Welcome to part 2 of the 100 best PC games, in no particular order and according to me. Check out part 1 for 100 to 91.
90. Beneath a Steel Sky (Revolution Software, 1994)
To me, Beneath a Steel Sky represents the importance of freeware releases to game preservation. In the early 2000s, I began to delve into retro gaming in a big way, using programs like SCUMMVM and DOSBox (both represented huge steps forward in game preservation). One of the games I first tried during this time was Beneath a Steel Sky, which had been released for free by developer Revolution Software.
Without this freeware release, it is entirely possible I never would have played it, but I’m glad I did. Beneath a Steel Sky is one of the best adventure games I’ve ever played, with a compelling sci-fi/cyberpunk story with a tone that seamlessly seesaws between serious and humorous. There are some fantastic twists and turns along the way, and the puzzles are always challenging, but never unachievable.
Who should play it?: If you haven’t played Beneath a Steel Sky, are you really an adventure gamer? This is a must-try for fans of the genre, and with the release of the sequel Beyond a Steel Sky, now is the perfect time to give it another go.
89. Outlaws (LucasArts, 1997)
Outlaws is without a doubt one of the great forgotten gems of the PC Gaming Golden Age. When it was released in April 1997, it was already looking a little bit long in the tooth — Outlaws was powered by the Jedi Engine, the same game engine that powered 1995’s Star Wars: Dark Forces (this was the era of Quake after all). Despite this, Outlaws had a charming cartoon style similar to LucasArts’ The Curse of Monkey Island.
What made Outlaws really stand out, however, was the combination of a deeply engaging story of revenge in the style of the best old Western films, and gameplay mechanics that wouldn’t become commonplace in FPS games until many years later. Outlaws featured weapon reloading, highly interactive environments and one of the earliest examples of a sniper scope in the genre’s history.
Who should play it?: Unfortunately, the years have not been kind to Outlaws — without the nostalgia factor, it might seem a little to dated for some. However, if you can past that, this is a very enjoyable game that will appeal to fans of FPS games that prioritise story and detailed environments over run-and-gun elements.
88. Rise of the Triad: Dark War (Apogee Software, 1994)
In 1993, id Software’s Doom forever revolutionised the games industry, turning a little-known genre into a worldwide powerhouse that continues to dominate the industry to this day. The years following Doom’s release saw the genre explode with titles like Corridor 7, Marathon, Heretic and Hexen. A standout in the post-Doom explosion was Rise of the Triad, from former id Software parent studio, Apogee Software (now known as 3D Realms).
Rise of the Triad took Doom’s frantic pace and violence to a whole new level, and peppered this blood-soaked chaos with a dark sense of humour. The weapons include six variations of the rocket launcher (such as the Drunk Missile Launcher), as well as a a magical baseball bat called the Excalibat.
Who should play it?: If you enjoyed games like Doom or Duke Nukem 3D, Rise of the Triad is an essential play. Likewise, Rise of the Triad has plenty to offer modern fans of the retro revival.
87. Microsoft Solitaire (Wes Cherry, 1990)
A game that needs no introduction, Microsoft Solitaire is probably one of the most-played games of all time. According to Microsoft data, Solitaire was one of the top-three most-used programs on Windows in the late 1990s. Solitaire was the original “casual game”, and was a refuge for everyone from fed up officeworkers to grandmothers and kids like myself keeping entertained on family visits to an uncle’s house.
With the rise of mobile gaming and the every expanding games industry, Solitaire’s ubiquity has become a thing of the past, but I have no doubt that there are still dusty old PCs running archaic versions of Windows all over the world that continue to carry the torch for the original king of casual games.
Who should play it?: If you’re using Windows, then its probably already installed. Windows 10 even features a theme that emulates the original classic. A game will only take you five minutes. In other words, everyone should play it.
86. Max Payne series (Remedy Entertainment 2001–2003, Rockstar Studios 2012)
Max Payne is the first “series” entry on this list. I list the entire series because, in my opinion, you can’t appreciate the full impact of the games without playing the entire series. Max Payne was one of the first games that really made me think “wow, this could be a movie” (it eventually was, and like so many game-based movies, it sucked). The series follows the rise and fall of the eternally dour vigilante, Max Payne, as he battles drug kingpins, corrupt government agents and gangsters.
Max Payne’s primary gameplay mechanic was The Matrix-inspired “bullet time” feature, where the game would allow the player to execute stylish, slow-motion dives through a hail of bullets while dual-wielding pistols. Between missions, the player was treated with grim neo-noir cutscenes showing Max’s constant struggles with his demons.
Who should play it?: Every game in the trilogy has its highlights, so I find it impossible to recommend a single game. If you’re a fan of action games, dark stories with plenty of twists, or you enjoy Rockstar’s style of story-telling, you will likely appreciate the entire series.
85. Fallout (Interplay Productions, 1997)
To this day, Bethesda’s Fallout 3 is held to be some sort of “golden era” for the Fallout series, which has since fallen to a disappointingly tragic low with Fallout 76. But compared to the original Fallout (and its sequel, Fallout 2), Fallout 3 little more depth than its widely derided multiplayer offshoot.
Fallout is inspired by the 1988 classic (also from Interplay) Wasteland. In Fallout, players have 500 days to venture out into the post-apocalyptic and find a water chip to save the inhabitants of their community in Vault 13. Along the way, they are dragged into the politics of the remnants of society, and factions like the Khans, Brotherhood of Steel and Children of the Cathedral are all jostling for a piece of the new world order.
Fallout is notable for its merciless difficulty and endless replayability, as well as its deeply complex GURPS-derived RPG system and incredibly satisfying and gory turn-based combat. I will never forget the first time I unleashed a minigun on a wasteland raider, and watched the detailed animation of them being torn apart in a hail of bullets. Fallout also lacked the gimmicky approach to the neo-1950's aesthetic of later titles. In Fallout, it was a much more subtle commentary on the mid-20th Century dichotomy of nuclear paranoia and utopia — a statement that has been lost in the modern games.
Who should play it?: I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Fallout to fans of the later games, unless you’re really keen on seeing the origins of the series. Rather, this is a game for fans of classic CRPGs and tabletop RPGs. If you love games that truly punish you with consequences for every choice, look no further than Fallout.
84. Jazz Jackrabbit (Epic MegaGames, 1994)
Long before Epic Games would be synonymous with Fortnite and the Unreal Engine, Cliff Bleszinski (creator of the Unreal series) brought us the gun-toting green rabbit, Jazz Jackrabbit. The game’s complex levels have a lot in common with the Sonic series, but the gameplay is more remeniscent of the Earthworm Jim series. Like many gamers, my first experience of Jazz was a shareware copy — on a cousin’s computer I think.
Historically, platform games were primarily the domain of the console giants like Sega and Nintendo, but Jazz Jackrabbit deserves recognition for its role as a bastion of PC platformers.
Who should play it?: If you enjoyed Earthworm Jim or the Sonic series, this should hit a similar spot. Jazz Jackrabbit is also worth checking out if you grew up as a console gamer and want to see what was happening on the PC.
Where to get it: GOG
83. Frontier: Elite II (David Braben, 1993)
It was Derek Smart’s polarising Battlecruiser 3000AD (1996) that gave me my first taste of the open-world spacesim (it was a PC Powerplay demo disc freebie), and the unparalleled freedom of the genre soon had me searching for similar games. It was during this time that I discovered Frontier, the sequel to the game that created the entire genre (1984’s Elite).
The staggering size and detail of Frontier’s universe was like nothing I had ever experienced before — over 500 million star systems, each with possibly dozens of planets to land on and explore (the technical explanation of how this was achieved is fascinating). Frontier was the first game to show truly show me that games can provide something that no other form of entertainment can — a true playground of for the imagination.
Who should play it?: Fans of spacesims, particularly open-world spacesims, who are not afraid of a little bit of complexity. This is also an excellent game to check out if you’re curious about the capabilities of procedural generation.
Where to get it: FrontierAstro fanpage
82. Need for Speed II (Electronic Arts, 1997)
The Need for Speed series is one of the longest-running and most well known series of racing games, but fans of the original Need for Speed titles would barely recognise what the series has morphed in to. My first experience of Need for Speed was from a Harvey Norman demo disc, with a single track (Pacific Spirit) and a single car (the Ford GT90). I played this endlessly, until a friend got the retail copy, and we would spend long afternoons racing in split-screen, huddled around a 4:3 CRT monitor with a single keyboard. Though I would spend just as much time playing Need for Speed III (probably the best in the series), it was NFSII that had the biggest impact on me.
The early days of the series were synonymous with exotic cars and concept cars that most people will probably never see, let alone drive. The physics were fast and arcade-like, and there was no customisation. This was pure racing. An example of how the game used to be “all about the cars” could be seen in the showcase section — early Need for Speed games included statistics, history, photos and footage of the cars they represented.
Who should play it?: If you’re not bothered by a bit of retro-jankiness, and want a taste of what racing games were like in the late 90s (they were fast), then check it out. It could also be an interesting romp for NFS fans of later games.
Where to get it: Another one you’ll need to rely on abandonware sites for — EA has a habit of abandoning games that aren’t big money makers.
81. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six (Red Storm Entertainment, 1998)
Much like Need for Speed, the Rainbow Six series today is barely recognisable compared with the game that gave birth to the series. Rainbow Six was the true birth of the “simulation shooter” or “tactical shooter”. There were no hitpoints and weapon pickups here — combat was fast and deadly. I used to spend an hour or more examining blueprints of buildings and planning the movements of my fireteams, before finally entering the mission and watching my plans unfold in a matter of minutes. Sometimes things would go off without a hitch, the hostages would be rescued and my operatives would walk away without a scratch. Other times, poor planning or bad intel would result in a catastrophic ambush, and I’d lose several operatives in the first 30 seconds.
Rainbow Six took a task that initially seemed tedious (planning) and built an entire game around it. Its influence still looms large today, and while the Rainbow Six series may have strayed into generic action-shooter territory with Rainbow Six Siege, the original game’s spirit lives on in titles like Arma 3, Door Kickers and the upcoming GROUND BRANCH.
Who should play it?: Rainbow Six is still an enjoyable game, if a little dated. Its not one for fans of fast-paced action-shooters — this is for milsim fans. Arma 3 fans may enjoy it, or fans of the SWAT series.
Where to get it: GOG