The 90s might have been a terrible time for fashion, but at least we had the best 90s PC games to console ourselves when people ripped open our popper pants.
The 1990s brought lots of building games to the fore, as well as some of the most influential shooting games that have gone on to inspire other popular series that we play relentlessly today.
I mean, would we have Overwatch if it wasn’t for the title at Number 5?
And let’s face it, the games at Number 2 and 1 are the only consolation to me being a 90s baby and not an 80s baby!
So, forget your Xbox Series X for a second and head back to Windows 95 as check out the 90s PC games that defined the decade!
Now, where did I put that bucket hat?
10. Sim City 2000 (1993)
How many of you can remember the first time you turned on Sim City 2000?
I mean, Maxis clearly had no idea what the year 2000 was going to be like, because it wasn’t all that different to 1993.
Still, having the ability to make your on cities and control every aspect of life in this isometric, God-playing game was unreal.
While this was undoubtedly one of the best 90s PC games, it dropped on pretty much every console known to humankind.
Because what do we love more than living in a city than going home and building a city.
The customisation elements available to cultivate the ground before building your city were really something special too.
Want to put a certain building on a hill? How about making everything as flat as Holland?
Add everything from zoos to schools and do business with nearby towns. It’s still one of the most popular SIM games today and a perfect way to spend hours procrastinating instead of doing actual work.
9. Diablo (1996)
Diablo could well be one of the most iconic isometric games of all time. With a storyline that could have jumped straight out of Tolkien’s ideas book, it’s a bonafide fantasy classic with hints of corruption, adventure, and the evil of the Lord of Terror, Diablo.
Intrepid warriors seek the riches hidden within the town that covers diablo’s prison, and rumours speak of a way to stop the demons that inhabit the land and bring peace back to a war torn world.
Is this a book? Because if it is, I’m going to stop writing and start reading immediately. Answers on a postcard to Retro Dodo Towers, please
Pick an avatar and class depending on what skills you want to take into the game with you and pick up new weapons and armour as you progress.
Learn magic, complete side quests, and get attribute points to spend on new skills to upgrade your characters. It’s all the RPG goodness that you’d expect from a game like this, and having the ability to team up with friends to take on the dungeons was amazing too.
Copies of Diablo go for pretty cheap these days, so if you have a machine that can play this 90s PC game, then grab a copy and have a bash!
8. MYST (1993)
MYST is one of those games that we’ve all seen the cover of, even if we haven’t played it before. A classic title and one of the greatest point and click adventure games of all time, it brings mystery and intrigue to any console.
MYST sees players setting out on a mysterious quest on the fabled island of Myst. Yes, I did enjoy writing that line, and it won’t be the last time I write it either!
Your mission is to complete puzzles and find certain clues, clues about your mysterious past.
There’s so much MYST I can hardly see… ok, that was bad, I know.
The great thing about MYST is that it’s simple to play and has no time constraints. You don’t have to complete missions in a certain time.
In fact, exploration is encouraged, and there are no enemies to encounter or chance of death.
This probably contributes to its popularity; I like to think that it’s the kind of game that Hercule Poirot or Professor Layton might play when they’ve finishing detecting for the day.
7. Quake II (1997)
Quake II, on the other hand, couldn’t be further from the relaxing gameplay of MYST. This is all out shooting action as players try to force back the advances of the Strogg.
They’re an alien race of freaks that want to wipe us out, just for context.
The mission in Quake 2 is simple; infiltrate the Strogg home planet, find their leader, and scatter their brains on the carpet.
Like many FPS games, weapons and health are scattered around the levels for you to find. You can also pick up body armour too.
You’ll probably need body armour just to protect your ribs while using the BFG10K!
And no, that F doesn’t stand for ‘friendly’.
Destroy everything in sight, and that goes for your mates in the multiplayer mode too! The graphics are pretty simple and the visuals are pretty dark, but that only adds to the tense atmosphere.
Maybe Stroggs just like the dark?
6. Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (1997)
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II is one of the first games I played where I can remember using a lightsaber.
Do you know how amazing that was for 7 year old me? This was the closest I thought I would ever come to being a Jedi. Imagine if I had known about the best Star Wars games on Nintendo Switch that were to come throughout my life.
I don’t think I would have been able to contain my excitement!
Staring with a blaster, players take Kyle Katarn through epic Star Wars scenarios, all happening after Return of the Jedi.
You need to stop a bad lad called Jerec from discovering his true power in a place called the Land of the Jedi.
As you might have guessed, Kyle can move towards the light or dark side of the force. Killing bystanders by choking them or throwing them against a wall isn’t going to earn you any good points, so either control your actions or let loose and give in to the Sith inside you.
5. Unreal Tournament (1999)
Unreal Tournament is capturing the 5th spot in our best 90s PC games by force, and I don’t think it’ll be letting go of it in a hurry!
I know we’re all obsessed with games like PUBG and Fortnite these days, but back in the day, it was Unreal Tournament that made us argue with our parents about not being at the dinner table on time or spending too much time in front of a screen.
Weapons like the Golden Gun in GoldenEye 007 and Turok’s Cerebral Bore look like knitting needles compared to the firepower in this game.
And you guys know how much I bang on about that Cerebral Bore!
Grab body armour as you move around the game, using whatever weapons you can lay your grubby mitts on to wipe out the other players.
Capture the flag is all well and good, but it’ll always be the Last Man Standing mode that I go to. You just can’t beat it.
Having said that, the single player mode and its waves of A.I fighters is incredibly satisfying. It’s also one of our best Dreamcast games too if you and your friends fancy crowding around Sega’s ill-fated swan song and getting your multiplayer on!
4. Rollercoaster Tycoon (1999)
Ahhh, Rollercoaster Tycoon. This box sat proudly next to my PC for many a year, which is funny because I absolutely hate rollercoasters in real life.
Like Sim City 2000, players looked down on their terrain from an isometric view and had to build an incredible theme park.
As the manager of the park, you have to hire staff to run it, build new and exciting rides, and keep everything spick and span.
Food stalls and fast rides don’t mix, so there’s going to be a lot of sick around for you to clean up!
Some rides can crash too, so you’ve really got to be on the ball with your mechanical upkeep. Otherwise, there could be a terrible scandal!
Customers might try to vandalise the park if they get bored, so keep them entertained with nice scenery and people dressed in funny costumes while they wait.
Honestly, Rollercoaster Tycoon is such an immersive game that you’ll need to have some wind down time after you clock off for the day. If you thought managing a zoo was hard in our best zoo building games, then you’ve seen nothing yet!
3. Thief: The Dark Project (1998)
Thief: The Dark Project takes the bronze medal in our list of the best 90s PC games. I remember buying this from the local second-hand games store and playing it for the first time.
So I’ve never been great at stealth games, but I’ve always enjoyed playing them. Did I die. lot while playing Thief? Yes.
But did I complete it in the end? Yes… after a long while!
If you love games like the Assassin’s Creed series, then the Dark Project will definitely appeal to you.
Play as Garret, a master thief that has got caught up in some business that is, for once, on the right side of the law.
Instead of robbing and just hanging out in his pad, he’s now trying to stop a superpower from controlling the world. That’s what I call a shift from your normal job description!
Skulking around ‘The City’ or drawing swords with guards still feels fantastic over two decades later. If you’ve never played a Thief game, then you’re in for a real treat!
2. Age Of Empires II (1999)
Age Of Empires II is one of those games that 9 year old me spent hours and hours on. I think this is probably the reason why I love Lord of the Rings and programs like Game of Thrones so much.
Building settlements, attacking with armies; it was one of the most played games on my PC.
And maybe controlling the Goth civilisation was what made me get so many tattoos and wear black as an adult… stands to reason, right?
Lead your chosen civilisation to victory, picking from Vikings, Britons, and many more. Start with nothing and built the greatest empire the world has ever seen.
I got goosebumps writing that last line.
Build, hunt, and thrive on multiple types of terrain. Will you find and kill opposing kings, or will you fall at the first hurdle and dwindle into obscurity?
1. Half-Life (1998)
The results are in, and Half-Life is officially the best 90s PC game of all time!
I think everyone had a copy of this game back in 1998. I’m pretty sure my next-door neighbour bought a PC just for this game too.
It was cutting edge back in the day, a shooting game like no other with a gripping storyline and tense, challenging gameplay that had you on the edge of that same spinny computer chair we all had.
Players see the game through Gordon Freeman’s eyes. He’s trying to escape a research facility overrun by evil aliens that want to kill everything.
Doesn’t sound like a great place for thinking about life-changing research, does it?
Half-Life has so many ‘Game of the Year’ awards under its belt that it probably needs a second belt to support it. It remains one of the most influential shooting games of all time, though there was more to it than just ‘run and gun’ action.
The puzzles Gordon has to solve aren’t your standard shooting game tasks. They were complex, helping to break up the attack action and keep your brain focused.
And this was Valve’s first ever project too. It’s not often dev’s hit the ground running with an absolute masterpiece, but they nailed it with Half-Life!
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Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 31 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.