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12/15/2020

Top 101 PC Games, #90-81

90. The Curse of Monkey Island (LucasArts, 1997)

The Monkey Island series is a beloved classic among adventure game fans; following the exploits of the bumbling wannabe-pirate Guybrush Threepwood, he seeks to win the affections of Elaine Marley and frequently clashes with his nemesis, the evil undead pirate LeChuck.  Curse was easily the series' most impressive entry, with a fresh style, plenty of animated cutscenes and perfectly cast voiceover complementing the humor throughout.  The scenarios are as absurd as ever - this time with Guybrush trying to reverse a voodoo curse he's unintentionally afflicted Elaine with - and that of course lends itself to plenty of laughs.  The interface was newly reworked too, using a simpler "verb coin" with three general commands instead of the array of commands from earlier SCUMM games.  The puzzles definitely didn't suffer for it, though; you're still in for a challenge, especially in "Mega Monkey" mode.

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. 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. 

87. 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.

86. Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead (Kevin Granade and numerous fans, 2013)

A relatively unique roguelike and adventure game, Cataclysm takes place in a near-future world where the basically every apocalypse scenario that could happen is going on at once - zombies, Triffids, Lovecraftian monsters, deadly plagues, rampant cyborgs and everything else you can think of are all causing havoc, and you're just a person trying to stay alive throughout it all.  This isn't made easy by the fact that most starts will put you right in the thick of danger and you'll usually be overcome and killed very quickly if you're not careful (and often even if you are), but once you get to relative safety, surviving is still an issue.  Finding shelter and water, having a steady source of food and being able to fight off the constant threat of depression are all very real concerns, but if you can mange to get a foothold, the game becomes very rewarding.  You can build up communities and shelters, grow crops, and build giant Mad Max death vehicles.  It's also open source, so if you don't like the game as it is, you can tweak it in any way you like if you have the knowhow.

85. 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.

84. Wizardry 8 (Sir-Tech, 2001)

The last entry in the trilogy that began with Wizardry VI, the grand finale to the Wizardry series as a whole (in the west, at least) and also the swan song for Sir-Tech, the legendary developer behind the franchise, who ceased operations not long after this game's launch.  It famously spent a very long time in development, coming out nine years after Wizardry 7 and being the first (and only) game in the series to utilize a 3D engine.  They definitely went out on a high note, though, with a vast, distinct and detailed fantasy world to explore and the same challenging combat and dungeon crawling that had been the series' hallmark for two decades.  It even carried on the series tradition of letting you import your party from the previous games, meaning that you could potentially end the story with the very same party you began with in Wizardry 6.  

83. 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.

82. Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional Games, 2010)

An indie horror title that won a ton of awards for doing what so many similarly themed games fell short with - being genuinely unsettling, tense and creepy.  Putting you in a musty old castle as an amnesiac protagonist, you're left to your own devices at times to wander around and just take in the atmosphere, piecing together what little of the story you can from clues you pick up along the way.  Monsters quickly show themselves too, but unlike most games of this type, you're given no way to fight back against them - you just have to turn out your light and find a good place to hide yourself until they lose your trail or, worst case, run like the dickens to try and escape.  Darkness itself also works against you, though; lingering in the dark too long or witnessing disturbing sights gradually weakens your sanity and causes you to hallucinate or even panic, which can give you away to a pursuing creature.  It slowly builds up the terror in a slick and natural way, making it an incredibly effective horror experience.  I also quite liked its sequel, A Machine for Pigs; though its gameplay wasn't nearly as refined as Dark Descent's, it still brought plenty of its own brand of dread with its more grounded premise in mad science.

81. Santitarium (Dreamforge Entertainment, 1998)

A point-and-click adventure whose name implies that it's going to be creepy and bizarre, and sure enough, it is.  You begin as a protagonist identified only as "Max" who awakes in an asylum with no memory of his past and his face wrapped in bandages, but it quickly becomes apparent that something isn't right - the asylum itself is seriously dilapidated, and venturing throughout it leads him to several surreal and bizarre landscapes, with most seemingly having no connection to his predicament whatsoever.  However, over the course of the game the fragments slowly fall into place and the reasons behind all that you see come clear.  The fact that it accomplishes this without any permanent game overs (though it is possible to fail segments; all that means is redoing them, though), having puzzles that actually make sense, and not really even relying that much on gore and violence is a testament to its quality.  Even the voice acting is honestly pretty good for the time!