PC gaming has been around as long as cheap PCs but it really started to take off in the late 80s and early 90s with a string of arcade-like games from several companies, one of which was Apogee.
Through the 90s they created some of the most memorable early PC games and pushed 3D gaming both with ID Software on Wolfenstein and as 3D Realms, a label set up to focus on their own titles. Their push for shareware, a pre-internet distribution system where people were encouraged to swap discs of games and pay the developer when they enjoyed a title to receive the rest of the game in return, was revolutionary at the time.
This anthology may miss out on ID Software’s title, but the focus on the 3D Realms line-up, including early Apogee games, makes sense. The evolution of PC gaming is certainly well represented by the wealth of historical titles on offer here.
The games here are a real mix of styles. Certainly the most popular in the pre-3D era were the platform games and a certain Duke Nukem features in 2 of these. Unfortunately it seems that fan favourite Commander Keen couldn’t make the list, but there’s no shortage of platform jumping, laser shooting action here anyway. Other titles range from educational games to one of the best early pinball games to grace any system (I lost many hours to Balls of Steel on my trusty old 386) and they’re all worth playing to show just how proper PC gaming grew its roots.
With older Dos based games you’d expect a few hiccups and, yes, there are a few games that need some time and effort to get working in Dosbox, the Dos emulator for modern Windows machines. Even so, this fiddling feels more like part of the nostalgia as games often needed a little coaxing back then to run on the huge range of hardware. Strangely, it was often the sound cards, rather than graphics, that created the most issues.
The 3D titles, particularly Duke and Shadow Warrior, both of which have seen recent modern versions, are still a real blast in their original format and, if anything, are a love letter to PC gaming’s past. Wacky Wheels really deserves a mention, too, as being one of the first PC kart racers and a not-too-subtle answer to Mario Kart. It’s another game I played many times on release.
There are 32 games in all, here, not doctored in any way bar the emulation from Dosbox and those who used to dabble in shareware back in the 90s will certainly have a lot of run reliving those days. Anyone who came in to PC gaming a little later might wonder what all the fuss was about, but this anthology still acts as a wonderfully playable museum to the rise of PC gaming and as gamers we haven’t really looked back since.