Although every year sees the release of tons of games, none of them were made in a vacuum, the one thing nature truly abhors. As we are given new vistas and new exciting cinematic trailers for top-shelf games and creative revamps of classics, it’s not a bad idea to take a look at the classics themselves.
With that in mind we’ve assembled a list of a few classic PC games from the 90s and (very) early 2000s which are still playable, still fun, still worth checking out, because they don’t make them like they used to anymore. The graphics may have gotten old, and the interfaces might be unwieldy, but there is greatness which inspired many successors.
|The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind GOTY||2002-04-29||RPG||Bethesda Game Studios||-69%|
|Fallout Classic Collection||1997-11-01||Adventure||Interplay Inc.||-64%|
|Worms Armageddon||1999-05-31||Action & Shooter||Team17 Digital Ltd||-90%|
|Max Payne 3||2012-05-31||Adventure||Rockstar Studios||-|
|RollerCoaster Tycoon 2: Triple Thrill Pack||2002-10-15||Strategy||Chris Sawyer Productions||-39%|
|Grand Theft Auto III||2002-05-21||Adventure||Rockstar Games||-64%|
|Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition||2017-04-11||Strategy||Beamdog||-87%|
|The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition||2009-07-15||Adventure||LucasArts||-57%|
|Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura||2001-08-22||RPG||Troika Games||-|
|Grim Fandango Remastered||2015-01-26||Adventure||Double Fine Productions||-82%|
|Day of the Tentacle Remastered||2016-03-21||Adventure||Double Fine Productions||-85%|
|Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition||2013-01-16||RPG||Beamdog||-86%|
|Deus Ex: GOTY||2000-06-22||RPG||Ion Storm||-63%|
|Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction||2001-06-27||RPG||Blizzard Entertainment||-42%|
|Disciples II: Gallean's Return||2006-07-06||Strategy||Strategy First||-73%|
|Fallout 2||1998-12-01||Adventure||Black Isle Studios||-70%|
|Quake III Arena||1999-12-05||Fighting||id Software||-55%|
|StarCraft: Remastered||2017-08-14||RTS||Blizzard Entertainment||-51%|
|Thief||2014-02-27||Action||Feral Interactive (Mac)||-87%|
|Thief Collection||1998-2014||Adventure||Feral Interactive (Mac)||-90%|
|X-COM: UFO Defense||1993-12-31||Strategy||MicroProse Software, Inc||-73%|
|XCOM: Enemy Unknown||2012-10-11||Strategy||Feral Interactive (Linux)||-84%|
|Heroes of Might & Magic 3: Complete||1999-03-03||Strategy||New World Computing||-48%|
|System Shock 2||1999-08-11||RPG||Irrational Games||-88%|
|Stronghold Crusader HD||2002-07-31||Simulation||FireFly Studios||-65%|
|Doom Classic Complete||1995-04-30||Action & Shooter||id Software||-|
|Return to Castle Wolfenstein||2001-11-20||Horror||Gray Matter Studios||-52%|
|Turok 2: Seeds of Evil||1998-12-10||Action & Shooter||Iguana Entertainment||-91%|
|RollerCoaster Tycoon: Deluxe||1999-03-31||Economy||Chris Sawyer Productions||-28%|
|Commandos Pack||2002-08-30||Strategy||Pyro Studios||-78%|
|QUAKE II||1997-11-11||Action & Shooter||id Software||-43%|
|STAR WARS Galactic Battlegrounds||2001-11-09||Strategy||Ensemble Studios||-46%|
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
|Developer:||Bethesda Game Studios|
The Elder Scrolls III Morrowind is one of the most fondly remembered games if its time, and it remains very playable today, especially if you slap some mods onto it. One of the best features of the game is the freedom is gives to the player. You’re not bound to any class, and while you can follow the main quest and seek your destiny, you can absolutely say no to that and brew potions instead.
Or you could become a vampire, join a fighters’ guild, and try to invent a spell that makes Cliff Racers avoid you. Once you get used to unconventional dialogue system you’ll also bite deep into the story, which is as weird as The Elder Scrolls get, but also fascinating, complex and featuring multiple endings. There’s also a hefty, wintry expansion Bloodmoon, which allows you to become a werewolf.
Theme Hospital was a great idea back in 1997 it remains a great idea now. So much so that it lived to get a spiritual successor, Two Point Hospital. The premise is simple: you’re put in charge of running a hospital fixing people silly problems. And it’s not being derogatory, some of the “illnesses” you deal with in Theme Hospital are being transformed into alien. But it’s still a competent management sim, too!
You have full control of the place. Before every mission you can build the place from the ground up, creating rooms from blueprints and assigning personel. There are both general practitioners and specialists, which can perform certain difficult procedures. The game even models the medical equipment wearing out, forcing you to employ maintenance staff, or your patients will start dying.
|Release year:||Oct 31, 1999|
|Developer:||Impressions Games, BreakAway Games|
A successor to the Caesar trilogy, Pharaoh takes your city-building endeavors from ancient Rome to an even more ancient Egypt. While it might now have the graphical pizzaz of modern city-builders, it is a very satisfying, and often rather challenging simulation of running an ancient Egyptian settlement, expanding it from a few rickety huts to a sprawling metropolis with gleaming monuments.
You’ll be in control of pretty much every high-level aspect of the city. You’ll trace streets, lay out foundations for houses, build farms, set trade policies, and have a few soldiers on stand-by to fend off aggressive hippos. The Nile, true to form, tends to flood, creating extra-fertile fields. You’ll also have to deal with fires, diseases, and other factors affecting the happiness of your citizens.
|Release year:||1999-12-12 / 2017-04-11 (enhanced)|
Planescape: Torment is often brought up on lists of the best role-playing games of all time, and it’s not hard to see why. Where Baldur’s Gate balances storytelling with dungeons and combat, P:T goes all in on storytelling, pushing combat almost completely off to the side. You’re playing as a seemingly immortal man who woke up in a mortuary, surrounded by servitor zombies.
What follows is a fascinating journey through a weird universe where belief and conviction have power easily comparable to any spell and blade. There are hundreds of pages of conversations and narrative text. Some of the most poignant moments are presented through text. If you dislike reading a lot, it might not be a game for you, otherwise: get the Enhanced Edition and jump in.
The Monkey Island series
|Release year:||1990-10 (first) / 2010-07-10 (last)|
If you aren’t opposed to comedy, cartoonish style, and combining things that probably should be combines, the Monkey Island series can be right up your alley. Created originally between 1990 and 2000 these are the absolute classics of the adventure genre. Not action-adventure. Just adventure. You know, walking around, clicking on things, solving puzzles, and enjoying jokes both clever and silly.
There are four classic entries created by LucasArts, and two of them, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Monkey Island 2 were remade in 2010 to lower the barrier of entry, both visual and technological. That said, the originals still look great, if you can get past low resolution. Either way, if you’d like to immerse yourself in a world of silly pirates where wit is mightier than a sword, check this series out.
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Although it’s been a bit forgotten in the flurry of Baldur’s Gate’s spiritual successors, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick obscura remains a fascinating, excellent role-playing game which celebrated its 20th birthday in August of 2021. While it can be a bit tricky to make it run on modern systems, if you do you’ll be thrown into a steampunk worlds where magic and technology are in conflict.
Quite literally, too. If you decide to specialise towards one, the other’s effects will be diminished. If you stay neutral…you’ll miss out on advanced stuff. Of course, the quests allow you to solve them both through combat (turn-based or real-time, your choice), or peacefully, through conversation skills and making clever choices. It’s a really underappreciated, unsung RPG worth giving a shot.
|Release year:||1998-10-30 / 2015-01-26 (Remastered)|
|Developer:||Double Fine Productions|
Grim Fandango, another of LucasArts’ classic adventure games, is a noir story taking place in the Land of the Dead. As a grim reaper travel agent Manny Calavera you’ll uncover a nefarious plot robbing souls of the afterlife they deserve. The game is heavily, and very obviously inspired by the Mexican culture, especially the calaca figurines which serve as the base for the characters’ appearances.
It’s not hard to see why Grim Fandango is one of the legends: a game with an interesting premise, an easily identifiable aesthetic, and a stylish, interesting story. As a result, like the Monkey Island, Grim Fandango enjoys a remastered version released in 2015 for several platforms. Old school adventure games don’t get much better than this and if they do, they likely came from LucasArts as well.
|Release year:||1998-11-19 / 2015-05-05 (Black Mesa remake)|
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
These days it’s in the shadow of its successor, Half-Life 2, but there’s no denying that Half-Life made an impact on the industry, and while very old-school by shooter standards, it remains a great science-fiction adventure in the shoes of Morgan Freeman, a physicist who happened to witness an alien invasion and had to deal with the aftermath, usually with a gun and a crowbar.
With a great level design and a story more interesting than you’d see in most shooters from 1998, Half-Life is still a worthy pick for any fan of older games. And if you’re somehow determined not to play a 1998 shooter, you still can enjoy the story and the level design: there’s a way out. You could check out Black Mesa, a fan remake which received the blessing of Valve and launched in 2019.
Day of the Tentacle
|Release year:||1993-06-25 / 2016-03-21 (Remastered)|
|Developer:||Double Fine Productions|
Another classic LucasArts adventure game on the list. It turns out they’ve made plenty of classics of the genre. Day of thew Tentacle tells the story of Bernard Bernoulli and friends how are trying to thwart the evil plans of Purple Tentacle, who is exactly what the name suggests. What follows is a time travelling adventure and a lot of silly sense of humor.
It’s very obviously an old-school point-and-click adventure game with a list of verb commands as well as the inventory you’ll be trying to apply to the environment in various interesting and/or funny ways. Since the game focuses so heavily on time travel, you can also expect some changes to the past affecting the future, which plays into many puzzles. It also got remastered in 2016, by the way.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Coming up right after grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City was a trip to the mid-1980s. Taking place in the titular city, heavily inspired by Miami, GTA:VC has disco, rock, colorful shirts, crime families, and tributes to classics like Scarface and Miami Vice. Although after twenty years the luster is a bit faded, the game still oozes personality and the style popularly associate with the period in question.
The story’s protagonist is Tommy Vercetti, an ex-con who screwed up a major deal by little fault of his own and has a debt to work off. The story is engaging, dramatic, and a great excuse to explore the city’s every nook and cranny. Even outside of the story you can spend time on various side activities, which include driving people around in a taxi and delivering pizza for an extra buck.
Giants: Citizen Kabuto
|Developer:||Planet Moon Studios|
Giants: Citizen Kabuto was a game with ambitions and a lot of silly humor, which seems to be a running theme in this update. Although it’s a first/third-person shooter for most of its playtime, there’s also a racing minigame, as well a robust and often utilized base-building system. There are also three playable characters with substantially different playstyles. Quite a big variety for a 2000 game.
A good chunk of the game you’ll spend playing as Baz, a space soldier who eventually gather a party of his friends, to whom you can give orders. Then you’ll be playing by a witch-princess using a powerful bow, a sword, and an array of devastating spells. Finally, there’s a kaiju-sized beast which can quickly wreck most buildings, eat enemies, and cause earthquakes if it grows big enough.
Baldur’s Gate II
|Release year:||2000-10-21 / 2013-11-15 (Enhanced Edition)|
The Baldur’s Gate series, particularly BG2: Shadows of Amn is one of the all-time classics, a series which defined the course of video game RPGs for years to come. Both of BioWare Baldur’s Gate games use an isometric camera giving players a good view of detailed, pre-generated maps on which your party of intrepid adventurers move and confront their enemies. And then there’s the story itself!
The games tell the story of a character known as Gorion’s Ward, whose unpleasant heritage plays a key role in the story of both BG games. In BGII it also draws the attention of powerful Jon Irenicus, who has his own plans and ambitions. It’s a great D&D adventure full of fantastical creatures, epic battles, and a few appearances from characters from deeper Dungeons & Dragons lore.
Chrono Trigger is one of the jRPG classics, with some world-famous talent behind it, such as Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball, or Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy. The result is a game which remains playable in the cool future we live in despite being made back in the ancient past of 1995. It has complex mechanics, many endings, and a score co-written by Nobuo Uematsu.
Chrono trigger’s story relies heavily on time travel, which will take you on a journey through different eras of the game’s world, including even the prehistory. All of that is supported by animated cutscenes from Toei animation. And the Steam version even comes with a slew of upgrades to graphics, and even new bits of content, to make the already playable classic even more enticing.
Deus Ex is one of the all-time great games. It’s set in a cyberpunk dystopian world, ruled by corporations and hiding numerous grand conspiracies such as the Majestic 12. You’re playing as J.C. Denton, an operative of an agency called UNATCO, whose nanotechnological augmentations give him abilities beyond those of regular humans. He’s going to need every upgrade he can find to survive.
Deus Ex left a lof of freedom to the players in the way they can approach any given problem. Stealth was just as valid and going in guns blazing, or using technology to dispose of obstacles. There are skills, unlocked with dynamically assigned experience, and augmentations found in the world, to help with any playstyle. Despite the years gone by, it’s still an immersive and interesting game to try out.
Diablo 2 & Lord of Destruction (DLC)
|Release year:||2000-06-29 / 2021-09-23 (Resurrected remake)|
|Genre:||RPG & Hack and slash|
Diablo II, more than the first game in the series, became a codifieir of what a good hack’n’slash should be like. There are five character classes in the base game and two more which arrived with the Lord of Destruction expansion, and each not only plays in a unique manner, but can also be customised within their skillsets thanks to ability trees and bonuses from loot you discover.
There’s still a lot to enjoy about Diablo II. It has dark, crisp aesthetic, and the locations provide a great backdrop for all the monster-slaying you’re going to be doing. The game is also great in multiplayer, capable of handling up to eight players online of over LAN, which makes for a powerful adventuring party and paves the way for more challenging encounters as the game adjusts.
Disciples 2: Gallean's Return
Disciples 2 didn’t reach the fame of Heroes of Might and Magic, but it should have, because it’s a great turn-based strategy game with RPG elements. The campaign, no matter which faction you pick, is a series of scenarios in which you usually need to expand from your single city by claiming resources and capturing castles from opposing factions through turn-based battles.
Each faction is very different, such as the Legions of the Damned and their massive units, or the resilient Mountain Clans and their powerful support spells. Battles are static in style, waged between two teams, each with six slots worth of units (large units take two spots), taking turns to act based on their initiative. There’s also map editor, individual scenarios, and multilayer!
|Developer:||Black Isle Studios|
Fallout 2 is a very successful sequel to Fallout 1, itself a spiritual successor to Wasteland. Fallout 2 expanded on the original in every manner, adding more settlements, more stories, more freedom. Taking place eighty years after FO1 it follows a Chosen One, picked to find the Garden of Eden Creation Kit in order to save their village from drought. But the journey goes to weirder places…
Once your character leaves their village, technically there is nothing to stop them from going almost anywhere, and do whatever they want, like becoming a boxing star who cheats by using plated gloves. The clock to deliver G.E.C.K. is ticking, however, and if you stall to much, your village WILL die. It’s just one of the arcs you can pursue, however, and doesn’t mean a game over at all.
Quake III Arena
Quake III Arena stands in the annals of FPS history alongside games like Tribe and Unreal Tournament as a legendary multiplayer first-person shooter. Q3A multilayer is all shades of PvP playing out in the stone corridors and rooms of a space-age Gothic castles, with a gallery of weird individuals serving as player avatars. The flipside is that there’s no singleplayer story campaign, it’s all multiplayer.
Even if you play by yourself, the only singleplayer content is fighting on MP maps with bots. In either case, you’ll find deadly, often explosive, weapons, power-ups, and various ways to outmanoeuvre your enemies and get a good shot in. The multiplayer can handle up to 16 players in deathmatch, which result in a fantastic chaos of weirdos, bullets and rockets going every which way. It’s glorious.
|Release year:||1998-03-31 / 2017-08-14 (Remastered)|
StarCraft hardly needs introducing. It effectively became a new definition of how a real-time strategy should work when it launched, and it’s overwhelming popularity among Korean gamers is now stuff of legends. There’s no denying that the science fiction counterpart to Warcraft is an important game. And, especially thanks to the 2017 Remastered version, it remains very much playable even today.
The game depicts a conflict between Terrans (humans) with their technological focus, insectoid Zerg working as a hivemind, and psionically gifted Protoss. True to the best RTS ideas, each faction plays differently, and the storyline of their conflict is quite interesting, and later expanded very well in StarCraft 2 and it’s several expansions. The original SC is still a fantastic, crunchy must play RTS.
|Release year:||1998-12-01/ 2014-02-27|
|Developer:||Feral Interactive (Mac)|
The Thief series, originated by the Looking Glass Studios, are some of the best stealth games in history, set in an interesting, dark steampunk world. You play as Garret, a master thief, who finds himself involved in intrigues which threaten to upend the status quo in The City, the games’ setting. The story is engaging, but it’s the gameplay that made Thief, especially Thief 2, a legendary retro game.
The maps are intricate and filled with details and bits and pieces you can steal to fence it after the mission. You get a variety of arrows, which can, for example douse tourches, or spread a moss layer making your step quieter. The more items you fence, the more useful gear you can buy for the next mission. Thief is a great series, and well worth checking out. It’s shares some DNA with Deus Ex.
X-COM: UFO Defense/UFO: Enemy Unknown
|Release year:||1993-12-31 - 2020-04-20 (Chimera Squad)|
|Developer:||MicroProse Software, Inc|
The original X-COM, an ancestor of Firaxis’ 2012 reboot, and the oldest game on the list. X-COM Enemy Unknown puts you in control of a paramilitary organisation devoted to defending Earth from invading aliens. The game, like its spiritual successors operates on two levels: the strategic view of the world, and the tactical, turn-based missions taking place in discrete locations.
Between mission you will assign research goals, buy and distribute equipment, manage military and civilian staff. You will also have to decide where to send your forces, and where to establish bases. During mission you’ll be managing your soldiers as they go about eliminating the alien threat. It’s quite a complex game, and running a perfect mission is very satisfying.
Old, but gold
That’s just twenty PC games worth playing, but there are scores of them out there from many genres. Classic first-person shooters that new FPSs want to emulate, even older dungeon crawling RPGs which inspired Legend of Grimrock, and real-time strategies which acted on ideas of Dune II.SOme of them you might be nostalgic for, having played them on your first computer, others might have flown under your radar. Either way, you can make up for the lost time now.