Old games: PC classics that are still worth playing

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There are many perks to being a PC gamer, but we’ll save extolling them all for a day when we’re feeling particularly inflammatory. For today, we’ll focus only on one - the fact that classic old games remain forever playable.

For everything in PC gaming, old and new, PCGamesN has you covered. 

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, sometimes even updated thanks to ongoing patches made by an adoring community.

So here’s a testament to those PC stalwarts which prove that great old games are truly timeless, and deserve your time to this day.

X-COM: UFO Defense

X-COM: UFO Defense

Strategy gaming meets turn-based tactics, the first X-COM game is still one of the best strategy games ever released on PC. It 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 in the remake, players are tasked with defending 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. As an extension of that 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’s nowhere near as pretty as its modern-day remake. Assuming total control of mankind’s final barrier against the alien menace is still a total 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.

Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee

old games Oddworld Abe's Oddysee

A 2D platformer where absolutely everything can kill you in an instant: large drops, any enemy attack, grazing past an obstacle, overcooking a grenade. Its puzzles are complex, its gaps between saves overly long and its enemies nearly impossible to avoid. Frustrating? Rewarding is the word you’re looking for. Probably.

At the centre of all this struggle is the titular Abe, an enslaved Mudokon who discovers the meat processing factory he’s waxing the floors of is soon to be the slaughterhouse of his 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're not keen on jumping too far back in time in order to play this gem, check out the official HD remaster Oddworld: New 'N' Tasty.

Half-Life

old games Half-Life

Back in 1998, Half-Life’s storytelling and the conviction of its fictional world were far beyond anything else in the genre. Hell, they were beyond anything else in gaming.

The quality is evident right from the magnificent opening in which players fly through the Black Mesa Research Facility. Radioactive waste passes by, witty comments sound out from speakers overhead, doors open and close all around. Valve crafted a truly convincing world, one that was full of minutiae and intricacies players 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 as compelling to play today as it was upon release.

As testament to the enduring love fans have for the Half-Life series, there are still a number of fan-made narrative expansions being released for the game, like the Sven Co-op standalone.

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri

Old games Alpha Centauri

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 is that it’s set on a distant planet in the future, is far more story-driven, and forces you to interact with mysterious alien life-forms and races that inhabited the planet previously.

What makes this one of the best 4X games is that it fits the 4X formula of empire-building, research, war and diplomacy within an excellent story, fascinating factions and complex leaders, offering a far more focused experience than the ‘blank canvas’ of the main series. The recent inability of Firaxis’ Beyond Earth to emulate this classic is a testament to its enduring quality.

Baldur’s Gate II

Old games Baldur's Gate II

There’s something about that beautiful, seemingly hand-drawn aesthetic of the Infinity Engine that’s completely timeless, and Baldur’s Gate II utilises that to deliver an RPG for the ages.

Gamers brought up on modern role-players may have trouble adapting to the tactical AD&D combat and plethora of dialogue, but it’s precisely these traits that make Baldur’s Gate II endure as one of the best PC RPGs. 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.

Planescape: Torment

Old games Planescape Torment

This list won’t 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, companiony heroics, Planescape: Torment is a lonely, personal journey, as you seek to uncover the lost memories of a person who’s 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.

Spiritual sequel Torment: Tides of Numenera is playable now if this one doesn't slake your thirst. 

Deus Ex

Old games Deus Ex

Visually, Deus Ex hasn’t 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.

The diversity of ways in which you can tackle the game still holds up today; you have countless means of moulding JC Denton to your play style, and your choices about how you interact with the world all feel significant. In terms of empowering the player with choice, Deus Ex continues to be the gold standard for RPGs to strive for. If you go back to it, check out the free Deus Ex Revision mod to snazz up the game for modern rigs.

Outlaws

Old games Outlaws

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.

The gameplay featured several innovations that made it stand out from its peers, 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 gives some 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.

The Longest Journey

Old games Longest Journey

Coming in the twilight years of point-and-click 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 in an attempt to restore the mysterious force that allows them to exist in harmony.

The contrasting realms of the magical Arcadia and gritty urban Stark realm are evocatively presented, and in both you’ll meet strange, well-rounded characters who you grow to care for along with the strong, troubled protagonist. Yes, it suffers from the point-and-click pitfall of absurdly cryptic puzzles, but they’re worth toughing through to experience this beautiful interdimensional adventure. The Longest Journey's sequel Dreamfall is also worth playing, though it's not quite on a par with Funcom's original.

Diablo II

Old games Diablo 2

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 even in a post-Diablo III world.

So what keeps it alive? Maybe it’s the high-intensity hack-and-slash mechanics which have been emulated but rarely topped by other games over the years, or its grungy, well-animated pixel art, or the fact that its loot-‘em-up gameplay is so primally appealing that it doesn’t need to ‘move with the times’. Thanks to its perfection of the above formula, Diablo II has completely defied the typical videogame life cycle.

Fallout 2

Old games Fallout 2

Looking at this, it’s easy to say that Fallout’s come a long way since the isometric days, but that’d be ignoring the tremendous narrative and mechanical depth hiding amidst those pixels and pre-rendered backdrops. The fact that Fallout 2 is now on Steam in high-res and with cloud saves makes it all the more appealing to revisit.

Fallout 2 wasn’t forgiving, and bad decisions or character development could 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’s a grim joy to explore. It’s harsh, it’s bleak, it’s kind of ugly, but isn’t that kind of the point in a series like Fallout?

Theme Hospital

Old games Theme Hospital

Still one of the funniest and most whimsical building/management 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 on 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 relentlessly fast-paced and challenging sim.There is just no modern-day equivalent, thus Theme Hospital continues to stand in a league of its own.

System Shock 2

Old games System Shock 2

You never forget the confused fear you feel when a mutant is apologising to you while battering your head in with a wrench. It’s harrowing and deeply unsettling, capturing the dark spirit of this lonesome story in which you’re hounded by a murderous AI aboard a spaceship.

Yes, System Shock 2 was sort-of succeeded by Bioshock, but it’s a tonally different beast - a psychological horror that drips with a cold, claustrophobic atmosphere that’s rarely been replicated. Grab one of the mods that updates the graphics and lighting to revive that intense technophobia you felt playing it all those years ago. It's good (if frightening) to know that, thanks to a Kickstarter, we're eventually going to be getting shiny System Shock remake too.

Quake

Old games Quake

Nothing now can dislodge Doom’s place within the pantheon of PC gaming greats, but it’s arguably Quake that sees id’s vision of demonic corridor-shooting executed most successfully. Of the two forefathers of those great franchises, it’s certainly Quake that 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’re 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 nineties. Post-Devil Daggers, we’re officially in the era now where Quake’s graphics are considered retro chic. And if you've gibbed your way through this classic already, there's always MachineGames' new Quake episode to take on.

Thoughts? What treasures of the old world have we omitted? Send us your senile ramblings in the comments below.

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QDP2 avatarxrobz1x avatarNeurosploit avatar3211 avatarJohnMiles avatarAnAuldWolf avatar+4
xrobz1x Avatar
14
xrobz1x(1 hour played)
10 Months ago

Ther ehave been developers tryinmg to recreate the theme hospital thing, but they failed.

2
3211 Avatar
3
10 Months ago

" If you go back to it, check out the free Deus Ex Revision mod to snazz the game up for modern rigs."

That shit sellout made mod needs to fucking die and stop being mentioned. What you need is not that piece of shit retarded mod that changes the level design and music. What you need is the GMDX v.8 mod for Deus Ex which makes Deus Ex trully the best game in the history of the medium

2
AnAuldWolf Avatar
863
9 Months ago

I'd add Ultima VII to this list. I'd also mention looking up eXoDOS on the Internet archive so that people can explore this lost, brilliant era for themselves.

2
Sandman Avatar
1
7 Months ago

Oh, and Ultima Underworld 1 and 2! Those are some of my favorite games of all time.

1
QDP2 Avatar
638
10 Months ago

I feel upset, yet not wronged, that Half Life didn't make it onto this list.

A classic, but I don't believe it's worth playing any more, being incomplete and no signs of any future to the games series...

1
Neurosploit Avatar
50
Shriven Avatar
3368
9 Months ago

"The Hospital administrator is cheating"

1
AnAuldWolf Avatar
863
8 Months ago

A few of my own additions since the last...

[Albion]

This is mostly here because it has a bizarrely philosophical anarcho-primitivist story. I'm no fan of neo-Luddites and regressivists, but this is told well and speaks to their ideals. It's a little bit amusing and every now and then it has some superb writing, even despite the bad translation.

[Uru: Ages Beyond Myst]

Thinking in groups, the game. This had the loveliest community I'd ever seen. These were people you could sit and talk to about anything, they were clever, open-minded, and intellectual. I loved the Uru community, which is what drags me back there every year or so.

I have a bit of an Uru anniversary in honour of my earlies memories of the online experience, way back when it was on Gametap. Yep, I got in on the ground floor for that. It was a different time, a weird time, a cool and much more experimental time than today.

The community is still there, though. Just be prepared to think because Uru will task you. But if your observational skills and reading comprehension are higher than most, you may have a much, much easier time than most. Sometimes Uru handed you the solution on a silver platter, you just had to know how to look for it. This was true of all the Myst games, though. I feel those who think that Myst is just about clicking things to see what happens tend to lack in those capacities.

If you ever get tired of kids screaming at you online, try Uru. It's just wonderful and very worth it. Alien environments, brain boggling puzzles, and hands down some of the best lore I've ever seen weaving such an intricate world into existence that never once stops being all too believable. And the quest to free the indentured Bahro is a noble one.

Basically? If you have the mind to appreciate it, Uru will stick with you and it'll haunt your dreams. I can only hope that Obduction has enough of an impact to one day have a communal experience with that franchise, to recreate the magic of Uru.

Thing is? That magic is still there, even now. It's why I still go back and why I love (I really do love) taking new people in and vicariously enjoying watching the lights turn on in their eyes as they figure things out. It's just that I've played all the content Uru has to death, I know the puzzles like the back of my hand. Even some of the modded content.

One of my fondest gaming wishes is a new Uru.

1
huldu Avatar
230
8 Months ago

I played x-com ufo defense and I loved it! Wish someone would update the graphics for the game tho, but I did find a site that had fixed a bunch of bugs and what not(openxcom).

Funny first mission experience in the game, walked out of the aircraft and *2* marines died on the first turn to alien fire from outside of view. I just knew I would love the game from that point and it was so fun to play. It felt far more "realistic" than the new xcom game.

1
panbient Avatar
114
panbient(1 minutes played)
6 Months ago

Not sure I'd include any of the original X-Com games in an article like this. I loved them back in the 90s - skipped more than a few full days of class to confront the alien menace. However they don't really translate that well, especially not to modern sensibilities. How many modern gamers would really tolerate having to manually reload and re-equip ammo clips on individual units between every mission?

As for Planescape:Torment I actually tried running it last night (using the DnD Master Collection disc version). Unlike Baldur's Gate there's no Enhanced Edition so if you want to run it at a higher resolution than 800 x 600 you'll need to fiddle with some mods and hope for the best.

I remember being able to apply the G3 widescreen patch and getting a functional higher / wider res version of the game a few years ago when still running Win 7. Visually the patch still works, but the performance decreases incredibly under Win 10. Also things don't scale, so 'higher resolution' really means wider visual perspective. It's still a great game, but modern gamers should be aware that it's also an exercise in old-school modding if you want to get to look even remotely modern.

1
JohnMiles Avatar
12
10 Months ago

I can't say that I would like to play any of them.

-5