15 Classic PC Games That Still Hold Up
Running older games on PCs used to be an uphill battle, reliant on fan-made patches, task manager wizardry and Windows' unpredictable compatibility mode. Thanks to digital download platforms like Steam and GOG, however, booting up a classic title is just as easy as diving into a newer one. Through the highly scientific method of "polling my co-workers," I've come up with a list of titles that are at least 10 years old, and are just as much fun to play now as when they launched. If you've never tried them before, now's the perfect time — and if you have, they're well worth a replay.
Credit: Vivendi Universal
Fallout 3 (2008)
Before Fallout 3, the Fallout series was a cult isometric RPG series from Interplay. When Interplay disappeared into the wasteland, the series rights went to Bethesda, which reworked it from top to bottom. Unlike its predecessors, Fallout 3 put players in a first-person perspective and incorporated shooter elements in order to make the title more accessible. Players were wary of the changes, but once they dug a little deeper, they discovered that Fallout 3 had all the hallmarks of the series: the enormous world, the deep character customization, the branching narrative and more.
Far Cry 2 (2008)
Far Cry 5 came out recently, and the reviews have been polite. The gameplay works like gangbusters, but the setting doesn't feel fully realized. Reviewers pointed out — correctly — that Far Cry 2 handled the balance between chaotic open-world gameplay and a politically charged story much better. Taking control of a mercenary in a fictional Central African country, players face off against a Nietzschean arms dealer called the Jackal, for whom death and destruction is its own reward. The FPS gameplay is tight and varied, but more important, the setting feels realistic and explores colonialism's complicated legacy in Africa.
The Witcher (2007)
There's no denying that the two sequels to The Witcher are better games than the first. By today's standards, The Witcher is a little clunky and slow-paced. However, if you can deal with the game's steep learning curve, you'll be rewarded with an eclectic cast of likable characters, an unpredictable story that changes with your choices, satisfying combat mechanics and a deep character advancement system. Players take control of Geralt of Rivia: a witcher (monster hunter) who has lost his memories, but can perhaps regain them if he pursues the wraith-like entity known as the King of the Wild Hunt.
Civilization IV (2005)
If you want to know what makes Civilization IV worthwhile, I can answer in two words: "Baba Yetu." Christopher Tin's legendary theme song for the game is still the only video-game tune to ever win a Grammy award. Even once you get past the memorable intro video, however, there's a lot to like about Civilization IV. As in other games in this turn-based strategy series, you'll take control of a powerful civilization, led by a charismatic ruler, as you guide your tribe from humble beginnings in the Stone Age into interstellar glory in the near future. The late, great Leonard Nimoy provides narration.
Credit: 2K Games
When it first came out, Psychonauts was what one could charitably call a "cult classic" — and, uncharitably, a "flop." In spite of the game's massive critical success, audiences had a hard time getting invested in the game's bizarre premise. You play as Raz: a young psychic, sent away to a summer camp for kids with supernatural mental powers. Along the way, you'll learn telekinesis, levitation and other fantastical abilities, which help you defeat foes and reach tricker platforms in this action/adventure title. The real draw, however, is the diverse array of levels you'll tackle, including a suburban conspiracy thriller and a Mexican black-velvet bullfight.
First-person shooters and horror games don't generally mix, but in F.E.A.R., the improbable formula works. You take control of an operative who works for an elite squad of sharpshooters, called First Encounter Assault Recon. (See what they did there?) Along with your squad, you take on a madman named Paxton Fettel, who has taken over a huge building complex and sicced super-soldiers on its hapless occupants. The B-movie sci-fi setup, however, is only a facade. As you delve deeper, you learn about a psychic little girl named Alma, who may be at the center of the whole mess — and who can play with your perceptions of reality.
Credit: Vivendi Universal
Half-Life 2 (2004)
The first Half-Life was a remarkable game, which combined tactical first-person gunplay with clever physics-based puzzles. What it lacked, however, was a character-driven, cinematic story. Half-Life 2 picked up almost 20 years after the previous game. What started as a contained alien incident has exploded into a full-blown invasion, complete with a world government that's only too happy to serve the invaders. Gordon Freeman, armed with his trusty crowbar (and a delightful new gravity gun), must jump, shoot and puzzle his way across a gorgeous, dangerous world, aided by trusty sidekick Alyx Vance. The only downside is that we'll (probably) never see Half-Life 3.
Credit: Vivendi Universal
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
Back before Disney took over Lucasfilm, Star Wars games used to be a dime a dozen. They weren't always good, of course, but for every Yoda Stories there was a game like Knights of the Old Republic. This RPG answered the question on everyone's mind back in 2003: "What if Dungeons & Dragons took place in the Star Wars universe?" Using the Star Wars d20 pencil-and-paper role-playing rules, BioWare wound the clock back to 4,000 years before the films, and crafted a brand-new story about the Jedi, the Sith and a superweapon that could shape the fate of the galaxy.
RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 (2002)
RollerCoaster Tycoon kickstarted a whole genre, and RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 brought the series into full 3D, but RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 hit the sweet spot right in the middle. In this management simulation, you get to build your very own amusement park, complete with the wildest roller coasters you can imagine. The premise is simple: Buy up an empty plot of land, then start your very own park from scratch. The attractions, vendors and prices are all up to you, but you'll need to keep your parkgoers happy. And, yes: The game even measures how nauseated they feel after riding a particularly adventurous roller coaster.
Deus Ex (2000)
Back in the day, first-person shooters were as simple as their names implied. You shot things, in a first-person perspective, until either you or every other living thing in the game died a gruesome death. That started to change in the late '90s, and Deus Ex was one of the first times the experiment really worked. Rather than simply telling players to blast their way through the game's cyberpunk world, Deus Ex let them customize the protagonist, J.C. Denton, to be an expert marksman, a brilliant computer hacker, stealthy thief or anything in-between. You can even join different in-game factions, which affects the story's outcome.
Credit: Eidos Interactive
System Shock 2 (1999)
Before there was BioShock, there was System Shock. But since System Shock was occasionally a little too complicated for its own good, let's look instead at System Shock 2. Universally beloved ever since its launch, System Shock 2 was three things in one: a first-person shooter, a horror title and a role-playing game. As a soldier aboard a starship controlled by a hostile AI, you'll have to explore huge, open-ended levels while you battle your way past infected crew members. You can level up your skills in weaponry, repairs, hacking or even psionic powers, all while uncovering an engaging "technology-gone-wrong" narrative.
Credit: Electronic Arts
Baldur's Gate (1998)
Games based on Dungeons & Dragons are nothing new, but up until 1998, they were either a little impenetrable (Eye of the Beholder) or took a lot of liberties with the setting (Tower of Doom). Baldur's Gate marked the first time players could enjoy a complete D&D RPG without having to commit a novel-length instruction manual to memory first. You create a character from scratch, complete with a race, class and moral alignment. A fearsome man named Sarevok has been hunting down adventurers all along the Sword Coast — and you're next on his list. How your adventure proceeds from there is up to you.
Credit: Black Isle Studios
The real-time strategy genre emerged in the early '90s; it was arguably perfected in the late '90s when StarCraft hit store shelves. This military sci-fi title told the intertwining stories of three distinct races: the human Terrans, the insectile Zerg and the telepathic Protoss as they vied for control of a distant corner of outer space. What's remarkable about StarCraft is that the three races are distinct from one another, but still almost perfectly balanced. From constructing buildings, to amassing an army, to actually waging war, each race has a radically different playstyle, which has kept competitive players hooked for 20 years and counting.
The Curse of Monkey Island (1997)
The Curse of Monkey Island is a beautiful game on every level. You could mistake the gorgeous graphics for a classic Disney movie. The puzzles will tax your brain to its limit, until you stumble on the surprisingly logical answer — and wonder why you didn't see it sooner. Even the storyline has some depth, thanks to a heartfelt love story between Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate and his long-suffering sweetheart, Elaine Marley. When The Curse of Monkey Island came out, point-and-click adventure games were already on the wane, but thanks to this rollicking pirate tale, full of memorable jokes and catchy songs, they got to go out in style.
No discussion of classic PC games would be complete without mentioning Doom: the great-granddaddy of them all. Doom was — and still is — all things to all people. It's a challenging first-person shooter. It's a fully realized 3D world. It's a horror story. It's a menagerie of bizarre enemies. Doom combined inventive level design, satisfying shooting and over-the-top violence into a game that's hard to put down, even 25 years later. As a space marine stationed on Mars during a demonic invasion, your mission is simple enough: Send every enemy that looks at you funny back to hell, either by shotgun, chainsaw or BFG 9000.
Credit: Id Software