Titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Civilization V epitomize just how much video gaming has progressed the past few decades. But even though these modern bestsellers put their predecessors to shame on the visual front, good gameplay experiences are timeless. That’s why many classics have enjoyed new life through community-supported remakes, or even exact clones developed from scratch. Some games were even intentionally developed with a pixelated “retro” flavor, with great effect.
What follows are twenty games that represent some of the best video gaming from or inspired by the pre-3D era. Don’t be fooled by the simplistic visuals: some of these downloads will lead to bouts of nostalgia for our older readers, while younger ones may discover that sometimes a great experience doesn’t require a 3D graphics card. More importantly, all the following games are downloadable for free!
The crowning glory of Ben Croshaw, now a video game journalist and writer, The Chzo Mythos is a set of four adventure games tied together under one centuries-spanning story arc. From a haunted manor set in the 21st century, to a spooky scout ship traveling in space four hundred years later, the four installments (5 Days a Stranger, 7 Days a Skeptic, Trilby's Notes, and 6 Days a Sacrifice) feature a variety of horrific settings that reveal the story behind a demented entity piecemeal. Even though the characters and places have more in common with 2D mario than actual people, all four games will scare you silly with a disturbing sense of what you can't see.
The Ur-Quan are the antagonists of this science-fiction game of exploration, resource management, diplomacy, and combat. As the pilot of a starship built with advanced yet ancient alien technology, on a forgotten human colony, it is up to you to free Earth from a imprisoning "slave shield", rebuild the long-defeated Alliance of Free Stars, and stop the Ur-Quan from carrying out their mission of enslaving or eliminating other sentient life in the galaxy. The Ur-Quan Masters is an open-source remake of Star Control 2, a classic PC game that featured a memorable mix of one-on-one spaceship "melees" and adventure gaming elements.
Bitfighter is a 2D shooter based on Robotron, a 1982 cooperative multiplayer game. Player from color-coded teams maneuver their craft around a top-down battlefield, touching power ups and exposing enemies to deadly fire along the way. But annihilating opposing forces isn't the only name of the game. There are also capture-the-flag, domination, and even put-the-ball-into-the-goal modes. Everything is rendered with line drawings, along the lines of Asteroids, another classic game. Last but not least, Bitfighter makes map creation and sharing easy.
Pac PC an open-source Pac-Man clone for the PC. 'Nuff said. Just in case you need a recap: maneuvering your yellow avatar (named Pac-Man) around the maze, eating all the dots while avoiding the four ghosts chasing you down, is the only way to get past each level. Eat any of the four slightly-larger pellets near each corner of the maze, and Pac-Man temporarily becomes a ghost-eating machine.
Like Pac PC, PC Bert is an open-source clone of a well-known classic called Q*Bert. But for those too young to remember: The player character Q*Bert starts each level on the top of a pyramid of cubes. The objective? Change all cubes into a specific color, by maneuvering Q*Bert to jump over all of them—all while avoiding deadly enemies that can kill you with one touch, or irritating ones that undo your progress. Levels of course become harder, with latter ones requiring you touch each cube multiple times to change it to the correct color.
Imagine you're a worm underground, fighting for your survival against other worms with miniguns, shotguns, and the like. You blast away dirt real-time, use your grappling hook and move quickly across empty spaces, and even lure enemies right into your time-delay bombs and gunfire. That's what Liero was all about, and OpenLieroX is the open-source remake of the 1998 multiplayer deathmatch game. Liero (Finnish for earthworm) itself is inspired by Worms, a turn-based (yet no less entertaining) excuse for worms to blast each other away.
Thanks to Tron: Legacy, you probably know that most vehicles in Disney's imagined virtual reality leave walls of light behind. Not only for aesthetic purposes, mind you, but for unlucky or unskilled enemies to crash into and die. It's no surprise that Disney turned this competitive mechanic into an arcade game. GLTron is simply the 3D open-source version of that coin-operated fun machine's first level. Maneuver your light cycle against the computer AI or human opponents online. Force them to crash into your wall of light.