No matter how many new games are released for PC, there will always be a long list of old-school classics vying for your attention. The best classic PC games might look a tad blocky or feel a bit clunky, but that’s really just part of their throwback charm. Whether you enjoyed them back in the day and nostalgia is calling, or you’re eager to see if the hype is justified, playing legendary, decades-old PC games can help you appreciate how influential these virtual worlds really are, beyond all the hearsay. With their gripping stories, unique art styles, and immersive, open-ended gameplay, these classics laid the foundation for what the PC platform – and gaming as we know it – would eventually accomplish. And even if you’ve grown accustomed to 4K visuals and highly customizable settings, you’d be amazed at how these games can still manage to surprise and delight you.
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, to seminal shooters like Doom and Quake, and even the odd console-to-PC port. 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, 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. 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.
17. 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.
16. 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.
15. Resident Evil 2
Released: January 21, 1998
In its heydey, Resident Evil 2 received critical acclaim for its cinematic camera angles, oppressive atmosphere, and level design. It introduced Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield to fans, who were both nobodies before career and family brought them to Raccoon City as Umbrella’s zombie virus spilled out of Resident Evil’s mansion on the outskirts of town and spread to the local population.The story quickly escalates to the realms of the outlandish but its par for the course for the series by now, and you’d be disappointed if it were anything different. If you were still potty training at the tail end of the 90s, you can give the Resident Evil 2 Remake a whirl when it launches next year.
14. 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.
13. Final Fantasy 8
Released: February 11, 1999
Developer: Square Enix
Final Fantasy 8 was a PlayStation console exclusive when it launched almost 20 years ago, but it got a PC release in 2000. A heart-wrenching story of lost love is at the centre of the series’ traditional overarching story of political intrigue, peppered with magic, memorable characters, and breathtaking full-motion video sequences, if you want to use the lingo of the time. While it’s common to hear Final Fantasy 7 cited as the best of the series – on the PlayStation at least – Final Fantasy 8 was praised for building on the accomplishments of its predecessor. The title got a re-release on PC in 2013 and is sitting at Very Positive on Steam, so there’s a sweet dose of nostalgia right at your fingertips.
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.
11. Grim Fandango
Released: October 30, 1998
Grim Fandango is a funny and heartwarming tale that follows the adventures of underworld travel agent Manny Calavera as he ushers the recently departed on their journey through the land of the dead. With a gripping plot and devilish puzzles, LucasArts upped the ante on an already stellar title by making it the first adventure game to be rendered in 3D, bringing the vibrant Aztec-inspired art deco graphics to life. Hailed as one of the last great adventure game of the 90s, its hard-boiled film noir narrative was resurrected in a Grim Fandango Remaster in 2014, and with an Android and iOS release a year later, there’s no reason to miss out on it.
Our list continues on the next page with the top 10 best classic PC games.