There are many perks to being a PC gamer, but we will save extolling them all for a day when we are feeling particularly inflammatory. For now, we will focus on just one: the best old games remain forever playable.
Yes, even on the highest end multi-cored rigs with the latest X-Titan Turbo Hydra Fulcrum Mk.III GPU, you can still boot up veteran strategy games, majestic ancient RPGs, trusty ol’ point-and-clicks, and other legendary games of yore. These enduring classics will transport you back to the halcyon days of the past and prove that everything was just better back then. Sometimes these old PC games are even updated thanks to ongoing patches made by an adoring community.
Below you will find a testament to those PC stalwarts which prove that great old games are truly timeless, and deserve your time to this day. If you have missed any of these special PC gaming experiences, correct your mistake with these, the very best old games around.
The best old games are:
Strategy gaming meets turn-based tactics. The first X-COM game is still one of the best strategy games ever released on PC. This excellent old PC game inspired the team that went on to make Fallout, birthed several spin-offs and sequels, and was officially remade in 2012 as XCOM: Enemy Unknown – one of the other best strategy games ever made on PC. That’s some legacy.
In X-COM: UFO Defense, much like the remake, players must defend Earth from an alien invasion. In doing so, players must manage the clandestine X-COM group, choosing where to position bases and what technologies to research in order to effectively combat the extraterrestrial threat. Players must also win battles on the ground using a squad of X-COM soldiers in turn-based tactical combat.
The game itself has aged brilliantly where gameplay is concerned, though it is nowhere near as pretty as its modern-day remake. Assuming total control of mankind’s final barrier against the alien menace is still a joy: progressing through the research tree, turning your operatives into psionic super-soldiers, and then deploying them in the field to kick xeno-butt never gets old.
A 2D platformer where absolutely everything can kill you in an instant: long falls, any enemy attack, grazing past an obstacle, overcooking a grenade… the list goes on. Its puzzles are complex, its gaps between saves overly long, and its enemies nearly impossible to avoid. Frustrating? Rewarding is the word you are looking for. Probably.
At the centre of all this struggle is the titular Abe, an enslaved Mudokon who discovers the meat processing factory where he works is soon to be the slaughterhouse of his entire race. Abe breaks free and begins a quest of emancipation that the player can either go along with (making their journey much more difficult) or ignore. Choosing to steer a group of your own people into a volley of gunfire as a means of distracting an enemy is never an easy decision to make.
If you are not keen on jumping too far back in time in order to play this, one of the best old games available, check out the official HD remaster of the hilarious Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty.
Back in 1998, Half-Life’s storytelling and the conviction of its fictional world were far beyond anything else in the genre. Indeed, they were beyond anything else in gaming.
The opening in which you fly through the Black Mesa Research Facility is magnificent. Radioactive waste passes by, witty comments sound out from speakers overhead, doors open and close all around. Valve crafted a world full of minutiae and intricacies that you could pore over in between all the alien fighting and physics-based puzzling. Seamless level transitions and a narrative that never broke away from the first-person perspective make this game not only one of the best old games, but one of the finest games ever made. Why waste your time waiting for the mythical Half-Life 3 when you have the amazing original.
Like any Civ game, Alpha Centauri is all about colonising a world, growing an empire, and competing and cooperating as you see fit with other factions vying for power. The twist? Set on a distant planet in the future, this old PC game is far more story-driven, forcing you to interact with mysterious alien lifeforms and races that previously inhabited the planet.
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri fits the 4X games formula of empire-building, research, war, and diplomacy with an excellent story. Featuring fascinating factions and complex leaders, Alpha Centauri offers a more focused experience than the ‘blank canvas’ of the main series. The smaller scope of the game emphasises everything that is great about this old game’s narrative, helping Alpha Centauri remain as memorable as always.
There is something about that beautiful, seemingly hand-drawn aesthetic of the Infinity Engine that is completely timeless, and Baldur’s Gate II uses that to deliver one of the best RPGs of all time. That means the pressure’s on for the sequel – yes, it’s actually happening – Baldur’s Gate 3.
Gamers brought up on modern role-players may have trouble adapting to the tactical Dungeons & Dragons combat and plethora of dialogue, but it is precisely these traits that make Baldur’s Gate II endure as one of the best old PC games. The dark fantasy setting of Amn is a joy to explore with your party of companions, who are unforgettable for their excellent writing and catchy sound-bites (“Go for the eyes, Boo!”). From its pretty pre-rendered backgrounds to its rich, mysterious world brimming with character, Baldur’s Gate II is truly ageless.
This list will not turn into an ode to the great CRPGs of the ‘90s, we promise, but… just… one… more…
In contrast to Baldur’s Gate II’s classic, companion heroics, Planescape: Torment is a lonely, personal journey to uncover the lost memories of a person who has lived and died untold lives with no recollection of them. Set in a surreal otherworld of multiple planes and bizarre creatures that defy conventional fantasy tropes, Torment is one of the oddest and greatest videogame stories ever told. Focused more on dialogue and choices than combat, Torment encourages you to uncover its world through exploration, conversations, and clever, choice-filled questing.
Visually, Deus Ex has not aged as gracefully as some of the pixel-era games on this list, but its deep RPG systems, dense hub-worlds, and intriguing conspiracy crackpot plot make it proper ‘PC games bucket list’ fodder.
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The number of ways in which you can tackle the game’s missions still hold up today: you have countless means of moulding JC Denton to your play style. Your choices about how you interact with the world all feel significant and, as a result, Deus Ex continues to be the gold standard that immersive sims, stealth games, and RPGs strive for, and remains one of the best old games on PC.
The lack of tribute to this gunslinging wild-western shooter is no less criminal than the exploits of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Outlaws was among the PC’s best first-person shooters, sprite-based or not.
Several gameplay innovations helped Outlaws stand out, including a manual reload system, and the first ever sniper scope used in a shooter. The orchestrated Sergio Leone-inspired soundtrack is spine-tingling, and the animated cutscenes have that lovely LucasArts touch that provides context to the tough, rootin’ tootin’ gunfights taking place across trains, frontier towns, and other environs of the Old West. Outlaws is a goldmine of excellent stylistic and gameplay features in a classic FPS package, and an exceptional old PC game at that.
Coming in the twilight years of point-and-click adventure games, The Longest Journey is a poignant swansong for the genre. You are April, an 18-year-old student who shifts between two contrasting realms to restore the mysterious force that allows them to exist harmoniously.
The contrasting realms of the magical Arcadia and gritty urban Stark realm are evocatively presented, and in both you will meet characters as strange and well-rounded as your strong, troubled protagonist. Yes, it suffers from the point-and-click pitfall of absurdly cryptic puzzles, but they are worth toughing through to experience this beautiful interdimensional adventure. The Longest Journey’s sequel Dreamfall is also worth playing, though it is not quite on a par with Funcom’s original.
The continuation of online support and the fact that Blizzard released a patch for Diablo II in 2016 attest to the game’s enduring appeal as one of the finest old PC games, even as we eagerly await information on the Diablo 4 release date.
The high-intensity action RPG mechanics, which have been emulated but rarely topped by other games over the years, and its grungy, well-animated pixel art set Diablo II apart. Its loot-‘em-up gameplay is so appealing that it does not need to ‘move with the times’. Blizzard’s perfection of this formula has allowed Diablo II to completely defy the typical videogame life cycle.
Looking at the image above, it is easy to say that Fallout has come a long way since the isometric days. But that would ignore the tremendous narrative and mechanical depth hiding amidst those pixels and pre-rendered backdrops. Fallout 2 is on Steam and, in high-res and with cloud saves, this fantastic old game is all the more appealing to revisit.
Fallout 2 is not forgiving, and bad decisions or character development can essentially ruin your experience. But ride the wave of its deep systems and you have one of the greatest RPGs of all time. The range of factions, side-quests, and characters paint a rich picture of a post-apocalyptic world that is a grim joy to explore. It is harsh, bleak, and kind of ugly, but Fallout 2’s wild wasteland came to define the series.
Still one of the funniest and most whimsical building sims on PC, Theme Hospital is a unique gem that no developer has even dared try to emulate. Its sense of humour ranges from excellent soundbites of the receptionists urging patients not to die in the corridors, to the emergent chaos of a mass vomit breakout in the waiting areas. AI prodigy Demis Hassabis was even involved in the project as a young boy, making this literally the work of a genius.
The cutesy visual style, so great at conveying fictitious illnesses like Bloaty Head and Hairyitis, conceals a relentless and challenging sim. Up there with the best old PC games, Theme Hospital stands in a league of its own… unless you count spiritual successor Two Point Hospital.
You never forget the confused fear you feel when a mutant is apologising to you while battering your head in with a wrench. It is harrowing, deeply unsettling, and captures the dark spirit of this lonesome story in which you are hounded by a murderous AI aboard a spaceship.
Yes, System Shock 2 was sort-of succeeded by BioShock, but it is a tonally different beast – a psychological horror that drips with a cold, claustrophobic atmosphere. Grab one of the mods that updates the graphics and lighting to revive that intense technophobia you felt all those years ago. What’s more, thanks to a Kickstarter project, we will be getting a shiny System Shock remake, too.
It is hard to imagine anything dislodging Doom’s place in the pantheon of PC gaming greats. However, it is Quake that sees id’s vision of demonic corridor-shooting executed most successfully. Of the two forefathers of those great franchises, Quake proves most affecting to revisit in 2016. Doom’s cacodemons and hell knight sprites look kitsch now, but Quake’s roster of far less recognisable abominations – all lipless mouths and faceless horrors – still manage to unsettle. They are helped along by flawless sound design created in collaboration with Trent Reznor, and a medieval occult level design aesthetic that falls somewhere between Doom and Hexen.
The culmination of those elements – not forgetting its excellent arsenal of high-impact, heavy weapons – feels like id’s best attempt to pull together the elements they experimented with throughout the ’90s. Post-Devil Daggers, Quake’s graphics are considered retro chic.
Now that you’ve taken a historical tour of our most cherished classic videogame memories, you know what to do: turn those old games, into ‘sold’ games. Ok, we’ll stick to writing, writing more list features, that is. Speaking of which, how about you find out about the finest when it comes to the opposite of old games: the best new PC games might lack the nostalgia of the games above, but they are still worth your time.
And, if you want the cream of the crop both new and old, here are the best PC games of all time. For now, though, we’ll be going back to embracing the sweet, sweet nostalgia of our misspent youth.