18 classic PC games you still can't buy digitally

No One Lives Forever 2
(Image credit: No One Lives Forever 2)

Crusader Kings 3

(Image credit: Paradox)

2022 games: This year's launches
Best PC games: All-time favorites
Best free PC games: Freebie fest
Best laptop games: Low-specs 

One of the great strengths of PC gaming is a back catalogue that spans decades. Companies like Nintendo emulate older games on their modern consoles, but that can't compare to the thousands and thousands of games you can track down from the history of the PC. But not every banger that's ever dropped on DOS or Windows is so easy to find. Some of the all-time greats still aren't available digitally even now, and your only legal way to play them is to hunt for a boxed copy on Ebay and hope it plays well with modern Windows.

The list of those missing classics is growing shorter due to stores like GOG and developers like Nightdive dredging up as many relics from the muck of abandonware as they can. But the list is still longer than it should be, so we asked Nightdive what the odds are that the games below can get the digital re-releases they deserve.

Here are 18 of the games we most want to see available again, ideally with support for higher resolutions and smooth compatibility with today's PCs.

No One Lives Forever

Among the most infamous rights fiascos in PC gaming history, you'd be forgiven for thinking this classic spy shooter is actually cursed. The sordid tale is long and complicated and full of legal technicalities, but the gist of it is that there's no clear answer to the question of who holds the rights to re-release it, and every effort to untangle that knot has so far failed.

NOLF's absence is especially felt as it's widely regarded as one of the best PC games of all time. It's made our own lists more than once. But today's younger players likely haven't touched it and may never have heard of it. Nightdive tried to get the rights to it years ago with no success, but it seems like there may still be some hope for the future.

Nightdive's take: "NOLF is somewhat unique in that multiple parties need to agree in order for this game to see the light of day. Recent mergers have actually made this situation somewhat easier. And Nightdive just won’t give up!" 

Freelancer

Freelancer ship streaming through space

(Image credit: Microsoft)

When Freelancer came out in 2003, it felt like something truly special. You could fly around in your own spaceship in a fully 3D galaxy. You could visit hubs on planetary surfaces. You could pick up contracts. You could get into dogfights. You could wear a leather jacket. It kind of felt like a Han Solo Simulator. And while development issues kept it from reaching its full potential, the space games that have come after (including creator Chris Roberts' current project Star Citizen) owe it a fair bit.

As of the writing of this article, a physical copy of the disc is going to run you about $90 in box. That's not quite as much as you might pay for your own planet in Star Citizen, but it is pretty steep for a 17-year-old game. With plenty of options for self-guided space exploration these days, from Elite: Dangerous to No Man's Sky, the genre is doing well. But there's still nothing quite like Freelancer.

Nightdive's take: "I believe this is owned by Microsoft! It’s our hope to one day work on Freelancer as well as Crimson Skies!" 

3D Movie Maker

3D Movie Maker

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Another unique artifact of the mid-90s, 3D Movie Maker was part game and part animation program. The large library of pre-recorded, looped animations and simple controls made it very easy for users of any skill level to make what were, at the time, pretty elaborate 3D short films. You could even import your own recorded dialogue, though that tended to fill up hard drive space fast in 3DMM's heyday.

Now that we have Source Filmmaker and dedicated machinima tools in many big budget games, it's hard to see where the niche would be for something like 3D Movie Maker today. But the user friendliness and ability to screen your creations in a virtual theater, complete with a concession stand and a wacky (somewhat terrifying, to be honest) usher is an experience uploading a video to Steam or YouTube simply can't replicate.

The Movies

Making a movie in The Movies

(Image credit: Microsoft, Mobygames)

Continuing our cinematic theme, Lionhead's The Movies is another silver screen-adjacent cult hit that isn't available on digital stores—at least not anymore. It actually was available on Steam for a time, but was delisted years ago. This one was definitely more of a tycoon game than an actual animation program. You had some control over the simple short films your studio put out, but they were all assembled from a list of pre-set scenes.

Still, living the dream of a Hollywood exec is something no one else has tried to put into game form since. And since this production is already way over budget, it might be a pain to track down a physical copy. 

MechWarrior 2

A MechWarrior 2 mech shoots another mech in a blobby green valley

(Image credit: Activision)

We're spoiled for choice with mech games these days. We've got MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, we've got MechWarrior Online. If you're more into the tactical side of things, Harebrained Schemes' Battletech lets you command an entire lance. We've even got mecha visual novels like Extreme Meatpunks Forever. And yet MechWarrior 2, a foundational entry and a lot of people's first mech experience, still isn't available digitally.

It may be precisely because we have so many other ways to scratch the MechWarrior itch that Activision hasn't made it a priority to ensure the entire back catalogue is available. But it's still a part of the history of the series and PC gaming, and it would be nice to be able to give it a spin today for nostalgia's sake, or to witness how the series evolved.

Nightdive's take: "An employee at GOG once bet me a $500 bottle of whiskey that I couldn’t unravel the rights to the MechWarrior series and let’s just say I haven’t come to claim that bet. My current understanding is that the rights are split between a number of publishers." 

Dune 2

Dune 2

(Image credit: Westwood)

1992's Dune 2 is possibly the first real-time strategy game, at least in terms of how we define the genre today. It created a template that Warcraft, Command & Conquer, and dozens of other games would closely follow. Especially with the Dune universe doing big numbers at the box office in 2021, it's odd that you can't track down a digital copy of this piece of PC gaming history.

There is an unofficial recreation of Dune 2 available for mobile, and a fan-made clone for PC and Linux called Dune Legacy. The original code is nowhere to be found on any of the major, digital stores, however. Maybe this guy can point us in the right direction.

Nightdive's take: "When Westwood was acquired by EA the Dune license went with it and additional titles were created that took some liberties with the source material. Word is that the Herbert Estate wasn’t too pleased with this and the license along with any chance of a remaster or re-release of the classic RTS series were lost. (You’d need Spice in order to navigate that minefield.)" 

Black & White

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Peter Molyneux, though known in the last 15 years for being eccentric, saying weird things, and challenging us to break into some kind of magic cube, at one point pioneered what we still call the God Game. Black & White was one of the most bizarre and wonderful milestones of the genre, as you got to rule over your worshippers with the help of a giant, deeply unsettling anthropomorphic animal.

EA still has official web pages for Black & White and its sequel, but you won't find them for sale on Origin. Or anywhere, for that matter, other than maybe Ebay or a lucky find at a garage sale. Molyneux went on to make Godus, which exists in the same genre and is readily available, but it just doesn't let you get up to the same kind of oddball chaos his earlier stabs at the concept did.

Nightdive's take: "We enquired a few times about B&W and were never able to get a clear answer from EA as to what the current status was. It’s my best guess that Peter Molyneux would have to be involved with any re-release or remastering." 

The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail Deluxe

(Image credit: MECC)

If you went to school in the US any time in the last 40 years, there's a good chance you played some version of The Oregon Trail. The historically-inspired resource management sim was sold as an educational product, and charged you with getting a wagon full of people and stuff from Independence, Missouri to Oregon in the mid-1800s. Hopefully without dying of dysentery.

There have been a handful of versions released on PC, most recently 2001's 5th Edition. But none of them are available digitally in an official capacity, if you can believe it. To add insult to injury, there have been no less than nine Oregon Trail games released since 2001 (and we've ranked all of them), but none on the PC. At least as a consolation prize, you can get The Organ Trail on Steam, a pastiche that uses the graphics and mechanics of the classic Apple II version to tell a zombie apocalypse survival story.

Nightdive's take: "We had some initial conversations with the rights owners about bringing back all the 'Trail' titles, but there didn’t seem to be sufficient interest at the time to move the conversation forward." 

Battlefield 1942

Battlefield 1942

(Image credit: EA)

The World War 2 shooter that started one of the genre's biggest franchises is, sadly, missing in action today, too. What's even worse is that it actually was available on Origin—for free, even!—at one point, but has since been delisted.

The reason seems to be that the multiplayer service, run through GameSpy, was shut down in 2013. This means EA would have to come up with some new netcode for you to even be able to play BF1942 with your friends. If you have an original disc, there are some fan-made workarounds out there that can re-enable the multiplayer. But official support seems unlikely, when Origin would probably rather sell you the newest Battlefield.

The Lord of the Rings: Battle For Middle-earth

The battle for Middle-earth

(Image credit: EA)

Another ring missing from Origin's finger is the Battle for Middle-earth series, a pair of surprisingly good licensed Lord of the Rings RTSes. The issue here is that Warner Bros, makers of the Shadow of Mordor/Shadow of War games, currently hold the video game rights to Lord of the Rings. To re-release these classics digitally, EA would have to deal with them and the Tolkien people, who can be prickly at times.

But hey, with a new Middle-earth-centric streaming series on the horizon, maybe there will be some renewed interest in bringing these armies back from the dead. It would be a shame to see the only game that let you send out Tom Bombadil to spinning jump kick your enemies languish in the crypts of abandonware.

Civilization and Civ 2

Civilization 2

(Image credit: Firaxis)

The first two entries in Sid Meier's legendary Civilization series have still never gotten a proper digital release. And it's not difficult to see why. With Civ 4, 5, and 6 maintaining their own active communities to this day, you simply have a lot of modern ways to get your Civ fix.

Still, in a series about the march of human history, it would be nice to be able to easily go back and see where all these contemporary wonders started from. It may not be at the top of Firaxis' to-do list, with Civ 6 wrapping up development and Civ 7 probably in some kind of planning stage at least. But the past has a way of leaving its mark on us.

Aliens Versus Predator 2

Alien getting blasted in the face

(Image credit: Monolith, Mobygames)

We've had some great and some dire games about being a space marine shooting aliens in recent times. But even the cream of the crop would have a hard time standing up to Aliens Versus Predator 2. It had excellent asymmetrical multiplayer before that was even really a thing, and extensive single-player campaigns for the aliens, predators, and humans.

The most recent time I tried to spin up my old CD-ROM, I found that the online community had seen better days. Without official developer support, hackers had basically taken over. It's the kind of thing you just have to nuke from space. It's the only way to be sure. But if someone were to get this frenzied deathmatch on Steam or GOG with some up-to-date netcode and anti-cheat measures, I know I'd be in the pipe, five-by-five.

Nightdive's take: "Another incredible shooter by Monolith that at the time was a licensed Fox property published by Sierra, which is now Activision. Disney owns the rights to the Alien franchise but I believe something would need to be worked out with Activision before we could see AvP2 return." 

Silent Hill 2 and 3

Silent Hill 2's James Sunderland looks at himself in the mirror

(Image credit: Konami)

Both of these horror classics got physical PC releases, but have never been available digitally. GOG currently has Silent Hill 4, which is not exactly the most well-regarded in the franchise, but not the acclaimed second or third games.

Normally I'd say not to hold your breath, Konami being Konami, but they did prove us wrong and give the go-ahead for the original Metal Gear Solid to be sold digitally since the last time we compiled this list. So maybe if we ask really nicely and atone for the crimes of our past by way of surrealist horror dreamscapes, we'll find some download codes buried in a bag of viscera on our front porch next Halloween.

Nightdive's take: "After the poor reception of the HD collection release I wouldn’t be surprised if Konami were a bit gun shy to revisit these games, but I believe enough time has passed that another pass on remastering these titles is warranted. With the success of the Resident Evil Remakes I’d fathom a guess that a similar treatment for Silent Hill was on the table." 

Need for Speed Underground 1 and 2

A purple tuner in NFSU2

(Image credit: EA)

There are several Needs for Speed available on Steam and Origin these days, but the Underground subseries, two notable fan favorites, are not among them. Focusing on tuner cars and illegal street racing, they came out of the same era as the original The Fast and the Furious and had a banging soundtrack, along with deep, but not too fiddly, car customization.

If you like spinning rims, there are still physical copies of these floating around just like a lot of the games on this list. But it would be great to see them get some kind of digital release, even if there is no shortage of excellent racing games to pick from these days.

SimAnt

EA

(Image credit: EA)

Back when Maxis was making "Sim" everything, they had some runaway hits like SimCity and some more unsung efforts like SimAnt. Putting you in charge of a growing insect colony, navigating the minuscule world and its many dangers and opportunities always felt like a natural fit for the genre.

And you know what? It really bugs me that I can't find it digitally. Do you see what I did there? With the bug joke? What? What's that face for? Well you know what, I'm not sorry. I mean, I'm sorry I can't download SimAnt on Steam, but I'm not sorry for the self-indulgent insect humor.