You might not have played any of the games released by Bullfrog Productions, a game development company founded by Les Edgar and Peter Molyneux, but you’ve more than likely played many games influenced by their work. Before the blow-up over Godus Molyneux earned a bit of reputation as someone who oversold his games, like Fable and Black and White, and exaggerated what players could do in them (exaggeration, in this industry of bullshots and E3 demoes!? Say it ain’t so, bub). Part of the reason that people were willing to believe in those pitches is because of just how damn good Bullfrog’s oeuvre is, a string of classics and flawed gems that ended unceremoniously with a PS2 port of Quake III. But let’s not talk about what a bummer that is. Instead, let’s take a few minutes and look back at the best of Bullfrog’s incredible games, nearly all of which can be found on GOG.com if you’re interested in seeing what the heck I’m jawing about here.
Javy Gwaltney devotes his time to writing about these videogame things when he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter or his website.
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6. Populous: Populous is Bullfrog's first masterpiece and probably the first God game, a genre that places the player in the role of someone or something with a number of powers and denizens to look after or terrorize. It's a rough sort of game, which makes sense given that the developer was more concerned with coming up with new ideas instead of refining the same ones over and over again, but its influence cannot be denied, giving players a number of interesting powers to use, like causing earthquakes or creating volcanoes, as they sought to grow their own power and the status of the civilization they ruled. If you're curious, you might be tempted to check out Populous: The Beginning because it's the most recent one, but Populous 2 is probably the strongest game in the series.
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5. Syndicate: Starbreeze Studios, the same developer behind great games like The Darkness and Escape from Butcher Bay, rebooted Syndicate as a first-person shooter a few years ago.
It was terrible.
Luckily, the original game, a tactical combat game, is nothing like it. You play as the head of a corporation in the seedy future, capable of sending agents with cybernetic implants on operations against your competitors: stealing technology, kidnapping VIPs, assassinating targets, and so on. Described like that, it sounds a bit dull, but it's the game's grim atmosphere that really sells it as well as some neat little strategic options (taxing conquered territories to earn more cash, hypnotizing enemies to obey you with gadgets, etc.).
Neither the sequel Syndicate Wars or that aforementioned remake are worth playing over the first, though a Kickstartered spiritual successor to the original game called Satellite Reignhas been released and people seem to dig it.
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4. Theme Park: Theme Park feels like a rough draft version of RollerCoaster Tycoon, though both are by different developers, and Theme Park is a bit goofier than Tycoon's attempts to be a realistic simulator. Still, Theme Park did it first and deserves a mention for that at least. Not necessarily worth revisiting though.
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3. Theme Hospital: Of the three Theme games, Theme Hospital is the strongest and still holds up rather well thanks to its wacky gallows humor. Your job is pretty simple, in description at least: build a hospital and manage the staff and the patients. But when you have to deal with the likes of Elvis Syndrome and Bloaty Head, the ride gets a bit bumpy. If you're looking for a challenging game with an odd sense of humor, play this one: it tickles your brain and funny bone at the same time.
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2. Magic Carpet: Magic Carpet switched gears from Bullfrog's simulation & tactics shtick, plunging into the fantastical and casting you as a wizard seeking to restore the universe back to its natural state after evil wizards brought it to ruin in their greed. As a kid, soaring over the worlds in the two Magic Carpet games was an incredible feeling, as was summoning monsters to fight for me and building gigantic castles, filled with my personal army to defend them, as symbols of my growing power. Earning mana and more devastating spells as you crush other wizards is so satisfying. Both games are great but Magic Carpet 2 is superior, and doesn't require you to have played the first game to understand it; it's definitely the one you should play if you want to dive in and find out what makes the series so good all these years later.
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1. Dungeon Keeper 2: The first Dungeon Keeper game had good ideas but a number of them were poorly implemented and the game was rather hard to look at. Thank the devil for its sequel, which is a fantastic God game where you play an evil overlord trying to steal gold and conquer self-righteous do-gooders of the medieval variety. You can recruit an entire army of trap-building trolls, doofy goblins, powerful mages, deadshot dark elves and even transform your foes' corpses into skeletons to serve your every whim. Equally as fun as raging war against the forces of good is managing your dungeon and keeping your minions happy (or in line when they slack off). I recently booted this up between exploring Fallout 4's Commonwealth and shooting stormtroopers on Hoth in Battlefront, and it ended up stealing the majority of my attention from both of those games. It's a robust fantasy strategy game that, like most of the developer's games, has a wicked humor about it and is the last truly great game to be released by Bullfrog before their quiet disintegration less than two years later. It's a close race but Dungeon Keeper 2 is the best of Bullfrog's offerings and the one that's aged the best of the bunch. The game's charming quirkiness and complexity is the strongest representation of the Bullfrog's creative vision and their ability to carry out their concepts with clever design.