Top 5 Retro PC Games

The retro video game scene is hotter than it’s ever been. Demand for vintage games complete in their original box command prices that are through the roof. If you’re remotely interested in collecting vintage games, then you know how crazy the current market is. This article will offer you an alternative to 5 classic retro PC games that you can play right now on your modern computer without a hefty price tag. I’m very fond of each of these games and have finished them at least once (sans Populous) and in some instances, multiple times.

Ultima VI: The False Prophet
Genre: Role-playing, Adventure, Fantasy
Works on: Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10) and Mac OS X (10.6.8)
Company: Origin Systems
Release date: June 1, 1990
GoG.com price: $5.99

In Ultima VI: The False Prophet you play the Avatar. Once you’ve taken a few minutes to create your character you’re immediately thrown into battle protecting Lord British from several attacking gargoyles. Once he’s been saved, you and the rest of your party, Iolo (the Bard), Dupre (a Paladin) and Shamino (a Ranger) are given the run of the castle and the task of finding out why the gargoyles are climbing out of the earth and causing havoc across the land of Britania.

Ultima VI: The False Prophet is a rich, deep, entertaining RPG that offers hours and hours of gameplay. Each character has their own inventory space in which they can carry a wide variety of items. Inventory space is based on total weight so once you’ve reached that limit, you’ll need to choose what to drop and what to keep. The spell system in the game is based on eight different circles (or levels) of magic. Once you discover a new spell you need to learn it. Learning it displays the ingredients (herbs) needed to create the spell. For instance, Magic Missile comes from the 2nd circle and requires Black Pearl and Sulfurous Ash to make it. The same goes for alchemy and the making of different types of potions.

The highlight of the game for me was learning how to acquire the runes needed to finish the storyline. In one instance you meet Sherry the Mouse and learn that she’s holding a rune in a small room through her mouse hole. You need to add her to your party in order to control her character, gaining access to the rune – a brilliant and memorable moment in the game.

In short, Ultima VI: The False Prophet is a well-designed game with a great story. You’ll be hard pressed to stop playing once you begin. About the only drawback to playing this in 2017 is the inventory system. As gamers, we’ve become spoiled with how easy it is to manipulate inventory. Not so much in this game. It works, but it also feels clunky and cumbersome at times. Be warned – you may get carpal tunnel by having to micro-manage the inventories of four different characters throughout the game.

DooM and DooM II
Genre: First Person Shooter
Works on: Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10)
Company: id Software
Release date: May 5, 1994 (DooM II)
GoG.com price: $9.99 (DooM II + Final DooM on GoG.com)

id founders Adrian Carmack, John Carmack, Tom Hall and John Romero were a rambunctious group of young programmers eager to make a name for themselves in the video game industry. Back in 1992 they released Wolfenstein 3D. Wolfenstein 3D was a first person shooter (FPS) that introduced the world to B.J. Blazkowicz. Blazkowicz was held prisoner in an underground facility. After getting his hands on a Walther handgun, he fought his way through dungeons killing dozens of Nazis along the way.

The success of Wolfenstein 3D enabled this team of talented programmers to push the envelope even further on their next project, DooM. DooM introduced textured ceilings and floors along with a complex lighting system (whereas Wolfenstein 3D did not), giving this FPS a much needed atmosphere. The boys at id Software then did something unprecedented, they gave the game away for FREE or at least the first third of the game (releasing it as shareware). Once millions of gamers became addicted to DooM, they flocked to their local Egghead Software and Electronics Boutique game stores to purchase the remaining two chapters. The young game-makers at id Software became millionaires.

On May 5, 1994 the much anticipated sequel to the award winning DooM was released. GT Interactive Software published DooM II and it was an overnight mega success. Gone was the shareware go-to-market approach from DooM. There would be no freebies this time around, but that didn’t matter, because selling DooM II direct to retail had little risk based on the previous sales of DooM. DooM II did everything DooM did and more, advancing the game tech well beyond the original. The levels were more complex and challenging. The additional enemies were tougher to fight. The biggest change from DooM to DooM II was the ability to play in both co-op and deathmatch mode across a computer network or through the new unproven technology called the Internet. Once again, id Software changed the video game industry.

Before I move onto the next game, I also need to mention Ben Morris. Morris created the Doom Construction Kit (DCK). In short, DCK was a sector-based DOS level editor created by Morris. This piece of software allowed the average Joe to create levels for DooM and DooM II extending the shelf life of the game well beyond what the developers ever imagined. Thank you Mr. Morris. You’re responsible for my first divorce and you paved my way into the game industry.

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards
Genre: Point and Click Adventure
Works on: Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10), Mac OS X (10.6.8) and Linux
Company: Sierra
Release date: July 5, 1987
GoG.com price: $9.99 (or $16.98 for the series on GoG.com)

In this game you play the lovable character of Larry Laffer. You’re short, balding, have no game whatsoever, and you’re a virgin. This is a graphic adventure game in which you control the main character by typing in a variety of commands via the game’s interface. In short, you move from point to point solving game puzzles before moving onto the game’s next area. You start in the City of Lost Wages, desperately trying to get laid while trying to find the woman of your dreams.

There are a total of five areas in the game in which you’ll visit. Lefty’s Bar, a hotel casino, a 24-hour wedding chapel, a convenience store, and a discotheque. Each of these areas presents the player with fun unique challenges. One example is the prostitute you encounter early in the game. Having unprotected sex with her ends the game prematurely when Larry gets an unexpectedly virulent sexually- transmitted disease. However, if you leave Lefty’s Bar and hail a cab to the convenience store to buy a rubber . . . I mean a lubber, you may survive the ordeal. In short, this game was considered a “softporn adventure” back in the day. It was also a runaway hit for Sierra and paved the way for many Sierra sequels and for other similar games from other industry players.

In 1987, when this game was released, computer gaming was like the Wild West. Almost anything went. The ESRB didn’t exist and the point and click adventure was new to the PC gaming community. 30 years later this genre of game is nearly extinct but thanks to companies like GoG.com you can go back and relive the memories you had when trying to get laid on your old 286 processor.

 

Populous
Genre: Strategy
Works on: Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10) and Mac OS X (10.6.8)
Company: Bullfrog
Release date: June 5, 1989
GoG.com price: $5.99

I think it’s safe to say that Populous was one of the first top-down strategy games widely available on the PC. In Populous you play the role of GOD (or a Deity as you are called in the game). You control a variety of cave-man like characters named walkers by choosing action icons located around the player map. The map is a pseudo-three dimensional space in which you raise or lower land to achieve flat surfaces. Once that part of the map is flat, your followers will build a hut, a house and eventually a sprawling castle. This is how your population grows and becomes your army.

The opposing team, your enemy, are usually placed on the opposite side of the map. The CPU is doing just what you are, attempting to build their populous in order to build an army. They have the exact same toolset that you do. That toolset contains a variety of options to choose from. The “Papal Magnet” causes your walkers to go to your leader who in turn goes to the Papal Magnet. This is how you move your walkers around. The “Settle” option tells your walkers to build and settle down increasing your population. “Gather Together” merges walkers into single stronger walkers creating more powerful units. Finally, the “Fight” option does just what you think it does, it tells your walkers to fight nearby enemies.

The Divine Intervention tools are the most fun to experiment with. Setting aside the raising and lowering land (which is a necessity of the game and a key component for success) you have Earthquake, Swamp, Knight, Volcano, Flood and the granddaddy of them all, Armageddon. All of these tools are designed to disrupt the CPU’s progress, giving you the edge on any given map. In other words, you are the Deity in Populous.

In its day Populous was an addicting strategy game. As a single player game, the maps are fun to play and get more and more challenging the deeper you progress. The real fun comes from network play. It’s one thing to beat a somewhat predictable CPU opponent but another to outwit a human on the other end of a network cable.

If you’re interested in seeing where the modern day strategy game came from, then you owe it to yourself to try Populous. In fact, I dare you to complete the game. That’s something that I’ve never done.

The Colonel’s Bequest
Genre: Point and Click Adventure
Works on: Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10)
Company: Sierra
Release date: January 1, 1989
GoG.com price: $5.99

Roberta Williams was an integral part of On-Line Systems (later becoming Sierra or Sierra On-Line). In fact, she co-founded the company in Coarsegold, CA, with her husband Ken Williams and worked on early titles such as Mystery House and King’s Quest. She’s also credited for pioneering the graphic adventure and has had a hand in just about everything the company did early in its early years. When The Colonel’s Bequest was announced it was announced as her game. What’s this? A game designed by a woman? That’s correct and a damn fine game it turned out to be.

In The Colonel’s Bequest you play Laura Bow, a student of journalism and a part time amateur private detective. It’s sometime in the 1920s when Laura is invited by her friend Lillian to attend a family reunion at her uncle’s estate. The estate itself is a dreary mansion set in a bayou just outside of New Orleans. Colonel Dijon, Lillian’s uncle, wants to chat about his will at this get together. Soon after doing so, the family members begin to fight and then start showing up dead. Laura takes it upon herself to solve the murders and figure out why the dead bodies are disappearing.

Like the other Sierra game featured in this article, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, The Colonel’s Bequest is a graphic adventure filled with puzzles that need to be solved. The difference is this is a detective game in the vein of a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or an Agatha Christie novel. So unlike the aforementioned adventure game, you’re sleuthing to solve a mystery and not trying to get laid. In other words, this one takes itself more serious but not serious enough to make the adventure tedious.

If you like the idea of gathering clues, spying on people from behind paintings, and creeping through secret passages, then you’re going to love The Colonel’s Bequest. It’s a great murder mystery with some intelligently written dialogue that should entertain you for a few hours.

 


Save Early and Often

These are just a few of my favorite classic PC games being offered by the online service GoG.com. GoG offers all sorts of classic titles and genres and now offers new game releases by both indie and established game developers. All games are DRM-FREE with no activation or online connectivity to play. Once you pay and download, have at it. They also offer a 30-day money back guarantee if you’re dissatisfied with your purchase. In other words, you have NOTHING to lose here.

Contributed by Mike Murphy

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