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HomePC GamesYour '90s Favorite PC and Mobile Games are Returning

Your ’90s Favorite PC and Mobile Games are Returning

At Gamescom, industry attendees frequently ask the same question. When you happen to run into someone you know while racing between appointments. After-hours debriefing regarding what you’ve witnessed at the bar. As you sit in the press room, trying to transcribe an interview above the din of Koelnmesse at full capacity. “How’s your Gamescom going?” the inquiry is always the same.

Many of the folks I spoke with thought it was a letdown this year, a muted performance from an industry still reeling from the consequences of the pandemic. The major publishers had not arrived. There were no big-budget blockbusters to be discovered.

As I was told this, I would nod compassionately. But, secretly, I was in my element.

Gamescom was back to doing what it did best for me. It was never intended to be a sequel to E3. It’s not here to highlight the most costly ventures in the business. Historically, Gamescom has been odd, German, and largely about PC games. This year was no exception.

If you want to know what the biggest trend at Gamescom is, go no further than the largest trend in PC gaming. And the biggest trend in PC gaming right now is that your favorite game is returning.

Homeworld

Did you like Homeworld? It’s making a comeback. Homeworld 3 is a confident successor to the early 2000s space RTS series—a game that respects the series’ troops, situations, and overall atmosphere. It respects its predecessors while also introducing new components, such as cover to hide behind or tunnels to obscure your opponent’s sensors.

The terrain components were presented in a fairly heavy-handed manner in the demo I played, with the intention of teaching you how to best use them to your advantage. However, Blackbird Interactive claims that in subsequent missions, it will just be a natural, organic element of the game, even allowing players to seek hide behind items they have damaged. It’s a brilliant evolution, supplementing Homeworld’s focus on rock, paper, scissors fighting and equipping you with the means to shift the tides in an otherwise unfavorable configuration.

System Shock

Did you like the game System Shock? It’s making a comeback. The remake seems true while really accomplishing an amazing lot to modernize it. There’s an admirable amount of restraint on display here. There’s a brief tutorial that teaches you the fundamentals of managing your character, as well as a minimap in the corner that helps you navigate the environment by showing you where you’ve been and how it relates to where you’re going.

Otherwise, you’re on your own, searching for clues, carefully piecing together the plot, and frantically trying to stay alive. My progress through the demo segment was slow—the game is dedicated to becoming Scheme Shock—but I never felt like I was fighting the UI or control system. It works and allows you to concentrate on what makes System Shock so valuable.

It also looks excellent visually, with colorful lighting adding depth and texture to the cool steel walls and hallways. It’s gloomy, but never dull, and the adversaries you confront are no less terrifying as a result.

Command & Conquer

Did you like Command and Conquer? It’s making a comeback. THQ Nordic’s Tempest Rising promotes itself as being influenced by RTSs from the 1990s and 2000s, but based on what I observed, you can pinpoint its influence far more precisely. It’s a love homage to the old Westwood films, set on an alternate history Earth colonized by a deadly yet precious resource: the eponymous Tempest, an obvious Tiberium equivalent.

Its two campaigns each center on a different group, with a third campaign available only in multiplayer. On the one side, you have Western European and American troops united under the banner of the GD, er, F. The Dynasty, on the other hand, controls Eastern Europe and Asia, the territories most devastated by Tempest’s rise. There are also mission briefings where a general speaks straight to the camera. It’s CGI, not FMV, but the effect is the same.

And guess what? After seeing the hands-off demo, I realized that, sure, I am completely up for a huge, bombastic homage to classic RTSes.

Jagged Alliance

Yes, it’s back—and, it appears, properly this time. After decades of reinventions that failed to capture the actual core of the franchise, Haemimont is dedicated to paying homage to the original two games—a variant of the turn-based tactics paradigm that, for some, was a serious rival to the X-Com series.

The game looks to have a lot of Jagged Alliance 2’s depth. On a satellite map of the fighting area, there is a comprehensive strategic layer with every square representing a level that may be explored, and comments will offer information on what intriguing encounters might be discovered where. The mercenaries—roughly 40 in number, all completely voice acted, and with some known faces—each have their own set of talents and personalities, as well as weaponry that may be entirely customized.

It appears that the major aim is that Jagged Alliance not be a puzzle game in which each turn is about finding the best move. It’s a jumbled simulation in which everything will go wrong. I’ve written extensively about the studio’s attempt to distinguish the game from Firaxis’ XCOM reboot. That concern, as well as the commitment to build something different from the pattern established by the greatest turn-based tactics game in recent years, gives me optimism for what Haemimont is doing here.

Everything else

Even the games I saw that had no clear comparisons caught something of the soul of the ’90s. RTSes are back in a major way, two years after we called for their resuscitation. In addition to Homeworld 3 and Tempest Rising, Petroglyph—a firm made up of former Call of Duty developers—is working on a new RTS set in World War 1. The Great War: Western Front contains elements of grand strategy but is mostly concerned with real-time warfare. Its Total War-style pre-mission setup phase simulates a whole month of war planning, as you dig new fortifications and create traps in preparation for the next conflict.

City builders are still one of the most popular PC genres, with a slew of new games putting a creative spin on the fundamental concept. Stranded: Alien Dawn by Haemimont will strand your team of pre-defined explorers on an alien planet, each with their unique personality qualities and connections. Combining Rimworld simulation with survival, you’ll research and scavenge to build a base—first to give some basic luxuries, and subsequently to fend off the hostile beasties that attack at night.

What about the most iconic ’90s genre, the CRPG? They’ve also returned. Broken Roads was one of the most thrilling games I saw during the festival. Its creative director, Colin McComb, has worked on several of the genre’s finest games, including Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment, to mention a few. Now he’s tackling the Australian post-apocalypse with a game that the team insists can be finished without ever killing a human. My demonstration wasn’t as peaceful; I completed my 30-minute session with the death of one loudmouthed mercenary on my mind. I’m excited to see more of the game’s colourful wilderness.

It’s conceivable you didn’t enjoy these games or genres—perhaps you don’t remember messing with C&C ini files to make the Mammoth Tank even more powerful. That’s good, since, as much as PC gaming is turning to the past right now, most of the titles I played were cautious not to rehash it. I landed on the original Homeworld. I never got around to playing the original System Shock. I still haven’t finished Planescape: Torment. Now, these games and genres are making a comeback, and although it’s important to honor the games that came before, it’s also important to explore this history in a way that’s approachable for people who missed it.

I’m not looking forward to a System Shock remake just so I can play an old game again. I’m delighted because it’s a chance to relive the aspects that made it so popular among those who did play it, but in a format that represents how games have advanced and changed in the decades since its first release. Returning things not exactly as they were, but as idealized representations of our recollections. The games we love are returning, and they’re doing so in grand style.

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