Thanks to the recent Linux support provided by DRM-free classic games provider, GOG.com, getting that nostalgic kick on Linux has never been easier. In this article I'll also detail a few of my favourite classic games that are now available to play in Linux.
It's not all nostalgia, though. Some of the classic games you might think of are genuinely classic, amazing games no matter their age. Others, you might need to imagine you're back in, say, 1995 and look at the game from that point of view to appreciate how good it must have seemed at that time. Whatever the case though, there's no shortage of these old games out there to enjoy and thankfully it's recently gotten even easier with GOG.com recently announcing Linux support.
A lot of these old classic games actually run in DOSBox, so a seasoned Linux gamer who has experience with such games may bring up the point that you could play a lot of these games provided by services such as GOG.com for years already, well before that recent announcement. Which is correct, I've done the same thing myself, but it does involve a bit of fiddling with files, so at the very least we now have a "turn-key" solution even with the DOSBox powered games - you download them, you launch them, they should just work. If you just want to purchase a game and play it right away, that's no bad thing.
Then there's the non-DOS games. A lot of old Windows 95/98 games do often work fine in WINE, but not always, or perhaps need workarounds to be manually applied or even a special version of WINE itself. Some old games just won't work at all no matter what you try, even on modern versions of Windows itself! So again, having an alternative available that is designed to work out-of-the-box (and DRM-free, no less) is a nice thing.
GOG.com initially provided 50 Linux compatible games on their penguin-friendly launch, but that number is and will keep growing. In coming months they say they hope to reach 100 games, and who knows how many thereafter, but it should grow to be a fairly considerable library.
Here are a few of my favourites so far, that are available right now:
Rise Of The Triads Dark War (1994)
If you crave some 90's style shoot-em-up action where you get to blow the hell out of, well, everything and everyone, Rise Of The Triads (ROTT) is one of the best choices and a favourite to many.
If you know these kinds of shooters, you probably know what to expect. There is a storyline, but really it's about blowing everything up and/or riddling enemies full of bullet holes. As a member of an elite group of operatives you are sent to a remote island to stop a mad cult leader, where typically everything goes pear-shaped and you have to kill everything and successfully navigate levels to save the day and get out alive in the process.
True to the arcade-style shooter of this vintage, weapons are all about being big, high-tech and fun. You might be in an elite operations group, but you ain't stuck with peashooters and standard rifles - no there's duel pistols all the way to heat seeking missiles and the Flamewall cannon and many more. It's all about genuine fun and doesn't take itself too seriously.
Verdict: A blast (literally)
Realms Of The Haunting (1996)
This one is actually fairly new to me and isn't a game I remember from years back. Which is my loss really, as I can imagine this game must have seemed pretty incredible all the way back in 1996.
Realms Of The Haunting is something of a first-person shooter/point-and-click adventure combination. The controls at first seem a bit strange because of this (keyboard to control movement and attack etc. Mouse to move the context indicator/cursor around the screen and interact with objects) but you soon get used to it. The storyline, although I have not experienced all of it yet myself, is apparently very good and certainly my impressions of it have been good. This is also one of those classic games that uses good old FMV (Full Motion Video) for cutscenes.
Basically you play as a young man who receives a suitably vague letter from your recently deceased father about a strange deserted mansion and it's curious happenings inside. Naturally, said young man decides to visit the mansion and discovers his father's spirit being held captive by the forces of evil and then sets out to try free him. That sounds like a pretty standard storyline at first but the difference lays in the execution and how it progresses.
From the moment the main character picks up a lantern and gazes around the dark, creepy surroundings of the mansion, it actually reminds me a bit of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Sure, the gameplay and amount of actual combat means the comparison somewhat ends after that, but ROTH does also have it's fair share of exploration and puzzles. Despite a very dated looking graphics engine (it is based on the DOOM engine after all!) it strikes me how much attention to detail the game creators managed to pack into the environment, which further adds to the atmosphere and immersion despite the constant pixel party happening on screen.
All in all, Realms Of The Haunting is a creepy but very intriguing old game that is very much worth checking out. And if you love games that feature old-school FMV, there is heaps on offer here too.
Verdict: Ahead of it's time?
Sid Meier's Colonization (1994)
Think Civilization, but with a colonial twist. Instead of building a nation from a mound of dirt in the middle of nowhere, Colonization tasks you with controlling either the forces of England, France, Spain or The Netherlands as you set about managing expansion across the Atlantic for your nation of choice. The aim of the game, as far as winning goes, is to achieve independence from your mother country and defeat the angry Royal Expeditionary Force that comes your way.
If big chunky pixels, even in text, is something that hurts your eyes you may want to avoid this one but the simple old graphics belie the actual gameplay and depth available here. If you have experience with the more modern Sid Meier turn-based strategy games like the Civilization series, you may be surprised just how much familiar elements and gameplay there is in this old game.
It may appear ancient and a little clunky, but like most of the classic Sid Meier games, you can sink hours upon hours into this game. Which considering it's price nowadays, no more than a piece of cake and a coffee, is fantastic value that is hard to beat. Do try it.
Verdict: Superb turn-based strategy, all the way from 1994
Sword Of The Samurai (1989)
This one is a little more obscure and may surprise. For me, and this will sound a little cliché given the Japanese theme and setting, but there is something rather Zen about Sword Of The Samurai. A product in the year 1989, the graphics are obviously simple and have a very limited colour palette. Yet, I think even today the graphics work for this particular game and add to its charm and, again, the Zen.
Describing SOTS is difficult though. It's sort of... a strategy, war, dating, stealth, melee, dueling, diplomacy, choose-your-own adventure Samurai sim.
Somehow this old game, which weighs in less than 20 megabytes, fits in an incredible amount of different gameplay (and surprisingly smart artificial intelligence) and approaches you can take to achieve your goal. The core goal is get a very important thing called Honor. In the world of feudal Japan, Honor is a big, big thing and you must get more Honor any way you can in order to achieve the goal of unifying Japan under your rule, as Shogun.
While you can of course be the "good guy" and do everything you think is right to get Honor, the game is inherently deep and clever enough to allow you to achieve Honor even with, shall we say, more underhanded tactics.
It's difficult to truly describe all the ways you can play this game but my advice is to simply do so - play it, let it wash over you and soak in the Japanese culture and atmosphere that the game exudes in a really classy way, without being over-the-top. And yes, the game can also be educational! You can't beat that.
Verdict: An under-appreciated masterpiece
Get your game on
So there we have it, there's some of my favourites that I've been (re)playing recently, on my Fedora 20 system no less. Some of these games may be older than Linux (the kernel) itself, but thanks to the likes of GOG.com and especially emulators like DOSBox, you can still enjoy the classic titles you remember from years gone by.
What are some of your favourite classic games? Are you also playing them now in your favourite Linux distro? Let us know in the comments!