50 Underrated DOS Games
The PC has been host to some classic video games, and we salute 50 underrated examples from the MS-DOS era.
This article first appeared at Den of Geek UK.
I’d had a PC for a little while by the early ’90s, a rather bleak looking 286 with kilobytes of memory. After saving up though, I took the plunge one day and purchased a shiny new 486 DX2-66, with many megabytes of memory and an ATI Mach 32. With that extra power unleashed, DOS gaming had me hooked once more. And it was amazing. X-Wing, TIE Fighter, Doom, and many more took over my life, and my money was spent back in the local computer shops.
Join us now as we tweak our Autoexec.bat and Config.sys files and take a look at 50 underappreciated DOS games from various years. Those games that no one ever seems to mention anymore and that have fallen from memory. You won’t find Doom and the like on here, but maybe you’ll recall one or two others.
50. Pyro 2
I’ll start with one of the more bizarre games that was doing the rounds in the fairs or available as freeware from one or two university BBSs: Pyro II, or Pyro 2, or Pyro 22.
It was pretty basic looking, even for an early DOS game. You were a pink square that needed to be controlled around the floorplans of various government buildings. Behind you was a fuse that had a flame following it after a few seconds of starting the level. The idea was simple: you needed to set fire to the entire floor, destroying virtually everything in the floor while you legged it down the stairs to the next level. To help you further the conflagration, there were petrol cans lying around that could be picked up and spilt to help the fire spread to the corners of the floor.
It wasn’t one to show your mother, and I vaguely recall there being some Mary Whitehouse-like backlash from the idea that you’re setting fire to government buildings. Still, an ace game.
Further Reading: PC Building Guide – be quiet! Pure Base 600 Case
49. Dope Wars
Another DOS game that caused something of a stir from various focus groups, churches, parents against things corrupting their young and pretty much everyone on the planet with a moral consciousness. That didn’t stop a lot of us from buying the disk from computer fairs though.
Basically the immoral storyline has you as a small-time drug dealer, in debt up to your eyeballs with a loan shark. The only way you can pay him back is to buy drugs from one location, and sell them for more in another location.
Yeah, not very moral. Wasn’t there some kind of FBI raid at the time that seized all the master disks?
48. Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy
I bought myself a see-through Gravis Joystick, and the game that came with it was the shareware title Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy.
Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy was the third game in the Commander Keen series, and one of the more popular. The first episode has you rescuing eight sages, who will help you stop the Shikadi from destroying the galaxy.
It may not stand up to modern gaming in terms of the graphics, but it was an ace little addictive game that you couldn’t stop playing. It’s even available on Steam. Interestingly, the shareware title was available from the BBS of Leeds Trinity and All Saints University, just as the next one was…
“He who controls the Spice, controls the universe.” Dune for DOS was a great adventure strategy game that followed the novel quite closely.
You played as Paul Atreides, managing mining the Spice production, the Fremen, and bringing the fight to the Harkonnen to drive them off Dune.
It was a stunning game, with the later CD version having stills and clips from the film as well as speech. The floppy disk version though was just as captivating, but those Spice demands were tough. An excellent game, even by today’s standards.
46. I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream
Quite a disturbing adventure game this, as you play as one of five tortured characters trying to outwit the hateful Allied Mastercomputer, or AM as he likes to call himself.
Can you remember the opening? It’s about how much he hates humanity, how if every nanoangstrom of the 387 miles of circuitry was engraved with the word “hate,” that wouldn’t equal one one-billionth of the hate AM feels towards us. So it’s quite chipper.
Anyway, AM takes the character you choose into their past and throws them into their darkest fears. With the voice of Harlan Ellison as AM (who also wrote the short story based on the game), there are some real tense and odd moments. Anyone recall playing as Gorrister and talking to Edna while she was strung up on a meat hook with slaughtered pig carcases?
45. Little Big Adventure
Adeline Software International’s Little Big Adventure was a 3D isometric adventure game that featured some of the best graphics of the time, and a compelling storyline.
You played as Twinsen, one of several inhabitants of the planet Twinsun that is under the ruthless rule of Dr. FunFrock and his clones. You have to travel throughout the planet, and eventually, stop the evil doc’s plans to drill into its core. You could choose from four behavior modes: Normal, Sporty, Aggressive, and Discreet, with the latter having you tip-toe around to sneaky music.
Little Big Adventure was a fantastic game. The CD version had animated cut-scenes, speech and more music. There’s even an Android version available these days!
Further Reading: 25 Best PC Games to Play in 2019
44. Epic Pinball
Epic MegaGames’ Epic Pinball was one of the first DOS games I played. The shareware version, the first couple of tables, came free on the front of a magazine.
The Android table was incredible. I recall spending hours playing that – two-player with friends – to see how much of a score we could rack up. Amazingly, the entire game was programmed in assembly, but the music, sound effects, and speed of the ball were simply incredible. If you can get it running, it’s still lost none of its hours-sapping power.
Okay, here’s a game that I, er, think virtually everyone reading this has played: Gorillas.BAS.
Gorillas.BAS was a part of DOS 5 and written entirely in QBasic. It’s the old artillery game, where you set the gravity of the world, and throw a banana at the other player calculating the angle and velocity. The two gorillas sit on top of a city skyline, while the bananas are hurled from the opposite player. Each banana explodes when it lands, and makes the smiley sun’s mouth go into an O-shape should one go through it.
Gorillas.BAS was a great game, and exposure to the code helped form the future of many a developer. Toying around with the code and making the explosions nuclear kept us busy for hours. You can find a modern version of the source code here.
42. Rise of the Triad
Apogee had a lot to answer for back in its shareware days. Commander Keen, Wolfenstein, Duke Nukem were all much loved DOS games. But one of its oddest releases is the one I’ll mention here: Rise of the Triad.
Rise of the Triad was ludicrous, gory, and exceptionally fast paced. The modified Wolfenstein development engine was pushed to its limits here, and when you got several players involved, all running around and blindly wiping out everything in their path, it did get a little heavy on the old system resources.
Apparently, there were supposed to be more enemies in the game, but technical limitations stopped a lot of them appearing. However, the CD version did have the female enemies’ voices on it, as well as the artwork. Also, dual pistols! Happy memories…
Mindscape’s D/Generation was a fantastic 3D isometric adventure puzzler, where you had to figure out how to evade the security system on each floor of a building while rescuing the trapped employees.
I can’t recall the exact story, but it had something to do with a bioweapons lab and you flew in on a jetpack to deliver a package to the lead scientist. I do remember how you needed to hit switches, collect keys and avoid the tubes in the floor that fired at you. And there were also bouncing balls that turned invisible when they found you.
You could collect a laser gun as well, that bounced off the walls when fired allowing you to hit door controls and such like, and grenades, too. A great game that kept you hooked for many hours.
40. Battle Chess
Long before Harry Potter’s deadly game of chess in the bowels of Hogwarts, we had Battle Chess. This is by far one of my most played games in this list. It kept me hooked when the dizzying effects of Rise of the Triad had lost their shine, and I couldn’t handle another game of pinball.
Battle Chess was, as you can assume, a 3D version of chess. But here instead of just taking the other player’s piece, you got to watch a cool little animation as the pieces got into a fight and took each other down.
The fight animations differed depending on the piece. The knights cut off arms and legs (like in Monty Python), the Queen did a little hip shake and fried a piece with her magic, and the Rook turned into a rock monster and smashed the opposition. Great stuff.
Further Reading: EVE Online’s 15 Best Battles That Shaped the Game’s Epic History
Albion is easily one of best DOS games of the mid-90s. This sprawling role player was deep, had an amazing story line, one of the best opening sequences of any DOS game I had come across during that time, and thoroughly absorbing gameplay.
The game starts off with the aforementioned sequence, a dream as it turns out, as the hero prepares to take a shuttle down to a planet to explore for valuable minerals prior to the entire planet being stripped of all its resources by some big mega-company.
There’s magic, turn-based combat, and countless areas, characters, and items to interact with, and strange teleporters hidden behind the all-seeing-eye symbols on walls. Pushing through Albion is worth it though, even just for the closing sequence.
38. Red Baron
Enjoying the flight simulation genre with the likes of Falcon on the ST was a fantastic experience, but these modern fighters lack the intense dogfights of World War I games. This was where Red Baron stepped up to the mark.
This was a startlingly impressive game for the time. There were loads of flight options, missions, and just about everything you could list in a flight sim menu at the start of the game. Once you’d got through it all though, and were behind the stick of an ancient flying machine, things certainly heated up.
Amazingly, it was one of the few games that actually made you feel every bullet that tore through the canvas and balsa wood frame of your aircraft. And should you progress far enough, and depending on the side you chose at the start of the game, you’d either end up fighting with or against the Red Baron himself. A bit like fighting alongside Vader in TIE Fighter.
37. Star Control 2: The Ur-Quan Masters
To many of you reading this, and me included, Star Control 2 was one of the most played DOS games we had in our library.
It was an immense arcade adventure, where you traveled throughout the galaxy in a quest to help free Earth from the evil Ur-Quan. To do this you needed to gain the trust of the other alien species scattered among the stars and add them to your growing fleet, and gain enough resources to keep your ancient alien technology starship up and running.
Combat was handled through a blisteringly fast melee system, where you pitted your fleet of ships against the enemy, with each having its own unique mode of flight, defensive, and weapon systems.
Who here remembers waiting around the Circini system for the portal to Quasi-Space and access to the Arilou to open? Or spending a worrying amount of time hanging around Betelgeuse in an attempt to win over the Syreen? Star Control 2 is a Den of Geek article in itself, and although now open source, it’s still one of the best DOS/PC games ever.
36. UFO: Enemy Unknown
Although a turn-based strategy game didn’t sound all that appealing while the likes of DOOM, X-Wing, and other such notable games were available, UFO: Enemy Unknown actually turned out to be one the best DOS games of the time. Modern follow-ups have brought attention back to it, but don’t let this original pass you by.
It was an extraordinarily well crafted game with an intense, nail-biting board on which to play. Locating a UFO, bringing it down, and micro-managing the intercept crew and their weapon loadouts were just the beginning. Once you landed and stepped foot on the terrain where the UFO crashed though, that’s when things tensed up.
The turn-based element worked exceedingly well. Rather than going in guns blazing, you had to pick your way through the area, hunting down the aliens and UFO itself while looking for cover and trying to stick together. Then when you suddenly catch movement at the edge of the screen, you scream. “There! There! It’s in there! Get it!”
All the while, you had to keep a watchful eye on the world politics, looking for governments that may have made secret pacts with the aliens, and juggling your own resources and cash flow. It holds together today too, and is awaiting you on Steam if you have a few coins spare…
35. Alone in the Dark
For a lot of gamers, Alone in the Dark was the beginning of the survival horror genre. Others would argue that survival horror goes back as far as 3D Monster Maze. However, Alone in the Dark was the first of the magnificently graphical modern representations.
Based on the feverish mind of H. P. Lovecraft, Alone in the Dark‘s polygon characters soon became the template for the genre, trapping you as either Edward Carnby or Emily Hartwood in the haunted mansion of Derceto.
In a tale of grisly murders, curses, lunacy, devil worshipping, evil power, and a host of other supernatural shenanigans, you had a wealth of puzzles that needed sorting out before you could escape. Death lurked around every corner, and one false step would mean you having to repeat your steps.
A fabulous, atmospheric, and often scary game, with hints of old E.A.P. and plenty of content from the Necronomicon. Splendid stuff, this.
Further Reading: EVE Online’s 15 Most Beautiful Places and Sights
34. Wing Commander
DOS was no stranger to 3D space combat simulators, and while there were some incredible titles to be had, not many gamers seem to recall the original Wing Commander too much these days.
Like some cheesy 80s sci-fi film, the intro credits roll to heroic music, space dogfights, and passing asteroids. Then it’s to the bar aboard the TCS Tiger’s Claw for a spot of chitchat with the crew, including Paladin’s magnificent mustachios.
With girly pin-ups in the barracks, blue hair, scenes of the crew running to their ships, and such names as Blue Devil Squadron and the Killer Bees, Wing Commander was a hit from the word go. It was a breakthrough game, utilizing the current PC hardware to the max. Playing now, it’s amazing how difficult the game actually is.
33. Hard Drivin’
Hard Drivin’ was one of the titles I really wanted to mention for the 50 Underrated Atari ST Games list, but in all honesty, it was the DOS version I ended up playing after tackling it at the arcades.
Fair enough, despite the advanced power of a PC Hard Drivin’ didn’t quite have the same look and feel on the desktop as it did in the arcades. Still, it was quite an achievement in 3D graphics and technology for the time.
A few questions: did anyone ever obey the speed limits? Did anyone ever make that first right-hand bend to the stunt track without going off-road? And can you remember what happened when you hit a cow?
32. Hugo’s House of Horrors
This is a strange little shareware game I recall picking up at a trade fair once in the early 90s. In terms of graphics, animation, music and… well… just about everything else, it was pretty dire-looking. However, there was something about it that kept me playing.
The fact that I refused to be beaten by it was one element, and that I paid nearly a fiver for it was the other. It must have taken me days to realize that picking up the pumpkin and smashing it revealed the key, and working out which button for the green-skinned, purple underpants, color-blind Igor to press was a test of patience at its best.
An odd, but also rather good Sierra-like adventure at the same time.
31. Magic Carpet
Bullfrog Productions brought us Populous and Syndicate, both of which were immensely popular. However, Magic Carpet seems to have been largely forgotten these days, which is a shame as it was one of the best 3D landscape games around.
The game was spread over 50 levels, each individually named with the player whizzing around the world on a magic carpet, as the title suggests. You collected Manna, which allowed you to cast spells in defense or attack against enemy wizards. All you needed to do was store enough Manna in your castle to restore equilibrium to the world. Easier said than done, though.
Interestingly, some versions came with the old 3D red/blue glasses in the box for the game’s Stereogram mode, and it was also compatible with the VR headsets available at the time.
30. Redneck Rampage
One of the oddest games I collected over the years has to be Redneck Rampage. This first-person shooter wasn’t the most politically correct of games to ever grace the PC, nor was it all that good to be honest, but it was fun in a strange kind of way.
You play as Leonard and Cletus, two deep south brothers whose prize pig has been stolen (pignapped? Feel free to use your own prime minister joke here) by invading aliens. Using a modified Duke Nukem 3D engine, you have to shoot everything that moves to get the swine back.
Featuring an immense amount of bad language and redneck stereotyping, there was something oddly appealing about throwing a stick of dynamite at a shotgun-wielding Billy Ray while drunk on “cheap-ass” whiskey across all fifteen levels.
Any game that finishes with “You’ve withstood the awesome force of Assface, impressive,” needs a mention.
Further Reading: Google Stadia vs. Apple Arcade – What’s the Difference?
NovaLogic, of Delta Force fame (which was an amazing game), first toyed around with its Voxel Space engine technology in Comanche, or Comanche: Maximum Overkill as it was also known.
For those who can’t recall Comanche, it was a helicopter combat simulator, and a very good one, too. You could zip through valleys, overseas and mountains, and drop down on the enemy to deliver death and destruction from an ultra-modern attack chopper.
It looks quite dated now, but if you put a set of headphones on and say “Roger that” a lot, it feels quite realistic.
28. Realms of Chaos
Realms of Chaos was one of the last Apogee titles to make it to the desktop, but it was one that’s certainly worth playing again.
The shareware version only had the first of three episodes available, and as far as I was aware, it was pretty difficult to get hold of from the game shops in the UK (I purchased it via a 3D Realms BBS).
On the face of it, Realms was a pretty bland looking 2D scroller, but it was hugely entertaining, and it allowed you to swap between the Conan-like character to a Wonder Woman-like character with the Space Bar for different combat abilities. The best part was the ability to save at any point in the game for a restart after dinner.
27. Silent Service 2
This is one I picked up as part of a compilation MicroProse pack from a charity shop in the mid to late 90s. Having played a few older submarine combat sims in the past, on various platforms, the extra power a decent PC offered was something I was looking forward to, and Silent Service 2 didn’t disappoint.
After much choosing of your sub and the area of war you were planning on taking to the might of the Japanese Navy, Silent Service 2 was a long drawn out game of tactics and choosing your future operations based on intel from CINCPAC. Finally though, if you were lucky, you’d get to face off against the Battleship Yamato. Not many lived to survive that bit, though.
26. Master of Orion
Master of Orion, the game that invented the 4X strategy term. An immense turn-based game that basically took over your life once you started to play it. I’d probably be lynched if I didn’t mention it in a list of DOS games.
Despite its popularity though, it’s barely mentioned today. In my opinion, it’s the sort of game everyone should have played at least once in their lives. It’s hard to compare too much to the moment where discovering Orion and the Guardian results in a complete loss of all your ships. Where colonization, military, research, planning, and combat all come together in such a way as to feel like your brain is melting out of your ears.
According to myth, the copy protection scheme used was so good (or bad) that the original game couldn’t even load up at times. Anyone have this issue?
25. Scorched Earth
Where Gorillas.BAS was quite a simple approach to the old artillery genre, Scorched Earth took everything one step further. “The mother of all games,” as it called itself.
You still had to wipe out the other player’s tank by judging the power, angle, and so on against the wind speed and direction, but with Scorched Earth, you earned money for a win which you could spend on more elaborate weaponry.
Linux users have enjoyed a 3D version of Scorched Earthfor years, but it was back in the good old BBS shareware days that version 1.2 appeared and we could fiddle around with the physics, economics, landscapes, and weapons. Sadly, I never got to play version 1.0, which the purist would argue is the better version (or 1.0b), but hey it was still an ace game. Did you know that you could edit the messages that appeared on the screen? I’ve only just found that out.
Further Reading: Google Stadia – The Big Unanswered Questions
24. Star Trek: 25th Anniversary
Quite possibly the best Star Trek game ever developed is the 25th Anniversary edition from Interplay. The floppy disk version, which came on about eight thousand disks, took an age to install. The CD version had voices from the original actors, better sound effects, and music too.
The two parts to the game, one where you were on the away mission and the other on-board the Enterprise, were marvelously designed. The point and click adventure mode on the away mission took the majority of the gameplay, from what I recall, and trying to get a redshirt crushed by rocks or eaten soon became the main focus.
Taking control of the Enterprise was immense fun during combat. I can only imagine the conversation on the Klingon bridge at watching me trying to bring the Enterprise about and continually missing. “Doch ghe”or “YItungHa’, qaH QaQ ‘Iv?” or something.
23. Simon the Sorcerer
Classic point and click adventure gaming in a very LucasArts vein. Everything was in Simon the Sorcerorthat should be in a graphical adventure. Humor, clever puzzles, great animation, an excellent script, and the odd poke at books such as Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Jack and the Beanstalk, and so on.
Simon’s dog Chippy finds a chest in the loft in which there’s the Ye Olde Spell Booke. After tossing it to one side, a portal opens and in goes Chippy followed by Simon, where he finds himself on a quest to rescue Calypso, the grand high wizard, from the evil sorcerer Sordid.
A great adventure game that’s often overlooked these days, with the CD version having the voice cast of Chris Barrie. And finally, was I the only one who wanted a bed like Calypso’s, tucked away in a window recess?
22. Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge
One more adventure before I move on, and one of the most enjoyable I played on my early PC: Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge.
I remember the box had a comic inside detailing the time between Space Quest 1 and this episode. Sadly, I never got around to playing Space Quest 1, though.
The humor in Space Quest II was one of the main draws of the game. Elements such as “We hope you’re not looking for anyone to blame because you died” messages in the About Space Quest 2 menu and the writing on the bathroom wall on Vohaul’s asteroid that mentions the developers and other games. There’s even a reference to Leisure Suit Larry when Roger Wilko is rendered unconscious.
21. U.S. Navy Fighters
Combat simulators were extremely popular for the PC in the DOS era, but U.S. Navy Fighters was one of my personal favorites.
U.S. Navy Fighters looked amazing. In fact, the DX2-66 I had couldn’t cope with the highest level of graphics. Even my mate’s DX4-100 struggled sometime later. The missions were well conceived, and you could even create your own missions.
A pretty amazing combat sim this. I’ll even go out on a limb and say it was better than Falcon 3.0. Mind you, your wingman had the nasty habit of flying off and taking out a target that was three hundred miles away for some odd reason.
SimAnt was an interesting game I picked up at one of those travelling computer fairs – one that was held in Bolton. I recall there being a huge manual with it, a veritable encyclopedia of ants as well as the instructions on how to play the game.
There were several modes of play, where you had to raise your colony of ants, hunt for food, and defend and attack other colored ants as well other insects, which could also be used for food. It was oddly absorbing being an ant.
According to legend, Will Wright developed the concept for The Sims while coding SimAnt. And doesn’t the House View remind you of Plants vs. Zombies?
Further Reading: Hands-on with Google Stadia
19. Alien Breed
This top-down, Gauntlet-like game was immensely enjoyable back in the day. Developed by Team 17, of Superfrog (we’re coming to that) and Wormsfame, the game was obviously heavily influenced by the Alien films.
You played as a space marine-type dude, heavily armed and up against a seemingly unlimited number of aliens. All you needed to do was find the exit to the next level and progress deeper into the station, all the while picking up credits to buy better weapons and health packs to heal yourself with.
The levels were huge and maze-like, making them a dream come true for the gaming cartographer. And the two player option was great.
Archipelagos is by far one of most intriguing and absorbing puzzles games ever created. It’s a little like a cross between The Sentinel and Populous, in that you have to manipulate the 3D landscape in order to build land bridges across the 10,000 different islands.
When you’ve made it to another island, you’ll need to destroy the 2001: A Space Odyssey obelisk radiation generators on each one. Each generator is fed power through several sub-generators, so you’ll need to wipe them out before having about a minute to finish off the actual generator.
It’s one of those games that takes ages to complete, if you ever do, but is thoroughly enjoyable the entire time.
Superfrog is one of the most enjoyable sidescrolling 2D platformers for DOS, an absolute treat. You take on the role of a frog, who was once a prince that has been turned into said Anura by a wicked witch – who has also kidnapped your girlfriend.
Naturally, you’ll need to rescue her and get back to being a human again, and you do this by racing through five different worlds, collecting coins and other things. Think of Superfrog as an early Sonic the Hedgehog clone and you won’t go wrong.
Sadly, there’s no detailed intro with the PC version, as there is with the Amiga version. But still, a cracking little game.
16. The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall
We’re all familiar with the current Elder Scrolls games these days—Oblivion, and of course, Skyrim. However, way back in 1996 Bethesda released the second of The Elder Scrolls series, Daggerfall.
Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall was an immense game, so big it actually had a map size of 62,394 square miles (apparently the biggest map in any game – unless you want to count Minecraft), complete with 15,000 cities, towns, and hamlets for you to wander aimlessly around, and hundreds of individuals you can occasionally poke your sword at.
Daggerfall doesn’t get quite as much appreciation these days as it deserves. Obviously, Skyrim and Oblivion still take up the lion’s share of the internet, but despite its age, Daggerfall still has a lot to offer.
15. Lighthouse: The Dark Being
This is my wife’s favorite Sierra On-Line game ever. A 1996 largely forgotten adventure where you have to find various clues to find the whereabouts of Dr. Jeremiah Krick and his infant daughter, Amanda, in an alien and parallel world to ours.
The game was on CD, so featured lots of excellent Myst-like graphics, cut scenes, and tons of sound effects, voices, and so on. I can still recall being downstairs in our house at the time and listening to a baby crying upstairs for hours at a time while my wife played the game.
The puzzles were generally good – aside from the safe combination that had everyone stumped – and required more thought than your average point and click adventure.
Further Reading: 50 Underrated Commodore Amiga Games
Once called “the best science fiction game available on computer,” Starflight is considered the genesis of the open-space exploration, role-playing genre, and the direct spiritual descendant of Star Control 2.
You gather minerals to sell in order to gain enough credits for upgrading your ship. You can explore the galaxy, meet other species, get into fights with them, hire and train crew members, and stop your homeworld from being destroyed by solar flares.
It was an immensely deep game, with a wicked anti-copy system where you had to enter a code to warp to another star system. If you entered the wrong code, after a certain length of time, the Space Police came looking for you and destroyed your ship for using an illegal copy of the game. Thankfully, I bought mine from a jumble sale.
A game of intense details and micro-management, an absolute credit to the early PC.
13. Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Desert Strike was a game I immensely enjoyed on the Sega Mega Drive, so finding a boxed copy of the DOS version in a charity shop some years ago was a heck of a score – especially since a lot of the copies of it were pulled from the shelves on account of references to the Gulf War.
It’s such a great little game, flying over the dunes and wind-swept reaches of the enemy territory, looking for SAM sites, ammo and fuel dumps, and power stations to take out with your Hellfire missiles and other weapons of equal destruction.
A game that’s sadly not mentioned much now, but a classic to those who played it first time around. Interestingly, the German release had to have the blood effects removed before it was allowed to be sold.
We’re quite used to violent games today. Barely anyone bats an eyelid at a character dropping from a building and sinking a hidden knife into someone’s neck. However, back in 1993, Syndicate caused a few raised eyebrows and a sharp intake of breath from the various focus groups on video game violence.
This dark look at the future has you trying to take over the world with the help of a team of androids. You’re set kill orders, rescuing allies, assassinations, and persuasive tactics to help grow your influence, power, and cash reserves. You could be as ultra-violent or as passive and sneaky as you like, as long as the end goal of world domination was achieved.
A lot of us here cut our teeth on Syndicate, so there’s a lot of love for this now mostly ignored title. The sequel was even more intense, too…
11. The Incredible Machine
I had plenty of first-person shooters, combat sims, space trading games galore, and platformers to pick from in my diskette boxes of goodies. But the one game that kept me coming back for more, time and time again, was The Incredible Machine.
This amazing little puzzle game grabbed you and refused to let go until it was late at night and you finally realized that you had work to go to in the morning. It was seriously addictive.
According to internet legend, which I can’t honestly remember if it’s true or not, if you played the game on Valentines or Christmas Day, you’d get either a heart-shaped balloon or Christmas Tree to use.
10. Raptor: Call of the Shadows
A great vertically scrolling shooter from Apogee, one that seriously threatened what little remained of a social life you once had, or – again – any chance of getting up in the morning.
Raptor was fairly basic in its gameplay. You headed ever onward, collecting power-ups and cash and obliterating everything that streamed down from above. After each level you could use the collected cash to buy even more destructive weapons or the ability to last a little longer. Either way, it was a fab little game – even the shareware version of one level.
Further Reading: Shadow Ghost Review
9. Pipe Mania
Pipe Mania was a cunning puzzle game my brother used to play endlessly. It has you placing down sections of a pipe, that appear Tetris-like on one section of the screen, to a set grid in the main game area. But you’ve only got a limited amount of time before a green liquid (sewerage?) starts to flow down the pipe.
If you manage to organize your pipe laying well enough, then the ooze will flow through the sections and you’ll score enough to proceed to the next level. If not, then it’s game over and start again.
A clever little game, and one that was fiendishly addictive. Published by LucasArts in the US, the UK version was by Empire Interactive. It also appeared in the second Microsoft Windows Entertainment Pack.
8. Alien Carnage (Halloween Harry)
Alien Carnage was Apogee’s first 2D platformer, where you played as the hard as nails Harry tasked with ridding the world of the attacking aliens, who were turning people into zombies and freeing captive humans. The jetpack wearing, and initially flame-thrower wielding Harry could collect coins from downed aliens, and use the coins at certain stations to buy different weapons from missiles to mini Nukes and an Omega Bomb.
The shareware version was simply called Halloween Harry when it was released and later named Alien Carnage for all four episodes. Since 2007, it’s been freeware, so find a copy and get playing.
7. The Chaos Engine
The Bitmap Brothers certainly knew how to make a cracking game, and Chaos Engine was one such example. With their usual flair for top-down mayhem, The Bitmap Brothers gave us this wonderful steampunk themed game, filled with tons of enemies, two-player action, loads of power-ups, and great sound effects with a cool sound track playing continuously in the background.
Seriously, one of the best DOS games of the mid-90s, although originally banned in Germany due to excessive violence, it still looks and plays pretty well today. It’s Ikari Warriors evolved!
Ask most people for a few memorable DOS games from their past, and you’ll more than likely have answers such as Doom, Quake, X-Wing, and so on, which is fair enough. But the canny DOS gamer would, among those titles, name Descent.
This seasickness-inducing true 3D game was an absolute marvel to behold. Flying through the various mines looking for the exit and the reactor to destroy, while trying to work out whether you were the right-way-up or still upside down, was one of the most visually impressive gaming experiences of 1995. Even when you entered a cheat code and had the computer voice call you a cheater.
Ocean Software and Digital Image Design have a number of great games under their collective belts. One memorable DOS game is Epic, an immense space shooter with a fantastic story and beautifully rendered graphics.
While Epic wasn’t quite up to the same graphical standard as, say, X-Wing, it was a fun game to play. The missions involved you taking out mines, enemy spacecraft, and dropping down to a planet’s surface to destroy a communications array or something. It had plenty: fast space combat, a Battlestar Galactica–like storyline, and quite splendid visuals.
Further Reading: What Half-Life 3 Would Have Been About
MDK was a thoroughly strange game I picked up on sale from a local computer game shop in Leeds towards the end of 1998.
This third-person run and gun, with hints of puzzles, has you as Kurt Hectic in a bio-armor suit taking on waves of enemies on board giant, city-sized Minecrawlers heading towards various locations on Earth. Obviously, you need to stop these Mincecrawlers and save the planet. To help, you have an array of weapons, from a chaingun on your arm to The World’s Smallest Nuclear Bomb – and for some reason or another, a genetically altered dog called Max.
Odd it may be, but it looked and played brilliantly on my newly purchased Pentium 133 MMX PC. Apparently, there was supposed to be a film made of the game some time ago. Naturally, this didn’t take place.
Hewson Consultants Ltd. came up with some of the finest computer games ever conceived. The likes of Firelord, Uridium, Nebulus, Ranarama – all for various platforms – were played countless times by us in our youth.
This “immensely playable game” (as quoted by Crash for the Spectrum version in 1989) not only looked fantastic – complete with scantily-clad fairies – but also played extremely well. In fact, it’s aged very well indeed.
Playing as the bearded Stormlord, you’ve got to travel across the scrolling platform levels and free fairies trapped in glass spheres by a wicked witch. Once you’ve released these nude nymphs, it’s off to the next level, but doing so involves you using various objects to allow you get to otherwise inaccessible areas of the level. It’s all rather clever and a great game to play. Incidentally, the Sega Mega Drive version had to be cleaned up before it was allowed on sale – cleaned up as in the fairies had to put some clothes on.
2. Jill of the Jungle
The pretty bland looking first episode of a trilogy of games, Jill of the Jungle, was surprisingly good. Okay so it was a basic platformer, and it was awful to control, but this shareware competitor to Commander Keen and the like worked quite well.
You play as Jill, an Amazonian warrior who has to get from one end of the jungle to the other. Or something like that, I can’t really remember to be honest. Needless to say, it’s more of a navigational puzzle, action platformer than an all-out combat platformer, as you try and figure out how to get through the maze of blocks, vines, trees, and everything else.
A decent enough, harmless game this, with the strange addition of having every key on the keyboard mapped to a sound effect in the game.
In my humble opinion, Tyrian is the best top-down scrolling shooter ever – an opinion I’m prepared for some backlash for.
Tyrian has you as ace pilot Trent Hawkins, seeking revenge against MicroSol, who killed your best mate Buce Quesilliac over the discovery of an ultra-rare mineral called Gravitium.
It’s a packed game, with tons of enemies, loads of extreme power-ups, quick reflexes and nimble fingers, and a cracking soundtrack with equally great sound effects.
You could also link up a couple of PCs with a Null Modem cable or network and get some two player action against the onslaught of MicroSol henchmen. An amazing game that’s barely mentioned these days, but certainly needs to be revisited.
The games that didn’t make the list, but are still underrated and utterly awesome:
Jazz Jackrabbit – A fantastic platformer, one that really put the PC out there as a proper games platform capable of knocking the consoles off their perches.
Day of the Tentacle – Credited as the father of the cartoon adventure, Day of the Tentacle is a great adventure title with superb writing and gameplay.
Aces Over Europe – An immense combat simulator with a huge 200-page instruction manual to weigh the box down.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Text adventures don’t get much better than this.
Hexen – ID Software’s sequel to Heretic, built on an enhanced version of the Doom engine, was pretty impressive.
Rogue – Everyone mentions Rogue-like games these days, but this is where it all started. From simple ASCII dungeon crawlers come great things.
Eye of the Beholder – A great RPG dungeon crawler series of games, based and built on the D&D games.