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Top 100 PC Games, #90-81

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness/Beyond the Dark Portal (Blizzard, 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.

89. 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.

88. 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.

87. 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. 

86. Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead (Kevin Granade and a lot of fans, 2013)

Cataclysm is a game that has been compared to Dwarf Fortress, and they do share quite a few similarities - large, detailed worlds thick with lore, minimalistic graphics, opaque interfaces and dense, intricate mechanics.  However, Cataclysm goes for science fiction and horror elements over fantasy, taking place in a near-future New England where basically every bad thing that could happen has - zombies, mutants, cyborgs, militia groups, Lovecraftian monsters, giant insects and disease are all constant threats, and you're just stuck in the thick of it all trying to survive.  Learning to hunt, farm and craft will certainly help, but if you want to be more of a risktaker, you can also train yourself up in combat, install bionics, experiment with mutagens and drugs, and try to take down anything in your path.  You even get the ability to weld vehicles together into massive multi-engined wheeled fortresses a la Mad Max: Fury Road if you can survive long enough (and secure enough fuel to keep them running).  Once again, a very dense and punishingly hard experience (you have a very good chance of dying within minutes of starting the game), but extremely rewarding once you master its intricacies.

85. 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.

84. Microsoft Flight Simulator (Asobo Studio, 2020)

Microsoft Flight Simulator is the latest in series of flight sims stretching all the way back to 1982 (making it one of the longest-running video game franchises ever), and given that there was a fourteen-year gap between this and the previous entry, you can guess they were going big this time.  That definitely proved true - not only are there more planes to use and impressive physics and even real-life weather and air traffic integrated into the game, but they even fed in data from Bing Maps and OpenStreetMap to recreate the entire world for you to fly around in, which is just nuts.  The game came out at just the right time, too; with the whole world locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, being able to fly around a surprisingly good facsimile of the earth with your friends was pretty liberating.  It's not without some oddities - a particularly famous one being a bizarre 212-story monstrosity near Melbourne that obviously doesn't really exist - but these are honestly amusing rather than distracting. Whether you're a die-hard flight fanatic who wants to control every little switch on the control panel or you just want to kick back, relax and enjoy the sights with a controller or even on full autopilot, Flight Simulator is a sublime experience for those who can run it.

83. Empire Earth II (Mad Doc Software, 2005)

Empire Earth as a franchise has a pretty great concept, letting you take command of one of several civilizations and build them up all the way from the stone age to the space age, conquering other civilizations along the way until only one remains.  And much like the Sid Meier's Civilization games, you do have to balance out building up your economy, military and empire trees in addition to expanding and conquering, so there's quite a bit to keep track of as you play.  Thankfully, you do have some innovative features to help, like a picture-in-picture view at the bottom of the screen that lets you keep tabs on a specific point of the map (like one of your towns) so you can multitask more easily.  The single player campaign is a fun one for history buffs (recreating numerous historical battles and even letting you turn the tide in a few of them), but the multiplayer is what has made it into a cult classic that sees ongoing fan patches and online play to this day.  Shame it was also the last good game in the series, as 3 was handled by a different studio and dumbed down to the point of inanity.

82. 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.

81. 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.