5 PC Games That Defined the 90s

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5 PC Games That Defined the 90s

Whether or not you ever played an ASCII game on a BBS, if you've been playing games for a few years, you're probably familiar with some of these classics.

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Buddy? Are you looking to start a war?

SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2 SYSTEM SHOCK 2

Also GTA (yes the first one) Quake 2: first of mouse look shooters, and of course HALF LIFE.

If we are going to repeat id games we might as well include all the id games from Wolfenstein 3D to Quake 3.

The other spot could have been this:

Quake 1 surely. I remember buying a 3D only graphics card from 3Dfx with pass through cables when the GLQuake.exe was released. Ah, the battles me and my fellow students would have. Also, where is Diablo?

Not even one of the great Ultima games that were released in the 90s? Ultima 7 was my 90s RPG of choice.

This is a really solid list, Doom and Wolfenstein 3D in particular defined my childhood, but I'm surprised by the lack of point-and-click adventures. I think at least one LucasArts classic should've been in the top 5.

tehroc:
Not even one of the great Ultima games that were released in the 90s? Ultima 7 was my 90s RPG of choice.

There were definitely some amazing RPGs floating around in the 90s, but I don't think they had the general impact on gaming that the games in this list had. I learned to mod games with Might and Magic: World of Xeen. I sunk unimaginable hours into repeated playthroughs of Betrayal at Krondor. I played many different entries in the Ultima series. Despite my affection for the genre, I think this list represents what really started to bring PC gaming into the spotlight.

That said, if you want to see what The Escapist staff thinks of RPGs in the last few years, check back tomorrow afternoon!

The problem with this thread is "define the 90s" rather than just listing good games released in the 1990s. Civilization is probably one of the most ambitious and important games ever released, but I couldn't honestly say there was anything specifically about it that "defined" the 90s (in the same way that Pac-Man or Super Mario Brothers defined the 80s). Doom probably qualifies, but did StarCraft (released in 1998) really start to gain momentum until after the 90s were over? The problem with video games is that, until recently, they didn't quite have the same reach that books, movies and music had and so played a lesser part in defining decades. That said, I'll have a go at this.

Tomb Raider is surely the PC game that crossed over most into popular culture at this time.
SimCity (though released in 1989) lead to a genre of management games (Railroad Tycoon, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper etc) that were very 90's

Wow, not a single game on this list I actually liked, except Wolfenstein, which I didn't play until 2008 (but did love).

Naw, my PC childhood consisted of SimCity 2000, Pajama Sam: No Need to Hide When It's Dark Outside (among other Humongous games, but for fairness I'll only list my favorite), Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit (the PC version let you play as the cops), Half-Life, and Snood.

P.S. Thanks

And then they all got bought out... The end..

LaoJim:
The problem with this thread is "define the 90s" rather than just listing good games released in the 1990s. Civilization is probably one of the most ambitious and important games ever released, but I couldn't honestly say there was anything specifically about it that "defined" the 90s (in the same way that Pac-Man or Super Mario Brothers defined the 80s). Doom probably qualifies, but did StarCraft (released in 1998) really start to gain momentum until after the 90s were over? The problem with video games is that, until recently, they didn't quite have the same reach that books, movies and music had and so played a lesser part in defining decades. That said, I'll have a go at this.

Tomb Raider is surely the PC game that crossed over most into popular culture at this time.
SimCity (though released in 1989) lead to a genre of management games (Railroad Tycoon, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper etc) that were very 90's

What about Diablo? It certainly had a lot of impact.

I was going to say, Civilization. But in reading another post, I can't say that it "defined" the decade. But it should be in the conversation at least.

Lucas Arts adventure games?

A game that defined the '90s? X-COM. Microprose used to be a giant in PC gaming; this, along with Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon, were two of their biggest hits.

I'd also throw in Transport Tycoon, for being Chris Sawyer's first "Tycoon" game. You may be familiar with his next one: Rollercoaster Tycoon.

EDIT: Oh, and a million points to this --

Hoplon:
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...
and of course HALF LIFE.

This list feels like that other one that PCGamer did for top 25 RPG's of all time and they included South Park Stick of Truth, Skyrim and ME2.

So...no Quake?
No Command & Conquer?

I know these lists are subjective and I agree that all of those games are era defining...but no Command & Conquer? Really?

I'd add Monkey Island. It is simply amazing and it left spoiled for life about adventure games. Few experiences managed to better than it in gaming.

josemlopes:
If we are going to repeat id games we might as well include all the id games from Wolfenstein 3D to Quake 3.

The other spot could have been this:

Ah yes. This was truly the Minesweeper of the 90s.

While I never played Myst or Starcraft, I can say that they certainly do belong on this list. The only one I'd contest is Wolf3D, but only because Doom blew it out of the water just a year later. It was two paradigm shifts in as many years, so it makes lists like this seem a little funny.

Loved playing all those games, except i never got into Wing Commander. I bought Wolfenstein 3D again from PSN and played it in its entirety with metallic black album playing and had a nostalgic good time. I could still play starcraft and enjoy it with ease, if only i had the time and less other games to play :). I re-downloaded the original Doom and Doom II but didn't end up playing them all the way through again. Myst is one of my old favorites. Had it when it came out, got the PSone version when that came out, and even bought it a third time in a collectors edition (discounted price).

All great games, classics for me. Never tried wing commander though, somehow i just missed it i guess.

Doom AND wolfenstein seem redundant. One invented the genre, the other refined it, but they'r not diverse enough to justify inclusion.

And there's plenty other 90s games that could have filled that gap. Maybe Baldurs Gate came too late to leave a mark and dropped a gauntlet that no one really picked up since, but Tomb Raider in its ability to define "action adventure" as a genre in and of itself? Final Fantasy VII and its role in making jRPGs acceptable and sough after in the western world? Half Life and its influence on every shooter ever? Street Fighter 2? Each of these games not only defined the 90s, but all gaming in the 21st century, and are for the most part still untouched by age and able to give their offspring a run for their money.

grimner:
Doom AND wolfenstein seem redundant. One invented the genre, the other refined it, but they'r not diverse enough to justify inclusion.

And there's plenty other 90s games that could have filled that gap. Maybe Baldurs Gate came too late to leave a mark and dropped a gauntlet that no one really picked up since, but Tomb Raider in its ability to define "action adventure" as a genre in and of itself? Final Fantasy VII and its role in making jRPGs acceptable and sough after in the western world? Half Life and its influence on every shooter ever? Street Fighter 2? Each of these games not only defined the 90s, but all gaming in the 21st century, and are for the most part still untouched by age and able to give their offspring a run for their money.

So well put sir. If there's anything that's "of the 90s" it's the original Tomb Raider. I was in High School when it came out and even friends who'd never played a video game in their lives knew of Lara Croft and were convinced she was based on a real person and wanted to sleep with that real person (even though she was imaginary). Swap out Wolf3D for Tomb Raider and Myst for something else and I'd have zero problem with this list. Obviously from my chosen avatar I think the something else should be SS2 but Diablo, Warcraft, HL, Civ, Monkey Island, Sam and Max, Sensible Soccer (in the UK only probably), Cannon Fodder, Worms, Unreal and a host of others would be much better contenders. And then there's FFVII, the game that sold a million Playstations, cemented Sony in the console market and introduced a swathe of the populous to the crazy world of Japan at the time when Anime was becoming huge. Unless it's just a list of games that sold particularly well during the Nineties, in which case sure, lets go with Myst.

You did not include Command and Conquer, you have failed. Starcraft was great but C&C was made by Westwood, the devs that created the RTS genre with their dune games, also why have 2 FPS games when one of them would do and System shock, Tomb Raider or any other genre could have fit in.

Even being subjective, this felt a little poorly thought out.

Doom & Wolf3d seems excessive. Even Duke 3D would've fit in better then doubling on ID stuff.
I don't even especially idolize Diablo or Baldurs Gate, but their absence is noticeable.

Also the whole point and click adventure genre, whatever your particular choice is there.

Starcraft was very late-90s, and doesn't seem like an ultra-influential pick. It may have been more popular then its Warcraft predecessors, but Command and Conquer or Warcraft would seem like the better option for influencing RTS.

1) Starcraft redefined the RTS for the 2000s, for sure. But it didn't define the 90s; that accolade surely belongs to C&C, which remains a 90s throwback to this day (no other game still has FMVs, a genre that was just bursting open - and falling apart simultaneously, and yes I'm looking at you Phantasmagoria - when C&C first appeared). Dune 2's still my favourite, though.

2) I love Wolfenstein more than Doom, and I still play it today (I'm trying to single-segment 100% Episode 3 in under half an hour, but I keep on running out of ammo in L6); but you really only need one FPS and Doom is surely it.

3) Monkey Island, as so many people have said. I understand the question though - given that it started out on the Amiga, can it truly be said to have defined PC gaming? Maybe MI2, or Sam And Max, or even IJATFate Of Atlantis.

Shodan1980:
Worms

Great shout, but again, the Amiga problem.

Is no one understanding that this isn't a critique on objective quality? These are PC-centric games that were either first on the scene or the best known. These are games that became household names. The title is games that Defined the 90s not Top 5 90s games

quake 2
half life 1
doom
age of empires 2
dino crisis
resident evil 1 and 2

i would like to say system shock 2 as well, but this game is so confusing with its 20 windows what you can do, enemies being bullet sponges. simply just cant enjoy it as such. got it on steam and never finished it.

Doom, Diablo, Baldur's Gate, Half Life and I guess I could see Wing Commander and that's it.

Hoplon:
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Also GTA (yes the first one) Quake 2: first of mouse look shooters, and of course HALF LIFE.

System Shock 2, the awesome game nobody actually bought. I'd have it on my list but the first time I acquired a copy was two years ago.

Elberik:
Is no one understanding that this isn't a critique on objective quality? These are PC-centric games that were either first on the scene or the best known. These are games that became household names. The title is games that Defined the 90s not Top 5 90s games

Yeah, but everyone had different games define the 90's for them. I'd argue Wolfenstein shouldn't be on the list because everything it contributed to the genre it forged was stolen by Doom, for example. Baldur's Gate remains a potent memory for gamers and it effectively put the isometric RPG on the map in a memorable way. Diablo took the Rogue Like and made it a genre of its own long before people called them rogue-likes. Then you have critical successes like System Shock 2 that no one actually played until ten years later, so even though it was a crowning achievement of the 90's it's pretty much a ghost of the decade that really owes its continued memory to Bioshock's success.

Why not mention Magic: the Gathering (1993), because that game pretty much created CCG's as we know them? Don't forget about Warhammer 40k (also 1993), the game that redefined competitive tabletop and practically invented the "pay-to-win" model. Those are also games, you know, and they existed in the 90s... that's two things from the title, which makes them completely relevant.

In less stupid answers, here's a few other PC games that may or may not have "defined the 90's":

Descent. More akin to flight sims than fps, Descent offered unparalleled freedom of movement in 3D space, creating a unique experience in either and both genres.

Raptor: Call of the Shadows. A rare PC exclusive for its genre, this was one of the last shareware-based games, and the definitive "bullet hell" experience on PC for many years.

Duke Nukem 3D. A massive step away from fun, "kidsy" 2d platform/shooters, Duke Nukem 3D's "mature" subject matter, and snarky humor were quintessential 90s "attitudes"... which was supposedly a good thing back then. Ok, maybe Duke 3D didn't "define" the 90s, but it sure as hell encapsulated them.

Might and Magic VI. A first foray (not the first, iirc.) into realism for the series, straddling real-time action and turn-based movements, MM6 set the standard for the party-based 3D western RPG... which was quickly supplanted by the single-character western RPG until the dawn of the MMO. In fact, many modern MMO mechanics and scenarios were, shall we say, "borrowed" from Might and Magic series, and MM6 in particular.

Mechwarrior 3. The best and pretty much only reason to own a flight stick in the 90s. If you owned a swivel joystick, you played Mechwarrior 3. It was the last and best customizable giant-robot piloting simulator.

Oooooooh boy. This is fanboy bait if I'd ever seen it.

Honestly, there are a couple of sentiments that I've seen that I can echo; Starcraft, while highly influential, didn't really pick up steam until the 2000s. That could have easily been replaced by Red Alert 1, one of the finest pieces of strategy gaming out there (as much as I'd like to say Total Annihilation fits that bill, since it was published in 1997, it's still Red Alert that, I'd say, dragged a whole lot of us into the genre).

Wolfenstein could have been left out completely. Sure, if it wasn't for that game, we wouldn't have Doom, but let's face it...Doom fits the "defined the 90s" bill a lot better than Wolfenstein.

Probably could have been replaced by a Sam and Max game...or, hell, even one of the Phantasmagorias. Yes, the Phantasmagorias weren't the best games out there. If ya really think about it, though, the 90s were the clumsy, awkward adolescence of video gameing in general - not just PC.

Full-motion video games were just that - clumsy and awkward.

Too many shooters on the list tbh. Shooters weren't -that- defining.

camazotz:

Elberik:
Is no one understanding that this isn't a critique on objective quality? These are PC-centric games that were either first on the scene or the best known. These are games that became household names. The title is games that Defined the 90s not Top 5 90s games

Yeah, but everyone had different games define the 90's for them. I'd argue Wolfenstein shouldn't be on the list because everything it contributed to the genre it forged was stolen by Doom, for example. Baldur's Gate remains a potent memory for gamers and it effectively put the isometric RPG on the map in a memorable way. Diablo took the Rogue Like and made it a genre of its own long before people called them rogue-likes. Then you have critical successes like System Shock 2 that no one actually played until ten years later, so even though it was a crowning achievement of the 90's it's pretty much a ghost of the decade that really owes its continued memory to Bioshock's success.

I see this list as being about games that got into the public zeitgeist. Games that people even outside the industry were aware of. Not, as many people are complaining about here, whichever games revolutionized genres or were retrospectively deemed "the best".

Example, while AoE came out in the 90s and is considered by many to be the superior RTS, there is no slang that refers to AoE.

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