Unlike its console counterparts, you can get hold of pretty much any game that was released on PC, even if it came out decades ago. There’s a thriving modding community who dig out and dust off the best classic PC games to make them more palatable for players today, and devs who will happily release remasters of classic games for modern audiences. So even if you missed out on seminal games that helped sculpt today’s gaming landscape because you were nothing more than a twinkle in the milkman's eye, there’s nothing to stop you from experiencing genre-defining titles like Quake and Doom for yourself.
We’ve picked our top 20 recommendations for classic PC games you should try out, from must-play adventure titles like Grim Fandango, and Day of the Tentacle from Tim Schafer, to epic RTS StarCraft, and irreverent shooter Duke Nukem 3D. If you’re after something a little more modern, you can check our list of the best PC games to play right now. And if you're a PC player looking to spruce up your rig, you can take a gander at the best gaming PC deals available right now.
Released: September 24, 1993
Myst is a puzzle-based adventure game that launched in the early 90s and went on to become the best-selling game of the decade. Armed with a magical book, the player can hop through different worlds, solving puzzles and finding the missing pages of yet more books, to ultimately save one of two brothers trapped in - wait for it - other books. Or you could opt to leave them languishing in their respective prisons. Myst was applauded for its visuals and sound, although the audience was split over the gameplay, making it the marmite of adventure games to some degree. Either way, it’s had a slew of remakes over the last 25 years, and was even released on console and mobile, so if you want to see what all of the fuss is about, you can dive in when the fancy takes you.
19. Duke Nukem 3D
Released: January 29, 1996
Developer: 3D Realms
If it wasn’t for Duke Nukem 3D, I’m not sure any of us would know what a real man looks like. At least that’s what the buzzcut topped bundle of machismo barely suppressed behind a pair of sunglasses and bursting out of a red tank top would have you think. Duke may have been desperately compensating for something, but solid, fun gameplay wasn’t it. Steeped in the action hero run off from the late 80s ad early 90s, Duke kicks ass, chews bubblegum, and saves buxom beauties from an alien threat that invades his impromptu vacation in L.A. after he just got done saving the world in Duke Nukem 2. The bare bones story and action movie caricature may not have aged well - as evidenced by the horrendous flop of Duke Nukem Forever - but you can relive Duke’s glory days with Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition.
18. Deus Ex
Released: June 23, 2000
Developer: Ion Storm
Deus Ex is a cyberpunk action RPG that explores themes of societal inequality, technological advancement, and the augmentation of human beings. The protagonist JC Denton is an entry-level cyborg, for all intents and purposes, and his first assignment as an anti-terrorist agent, is to root out the culprits behind a stolen shipment of vaccines for a lethal pandemic. But of course nothing is that straightforward and he soon gets embroiled in a plot that pits him against a number of shady organisations like the Illuminati and Triads, to name a few. Thanks to the magic of mods, the game has had a visual overhaul as well as improved AI and expanded physics. The Give Me Deus Ex mod describes itself as Deus Ex but better, which is a bold claim, and you can try it out for yourself right here.
Released: December 10, 1993
Developer: id Software
Doom is the mother of all first-person shooters, and the landscape of gun toting games wouldn’t be what it is without it. A sci-fi horror, Doom follows a nameless space marine as he fights back the hordes of hellspawn that have broken through to the base on Mars. Despite not being particularly rich on the narrative front, the game boasted 3D graphics, and networked multiplayer. These days you can play Doom on pretty much anything, from a printer to an ATM machine. But the good news is you don’t have to. The game got a reboot in 2016 that is suitably shooty and gives players a veritable arsenal to play with.
Released: June 22, 1996
Developer: id Software
Id Software hit it out of the park again just three years after the release of Doom, with Quake. It abandoned the Doom engine for the Quake engine, rendering 3D environments that knocked the socks off everyone old enough to persuade their parents to buy it for them. Medieval gothic was the setting this time around, and multiplayer was cranked up a notch, supporting a whopping eight players instead of a paltry four. Quake was also the first shooter to have maps specifically for multiplayer, and clans sprouted up in the community around it. The game is arguably just as important as Doom for shaping the current gaming vista. The title spawned a series, with the most recent entry being the upcoming Quake Champions, a fast-paced arena shooter that’s currently in Early Access on Steam.
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15. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
Released: September 19, 1997
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee is a perilous prison break from RuptureFarms, a meat processing plant that is grinding up the local fauna into delicious treats for the Glukkon race of aliens. When the titular Abe gets wise to what’s going on, he makes a break for it, rescuing his fellow Mudokons on the way out - or not. The choice of playing the hero is left up to the player, but there are consequences that unfold at the end based on how many enslaved workers Abe transports to freedom. In a happy turn of events, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee also got a remake from the ground up in 2014, as Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, so it’s another one on the list that you don’t need to take your rose-tinted glasses off for.
14. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
Released: December, 1991
Ron Gilbert took the lead on one of LucasArts most well-known and well-loved titles, with the second game in the Monkey Island series. Joined by Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman, the three conjured up a story about the return of the pirate LeChuck, resurrected as a zombie after his defeat in the first game. Gilbert left the studio after Monkey Island 2, stating that LucasArts’ vision of the series’ future wasn’t in line with his own, and so the game remains a must-play for his fans. A Special Edition launched in 2010, with new voice overs and a hint system, which would have been handy for the infernal monkey wrench puzzle that was notorious for stumping players back in 1991. You can even switch between the new and original version of the game, if you’re anxious that you might be missing out on something.
Released: March 31, 1998
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Launched before Activision bought Blizzard’s parent company, Vivendi, StarCraft is a real-time strategy game set in the expanse of space that revolutionised the genre. Players choose one of three races and construct bases and manage resources until they get strong enough to steal everyone else’s. The title was the best-selling PC game in its year of launch, and has become a cultural phenomenon in South Korea. StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty released in 2010, but the original got a remaster last year.
12. Day of the Tentacle
Released: June 25, 1993
Another Tim Schafer masterpiece, Day of the Tentacle is more renowned than Grim Fandango, and is the sequel to 1987’s Maniac Mansion. A cartoon point-and click adventure with a story centreing on time travel, the players can switch between three different characters, separated by a faulty time machine. The title got a remaster in 2016, made by Schafer’s new studio Double Fine, so you can enjoy all new hand-drawn, high resolution artwork, along with remastered audio.
11. Hexen: Beyond Heretic
Released: October 30, 1995
Developer: Raven Software
Hexen married a first-person shooter with a high fantasy setting, giving players three classes to choose from before unleashing them into a world full of monsters that were in need of a good trouncing. A sequel to 1994’s Heretic, players have to choose a fighter, cleric, or mage before setting out to track down the second of the Serpent Riders, the game’s ultimate boss who awaits in a trap-riddled throne room. It may not hold up graphically, but there are plenty of mods that will spruce it up for you, letting you dive into some monster-exterminating shenanigans without taking a toll on your eyeballs.