The Greatest DOS Games of All Time
Come with me to a time when graphics were simple yet games were challenging. When manuals were the size of novels and soundcards were optional. When games were only a few megabytes at most, yet the worlds inside said games were full of wonder, suspense, mystery, and intrigue. Come with me to a time long ago, when floppy disks were the norm and the CD-ROM was cutting edge. Come with me, to a place and time called DOS.
If you have been playing PC games for over 20 years like I have, then you undoubtedly have a fond memory of DOS games. Called DOS games because they had to run in MS-DOS (Microsoft’s original operating system that was also included in versions of Windows until the end of 2000), DOS games hold a sense of nostalgia for those that grew up PC gaming in the 80s and 90s. The era of MS-DOS truly brought us some of the greatest PC games of all times, so without further ado, here is (in my opinion anyway) the greatest DOS games of all time.
The LucasArts adventure games
It may seem like cheating to place a handful of LucasArts adventure games into one category, but believe me: LucasArts released so many incredible point-and-click adventure games, that many of them would dominate this list. From Maniac Mansion to the entire Monkey Island and Sam and Max franchise, LucasArts released not only some of the greatest adventure games of all time, but some of the greatest games of the 1990’s. Games such as Full Throttle, The Dig, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and more made LucasArts symbolic with adventure genre and quality PC gaming.
Many of these games were the brainchild of Tim Schaefer (Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, Broken Age) and Ron Gilbert who recently released The Cave, and it’s their brand of raw humor and hilarious dialogue that made these games such treasures of PC gaming. Luckily, TellTale Games seems to be the spiritual successors to the LucasArts legacy, as they are pumping out amazing adventure games left and right year after year. Something tells me we will be talking about TellTale Games in the same way PC gamers discuss LucasArts years down the road. Alas, if it hadn’t been for the groundbreaking DOS games released by LucasArts in the 80’s and 90’s, TellTale may not be the powerhouse of adventure gaming that it is today.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
In a world where Albert Einstein traveled back in time to assassinated Adolf Hitler, Command and Conquer: Red Alert begs the question: what would happen if the Russians tried to take over the world instead of the Nazis? That’s the concept of Command and Conquer: Red Alert, and as ridiculous as it may sound, it’s still one of the greatest real-time strategy games of all time. Cutting edge for 1996, Command and Conquer: Red Alert had a perfect balance between the many military units in the game, as well as an easy-to-use interface and above average graphics and story. Best of all? This was the game to play over your 26.6k modem back in 1996, as the addictive nature of Command and Conquer: Red Alert would keep you up all night. Think Starcraft was the first dangerously addictive RTS? No way; arguably, it was Command and Conquer: Red Alert.
Alone in the Dark
1992 saw the birth of the survival horror genre with Alone in the Dark. While the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises evolved the genre in the late 90’s and early-to-mid 2000’s, survival horror would have come much later (if at all) had it not been for Alone in the Dark. Inspired by the work of H.P. Lovecraft, Alone in the Dark forces players to survive in a haunted mansion full of evil with only a few choice weapons to fight with. It may not look like much today and honestly, it plays fairly clunky, but there’s still enough scares in Alone in the Dark that you will be watching your back for quite some time.
Going back to 1986, Alter Ego barely has any graphics. The image you see below is essentially what you get in Alter Ego – screens of text, stats, and decisions to make. Yet the beauty of Alter Ego is that you literally get to simulate your own life from birth to your teenage years to adulthood to death. It may not look and sound exciting, but there’s something oddly relaxing about watching your life play in front of you. The original version of the game can be played online, and the original developer of the game released a version on the App Store and Google Play. It’s worth checking out to see what it’s all about, and who knows? Maybe you’ll become addicted to it as I was!
Prince of Persia
This game is still incredible (which is why it has been ported on more systems than anyone can possibly keep track of). Originally released in 1989, believe it or not, but this game is one of the reasons so many players upgraded their soundcard. This beautiful yet fluid game tasked players with saving the princess of Persia from the evil clutches of Jafar and saving the kingdom of Persia – all within a span of 60 real-time minutes! From sword fighting skeletons to castle guards to jumping over pits and avoiding spike traps stories below the prince, Prince of Persia is simply one of those games that continue to be enthralling to play decades later.
DOOM/DOOM II: Hell on Earth
You can’t have a ‘best of’ DOS list without DOOM. The original DOOM (released in 1993) scared the daylights out of me as a youngster, and for good reason: this realistic (by 1993 standards) trip to Hell (or an alien planet – I could never tell exactly where DOOM took place) tasked you with surviving an onslaught of enemies via using tons of bad ass guns. Seriously, DOOM has some of the most awesome guns in any first-person shooter – even the pistol feels bad ass when you shoot it! And most impressive of all? Its sequel, DOOM II: Hell on Earth (released shortly after the original DOOM) is arguably better than the original!
I have to point out an honorable mention here and discuss ID Software’s first first-person title, Wolfenstein 3D. It’s a game that seems to get lost in the shuffle when discussing ID Software’s other first-person shooters, and while (personally, anyway), DOOM is a better game than Wolfenstein 3D, it’s still great in its own right. Who doesn’t love killing Nazis and a mech Hitler anyway? If you haven’t played it before, do yourself a favor and play the first successful first-person shooter in gaming.
XCOM: UFO Defense
Also known as UFO: Enemy Unknown (Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a remake of this game), XCOM: UFO Defense is still to this day one of the finest turn-based strategy games you will ever play. Seriously. Despite being released in 1993, XCOM: UFO Defense is the very definition of how to truly perfect a turn-based title. Tasking players with defending Earth from an alien invasion while searching for the enemies’ mothership, players must manage various XCOM stations around the world, players will need to continue to train their soldiers, keep equipment in stock, keep jets repaired (and continue to buy new ones), and always be ready to defend their base. It’s one of the toughest games you will ever play, and yet, one of the most rewarding.
The remake of XCOM: UFO Defense is awesome in its own right, but if you want to experience the original in all its glory, it’s available on Steam. I suggest you give this one a go – especially if you’re a fan of turn-based strategy titles.
Sid Meier strategy games
I hate to lump the legend that is Civilization into one broad category. I love the Civilization series as much as the next person, but even still, this is a testament to the genius that is Sid Meier. The guy is responsible for a handful of awesome strategy games on DOS, ranging from of course Civilization (1991) to Railroad Tycoon (1990) to Pirates! Gold (1993), Colonization (1994), and beyond. A guy that’s the leading influence in turn-based strategy, Sid Meier certainly made his mark on DOS’ strategy genre.
Fun fact: if it hadn’t been for 1988’s Wasteland, Fallout wouldn’t exist. Fallout was originally supposed to be a Wasteland sequel, yet they couldn’t acquire the rights to it and thus, developed a franchise inspired by Wasteland. With that being said, you should consider Wasteland the original Fallout, as it has the same awesome storyline, hilarious hidden jokes, and witty dialogue wrapped tight into a post-apocalyptic RPG. Fallout may be its spiritual successor, but it’s worth visiting despite being over 25 years old.
Forget the debacle that was 2013’s SimCity, the best entry in the series is the DOS version of SimCity 2000. Released way back in 1993, SimCity 2000 had it all: catchy music, awesome pixelated art, tight controls, and is has even gotten better with age. Games usually don’t age like a fine wine, but in SimCity 2000’s case, it has. If you have never played a SimCity game or have only played more modern versions of the series, do yourself a favor and find a copy of SimCity 2000: it’s seriously the best SimCity of all time.
The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall
People continue to talk about how huge the world of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion or The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is, yet none of those worlds hold a candle to the size of Daggerfall. Released in 1996, The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall is approximately 487,000 km2 (19.7 Daggerfalls would equal the size of Earth), yet that isn’t the only impressive feat of Daggerfall. One of the first truly amazing first-person RPGs, Daggerfall pushed the boundaries of what an RPG could be, and because of it, we have some of the most amazing RPGs gaming has ever seen. Daggerfall doesn’t get nearly as much credit as it deserves, and while it doesn’t look as pretty as Skyrim, it still plays incredibly well.
Without System Shock, it’s quite possible we wouldn’t have first-person shooter/RPG franchises such as Deus Ex and Bioshock. Released in 1994, System Shock is a cyberpunk adventure that broke barriers in 1994 to give us a truly unique game that was unlike anything that had come before it. While it often gets overlooked by its superior successor System Shock 2, the original System Shock is nonetheless still a fun game to play today. Heck, you get to decide if you want to eliminate Earth with a raygun, what’s not to like?
Beneath a Steel Sky
One of the great adventure games I have ever played, 1994’s Beneath a Steel Sky looks a lot like the film Blade Runner, but features a robot companion that’s a mix of R2D2 and C3PO. It melds a variety of science fiction tropes together to bring players a point-and-click adventure game that takes place in a mysterious, dark yet futuristic city complete with dry humor, awesome writing, challenging puzzles, and two protagonists you won’t soon forget. Best of all? You can play it for free at GOG.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Last but not least, one of the best ‘edutainment’ games in history started out as a DOS game. Released in 1985, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? tasked players with chasing villains around the world , arresting them, and eventually arresting the master thief herself, Carmen Sandiego. Although it was meant to teach children about geography, it was nevertheless a ton of fun in that you had to solve puzzles, find clues, and beyond in order to catch the criminals before they escaped.
I know I left a ton of games off of my list: in fact, I’m going through games I can name off the top of my head right now! There’s enough awesome DOS games out there to make one or more full-size lists in order to give them all their due. Games like the original Grand Theft Auto and Tomb Raider, the Gabriel Knight series, the Police Quest series, and who could forget the Ultima series?? I’ll certainly be back with a part two of the ‘best of’ DOS games of all time, but until then, experience the games in the list above all over again (or for the first time), and harken back to a time long ago.