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PC Gamer's 1994 Annual Awards

From PC Gamer's March 1995 Edition

In a year that saw the release of some of the finest PC games in history, we knew singling out the very best of the best would be tough - and it was...So here they are - the First Annual PC Gamer Awards. If you want the best gaming money can buy, this is the list you can't afford to miss.

Game of the Year:

Doom - id Software

Considering that we named Doom the Best Game of All Time just a few months ago, we spent a surprising amount of time debating whether it deserved Game of the Year honors. But after taking into account the impact this shareware-only release has had on the computer-gaming industry, the choice was clear.

Think of all the changes Doom has brought about: Major game publishers are now releasing shareware version of their retail products; modem and network play options are increasingly important to discerning gamers; and the list of Doom-style games (we call 'em Doom clones) grows longer each day. Oh, one other thing - Doom's still a hell of a lot of fun. And nuts to you is you don't like it.

Runner Up: TIE Fighter - Lucas Arts

Best Action Game:

TIE Fighter - LucasArts

X-Wing designer Lawrence Holland scores another direct hit with TIE Fighter, the best space-combat simulation ever created. Most games set in space cast you in the role of the good guy, but not TIE Fighter; here, you not only fly for the Empire, but also seek to gain favor with the Emperor and Lord Vader by fulfilling special mission goals.

"The Gouraud-shaded ships are a wonder to behold, and the action is fast, tense, and full of pyrotechnics. Even if you cheered for the Rebels in the Star Wars movies, you'll thrill to the destruction of X-Wings, A-Wings, freighters, and more. If you like action and haven't tried TIE Fighter, go pick up a copy now. You won't be disappointed.

Runner Up: Wing Commander III - Origin

Best Adventure Game:

System Shock - Looking Glass Technologies/Origin

From Looking Glass, the creators of Ultima Underworld I and II comes System Shock, a first-person adventure game that truly immerses the player in a 3D gameworld. Trapped inside a high-tech orbital facility controlled by a computer intent on destroying all human life forms, you must battle your way past mutants, robots, and security systems, then find a way to disable the computer - if you want Earth to survive, that is.

Game control is excellent: You can jump, crouch, crawl, peek around corners, look up and down, and more. And thanks to numerous configuration options, you can set the game for just the amount of combat you desire, make the story more elaborate, or increase the difficulty of the puzzles. No matter what kind of game you're looking for, you'll find something in System Shock to delight you.

Runner Up: The Legend of Kyrandia, Book Three: Malcolm's Revenge - Virgin

Best Simulation:

1942: The Pacific Air War - MicroProse

We all know that an acceptable frame rate and realistic flight options are more important in an air-combat-simulation than good graphics, but isn't it wonderful when you find a sim that looks as good as flies? That's exactly the case with 1942: The Pacific Air War. The texture-mapped planes are simply stunning, making this the best-looking WWII flight sim ever created.

But Pacific Air War does more than just look good. With a bevy of historic missions, career modes as either an American or Japanese pilot, modem play option (not included in the original release, but available on various online services and directly from MicroProse to registered PAW owners), and a satisfying variety of aircraft to fly, this one offers hours and hours of replay value. An essential component of any flight-sim fan's library.

Runner Up: NASCAR Racing - Papyrus

Best Role-Playing Game:

Star Trail: Realms of Arkania - Attic Software/ Sir-Tech

As developers struggle to make fantasy roleplaying games more appealing to a wider audience, veteran roleplayers have had fewer and fewer pure roleplaying games to choose from - the kind that feature highly detailed character generation, complex magic systems, and a statisfying combat system.

That's just what Star Trail: Realms of Arkania delivers, though, and diehard RPG enthusiasts will spend hour after hour exploring the huge game world. And while it's not the most graphically impressive title, it is the most engrossing we've seen in a long, long time. And best of all, it's true to the CRPG spirit that has made this genre so succesful. One word of warning, however: The complexity that makes Realms of Arkania so appealing to veterans may be offputting to newcomers. But Realms of Arkania has so much to offer that you can at least face that steep learning curve with the knowledge that you'll be rewarded with a game you'll be playing - and enjoying - long after you purchase it.

Runner Up: The Elder Scrolls: Arena - Bethesda

Best Strategy Game:

X-COM: UFO Defense - MicroProse

At first glance, X-COM doesn't really look like a strategy game. You control a team of soldiers sent to points around the world to repel invading extraterrestrials, and the turn-based combat - which you view from a 45-degree overhead view on a wide variety of terrains - might have you convinced that this is all shooting and no thinking.

But in addition to issuing combat orders, you're also in charge of the entire X-COM program, and that means you're responsible for funding, weapons research and development, maintenance, and other types of resource management. Your success in each mission directly affects how much support you can expect from world leaders, and if you're not careful you'll find country after country falling under the domination of the ETs - and these aren't friendly, Spielberg-style aliens, either. X-COM's classic mix of action and strategy will have you hooked for hours, and made this one of the finest games of the year.

Runner Up: WarCraft: Orcs and Humans - Blizzard

Best Wargame:

Panzer General - Strategic Simulations, Inc.

Panzer General is, to the best of our knowledge, the first historical wargame to incorporate elements from fantasy roleplaying - specifically, the concept of experience points and their affect on combat. In traditional wargames, the soundness of your tactics and the performance of your troops affects the outcome of a battle or campaign, but in Panzer General they also determine the path your career will take. Your successes or failures are reflected through Prestige and Influence points, which you use to upgrade what basically amounts to your own private army.

The SVGA graphics in Panzer General are razor-sharp, the hex-based maps are richly detailed (you can toggle the hexes off, if you like) and SSI has interspersed authentic WWII film footage to keep things lively. Hardcore wargamers may turn up their noses at the simplified rules for supply and reinforcements, but for the vast majority of players, Panzer General offers a gripping experience not often evidenced in wargames.

Runner Up: Harpoon II - Three-Sixty Pacific

Best Sports Game:

NASCAR Racing - Papyrus Design Group

When Papyrus announced they'd be following up their smash hit IndyCar Racing with a stock-car sim, racing fans everywhere were itching to get their hands on it - and they weren't disappointed. Simply put, this is the best racing sim ever created. It delivers not only the thrills of the world's most popular motor sport, but all the crucial nuances of racing as well, from deciding on gear ratios and tire pressure to setting shock absorbers and spoilers.

If you're a NASCAR fan, you'll love the opportunity to race with some of the stars of the sport. The pros drive with remarkable realism, and even their individual styles are well represented.

Graphics? The game looks great in VGA, jaw-dropping in SVGA (though you'll need a 90 MHz Pentium and a lightning-fast video card to run it in that mode). And the modem-play option means that you can race head-to-head with a friend.

Runner Up: PGA Tour Golf 486 - EA

Best Historical Simulation:

Lords of the Realm - Impression

The premise of Lords of the Realm is a familiar one - you're one of several nobles with designs on the throne of England during the Middle Ages - but after a few minutes of play you'll realize that this is a very special product. Many empire-building games either bog you down in minutiae or present you with easy-to-understand but unsatisfyingly broad options. But Lords of the Realm strikes the delicate balance between micro- and macro-management - and the result is one of the richest historical sims ever.

To gain the throne, you must take control over the land usage, labor, military, and economy of your realm; you also have to keep an eye on the happiness of your subjects. It sounds daunting, but the superior interface - in conjuction with graphics that actually complement the information process - lets you get up and conquering without a glance at the manual (which you will want to read, since it's a great source of period information). If you have the heart of a leader beating inside you, try Lords of the Realm.

Runner Up: Kingmaker - Avalon Hill

Best Puzzle Game:

Goblins Quest 3 - Coktel Vision

This third Goblins title - and easily the best of the series - follows a simple premise through a whole series of inter-connected, brain-twisting puzzles. You play as a goblin, obviously, whose goal is to unite feuding monarchs and win the love of the fetching she-goblin Wynnona.

At first glance, Goblins Quest 3 looks more like a graphic adventure than a puzzle game - and its adventure-game graphics, wonderful sound effects, bizarre and enchanting locales, and instantly likeable charactes will compel you to stick with your goblin hero to the very end. But the puzzles are really the backbone of the thing, and will challenge and delight even the most experienced gamers. A terrific package!

Runner Up: Lode Runner: The Legend Continues - Sierra

Best Arcade Game:

Pinball Fantasies - 21st Century Entertainment

Back in the early '70s, the word "arcade" was synonymous with pinball, so it's somehow fitting that Pinball Fantasies won our award for Best Arcade Game. There were several pinball games released for the PC in '94, but none have as much to offer as Pinball Fantasies.

For starters, you get not one but four tables, all of which can be played in VGA or SVGA, color or monochrome. You'll want to play them in color, though, because the artwork on these tables is so well-done that it would be a shame to see it in black-and-white. What's more, the tables have been lovingly designed with all the ramps, bumpers, rollowver lanes, and bonus targets that a pinball fan could ask for. Up to eight people can compete on each table, and the sound-tracks for all of them (not to mention the Pinball Fantasies theme song) are superb: this is near CD-quality stuff, and it really adds to the experience.

Runner Up: Mortal Kombat - Ultratech

Best Educational Product:

The Way Things Work - Dorling Kindersley Multimedia

The Way Things Work, from Dorling Kindersley Multimedia, is based on David Macaulay's ppular book about machines and the scientific principles underlying them, and built on a hypermedia engine. Its wonderful design - complete with clear and entertaining explanations as well as animated examples of the principles it covers - make it appeal both to those who learn well through reading and those who prefer to see a concept in action.

But above it all, The Way Things Work is fun. It encourages exploration, with cross-referenced entries on related machines and mechanical principles, and entertains as it teaches. It's utterly engaging - and what software, of any type, can hope to do better than that?

Runner Up: Microsoft Encarta '95 - Microsoft

Best CD-ROM Enhancement:

X-Wing Collector's CD-ROM - LucasArts

We've seen plenty of existing floppy-based products - and good ones, too - shoveled onto CD-ROM and rebundled as new products. What makes this one so special is that LucasArts wasn't content to rest on the reputation of X-Wing; they actually went into the program and improved it.

Best of all, the new CD-ROM updates the classic X-Wing to such a point that it holds its own against the terrific TIE Fighter. We had almost forgotten how good X-Wing really is until the Collectors Edition came along to remind us.

This is enhancement above and beyond the call of duty, and sets the standard by which future CD editions will be judged. Great job, LucasArts!

Runners Up: Aces of the Deep - Sierra and Castles II - Interplay

Special Achievement in Design Excellence:

Under a Killing Moon - Access

The concept of "interactive movies" has been hyped almost to death, but Under a Killing Moon is one of the few games to truly immerse the player in a cinematic adventure. Sure, the digitized video is good - it'd better be, with big-name talent like Brian Keith, Margot Kidder, and Russell Means - but it's the ability to explore every nook and cranny of the gameworld from a true 3D perspective that makes Under a Killing Moon so compelling.

Special Achievement in Innovative Design:

Wolf - Manley and Associates/Sanctuary Woods

There are plenty of roleplaying games, but this is the only one that lets you vicariously experience the trials and tribulations of one of nature's most misunderstood animals. Wolf is simultaneously entertaining and enlightening - and a breath of fresh air in a genre that some say has run its course. Kudos to Manley and Associates for designing a game that's both different and fun, and hats off to Sanctuary Woods for taking a risk by publishing it.

Special Achievement in Graphics:

Creature Shock - Argonaut Software/Virgin

Whatever you think of the gameplay in Creature Shock, there's no question that the graphics and animation here are some of the smoothest around. Even with the glut of games using 3D-modeled characters and objects, the fluid movement and rich textures in Creature Shock will have you convinced you are in an alien environment. In a word, breathtaking.

Special Achievement in Acting:

Sam & Max Hit the Road - LucasArts

When it comes to choosing voice talent, LucasArts is one of the best in the business. Don't believe us? Then take a look at Sam & Max Hit the Road CD-ROM. The script in the floppy version of the game - released well before the CD-ROM - was so funny, some of us here were afraid that no actors could do it justice. But LucasArts has a flair for details, and somehow managed to come up with just the right voices to bring the Freelance Police to life.

Special Achievement in Dialogue:

Beneath a Steel Sky - Revolution/Virgin

It's not often that anyone on the PC Gamer crew laughs out loud while playing an adventure game, but Beneath a Steel Sky's oddball combination of clever puns and one-liners had several of us in stitches. A couple of the voice actors left a bit to be desired, but most of the time their delivery added much to the extremely well-written dialogue. Best of all, there's a good game lurking behind neath all the lunacy.

Special Achievement in Musical Score:

TIE Fighter - LucasArts

LucasArts does it again! This time around, they bested the field with the iMUSE soundtrack for TIE Fighter, based on the original score by John Williams. The iMUSE system actually tailors the game music to suit the situation at hand - ominous when your TIE is under attack, victorious as you crush that last Rebel transport. It's been used in other LucasArts games, but reached new heights in TIE Fighter.

Special Achievement in Sound Effects:

FIFA International Soccer - Electronic Arts

Several games have tried to incorporate play-by-play commentary, but none succeed as well as FIFA International Soccer. The sound couldn't be better synched to the on-field action, and the ambient noises of the crowd give the whole affair an intense, lifelike feel. "Soc-cer! Soc-cer!"

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