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12/17/2020

Top 101 PC Games - Honorable Mentions

 A handful more games that didn't make the list for one reason or another.

 Alone in the Dark

A rare example of a western-developed game that made a splash in Japan; in fact, nearly all of the tropes defined here (tank controls, fixed camera angles, limited items and tons of inventory puzzles)  would later become popularized by Capcom's Resident Evil series, which would go on to become one of the most successful horror franchises of all time.  Alone in the Dark wouldn't fare nearly as well, though, with each game in the series seemingly just getting worse and worse.  The original was still a fun one, though, with some nicely creepy moments even with the comically crude 3D models, a clever storyline and and plenty of traps and horrors waiting to kill you.

Bioforge

A game following in the mold of Alone in the Dark, though with some twists of its own added - an innovative damage model that shows your character visibly getting bloodied up as their health gets lower, and a science fiction plot that adapts to your actions, telling a substantially different story each time you play.  It had some hefty system requirements, strange clunky combat and mediocre voiceover atop it, but that didn't stop it from being a quality experience and a different take on what we know today as "survival horror".

Chip's Challenge

A classic tile-based puzzle game among old-school Windows gamers, being distributed with several of the Windows Entertainment Packs back in the early 90s and having 149 stages to solve (as well as several fan-made level packs to add even more).  However, it's technically ineligible by my rules, since the original release of the game was actually for the Atari Lynx three years earlier.  Sorry!

(I could have put the two-decades-delayed Chip's Challenge 2 or its "spiritual successor" Chuck's Challenge 3D in their place I suppose, but... nah.)

Garry's Mod

 A sandbox toy that showed off how powerful and flexible the Source engine really is.  Not only could you spawn and play around with models, enemies, and basically every prop from all the major Source engine games, but people have crafted machinima animations, entirely new games and roleplaying servers and basically anything else you can think of utilizing complex rigs and Lua scripting. Really fun to mess with, but not a game per se, which is why I left it off.

Gamebryo RPGs (Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas) 

Though every major game Bethesda has released since the early 2000s has been on consoles as well, the PC remains my preferred way to play them. The reason why is pretty simple - modding support. Not just to fix the numerous scripting errors and bugs left in by the programmers (though some of those can be fun), but to add new quest lines, weapons, perks, vehicles, recruitable allies, and whatever else you may want. With thousands available to experiment with, all of these games become a fresh experience each time you revisit and replay value is basically infinite. 

Goat Simulator

A game that recognizes that janky physics can be quite a bit of fun in their own right, Goat Simulator just puts you in the role of a goat with a sticky tongue and sets you loose on a city to cause mayhem.  You get a ton of achievements for doing various things - finding objects, blowing up gas stations, knocking stuff over or just driving people crazy, but you're by no means bound to any goals.  The devs even acknowledge the fun of the jank, as it was their policy to only fix game-crashing bugs and leave the rest intact.  They even added more modules parodying MMORPGs and the Payday games (having you prank people as a team of animals with various ridiculous talents), so if you just want a bit of good, absurd fun, Goat Simulator is the place to find it.

The Hugo trilogy

Another one that made the rounds in the era of shareware, the Hugo trilogy was notable for being a Sierra-inspired adventure series designed and coded entirely by one guy.  That's all fine and dandy, but it falls prey to some strange design decisions, particularly in the second game where you have to walk between obstacles with unclear hit boxes and even the slightest touch will kill you or leave the game unwinnable.  They're not particular standouts of the genre or anything, but they are a bit of fun for what they are.

Mortal Kombat Trilogy

A multiplatform release from the tail end of Mortal Kombat's 2D era, its selling point was including everybody from the first three games (even the bosses) as playable characters.  It did just that, but no real playtesting was implemented either, so it was a ridiculously unbalanced mishmash of nonsense; that's also what made it a lot of hilarious fun, though.  The console ports all had some flaws - the N64 version lacked load times but had poor sound quality and several fighters missing owing to cart space restrictions, while the PSX and Saturn versions had everyone and higher-quality sound but rather atrocious load times (particularly in Shang Tsung matches, where the game would pause for several seconds and load mid-match every time you morphed).  The PC version, however, was arguably the definitive release, having all the characters, high sound quality and, since it installed everything to disk, no load times either.  So if you want some dumb, campy entertainment, track this one down and give it a play!

MUGEN

If you've been on Youtube watching gaming videos for any period of time you've probably seen at least one of MUGEN, a fighting game engine that lets you import your own graphics, build your own characters and tweak nearly all of its mechanics to your liking.  Because of this, people have made literally thousands of characters to play around with - some attempting to be legit recreations of existing fighters, others original, and still others just meme-laden broken nonsense.  People have even included stages from other games like Super Mario Bros as "fighters", so it's surprisingly flexible.  But you really do have to put in quite a lot of work and hand-tweaking to set it up and it's not really much of a game in itself, so I opted against including it.

Portal, Portal 2

I do love me some Portal.  A twisted action-puzzle game set in the Half-Life universe where you utilize the eponymous portal gun to sneak past obstacles, hop over long gaps, bridge two areas that otherwise wouldn't reach and do all sorts of other clever things to make your way to the end.  All presided over by the twisted AI GlaDOS, who is both threatening and consistently hilarious.  Unfortunately both games were also simultaneous releases on consoles and therefore disallowed by the rules I set.

Shadow President/CyberJudas

A very in-depth presidential simulator with some cyberpunk elements (you're plugged into a rotating VR-chair a la the Lawnmower Man that lets you monitor all global communications and manage basically everything), it's basically a sandbox - you can try to improve relations with neighbors, crush them through military force (even nuclear war), fund insurrections, or do whatever else you please.  Of course, you also have to manage your approval ratings and, in CyberJudas's case, a cabinet that will try to manipulate you for their own ends or even outright betray the country and make you try to take the fall for it, so you have to discredit and/or eliminate them before irreparable damage is done (or they kill you).  Grim stuff, and for better or worse, I've never seen another game quite like it.

Sid Meier's Pirates!  Gold

Another beloved classic omitted for its simultaneous release on a console (Sega Genesis, to be precise), Pirates! Gold was an updated version of the original Pirates with better graphics and more to do - more treasures to seek, towns to visit (or plunder) and a world that actually changed in real time around you - towns would change hands between the major factions in the Caribbean and treasure troves you sought would be constantly on the move, requiring you to stay sharp to capture them.  An early sandbox title that's just as fun now as it was back in the '90s, though honestly I prefer the 2004 remake nowadays (and it's best played on a console as the PC version has some weird compatibility issues nobody's bothered fixing).

Simcopter/Streets of Simcity (Maxis, 1996/1997) 

I mention these two not because they're good; quite the opposite in fact. They're very ugly 3D games that have mountains of unpatched bugs, esoteric coding that makes them almost impossible to run on anything but very specific hardware from the early 90s (or PCEm), and even then they crash frequently, sometimes bringing the entire OS down with them. But you know what? That can be pretty fun sometimes. As long as you're not set on taking them seriously, playing around with their insane physics models and uniquely janky mechanics, topped with Maxis's strange sense of humor, some unironically good soundtracks and a rather controversial Easter egg in Simcopter inserted by the programmer as a prank, makes these games surprisingly entertaining even with their enormous flaws.  The guiltiest of pleasures, these.

Super Mario Bros. X/Zelda Classic

Classic Nintendo recreated by fans that also include some scenario creation tools?  You know I'm a huge fan of old-school Nintendo, so I'm definitely onboard for that.  But, I opted not to include them for that reason, too - the classics are still around, they're still great, and while these are fun, they're not really original enough to be considered a "PC game" per se.  I guess you could argue AM2R isn't either, but I was blown away with that one on so many levels; not least of which because it has more polish than most professionally-released games these days and stands as proof that fans are more passionate for that series than Nintendo's been in ages.  (Not to mention, it's way better than Mercurysteam's stank-ass 3DS remake.)

Team Fortress 2

This was another simultaneous multi-platform release, but I considered including it anyway because it got so many updates and so much more content than the console versions that it was basically a totally different game before long - weapons, stages, voice clips, game modes, and of course player-made levels all made it leaps and bounds beyond.  But then it went free to play and everyone quit playing it in lieu of creating idle servers full of bots to farm billions of items to trade for real money instead and I quickly lost interest.  Then Overwatch and Fortnite came along and everyone with any serious interest in multiplayer shooters moved on to those, which pretty much put the final nail in the coffin.  A fantastic game in its heyday, but once Valve's priorities shifted and it just became an empty cash-grab for them and a money-laundering tool for foreign governments, it was all over.  RIP TF2.

Ultima IX: Ascension

A game that's heavily derided these days, mostly for its incredibly buggy, crash-prone engine and a laughably trite script that feels like a amusement-park-esque bastardization of Ultima and its lore, complete with cheesy voiceover and juvenile moralizing every step of the way.  I can't really argue against any of that that, but I still had fun playing it - even a muchkinized Britannia is still quite a bit of fun to explore, with plenty of hidden secrets and creative dungeon puzzles (when they work as intended).  Plus, it's at least buggy in a very entertaining way, from building bridges of bread and scrolls to cross oceans to breaking scripts to skipping over puzzles with strange exploits.  If you go in expecting the epic conclusion to Ultima that was originally hyped, well, you won't really get it.  But if you make a point of not taking it seriously and just enjoying the lunacy of it all, you can still get quite a bit of mileage from it.

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.

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos/The Frozen Throne


Warcraft was one of Blizzard's earliest hits, launching a game with two long and varied campaigns and plenty of charm and atmosphere.  The sequel offered a vastly improved UI and larger-scale battles, and Warcraft III certainly upped the ante too.  The total number of playable factions was raised to four (adding the corpse-manipulating Undead and nature-oriented Night Elves) and working some RPG elements into the proceedings - each army gets their own unique "hero units" that power up after defeating foes, carry an inventory of items (like temporary power boosts or potions to recover HP) and have powerful spells that can quickly turn the tide of battles; however, losing one at an inopportune time can quickly put you at a grave disadvantage, too.  I wasn't a huge fan of this element as it overtakes a disproportionate part of the game's overall strategy, but the polished design and sheer diversity of the four races make it a great RTS nonetheless.  The Frozen Throne is a great expansion too, adding new units for each army, two neutral factions (the Naga and the Dranei), reintroducing naval battles, and of course continuing the storyline from the original game.  It's just a shame that Activision has seen fit to taint its legacy with the absolutely wretched "remaster" called Warcraft III: Reforged, which not only has mountains of bugs and glitches in itself, but they've changed their backend code on the online servers so you can't even play the original version online anymore AND they get dibs on any custom games you make with their engine.  Nice one, morons!