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12/15/2020

Top 101 PC Games, #90-81

90. UnReal World (Sami Maaranen and Erkka Lehmus, 1992)

A low-fantasy roguelike survival sim that was first introduced in 1992 but still receives updates to this day, it's a surprisingly realistic one at that - crafting, building shelters and fires, cooking food and avoiding deadly weather and hostile wildlife are all essential to prevent your run from coming to a swift end.  Combat has a much more realistic bent too, with weapons being usable in a variety of ways depending on their type (bladed weapons can parry, slash or thrust, for example).  Fittingly, it's also a very complex game, but it does thankfully include a very useful built-in tutorial.  Old versions of the game are free, but if you want to keep on top of all the latest updates, grab it on Steam or Itch.io instead - you get a ton of replayability and content updates at a very reasonable price!

(Also, because I know someone will ask: this game has nothing to do with Epic's Unreal, or the Unreal Engine for that matter)

89. The Incredible Toon Machine (Jeff Tunnell Productions, 1994/1996)

The Incredible Machine franchise is one that saw a lot of iterations (and a relatively recent spiritual remake in "Contraption Maker"), presenting the player with a number of Rube Goldberg puzzle pieces and challenging them to complete goals that varied from stage to stage.  Toon Machine (originally released as "Sid and Al's Incredible Toons") takes that and applies plenty of cartoon logic to everything, pitting the titular characters against one another in a series of puzzles where they try to outdo one another.  To this end, you'll fire catapults, utilize lights and magnifying glasses to burn things, use elaborate systems of ropes, pulleys and conveyor belts to transport objects, and, of course, cause mayhem with anvils, dynamite and bombs.  The between-level cutscenes were also a lot of fun, having Sid Mouse and Al E. Cat (voiced by Rob Paulsen and Jim Cummings respectively) explain your objectives with bits of animation.

88. Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters (Toys for Bob, 1992)

The original Star Control was a mashup of a turn-based strategy and simple top-down space combat game directly inspired by the first arcade game ever, Spacewar.  Star Control II retains the same style of combat but becomes something more akin to games like Starflight, having the player roam between planets, gather resources, purchase upgrades for their ships and interact with various alien species in pursuit of a way to defeat their nemesis, the Ur-Quan, who have enslaved earth.  A really cool premise with some enjoyably strange (and humorous) alien races to interact with, and gameplay that's immersive enough to feel like you're exploring a virtual universe yet arcadey enough to pick up and play without having to read an enormous manual first.  It's also gotten a cool open-source release as "The Ur-Quan Masters" which allows for the 3DO version's music and voice acting to be integrated into the experience, as well as adding several other quality of life improvements.


87. 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 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.

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.  Interstate '76 (Activision, 1997)

A game that feels like a mix of Mad Max and Mechwarrior (in fact, it uses a heavily modified version of MW2's engine), Interstate '76 was definitely a novel idea.  The execution was quite a solid one too, with a surprisingly good (and well-acted) episodic story, numerous cars to command and outfit, and salvaging parts from destroyed enemy vehicles being a major mechanic in the game - swapping in salvaged parts while your other ones are being repaired is necessary to keep your combat abilities at their peak.  The game also featured multiplayer combat and an addon called the "Nitro Pack" which added 20 more missions, giving you even more chaos for your buck.  It had a sequel in Interstate '82 and a more arcadey spinoff series on consoles (Vigilante 8), but the original remains the best for its impeccable execution.


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. Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra (New World Computing, 1991)

Might and Magic's previous entries were successful, but were fairly standard D&D-likes for the most part.  Might and Magic III definitely helped set the series apart and bring it into its own, though, with a much improved presentation,  prevalent sense of humor and a much faster pace overall.  It's also among the first games I'm aware of to have semi-randomized treasure and equipment utilizing a keyword system to determine bonuses and spells that can be cast from them, so it laid the groundwork for later games like Diablo in some ways too.  It even has a cleverly-designed HUD that conveys a lot of information in a non-traditional but effective way, allowing you to quickly stay apprised of your party's current status.