DOS Games
December 7, 2009 6:22 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the best games for DOS that still have lasting appeal?

I really like Settlers 2 and The Ur Quan Masters (AKA Star Control 2), and I also really like how they're still very playable in this day and age, especially in DOSbox. I don't know too many DOS games, so I was wondering if there are any other great, classic DOS games in the same vein out there.

Preferably they aren't too hard to play in DOS box or require too much documentation before playing. For example, I've tried to play Dwarf Fortress, but I just can't get past the interface. I also want games that are still fun and accessible today, and not just good for nostalgic purposes. I don't mind whether they're Abandonware or for sale on Steam or GOG. I just want a good list to try.

If it matters, I'm using a Mac and dual boot into Windows 7, in case you want to offer something not exactly for DOS, like a remake or clone.
posted by mccarty.tim to Computers & Internet (60 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
DOOM, Descent, and Duke Nukem 3D.
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:27 PM on December 7, 2009

Ultima (pretty much all of them).
Sim City 2000 (the best of the entire line, IMO), though you can also get Windows versions which may work better on a modern machine.
Wolfenstein 3d.
Personally, I liked the first few Might&Magic games, but don't know if I'd say they have "lasting appeal".

I'll keep checking up on this thread - This one has lots of potential for some really great nostalgia, and suggestions for things I haven't played. :)
posted by pla at 6:29 PM on December 7, 2009

Betrayal at Krondor and Return to Krondor run great in DOSBox.

The early Fallout games have kind of a DOS feel even though they run in Windows.
posted by Phssthpok at 6:31 PM on December 7, 2009

The first X-Com is possibly the most addictive turn-based strategy game ever.
posted by fearthehat at 6:32 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Space Invaders - some guy from Canada wrote a perfect emulation in assembler. Other than using arrow keys versus a joystick, which in this game is about the same, it is just like being back in an arcade decades ago. It's a simple game with great game play.
posted by caddis at 6:32 PM on December 7, 2009

Oregon Trail.

It was going to come up eventually.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 6:38 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Master of Magic

As bug filled and glitchy as it was, I loved it and still love it.
posted by pseudonick at 6:42 PM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Monkey Island series.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:47 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Chuck Yeager's Air Combat

Man, I bet I could still spend hours flying the unfriendly skies with Chuck as my co-pilot...
posted by Theloupgarou at 6:48 PM on December 7, 2009

2nding Ultima, particularly Ultima IV. (Now freeware, also available as xu4.)

It didn't originate in DOS but Nethack is a classic.

You might be interested in the list of DOS games linked to from this post - playable in an java emulator in the browser, even.
posted by XMLicious at 6:48 PM on December 7, 2009

For dungeon crawls, Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder I and II, and Black Crypt.

Don't know where you'd be able to lay hands on Black Crypt, but it'd be well worth the effort.
posted by cog_nate at 6:52 PM on December 7, 2009

Crap, sorry. A DOS version Black Crypt was never released -- it was on the Amiga. But there are DOS versions of Dungeon Master and the EOBs.
posted by cog_nate at 6:54 PM on December 7, 2009

The Last Express. A beautiful game, tragically cut short by a lack of marketing.
posted by Paragon at 6:55 PM on December 7, 2009

posted by Raybun at 6:56 PM on December 7, 2009

x-com : ufo defense
ultima underworld
deus ex
system shock 2
risk II
posted by radiosilents at 6:58 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding "The Last Express" -- one of the most awesome games I have ever played. Highly recommended.
posted by Theloupgarou at 7:00 PM on December 7, 2009

ZZT is still an addicting, easy to pick up game, and downloading other people's random levels is great fun.
posted by Herschel at 7:01 PM on December 7, 2009

Chip's Challenge!
posted by fish tick at 7:06 PM on December 7, 2009

In addition to the above, I would add Blackthorne and that game with the three vikings.

I have fond memories of Duke Nukem II, Halloween Harry and Command & Conquer but I haven't played these last three in more than a decade so I'm hesitant to recommend them.
posted by tksh at 7:17 PM on December 7, 2009

Adom is (I think) available for DOS and has the same kind of appeal as early DOS games. I think the best thing about Adom is that it has a sort of an epic, adventurous feeling vs. Nethack. I feel I'm qualified to compare them because I ascended Nethack many times, including a few times with challenges! And the first time I ascended, I sacrifised at the wrong altar. (as shameful as it is to admit). I also like how in Adom you travel between different sets of caves instead of having just one cave to drill down. And random encounters add something ot the game, too...

The other really amazing game not to be missed is: LBA aka Little Big Adventure aka Twinsen's adventure aka LBA1.


I can guarantee that if you look at these screenshots and don't fall in love immediately, you have no soul!

LBA1 is a very odd, cute, offbeat, non-violent adventure game.

Heroes of might and magic I through III are excellent, too. I don't remember if III was DOS, though.

Lara Croft I is pretty kickass. In fact, most of them are very good. The locations are beautiful. I think it's the only game that really captures beauty of nature settings.

Doom II had its moments although obviously it will look a bit aged compared to Far Cry.

Vikings was a cool little game, Cannon Fodder was nice, Dune II was nice too. That's all I can remember right now.
posted by rainy at 7:18 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dammit, forgot one: Yume Nikki. One of the best games out there, not exactly DOS but made in the spirit of DOS games.
posted by rainy at 7:21 PM on December 7, 2009

Commander Keen and Hocus Pocus were my two favorite Apogee games. There are six Commander Keens and three Hocus Pocuses! I dig them out again on occasion.
posted by bookdragoness at 7:26 PM on December 7, 2009

D/Generation, TIE Fighter, and XCOM: UFO Defense are all excellent choices. The King's Quest series is very entertaining and accessible, though solving some of the puzzles (especially in the first few games in the series) can take considerable mental effort. There's at least one mission builder for TIE Fighter, which can be endless fun if you can swap missions with others.

ZZT is great stuff, especially for kids who like to tinker. It was way past its prime when I was in high school, but this one kid got a bunch of people into building games with it. We even had a little contest. Megazeux, its successor, is intriguing but vastly more complicated. Some very interesting games were made for it though; you can find them on certain archive sites.

Quake (the original) is very replayable, with four difficulty settings and cleverly-designed levels. I would say the same about Dark Forces (a Star Wars game) -- some of the levels were diabolical. It also had more focus on set-piece battles against powerful bosses, some of which are very difficult to defeat without cheating.
posted by Maximian at 7:28 PM on December 7, 2009

I was a big fan of Comander Keen when I was a kid. Also, all the Ultimas, the 2d Duke Nukem, Carmen Sandiego...

/me returns to playing her NES emulator
posted by MuChao at 7:31 PM on December 7, 2009

- X-Com X-Com X-Com! (Ufo Defense)

PCGamer released a free-as-in-beer windows port years back (early 90's?) and I pull it out around once a year or so, and finish it in about a week.

Hey, this site is still around! (lots of good addons and patches to make gameplay better/harder) Looks like Steam has it for sale, or I could share the freely released version.

- I loaded up the original Ultima Underworld a couple of years ago and it was... playable. UW2, about the same. It was good for nostalgia (the music and the lurking water monsters did it for me), but that's about all I can say.

- Dune 2, pretty much the progenitor of the RTS genre, is still fun - but very very primitive.

- A couple of years ago, loaded up SimCity 2000 for a coworker's kid who spent his afternoons at the lab and inadvertently hooked three other people.
posted by porpoise at 7:32 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ohhh, I second D/Generation. Amazing action-puzzle game.
posted by Herschel at 7:33 PM on December 7, 2009

Totally underrated (though buggy) PC game: Darklands, a recreation of middle-ages Germany that was supposed to have been the first in a series of historical fantasy games. Alchemy, Christian saints, witches holding black sabbaths, no elves or Tolkein stuff, fun random generation of German names.

Master of Orion II...

All Infocom games...
posted by Kirklander at 7:45 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

classic DOS game, fun and accessible = Maniac Mansion
posted by somanyamys at 7:49 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Golden Axe.
posted by murtagh at 7:50 PM on December 7, 2009

Duke Nukem 2
Tomb Raider
Jill of the Jungle
Bio Menace
Major Stryker
One Must Fall / OMF2097
posted by rxrfrx at 7:51 PM on December 7, 2009

I'm going to second Wasteland. It's just about the only DOS-era game I've picked up since that time and played start to finish - more than once. There is just something about that game which evokes such a strong feeling of being in that world - the barrenness, the wry humor... it's a little hard to say. But the mood is incredibly strong.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:52 PM on December 7, 2009

Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge
posted by worldswalker at 8:35 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ah, Darklands, Kirklander... =)

My favourite game when I was 13 - man, was this the game. Found it in a streetmarket in Hong Kong (along with a 1st person Terminator shooter game, but in grids rather than 3D). It was awesome; the pinnacle of (purely Western - think a computer version of Chainmail/D&D version 1) CRPG. Open ended, sandbox play, continuously advancing calendar with recurrent and random events throughout the year. Seasons. Unique items, artifacts, NPCs would get old, die, and be replaced by different NPCs. Hell, PCs get old, lose stats, die. Mindblowing. Graphics (outside of the "3D" game engine - but it was on-the-fly squad-based "Real Time Combat" with animation) were fantastic; nothing better had ever been seen.

Fast forward to mid-90's, I ended up buying a legitimate North American box edition (on 5.25" floppies) off of ebay for something close to the original retail. Everything was too fast except combat, which was horribly horribly horribly slow due to some odd programming timing convention. Also, lots of palette bugs (not to mention the in-game bugs that it shipped with).

Fast forward early/mid 00's. I bought a 5.25" drive, bought an adaptor for the drive, loaded the game up... gargh. Managed to get it to run but still ran into the palette and speed issues - and DOSBox was not nearly as polished as it was about a year ago when I last played around with it. I ended up trolling thrift shops for a few months to try to rebuild a 386 but eventually gave up on the project.

Speaking of DOSBox - Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace runs well. I don't know why, but it's like heroin for me. I can never beat the game (and I'm not sure anyone has, or rather, whether it can be done), but I know that I'm an addict to it and it's sheer willpower that I not load up DOSBox and this game and play it until I dehydrate and starve to death. When I was a kid, this was the first game that I stayed up all night playing - forgetting to sleep - until the sun came up. The only other game was the original Simcity (or maybe it was Simcity 2) but that was only the once.
posted by porpoise at 8:42 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Miner VGA
posted by Ouisch at 8:54 PM on December 7, 2009

The webpage hosting this game looks atrocious, but it has one of the best DOS (and earlier) games:

Elite - one of the most influential space games of the 80's

Elite - Program
posted by chambers at 9:18 PM on December 7, 2009

I always preferred Tank Wars 3.2 to Scorched Earth -- Scorched Earth actually had too many options of things to buy and being able to move... it felt all cluttered next to the just-rightness of Tank Wars.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:27 PM on December 7, 2009

Starflight was a great space exploration game. The graphics are, naturally, quite dated, but the universe was incredibly huge even by today's standards, using as procedural algorithms to generate the thousands of planets.
posted by justkevin at 9:33 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Prince of Persia.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:55 PM on December 7, 2009

Has anybody written a DOS box in Javascript and made it run in a browser yet? If not, why not?
posted by flabdablet at 11:09 PM on December 7, 2009

Nthing Fallout.

Also Grim Fandango, which is such a gorgeous puzzle/adventure game. The story is delightful.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 11:29 PM on December 7, 2009

Secret of Monkey Island!
posted by qmechanic at 11:42 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Based on your criteria you might enjoy Sid Meier's Colonization (from 1994).

Betrayal at Krondor as suggested above is one of my favorites, but it does require considerable time to get to know, especially regarding the many types of items available. It's an adventure/RPG mix and a pretty epic game with a large map and actual "chapters" of a story to play through. If you like RPG games at all, definitely try it out. And definitely check out the Betrayal at Krondor Help Web -- I think it's still the best single resource for the game, bar none. (It looks like the site hasn't been updated in over 10 years, but that's okay because the game is over 16 years old.)

If you do like the fantasy/classic RPG aspect, also check out The Bard's Tale (the original).

Other adventurey games that (IMO) don't require nearly as much time as BAK or Bard's Tale to learn:

- The Colonel's Bequest especially if you like mysteries -- I think it has a higher replay value compared to some other adventure games, since it's not necessarily linear/dependent on puzzles. It's maybe my favorite Sierra game.

- For more Sierra games: I'll second the King's Quest series, and mention the Quest for Glory series. BTW, you might find the remakes of KQI, KQII, and QFG2 more fleshed out than the originals. The QFG series is an adventure/RPG mix with maybe more emphasis on the adventure.

- I really enjoy Below the Root still, as well.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 11:50 PM on December 7, 2009

Dittoing: little big adventure/twinsen (I'd put my vote in for the second one), x-com, quest for glory series, master of orion 2, fallout 1 & 2, and lucasarts adventure games.

Adding a vertical scroll shmup with upgrady bits and loads of secrets: Tyrian 2000.
posted by juv3nal at 12:19 AM on December 8, 2009

I'll second the Colonel's Bequest, and follow up with its follow-up, Dagger of Amon Ra. 1920s setting, female protagonist, a fun night club song ("I want to marry an archaeologist
And keep his artifacts warm"), plenty of odd characters, literally hundreds of things to poke and pry and look at, and god alone knows how many bizarre ways to die.
Those two Laura Bow games were the first ones I'd ever played, and I still toady have copies for my netbook (and, well, Freddie Pharkas, Frontier Pharmacist, too).
posted by ElaineMc at 2:55 AM on December 8, 2009

The good news is that some of the above mentioned classic titles can in fact be run on a modern OS natively, which means you would not need to struggle with dosbox (or any other emulator for the matter). Some of them take advantage of modern gfx cards, too (vide eduke32 and its new Polymer renderer and high-definition texture pack). There are packages available for Windows, but one can also either find or compile a package for a UNIX-compatible OS.

Below is the list of game engines (on the right) needed to play the original game (on the left):

Doom franchise (Doom, Doom 2, Heretic, Hexen, Strife) --> gzdoom, zdoom, doomsday (a.k.a. jdoom)

Duke Nukem 3D --> EDuke32

Blood --> gzdoom or zdoom (more info here and here)

Wolfenstein 3D & SoD --> WolfGL
Rise of the Triad

Flashback --> REminiscence

Transport Tycoon --> OpenTTD

Tyrian --> opentyrian

Specifically, to play any of the aforementioned titles, one needs the original (as in "paid-for", not "unpatched") data files---executables are not required.

Some games were re-written from scratch (and one doesn't need any copyrighted files to play them), like:

Civilization 1&2 --> Freeciv

There are more classics that are being ported to modern OS's, however, they are in a rather early stage of development:

Master of Orion 1&2 --> FreeOrion

Theme Hospital --> OpenTH, CorsixTH

Syndicate --> FreeSynd

If you care for UFO/X-Com, Descent, Quake and Unreal franchises, I am sure you could find them either open-sourced or re-written from scratch. Either way, it is a treat. :-)
posted by noztran at 5:07 AM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Rise of the Triad --> WinROTTGL
posted by noztran at 6:50 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Most of the original Sierra franchises still hold up. I was never a huge King's Quest fan, but I still play the Police Quest, Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry games once or twice a year. As stated, Bard's Tale is still fun too.
posted by speeb at 6:57 AM on December 8, 2009

The first Carmageddon's mix of cheese and violence still makes me bring out the ol' DOS boot discs. I accept that at some level this makes me a Bad Person(TM).

Also (oh man I'm jonesing for it now just thinking about it) there was a _classic_ graphic adventure called 7 Cities of Gold (originally for C64) that had lots to explore, many ways to play, and simple gameplay.

If you wanna go way back, there's a tiiny old game called Red Baron that uses only three keys and originally worked with the Hercules monochrome graphics cards. Yep, a real resource hog. Try it; it's refreshingly hard and surprisingly addictive. And at 30K, guaranteed to keep you within your download quota.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:49 AM on December 8, 2009

I also suggest a game called Red Baron, although it's not the same one referred to above. It's still the best mixture of simulation and arcade-ish dogfighting in a flight simulation I've played. Corncob 3D was also very good, although it was more arcade than simulation.

Stunts was a really excellent driving game based on previous arcade driving games like Hard Drivin', and it influenced a lot of later games like TrackMania.

I also recommend most of the adventure games listed above, if you are into those kinds of games.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:45 AM on December 8, 2009

posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:13 AM on December 8, 2009

I'm not sure where you'd find a copy (since I'm not giving mine up), but DreamWeb was an engrossing dystopian adventure that I can't recommend highly enough.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:21 AM on December 8, 2009

I frequent and for a bit of game nostalgia.

Sentinel Worlds I - Future Magic (there was no #2 that I know of)
Autoduel was revolutionary for its time.
Wing Commander was an amazing franchise with the first gripping story/simularor that I can think of...
Crusade in Europe was probably the first RTS that I ever played and predates Dune2000. (Don't expect glorious sound or furious mouseclicking - this game is all about the long haul)

Also... Full Throttle, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Monkey Island(s), Grim Fandango
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:36 AM on December 8, 2009

I was wondering when someone would mention Wing Commander. That game was out-of-control mindblowing. At the time, naturally.
posted by Darth Fedor at 9:53 AM on December 8, 2009

Quake and Quake II will play just fine on a Mac. Check out the universal binary Cocoa builds for Quake and Quake II. You'll need the original Quake install disks to get the game files, but the GL engine to make it work on your Mac is already available and works great.

X-Wing is a fun game, but TIE Fighter kicks it's ass. And if you have X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter you're in even better shape. You'll need a joystick the DOS emulator can understand though.

Duke Nukem 3D wasn't bad but not sure about the replay value. Doom and Doom II are great. Wolfenstein 3D is fun, but after playing Doom you'll miss the lack of level maps and spend a LOT of time trying to open every single wall everywhere just to find the hidden areas.

At home I have actual retail CDs for TIE Fighter, X-Wing, Duke Nukem 3D, and Doom II. I have an original Doom shareware CD but not the full version. :( Heck, I think I still have the original retail boxes and all inserts for X-Wing and TIE fighter...
posted by caution live frogs at 11:18 AM on December 8, 2009

Seconding Colonization. Awesome, awesome game!

Also, check out Loom, one of my favorite old rpg/adventure games. It is really quite haunting. Or was in 1990 :)
posted by flavor at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2009


Little Big Adventure (aka Relentless)
System Shock (basically BioShock with worse graphics and kind of funky controls)
Commander Keen
Ultima (VI was my favorite because it was my first)

Also, Monster Bash was one of my favorite Apogee sidescrollers.

And if you're interested in a newer, freeware sidescroller with a decidedly retro feel, check out the fantastic Cave Story, which has native builds for both mac and win.
posted by ropeladder at 12:49 PM on December 8, 2009

nthing X-COM.

X-COM: Periodically declared the best ever.
posted by hAndrew at 1:57 AM on December 9, 2009

My vote goes for Theme Hospital.
posted by toadhall at 8:00 AM on December 9, 2009

GameTap has a lot of these games available for easy play in their client. Even more if you pay for a subscription. Though I haven't used it for a while, since they switched to a windows only browser client.
posted by jefftang at 8:51 AM on December 10, 2009


Commander Keen
Fallout/Fallout 2
Master of Orion 2
Prince of Persia

Also recommending:

TIE Fighter
Space Quest 1-5 (Originally DOS, I think some were ported to Windows at some point)
Sam n Max hit the road
Day of the Tentacle
posted by Vorteks at 11:19 AM on December 17, 2009

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