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It looks quite dated now, but if you put a set of headphones on and say “Roger that” a lot, it feels quite realistic.
28. Realms of Chaos
Realms of Chaos was one of the last Apogee titles to make it to the desktop, but it was one that’s certainly worth playing again.
The shareware version only had the first of three episodes available, and as far as I was aware, it was pretty difficult to get hold of from the game shops in the UK (I purchased it via a 3D Realms BBS).
On the face of it, Realms was a pretty bland looking 2D scroller, but it was hugely entertaining, and it allowed you to swap between the Conan-like character to a Wonder Woman-like character with the Space Bar for different combat abilities. The best part was the ability to save at any point in the game for a restart after dinner.
27. Silent Service 2
This is one I picked up as part of a compilation MicroProse pack from a charity shop in the mid to late 90s. Having played a few older submarine combat sims in the past, on various platforms, the extra power a decent PC offered was something I was looking forward to, and Silent Service 2 didn’t disappoint.
After much choosing of your sub and the area of war you were planning on taking to the might of the Japanese Navy, Silent Service 2 was a long drawn out game of tactics and choosing your future operations based on intel from CINCPAC. Finally though, if you were lucky, you’d get to face off against the Battleship Yamato. Not many lived to survive that bit, though.
26. Master of Orion
Master of Orion, the game that invented the 4X strategy term. An immense turn-based game that basically took over your life once you started to play it. I’d probably be lynched if I didn’t mention it in a list of DOS games.
Despite its popularity though, it’s barely mentioned today. In my opinion, it’s the sort of game everyone should have played at least once in their lives. It’s hard to compare too much to the moment where discovering Orion and the Guardian results in a complete loss of all your ships. Where colonization, military, research, planning, and combat all come together in such a way as to feel like your brain is melting out of your ears.
According to myth, the copy protection scheme used was so good (or bad) that the original game couldn’t even load up at times. Anyone have this issue?
25. Scorched Earth
Where Gorillas.BAS was quite a simple approach to the old artillery genre, Scorched Earth took everything one step further. “The mother of all games,” as it called itself.
You still had to wipe out the other player’s tank by judging the power, angle, and so on against the wind speed and direction, but with Scorched Earth, you earned money for a win which you could spend on more elaborate weaponry.
Linux users have enjoyed a 3D version of Scorched Earthfor years, but it was back in the good old BBS shareware days that version 1.2 appeared and we could fiddle around with the physics, economics, landscapes, and weapons. Sadly, I never got to play version 1.0, which the purist would argue is the better version (or 1.0b), but hey it was still an ace game. Did you know that you could edit the messages that appeared on the screen? I’ve only just found that out.
Further Reading: Google Stadia – The Big Unanswered Questions
24. Star Trek: 25th Anniversary
Quite possibly the best Star Trek game ever developed is the 25th Anniversary edition from Interplay. The floppy disk version, which came on about eight thousand disks, took an age to install. The CD version had voices from the original actors, better sound effects, and music too.
The two parts to the game, one where you were on the away mission and the other on-board the Enterprise, were marvelously designed. The point and click adventure mode on the away mission took the majority of the gameplay, from what I recall, and trying to get a redshirt crushed by rocks or eaten soon became the main focus.
Taking control of the Enterprise was immense fun during combat. I can only imagine the conversation on the Klingon bridge at watching me trying to bring the Enterprise about and continually missing. “Doch ghe”or “YItungHa’, qaH QaQ ‘Iv?” or something.
23. Simon the Sorcerer
Classic point and click adventure gaming in a very LucasArts vein. Everything was in Simon the Sorcerorthat should be in a graphical adventure. Humor, clever puzzles, great animation, an excellent script, and the odd poke at books such as Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Jack and the Beanstalk, and so on.
Simon’s dog Chippy finds a chest in the loft in which there’s the Ye Olde Spell Booke. After tossing it to one side, a portal opens and in goes Chippy followed by Simon, where he finds himself on a quest to rescue Calypso, the grand high wizard, from the evil sorcerer Sordid.
A great adventure game that’s often overlooked these days, with the CD version having the voice cast of Chris Barrie. And finally, was I the only one who wanted a bed like Calypso’s, tucked away in a window recess?
22. Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge
One more adventure before I move on, and one of the most enjoyable I played on my early PC: Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge.
I remember the box had a comic inside detailing the time between Space Quest 1 and this episode. Sadly, I never got around to playing Space Quest 1, though.
The humor in Space Quest II was one of the main draws of the game. Elements such as “We hope you’re not looking for anyone to blame because you died” messages in the About Space Quest 2 menu and the writing on the bathroom wall on Vohaul’s asteroid that mentions the developers and other games. There’s even a reference to Leisure Suit Larry when Roger Wilko is rendered unconscious.
21. U.S. Navy Fighters
Combat simulators were extremely popular for the PC in the DOS era, but U.S. Navy Fighters was one of my personal favorites.
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U.S. Navy Fighters looked amazing. In fact, the DX2-66 I had couldn’t cope with the highest level of graphics. Even my mate’s DX4-100 struggled sometime later. The missions were well conceived, and you could even create your own missions.
A pretty amazing combat sim this. I’ll even go out on a limb and say it was better than Falcon 3.0. Mind you, your wingman had the nasty habit of flying off and taking out a target that was three hundred miles away for some odd reason.
SimAnt was an interesting game I picked up at one of those travelling computer fairs – one that was held in Bolton. I recall there being a huge manual with it, a veritable encyclopedia of ants as well as the instructions on how to play the game.
There were several modes of play, where you had to raise your colony of ants, hunt for food, and defend and attack other colored ants as well other insects, which could also be used for food. It was oddly absorbing being an ant.
According to legend, Will Wright developed the concept for The Sims while coding SimAnt. And doesn’t the House View remind you of Plants vs. Zombies?
Further Reading: Hands-on with Google Stadia
19. Alien Breed
This top-down, Gauntlet-like game was immensely enjoyable back in the day. Developed by Team 17, of Superfrog (we’re coming to that) and Wormsfame, the game was obviously heavily influenced by the Alien films.
You played as a space marine-type dude, heavily armed and up against a seemingly unlimited number of aliens. All you needed to do was find the exit to the next level and progress deeper into the station, all the while picking up credits to buy better weapons and health packs to heal yourself with.
The levels were huge and maze-like, making them a dream come true for the gaming cartographer. And the two player option was great.
Archipelagos is by far one of most intriguing and absorbing puzzles games ever created. It’s a little like a cross between The Sentinel and Populous, in that you have to manipulate the 3D landscape in order to build land bridges across the 10,000 different islands.
When you’ve made it to another island, you’ll need to destroy the 2001: A Space Odyssey obelisk radiation generators on each one. Each generator is fed power through several sub-generators, so you’ll need to wipe them out before having about a minute to finish off the actual generator.
It’s one of those games that takes ages to complete, if you ever do, but is thoroughly enjoyable the entire time.
Superfrog is one of the most enjoyable sidescrolling 2D platformers for DOS, an absolute treat. You take on the role of a frog, who was once a prince that has been turned into said Anura by a wicked witch – who has also kidnapped your girlfriend.
Naturally, you’ll need to rescue her and get back to being a human again, and you do this by racing through five different worlds, collecting coins and other things. Think of Superfrog as an early Sonic the Hedgehog clone and you won’t go wrong.
Sadly, there’s no detailed intro with the PC version, as there is with the Amiga version. But still, a cracking little game.
16. The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall
We’re all familiar with the current Elder Scrolls games these days—Oblivion, and of course, Skyrim. However, way back in 1996 Bethesda released the second of The Elder Scrolls series, Daggerfall.
Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall was an immense game, so big it actually had a map size of 62,394 square miles (apparently the biggest map in any game – unless you want to count Minecraft), complete with 15,000 cities, towns, and hamlets for you to wander aimlessly around, and hundreds of individuals you can occasionally poke your sword at.
Daggerfall doesn’t get quite as much appreciation these days as it deserves. Obviously, Skyrim and Oblivion still take up the lion’s share of the internet, but despite its age, Daggerfall still has a lot to offer.
15. Lighthouse: The Dark Being
This is my wife’s favorite Sierra On-Line game ever. A 1996 largely forgotten adventure where you have to find various clues to find the whereabouts of Dr. Jeremiah Krick and his infant daughter, Amanda, in an alien and parallel world to ours.
The game was on CD, so featured lots of excellent Myst-like graphics, cut scenes, and tons of sound effects, voices, and so on. I can still recall being downstairs in our house at the time and listening to a baby crying upstairs for hours at a time while my wife played the game.
The puzzles were generally good – aside from the safe combination that had everyone stumped – and required more thought than your average point and click adventure.
Further Reading: 50 Underrated Commodore Amiga Games
Once called “the best science fiction game available on computer,” Starflight is considered the genesis of the open-space exploration, role-playing genre, and the direct spiritual descendant of Star Control 2.
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You gather minerals to sell in order to gain enough credits for upgrading your ship. You can explore the galaxy, meet other species, get into fights with them, hire and train crew members, and stop your homeworld from being destroyed by solar flares.
It was an immensely deep game, with a wicked anti-copy system where you had to enter a code to warp to another star system. If you entered the wrong code, after a certain length of time, the Space Police came looking for you and destroyed your ship for using an illegal copy of the game. Thankfully, I bought mine from a jumble sale.
A game of intense details and micro-management, an absolute credit to the early PC.
13. Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Desert Strike was a game I immensely enjoyed on the Sega Mega Drive, so finding a boxed copy of the DOS version in a charity shop some years ago was a heck of a score – especially since a lot of the copies of it were pulled from the shelves on account of references to the Gulf War.
It’s such a great little game, flying over the dunes and wind-swept reaches of the enemy territory, looking for SAM sites, ammo and fuel dumps, and power stations to take out with your Hellfire missiles and other weapons of equal destruction.
A game that’s sadly not mentioned much now, but a classic to those who played it first time around. Interestingly, the German release had to have the blood effects removed before it was allowed to be sold.
We’re quite used to violent games today. Barely anyone bats an eyelid at a character dropping from a building and sinking a hidden knife into someone’s neck. However, back in 1993, Syndicate caused a few raised eyebrows and a sharp intake of breath from the various focus groups on video game violence.
This dark look at the future has you trying to take over the world with the help of a team of androids. You’re set kill orders, rescuing allies, assassinations, and persuasive tactics to help grow your influence, power, and cash reserves. You could be as ultra-violent or as passive and sneaky as you like, as long as the end goal of world domination was achieved.
A lot of us here cut our teeth on Syndicate, so there’s a lot of love for this now mostly ignored title. The sequel was even more intense, too…
11. The Incredible Machine
I had plenty of first-person shooters, combat sims, space trading games galore, and platformers to pick from in my diskette boxes of goodies. But the one game that kept me coming back for more, time and time again, was The Incredible Machine.
This amazing little puzzle game grabbed you and refused to let go until it was late at night and you finally realized that you had work to go to in the morning. It was seriously addictive.
According to internet legend, which I can’t honestly remember if it’s true or not, if you played the game on Valentines or Christmas Day, you’d get either a heart-shaped balloon or Christmas Tree to use.
10. Raptor: Call of the Shadows
A great vertically scrolling shooter from Apogee, one that seriously threatened what little remained of a social life you once had, or – again – any chance of getting up in the morning.
Raptor was fairly basic in its gameplay. You headed ever onward, collecting power-ups and cash and obliterating everything that streamed down from above. After each level you could use the collected cash to buy even more destructive weapons or the ability to last a little longer. Either way, it was a fab little game – even the shareware version of one level.
Further Reading: Shadow Ghost Review
9. Pipe Mania
Pipe Mania was a cunning puzzle game my brother used to play endlessly. It has you placing down sections of a pipe, that appear Tetris-like on one section of the screen, to a set grid in the main game area. But you’ve only got a limited amount of time before a green liquid (sewerage?) starts to flow down the pipe.
If you manage to organize your pipe laying well enough, then the ooze will flow through the sections and you’ll score enough to proceed to the next level. If not, then it’s game over and start again.
A clever little game, and one that was fiendishly addictive. Published by LucasArts in the US, the UK version was by Empire Interactive. It also appeared in the second Microsoft Windows Entertainment Pack.
8. Alien Carnage (Halloween Harry)
Alien Carnage was Apogee’s first 2D platformer, where you played as the hard as nails Harry tasked with ridding the world of the attacking aliens, who were turning people into zombies and freeing captive humans. The jetpack wearing, and initially flame-thrower wielding Harry could collect coins from downed aliens, and use the coins at certain stations to buy different weapons from missiles to mini Nukes and an Omega Bomb.
The shareware version was simply called Halloween Harry when it was released and later named Alien Carnage for all four episodes. Since 2007, it’s been freeware, so find a copy and get playing.
7. The Chaos Engine
The Bitmap Brothers certainly knew how to make a cracking game, and Chaos Engine was one such example. With their usual flair for top-down mayhem, The Bitmap Brothers gave us this wonderful steampunk themed game, filled with tons of enemies, two-player action, loads of power-ups, and great sound effects with a cool sound track playing continuously in the background.
Seriously, one of the best DOS games of the mid-90s, although originally banned in Germany due to excessive violence, it still looks and plays pretty well today. It’s Ikari Warriors evolved!
Ask most people for a few memorable DOS games from their past, and you’ll more than likely have answers such as Doom, Quake, X-Wing, and so on, which is fair enough. But the canny DOS gamer would, among those titles, name Descent.
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This seasickness-inducing true 3D game was an absolute marvel to behold. Flying through the various mines looking for the exit and the reactor to destroy, while trying to work out whether you were the right-way-up or still upside down, was one of the most visually impressive gaming experiences of 1995. Even when you entered a cheat code and had the computer voice call you a cheater.
Ocean Software and Digital Image Design have a number of great games under their collective belts. One memorable DOS game is Epic, an immense space shooter with a fantastic story and beautifully rendered graphics.
While Epic wasn’t quite up to the same graphical standard as, say, X-Wing, it was a fun game to play. The missions involved you taking out mines, enemy spacecraft, and dropping down to a planet’s surface to destroy a communications array or something. It had plenty: fast space combat, a Battlestar Galactica-like storyline, and quite splendid visuals.
Further Reading: What Half-Life 3 Would Have Been About
MDK was a thoroughly strange game I picked up on sale from a local computer game shop in Leeds towards the end of 1998.
This third-person run and gun, with hints of puzzles, has you as Kurt Hectic in a bio-armor suit taking on waves of enemies on board giant, city-sized Minecrawlers heading towards various locations on Earth. Obviously, you need to stop these Mincecrawlers and save the planet. To help, you have an array of weapons, from a chaingun on your arm to The World’s Smallest Nuclear Bomb – and for some reason or another, a genetically altered dog called Max.
Odd it may be, but it looked and played brilliantly on my newly purchased Pentium 133 MMX PC. Apparently, there was supposed to be a film made of the game some time ago. Naturally, this didn’t take place.
Hewson Consultants Ltd. came up with some of the finest computer games ever conceived. The likes of Firelord, Uridium, Nebulus, Ranarama – all for various platforms – were played countless times by us in our youth.
This “immensely playable game” (as quoted by Crash for the Spectrum version in 1989) not only looked fantastic – complete with scantily-clad fairies – but also played extremely well. In fact, it’s aged very well indeed.
Playing as the bearded Stormlord, you’ve got to travel across the scrolling platform levels and free fairies trapped in glass spheres by a wicked witch. Once you’ve released these nude nymphs, it’s off to the next level, but doing so involves you using various objects to allow you get to otherwise inaccessible areas of the level. It’s all rather clever and a great game to play. Incidentally, the Sega Mega Drive version had to be cleaned up before it was allowed on sale – cleaned up as in the fairies had to put some clothes on.
2. Jill of the Jungle
The pretty bland looking first episode of a trilogy of games, Jill of the Jungle, was surprisingly good. Okay so it was a basic platformer, and it was awful to control, but this shareware competitor to Commander Keen and the like worked quite well.
You play as Jill, an Amazonian warrior who has to get from one end of the jungle to the other. Or something like that, I can’t really remember to be honest. Needless to say, it’s more of a navigational puzzle, action platformer than an all-out combat platformer, as you try and figure out how to get through the maze of blocks, vines, trees, and everything else.
A decent enough, harmless game this, with the strange addition of having every key on the keyboard mapped to a sound effect in the game.
In my humble opinion, Tyrian is the best top-down scrolling shooter ever – an opinion I’m prepared for some backlash for.
Tyrian has you as ace pilot Trent Hawkins, seeking revenge against MicroSol, who killed your best mate Buce Quesilliac over the discovery of an ultra-rare mineral called Gravitium.
It’s a packed game, with tons of enemies, loads of extreme power-ups, quick reflexes and nimble fingers, and a cracking soundtrack with equally great sound effects.
You could also link up a couple of PCs with a Null Modem cable or network and get some two player action against the onslaught of MicroSol henchmen. An amazing game that’s barely mentioned these days, but certainly needs to be revisited.
The games that didn’t make the list, but are still underrated and utterly awesome:
Jazz Jackrabbit – A fantastic platformer, one that really put the PC out there as a proper games platform capable of knocking the consoles off their perches.
Day of the Tentacle – Credited as the father of the cartoon adventure, Day of the Tentacle is a great adventure title with superb writing and gameplay.
Aces Over Europe – An immense combat simulator with a huge 200-page instruction manual to weigh the box down.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Text adventures don’t get much better than this.
Hexen – ID Software’s sequel to Heretic, built on an enhanced version of the Doom engine, was pretty impressive.
Rogue – Everyone mentions Rogue-like games these days, but this is where it all started. From simple ASCII dungeon crawlers come great things.
Eye of the Beholder – A great RPG dungeon crawler series of games, based and built on the D&D games.