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12/15/2020

Top 111 PC Games, #111-101

This was a challenging list for me to come up with, as I've never really been a die-hard PC gamer by any means. However, I was always fascinated by how different its library was from what I had gotten used to on consoles - for the most part, games on computer platforms, particularly in the '90s era, were a very different experience in that they had so much more ambition to them. Like most of the best-known console developers, they were always pushing technology to its limits, but they also had to contend with a huge variety of different hardware setups and operating systems, which made their games considerably more difficult to develop and run. Still, it was all worth it to play some very in-depth and interesting experiences that consoles simply couldn't deliver, whether due to a more limited player interface or just not having the technological advantages of the PC platform. And of course, it is quite nice to still be able to play nearly all of them today, even if many do require fan patches or virtual machines or some other emulation option in order to run on modern hardware.

The only criteria I chose for this list is that all of my picks must have been designed with a computer platform as its primary release (and have a release gap of at least three months between any console ports), or be PC-exclusive.  Oh, and they have to still be fun to play today, too.

As ever, keep in mind that this are my personal picks and no-one else's.  Oh, and these are by no means the only PC games I like.  Trust me, I had no shortage of trouble sticking to my rules and narrowing this down to only 111!

But I did list off a few honorable mentions if that's your sort of thing.

111. CyberJudas (DC True, 1996)

A very in-depth presidential simulator with some cyberpunk overtones (you're plugged into a rotating VR-chair a la the Lawnmower Man that lets you monitor all global communications and manage basically everything from a convenient UI), it's basically just a sandbox game - you can try to improve relations with neighbors, crush them through military force (even nuclear war), fund insurrections, develop third world nations or do whatever else you please.  Of course, you also have to manage your approval ratings and, in the case of the titular CyberJudas game mode, 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 first).  Grim stuff, and for better or worse, I've never seen another game quite like it.

110. Commander Blood (Cryo, 1994)

The sequel to the 1988 cult classic "Captain Blood", a game as well known for its trippy writing and outlandish premise as for its exploration-driven gameplay.  That definitely returned for the sequel, being amplified by the advent of CD-based FMV.  A combination of CGI animation and practical effects are employed to portray all the strange alien locales and characters, and the absurd and flighty dialog only adds to the surreal mood.  Top it off with a funky and original eurobeat soundtrack, and you get an unforgettable experience of pure spectacle.  There was one more game in the series - Big Bug Bang - but as it's only available in French, few gamers outside that part of the world have experienced it.

109. Alone in the Dark (Infogrames, 1992)

A rare example of a 90s western-developed game that made a big 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 steeped in the Lovecraft mythos, and and plenty of traps and horrors waiting to kill you.

108. Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo's Curse (Viacom New Media, 1994)

A tie-in to the Nickelodeon horror anthology show, which plays out much like an episode of it, even featuring the Midnight Society for the framing device around the story (with the player telling the Tale of Orpheo's Curse in hopes of becoming a member).  The game itself is also a surprisingly good point-and-click adventure, with environments rendered from still photos and CGI, a lot of bizarre sights to see and some eerie music making for a surprisingly creepy and tense experience.  Even the acting in-game is surprisingly good and the puzzles actually make sense, so it's a good experience despite being a horror themed title for kids.  Sadly it hasn't resurfaced on any digital platforms owing to licensing issues, but it's still relatively cheap if you can find it secondhand.

107. 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 before time runs out, it's wrapped in a dystopian space-age game show hosted by sleazy corporate stooge Lance Boyle (played by Christian Erickson).  Through that, it paints a picture of a zombie-like populace permanently enamored by trashy TV, though with a consistently sardonic and humorous tone that makes it quite an enthralling one to experience; not completely unlike Robocop.  The great soundtrack by St├ęphane Picq is certainly worth a listen in its own right too.

106. Simcity (Maxis, 1989)

The story of Simcity is a famous one - Will Wright developed the top-down shooter "Raid on Bungeling Bay" for the Commodore 64, but had more fun designing maps with the editor (which crudely simulated actual cities with vehicular traffic and supply lines running between islands) than playing the game itself.  Eventually he decided to take that idea and expand it into a full-fledged city planning and building simulation, and the end result was SimCity.  It doesn't sound like a particularly fun game on paper - constructing your town while managing crime, pollution, traffic, sim health and entertainment - but its addictive design and random disastrous events like fires, floods and monster attacks kept it fresh and engaging.  It has also since been made open-source (albeit under the name "Micropolis" due to copyright concerns) and ported to just about every platform imaginable, so you have no excuse not to check it out in some form!

105. Epic Pinball (Digital Extremes, 1993)

While I'm not really a big fan of video pinball games, a few have managed to grab my attention over the years due to their brilliant execution.  Epic Pinball is definitely one of them; a huge mainstay on shareware discs and even having limited versions included with some OEM computers back in the day, it certainly impressed me with its high-fidelity and colorful graphics, fantastic music and the sheer variety it brings to the proceedings; the CD version of the game includes a whopping 13 tables to play on.  They also match a variety of themes, from race cars to futuristic androids to a bizarre, threadbare table called the "Enigma" that awards bonuses based on a cryptic set of conditions.  Good stuff all around, whether you're a pinball fanatic or not.

104. VVVVVV (Terry Cavanagh, 2010)

An open-world platformer with some moody music, simplistic graphics reminiscent of early 8-bit computer games and some inventive mechanics that lend themselves to puzzle solving.  By default you don't jump, but instead flip gravity for your character, so navigating environments is a bit more involved than you'd expect.  Then the game throws challenges at you like bouncing surfaces, autoscrollers, wires that flip your gravity when you pass by them and wrapping screens (among many others), and you've got a game with quite a lot of variety and challenge despite its relatively short length.  Of course, there's also extra challenge in hidden Trinkets to discover (some of which require some very honed skills) and a whole plethora of fan-created campaigns and levels to challenge you further.

103. D/Generation (Robert Cook, 1991)

An action-puzzle game with nicely-detailed isometric graphics and smooth controls, D/Generation also had atmosphere in spades thanks to its bleak cyberpunk setting, a surprisingly good storyline (revealed through NPC dialog and computer files) and a huge variety of traps waiting to nail you.  At first they're relatively self-explanatory - electrified floor tiles, turrets, land mines, et cetera, but they quickly get more and more devious as you go.  Probably the worst are the shapeshifting enemies, which can disguise themselves as hostages or even just as mundane objects in the environment, quickly making the game a much more tense endeavor.  One can also find the occasional bomb to blow down doors and skip some puzzles, though as these tend to be rare, they should be used sparingly.  The game never got a lot of attention in its day, though it has acquired enough of a cult following over the years to get a re-release on the Nintendo Switch (as well as a 3D remake, released at nearly the same time).  No matter what platform you visit it on, though, D/Generation is a game worth your while.

102. Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition (Apogee Software/Nightdive Studios, 1995/2023)

Rise of the Triad is a bit of an oddball game - originally intended as a sequel to Wolfenstein (and built on a vastly expanded version of its engine), Id Software abruptly dropped support for the project, apparently not wanting to draw attention away from their upcoming Doom.  However, Apogee continued work on it while removing any direct ties to its predecessor, and the end result is something totally unique.  While Wolf3D at least had a semblance of grounded storyteling and realism despite its primitive tech and fantastical elements, RotT goes all out in becoming strange and surreal.  With rocket-propelled floating platforms, huge sections of level walls sliding around, bizarre level layouts full of traps and switch puzzles and all manner of outlandish weapons and powerups like the "Drunk Missiles", "Dog Mode" and the "Excalibat" (an enchanted bat which fires flaming baseballs), it definitely isn't wanting for weirdness.  2023's Ludicrous Edition is definitely the one to check out these days though, with a more modernized control scheme, much of its cut content restored, a map editor and numerous new levels to check out.

101. Crystal Caves (Apogee Software, 1991)

Platformers were not an easy thing to do on computers in the '80s and early '90s; most IBM-compatibles weren't really designed for the type of smooth scrolling and animation consoles could produce, and of course keyboards weren't built for the type of fast-paced twitch gameplay seen in games like Super Mario Bros or Mega Man.  Some attempts were made regardless, though, and Crystal Caves is certainly one of the more memorable outings.  Starring the bumbling Mylo Steamwitz throughout his journeys to build a fortune, you ventured through various mines, dodging enemies, collecting treasures and trying to avoid various hazards or, in a pinch, destroy them with your rocket launcher.  In 2020 an HD remake was released, adding a new episode to play through as well as a level editor (with Steam Workshop support!) to let you build and share new levels with your friends.