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
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
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 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
It's no easy task to remake Half-Life, and if you need proof of that just look at how long it took the Black Mesa (http://www.blackmesasource.com/) team to release their upgrade of Valve's original shooter. It's a huge achievement, and it almost never falters in its attempt to capture and improve on the original's aesthetics and action. They crafted an escape from the huge Black Mesa facility that really could make the original obsolete: it has all the high points, but it's prettier, and with more spectacular physics. It's not perfect: Xen is missing, and a few of the levels have been unnecessarily squashed (and remade by another modder), but it's such a good interpretation of the classic shooter that Valve will soon be selling it via Steam.
The plethora of amazing mods and engine upgrades means there's really no need to remake Doom as a shooter, but the call of "can someone turn it into a roguelike?" is answered with DoomRL. In a way, it feels like the progenitor to its muse: it boils the 3D shooting down to 2D tile-stepping dungeon scourer, where the shotgun blasts might not always take down the monsters, and the promise of instadeath actually makes Doom the shooter feel like the nicer, friendlier version of this. It's a brilliant mashup of two classics.
Download: Chaos Forge site
Command & Conquer: Renegade was not a good game, but the idea of being on the ground during the chaos of a Command & Conquer game has resonated with the makers of Renegade X , who've toiled to right that wrong. It's not a remake, but a resurrection. Glimpses at Renegade X's drive home that it's basically Battlefield in the C&C universe, with swirling online fights showing spectacular mix-ups between tanks, choppers, and infantry. They've already released the single-player game, but you should wait for the release of the multiplayer component in February to see C&C: Renegade's promise finally fulfilled.
I'm not sniffy about console games, so I agree that the N64's GoldenEye is one of the best multiplayer shooters of all time. GoldenEye: Source (http://www.moddb.com/mods/goldeneye-source) takes the format and modernises it: turning the four-player single-screen shooter into an online deathmatch, expanding the number of players, maps, and modes. It's something of a resurrection for people who grew up duelling friends on Facility, and it perfectly captures the slow-pace, the crunchy sound, and the vibrant design. All it misses in the intimacy of trying to yank a friend's controller out when he's head-shotted you for the umpteenth time.
Skyrim is the cooler and somewhat aloof cousin to Morrowind: a chillier world that's reflected in the sombre tone that doesn't have room for the mirth of the previous game. But its engine can produce some remarkable moments of eyeball to vista interaction, and bringing Morrowind into that engine, as Skywind is attempting, could produce something amazing. Morrowind is sillier, more characterful, and - frankly - a bit odd; a world where you ride giant insects and wizards fall from the sky. It's currently in development, but it's quite playable. It's missing tonnes of content, but the loose ends are slowly coming together, along with the world.
Download: Skywind site