Games are coming out faster now than ever before. It wasn’t all that long ago that a person could reasonably play all the major games released in a given year, but in the last two decades or so the output of games has skyrocketed to the point where hundreds of games are released almost daily. These range from the biggest budget, most recognizable and highly polished experiences and indie darlings, to simple mobile games and asset flips looking to make a quick buck. The PC, more than any other platform, has the largest library of all of the above.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of PC gaming is the fact that you still have access to all the best classic computer games in addition to the best and biggest new releases. The amount of history and influential titles that came in the early days of PC gaming trumps any other platform, and most are still easily accessible, if not improved, on your modern hardware. While we all can get swept up in the zeitgeist of playing the hot new games, sometimes it’s more valuable to look back at some of the older titles that are still fondly remembered, either to revisit them or experience them for the first time. If you’re ready to dive into a couple of classic titles this year, here are 13 of the best old PC games still worth playing in 2022.
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RPG fans and Star Wars fans alike owe it to themselves to play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic at least once in their lives. If you are a fan of the Mass Effect trilogy in particular but haven’t gone back to this BioWare classic, prepare to be amazed. One of the small disappointments about the Mass Effect games was that the amount of actual role-playing kind of went down as the trilogy went on, and the same can be said about going from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to Mass Effect. This game packs in more choices, morality options, optional solutions, and character builds than basically any RPG the studio would make afterward.
Set thousands of years before the films, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was a blank page for BioWare to craft their own unique story in the iconic universe without being beholden to any existing canon. This freedom allowed them to make a game many consider the best Star Wars story ever told, or at least in contention for the title. To be fair, the gameplay is where the game’s age shows most. The turn-based, action-style combat is kind of clunky and exploitable in some places, and the Dungeons and Dragons-style equipment and stat calculations are tough to wrap your head around, but none of that detracts from how great the writing and characters are. While we wait and see what the status of the remake is, now is the perfect time to see why Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remains so highly regarded.
So much is owed to the original Half Life. It helped get Valve to the massive size and influence it is now, spawned some of the greatest franchises off it’s back like Team Fortress and Counter Strike, and changed the way players and developers thought about story in an FPS. The sequel is held as one of the best FPS campaigns ever made, but a lot of that started with the original. It may seem quaint now, but having a story told without the use of cut scenes or almost ever taking control away from the player was basically a first when Half Life did it, and the AI, both friendly and hostile, still hold up as convincing threats. Again, the graphics would be the major barrier to revisiting this older game, but fans have completely rebuilt the game in the form of Black Mesa if you need that graphical facelift to encourage you to finally give it a shot.
Gordon Freeman is one of gaming’s biggest icons by now, and Half Life is his stunning, yet silent, debut. He’s a physicist at the very secret and hidden Black Mesa research facility held deep underground where they’re researching brand new portal technologies. Naturally, the first test you run doesn’t go so well and leads to a massive cascade of alien, or maybe interdimensional, creatures invading the facility and killing everyone inside. Armed with a mere crowbar at first, but building an arsenal of guns, explosives, and even alien tools, Gordon will fight his way through his former workspace to try and stop the aliens from entering our world. If you do go with the classic Half Life, just be ready for the final level to be … not the best. The remake fixes it up considerably, which is another point in its favor.
BioWare strikes again, just proving that they were once the undisputed kings of classical computer games. We’re jumping a bit further back than Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic this time to the seminal Baldur’s Gate 2. If you haven’t played this game and are an RPG fan, then you’ve at least heard of it. As an isometric RPG, it somehow still hits a level of quality in writing, dialogue, combat, and the amount of freedom you actually have to role-play. If you enjoyed recent gems like Divinity: Original Sin 2 or Wasteland 3, Baldur’s Gate 2 was the template those games were attempting to copy. There’s also a third game in early access that looks like a promising sequel, so playing through the predecessor will give you a better grip on what that new game needs to live up to.
The plot of Baldur’s Gate 2 is great for how intimate it is. So many fantasy RPGs are all about world-ending catastrophes, large-scale wars, and other cataclysmic events placed on the shoulders of you and your party. In this game, your quest is personal. You are tracking down an evil mage who had previously held you captive and tortured you. Saying much more would spoil things, but the adventure will bring you to a wide range of locations, introduce dozens of characters, and lets you explore and discover tons of details within them at your own pace. Or you can just ignore it all. It may sound obvious, but until you play a game like Baldur’s Gate 2 you may not realize how restrictive modern RPGs are in actually letting you role-play however you want.
Speaking of freedom in role-playing, RPGs aren’t the only genre where you’re allowed to come up with your own solutions to problems. At least, not after Deus Ex established the immersive sim genre almost single-handedly. Before this game, first-person games were basically just shooters. There would be a few stealth games that tinkered with the mechanics like Thief, but Deus Ex was the first to really nail marrying RPG concepts into an FPS-style game. This game is so beloved by fans and developers that we can almost thank this one game for everything that Arcane has ever made. If you enjoyed the Dishonored games then this is absolutely worth a shot. At the same time, it is such an easy formula to fall short on, even decades after Deus Ex showed us how it was done.
Deus Ex is a cyberpunk dystopian conspiracy thriller. You play as a counter-terrorist agent named JC Denton who gets wrapped up in a massive conspiracy involving nanomachines, the Illuminati, and much more in this frightening depiction of a reality we could easily see coming true. This was one of the earliest titles that allowed you to solve missions in whatever way you wanted. Obviously, you could shoot your way through everything, though that isn’t as easy as a normal FPS, but you could talk and gather information, find hidden pathways to avoid conflict, or exploit the AI in crazy ways to solve the problem for you. Dues Ex is such a complex, mechanics-driven experience it would be impossible to accurately describe in just a few sentences. It plays a little clunkily today and is no doubt hard on the eyes, but it still offers an experience limited only by your tools and creativity to use them.
Just like BioWare, you can expect at least one more mention of the once-infallible Blizzard on this list. First up, the action RPG that got us all hooked on colored loot so many years ago, Diablo 2. Before this game hit our desktops, isometric RPGs were slow and methodical. There’s nothing wrong with that, and we’ve even had a couple on this list that fit that description, but Diablo 2 showed us how a game from this perspective could be fast, hectic, and oh so satisfying. The way it changed up action RPGs, with a heavy emphasis on loot as well as character progression, was a breath of fresh air, but also one that lent itself to so much replayability that people stuck with it for years. Now we do have Diablo 3, and a fourth on the way at some point in the future, plus spiritual sequels like Path of Exile, but there are still plenty of reasons to go back and see where it all really took shape.
Loot and RPG systems are injected into almost every game at this point, from FPS titles to racing games. However, the magic of Diablo 2 was that it came at a time before those systems could be exploited through things like micro-transactions, DLC, and balance changes. This was during that small window when these types of games had to hold up on their own in perpetuity. The difficulty curve is buttery smooth naturally but can be spiked up to extreme levels when you reach the end game content. There are plenty of classes to try out that all have their own unique mechanics and progression systems to play with, but no matter what you pick the simple act of watching your character wipe out dozens of mobs swarming you with a single spell or attack and watching the loot spill to the ground is always satisfying.
In some ways System Shock 2 is fondly remembered among the PC community for the same reasons as Dues Ex. It merges FPS gameplay with RPG elements in an open-ended world that begs you to play with and experiment with the systems to create your own solutions to problems. However, System Shock 2 is a bit more linear, and a lot more horror-focused. Again, this game is responsible for a ton of spiritual successors and imitators, with the obvious ones being the Bioshock series, the first of which alone is a worthy entry in the genre System Shock 2 helped bring to the table. However, it wasn’t appreciated for how ahead of its time it was when it launched, failing to sell many copies, and only years later getting the proper recognition it deserved. Hints and plans for a sequel have been popping up for years, but so far there’s nothing to indicate anything from this series coming back.
If you played Bioshock, then the premise of System Shock 2 may sound a little familiar. You are placed on board a starship in the year 2114 as a soldier suffering from amnesia after a genetic infection has turned nearly the entire crew into mutated alien/ biomechanical monsters. This is also where the most infamous computer AI prior to GLaDOS, SHODAN, is first introduced. If you have no idea who that is, one look at “her” design is almost enough to tell you everything you need to know. As you explore the vast ship environments, you can use melee weapons, guns, and different skills like hacking and psionic powers you can level up using cyber modules you earn as you go. You’ll need everything you can get, too, since the horror elements mean no resource is ever in abundance. If you loved Bioshock but haven’t played System Shock 2 yet, do yourself a favor and check it out.
Look what we have here: another Blizzard game. This one could technically be a toss-up between StarCraft and WarCraft 3, but in the end, it was StarCraft that had the edge in terms of being the better of the two RTS games in our eyes. Seriously, this game came out in 1998 and still has a competitive scene going for it. If that doesn’t speak to just how well crafted (pardon the pun) this game is, we don’t know what does. In either case, StarCraft just hits everything you would ever want from an RTS. The setting is unique and lends itself perfectly to the genre, the different factions are diverse and interesting to play, the game is fine-tuned to near perfection, and there’s even an engaging narrative for solo players. Oh, and naturally custom games and mods turn StarCraft into, well, almost anything you could want at this point.
With three primary factions, StarCraft doesn’t try and extend beyond its reach. There’s just enough variety and differences in strengths and weaknesses between all the races to allow for everyone to find one they click with most, but never feel like they’re over (0r under) powered. You will still be doing your normal RTS thing, gathering resources, building different buildings, and pumping out units to send out to clash against your opponent, but StarCraft just makes it all feel so good to do. The game is so responsive and easy to manage on keyboard and mouse. The design is also rife for expression in strategy and tactical plays, which is why it is still played so much even today. The RTS genre is in a bit of a slump now, but there’s no reason not to go back to one of the all-time best.
Before Ubisoft established its open-world formula and started slapping it on any franchise it owned, Far Cry 2 was not at all the tired open-world checklist most people know it to be today. While the first game in the series was somewhat of a generic FPS title, Far Cry 2 took some major chances in basically every way it could. Yes, it is still an FPS, but like almost nothing we’d ever seen at the time and still rarely see to this day. For one thing, this game is hard. Like, really hard. Not just in the sense that enemies are smart and deadly, which they are, but there’s so much more out there that can drop you dead. Heck, even poorly maintained weapons could explode in your hands, but the real kicker was the malaria mechanics.
Set in the African wilderness, your character starts the game already suffering from deadly malaria. This is more than just a plot device, however, as you need to manage the sickness within you by locating and taking medicine before it does you in. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for how far Far Cry 2 tries to push realism. Your map, as another example, is not a menu. To navigate the world, your character pulls up a physical map in front of them you need to parse out and determine which direction you need to go. Need directions while driving? You better pull over or you are likely to crash splitting your focus between the road and the map. If you do, well, you better whip out your tools and get to repairing your broken car or you may be stranded. It’s not quite at the level of a Dues Ex or System Shock 2, but Far Cry 2 is a very satisfying systems-driven FPS if you can handle just how brutal it is.
You’ve probably played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt by now, and maybe you touched the sequel, but how many out there have ever gone back and played the game that started it all? It can be easy to forget that these three games were the first games CD Projekt Red ever made, well, until Cyberpunk 2077 came out that is, but the leaps in quality between these fantasy RPGs are generational each and every time. So in that respect, know that going back to the first game isn’t going to be on the level of The Witcher 3. In fact, The Witcher is very clunky, a little obtuse, and not the best-looking game for its time. What it is, though, is devastatingly unique and a clear signal of the team’s ambitious goals that wouldn’t come to fruition for two more games. It is also a more close adaptation of the source material for the game, whereas the later games are more liberal with the plot and characters.
This game is not the origin of Geralt in The Witcher but picks up with him attempting to recover his memories after being struck with amnesia. This plot device is mainly for the player’s benefit to catch you up on the world, which if you never read the books and only played the sequels, has a lot of history and lore you probably missed out on. The Witcher school is attacked before any progress on recovering his memories can be made, and thieves steal the potions and instructions on how Witchers are made. Just like later games, you’re part monster hunter for hire and part detective as you go through the world making choices and going through quests just as rich and deep in writing as you found in The Witcher 3. Again, gameplay is where The Witcher shows its true age, but if you can buckle down and get through it, fans of this series will find a lot to love here.
We’ve had a couple of first-person shooters on this list, but none that arrived here for being just a good FPS. That remains true with F.E.A.R, the horror FPS that is still a blast to play for its chills, impressive AI, and flat-out awesome gunplay. Seriously, people still haven’t gotten over just how amazing F.E.A.R‘s shotgun is to use. Aside from the design, feedback, and sound of this chunky shotgun, it’s the slow-motion mechanic that really drives home how good this game feels to play. Blasting away is good enough, but slow down time and you can watch your enemy turn into literal mist as your pellets rip through them. Time slowing down also lets you fully appreciate how amazing the particle effects and environmental destruction are. Even now most FPS titles don’t kick up as much dust, shoot out as many sparks, or leave gaping holes in the walls as F.E.A.R did so long ago.
The plot is thin and, on paper pretty, cliche. F.E.A.R is a group tasked with investigating paranormal activity … with guns? Anyway, you’re hunting down a cannibal while also being haunted by a mysterious girl in a red dress that borrows heavily from Asian horror films. There’s no clear delineation between areas meant to be for spooks and for shooting, at least not until you get there and see an enemy or apparition, but instead, all the environments are dark and uneasy. You might feel in control in a firefight, but who knows what’s in the next dim room or hallway. There are some well-earned scares if you’re looking for that, plus some lazy tricks that come from the time it was made, but all held together in one of the best shooters of the era. Just don’t worry about the sequels on this one.
Sim City created an entire genre of games most people didn’t even think they wanted. What fun could there be in just designing a city, right? A lot, as it turns out, and all of a sudden, management and God games took off, especially with the more casual gaming audiences. The best game to spin off of that concept has to be the Roller Coaster Tycoon games, and the sequel is still the height of excitement in our eyes. RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 is exactly what it says on the box. You need to build and operate the best, and most profitable, amusement park possible. The different scenarios you can play through all have their own specific objectives and goals to accomplish, which also serves as a sort of tutorial for all the new features and improvements this game has over the original.
Graphically, RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 still has a charming, bright, and inviting style that doesn’t feel dated in the slightest. The game is completely isometric but never feels cumbersome to control. In fact, the amount of freedom and customization this game gives you is crazy. Every single wall, roof, bit of scenery, and (naturally) ride can be placed specifically where you want. That includes going underground or terraforming the land itself. You can even create your own scenarios to play through where you determine the landscape of the park, objectives, rides you can or can’t use, and more. Of course, this is also where designing your own roller coasters came in. This feature alone is where players spent dozens of hours designing the most intricate and impossible rides ever conceived, like the infamous “Mr. Bone’s Wild Ride”. If you like management games at all, regardless of loving amusement parks or not, RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 is worth the price of admission.
There’s no excuse for never having at least tried the original Doom at this point. Sure, the meme has been run into the ground by now, but it is true that just about anything with a screen can run Doom at this point. And, jokes aside, it’s still a really fun FPS. Plus, with the soft reboot and sequel reinvigorating the series once again, there’s no better excuse to check out the game that lead up to them, but also inspired nearly all modern FPS games that came after it. And, as we said, you can basically play Doom on your watch at this point, but there are some strong arguments to be made as to why PC is still the preferred place to play it, even over actual gaming devices and consoles.
If not to relive the way the game was originally played, which again we at least think you should try out, Doom on PC has been modded six ways from Sunday. If there’s anything you wish were tweaked, or completely overhauled, there’s a really good chance someone has made a mod that does exactly what you want, and better. Of course, there are also tons of fan-created levels and campaigns as well that feel just as well crafted as the originals to experiment with too. Modded or not, Doom is a hard-core, heavy metal icon of its time that somehow holds up in the modern era. In fact, with current FPS games getting so linear and casual friendly, it may even be better now than it once was.
Yeah, we all know the jokes about these old adventure games and how they end up having puzzles with solutions no one would possibly ever think of. In a lot of cases, you wouldn’t be wrong thinking that because of just how many adventure games were being pumped out in the early days of PC gaming, but Grim Fandango, from legendary designer and writer Tim Schafer, avoids basically every pitfall the genre is known for. Right off the bat, unlike some of the more sloppily designed games in that space, there’s no way to die or hard lock yourself into a fail state by using, losing, or missing items. You can miss things, sure, but only extra content that usually gives you more world-building and story, which you will want to get whenever you can because Grim Fandango is a wonderfully written story that is just as quirky and funny as you would expect from the mind of Tim Schafer.
Playing as Manuel “Manny” Calavera who works as a travel agent in the Land of the Dead where he gives newly deceased souls travel packages to the afterlife depending on their good deeds. The entire world, character, plot, everything has a very deep Mexican-inspired folklore, specifically Aztec, that just oozes with originality and creativity. This makes the early 3D graphics still hold up thanks to a very strong art direction and intentional decision to not go for realism. Each of the four acts takes place a year apart on subsequent Day of the Dead holidays and follows your typical adventure game style structure of talking to characters, choosing dialogue, picking up items, solving puzzles, and so on. These systems are streamlined a bit so you’re never overwhelmed with options, and your inventory is even represented by Manny cycling through items he’s holding in his jacket pocket. There’s also a remastered version that sharpens up the game, plus adds some quality of life features, but leaves everything core about Grim Fandango perfectly intact.
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