The 90s were an excellent time to be a PC gamer, you had great games coming out for DOS. And there was even a brand-new operating system called Windows which promised exciting new graphical features with its DirectX API. I remember that weird commercial Bill Gates did for Windows 95, using Doom to explain why you should upgrade from DOS.
But DOS offered some things that Windows didn’t, such as more low-level access to hardware components. Plus, DOS requires way fewer resources to run. And during the early to mid-90s every hardcore computer geek was way more familiar with DOS compared to this new GUI-based OS.
Granted, Windows is a lot easier to pick up and work with, thanks to its graphical interface. But old habits die hard, and many gamers would stick with DOS until the dawn of the 21st century. Some even do to this day, using emulators and virtual machines to run DOS.
But if you were a 90s kid, what would be your most-played games on DOS? Well, that’s what I’m going to answer today. Here are the top 50 DOS games of the 90s that you must play.
Quite possibly the progenitor of the entire FPS genre, DOOM gave birth to an entire generation of shooting games that copied its style. The game is all about killing demons, and there is a vague plot that exists in the background just so you can go from point A to point B. Doom’s creators believed that story in a video game is not nearly as important as the actual gameplay.
Wolfenstein had been around since the early 80s, and the first Castle Wolfenstein is considered to have introduced elements of stealth gameplay. But Wolfenstein 3D took things to a completely new level. You were still killing Nazis and kicking Hitler’s ass, but now the action felt a lot more believable.
If you still don’t know how to play DOS games, check out my other article How To Play Old DOS Games On Windows 10, Mac Or Linux?
Duke Nukem 3D
Duke Nukem is a true badass, equipped with an endless supply of awesome one-liners and exotic weapons. Plotwise, the game shows aliens trying to take over Earth and Duke single-handedly massacring all of them. Yeah, it isn’t exactly a deep story but who cares?
You have Gatling guns, missile launchers, grenades, shrink rays, and land mines to play with. Plus, your player character is basically an 80s action star who makes snarky quips and strokes his own ego by killing bad guys.
Sid Meier’s Civilization
Yes, this is the very first Civilization game. A grant scale turn-based strategy game in which you manage your own empire. Civilization isn’t a true 4X game, but it’s pretty close.
There are combat segments in which you put up your troops against an enemy army. But prior to these fights, you have to build your city and research new technologies. You also have to decide where to expand and which nations to ally with.
X-COM: UFO Defense
This is a game about a secretive paramilitary organization called X-COM, formed by governments across the world to investigate UFO incidents. X-COM is all about planning and resource management, it merges roleplaying with strategic choices to create a unique experience. As you progress through the game, you can research new technology and recruit better operators for your missions.
if you are interested in dos games but from a different decade, check out my other article 50 Best DOS Games Of The 80s That You Must Play
Star Wars: X-Wing
One of the earliest simulation games, X-Wing is basically a flight sim in space. You pilot X-Wings, spearheading the Rebel Alliance’s war efforts against the Empire. The plot of X-Wing is actually quite interesting, and a lot of it is told through pre-mission cutscenes that feature music and characters from the Star Wars movies.
Warcraft: Orcs & Humans
The very first Warcraft game, and one of the formative titles for the RTS genre. Orcs & Humans isn’t the first RTS to feature competitive multiplayer, but it implemented the feature in a truly revolutionary way. Compared to most other RTS games of its era, the first Warcraft featured a very well-written narrative with good characters and tight gameplay.
Originally meant to be an evolution of Doom, Quake is a competitive multiplayer FPS that basically established the entire esports scene alongside Starcraft. Some of the earliest professional gaming tournaments were held for Quake, and a lot of enthusiastic gamers showed up to display their skills on LAN. Much like Doom, Quake features fast-paced FPS gameplay with power-ups and a wide variety of weaponry.
If you want to play those DOS games easily on your browser, check out my article Top 30 Sites To Play DOS Games Online For Free In Your Browser
Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss
Roleplaying games weren’t exactly a new concept when Ultima Underworld came out. But they were usually visual adventures or games that took your input and advanced the plot by displaying lines of text. Ultima is the first 3D RPG, showing its world from a first-person perspective.
Ultima is extremely open-ended, allowing for non-linear story progression and incredible levels of character customization. You have this giant dungeon filled with several maze-like levels, each crafted with immense attention to detail. Ultimate is part-RPG and part-simulation, allowing you to create your own spells from runestones.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Red Alert is a prequel to the first Command & Conquer game, taking place in an alternate timeline where the Cold War goes hot. NATO is looking to seize Europe from the USSR, and military conflict seems unavoidable. Red Alert’s gameplay is standard RTS stuff, with you collecting resources to produce new units and research upgrades.
It’s a game that looks really basic but once you start playing it’s hard to leave your computer. Scorched Earth is a simple tank battle game in which you go up against an AI opponent in a turn-based match. Gameplay is based entirely around ballistics, so you have to select your weapon power and angle to make sure you hit the enemy.
The successor to Doom, this game features slightly more narrative than its predecessor and shows demons taking over Earth. But worry not, the classic Doom gameplay is still there which means you can massacre hordes of demons to the tune of metal music. Doom 2 has larger levels, new weapons, and new enemy types, it’s basically the first game on steroids.
Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
Much like its predecessor, Warcraft II established a lot of the currently popular RTS tropes. Like collecting different types of resources, mixing and matching units to create a balanced composition, upgrading buildings, military, etc. New unit types, redesigned fog of war, and a great story makes Warcraft 2 an excellent successor.
The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
If you want a pure roleplaying experience with scale and scope unrivaled even by modern Elder Scrolls titles, check out Daggerfall. The first Elder Scrolls was a neat concept but botched the execution. With Daggerfall, Bethesda struck gold and it shows in the sales numbers.
For someone who is accustomed to casual RPGs, Daggerfall might seem a bit overwhelming. But once you get into it, you start to appreciate the level of player freedom provided by this game.
From the incredibly deep dialogue options to the huge number of factions, this game is filled with content. And it will most certainly take you months to fully complete everything.
A lot of contemporary modern military shooters such as Call of Duty seem to have aged poorly despite their advanced graphics. That’s mostly due to the casualized gameplay mechanics and lack of player freedom. With the game forcing you into one linear shooting corridor after another, only to watch scripted cutscenes featuring boring characters and terrible dialogue.
Shadow Warrior is an entirely different beast and has aged remarkably well despite its ancient graphics. That’s because the characters and gameplay are actually interesting, in combination with levels that are open-ended. You’re encouraged to explore each area and find new ways to slaughter your enemies using a diverse arsenal of weaponry (shurikens, katanas, miniguns, railguns, etc.).
Commander Keen 4: Secret of the Oracle
Commander Keen is like playing a more action-oriented version of Mario with Jimmy Neutron as the protagonist. You have all sorts of cool gadgetry, including pogo sticks and laser guns. Commander Keen 4 is a platformer, just like its predecessors.
And it has some really interesting enemies, many of which are giant bugs. Within each level, you find various power-ups and consumable items that help you on your journey. There are also secret areas to explore, finding these will get you some exclusive items.
Remedy Entertainment is a name that you may not have heard in a long time, but back in the day, they were famous for creating Max Payne. Even before that, they created an excellent action game based on vehicular combat. Death Rally is a game in which you take heavily modified cars into an arena and fight with other cars.
You can equip your murder machine with everything from missile launchers to miniguns. It’s basically Deathrace, which means a whole lot of explosions and fast-paced racing while trying to dodge hailstorms of bullets.
Under a Killing Moon
In my list for the top DOS games of the 80s, I reviewed a futuristic neo-noir masterpiece called Mean Streets. It featured the cynical detective Tex Murphy, who is solving murder mysteries in a post-nuclear San Francisco. Well, Killing Moon is part of the same series.
It’s the 3rd Tex Murphy game and features fully interactive 3D environments- a first for the series. You control Tex in first-person view, which works very well since the noir atmosphere feels even richer up close.
Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty
A lot of people say that this is the first RTS game, which is technically not true. The Ancient Art of War introduced many of the modern gameplay features we have come to expect from RTS games. And it was released in 1984- 6 years before Dune II.
However, what Dune II did is perfect the RTS formula. It also introduced features like a fog of war, a world map, technology trees, etc. And most importantly, it convinced a whole bunch of game developers that people want to play more games like these.
Albion is one of the earliest roleplaying games to incorporate elements from both science-fiction and high fantasy. Its story takes place in a futuristic setting, with the spaceship Toronto looking for rare minerals on an alien planet. You’re in charge of the expedition, but to your surprise, the planet is far from what was initially expected.
Instead of being a rocky desert, it’s a magical place with all sorts of exotic life forms. There is a race of tall, slim alien beings who form the majority of its native population. Hmm… almost seems like the plot for Avatar, doesn’t it?
Hey, do you remember that silly action movie featuring Daniel Craig called Cowboys & Aliens? Yeah, well it seems like they yanked the concept straight off this B-list game. Redneck Rampage features stereotypical cowboys who cuss and drink, but most of all they like shooting aliens who are invading their land.
It’s like one of those side-scrolling shooters in which you fly an aircraft over enemy bases while bombing their buildings. But instead of a pilot inside a gunship, you’re a wizard on a magic carpet. And the story is actually told with cutscenes that look like flipbook pages.
When you destroy enemies, you recover mana. The more advanced your spell, the more mana it consumes. The game has several worlds that you must conquer by expanding your castle, and expansion causes enemy wizards to spawn around you.
Realms of Chaos
On the surface, Realm of Chaos might seem like just another mediocre side-scrolling platformer. But once you start playing this game, it’s a dark fantasy story and mature themes will capture your attention. There are only 3 chapters, but each chapter has its own levels and unique environments/ enemy types.
Star Trek: 25th Anniversary
If you’re a Star Trek fan, I highly recommend giving this game a try because it’s extremely faithful to the original TV series and movies. You play as USS Enterprise captain Kirk, traveling across the galaxy in search of new planets and star systems to explore. The Starfleet command sends you on new missions, and depending on where you are the camera can change between first-person and third-person mode.
For example, if you’re commanding from the bridge it will show a first-person view. But if you land on a planet and are outdoors, you get switched to a third-person view. You are accompanied by Spock and McCoy, as well as a few redshirts who can die permanently during missions.
Superfrog is a simple side-scrolling platformer featuring a frog as its main character, who is on a mission to rescue his princess from an evil witch. Another Mario rip-off? Maybe, since the gameplay is not that different from any Mario title of that time (if you’re going to copy someone, copy the best).
There are various “worlds”, each carrying a unique visual theme and containing sub-levels. Just like Mario, you gain points for collecting coins scattered across each level. And you get bonuses for how quickly you finish each level.
Syndicate is a roleplaying strategy game set in a futuristic dystopia where corporations have taken over the role of government. You command a team of cybernetically enhanced super-agents who try to stage political coups and overthrow foreign governments. Basically, a corporate version of the CIA, driven by a desire for world domination and money.
Silent Service 2
You find a lot of flight and tank simulators, but very few gamers are interested in playing a submarine combat simulator. Is it because submarine warfare is boring? Personally, I don’t think so.
If anything it should be a lot tenser than tank or aircraft combat. Because you are literally surrounded by darkness several hundred feet below the water surface, protected by a pressurized metal coffin. Blind as a bat, you rely on your sonar to “see” things around you and must make carefully thought out strategic choices if you want to survive.
Master of Orion
It’s like Sid Meier’s Civilization but in space. You are the leader for one of ten different races, and it’s your job to expand the empire by colonizing new planets. Master of Orion is a true 4X strategy, turn-based with various methods to dominate your enemies.
From militaristic conquest to diplomatic treaties, you can win in various ways. Grow your economy to a point where it would be foolish for anyone to consider going up against you. Or simply advance your technology by investing in scientific research, allowing you to have a monopoly on weapons and industrial processes.
Comanche: Maximum Overkill
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the US Army put in a request for an advanced stealth helicopter. Boeing-Sikorsky came up with the RAH-66 Comanche, a machine that was ahead of its time. It combined extremely advanced stealth and avionics with unrivaled agility and firepower, but the program would eventually get canceled.
However, the helicopter did gain quite a bit of popularity among the general public and this game capitalizes on that. Comanche: Maximum Overkill puts you in a Comanche cockpit, equipped with an amazing digital HUD. And the gameplay is designed to be realistic since this is a flight sim.
Wing Commander is a 3D space combat simulator in which you and an AI-powered wingman engage enemy fighters. Mission objectives and difficulty can vary quite a lot, and you get access to better ships by completing all objectives. Even if your ship is destroyed, you can continue the story by surviving (and your AI wingman can be given instructions).
A historical air combat game that lets you fly various World War 1 planes. You can play as the French, German, or British. Legendary combat aircraft like the Fokker Eindecker and Sopwith Camel are available within this game.
Red Baron has a wide range of mission templates. There are squad-based dogfights, 1 v 1 duels, intercept missions, patrol missions, etc. Sometimes you will even get to attack enemy balloons and zeppelins.
This is the first Dune game, based on Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel. It features a lot of characters from the books and you even play as Paul Atreides. While this is a strategy game, it plays very differently from its successor which is an RTS.
Dune I is a mix between a traditional roleplaying adventure and a dungeon crawler. You can make several choices along the way that will affect how the plot unfolds. The game involves resource management and transportation around the planet, with you deciding where to station your troops.
The Secret of Monkey Island
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to pursue a career as a professional pirate? Me neither, but this game’s protagonist goes to an island filled with pirates who teach him how to become one of them. They do so by providing him with 3 unique trials, that involve duels and treasure hunting.
The game is a simple 2D point-and-click adventure, presented from a 3rd-person perspective. Most of the game just involves talking with NPCs and selecting which action to take when presented with a number of choices.
Star Wars: Tie Fighter
In this game, you pilot an Imperial Tie Fighter and fight the Rebels. The timeline of Tie Fighter is wedged between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It uses the same engine as X-Wing, with a few extra graphical features that make it look better.
Once more, you get excellent voice acting and cutscenes containing several original characters/ references to the movies. Missions vary, sometimes you are dogfighting Rebel aircraft while in other scenarios you escort Imperial ships.
Cannon Fodder is a weird mish-mash of genres. It plays like a traditional shoot ‘em up but is also similar to many modern RTS games. You control a squad of 5 soldiers who are armed with machine guns by default, they can kill enemy units with just one hit.
But the same applies to them, so your soldiers are really fragile. As you progress into higher levels, the enemy starts bringing in troops armed with better weapons. They even get armored vehicles and helicopters, which can only be harmed with rocket launchers/ grenades.
It’s a weirdly addictive finance management game in which you roleplay as a drug kingpin, peddling his wares to every corner of the country. Your goal is to expand your business and make as much money as possible. Buy drugs, avoid cops, sell to the highest bidder, etc., you know- standard mafia stuff.
Day of the Tentacle
A sequel to Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle is a graphic adventure game from LucasArts. One of the funniest games you’ll ever experience, filled with quirky characters and wacky action scenes. You move from place to place, talking with NPCs and progressing the story through choices made during dialogue segments.
The Lost Vikings
This game was released on NES and eventually ported to various home computer platforms. In The Lost Vikings, you control a group of 3 Vikings trapped in an alien dimension. Each of these Vikings has unique powers that come in handy during the platforming segments, and you can switch between them depending on your situation.
Escape From The Planet Of The Robot Monsters
Humanity has colonized alien planets in the future, and one of our top colonies is a planet called X. This is a synthetic creation, home to a certain genius by the name of Dr. Sarah who has been kidnapped by aliens looking to steal her research. You can play solo, or with a friend, as you try to rescue the good doctor from alien forces.
Star Wars: Dark Forces
When Doom captured everyone’s attention with its fast-paced 3D FPS gameplay, it inspired a bunch of copycats. In fact, a lot of early FPS games were simply called “Doom clones”. One of these clones was Dark Forces, a game set within the Star Wars universe.
You play Kyle Katarn, a Rebel mercenary who uncovers the details on a secret Empire project. Even though this is called a Doom clone, it has several features that can’t be found in the 1st Doom game. Like the ability to look up and down, plus levels with multiple floors instead of just one plane.
Technically, D/Generation is a game made in the 1980s (when it was originally released for the Apple II). But the DOS port would come in 1991, which is why I included it on this list. Plus, it’s simply a fun game.
If you want a sci-fi action adventure with a cool story, check out this game. And the gameplay is actually varied quite a bit between missions to prevent everything from getting too stale. Puzzles feel unique, and levels are designed so that you have to take a strategic approach instead of rushing in headfirst.
Star Control 2: The Ur-Quan Masters
One of the few games to properly simulated space exploration and the various possibilities associated with it. You have dozens of alien races, each of these is capable of communicating with humans. There are also dozens of star systems and planets to explore, making this game a primitive version of No Man’s Sky.
The Lion King
Based on Disney’s legendary 1994 animated movie, The Lion King is a simple yet fun platformer in which you play as Simba. It starts with Simba being a cub and eventually, you get to see him fully grown up in later levels as he gets revenge for his father’s death. Simba has many special abilities, including a roar that paralyzes enemies and claw attacks which deal lots of damage.
The Incredible Machine 2
If you like games such as Gary’s Mod, you’re going to love this one. It’s all about goofing around and experimenting with various parts to create a machine that solves puzzles. Each level has a unique puzzle and a machine with missing parts.
Your job is to find these parts and slot them in the right location. You can also use the editor feature to create your own machine.
Rise of the Triad
Rise of the Triad seems like another Doom clone, but it’s actually quite advanced for its time. Featuring both single and multi-player, Rise of the Triad lets you tackle missions in very different ways depending on which character you play. That’s right, this game lets you choose one out of 5 unique protagonists.
Each protagonist has stats, similar to a roleplaying game. Bad guys can even beg you to spare them. Some will try to fake their deaths, which adds a nice twist to the gameplay.
Written entirely in QBasic, the source code version of this game was also known as GORILLA.BAS and that is how many 90s kids remember it. So what is this game?
It’s basically Scorched Earth. But instead of tanks, you’ve got two King Kong wannabes standing on skyscrapers throwing banana bombs at each other.
You’ve played Pinball, I’ve played Pinball, single-celled microbes living underground in complete darkness have played Pinball. There are so many unique variations of this amazingly simple yet addictive game.
One of those is Epic Pinball. It combines flashy visuals with excellent sound effects and is the best DOS Pinball game you’ll ever play.
Little Big Adventure
Even though it is number 48 on my list, Little Big Adventure managed to sell half a million copies between 1994 and 1999. That’s quite impressive for a DOS action-adventure from that time period. The graphics are a mix between 2D and 3D, with characters and props being polygonal objects while the backgrounds themselves are static 2D images.
Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy
An excellent side-scrolling platformer that is broken up into two separate episodes. You make your way through increasingly complex maze-like levels filled with everything from giant slugs to assault mushrooms. Armed with your trusty pogo stick and ray gun, you fight hordes of aliens while traveling across the galaxy in your spaceship.
I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream
It’s the future, a man-made AI has killed everyone on Earth. Except for 5 people, who are tortured by this AI through metaphorical dreams in the form of simulated memories.
This game is a point-and-click adventure that explores various issues such as paranoia, abuse, death, etc. And you’re asked to make some pretty tough choices along the way.
So, what do you think of my list for the top 50 90s DOS games? I grew up gaming in the 90s. I started with a Sega Genesis and ended up getting a home PC.
Games on this list will be quite the nostalgia trip for several 90s gamers, and you’ll be surprised at how well they hold up to this day. Many of these old games (like Doom and Daggerfall) have such great modding communities behind them.
The modders have been busy for over 2 decades, adding new content and features to old 90s DOS games. If you’re new to retro gaming and never played these games as a kid, I recommend you try the vanilla versions first before tinkering with mods.
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