - building units and seeking your bases out at a rather absurd speed but getting tripped up by mere walls - but with friends it was one of the best RTSes of the time.

81. Icewind Dale II (Black Isle Studios, 2002)

Baldur's Gate is a classic among PC gamers, combining elements of real-time strategic combat (which can be paused at any time to adjust one's tactics) and a surprisingly good story-driven RPG experience based on the Forgotten Realms license.  Icewind Dale is its less-spoken-of but still good cousin, and while it does still have a good story, it downplays the roleplaying element in favor of more action - battles are much larger in scale and spells and abilities are geared much more toward that than anything else.  Icewind Dale II continues in that trend, though reworking the engine considerably to utilize Third Edition rules instead.  The end result is considerably more balanced for that reason and results in considerably less savescumming than most Infinity Engine games.  Sadly, the source code being lost means we won't get an Enhanced Edition of this one anytime soon, but the original release is still available and still a fun one to play.