Kick it old school
For all the advances that PC gaming has made over the past few decades, sometimes you just want to wind back the clock and play the kinds of games you grew up with. But instead of digging out your old CD-ROMs, why not try something new while also satisfying your nostalgia?
These 10 games pay tribute to the design, artwork, and play styles of PC classics, from first-person shooters like Quake to point-and-click LucasArts adventures. It turns out they do still make games like they used to.
Strafe, which launches on May 9, is a throwback to Quake and Quake II, with its straightforward first-person shooting, polygonal art style, and gratuitous gibs and explosions. But instead of designed levels, Strafe uses random generation to keep you on your toes—and to theoretically provide endless stress relief. Even if you don’t play the game, be sure to watch the announcement trailer.
For those who miss the placid puzzle-solving and mysterious world of Myst, check out Obduction, a spiritual successor from original developer Cyan. Sure, the puzzles are a bit easier, and some areas seem strangely underdeveloped, but it still feels like a Myst game and there’s nothing else quite like it.
This neo-noir mystery isn’t just some cheap imitation of classic point-and-click adventures; it’s made by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, who co-created Maniac Mansion and worked on many other LucasArts classics. In Thimbleweed Park, they’ve embraced that rich history, with a list of nine verbs to wield, an inventory to act on, and plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor. PCWorld gave it 4.5/5 stars.
Pillars of Eternity
A proud member of the “games that will consume days of your life” club, Pillars of Eternity is a spiritual successor to the isometric RPG Baldur’s Gate. That means a rule system inspired by tabletop adventure games, seemingly endless piles of text-based lore, and a sprawling world in which to quest. By the time you finish, you might even be able to play the sequel.
Do you prefer magic wands and spells over guns and grenades in your shooters? Ziggurat could scratch that itch, just like Heretic and Hexen did in the mid-1990s. This is no first-person fantasy RPG, as the focus is squarely on fast action as you fend off monsters and dodge projectiles. The levels are randomly generated, with unlockable weapons to encourage different playstyles.
Space combat games are hard to come by these days, unless you count denser space-sim fare like Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen. Eterium is more of a direct callback to classics like X-Wing, Tie Fighter, and Wing Commander, right down to the ‘90s-style graphics. (Strike Suit Zero is another option, though it’s a bit more arcade-like than its predecessors.)
Legend of Grimrock
No disrespect to modern fantasy RPGs like Skyrim, but sometimes you want to get back to something closer to their D&D roots. For that, there’s Legend of Grimrock, a grid-based dungeon crawler that takes after the old classic Dungeon Master. Instead of moving freely, you’ll turn and walk in measured increments while fending off monsters, avoiding traps, and discovering secrets. There’s also a sequel.
Price: $15 for the first game, $24 for the second
Midair brings back the wide-open spaces, impossibly tall leaps, and “skiing” mechanics of the original Tribes first-person shooter series from the late 1990s and early aughts. The game looks to be unashamedly out of the mainstream, requiring players to accurately lead their targets while flying through the air at high speeds.
Eventually, Midair will be free-to-play, but a $70 buy-in currently gets you alpha access, a fully unlocked progression system, and an assortment of other perks.
Although the first-person hovercraft shooter genre never took off after 1995’s Descent, it has received a modern-day tribute in Sublevel Zero. You’ll be navigating cramped corridors with six degrees of movement, but instead of getting three lives and the ability to save, you get permanent death and randomly generated levels.
Chuck's Challenge 3D
Although Chip’s Challenge might seem like an odd candidate for a spiritual successor, the old Microsoft Entertainment Pack staple had a sizeable cult following. And because its direct sequel was trapped in publishing rights limbo for decades, original designer Chuck Sommerville had no choice but to come up with a complete reboot, which first launched on mobile devices and then PCs in 2014. Consider Chuck’s Challenge 3D a more modern-looking counterpart to Chip’s Challenge, whose sequel finally did launch a couple years ago.