Retro Deep Dive: 50 Greatest Games Part 1

Holy cow! Who would have guessed that 23 years ago, someone went ahead and gave us the all-time definitive list of the 50 greatest games of all time? Folks, it's time to shut down all the message boards and more arguing or debate. PC Gamer had it figured out long, long ago!

Seriously, though: this list, published in Volume 4 Number 5 (May 1997), is both a good reminder of some of the finest examples of games in PC history, as well as a time capsule, a fascinating look into the opinions and consensus of PC gaming as it stood in the late 1990s. There are plenty of entries that seem inexplicable or out of left field. But in context, some of those odd choices make sense. Some...well, some don't. But hey, opinions are opinions!

Before we dive into the list itself, there is a really neat page included near the end the article: "The 15 Most Significant Games of All Time". I really appreciate adding this list in; it's a nice way of acknowledging great games of the past that might have not held up into the late 90's, but paved the way for many of the "modern" games they included on the top 50 list.

Some are relics of genres long dead. Zork is mentioned--it was a text adventure game, a genre that hasn't seen an authentic entry into outside of nods in indy games in perhaps 25 years. We also see Maniac Mansion, a phenomenal point and click adventure game from LucasArts, who released so many of the same type throughout the 90s, only to see adventure games fade away once 3D action became the dominant influence in gaming.

We also see here some early entries in series/genres that are still kicking around strong: Civilization, the first, which has enjoyed 5 sequels. Elite, which led to the excellent modern space shooter Elite: Dangerous and it's expansions. SimCity, the series of which died out after a disastrous EA cash grab, but who's genre is still going on strong.

There are also those games which helped define genres: Wolfenstein 3D, which led directly to Doom, and then on to Quake, Halflife, and the FPS genre as a whole. Tetris, the great-granddaddy of puzzle games. An interesting addition here is Indianapolis 500; it's a racing game that I invested many hours into as a kid. Created by the historically great Papyrus, it helped to define racing sims as we know them today--we would not have Gran Turismo, iRacing, or Forza without it.

Honestly, I could write a whole article about that list alone, but let's dive into the top 50. I'm not going to go through every single entry--instead I'd like to just hit on what I think are the major highlights and lowlights of their list. Remember, both their list and my reactions are just opinions, and if you disagree, that's great! Shoot us an email or hit me up on twitter and we can talk.

Anyway, let's start at the beginning. #50 Elder Scrolls game! No, not Skyrim. It's Daggerfall. The sequel to Arena, Daggerfall took everything that Bethesda had tried to do before and refined it. It featured a massive open-world map, and seemingly endless options for game play. I can't say it's a game worth visiting today simply because the UI is very, very outdated, but if you can stomach dealing with old-school PC gaming issues, it's genuinely a lot of fun to play.

Most of the first 10 are odd choices--sports games and strategy titles that are pretty well out of date. We see a pinball title, a genre that was huge in the early 90's but died hard until more modern titles allow enthusiasts to explore that gaming niche (I'm a huge fan, but let's set pinball aside for another article). We also see Silent Hunter, the first in a series of WWII submarine simulators that I find near and dear to my heart.

The next huge title we run into is #41, Diablo. One of Blizzard's big 3 series alongside Warcraft and Starcraft, Diablo was groundbreaking--though rough around the edges compared to it's phenomenal sequel Diablo II. I'd trade the sequel out for this one, but either one would still absolutely appear on a "Best Games of All Time" list that was published tomorrow.

Likewise #38, SimCity 2000. I love (most) of the SimCity games, but SC2k is perhaps the greatest blend between simulation, accessibility, and fun. It is an excellent game, and definitely competes on my personal list of games I've sunk the most hours in all time.

At #35, we see Monkey Island II, which was arguably the pinnacle of point and click adventure gaming. There have been sequels since, but nothing ever approached the quality of the first 2 games in the series. #34 and #33 dig us deep into the Space 4X genre with Master of Orion and Star Control II. Two great games in a genre that is still running strong, with Stellaris as my personal favorite in recent entries.

#30 finds Lemmings, the classic 2D puzzle game. It's really great, and its influence is still felt here and there across indy gaming even today, but overall a genre that is mostly dead. #29 is another entry that sits on my list of all-time most hour sunk: Railroad Tycoon. I was, and still am, a train nerd, and this game was, and is, really, really great. Genuinely still a fun play, if you can struggle around the archaic UI.

Halfway in, I've got to give a big shout out to #25: Syndicate by the legendary developer Bullfrog. I miss Bullfrog. They made great games. And Syndicate is perhaps my favorite of their catalogue. It's a bizarre and unique RTS game set in a Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk world where the player leads a band of techno-mercenaries employed by a multi-national mega corporation to destroy their rivals. It's a trip, and it's tons of fun.

Halfway through the list, and this article has run long enough already. So let's split things up, and next time I'll dive into the top 25 greatest games of all time, according to the staff of PC Gamer in 1997.