The following article(s) are entirely the opinion of the author, and as such do not reflect any official ranking or rating.
Welcome to part three of my five part series covering the top 50 greatest classic PC games (in my opinion). This part includes some truly unique titles, including a game created entirely with clay animation, one of the first entirely free-roaming racers and a couple of games that spawned entire series across multiple forms of media. Lets continue with numbers 30 through 21.
30. Jet Fighter
Year Released: 1988
This IBM based version of the popular Amiga classic ‘F/A-18 Interceptor’ holds a special place in the aircraft simulation world. It was one of the first air fighter games ever created in full 3D (well, as 3D as games in 1988 could be). Taking place in the skies over an awfully basic rendition of the San Francisco Bay Area, your primary goal was to take off and intercept enemy fighters, engage and destroy, and return to base. Sounds pretty simple, which, for the most part, it was. You could also take your time and explore the area, with key landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Sutro tower being showcased somewhat realistically for the first time. Alternatively, shooting up to 50,000 feet and racing back down was also great fun. Smooth graphics and decent gameplay made Jet Fighter a true classic and great to play.
29. Monster Truck Madness
Year Released: 1996
Originally named Heavy Metal Truck (and internally, Metal Crush), Monster Truck Madness gained a huge following in the late 1990s when released on the Windows 95 Game Sampler CD. One of the defining features was the ability to drive anywhere – a true free roaming game. For too long we had been confined only to the track in racing games, but no longer. If you were to turn left on a right hand bend for example, you’d end up traversing hilly terrain and open fields all the way to the opposite side of the map (like coming full circle on a globe). Other sweet additions to the game were the drag races (plus driving over cars), and of course the friendly helicopter that would rush over to right you after a poorly executed barrel roll. You’ll also remember the joy of pushing the porta-potties around the map while the occupant screams at you from within. A remarkable game, known for its features more than as a racing title.
28. The Settlers
Year Released: 1994
The Settlers spawned no less than seven sequels, which is a testament to its fantastic game-play principles. The basic idea was to build up your civilization from an insignificant colony and assume military supremacy of the kingdom. One of the key features that made The Settlers so brilliant was the integration of different resource types, all interdependent with one another. Gold, iron ore, coal and stone must all be mined, and then all used in different ways to produce different goods to firstly sustain your populace, and expand your empire. The visuals were beautiful, the sounds in-depth, and the variety with which to build your settlement exceptional. The game did however require extraordinary patience, often games were measured in hours rather than minutes. From The Settlers came not only more games in the series, but it also helped to generate an entire genre of military conquest titles in the late nineties.
Year Released: 1993
For those of you that played Xargon, you may remember it had a particular darkness to it, a mystery. The visuals were stunning for the time, plus there were some sweet weapon upgrades from your default laser: rocks, fireballs and rapid fire lasers. Xargon's plot was quite interesting (if not so revolutionary) - your character, Malvineous Havershim, is knocked out, has an encounter with a talking eagle, awakes in a strange land and must fight his way through the world to kill the evil Xargon before being allowed to return home. Unfortunately the game wasn’t terribly well received by critics and thus was never as popular as its counterparts, namely Duke Nukem and Commander Keen. For me, it’s one of those games you can come back and play over and over again.
26. The Neverhood
Year Released: 1996
Has there ever been a game quite as unique (if uniqueness could be measured) as The Neverhood? Not likely. Making exceptional use of Claymation graphics, Doug TenNapel (creator of Earthworm Jim) tells the story of the perilous journey of Klayman, the quite ridiculous looking anthropomorphic protagonist. Though entirely scripted as well as sporting a rail shooter type movement system, the world felt realistic and rather spooky. The gameplay was somewhat quirky and never took itself seriously. This is another of the games I first encountered on the Windows 95 Game Sampler CD. Sadly, though it was reviewed positively, the game was a flop and sold only about 42,000 copies worldwide. There were rumours it may be reinvented in motion picture form, but this has been confirmed to no longer be the case.
25. Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel
Year Released: 1987
From the Adventure Game Interpreter (it was a popular game engine that accepted keyboard commands), came Police Quest, which was originally released on DOS, Amiga, Atari and Apple II. It told the story of Sonny Bonds, a rookie police officer from the town of Lytton. Sierra attempted to have a certain amount of realism in their game, right down to requiring a 360º check of your patrol car before going out on the beat, lest you get a flat tyre. As a text game similar to Kings Quest or Space Quest, the gameplay was slow and at times difficult, but plenty of fun for young and aspiring arms of the law. Not commonly known, Police Quest had some use in training real officers, demonstrating the consequences of not observing correct police procedure. No less than five sequels were created, the most recent of which was released in 1998.
24. Prince of Persia
Year Released: 1989
Long before Jake Gyllenhaal got his hands on the Dagger of Time, developer Jordan Mechner created the original Prince of Persia for the Apple ll, which was later ported to the PC and many other platforms. It was a revolutionary game for its time, teasing and confusing you with deadly traps and endless, repetitive dungeons. Prince of Persia featured fluid, lifelike movement of the nameless protagonist not seen in any game before. Mechner has said he used videos of his brother running and jumping to aid in creating the movements, including the invigorating swordplay. The objective was analogous to other games of the time; fight your oppressors, save the princess, save the kingdom. In Prince of Persia however, you had just sixty minutes to do this, or suffer the cruel taste of failure (though there were checkpoints of a sort). Many fantastic sequels were made (and of course a major motion picture) and it all started here with 8 bit graphics and a beige keyboard.
23. Mortal Kombat
Year Released: 1992
Released on nearly every available platform of the early nineties, the original Mortal Kombat spawned one of the most popular fighting franchises of all time. A story of good vs evil in many ways, the game was praised by just about everyone for its fantastic controls and characters. Famously however, Mortal Kombat was fraught with controversy. Its fatality finishing moves and bloody battles causing chaos in the minds of parents and public officials, claiming corruption in their children and calling for the game to be banned. There is no denying however, the legacy of Mortal Kombat and its characters’ uniqueness lives on to this day.
Year Released: 1986
You’re an enormous monster climbing up and crushing buildings, while being relentlessly attacked by military forces. Sounds awesome? It certainly was. Rampage had a very King-Kong vibe going for it, and even better, it was simultaneously a single screen, three player game, so there was action everywhere at all times. A true party game, you could play as either a gorilla, a colossal lizard or a werewolf, and your primary goal was to reduce the city, which consisted of a few buildings, to rubble before you succumb to the onslaught of fire from the military. Oh, and you can eat people too! Surprisingly, some of the cities featured are lesser known – Peoria, Illinois and Plano, Texas among others. Like many other titles on this list, Rampage was ported to many available platforms, a showcase of its brilliant gameplay.
Year Released: 1993
SkyRoads, you beautiful, colourful, simple, bastard of a game. There is seldom anything more infuriating than reaching the end of a long, perilous road in the middle of space, before pressing your spacebar twenty milliseconds too early and exploding into fire on the very last hop. Like many who played SkyRoads, I personally never finished all of the levels; some were just too hard. What you gained in wonderfully smooth hopping action, you lost in fits of rage after fifty attempts at the same level. How courteous then, of creators Bluemoon to release a sequel, the SkyRoads XMAS Special, with roads that were even harder than the before. All indignation aside, SkyRoads was one of those games you could pick up and play over and over again and for that I love it dearly.
Don’t forget to check out the upcoming Part Four, or jump back to Part One or Part Two as we countdown my top 50 classic PC games.
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