I’ve played a lot of PC games over the years… probably too many, come to think of it. But with all the time I’ve dedicated to games, I’ve also been able to sum up a fairly long list of titles which I think are truly excellent, and worth re-installing and playing again later on. Here’s a list of 6 games you might not have played before that I think were excellent titles of their time, and still stand out among today’s offerings as monuments to what the medium can achieve (and how much fun you can have).
All titles are currently available on Steam, and I’ve even listed their price for you. Some of these games are a real steal, and all are worth a play-through!
Deus Ex (currently $9.95) [Link]
What would you do if you were a nanotech-enhanced, monotone-speakin’, super-soldier working for the NSA? What would you do if you had a huge arsenal of weaponry and specialized talents? What if you wore a huge leather and metal trench coat? Deus Ex asks these hard questions, and answers them too – with a conspiracy theory so big, you might just wind up believing some of it yourself.
Deus Ex was a revolutionary game because it took the standard first-person shooter, threw in a lot of RPG elements (inventory, upgradeable skills, etc) , and wrapped it in a nice, slick package. It’s powered by a modified version of the original Unreal Engine, and is a really huge game that, thanks to the different skills you can learn, can be played in almost any style that suits you. Even a decade after it’s release, the visuals are still nice and crisp, and the music and voice acting is very well done. I really recommend this game if you like the FPS / RPG hybrid games, and for $9.95, you could definitely do worse.
Sid Meier’s Railroads (currently $19.95) [Link]
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by trains – I still can’t help but take a peek when I see one racing by my morning commute. Sid Meier’s Railroads, and the Railroad Tycoon games it is based on, recreate my childhood fantasy of driving around trains all day, and throw in some pretty fun (and challenging) economic simulation to boot. If anything, it’s simply fun to zoom around the game’s beautiful environments and watch all the mechanical marvels make their rounds.
Like Sid Meier’s Pirates, and a lot of other games from the legendary designer, Railroads has very high production values in art and sound, and features gameplay that’s simple to grasp, but which gets more complex as you play. The game features a variety of scenarios which task you with making a profitable railroad company (or reversing the fate of one that isn’t), all kicked off with a nice tutorial. Different missions start during different periods of history, and as you play, you can spend money on research to develop new engines and technologies appropriate to that era. Getting people and things where they need to go is the name of the game, so if you enjoy logistics simulations that aren’t too heavy-handed, download the demo and give it a spin – you’ll be laying some track in no time.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (currently $9.95) [Link]
I know I gushed about Rockstar and GTA a little in my Bully post, but this is a message worth repeating. The Grand Theft Auto series, particularly from 3 and beyond, have always been a lot of fun for me, and my favorite in the series so far is Vice City, a tale of crime and corruption straight from the 80’s. You play the game as Tommy Vercetti, an ex-con who’s just arrived in Vice City, and who’s anxious to get established.
Vice City introduced a lot of things to the GTA formula that really made the game stand out among the series. Making their appearance for the first time in GTA are helicopters, motorcycles, choppers, scooters, golf carts, changeable clothes, an assortment of weapons, and a whole lot more, while still maintaining all the fun stuff from the previous game. You also get a ridiculously awesome soundtrack in the game, which is worth the price of admission alone.
I recommend playing through Grand Theft Auto 3 before playing Vice City for two reasons. First, there are many references made to characters from GTA3 (and some are even from GTA3) that you will appreciate more having played that game, and second, you’ll like Vice City more knowing how much better it is than GTA3. GTA3 is $9.95 too, so for less than $20, you could buy ’em both!
Indigo Prophecy (currently $9.95) [Link]
In 2005, Quantic Dream set out to make a game that is as close to a cinematic experience as possible, and with their subsequent release of Indigo Prophecy (known as Fahrenheit in Europe and Japan), they did a pretty damn good job, even if not hitting the mark exactly.
Indigo Prophecy is played from a third person cinematic perspective, and as you work your way through the game, you take on the role of various characters as the plot bounces back and forth between the lead, Lucas Kane, and the detectives who are investigating him. The game’s story is interesting, and just like when watching a movie, you’ll have many questions about particular sequences that will not be answered until later in the game. Thankfully, the game world is very interactive, and for the gamer who enjoys exploring, there is a lot of interesting material to be found.
I really enjoyed Indigo Prophecy because, despite it’s few shortcomings as a movie-esque style game, it was a lot of fun to play. The graphics aren’t ground-breaking, but are still very detailed and realistic, and the sound and music are excellent. The story is the real catch though, and your desire to unravel the plot will give you motivation to run through large portions of the game each time you play.
At normal difficulty, the action sequences are just forgiving enough, and the few rough spots you do encounter serve as good moments for an intermission from the regular game anyway.
Just make sure you’ve got a good joystick, especially one with dual analogs, as many segments of the game are built with this type of control in mind.
Psychonauts (currently $19.95) [Link]
Fans of Monkey Island who want a little more action with their adventure games should look no further than Double Fine Productions‘ trippy action platformer (and flagship title), Psychonauts. The game, created by former Lucas Arts writer and programmer Tim Schafer, combines psychological dysfunction with psychedelic imagery and classic 3D platforming to create one of the more memorable games of this genre to date.
It’s unfortunate that Psychonauts didn’t receive much press when the game was launched – it truly is a unique experience that you’ll want to see through to the end. The adventure follows Razputin, a boy attending a summer camp for children with psychic powers, as he delves into the minds of his peers and teachers in an effort to uncover the nefarious deeds of a secret foe. Raz encounters the personal fears of each person he makes psychic contact with, and this not only allows for some very creative and fun imagery, but level design as well. In one level, Raz walks along a twisting ribbon of road that seamlessly turns upside down and loops around itself at various places; in another he’s tasked with battling a famous historical figure in a giant strategy battle. Not one level is like another in this game (or in any other game, for that matter), and that’s just one of the many things that sets Psychonauts apart from the many other platform games you’ve played before.
For anyone looking to pick up a good action adventure game, especially on PC, I can’t recommend Psychonauts enough. It’s a fun little game that is smart, rewarding, and the production values are so high it’s hard to ignore. Especially at such a low price!
Unreal Gold (currently $8.95) [Link]
I shouldn’t even have to say all that much about Unreal Gold – it’s one of those games that really kicked off a lot of big things for gamers. Unreal gave us a taste of what a truly “Epic” shooter could be, all while showcasing some awesome visual effects (for the time), and paving the way for what would later become of the most recognizable online FPS franchises.
When you start Unreal, you’ll awake inside your holding cell within the recently crashed Vortex Rikers, a space ship transporting prisoners across the galaxy. You’re now free from imprisonment, but you’re marooned on an uncharted planet filled to the brim with the hostile Skaarj. Your only option is to traverse the land and seek out an escape, destroying everyone in your path.
Though other games, like Half-Life, were leaps and bounds ahead of Unreal in terms of presenting a decent narrative in a story-driven FPS, Unreal made up for the deficit with some amazing technology, and with some intense action sequences that simple can’t be topped. Gamers who skipped over Unreal back in it’s heyday will probably not be all that impressed by it’s massive outdoor environments, or it’s highly detailed textures, but back in 1999, these were incredible feats. Being used to the claustrophobic romps of Doom and Quake, I remember how blown away I was upon first playing Unreal – especially when my rig (packing a powerful Voodoo 2 card!) ran the game at 60+ frames per second.
The graphics were what drew me in, and the hard core gameplay is what kept me there… and what keeps me coming back for more every now and then, when I’m out of new games to play. I highly recommend Unreal Gold, even if you’re not too fond of the dated graphics. It’s a solid action FPS that defines the word “classic.”
Other Games I Wanted to Mention
There were a few more games I wanted to mention in the main write-up, but for various reasons, didn’t. These games are all good fun, and I recommend them almost as much as those above.
Uplink ($9.95) [Link] – Using the Uplink hacking interface, do various hacking jobs – just don’t get caught!
X3: Reunion ($19.95) [Link] – Start an empire from scratch in this space-faring economic sim
STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl ($19.95) [Link] – Discover the spoils and secrets of the infamous Chernobyl site
Unreal Tournament 2004 ($14.95) [Link] – Blast your friends and enemies online with an assortment of weapons and vehicles
Commander Keen ($4.95) [Link] – The classic id Software platformer. Save the galaxy from evil!