Kevin’s Favorite Games: PC

Welcome back to Kevin’s Favorite Games! In this series, I will list my favorite games for every console I have ever owned (or at least played enough to have a reasonable opinion on the games). Clearly, this will not be a “best games of every console” list. The rankings will be based on my opinions and my experience, considering the time in my life in which I played these games. These games are not all going to be console exclusives, as I have played many exclusives and non-exclusives, and each console tends to have its own positives and negatives for each title.

Obviously, my opinions are 100% correct. You’ll likely disagree, and that’s ok. You have a right to be wrong. With that said, assuming you disagree with me, let me know what your favorites are.

Let’s dive headfirst into my list of my five favorite PC games.

5. Star Wars: TIE Fighter (1994)

Synopsis: In the time between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the Empire found their footing and began to crush the Rebel Alliance. In TIE Fighter, you are dropped into the cockpit of the powerful TIE, tasked with helping the Empire continue its galactic dominance, shortly after their victory in the Battle of Hoth. You fight Rebels, pirates, combatants in a local civil war, and even Imperial traitors. The game positions the Empire as the defenders of peace and order, serving under Vice-Admiral Thrawn and ultimately preventing a coup against Emperor Palpatine. Expansions show the rise of Thrawn to the rank of Grand Admiral. In-flight combat can be first- or third-person and flight is controlled with a joystick.

Analysis: TIE Fighter, sequel to the smash hit X-Wing, was the first time I ever actually played a game in which the Empire was the “good” guy. The game tweaks everything in its presentation to drive this point home. The originally dark and ominous Imperial music is presented as more heroic and grander. Thrawn and other characters are presented not as evil, but as geniuses driven by trying to keep the galaxy safe and peaceful. You are rewarded for completing secondary objectives, receiving commendations and promotions within the Emperor’s inner circle. Progression feels natural in this way, as you earn better and more powerful ships through these promotions and advancement through the ranks of pilots. Taking heavy damage will affect systems in your ship, like engines or the targeting computer, and your displays can visibly break – very cool for a 1994 game.

TIE Fighter improves on everything the original X-Wing game did, including allowing you to target specific capital ship systems and showing 3D renderings of your target on your display. TIE Fighter has been frequently noted as one of the best PC games of all time, and for good reason. Combat is fast, difficult, and fair. As you improve as a player and your ships improve, you notice a real difference in how you handle your ships. My dad and I would spend hours trying to out-do each other in how well we could complete each mission. While the ending is admittedly lackluster, it’s easy to overlook that disappointment when you every dogfight makes TIE Fighter easily one of the best Star Wars games of all time, and one of my favorite PC outings.

4. Command and Conquer: Generals and Zero Hour (2003)

Synopsis: The seventh installment in the Command and Conquer series is a real-time strategy game set in an alternate version of the modern world, with three playable factions – the USA, China, and the Global Liberation Army (GLA). The USA and China, the world’s two largest superpowers, fight the GLA, a borderless fanatical terrorist organization that fed off the 2003 world’s fear of Islamic terrorism. While that may politically be a hot button issue these days, back in 2003 there was little concern over how stereotypically frightening the GLA’s Islamic terror roots were. In the game, all stereotyping aside, the GLA is a radical terrorist group determined to knock the USA and China off the superpower stage.

While the campaigns are separate, the narrative order would have you play as China, then the GLA, then the USA. China is attacked by the GLA, where the player to takes control of China to retaliate in force and push the GLA out of China and back into their stronghold in Tajikistan. The player then takes control of the GLA as they regroup, grow, and sustain themselves by targeting UN Convoys and American forces. They decimate US and Chinese forces in the GLA’s ultimate attack. At this point, the USA takes over and pushes the GLA back to their capitol in Kazakhstan. In the final battle, a joint operation between the USA and China sees the GLA eliminated from their final stronghold.

Command and Conquer: Generals – Zero Hour is an expansion that sees the world reacting to the events of the original game with three new campaigns of five missions each for the three main factions. The plot is as follows: The USA deals with a new rising GLA threat, Dr. Thrax, and his GLA separatists. The GLA campaign takes over as the USA destroys the central command of what is left of the GLA, with the player seizing power through the campaign and embarrassing US forces with stolen Chinese weaponry. Finally, China takes over, embarrassed that their weaponry was used to help the GLA take over Europe. China eventually destroys the GLA, upstaging the USA (forcing them back to isolationist policies) and takes over as the world’s only superpower.

Analysis: The intro to Command and Conquer: Generals is one of my favorite intros in any game ever. It establishes where you are in history, what the game is going to be, and it hypes you up. The music is appropriately grand and building, then the voice-over begins: “In the modern world, great leaders resolve their conflicts with words.” I know what you are thinking at this point. What? With words? What the Hell?  But the game flashes “Words Like…” and the narrator continues, “SCUD Launchers. Carpet Bombing. Tomahawk Missiles” while the music track kicks into high gear rock n’ roll showing in-game scenes of intense action and explosions, culminating in a nuke leveling a city. The scene fades to the words, “Who will prevail?” Chills, dude. Seriously. If that doesn’t hype you up to play this game, literally nothing will.

The gameplay is appropriately varied between the factions. The USA uses high-tech weapons like drones and a dominant air force. They can collect more supplies, but the units are more expensive. The power grid is safer and stronger, but buildings require more power to run. China uses more tanks and artillery, and hackers can “steal” buildings and credits to make up for resource-collecting limitations. Tanks and infantry gain bonuses in large numbers, but the power plants are weak and cause massive damage to surrounding buildings and units when destroyed. China’s air force is weak, and the horde bonus for large unit groups requires an expensive and large army. The GLA is focused on cheap units and quick hitters that are produced quickly but are weak and easily crushed. Many of their units can be upgraded with salvage from destroyed enemy units. Buildings do not require power and if the “GLA Tunnel” left after the destruction of the building remains intact, then the building will automatically rebuild. Resource collection and building, however, is incredibly slow due to the “builder” unit needing to do both. There is no air unit for the GLA, but they have significant numbers of anti-air units.

Zero hour builds on these ideas, adding/modifying units and generals on each side. I included Zero Hour in this entry because it is just an extension of the main game that improves upon everything – units, generals, story, graphics. It’s sadly too short of a “game” to get its own entry, so here it is with the vanilla game!

The gameplay in Command and Conquer: Generals and Zero Hour is a tense affair, with each side racing to build out their arsenal and destroy their opponents. The scramble to build out and improve your army is made more difficult by not knowing where your opponent is and what tech level they’re at. You are essentially gambling that your units will properly counter theirs without knowing it. The combat encounters tend to be quick, as every unit has an advantage over others, and they will all make quick work of each other. Each faction has a superweapon that wreaks havoc and destruction on enemies. I still occasionally go back to these games, as the replayability is endless.

Fun fact: the game was banned in China and Germany. As the Chinese, you are forced to level a convention center, destroy a dam to flood out farmers and GLA troops, and constantly use low-yield nukes. In the intro of the Chinese campaign, Tiananmen Square and much of Beijing is destroyed by a stolen nuclear warhead. You can kill civilians and the game “glorifies” war, causing the German censorship department to prohibit the sale of the game to anyone under the age of 18. And if there’s anything that makes a kid NOT want to play a game, it’s learning that they’re legally not allowed to.

3. Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! (1997)

Synopsis: Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! is a simple game – take one of America’s worst moments in its long history of rough moments and make a game of it! All kidding aside, this game allows you to take command of either the Union or Confederate armies and play through the Battle of Gettysburg in a real time wargame. You can play a “campaign” that allows you to play the entire battle, or you can play individual skirmishes and scenarios. There was even an online multiplayer mode with ladder rankings to truly determine the best generals among us.

Analysis: Gettysburg was developed by one of the greatest strategy game developers of all time (Sid Meier and Firaxis, you’ll see them later in this list) and was an absolute treat for history buffs. The game featured a very cool difficulty system – the “commander” of the opposing army was the difficulty. If you were to play as the Union army, the opposing Confederate commanders ranged from Henry Heth (the easiest difficulty) to Robert E Lee (the hardest). On the Union side, the easiest commander is T.A. Rowley and the hardest is Winfield Scott Hancock. It was an added bit of historical realism to really drive home that this game features real men who really died for their beliefs.

Fun Fact: General Meade (the actual commander of the Army of the Potomac and the commander credited with defeating Robert E Lee in the real-life Battle of Gettysburg) is not on the difficulty list for Union commanders – an odd slight to anyone like me who is obsessed with American Civil War history.

ANYWAY. The gameplay. The Metacritic aggregate score sits at 92% and it feels quite low. Customization of how your opponent acts was extremely detailed and punishing. You can set the “personality” of your opponent, making them aggressive, prudent, or cautious in their strategy, as well as indirect, flexible, or direct, in their troop movements. Changing the personality changes the general the strategy reflects (Aggressive and Indirect means you are fighting the personality of Stonewall Jackson, for example). Much like the Civil War was in real life, the Union is a more technologically advanced army and is more disciplined and stronger, but smaller and easily overwhelmed by the number of Confederates if you are not careful. The Confederates have huge numbers and can swarm the Union but are easily routed and less disciplined. You can and will be punished immediately if you play too aggressive or too conservative.

The care and attention to detail in the cutscenes and map diagrams is stunning and powerful. You feel engaged and part of the action. Living so close to where the Battle of Gettysburg took place, I could see how lovingly the world was recreated. Outside of how the game itself is presented, you are given essentially full freedom to move and react as you want, so long as you complete the “winning conditions” at the end of the battle. Gameplay varies between quick skirmishes and all-out bloody brawls. The system that determines your troop effectiveness is detailed and fair, with troops getting bonuses for being high quality troops, having allies on their flanks, being near their commander, and even bonuses for their commanders being high quality. Because of this detail, each win is satisfying, and each loss teaches a lesson. I’d spend hours obsessing over how to beat my opponent and learning what stupid mistake I made to get absolutely crushed. With its attention to detail, punishing difficulty, and rewarding combat, Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! is nothing short of an absolute classic.

2. Rome: Total War (2004)

Synopsis: Rome: Total War is a strategy game that splits its time between a turn-based overworld campaign and real-time tactical battles. You command one of many factions, all with one goal: to conquer and spread influence across most of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. At the outset of the Imperial Campaign, only Rome’s three families are playable – the Brutii, the Julii (Gaius Julius Caesar’s family), or the Scipii. As you progress and defeat other factions, they become playable in new campaigns. Featured are well-known civilizations like Egypt, Greece, Germania, and Carthage, alongside many other smaller factions. In the campaign, you manage your faction’s economy, government, and diplomacy, attempting to accomplish objectives on the large world map. The size of your settlements increases with your population, and you gain access to newer and better technologies. Your armies will increase in size and power, and your cities will become impenetrable fortresses.

Analysis: Rome: Total War is impressively detailed, with every building and unit having manufacturing and maintenance costs. Public happiness is dependent on many factors, often ones outside of your control to which you must adjust. Not every city will be financially able to support every building type – how you manage finances will go a long way into how well you will be able to deal with your aggressive neighbors. AI is punishing in the overworld – they are excellent at setting ambushes and knowing when to strike at your weakness. They are ruthless with diplomacy, and you will need to be always on your A-game, or you’ll get crushed. The unplayable rebel factions are annoying little pests that pop up occasionally to wreak havoc and irritate you. They often provide little challenge but must be dealt with to keep your infrastructure sound and cities safe.

The terrain of battlefields often dictates how each individual skirmish plays out – cavalry cannot effectively charge up hills, units can ambush each other in the woods, and certain features are impassable and can bottleneck armies. Each army (and unit) has different formations for many playstyles. You can be defensive, aggressive, or in between, and your tactics will make or break your battles. You can absolutely defeat armies three times your size, but you can only do so if you really know what you’re doing.

I’ve beaten Rome: Total War with every playable faction available and still occasionally go back into the game to try new strategies. I’ll also turn on the game’s soundtrack from time to time and listen to it if I want to relax. Seriously, go turn on the song titled Divinitus and tell me that isn’t a masterpiece. The whole OST is full of bangers. One of my favorites of all time.

A remaster is set to be released April 29, 2021, and you bet that I’ll be strapping on my feathered helmet to, as the tagline says, TAKE BACK MY EMPIRE.

1. Sid Meier’s Civilization II (1996)

Synopsis: Civilization II (or Civ 2 as I will be calling it from now on) is a turn-based strategy game with the goal of starting, building, and maintaining a civilization, and conquering the surrounding world in one of two different ways. You win by either being the last remaining civilization left on the planet, or you build a spaceship and reach Alpha Centauri before any other civilization (side note: Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri is an excellent game that just barely missed the cut here). You can consult your High Counsel for advice on how to proceed and what you should focus on – it is made up of Military, Economic, Diplomacy, and People’s Happiness. The advisors change appearance based on the era of technology you are in, and help you achieve your victory.

Analysis: I have to say this right off the bat because it is so odd – the scoring portion of the game ends in the year 2020, regardless of whether you meet and win conditions. Yes, the whole “oh lord 2020 was the worst” thing is overdone at this point, but the fact that Civ 2 won’t continue counting score past 2020 is a funny little fact. You can continue endlessly, but you can’t gain score after 2020. The scoring is used to rate the performance of the player, with points being added based on things like happy citizens, each Wonder of the World that you own, and how long you go without war or armed conflict. Pollution squares deduct point, and you are awarded bonus points if you win the Space Race for every settler that reaches Alpha Centauri alive. The points give you a Civilization percentage, and a title is given to the player. The title of “The Magnificent” is the best possible achievement – one that I sadly never got.

Customization was incredible for the time. You could pick your civilization (or create a custom one), the world size, and even the style of buildings in your cities (Bronze Age Monolith, Classical Forum, Far East Pavilion, or Medieval Castle). Each faction starts with different knowledge bases. For example, Russians would start with Irrigation, Mining, Bronze Working, Warrior Code, and Roads. Other factions had different technologies to start with. This small perk gives incentives to use different civilizations in new playthroughs.

I didn’t really start to play Civ 2 until a few years after its release, since I was so young when it came out, and I never fully grasped the nuance of the non-military portion of the game. The resources, construction, and diplomacy were surprisingly deep. You had to manage each city properly to keep it growing and keep your people happy. I never understood that you needed a surplus of food to store up to a certain point and then your city would grow, or that too many tradeable goods without trade partners led to corruption and unhappiness. I got that you needed science and production for research and building, but that was about it. In later playthroughs of later Civ games, I understood these deeper aspects of the game. However, I sunk MAJOR hours into Civ 2, and even more hours into watching my dad play. This game was our first true gaming bonding experience, because we were both obsessed with it. Despite being so young, I was surprisingly good at Civ 2, after a while. In fact, in my very last playthrough I was exactly one turn away from eradicating the entire planet with nukes when my dad and I lost our copy of the game and my file was gone forever. I literally had nukes placed one move outside of every opposing city and was about to end the world. It wouldn’t have been my first win, but it would’ve been my most ruthless. Civ 2 was my first PC game obsession, and it’s stuck with me ever since the day I first saw my dad play it.

And there we have it! Let me know your favorites. Follow me on Twitter and Twitch and check out some of our other articles.

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