100 of (my) Best PC Games, Part 6 (50–41)

There we are, over the halfway mark. Here’s the previous parts:

Now, time to gather your party and venture forth…

50. Empire: Total War (Creative Assembly, 2009)

For me, one of the most fascinating periods in history is the Age of Enlightenment from the early 1700s into the early 1800s. Rapid modernisation and technological advancement led to sweeping societal, political and military upheaval. Empire is the fifth title in the Total War series, and it was the first game set in this period.

The scope of the campaign was massive — depending on who they chose to play as, the player would have to manage colonies in the New World, defend trade routes in Asia, and play a delicate game of politics and military posturing in Europe. The Total War series is brilliant, but it was Empire that really gripped me, and inspired me to learn more about this fascinating time in history.

Who should play it?: Empire is an excellent game for those interested in this historical period, as it is packed full of little historical notes. If you find Paradox 4X games a little too meaty, but RTS games a little light on the strategy, then the Total War series is a great middle ground.

Where to get it: Steam

49. Gods (The Bitmap Brothers, 1991)

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I first encountered this early 90s platformer on my brother’s PC, and for whatever reason, it grabbed me. The pseudo-Ancient Greek setting was very different to other platformers at the time, so it stood out. It was also beautifully presented with silky smooth animations.

Like so many other platformers at the time, it was punishingly difficult — but for whatever reason, I persisted. Unfortunately, that patient persistence is something that I have less of these days.

Who should play it?: If you enjoy platformers, particularly hard ones, then Gods is a classic that you should have a go at. For an early 90s game, it has also aged quite nicely.

Where to get it: Remastered on Steam — but do yourself a favour and play with the original graphics.

48. Wing Commander: Prophecy (Origin Systems, 1997)

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Wing Commander: Prophecy is the final game in the Wing Commander series, and had a mixed reception with fans, as it made some fairly big changes to the established lore. This wasn’t a major factor for me, as I had only briefly played Wing Commander IV.

What struck me about this game was how well it leaned into sci-fi tropes and really made you feel like a starfighter pilot. The live-action cutscenes, as the series was known for, had some pretty mixed acting quality, but the budget was impressive, and there were a few big names — notably Mark Hamill and Thomas F. Wilson. It all combined to offer a great sense of immersion, and played a big part in fostering my love for the spacesim genre.

Who should play it?: Fans of Wing Commander have probably already played it, but this is a decent game for fans of any mission-based spacesim.

Where to get it: GOG

47. Raptor: Call of the Shadows (Cygnus Studios, 1994)

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Raptor: Call of the Shadows is a fairly standard top-down scrolling shooter, reminiscent of games like 1942, Raiden and Tyrian. What helps Raptor stand out, though, is that it executes the genre’s essentials so very well. It is still a very nice looking game, and the gameplay is timeless.

In Raptor, the player needs to balance their funds between missions, spending credits to upgrade their ship while ensuring they have a little leftover for repairs if a mission goes south. Raptor received a disappointing rerelease in 2010 (the resolution upscaling looks ugly), but it was released once again in 2015 with the original graphics.

Who should play it?: Fans of scrolling shooters for sure, and basically anyone that wants a game they can easily pick up and play a few levels.

Where to get it: The definitive modern release is the 2015 edition on Steam — don’t bother with the 2010 edition on GOG.

46. Ultima IX: Ascension (Origin Systems, 1999)

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Ultima IX is my guilty pleasure. When it was finally released in 1999 after numerous delays, it was a buggy mess, with little regard for the established lore of the Ultima universe. Yet I can’t help but love it. I got my hands on a copy of this game from the local VideoEzy that used to rent out PC games (those were the days).

Despite its terrible reception, Ultima IX enthralled me with its huge open world, rich detail and dozens of secrets. And although it didn’t really respect the Ultima canon, the world did have an Ultima feel. Ultima IX might be the disappointing end to one of the longest running series in the games industry (it started in 1979), but it will always have a special place in my heart.

Who should play it?: I have a strong personal attachment to this game, but I can’t recommend it in good faith — I certainly recognise its failings. However, for those interested in game history, the entire Ultima series is essential, purely for its historical significance.

Where to get it: GOG and Origin

45. Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare, 2009)

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When I first heard about Dragon Age: Origins, a game BioWare claimed was a spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate series, I was sold. There is never a shortage of fantasy RPG games, but it had been many years since BioWare had given them a go. In the interim, they had maintained their RPG “cred” with Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and Mass Effect, so the hype was real.

Dragon Age: Origins was everything that it was hyped to be — a deep RPG set in a richly detailed world that was a mix of low fantasy and high fantasy, with a plot full of twists and turns and engaging characters. I fell in love with the world of Dragon Age, which is why I am so bitter about the direction the series took in Dragon Age II and the very-overrated Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Who should play it?: Dragon Age: Origins is undoubtedly one of the best RPGs of the modern era, so for fans of the genre, it’s a must-play.

Where to get it: GOG, Steam and Origin

44. Stardew Valley (Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone, 2016)

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I didn’t have consoles growing up, so I was always primarily a PC gamer. However, thanks to emulators (such as ZSNES), I did get the chance to play some of the console classics. One of those was 1996’s Harvest Moon, an excellent little game about running your own farm. Stardew Valley is the true spiritual sequel to Harvest Moon, a passion project developed independently by Eric Barone over a five year period.

Since its full release in 2016, Stardew Valley has continued to improve, with ongoing support from developer Barone, particularly with the addition of multiplayer. Stardew Valley is a beautiful game that wears its retro influences on its sleeve, and once you get started it is very hard to put down.

Who should play it?: Stardew Valley is an approachable game for the whole family, simple to pick up but hard to master. If you enjoyed Harvest Moon, then you’ll like this. It will also appeal to fans of The Sims series.

Where to get it: GOG and Steam

43. Imperium Galactica II: Alliances (Digital Reality, 1999)

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My local VideoEzy was the source of a great deal of my PC gaming education, and I spent a lot of money (much of it in late fees) borrowing PC games from their always evolving selection — games that would remain installed on my PC long after I had returned them (thank you no-CD cracks). Imperium Galactica II was one of those games. It is an RTS-4X hybrid, influenced by games like Master of Orion and RTS games like Command & Conquer.

Imperium Galactica II was my first real exposure to the real-time 4X genre, and is a good entry point for gamers looking to get into the genre. It has a reasonable amount of complexity, but is not overwhelming, making it a good stepping stone to some later games it has influenced, like Sins of a Solar Empire and Stellaris.

Who should play it?: Gamers looking to get into the 4X genre will find this a good stepping stone, and fans of later 4X games like Stellaris might find something enjoyable here.

Where to get it: GOG and Steam

42. Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure (Apogee Software, 1992)

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Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure was one of dozens of platformers released by Apogee Software in the late 80s and early 90s. This was one of their more light-hearted and approachable platformers, with a more diverse appeal. Despite its popularity, Cosmo was one of the few Apogee platformers that never received a sequel. My only exposure to the game was the shareware version, which included the first episode — about a third of the overall game. Quite a generous practice from another era.

For a long time, Cosmo was relegated to the abandonware heap. However, with 3D Realms (formerly Apogee Software) embracing their retro past in recent years, Cosmo reappeared along many of their other classic titles, and I was finally able to play through the later episodes.

Who should play it?: Fans of platformers will enjoy this — it has timeless design and the gameplay has aged quite well. Don’t expect an easy game though; like other platformers of its era, the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly.

Where to get it: 3D Realms, GOG and Steam

41. Blood (Monolith Productions, 1997)

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Blood was one of the last FPS games of the 2D era, and the first big hit for Monolith Productions, who eventually established themselves as one of the masters of the shooter genre. Blood is full of gore, violence and macabre humour, and the whole game feels like a love letter to low-budget horror B-movies of the 70s and 80s.

The gameplay is ridiculously fun — it has the classic 90s FPS breakneck pace, and a huge variety of very imaginative weapons (the Voodoo Doll is a highlight). What really made Blood stand out though was the highly interactive world. This is best showcased in the carnival level, where the player can get caught up with distractions like a shooting gallery and zombie-head soccer.

Who should play it?: This is an absolute gem of a shooter, and the recent remaster (Blood: Fresh Supply) means the game is more approachable than ever before. A must-play for shooter fans, and fans of daggy shock-horror 70s and 80s movies.

Where to get it: GOG and Steam

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At some point in about 1989 I played my first videogames on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. This was the beginning of a lifetime obsession with games...

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