This article came together by accident. I was fighting through the backlog of games I had on my PC, when I realised that I'd played three amazing fan remakes in a row. Black Mesa, The Dark Mod, and Pioneer were all lined-up beside some of the year's biggest releases, and I barely even took stock of where they came from or how they came to be. They just seemed like great games and I wanted to play them. They are, and they're not alone: the PC's capacity to enable fans to engage with their favourite games in the most direct way possible has given us piles of amazing games to play, and here are ten of my favourites.
I've been begging for an update of Frontier: Elite II for about twenty years. It's not a simple task: Frontier was vast, with over 100,000,000,000 stars as the backdrop to a go anywhere, be anyone space game. Pioneer's recreation of it is a stunning achievement. It has everything down so tightly that I can operate the menus on memory: hunting the BBS (the precursor to the internet) for missions, planning out journeys on the clunky star-map, launching and watching as my ship climbs out of the atmosphere and into the waiting solar system and beyond. There's a new version every month, and it's incredibly slick.
Download: Pioneer site
Open Transport Tycoon Deluxe has been in development for a decade, taking Chris Sawyer's original and brilliant infrastructure simulation and reverse engineering it. It began as a complete remake, even naughtily including the original's graphics, but now, like a good Transport Tycoon, every area has been redone and expanded: it has new graphics and sounds, a larger multiplayer allowance, and better AI. It exists as a reflection of the original game, and it wouldn't--couldn't --have existed without that as a platform, but because of the improvements it's become the definitive version.
Download: Open TTD site
The Dark Mod
If the upcoming Thief game is a bit Nu-Thief for your tastes, the Dark Mod has you covered (and coshed and robbed of all your money, Taffer). There's a lot you need to get right when attempting to capture what made Thief so bladder-pinchingly tense: the look, the movement, the sound are all key to making a Thief game more than just a stealth game. But it's not just about cowering in the dark, but rebuilding a steampunk medieval world. The Dark Mod team understood that: it built a platform on the Doom 3 engine (for others to make maps for) that has shadows so thick you can get lost in them, a world of climbable walls and open windows, and a throbbing music that (aptly) feels like soundtrack to a gothic concussion. We liked it so much we gave it our mod of the year award this year.
Download: The Dark Mod site
MechWarrior Living Legends
The words "MechWarrior" and "Cry Engine" should be music to your ears, and the implication of the two being entwined was borne out in this stellar and stompy reimagining. It's a multiplayer only return to the cockpits of the mechsy beasts, one that stands-up against the grindy and official MechWarrior Online. These are complex war engines, and at times the HUD displays so much information that it looks like the operating system has crashed, but that's a good thing. You /should/ be worrying about the balance of your systems and the team's make-up as you stomp. This is a nice balance of simming and shooting. The game is no longer in development so the community is pretty small, but what's there is spectacular
Download: Living Legends site
The Kings Quest Series
The fuzzy pixels of history have been somewhat unkind to the King's Quest series, particularly the second game. Fear not, for there's a group of fans dedicated to reclaiming and re-mastering their favourite mid-80s Sierra adventure series. Adventure games might seem easy things to remake, but it takes skill to do a worthwhile job. The graphics, sound and control scheme have all received well thought-out tweakings, but the plot, character, and puzzles have been properly updated. They even remade Easter Eggs. You have to understand all the nuances of what makes the game tick to pull that off, and this series of remakes do just that.
Download: AGD Interactive site