Top 5 Strategy Games Every PC Gamer Should Play
In an age when even old-school FPS gurus like iD’s John Carmack are defecting to consoles, you can still be sure of one thing: strategy gaming has ever been and will always be the province of PC’s. Whether it’s due to the more cerebral, measured gameplay, or — more likely — the crucial importance of mouse controls, the jump to other platforms is rarely successful. Despite their large market share and stable, unchanging hardware, consoles struggle to sustain a pure strategy game.
PC’s, on the other hand, produce a staggering wealth of different strategy offerings. 2011 kicked off with aplomb thanks to Total War: Shogun II (see our review), and games like Stronghold 3 seem certain to enliven the Fall. The present, however, can hardly compete with the enticements of the past.
Because their emphasis is on gameplay, and not on visual splendor, strategy games have a unique longevity. The 90′s, moreover, with their more PC-centric focus, produced a wealth of classic titles. Some of them became household names: Civilization, Starcraft, Command & Conquer. Others faded into disregard or even relative obscurity — a trend which this article intends to reverse. What follows is a list of five strategy titles of the highest quality. It’s not intended to be a definitive, or even ordered ranking — simply a celebration of great games. Anyone who likes strategy and owns a PC should do himself a favor and play the games on this list, starting with…
Despite being the game on this list that least resembles traditional strategy, Pyro Studios’ Commandos was a triumph of late-nineties isometric game design. With complete control over the tactics and actions of a team of up to six commandos, players accomplish a variety of sabotage-related tasks by carefully making their way through beautifully rendered World War II locations. Snappy voice acting gives personality to characters like the aristocratic “Duke,” the team’s sniper, or “Fins,” the knife-throwing, scuba-diving, inflatable-boat-rowing marine.
The game also pays clever homage to movie classics like The Dirty Dozen and The Guns of Navaronne. What really makes it a great strategy title, however, is the sheer variety of possible tactical approaches to each level. Players have to carefully monitor guard patrol routes and cones of vision, picking Nazis off and hiding the bodies from their comrades, but they decide which commandos to use and how to use them.
Though it features both an engrossing story and well-designed RTS gameplay, Homeworld’s immediate impact is made through its breathtaking visuals. Set amidst an ocean of stars and elegant, sunset-hued gas clouds, Relic Entertainment’s space-travelling strategy title also introduced combat that took place in fully three dimensions, creating a sharp contrast to other RTS’ flat action. This innovation made sense for the setting, but ordering units around was anything but intuitive. Thankfully, Relic provided an excellent tutorial, which gets players up and running as they learn to wage futuristic war. Set to an ethereal, ambient soundtrack, Homeworld was a joy when it released in 1999 and is no less entertaining today.