The Best Isometric Video Games

The Best Isometric Video Games

There’s just something about video games with an isometric viewpoint, isn’t there?

Something … cute about them. No matter how dark and brutal a game’s setting and art may be, tilting a camera up and around makes everything look like an action figure.

And I don’t mean that in a bad way! There’s something comforting about this to a grown man like me, in the same way that otherwise mature adults enjoy things like board games with miniatures. Something makes isometric games feel strangely tangible, as though by mimicking the presentation of a toybox, the game feels a little more real.

Below then is a list of the best isometric games. Note that I’ve been fairly strict about what qualifies as “isometric”: the principle itself was designed to simulate the presentation of a 3D space on a 2D display, so if the game has a free camera which actually allows the exploration of a 3D space, or has a fixed camera that doesn’t properly recreate a 3D space (ala Link to the Past’s cartoony distortion) then that’s cheating.

Basically, we’re talking about a screen that looks like this:


Fun fact: the isometric perspective in most games isn’t quite true isometric. From wikipedia:

The projection commonly used in video games deviates slightly from “true” isometric due to the limitations of raster graphics. Lines in the x and y directions would not follow a neat pixel pattern if drawn in the required 30° to the horizontal. While modern computers can eliminate this problem using anti-aliasing, earlier computer graphics did not support enough colours or possess enough CPU power to accomplish this. So instead, a 2:1 pixel pattern ratio would be used to draw the x and y axis lines, resulting in these axes following a 26.565° (arctan 0.5) angle to the horizontal. (Game systems that do not use square pixels could, however, yield different angles, including true isometric.) Therefore, this form of projection is more accurately described as a variation of dimetric projection, since only two of the three angles between the axes are equal (116.565°, 116.565°, 126.87°).

The more you know!


FALLOUT


SUPER MARIO RPG


JUNGLE STRIKE


Q*BERT


ULTIMA VIII


SYNDICATE


ROLLERCOASTER TYCOON 2


LITTLEBIGADVENTURE


LANDSTALKER


BALDUR’S GATE


XCOM


DIABLO III


AGE OF KINGS


CRUSADER: NO REMORSE


SIMCITY 2000


CIV V


POPULOUS


FINAL FANTASY TACTICS


STARCRAFT


THEME HOSPITAL


Think of any we missed? Got a favourite not on the list? Vent furiously below.

This story was originally published in September 2015.

Comments

    • Same, This list doesn’t have Arcanum of steamworks & Magic, Temple of Elemental Evil or Icewindale.. Planescape torment..

      • Someone else that loves Arcanum or Steamworks and Magick Obscura. Such a great game! Still remember as a kid being amazed to find the game was a whole gigabyte!

      • Let the Carnage begin.

        i dont know what it is about the game, but every time i see it mentioned or a comment regarding rocknroll racing, i just have to go home and play it again.

        i hope blizzard dive into some of their retro titles to bring back some characters.

        Could you imagine running around in overwatch as either leonard or bubba from red neck rampage. ha ha

    • Tactics. Advance was a watering down in every possible aspect: graphics, story, mechanical depth, customization, emotional impact, etc, etc.

    • We may be of the same vintage. HoH was a cracker of a puzzler in the halcyon years of bedroom software houses. If we’re winding the clock back that far I’d throw in BB’s Cadaver as well.

  • Sonic 3D Blast!, C&C Red Alert, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Desert Strike, Transport Tycoon & Shining Force

    • Man, Desert Strike. Whatever happened to the Strike games? You’d think they’d be a shoe-in for a quick and dirty $20 downloadable game or something.

      • I still have my Mega Drive copy. Such an awesome game. I still remember that awesome rock song that you are greeted with when you boot the game.
        Maybe we should lobby EA for Mega Drive classics

      • Wow haven’t thought of that game in years. Desert Strike was awesome. Would make for a killer reboot.

      • I always thought the Strike series would be great to reboot with twin-stick controls to make a sort of thinking man’s versions of the chopper scenes from Renegade Ops

      • I think there was a game called Nuclear Strike which kind of killed the series.

        Oh and there was a game in a similar style to the Strike series called LAPD Future Cop, I always loved that game.

        • Future Cop LAPD was actually originally being developed as Future Strike, the follow-up to Nuclear Strike, but it changed in development.

    • I literally opened the article and scrolled through to make sure either No Remorse or No Regret were on the list.

      • I did the same!

        Weird that a game which isn’t anywhere near my “most played” list as far as isometric games goes is so strongly associated with the term.

        I remember the first time I played that game on a 486 (I assume it was my 486) and it didn’t so much chug as it just moved realllllly slowly. You know it’s a good game when that doesn’t stop you though! Plus I think it made burning people with exploding barrels easier (and more gratuitous).

        • Gun down a room full of people barrels explode every where and you watch it in glorious frame by frame action.

    • I played the absolute Christ out of those back in the day. The destructible environment. THE DESTRUCTIBLE ENVIRONMENT!!

  • phew. Was scrolling through that and was starting to be outraged that Baldurs Gate wasn’t in list.

    • BG is easily in my all-time top-10 games and honestly, I would have forgotten it.

      I just don’t associate it with being isometric for some reason.

    • I think only one game from each series makes the list (AoE2:AoK in this case), which is why only Diablo 3 was on there.

      Personally I would have put the original Diablo there, it was the real innovator of the series… Plus, I can barely recall individual bosses from the other 2 games, but I vividly remember my first encounter with The Butcher.

      • The Butcher is one of the most brutal, memorable and rewarding experiences I have ever had in gaming.

        • My god, the number of times that bastard killed me before I realized you could cheese him with a closed door and a bow…

          So good.

  • Theme Hospital rocked, shame i was no good at it.

    Civ 2 i think it was copped a lot of gameplay hours from me back in the day.

    • I don’t even want to think about the number of hours I sunk into Civ 2… I played it fairly regularly for about 15 years.

  • Ahh, Crusader No Remorse, memories. Such an awesome game, wonder how it holds up (haven’t played it in a long time).

    • annoyingly from what I could tell – with Alien Shooter-style free aiming it would have aged brilliantly, but the clunky 8 direction movement and fixed-distance reticle make it a little painful after playing modern isometric shooters >.

      • Hmm, good points. Maybe I’ll hold off on replaying it and leave it sitting in the GOG library like the others. At least that way it will always be a nostalgic classic.

        • it’s one of the ones I always thought would be good for a remake – like my earlier Strike series comment; just remake the same game using a 3D-capable engine like with Meltdown or Renegade Ops since the controls are the only things still stuck out of time (this is partly why the Twinsen games aged so well – using 3D models with full rotation meant the controls never suffered such limits and could be modded in the couple of places where they were still awkward, or eventually Alien Shooter where you had 32 directions rendered for player characters instead of 8)

        • its not too bad actually i was playing it the other day and it holds up fine. you surprisingly adapt to the control system really fast.

          great game back in the day and today as well

  • Clicked just to make sure Xcom was here. Checked
    Fallout. Checked
    Baldurs Gate. Checked.
    AOE Checked.
    I am surprised Diablo 3 is in here instead of Diablo. I prefer more atmospheric feel of the original but can do, so Checked
    but Jagged Alliance ??!??! why is it missing ???

  • Some of these games bring back memories. A quick list of my favourite isometric games that i can think of that aren’t on the list above:

    – Battletoads (NES)
    – Cannon Fodder (SNES)
    – Command & Conquer (PC)
    – Golden Axe (Arcade)
    – Illusion of Time (SNES)
    – Snake Rattle & Roll (NES)
    – Solstice (NES)
    – Secret Of Mana (SNES)
    – Secret Of Evermore (SNES)
    – Seven Kingdoms 2 (PC)
    – Theme park (SNES)
    – Warcraft 2 (PC)

  • No takers for Hatred?!!

    Haha oh well apart from Sim City (3000 bring my fave) I really haven’t played any of these games – always wanted to try Solstice on the NES – that looked cool

    • Holy Wow.

      You really should dig into GoG, EA Origin, and Steam and try to get ahold of some of these titles. There’s some solid gold in there, truly some of the greats of gaming history that stand today.

      • EA has even given a few of these titles away for free at one time or another, thats how I got Syndicate and Theme Hospital.

        • Yup. Syndicate, Theme Hospital, and I think Populous. All great games.
          (Also, all Molyneux games, interestingly. Before he branched out and got too ambitious for his own good.)

          • Personally, I think it was technology that killed Molyneux. He was at his best when limitations were forced on him, and he ended up, as you say, getting too ambitious for his own good.

            But it was technology improving and allowing him to remove the boundaries that got him there.

            A lot of those golden era creators were like that. They never really successfully got out of the 8/16 bit eras.

    • Blasphemy that it’s not on this list. Also the more recent Shadowrun Returns games. So good.

  • Any of the Strike games…

    Desert Strike
    Jungle Strike
    Soviet Strike

    My older brother and I used to hire a Mega Drive from the video store just to play these games. At first we had to try and complete it overnight, or write down the codes for completing a level before taking it back.
    So much fun!

    • Urban Strike for the weird ass story. and for the chilling insight of a game made in the mid 90’s foretelling the destruction of the twin towers in new york in 2001…

  • I was borderline obsessed with Little Big Adventure. Had the theme as my ringtone for years.

    • Me too! Still living in hope of a third instalment. Also feel like the soundtrack to both games should be included in more Best Game Music lists.

  • RAAAAAGE at the use of a screenshot of the infinitely inferior Final Fantasy Tactics Advance used for the the Final Fantasy Tactics entry.

  • Was looking for Populous and found it, but the screenshot is of Populous 2 for some reason.

    Pop2 was in many ways the better game in any case as you gained capabilities through the game rather than losing them. I’m not sure that the later sequels were any better, though. A spherical map looks cool but is less intuitive.

    Powermonger was also pretty decent, but was let down by a very obvious win strategy. (Attack each town and draft its entire population in order of size.)

    Zaxxon deserves at least an honourable mention.

  • I loved Crusader, and I remember when they made Crusader 2 full FMV when I bought the game I actually had 2 game discs in the box so after finishing the game with just the one disc I remember giving it to a friend (the second game disc). It looks like the machine had put 2 game discs in the box.

  • Lots of classics listed…

    Xcoms were awesome cause they offered full destructible environments, cant kill the alien blow up the floor and watch them fall.

    More recent title I would add Invisbles Inc by Klei. Isometric stealth strategy game where you move a couple of agents through a building on a isometric grid.

    • Sometimes it’s good to pull out a retro thing or a big list, update it, or see what’s changed and so on. It’s also a good chance to talk about what new games might be worthwhile adding to the list.

      Ones I’d consider adding: XCOM, Bastion/Transistor, Shadowrun Dragonfall, Path of Exile, Dawn of War 2 (I’m guessing you’d go for Dark Crusade).

        • There is one Necron in DoW2, but:
          1: It’s only on the Last Stand game mode
          2: It’s paid DLC, it was for free but I missed the window 🙁
          Dark Crusade will always be best because of the Necrons, the true kings of the galaxy.

  • Mildly off topic but anyone wanting a modern age of empires should check out 0 A.D. It’s in the alpha stages but very playable and completely free. And it’s fun

    • I enjoy Diablo III. Still playing it today. But even I admit that 2 still feels the superior game in many ways.

    • Upvoted to fix the downvote. Also, because I was so extremely disappointed in 3 after so many hours playing 2.

    • Was thinking the same thing. I don’t even think Diablo 3 is actual isometric but is actual 3D as the camera angle can change.

      Hence it really needs to be Diablo I or II.

  • THE SIMS!

    I read the article, go through all the current comments… and nothing.
    Come on people. One of the best games ever and one of the few games that exist in the world video game hall of fame.

  • Ugh. Swap out Ultima 8 with Ultima 7. Finally got to play 8 during a complete Ultima marathon two years back and it was the worst in the series. 7 at least had that fun easter egg in the first town where you could get every single item in the game by stacking crates to enter a special room.

    Also, Planescape Torment deserves to be on there.

    Alex’s mention on another comment of the new Shadowrun games deserves a thumbs up. Really brought to mind the best of the genre of Isometric RPGs but managed to do it better.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Ultima 8 fanboi, but technically Ultima pre-8 (i.e., every single good one) wasn’t in isometric view. You moved N/S/E/W (rather than NE/SE/NW/SW), and the walls faded at a weird perspective.

  • Goodness some of you are so young, you’ve missed out on some of the best.

    The original trailblazer – ZAXXON. (Was arcade so really bloody hard)
    SNES – EQUINOX – Amazing. Do yourselves a favour and check this one out. A puzzler with immersive orchestrations.

    Later missed games worth a mention.
    The sims, Age of empires and Zelda – A link to the past (snes).

    Also worthy of checking out but not strictly an Iso’ is Commodore 64s – NEBULUS

  • Freeciv and C-evo. Both free games, successful in their aim of being improvements on Civilization II. Both have now been in development for a sufficient number of years to make them almost flawless and therefore as good as a commercial game in terms of user interface. Both can keep me up till 5 in the morning (but I’m retired and in my second childhood).

  • When I saw the title of the article I thought to myself, “I bet Little Big Adventure doesn’t get a mention”. I was wrong. Greatest game of all time imo.

  • Ok fair enough you pulled this article out of the vault back in January but are we really going to do this again? Twice in the one year?

  • The Early Front Mission games.

    Someone made a demo for a Strike Style game called Alligator Strike could use some polishing but the basics are done well

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