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Coming up with the list of the best video games ever made is not an easy feat. Honestly, the only thing everyone here at IGN loves more than games is the act of arguing about games. Which made putting together this list of the Top 100 Video Games of All Time such a daunting, but ultimately rewarding experience.

There’s no limit to the amount of games that we’ve loved booting up and getting completely immersed in, but that doesn’t quite cut it for this list. For this, we had to figure out the best of the best.

Which games were so far ahead of their time, so much pure fun, that they stand apart? Since we love games — and hate ourselves — we decided to answer this question once and for all. Inside these pages you’ll find our selections for the 100 best video games ever made.

The primary criteria we considered when creating this list was simple:

How much did this game impact us personally, as well as the industry as a whole, when it came out?

This criteria meant weighing several instances where a sequel successfully iterated and improved upon an original that broke new ground back when it was originally released. As you can imagine, those discussions were a lot of fun.

Games, like all art, are a product of the era in which they were created. So with that in mind, we put less emphasis on whether decades-old games can “hold up” against the modern AAA greats, and placed more importance on how incredible that gaming experience felt in its own era. After all, which is a greater achievement — a game that breaks significant new ground and feels a decade ahead of its time, or a game that comes out a generation later and finally manages to make some small improvements to the formula?

A few other considerations:

  • All video games across all platforms were eligible, as long as they were released before December 31, 2017.
  • We placed no specific emphasis on different editions or versions of a game, if it has appeared on multiple platforms.
  • All entries must be a single video game — bundles or compilations are not eligible. (Sorry, Super Mario All-Stars and Orange Box).
  • This list was formed from the collective opinions of everyone on IGN’s core content team.
  • So here are our picks for the 100 Best Games of All Time.

    Pokémon Go

    100

    Andrew Goldfarb

    Pokémon Go is as relevant for what happens outside of the game as what happens in it. A game that can only be played by exploring the world around you, Pokémon Go made its mark by inspiring huge groups to explore together and established a sense of community that made it an absolute cultural phenomenon. The game itself had a bumpy start but has fostered an incredibly strong community and seen sweeping changes like raid battles, a dynamic weather system, and more, all of which make it feel like the Pokémon adventure we all wished we could have as kids. On top of pioneering brilliant augmented reality integration and truly making it feel like Pokémon are all around you, this one is a special example of the power of nostalgia when combined with new technology.

    Marty Sliva

    There are few games I remember playing for the first time as vividly as Final Fantasy VII. After an opening cinematic that absolutely melted my brain, I watched slack-jawed as a soldier named Cloud and his Avalanche buddies leapt off a train and embarked on their grand adventure through Midgar and beyond. Sure, in retrospect, better RPGs came before it (Chrono Trigger), and better RPGs have come after it (Persona 5), but the depth in which FFVII resonated with me at the time was unparalleled.

    Growing up primarily on consoles, Final Fantasy VII showed me just how vast, sprawling, and emotional video game adventures could be. It’s a game filled with so many unforgettable firsts – taking off in the Highwind, encountering a massive and terrifying Weapon, and the heartbreak of losing a key party member permanently. There’s a reason why 20 years later, the announcement of the Final Fantasy VII Remake absolutely dominated that E3 – we’re counting the days until we get to return to Midgar.

    Galaga

    98

    Jared Petty

    Galaga is the closest gaming has ever brought me to zen. I just sort of fall into a semi-conscious groove, and all the sweeping enemy formations, bonus stages, stolen fighters, and near-death experiences blend together into a cacophony of frenetic arcade action and then melt away into nirvanic bliss. I’ve played 40-minute games that felt like they lasted five, and once came very near to missing a redeye flight because I didn’t want to walk away from a hot Galaga streak in an airport arcade.

    You really do have to play Galaga on arcade hardware to get the full experience. Something about the two-way joystick and that big red fire button, the unique tinny music and chipsounds bleeping through the old cabinet speakers, the softening effect of the CRT on the colorful, pixelated graphics, and the slightly rough feel of the control panel under your hands... they all come together to define the experience.

    I’m not sure vertical shooters ever really got better after Galaga. Early games like Space Invaders and Galaxian were inventive but uniformly clunky. Galaga seemed to be programmed out of pure silk. The fluid, pixel-perfect control precision and exquisite balance it pioneered is ground deep into the DNA of all the other great shmups that arcade and console fans have since been privileged to enjoy.

    Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness

    97

    Brendan Graeber

    The greatest trick Blizzard ever pulled was convincing me I was good at real-time strategy games. More than just base-building and micromanagement, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness spun a gripping story on the escalating war between human and orcs. Regardless of which side you rooted for, Warcraft II’s campaign fell into a perfect groove of pacing that built you up from a know-nothing strategist, and by the end of the campaign I felt like a supreme commander that was able to match wits with the AI.

    Each map was more than just a battlefield – it was a puzzle to be deciphered, and the first to explore the foreboding fog of war and use the environment to their advantage would be victorious. Aerial units and naval combat added new strategies to storming the strongholds of your enemies, which made me stop to consider upcoming battles in three dimensions. Of course, if all that wasn’t enough, I never got tired of clicking on units and critters until they either told me to stop poking them, or exploded in brilliant fashion.

    Star Wars: TIE Fighter

    96

    Dan Stapleton

    Building on the memorably excellent space-combat mechanics of Star Wars: X-Wing, Totally Games’ Star Wars: TIE Fighter gave us our first real taste of the dark side – and we liked it. Sitting in the seat of an Imperial starfighter and hearing the signature scream of the twin ion engines and deadly squawking of green blasters makes the story of fighting to keep Emperor Palpatine in power seem like a great idea.

    The Oregon Trail

    95

    Tom Marks

    For many fledgling gamers, the hardest choice you ever had to make was whether to ford the river or float your wagon across – but either way would inevitably be the wrong one. The Oregon Trail was the first exposure to PC games many people had, played in childhood classrooms for decades and infecting generation after generation with a fascination for video games. It tricked both teachers into letting us play video games in the middle of class, and kids into doing something (vaguely) educational, though I’m not sure learning about dysentery really came in handy at age eight.

    But it inspired games as a whole as well, and continues to do so to this day. Games like 80 Days or the cleverly named Organ Trail are clearly riffs on The Oregon Trail’s choose your own adventure, branching paths style, but the idea of making meaningful (and often risky) choices on a one way journey that tells a story you get to shape can be felt in so many different games. The Oregon Trail didn’t invent this structure, but it’s hard not to appreciate the influence it has had on so many games, and gamers, that came after it.

    Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge

    94

    Ryan McCaffrey

    When Monkey Island 2 came out, we knew who Guybrush Threepwood was, so we knew what to expect. Or so we thought. Somehow, creator Ron Gilbert threw everyone for a loop, ending Monkey Island 2 in a carnival, leaving us to wonder if everything we'd played in the first two games took place in a boy's imagination, or if the ending itself was simply another LeChuck voodoo spell. Regardless, the story, jokes, and pacing were all tightened up for the second Monkey Island, making it arguably the best of the incredible run of LucasArts adventure games.

    Jon Ryan

    While it may not be as old as Super Mario Kart or Road Rash, when it comes to arcade racers, Burnout 3: Takedown is an undeniable classic. I must have logged 60 hours in this game, and that was well before the days where I got paid to do that. I defy you to bring up arcade racers and not have someone mention Burnout 3. Its predecessor, Point of Impact, had fine-tuned the balance of high-speed racing and vehicular destruction, but Takedown perfected it.

    This was one of those games you could easily lose hours playing, either alone or with friends. Among our nerdy cadre, there was no greater source of joy, sorrow, or white-hot rage than Burnout 3. Few things could ruin a friendship faster than wrecking someone's ride just before the finish line – though thankfully all was (usually) forgotten during the next round of Crash Mode.

    Dan Stapleton

    Starting the journey of Fallout 2 as a tribesman with nothing more than a loincloth and a spear to my name and gradually fighting my way up to a power-armored, gauss-gunning killing machine is a fantastic and surprisingly natural feeling of progression – one that few games have been able to match. Exploring a vast and open post-apocalyptic world full of deadly raiders, supermutants, and deathclaws is daunting but exciting, and thanks to attention to detail, atmospheric music, powerfully written morally ambiguous quests, and voice-acted interactions with key characters, the world feels personal and vivid even though we view it from a distant third-person camera.

    In fact, it’s a game you have to replay just to appreciate how flexible and open it really is. I’ve done it so many times, experimenting with the ways in which different character builds and perks would dramatically affect the way events unfolded, from killing the final “boss” using stealth to playing all the way through with a character so dumb they can only communicate through grunts. Plus, you never knew when you’d stumble upon random events that would sometimes deliver game-changingly powerful items. Fallout 2 will surprise you again and again.

    Miranda Sanchez

    A small child falls into the world of monsters and suddenly finds themselves the target of an ancient grudge that calls for their death. Undertale puts the player in a unique situation; where you'd usually kill everything in your way, Undertale gives you the option to spare every monster you meet, though it never requires it. Every monster killed or spared alters something in the world, whether it be another monster wondering what happened to their friend, an opportunity for a hilarious date, or a slightly easier time with a specific monster's bullet hell battle. Undertale is jam-packed with emotion, charm, and determination to show that your actions make a difference, no matter how small you think they may be. Pair all that with an incredible soundtrack and challenging bullet hell battles and you've got one incredibly memorable game.

    Miranda Sanchez

    League of Legends exists in a magical place that lies somewhere between intense competition and fun and enjoyable strategy. Though there’s a lot to master with a roster of nearly 130 playable Champions, League of Legends is equipped with great modes that make the MOBA easy to learn, yet is still incredibly challenging as players scale the competitive ladder. While the excellent Summoner’s Rift stands as the primary battleground for competitive play, the other modes like ARAM, or All Random All Middle, also provide a great means for a fun chance to practice with Champions for when things get too tense.

    Developer Riot’s initiative to reboot League of Legends’ lore has also made it more captivating on the narrative front as well. Each new Champion or Champion makeover is presented with such beautiful pageantry that it’s difficult not to get sucked into catching up on any lore you may have missed. With continuous improvement updates and a constantly changing roster, League of Legends stands as one of the best competitive games in existence.

    Mega Man 3

    89

    Marty Sliva

    If Mega Man 2 took a hot beat and made it a hot song, then Mega Man 3 took that song and made it the basis for a masterpiece of an album. Capcom’s third adventure on the NES kept the nail-biting difficulty and pitch-perfect platforming of the original games, but introduced a handful of new characters and mechanics that made it the absolute best in the series.

    Mega Man 3 introduced a trio of elements that made the game iconic. First off was a compelling foil in Proto Man, an enigmatic anti-hero who shows up occasionally and actually adds a bit of emotion to your adventure. Then there’s Rush, your wonderful canine sidekick who has an array of abilities that help you find various nooks and secrets throughout the levels. Finally, Mega Man 3 introduced the slide ability, which completely changed the way Mega Man himself felt as a character for the decades afterwards.

    Soulcalibur

    88

    Christian Holt

    Soulcalibur is that rare sequel that supplants the original. The successor to 1995’s Soul Edge, Soulcalibur perfected the formula for 3D weapon-based fighting games. A smash-hit in arcades and the first “must-have” game for the Dreamcast system, Soulcalibur is remembered for its balance, imaginative characters, and smooth combat. In the flood of new fighting game franchises that were introduced in the mid-90s, Soulcalibur separated itself from the pack because the core gameplay mechanics were so strong. Any fighter – whether a ninja, pirate, knight, or warrior monk – could challenge any other and the outcome would depend on the skill of the player. There is a reason why this fantastical tale of swords and souls has spawned so many sequels.

    Christian Holt

    SimCity 2000 may not be the most complex or original of the city-building series, but it’s definitely the most iconic. The sequel to the original SimCity is a beautiful, funny, detailed sandbox that gives players control of a huge, customizable map that they can manage how they see fit. You can build the perfect metropolis – see little sail boats in your marina and cars on your streets, get a statue built in your name, keep your advisors happy by building mass transit and hospitals. Or you can burn it all to the ground with catastrophes like earthquakes and alien attacks.

    Compared to the other entries in the series, the game hits that player agency sweet spot so you feel like you’re empowered to save your city without being overwhelmed by choice. You need to make sure your Sims have access to electricity and water, but also that they’re safe, have access to healthcare, and the roads are maintained. As your city grows, you’ll have to keep track of things like mass transit, entertainment, and the economy but the difficulty curve never feels too steep, and success always seems just a stadium away. Plus, there’s never been a more satisfying feeling than zoning a land for residential and first seeing people move in.

    Contra

    86

    Jared Petty

    Say it with me: “UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A, START.” The most iconic secret in video game history became a litany for the millions of kids who joined Bill and Lance on their quest to destroy Red Falcon. While a truly skilled player can clear Contra on a single credit, the power of the thirty lives code gave all of us a fair chance to power our way through the gauntlet of alien invaders, or more likely die trying.

    Contra was one of the few cooperative video games of the 8-bit era where player two didn’t feel like a burden dragging you down with every step. With plenty of weapon drops to go around and hordes of enemies coming from every direction, a partner’s firepower was a welcome addition in most situations. And if a friend couldn’t keep up the pace on the waterfall level, you could easily incentivize them to improve their skills by scrolling the screen upward and killing them, which I did whenever my little brother lagged behind.

    Inside

    85

    Joe Skrebels

    With the mechanical abandon of a Mario game and the worldview of Werner Herzog, Inside spends its three brilliant hours of life holding the player in a loop of intrigue, delight, and disgust.

    Playdead's bleak, gorgeous puzzle-platformer builds on its predecessor Limbo in all the right places – hello, colour palettes; goodbye, boring gravity puzzles. It leaves us with a game that sleekly, wordlessly pivots from brain-teaser to body horror, until hitting an ending that ranks among gaming’s best, a masterpiece of animation, design and outright strangeness.

    Inside’s quiet genius lies in how the puzzles creep beyond its ever-changing challenges, and into its story. I’ve spent as much time or more wondering what it all means as I did playing through. If you’ve played, you understand. If you haven’t, you need to.

    Super Mario Odyssey

    84

    Brendan Graeber

    Super Mario Odyssey takes the best elements from almost every Mario game and still manages to open up to a whole new level with powers and moves like never before. It is both a love letter to what came before it, and a fearless march into bold new territory, filled with treasure around every corner.

    Odyssey features some of the best world’s I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring, and the brilliance of its level design continually opens up more secrets for those willing to prove their mastery of the techniques learned and understanding of how the world works. There’s no other way to put it – Super Mario Odyssey is an absolute joy.

    System Shock 2

    83

    Ryan McCaffrey

    Say the word "SHODAN" to any veteran PC gamer and they're likely to do a full-body shudder followed immediately by cracking a big smile. System Shock 2 paved the way for the genre-blending first-person games that are commonplace today, perfecting the formula years before anyone else would even try.

    Its premise was straightforward: you found yourself alone on a space station where you were apparently the only thing left alive. Well, the only organic thing. Rogue AI SHODAN wastes little time in establishing herself as your formidable opponent. Along the way you pick up elements of the backstory through audio logs (another design feature that's standard fare now) and can mold yourself in any way you choose, from a DPS/combat focus to a pure hacker that can infiltrate any system. System Shock 2 was tense, smart, and as great as it was immediately upon its release in 1999, ahead of its time.

    Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

    82

    Brandin Tyrrel

    As the second 3D game in the now mega-series Grand Theft Auto, Vice City had enormous shoes to fill coming off the groundbreaking statement that was Grand Theft Auto III. And did it ever deliver. Set during the 1980s in Rockstar’s facsimile of Miami, the violence, sex, and excess of this defining decade was slathered across a fully playable world of wannabe gangsters, sports cars, mountains of drugs, and briefcases full of bills.

    Mining veins of content from Scarface, Miami Vice, and other seminal pop culture pillars of the era, Vice City had it all: a cast of larger-than-life characters and a rags-to-riches protagonist who builds his empire on the blood, sweat, and more blood of the sun-soaked, drug-addled, sex-crazed slice of beach city. And it's that ‘80s personality that propped up Vice City any time its open-world gameplay started to falter – much of that personality coming from the incredible soundtrack that is alone worth the price of admission. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a sexy, sour, excellent sendup of the decade that will never die.

    Andrew Goldfarb

    Persona 5 feels like the Persona game the team always wanted to make but didn’t have the technology to achieve. With hand-built palaces instead of procedurally-generated dungeons, a stunning visual style and art direction, and a memorable and moving soundtrack, this easily stands out as the most impressive Persona game yet. Everything from the UI to scene transitions to the animated cutscenes is absolutely dripping with style, and the battle system combines series staples with mechanics that haven’t been in the franchise in over a decade for perfectly balanced fights. All of that on top of a fantastic story and memorable characters make this one of the best JRPGs ever made.

    Marty Sliva

    Few games manage to create a sense of place quite as well as Grim Fandango. Tim Schafer’s final adventure game during his time at LucasArts is also arguably his best, and that’s saying a lot considering his portfolio.

    Lead character Manny Calavera’s incredible journey through an afterlife inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead is marked with fantastic characters, impeccable writing, and clever puzzles. Right from the get-go, stepping into the shoes of a travel agent for the Department of Death, it’s an absolutely hilarious adventure brimming with creativity. It’s one of those video games where you want to continually revisit conversation trees and select every single dialogue option just to hear what Manny and the rest of the cast will say.

    It’s a testament to the game’s design that over 15 years after its initial 1998 release, the 2015 remaster proved that Grim Fandango’s wonderful puzzles, story, and aesthetics hold up wonderfully. Not many games of the era can say the same.

    The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

    79

    Miranda Sanchez

    The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is a sensory delight; the music is cheery and memorable and the cel-shaded art beautifully depicts a Hyrule centuries after Ocarina of Time. Finding Easter eggs and references back to the Hero of Time’s world feels like a treat, but Wind Waker is never overshadowed by its predecessor. Instead, the seafaring journey is fun to navigate as Link takes to conducting the wind instead of controlling time.

    The Wind Waker is also wonderfully imaginative, not only in its story, locations, and characters, but also with its combat. More often than not, enemies, especially bosses, are defeated with Link’s impressive arsenal of items. It was difficult to resist picking off an item from an enemy while sneaking around the Forsaken Fortress. The Wind Waker gives the player a sense of exploration, creativity, and mischief – Link does travel with pirates, after all – that isn’t felt in other similar games of the genre.

    Alex Simmons

    When I was younger, few games settled an argument like GoldenEye. Living in a flat with three other people, if we couldn’t decide like rational adults whose turn it was to do the household chores, it was decided over a game of GoldenEye’s multiplayer. The battleground was always the Facility and to truly sort out the men from the Bonds it was Slaps only. Anyone who picked Odd Job was instantly disqualified.

    In 1997, GoldenEye was a revelation. Not only was it a more-than-decent movie tie-in – I’m hard pushed to think of one that’s come close, even to this day – but it became the blueprint for console first-person shooters, serving up a wonderfully engaging single-player mode that made you feel like Bond, with split-screen multiplayer that quickly became a staple in dorm rooms across the world.

    It was also the first time I realised how satisfying it is to take out a target from afar using a sniper rifle. 18 years later it’s still my go-to weapon in any game.

    Brendan Graeber

    If Super Smash Brothers for the Nintendo 64 was the appetizer, then Super Smash Bros. Melee was most definitely the main course. Huge by comparison, it piled on more and more fantastic additions that Nintendo fans had been clamoring for – more characters, more stages, more modes, collectibles galore, and a soundtrack featuring both new and re-arranged music from all of Nintendo's best franchises. (The live orchestra CD that came with Nintendo Power remains one of my favorite gaming soundtracks to this day!)

    In an age before gamers would sit alone in their room playing online, Melee was king of the couch. Entire sleepovers were dedicated to unlocking characters like Mewtwo and Mr. Game & Watch, or taking turns trying to defeat Giga Bowser in Event Match 51. Even long after everything was unlocked, the thrill of a four-player brawl would remain a highlight of having friends over.

    Brandin Tyrrel

    Skyrim was a pivotal turning point for me and my over twenty-year love affair with role-playing games. It was the moment that worlds became so big, so immersive, and so detailed that I resolved I would have to abandon my burning desire to overturn every rock, chase every quest, and collect every thingy.

    To me, everything about Skyrim was a vast improvement over its predecessor, Oblivion. The craggy, intimidating peaks of the Nord homeland and the saga of the Dovahkiin were much more interesting than the relatively sedate happenings of their neighbors in Cyrodiil. But what’s more, there’s so much lying just around the corner, off the beaten path, that you could never even stumble upon it in a hundred hours as the Dragonborn. But the fact that such care for detail, for world-building, for exploration and for immersion was paid to every tome, tomb, and quest, is enough to cement Skyrim as one of the absolute best role-playing games we’ve ever seen, and one of the best games of all time.

    Dan Stapleton

    X-COM’s magic is how it makes the war to defend Earth from a vastly superior alien invasion force feel so intensely personal, even with its extremely dated (but expressive) graphics and spreadsheet-like interface. Part of this comes from the way that every decision you make, from where on the globe you place your bases, to which alien technology to research, to whether to spend your soldier’s last few time units to reload his weapon, crouch, or take a Hail Mary shot at a distant alien, has enormously high stakes. Choose right, and your team of alien hunters will gain a leg up on the battlefield from advanced weapons (like the guided Blaster Launcher missiles), armor, or tactical positioning; choose poorly and literally everyone could be slaughtered – or worse, transformed into drooling zombies to serve as incubators for horrific Chryssalids.

    If you’re doing it right, you’ve named each of your very mortal soldiers after your friends and family, making the inevitable casualties you’ll take in combat sting far more than losing nameless fodder. Randomly generated maps ensure you never quite know what might be lurking around the next corner, and destructible terrain means that knocking down a building is always an option. The unpredictability makes the feeling of going from scrappy underdog to elite alien-butt-kicking futuristic super soldier squad incredibly rewarding, every single time. Except when you lose horribly.

    Suikoden II

    74

    Jared Petty

    Akin to Chrono Trigger in stunning art direction, mechanical simplicity, and musical significance, Suikoden II diverges from Square’s masterpiece in its sense of moral ambiguity and dark storytelling. For the longest time, Suikoden II was locked behind a near-impenetrable wall of scarcity that kept it out of the hands of most American gamers. Now that it’s finally available to a wide audience, it’s a must-play for any RPG fan.

    Suikoden II isn’t about saving the world. The scenario instead favors an extremely local perspective, gradually expanding outward from your personal circle of acquaintances to encompass your place in a war of feuding nations populated by characters with complex, realistic motivations. There are very few real villains (with one extreme and terrifying exception), a web of constantly conflicting loyalties and alliances, and a Machiavellian pragmatism that will ethically strain you as you try to balance your obligations to family, friends, mentors, and your own conscience.

    Suikoden II manages to support an enormous cast of interesting characters by tasking the player with building a stronghold of their own in the world, a frontier nation of sorts populated by men and women from all walks of life eager to contribute their skills to building something better for everyone. It’s a remarkably optimistic and surprisingly fun diversion from the typically-reactive storytelling stance of most RPGs.

    Battlefield 1942

    73

    Brandin Tyrrel

    As the very first game in what would become a landmark shooter series, Battlefield 1942 laid the groundwork for how I would be spending hundreds and hundreds of hours of my life. Though not the only cooperative, team-work oriented shooter of its time, Battlefield 1942 was in a class by itself.

    As full battles ripped across huge, open landscapes, waged from land, air, and sea, the realization of being able to command a capital ship, lob tank shells from one point to the next, or changed the tide of the war with one well-placed bomber payload was intoxicating. There was simply nothing like the size and scale of Battlefield 1942, and its legacy has only gotten bigger over the last 15 years since.

    Miranda Sanchez

    Dota 2 doesn't end when the final unit on the map goes down, or even when you close your client. Dota isn't a game; it's a lifestyle.

    Valve's MOBA is one of deepest, most mechanically complex games ever made, and though its base stays the same, mechanics are always being changed and added. The high barrier to entry will drive away new players, but those who crack the shell and get hooked have a very strong chance of rarely playing anything else again. Its 100+ heroes all play differently, and coming close to truly understanding one could take hundreds of hours. Even then, there's always something new to learn. Every failed strategy, every death, every comeback is a chance to discover something new. Getting better isn't just about making numbers go up – you feel the improvement, and every time you outplay an enemy feels as satisfying as the first.

    Dota 2 is at its best when you're playing with a team of five friends. Gathering gold, killing enemies, taking objectives as a coordinated team, then making a final push to victory is an incredible high that you'll want to experience again and again.

    Jared Petty

    I've lost more of my life than I'd care to admit watching the hypnotic wheel of sprites rotate as I gamed the Final Fantasy Tactics job system with exploits worthy of a mad genius, experimenting with strange and extraordinarily potent skill sets to create the ultimate party. Tactics enticed me with intricate mechanics that constantly rewarded my tinkering and micromanagement. Every battle was a new invitation to innovate, a battle of wits with the scenario developers, a test of inventiveness that repaid both foresighted strategic preparation and quick tactical thinking. The delightful systems were backed up an exquisite story of betrayal laced with delightfully insidious melodramatic tragedy. Not even the baroque translation could significantly mar the excellence of this PlayStation classic.

    Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast

    70

    Brendan Graeber

    He may not be officially recognized by the new Star Wars canon, but there’s no Jedi I’d rather have in my corner than Kyle Katarn. Dark Forces 1 and 2 may have built up his character, but it wasn’t until Jedi Outcast that we really saw Kyle at his best (or worse, if you went down that path). More than just making choices about good and evil, Jedi Outcast allowed us to live out our force-using fantasies in a time where lightsaber battles were mostly relegated to the movies.

    Jedi Outcast managed to make every enemy encounter a thrill – whether they be hapless stormtroopers you could fling around like ragdolls, or new Sith apprentices that gave you the chance to feel like a master as you expertly chained lightsaber strikes in different styles. Coupled with the roguish wit and charm of Kyle Katarn and his quest for revenge made Jedi Outcast one of the best stories in the Star Wars universe.

    Brendan Graeber

    Thief II took everything right about stealth games, and then added a dash of steampunk-infused magic. Developer Looking Glass Studio crafted a believable world where technology was on the rise and the magic of the old world was on the run. Adding to the mix was the perfect anti-hero who wouldn't even consider the possibility of saving the world unless the end of the world meant no more houses to steal from.

    Thief II gave the player all the right tools for the perfect heist, along with interactive maps for writing notes. It rewarded taking your time, and of course, listening to some of the best guard banter in any game to date. Silently sprinting along rooftops, ducking through secret mansion passages – the game didn't just make you feel like a thief, it made you feel like a master of the craft.

    Andrew Goldfarb

    Spelunky is a game about patience. It’s punishing, and no matter how far along you are, death means starting from the beginning. But each time, you’ll die in a different way – an educational way. You’ll learn how to avoid it next time. You’ll grow.

    Spelunky is a game about pattern recognition. Each level is randomly generated, but you’ll recognize familiar elements. You’ll know what separates the Mines from the Ice Caves from Temple. You’ll be more prepared. You’ll get just slightly further than last time, and further still the time after that. The game has taught you how to be better.

    Spelunky is a game about triumph. When you finally make it to a new area for the first time, when you finally beat Olmec, when you finally beat your best time, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. You earned this. You did it. But maybe you should go back and try to beat it. You can shave a few seconds off, right? Spelunky is a game about always being able to improve.

    Sam Claiborn

    When you walk into a room full of arcade games, something looks different about Donkey Kong. Its pastel blue cabinet is a bit shorter than the others; a bit rounder, more welcoming. The glowing marquee and art on the game depicts characters that belong on a 1960s pizza delivery box. This machine clearly doesn’t hold a Star Wars-inspired space battle – but what’s in it? When you put a quarter in, the machine shows you a little cartoon of an ape clambering up a ladder, mocking you. It asks “How High Can You Get?” and the instructions end there. Barrels and fire fill the screen while the characters’ intricate animations for every movement continue the illusion that you are playing this cartoon. You probably don’t get very high. Hopefully you have more quarters.

    Team Fortress 2

    66

    Brendan Graeber

    As someone who has never been a huge fan of shooters, Valve's Team Fortress 2 tickled an itch I didn't know I even had. Perhaps it was the simplistic yet vibrant design, or the goofy yet sadistic humor. I do know that the diverse cast of characters certainly helped, as I wasn't just limited to firing a gun. Whether you were more of an "in your face with a flamethrower" guy, or a "hide behind enemy lines with nothing but a knife and a disguise" lady, Team Fortress 2 had a role that everyone could get behind.

    The other half of what made Team Fortress 2 a favorite of mine was its longevity. Long after any FPS game had a right to be relevant, Team Fortress 2 found new ways to live – both with community mods that shaped the course of the game's future, and the decision to go free-to-play. Add that to the inclusion of hats, along with new gear and modes, and you have a self-sustaining team-based shooter that can be played by all types, whether you're into crafting weapons, trading hats, fighting robots, or just having a quick match against friends.

    The Sims

    65

    Marty Sliva

    When I think back on the countless hours I spent with the original Sims, my memories are sorted into two very distinct buckets.

    First are the tranquil, almost zen-like hours where I meticulously lived my dream of being a home-owner (I know, an odd dream for a 13-year-old). Tweaking floor-plans and rearranging furniture weren’t things I particularly cared about beforehand, but holy moly did I have a blast doing them in The Sims. And unlike my other favorite games at the time, where I had a clear goal of making it to a finish line or beating a final boss, I spent my time meandering through the game without a care in the world, just happy to be immersed in the incredible score and soothing sounds of Simlish.

    And then there’s the other bucket. If the aforementioned one seems dreamlike, these memories were most certainly nightmarish. The fact that starvation, drowning, electrocution, and madness were all gameplay elements right at my finger tips led to a few dark nights that played out like a prototype Black Mirror episode. Thankfully, I’m happy to report that almost all of my favorite memories reside in the peaceful feng shui of the former bucket…almost.

    Rock Band

    64

    Ryan McCaffrey

    I'd heard about Guitar Hero, but I only had an Xbox and Xbox 360. So when Guitar Hero II hit, I fell for the plastic-guitar genre hard. And in 2007, when Rock Band – from Harmonix, the very same creators of Guitar Hero – released, my co-workers and I swooned for the full-band game.

    We were justified in doing so. Rock Band literally invented a new form of multiplayer – one that was not only cooperative, but also one where four of you could share a physical energy in the room. It remains a feeling that no game has replicated, and the very act of learning the "language" of the game – teaching your hands to work the guitar neck, or your hands and feet to work in concert to "play" the drums – was a game in and of itself. Even once you learned that language, moving up the ranks, from Easy to Expert, was an adventure with a tangible payoff: you could see and feel the results. And dominating a classic song you and your friends all know and love as a four-player "band" playing on the highest difficulty made memories that last long after the console turned off.

    Lucy O'Brien

    Fallout 3 was the first video game to make me sick. Not because it’s a bad game – on the contrary, it’s a phenomenal one, which rightfully deserves a place on any top 100 of all time list. I got sick because I couldn’t stop playing it; because I stayed in my crummy student bedroom staring at the screen for so long that I got all unhealthy and socially withdrawn and spindly.

    It was the world that kept me hooked. The Capital Wasteland may be as brown and dusty as any other post-apocalyptic effort created circa 2008, but scratch at its griminess and a multitude of fascinating characters, sub-plots, and bizarre environmental touches spring to the surface; a smorgasbord of invitations to never stop playing. Somehow held together by a focused story, Fallout 3 remains a complex, remarkable achievement for Bethesda, and definitely worth getting sick for.

    Banjo-Kazooie

    62

    Marty Sliva

    I’m probably going to lose some friends by saying this, but here it goes: Banjo-Kazooie is the best Mario game ever made. Before you pull out your pitchforks, let me explain.

    Rare’s Nintendo 64 masterpiece took the formula that Nintendo created with Super Mario 64, and injected it with an incredible sense of charm, character, and depth. Right off the bat, the banter between the titular duo and the rest of the curious critters that populate the world is genuinely funny. From there, Rare keeps on pushing forward, delivering some of the most interesting and varied worlds ever seen in a platformer. From the way Mumbo’s Mountain introduces you to the game’s varied mechanics, to the ingenious puzzles of Click Clock Wood, each world is absolutely brimming with creativity.

    I could go on and on about the perfect balance of collectibles, or the vast secrets like Stop ‘n’ Swop. But it’s the little things that make Banjo my favorite platformer of all-time. For instance, the way Gruntilda’s theme adapts to the stage you’re nearing, becoming spookier as you near Mad Monster Mansion, or developing a pirate-theme the closer you get to Treasure Trove Cove.

    Sam Claiborn

    In this era of Trophies and Achievements, completing 100% of everything in a game is a common thing. But when Yoshi’s Island came out, the reward for exploration was greater than a Gamerscore: for collecting all of the extremely well-hidden red coins and flowers and then finishing a level with 30 stars (which basically means you can’t get hit), you received a 100% rating. If you did this on every level in a world, you unlocked two more levels in each of the six worlds. And these levels were even harder than the others!

    I spent many hours one-hundred-percenting my Yoshi’s Island cartridge and the save stuck with me all the way until an unfortunate incident while reviewing a contemporary knockoff Super Nintendo. I’ve never been so excited to start over from scratch.

    Silent Hill 2

    60

    Chloi Rad

    The first four Silent Hill games will always be dear to me, but Silent Hill 2 holds a special place in my heart. It was the first Silent Hill game to establish the town itself as a character – in a genre oversaturated with run-of-the-mill killers, zombies, aliens, and other more conventional adversaries, Silent Hill 2’s focus on horror in architecture, in the layout and personality of a space, of the human psyche turned tangible, was vastly more interesting to me.

    Most of all, it was scary – like, actually scary: an exploration of the depths of human depravity and the effects it has on the people and places around us that few video games have handled with such a disturbing grace and maturity. As a hardened horror fan who’s tough to frighten, I appreciate Silent Hill 2’s ability to stick with me even a decade later.

    I may be immune to Silent Hill 2’s scares now, having spent countless hours wandering its foggy streets and haunted otherworlds, but I still remember its power that first time I walked into town.

    Luke Reilly

    2001’s Grand Theft Auto III was a real watershed in the history of open world gaming. However, perhaps the most remarkable thing about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, released just three years later, is just how much it dwarfs Grand Theft Auto III in every way.

    Forget one city. Have three, with vast swathes of forests, countryside, and desert in between. Want more vehicles? Have over 250 of them, including jump jets, combine harvesters, lawn mowers, bicycles, semi-trailers, forklifts, and so, so many more. Music? No problem. How does 11 radio stations and over 150 tracks sound?

    Not enough? How about parachutes? How about a functioning casino? How about a jetpack? How about same-screen free-roaming co-op? How about fast food that actually makes you fat? How about arguably the greatest line-up of cheats ever assembled?

    And how about we put Samuel L. Jackson in it?

    Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was the all-time best-selling game on PlayStation 2 – itself the best-selling console of all-time – and it’s just not at all hard to see why.

    Marty Sliva

    There are few moments in science fiction as powerful as when Commander Shepard first steps aboard The Citadel in the original Mass Effect. The sense of scope, history, and potential aboard the massive space station was unparalleled in games at the time. Learning about the various races and how they’ve co-existed for centuries is the stuff that world-building dreams are made of. In short, it felt like a living, breathing space that existed long before you got there, and would continue to exist long after you left.

    The Citadel also made for a perfect hub for BioWare to show just how incredibly well-written and fleshed out their cast of characters were. Interacting with the world and its inhabitants as your version of Shepard allowed you to create sci-fi story that felt wholly owned and authored, and paved the way for one of gaming’s most epic and revered trilogies.

    Alex Simmons

    E3 2007 was memorable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it marked a shift away from the glitz and glamour of the Los Angeles Convention Center, moving to the more low-key setting in nearby Santa Monica. Secondly, it was the first time Call of Duty 4 was shown off, its modern-day setting a dramatic departure from the World War II backdrop of previous games.

    All Ghillied Up was my first glimpse of it in action, as two camouflaged snipers worked their way through an irradiated Pripyat in Ukraine. The highlight – not just of the demo but arguably of the entire game – was watching, breath held, as an entire armoured patrol trundled past, inches from our hiding spot, and it’s a moment of tension that’s never been matched in a shooter since.

    Electric set-pieces and superb pacing make Modern Warfare’s single-player campaign one of the most memorable first-person shooters ever, but it’s the perfectly balanced multiplayer that made it the de rigueur online game for years to follow. Multiplayer shooters were never the same again.

    Batman: Arkham City

    56

    Brendan Graeber

    After Arkham Asylum laid the groundwork for a superhero game that hit all the right beats, Batman: Arkham City took everything to the next level by letting Batman loose in the streets of Gotham (sort of). Not only did it nail the feeling of stalking and beating down thugs with an impressive array of gadgets, it raised the stakes of what a caped crusader could deal with in a single night.

    Arkham City’s heaping helping of infamous rogues let you experience them in their element, and found perfect ways for Batman to foil them via both brain and brawn – leading to some of the best boss fights ever conceived. Each supervillain added to the oppressive weight of trying to save the day with the odds stacked against you, and the story’s climax remains one of the most striking moments in video games.

    Simon Cardy

    The island setting of The Witness enveloped me in its striking colour palette and minimalistic soundscape. Weaved into this tranquil setting however is a series of fiendish puzzles, each offering a unique challenge. These puzzles had me scrawling patterns on pieces of graph paper, reflecting the sun, and listening to the local wildlife – I explored every corner of my brain, and this island, in search of increasingly-evasive solutions.

    The final challenge – a sequence of 14 randomly generated problems that must be solved in just under seven minutes – had me questioning my sanity. Being stuck on one particular conundrum seemed frustrating at the time, but that all washed away in sense of near-unparalleled euphoria once it had been solved.

    Although The Witness doesn’t offer a narrative in the traditional sense, that's not to say it does not have a story to tell. Philosophical metaphors and allegorical imagery are layered into the world, allowing the player to discover as much meaning as they care to. Unlike so many games that are desperate to hand-hold and drip-feed, The Witness has a refreshingly high opinion of its player, expecting them to think for themselves. It’s what makes The Witness so challenging but also deeply special.

    Daniel Krupa

    Journey is the closest a video game has come to emulating the effects of poetry. In terms of structure it’s so simple: you must reach a snowy mountain peak visible in the distance. Along the way, your character surfs across glistening deserts, hides from flying creatures made entirely from cloth, and occasionally meets other players embarking on the same pilgrimage.

    Journey has a unique and special tone: it’s dreamlike and melancholic for the most part, but it’s the rapturous conclusion which truly elevates it. Words like "breathtaking" are used so liberally their meaning has been hollowed out, but Journey deserves to command its full significance.

    Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

    53

    Daniel Krupa

    Many games attempt to emulate cinema, dealing in the same tropes and stock characters. Initially, it looks like Uncharted does the same thing – it focuses on a treasure hunter who frequently finds himself in danger across exotic locations. But when you play Uncharted, especially the second instalment Among Thieves, you realise it surpasses so much of Hollywood’s recent output with ease.

    So often action exists for action sake – to look cool – but Uncharted 2: Among Thieves uses it to reveal more about its central character, Nathan Drake, and his relationships with a strong cast of supporting characters. That’s not to say the action isn’t spectacular. From being pursued by a helicopter on a moving train to being harassed by an angry tank in a Himalayan village, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves set a new bench mark for cinematic action, graphical fidelity, and established Nathan Drake as one of the great video game characters of his time.

    Marty Sliva

    Nintendo could’ve easily taken the success of Ocarina of Time and followed it up with a safe, familiar sequel. Instead, they made Majora’s Mask, which is easily the strangest, most risk-taking adventure in the Zelda series. It’s completely unlike any of Link’s other games, and delivers a tense, bizarre, and somber exploration of what it’s like to experience the end of the world, again and again.

    There are two things that stick with me about Majora’s mask time and time again. The first is… well… it’s incredible use of the concept of time. The constant literal ticking of the clock makes every decision precious, and in turn, makes those “aha!” moments of revelation feel that much better. Secondly is just how bleak the world of Termina is. It feels like a kingdom on life support, coming to terms with its inevitable end. The story of Skull Kid is as tragic as any in the Zelda series, and one that will stick with me forever.

    Overwatch

    51

    Joe Skrebels

    Blizzard performed alchemy here. Overwatch should be leaden – a Team Fortress cover version with two-and-a-half modes and a MOBA approach to character design. And yet what we have is gold.

    The key here is in how Blizzard looked beyond simply making a good shooter – it made an interesting one. Its backstory is PG-13 Pixar, its characters are diverse and lovable, and its community engagement is… well, it’s Jeff Kaplan. Pro gamers, cosplayers, fanfic writers, ARG detectives and everyone in between have all been given a reason to play a single game – no mean feat.

    And this isn’t to play down the game itself – Blizzard didn’t make a Team Fortress clone, it made a successor. It’s a swift, satisfying shooter, with a whirling game-to-game internal meta of character picks and counter-picks. How many 30 million-player games have a Tumblr following as powerful as their eSports scene? Exactly.

    Deus Ex

    50

    Dan Stapleton

    Finding out just how deep the multi-layered near-future conspiracy goes is a driving force that encourages exploration of every corner of Deus Ex’s large and semi-open levels. It’s a surprisingly rich and juicy mystery that poses interesting questions about the future of human civilization amid ever-advancing technology.

    Building JC Denton up as your own custom-built cyborg secret agent is a joy, allowing you to mix and match upgrades to suit your playstyle anywhere on the spectrum of action to stealth. This, naturally, leads to a great deal of replayability – no matter what augmentations you choose, Deus Ex’s levels have a different path that can only be accessed by someone of your particular skills. You might fight your way through a group of enemies, sneak past them undetected, or hack their automated gun turret and turn it against them. You might even complete the entire story without harming a soul.

    Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn

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    Brandin Tyrrel

    Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn was very much a leader of the pack during the RPG renaissance of the early 2000s and is still an excellent example of that genre’s strengths. From its fantastically written characters and story to its vast arsenal of weapons, armors, and magic, Baldur’s Gate II was an adventure that you could not only get lost in, but that could be lived in, spending hundreds of hours exploring every hidden secret and mystery.

    But, personally, Baldur’s Gate II was a truly digital representation of the world and rules of Dungeons and Dragons. D&D video games have historically been hit-or-miss, and as a kid I was enamored with games like Eye of the Beholder, but these virtual dungeon-crawling adventures were a far cry from the real thing. Baldur’s Gate II changed that for me, finally making good on the digital promise of its tabletop ancestry. And though it may be a little dusty, it’s still as good today as it was when the saga of the Bhaalspawn first unfolded.

    Sam Claiborn

    I restore classic arcade and pinball machines and one of my favorite projects was bringing a Ms. Pac-Man cocktail machine back from the dead. With a rebuilt monitor, restored art, and of course the speed chip that makes it many times faster, Ms. Pac-Man made a popular addition to my homecade. We run an occasional high score competition at IGN and so I thought it would be cool to bring it into our lunch room for a bit. For a month, the machine was never left alone. We work in an office surrounded by the latest toys and games, but Ms. Pac-Man attracted crowds. People changed their commutes to come in early and stay late just to play. Frequently we'd be across the office in a conference room and the strains of the Ms. Pac-Man cutscene music would waft over and make everyone giggle. There are very few games which can create so much happiness after so many decades.

    Counter-Strike 1.6

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    Chloi Rad

    Counter-Strike is the game that’s been with me the longest, in one form or another, but for me, it all started here. Many of the things I value most in skill-based games, I value because of Counter-Strike: good level design, team-based dynamic, the dedication required to master it, a friendly sense of competition, and a solid sense of community. It taught me the joy of earning my victories in a game, but also the importance of learning from my failures. It’s the reason I love first-person shooters and the reason I stuck by PC gaming at a young age, and I owe it all to its earliest iterations.

    Andrew Goldfarb

    There’s a point in Persona 4 where you can forget you’re playing a game. You’re hanging out at school, checking in with friends, going about your daily routine; it’s familiar. There are people who annoy you, people you care about, people you’re concerned about – and all of them feel distinct from one another, like they’re real. You get attached. It feels authentic.

    Persona 4 is a special RPG. The Persona series excels at fusing dungeon crawling with social elements, but Persona 4 makes each character feel like a cohesive group – more than a team working toward a goal, they’re friends. Each dungeon is themed after their innermost secrets, and by the end of each one, you feel like you’ve gotten to know them. You’ve been through a lot with them. In a way, they’re like family. With even more voice acting and characters, Golden only accentuates that feeling, and by the time Spring in Inaba comes to an end, you don’t want to leave.

    EarthBound

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    Andrew Goldfarb

    EarthBound is probably the game that I rented the most. I know it's a weird thing to say, but I was a weird kid back in 1995, which is probably why Shigesato Itoi's RPG resonated so heavily with me.

    The story of Ness, Paula, Jeff, and Poo's journey across a strange, slanted version of America was such a vast departure from previous RPGs I'd played like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. It wasn't drenched in fantasy tropes and pathos, but rather brimming with color, humor, and some of the weirdest characters and events I'd ever seen in a game. Simultaneously, it knows how to pack an emotional punch.

    So yeah, I rented it. Obviously, it didn't come with the pack-in player's guide, so I only made it so far before I had to return it. Then I rented it again. And again. And again. Eventually, my parents noticed that my college fund was being given to Blockbuster, so they nipped the problem in the bud and bought it for me. It's been my favorite JRPG ever since.

    Resident Evil

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    Chloi Rad

    Resident Evil was not only an impressively faithful remake of one of the most important games ever made – it managed to surpass the base material in almost every way, carving out an identity all its own without sacrificing an ounce of the original's creative vision. Retreading even the most familiar paths through the Spencer Mansion's many hallways and rooms felt like a fresh experience with its highly detailed, Gothic art direction. The classic puzzle-heavy horror and inventory management were revamped rather than abandoned, polished up for a new generation of players without scorning the old. And yet it was the bold new additions that ended up as some of Resident Evil's most iconic elements: the otherworldly groaning beyond that mysterious gate behind the stairs, and the terrifying subversion of the original game's faithful promise – that the zombies you kill will stay dead. Resident Evil's reanimated zombies and vicious Crimson Heads brought a frightening intensity to the ghostly halls of the mansion, upping the stakes in a whole new way and bringing a new dimension to the core elements that drive the series: exploration, combat, and strategic item management. While the series has taken many turns, few games in the series have come close to being as perfect as this one.

    Cam Shea

    I came to the Diablo II party incredibly late. The first time I actually played it properly was in 2011, more than ten years after its initial release. Could this iconic game possibly live up to my lofty expectations that late in the day? Absolutely. In fact, I was surprised by just how good it was. After all, Diablo II doesn’t exactly go out of its way to be user friendly. Even choosing a class and build is daunting, let alone learning the quirks of its many systems.

    What hooks you in, however, is just how perfectly measured the core gameplay loop of killing, looting and upgrading is. Whether you’re just starting out or wading through Hell with a hardcore character, Diablo II has a momentum that’s impossible not to be swept up in. The odds are always overwhelming, the atmosphere always malevolent, and the reward always worth the risk.

    And as is typical of Blizzard as a studio, Diablo II can be played on countless different levels. I never even touched most of what the game had to offer, but ultimately I didn’t need to. The simple joy of wading through thick knots of enemies with my necromancer and his summoned brood of skeletons and mages, setting off chains of corpse explosions and painting the world red was an end game in itself.

    StarCraft

    42

    Destin Legarie

    Cutscenes were one of the driving forces behind the success of PC gaming in the late '90s and Blizzard was regarded as the king when it came to jaw dropping visuals. They took things to an entirely new level with StarCraft and the Brood War expansion in 1998, though. Not only were players treated to an excellent RTS experience, but their reward for completing sections of the campaign were evocative visuals that further immersed you in a world where humans are losing a war against brutal space aliens.

    Taking it a step further, those cutscenes were paired with some truly talented voice acting and narrative design. As I played through the storyline I learned to love the different little characters I interacted with and felt genuine anger when the Zerg managed to capture Kerrigan and bend her to their will. This character had been with you through thick and thin and after she's captured you of course begin the mission to rescue her.

    Still, the highlight of StarCraft is easily the multiplayer. Few gaming moments are as satisfying as defending your base against a Zerg rush as the Protoss or successfully sending in a fleet of Terran to decimate an enemy's base. StarCraft is still played competitively in parts of the world, making it remain relevant for longer than almost any other video game in existence. There's a reason too. It's because the gameplay is so expertly crafted and balanced that players can continually go head to head with a different result each time. It's those near losses and photo finish victories that keep you coming back and have kept the series alive all these years.

    World of Warcraft

    41

    Mark Medina

    In a universe where Everquest was king, and MMOs seemed like a dominated market, leave it up to Blizzard to turn one of their key franchises into the biggest MMO there ever was, and possibly ever will be. After six expansions, World of Warcraft has shown very little signs of slowing down. Of course, the player-base has always fluctuated, but the massive hype around a brand new expansion is always enough to bring even the most retired player back for more.

    I believe the defining characteristic that draws people to the game is the freedom to play the game as you see fit. Like grouping with friends? If so, the game gives you the ability to start with a crew and play through the entire game together, regardless of race or class. Want to make a go at it solo? Then feel free to take on quests alone. Of course the higher level dungeons and raids demand teamwork, but with its stellar Looking for Group system, finding people to tackle a hard boss has never been easier.

    Of course, it’s always worth mentioning the waring factions of the alliance and horde. While choosing a faction seems a tad more meaningless than it used to, mainly because the factions basically are tasked with the same things, the old days of Crossroads and Tarren Mill are memories some players will have forever.

    Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

    40

    Ryan McCaffrey

    Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic almost single-handedly rescued Star Wars video games from purgatory. It was also one of the first times the beloved IP was handed to a world-class developer in BioWare. The result was not just one of the best role-playing games ever made, but one that helped legitimize Western RPGs on consoles and establish the fledgling Xbox as a destination for top-tier third-party games.

    KOTOR was a 40-hour role-playing epic set 4,000 years before the Original Trilogy. As such, it had the freedom to tell the story it wanted and invent a new universe of characters without Lucasfilm slapping it on the wrist and telling it no. And so we got Revan and one of the best twists in gaming history, and we got the dark wit of robot party member HK-47. Best of all, we got a Star Wars story where your choices truly mattered. Choosing to double-cross someone you'd agreed to help would earn you Dark Side points, and eventually you could become truly evil and sadistically powerful. But so too could your benevolent actions bring you to the Light Side and make you a virtuous hero.

    Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

    39

    Chloi Rad

    Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is one of the most controversial and divisive entries in the long-running Metal Gear series, and yet it’s the bold risks it took in structure and theme that remain its greatest strengths. There’s the Raiden twist – the first of many. To drop players into the role of a new character after all the marketing material pointed towards Solid Snake as the returning hero was a shock to many, but in establishing a distance between the player and Snake, we got to see the legendary soldier in a new light.

    Perhaps the most impressive thing about Metal Gear Solid 2 is its ability to remain frighteningly relevant a decade and a half later. To say it was ahead of its time would be an understatement. Through its many twists and turns, the bizarre likes of which have rarely been matched by its successors, Metal Gear Solid 2 dove deep into subjects like memetics and the crisis of the information age, artificial intelligence, and the politics of a post-truth society. In 2001. With just the right mix of sincerity and outlandish charm, Metal Gear Solid 2 managed to tell a compelling, ambitious story whose beats still echo in my head years later, and wrap it up in an exciting stealth adventure that remains one of the series’ bests.

    Final Fantasy VI

    38

    Meghan Sullivan

    Final Fantasy VI was a revelation for me back in the mid ‘90s. It’s dark, steampunk-laden world was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I loved how the heroes were more brooding and complex than their cheery predecessors. The music affected me profoundly as well; some of my favorite Nobuo Uematsu pieces (including "Dancing Mad" and "Aria di Mezzo Carattere") are from the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack.

    But what really sets Final Fantasy VI apart for me is its many iconic moments: Magitek armor moving slowly through a snowy field. Celes singing at the opera house. Running into Deathgaze while flying around in Setzer's airship. Kefka destroying the world and becoming a god. These moments have stayed with me for over 20 years.

    Along with its incredible story and soundtrack, Final Fantasy VI also features a fantastic combat system, which includes the ability to freely swap out party members between battles. (There are a whopping 14 playable characters in all.) The tetradeca of heroes isn’t stacked with useless filler characters either, something I remember very much appreciating when I was faced with a tough Boss fight and needed to adjust my strategy. I also liked switching out spells and abilities using magicite, which allows players to freely customize characters however they see fit.

    Final Fantasy VI is considered a milestone in the Final Fantasy series, and with good reason. It’s unique combat and incredibly dramatic story sets it apart from most games of its generation. Even today, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I loved Final Fantasy VI then, and I love it now.

    Miranda Sanchez

    Where Mass Effect set the stage a futuristic Milky Way, Mass Effect 2 let you explore and experience so much more of it. As Commander Shepard, I traveled the galaxy on the best recruitment trip I could have wished for, and experienced possibly one of the most heart wrenching stories – but whether or not the game ends in tears is entirely up to you.

    As you head out for a suicide mission, you’ll meet some of the best written characters that feel original and have the power to evoke true emotions. Perhaps one of the best parts about earning loyalty of each of the companions was discovering more about their respective species and seeing how they’re surviving in a violent galaxy. Maximum loyalty for my companions in Mass Effect 2 was not an option; for my heart’s own good, it was a requirement.

    Miranda Sanchez

    Before you can catch all 151 Pokémon, Pokémon Yellow first teaches you how to respect and care for the sometimes temperamental creatures. Pokémon Yellow takes all the best elements from Pokémon Red and Blue and upgrades it to make it feel more like the anime. The best change to the originals, of course, was a Pikachu following you around on your journey. Suddenly, the Pokémon weren’t just creatures you summoned for battle; they become emotional creatures that accompany on your adventure. They’re no longer just fighters you bring along. The small story elements that link Pokémon Yellow back to the anime were a fun way to let the player relive the beginning of Ash’s journey, but ultimately, Pokémon Yellow is simply one of the best ways to experience the Pokémon universe – it's as simple as that.

    Brendan Graeber

    The Legend of Zelda holds a special place in my heart as the first real game I attempted by myself. Up until then, I was content to watch my dad or sister play games and offer what limited advice my child mind could come up with. But once I saw the mysterious expanse that Zelda had to offer, I knew I would take on this challenge myself.

    Never before had I thought that a virtual space on a TV screen could be capable of such wondrous exploration. Each new screen I sent Link to had more enemies, obstacles, and mysteries. I had began drawing dozens of maps (with the help of my dad), labeling them with notes and tips I had picked up on my journeys, and the locations of dungeons I knew I would have to conquer.

    The Legend of Zelda set the bar very high for how open a game world could be, and how to cleverly guide a player through a treacherous journey with subtle nudges in the right directions. I owe a lot of my early childhood imagination to this game for igniting that spark, and helping it continue to burn to this day.

    Daniel Krupa

    Bloodborne initially presents as a work of Gothic horror – you spend the opening hours inching through Yharnam’s dark alleyways and ominous churches, culling hordes of muttering werewolves – but this soon gives way to a weird tale worthy of Lovecraft himself.

    But its ambitious story – of religious and scientific schisms, of dreams and reality, of idiot gods and nightmare newborns – is told not in the overwritten prose favoured by Lovecraft but by an exceptionally savage third-person action game.

    From Software intentionally ditched Dark Souls’ trusted shield to force the player to be more aggressive. Director Hidetaka Miyazaki wanted every slash inflicted by its arsenal of gruesome weapons feels to feel as if you’re were fighting for your life. As is usually the case, his design works flawlessly.

    Sam Claiborn

    When Metroid Prime hit the GameCube it was one of the prettiest, most technologically advanced games on any platform. In a post-Wii era, it's hard to fathom Nintendo ever shaking up the industry again with a cutting-edge, first-person shooter, but that's what made 2002 such an exciting year for GameCube owners.

    I didn't play the previous Metroid games, so I bought Metroid Prime just to see what my GameCube was capable of – and because IGN gave it a 9.8. It was gorgeous and fast, but it was also amazingly packed with detail: birds, bugs, and other wildlife occupied the ruins of the game, while hieroglyphs and etchings revealed its history.

    Metroid Prime was also a lonely game. Metroid Prime dropped you into the Chozo ruins with no one to talk to. Exploring an alien planet solo is what the series is all about, and why the subsequent games with space marines and hunters just didn't work as well.

    Marty Sliva

    There are only a handful of games that, in my mind, serve as historical benchmarks in our industry. As in, there’s a time that existed before this game, and there’s a time that existed afterwards. Resident Evil 4 is absolutely one of those games.

    On paper, Resident Evil 4 was an unnecessary risk. It launched as a GameCube exclusive; an M-rated game on Nintendo’s family-friendly console. It was the first mainline, numbered game in the iconic horror franchise to leave the confines of Raccoon City. It veered from the voyeuristic, fixed-camera that the series had established to an over-the-shoulder view, and in such, had a decidedly more action-oriented approach than the other games.

    But the thing is, all of those risks paid off. RE4 went on to become one of the most revered games in the series, and its camera and control changes became the industry standard for third-person action games. Its thumbprint can still be seen on countless games today.

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

    31

    Joe Skrebels

    For all its inter-dimensional threats, monster hunts and magic powers, I’ve always thought The Witcher 3’s key achievement is in how it nails the mundane. Geralt’s fantasy world is one of mud, thatch and metal, his main quests are freelance work, and he loves a game of cards down the pub. That sense of reality is what helps you empathise with Geralt, understand the world, and really understand how bad things have gotten when the crazy shit starts popping off.

    An RPG with enough complexity to satisfy the urge to tinker, but enough character never to feel impersonal, Wild Hunt is a staggering achievement no matter how you look at it. Its story deftly balances cosmic threat and family drama, its choices feel truly meaningful and world-changingly effective, and it looks gorgeous in its own grubby way. Even its two DLC expansions are among the best ever released. Geralt’s final journey might be built on the mundane, but that makes it nothing short of magical.

    Luke Reilly

    There are certainly parts of Metal Gear Solid’s sometimes heavy-handed script that haven’t aged particularly well over the past two decades, but we’d do well not to forget just how influential the success of the original Metal Gear Solid has been on strong, character-driven gaming.

    Metal Gear Solid didn’t just shine a bright light on the virtues of the stealth action sub-genre, it was a pioneer in seamless presentation – with gameplay dovetailing into terrifically-produced in-engine cutscenes.

    A thrilling masterpiece of patient and rewarding stealth gameplay and entirely unique fourth-wall breaking shenanigans.

    Could you ever forget plugging your controller into the Player 2 port to beat a mind-reading super villain?

    Super Mario Galaxy

    29

    Joe Skrebels

    Galaxy feels like a joke at every other developer’s expense: “Who’s got a few hundred thumbs and more imagination than you’ll ever have? Nintendo EAD.” After Nintendo nailed 3D platforming on the first try, Galaxy is an attempt to outdo perfection, something so literally otherworldly that it still doesn’t quite make sense that it ever got made.

    It makes a little more sense when you realise that its looks are a metaphor for its never-matched platform design. Each planetoid is a mechanical challenge. Every galaxy of planetoids is a series of challenges along the same theme. And, just like Nintendo itself, when you’re done with a mechanic, you blast off to find another one, leaving the last just a twinkling memory.

    The result is a game built entirely on the pleasure of surprise – if you change to something brilliantly new every 20 minutes, you don't have time to stop having fun. Over a decade after release, that still holds true.

    Shadow of the Colossus

    28

    Marty Sliva

    The word that comes to mind when I think back on Shadow of the Colossus is “scope.” The first time Wander takes Agro out into the open field left me overcome with the same sense of awe I had after seeing Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen. Likewise, the moment you stumble across one of the game’s 16 Colossi floods you with an overwhelming sense of scale, fear, and wonder.

    The thing I remember most about Shadow of the Colossus is the gamut of emotions that ran through me during each boss battle. That initial moment of fear and awe quickly took a backseat to contemplation, as each fight unfolded a lot like a puzzle game. Learning your surroundings, observing the Colossi’s movement patterns, and experimenting with various tactics provides an amazing sensation of trial and error, all in the confines of truly epic, cinematic encounters.

    But once I my sword finally pierced a beast for the last time, an overwhelming sense of melancholy and regret flooded over me. Was I doing a bad thing? Many of these ancient creatures were simply existing in the world, and I was a murderous outsider focused on nothing more than selfishly saving a person I loved. Few games compelled me forward while simultaneously making me regret my decisions quite like Shadow of the Colossus.

    BioShock

    27

    Jonathon Dornbush

    BioShock will likely always be remembered for its game-changing “Would You Kindly?” twist, but the first adventure in Rapture is so much more than a dressed-up dupe. From first encountering a splicer caring for a gun the way a mother cares for her baby to the still-enrapturing Andrew Ryan twist toward the game’s end, BioShock delivers one enrapturing setpiece after another. That’s largely in part thanks to one of the most memorable locations in gaming history. So much story is embedded in the dilapidated hallways and shuttered rooms of Rapture, a decaying underwater labyrinth that demands to be investigated. The mark of a good experience is one that you keep thinking about long after you’ve finished it. And I still haven’t stopped thinking about BioShock, its incredible location, and those awesome Plasmids, over a decade later.

    The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

    26

    Joe Skrebels

    The first time I saw a dragon rise out of the waters of Lake Hylia, I put down my Switch and messaged about 10 people. I didn’t tell them what I’d seen, just that something wonderful had happened. The game didn’t take my camera control away to show me, tell me what I was seeing, throw me into a boss fight, or mark the event with anything other than a change in soundtrack. I felt like the first person ever to see it – among my friends, I was. It was the purest sense of discovery I’ve had in games for years.

    This is what makes Breath of the Wild quite so special. Nintendo’s many changes to the Zelda formula are well-documented – a truly open world, the Chemistry Engine, its single-puzzle dungeons. But for all the changes, there’s a singular vision behind all of them – to amplify that sense of discovery. Working out how you can use an Octo balloon, solving a Shrine the "wrong" way or, yes, seeing a dragon – there have been a lot of games that play something like Breath of the Wild but I can’t think of anything else that feels like it.

    Sid Meier's Civilization IV

    25

    Marty Sliva

    There are games that you play until they’re completed, and then there are games that you play until you feel completed. The Civilization series falls into the latter, particularly the stellar Civilization IV. No game encompasses that “just one more turn” addiction quite like Civ IV, and its ability to turn a quick 30-minute play session into suddenly you seeing the sun rise outside your window feels like black magic at times.

    Civ IV is a game that truly lets you play the way you want to play. Peaceful, diplomatic, tactical, tyrannical – nothing’s off the table as you leave your thumbprint on the annals of history. It’s in the game’s ability to bend, weave, and adapt to your play-style that its near-infinite replayablity lies.

    All of this has been said without mentioning Baba Yetu, Civilization IV’s iconic, triumphant, and Grammy-nominated theme song. It’s a swelling anthem unlike any in games, and it encapsulates the hopeful, forward-facing march of humanity in an incredible way. Hearing it now still brings a swelling light to my heart.

    Minecraft

    24

    Mark Medina

    The premise of Minecraft is incredibly simple. Mine materials such as first and wood, and build things with it. Yet the possibilities are incredibly limitless. A epic gaming moment many people have reflected on is what they call, “The First Night in Minecraft.” The world always begins as a bright sunny day, and you use this time to chop down trees, dig, and maybe even slay a few animals for food. It’s great, until the sun starts to set and the actual enemies start to appear. It’s at this point you realize this is actually a survival game, and you’re forced to either burrow underground or make a quick makeshift wood cabin. Then as the sun rises and you watch all the enemies burn to a crisp, you are finally free to explore again, you are hit with a joyous urge to explore and dive even deeper into the game. Will you keep your first house, or search for a better landscape? Will you become an unground dweller, or live atop a mountain? These are the freedoms Minecraft offers, and the only thing that’s standing in between you and literally anything, is imagination.

    Ryan McCaffrey

    I'm not sure I've ever been more hyped for a game release than I was with Halo 2. The "Save Earth" marketing campaign had fans practically dizzy at the notion that Master Chief's fight with the Covenant was coming back home, and my first hands-on with the game – a five-on-five CTF match on Zanzibar behind closed doors at E3 2004 – was all I could think about for weeks after.

    When November 9 finally came and Halo 2 released (as Peter Moore's tattooed bicep promised), Halo 2 somehow lived up to the hype. Single-player was a well-told interweaving tale between Chief and the Arbiter that was, in hindsight, probably underrated, while multiplayer literally changed gaming. Besides the multiplayer hopper system and party setup that raised the bar for everyone else, gameplay-wise, Bungie was at the peak of its powers. Weapons and vehicles were tuned to perfection, while the collection of multiplayer maps – even the 11 added later via a large map pack – were not just good but amazing. Lockout, Zanzibar, Midship, Coagulation, Ivory Tower, Ascension...the list just keeps going. Halo 2 is still my favorite multiplayer shooter ever.

    Dan Stapleton

    When Half-Life first came out in 1998, it was immediately obvious how transformative a game it was. Valve not only proved it was possible to tell a real, atmospheric story from within a first-person-shooter, but did it so brilliantly that its lessons have informed virtually every shooter campaign since.

    Stepping into the Black Mesa Research Facility as mild-mannered Gordon Freeman and bearing witness to the accident that sets off an interdimensional invasion is a master class in introducing a game’s universe. Instead of stopping the action and playing a cutscene to advance the story, Half-Life’s tale all plays out from Gordon’s perspective, never taking control away from us, but directing our eyes toward its scripted events. That technique was surprisingly effective at making me feel like Gordon and I were one in the same.

    Iconic monsters – most notably the Alien facehugger-like Headcrabs that transform scientists into gruesome zombies – and impressive soldier AI gave Half-Life a spooky atmosphere backed up by enemies that pose a real threat. Great and memorable weapons, from the simple crowbar to the silent sniper crossbow and the biological homing weapon that shoots alien bees, made fighting through the spooky ruins of Black Mesa a fantastic battle.

    Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

    21

    Chloi Rad

    There’s a reason a snake’s skeleton, and not a snake itself, features prominently in the title sequence of Snake Eater. This was the game that stripped the Metal Gear formula down to its very core and proved that it could still function even outside our expectations. It forced us to take what we knew about espionage and infiltration and learn how to apply it in a new, unfamiliar environment, and it did so with a bold and elegant understanding of its own systems. You could have all the stealth know-how and military training in the world, but out there in the unpredictable jungle of the Russian wilderness, you were exposed, vulnerable… a Naked Snake. And it worked.

    This weird shift in tone, structure – it all worked beautifully, and with a poetic edge that is unrivaled in other Metal Gear installments. Snake Eater is arguably one of the most interesting love stories ever told in a game, one of the strangest and most exciting Cold War-era adventures, and one of the first games to truly make me reflect on my actions as a player. It manages to be tragic, sometimes devastatingly so, and yet still maintain that absurd comedic flair that I admire about this series.

    Any game that can make you emotional about climbing a ladder deserves some kind of recognition.

    The Last of Us

    20

    Jonathon Dornbush

    I still think about three moments in The Last of Us at least once a week, nearly five years later. The first is when Joel’s life changes in a moment in the game’s intro. I knew I was in for something so narratively special from Naughty Dog. The second moment solidified that, as, late into the game, it demanded I make a certain gameplay choice because that’s how Joel would act, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to do. That dissonance struck me, but made so much sense. This was Joel and Ellie’s story I was experiencing, and those characters feel so real thanks to the script, animation, and Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson’s stellar performances. The Last of Us marries its storytelling with its gameplay, and nothing made me feel more than that last moment. The game’s final discussion between its two protagonists that is filled with so much emotional weight because of their experience – because of what you experienced – that it’s difficult to think of another ending so perfectly true to this unforgettable experience.

    Ryan McCaffrey

    DOOM changed my life. My gaming life, at least. Having spent my entire existence up to that point playing platformers, side-scrolling action games, etc. on 8- and 16-bit consoles, DOOM's first-person shooting was a jaw-dropping paradigm shift.

    Everything about DOOM was incredible. Graphics were colorful and convincing. Lightning was spooky. It felt like you were on a Martian moon. Music was memorable. Weapon design was brilliant, and enemy design even more so. From the imps to the Cacodemons to the Cyberdemon, nearly every creature in DOOM was the stuff of nightmares – and in a then-unheard-of gameplay twist, they hated each other as much as they hated you.

    And then there was DeathMatch. Whether you were connecting two PCs with a serial cable for one-on-one action or throwing a LAN party where four people hauled their PCs to the same place (bulky CRT monitors and all!) to chainsaw each other in the game, DOOM DeathMatch changed everything. And, incredibly, it's still fun.

    Chrono Trigger

    18

    Zach Ryan

    Chrono Trigger is widely regarded as the greatest RPG of all time, and for good reason. What begins as a typical “day-in-the-life” adventure, quickly spirals into a sprawling, epoch jumping romp that is equally exhilarating and endearing. Created by a “dreamteam” at Squaresoft including Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii, and character designs by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, Chrono Trigger’s pedigree was only outshined by its universal praise upon its release in the spring of 1995. Even at the twilight of the SNES’ lifespan, Chrono Trigger’s branching narrative, colorful characters and unforgettable soundtrack were are more than enough to earn it a place on our list in this timeline or any other.

    Grand Theft Auto V

    17

    Luke Reilly

    If Grand Theft Auto V is anything it’s a game of immense, obsessive detail. There is no open world that feels as authentic and lived-in as Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos and its surrounding countryside.

    Turn it on and pick a street. Any street. Analyse it; really absorb it. Look at the unique shopfronts that aren’t repeated anywhere else. Look at the asphalt, worn and cracked; punished by the millions of cars that have hypothetically passed over it. Look at the litter, the graffiti. Grand Theft Auto V’s mad mix of high-speed chases, cinematic shootouts, and hectic heists may be outrageous at times, but the environment it unfolds within is just so real.

    A technical titan and an endless source of emergent fun, it’s no wonder Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most successful games ever made. No game sells 90 million copies by accident.

    Dark Souls

    16

    Daniel Krupa

    The most boring thing to note about Dark Souls is its difficulty. Why? Because it stops you from focusing on all of the things that make it the most influential game of the last decade.

    You fail to mention how incredible Lordran is – a single continuous location that spirals from lava-flooded ruins to a glistening city of the gods. A place where new paths often lead back to familiar locations, so that exploring it for the first time feels like solving a puzzle. You overlook its precise, nuanced combat or the fact it has the most interesting and meaningful bosses of any game. And you certainly never get round to discussing its story, which revels in ambiguity and invites interpretation like no other.

    Yes, Dark Souls is challenging, but the rewards it yields to the persistent and curious are limitless.

    Christian Holt

    What can you say about the definitive fighting game, the game that has spawned countless imitators, acolytes, and sequels? Street Fighter II remains a classic in video game lore, making series mainstays Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li as well as words like “Hadouken” part of the public lexicon. Everyone has a favorite character and that’s because of its diverse, fantastical character design.

    It’s hard to fathom how exceptional Street Fighter II was at its time. While exceptionally balanced, the imaginative design and high-end graphics for its time helped set it apart. Street Fighter II became perhaps the first fighting game global arcade smash. Over the years, Capcom kept updating and refining the combat, allowing players to play as more characters, speed up the combat, and see new special moves for their favorite characters. Its ports kept getting nominated for awards years after its initial 1991 release. That’s how enduring and exceptional Street Fighter II remains.

    Super Mario Bros.

    14

    Ryan McCaffrey

    For many gamers of a certain age (and now, thanks to the NES Classic, the children of same people), Super Mario Bros. was the first video game they ever played. Mario's move out of arcades, away from Donkey Kong, and into the Mushroom Kingdom changed our hobby and our industry as we know it, setting of a chain of events (Nintendo's rise from the game industry crash's ashes, the popularization of the platformer genre, etc.) that shaped gaming as we know it today.

    Super Mario Bros. has been re-released many times, but there's no such thing as too many times because it's still fun and it's still some kid's first time ever playing a game. Super Mario Bros. spawned an industry and fueled a mushroom-powered empire. Its influence cannot be overstated. Example: literally everyone reading this can hum its theme song, right now, from memory. See? Now it's playing in your head again. You're welcome.

    Ryan McCaffrey

    Halo didn't invent the first-person shooter. Not by a longshot. Nor was it even the first console FPS. But it was the first FPS to finally get it right on a console, and the industry hasn't been the same since. Halo: Combat Evolved simply felt at home on a gamepad, and the fact that it had a likeable and heroic protagonist, a rich sci-fi universe that felt fleshed-out despite this being the first game in the series, and Halo became an instant smash hit.

    But its story was only half of its success. Halo was quite simply one of the best multiplayer shooters ever upon its release, thanks to its incredible complement of weapons (two-shot death pistol FTW!) that mixed seamlessly with third-person-controlled vehicles across a swath of classic maps like Blood Gulch, Sidewinder, Hang 'em High, and more. That it was all set to the chanting-monks theme song that, like the game itself, became legendary.

    Justin Davis

    Symphony of the Night is beloved by gamers the world over thanks to its responsive controls combined with its expansive, rewarding game world. If you make a game character that’s fun to control, and then put that character in a unique world full of secrets that reward the inquisitive, the end result is a game that’s very hard not to love.

    But it’s one specific moment in Symphony that elevates it from merely being a “game I love” into its position as one of the best games ever made. It’s also one of the most epic video game secrets of all time. After you’ve played through the entire game, defeating massive bosses, equipping badass loot and discovering dozens of secrets, right at the moment you think you’re about to win, you discover you’re only halfway done! Symphony’s (spoilers!) inverted second castle is much more than just a lazy way to extend the quest. It has devilish new enemy patterns, new bosses, and fantastic new equipment. Not bad for a secret that is easy to miss entirely.

    Symphony of the Night is much more than just a fun side-scroller with an awesome twist, though. Dracula’s castle has never been more varied, filled with gorgeous gothic pixel art and backed up by a fantastic soundtrack. Alucard and all of his monstrous foes are lusciously animated. It’s basically the entire package. Art, animation, sound, gameplay, design… even replay value, thanks to multiple playable characters. It all comes together perfectly.

    Jared Petty

    When a sequel to Portal was announced I was surprised and a little disappointed. Let a masterpiece stand on its own, I thought. A game so wonderfully unique didn’t need an obligatory follow-up. I trusted Valve to create something interesting, but I didn’t imagine it could hold a candle to the mad-genius wit of the original.I walked into Portal 2 expecting a competent, enjoyable, but ultimately unsatisfying effort.

    Instead, Portal 2 stunned me with better puzzles, fascinating new personalities, and comedic dialogue that had me pausing the game to gain control of my laughing fits. Every time I play Portal 2 I try to qualify how Valve managed to cultivate such a fertile ground for humor from such a limited cast of characters. Despite existing only as a series of archival recordings, Cave Johnson seemed every bit as alive as GLaDOS, Wheatley, or myself. The design is a case study in the kind of environmental storytelling Valve introduced in Half Life and perfected in Portal 2. Every new area I entered had me eagerly anticipating what gags, story twists, and ludicrous logic-jumps might be waiting for me next. I’ve rarely enjoyed anything more than my unexpected return to Aperture Science.

    Daniel Krupa

    Mario games are synonymous with fun and innovation, and perhaps Mario 64 is the best example of the latter. It gathered the core elements of Mario’s best 2D, side-scrolling adventures and worked out how to translate them into a groundbreaking 3D world. It was still recognisably Mario – he collected mushrooms and ran and jumped his way to success, but he was forever changed. He could now long jump, triple jump, and backflip. While the underlying challenge remained the same and the locations were reassuringly familiar, the shift in perspective changed everything.

    What’s even more impressive is that Mario did not simply enter a new dimension with ease, he did it with style that few games unburdened with such technical challenges ever achieve. Mario 64 might now look a little blocky but it remains bold and brilliant, too.

    Jon Ryan

    If you're reading this list and haven't played Red Dead Redemption, go find yourself a copy of the game and the appropriate console to play it on. Right now. We'll wait the 30+ hours – this is important.

    2008's GTA 4 may have been the reason that I bought an Xbox 360, but RDR is the reason I kept it. Not only did I get completely lost in the massive single-player world, to the point where I'd started talking with a bit of a drawl because I was so used to hearing it, but it also drew me into online gaming unlike anything I'd played before. Sure, CoD was fun for a bit and racing games were okay, but never before had I so successfully crafted my own stories and adventures (with friends and strangers alike) than in Red Dead's Free Roam mode.

    It was the kind of game you couldn't wait to discuss with your friends the next day. "Did you save that woman on the train tracks?" "No, but I found this cabin that had, like, 1,000 cougars in it," "That's cool, but did you kill Sasquatch?" Everyone had their own amazing tales to tell about their time in the old west, and you were constantly making new ones every time you turned it on. The only real downside to Red Dead is that it never came out on PC – which is mostly sad because my 360 died years ago and I really want to play it again.

    Marty Sliva

    When I think back on Half-Life 2, I think about three things.

    First is that incredible opening, which immediately sets the tone for the dystopian adventure you’re about to embark on. Being told to “pick up that can” right at the outset in City 17 was a remarkable moment in gaming.

    And then there’s the moment you first pick up the Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator, better known as the Gravity Gun. It’s hard to put into words just how remarkable Valve’s technology behind this weapon was back in 2004. Pulling, levitating, and then firing off objects in the environment provided a thrill the likes of which I’d never felt in games before. Which came in handy in the third thing I remember most about HL2, which was Ravenholm. The creepy mining town, now overrun by zombies and head-crabs, provided the perfect playground for you to try out your new toy.

    Sure, we might never find out the end of Gordon and Alex’s story, but none of that can take away from just how special Half-Life 2 was, and still is.

    Meghan Sullivan

    The classic Russian title-matching puzzle game by Alexey Pajitnov blew my mind way back in the day. Even as a little girl, I was obsessed with Tetris. I’d never played a video game that mentally stimulating, let alone that addictive.

    I still remember spending hours sitting in front of the TV with the Nintendo Entertainment System sitting at my feet, rotating brightly colored puzzle pieces as they fell from the abyss, attempting to arrange them into horizontal lines that when assembled correctly would disappear and cause me to advance to the next stage. It was crazy fun, even when blocks began to fall at an alarmingly fast pace and I fell into a frenzied panic. (I still remember how frustrated I’d get making careless mistakes that resulted in giant, pixelated Towers of Pisa.)

    But no matter how many times I had to start the game over, it was just too much fun to stop. There was always the chance that this time I’d get the right puzzle piece at the right time and could move on to the next stage. I never got tired of it, and even now Tetris remains one of my favorite games of all time.

    Super Mario Bros. 3

    06

    Justin Davis

    As a kid, I played almost any game that had a cool character on the box or starred my beloved Ninja Turtles. But even then, although I lacked the vocabulary to explain it, I knew that Super Mario Bros. was special, and better than almost everything else. So when I received Super Mario Bros. 3 from Santa one year, and saw on the back of the box that Mario could fly, I knew I was in for something special.

    The game exceeded my every hope and wish for it, and I spent hundreds of blissful afternoons defeating Koopa Kids, rescuing kings, and discovering secrets strewn throughout Mushroom World. Mario 3 earned a place on my list of favorite games way back in 1990, and 25 years of gaming progress have yet to dislodge it.

    Super Mario Bros. 3 is a textbook example of how to make a perfect video game sequel. It’s a mixture of the original’s best elements, combined with an almost excessive amount of imaginative new ideas. So much of what we consider so quintessentially Mario – the suits, the boos, the overworld – all actually originated here.

    The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

    05

    Brendan Graeber

    The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link laid the foundations Link’s quest, but it was A Link to the Past that built the land of Hyrule into a world. From it’s unforgettable beginnings guiding a swordless Link through the rain, to the final showdown with Ganon and utilizing mastery of sword and bow to defeat evil, Link to the Past measured out a perfect pace of dungeons, exploration, and a gripping narrative that was almost unheard of at the time. It’s open landscape was always inviting but never felt aimless – striking the perfect balance of freedom and purpose in your quest to save Princess Zelda.

    This iteration of Hyrule was more than just moving between enemy-filled screens, it encompassed everything an immersive experience should be: a vast open world that teased you with secrets hiding just beyond your reach, begging you to come back with new and inventive tools. Each zone – whether in the cheerful overworld, dimly lit caves, or the intimidating Dark World – was brought to life through a culmination of details like the sound of the Tempered Sword cleaving the air, the catchy jingle of a puzzle well-solved, and the ambient tunes of Koji Kondo’s score. This version of Hyrule more than any other before or since, is the one I fell most in love with.

    Super Metroid

    04

    Justin Davis

    Super Metroid’s minimalistic environmental storytelling set a bar, way back in 1994, that I believe has still yet to be eclipsed. The planet Zebes is atmospheric, oppressive, and extremely lethal. At first glance, there doesn’t even appear to be any story. But then you start to look more closely. The parasite-riddled dead soldier outside of an early boss room. The crashed, half-submerged alien spaceship that may or may not be haunted. The techno lair of the space pirates hiding under your nose the entire game. It’s brilliant and confident. It doesn’t explain to you what each new area is all about. It’s all there, for you to figure out (or ignore) on your own.

    But it’s Super Metroid’s ability to consistently invite the player to be curious – and then rewarding that curiosity – that makes it one of the greatest video games ever made. It’s not just that there’s secrets hidden everywhere (although there are, and it’s awesome) – it’s that the game teases you with tantalizing clues – items, always just out of reach. An energy tank embedded in a seemingly impassable wall. A pair of missiles only obtainable from the collapsing blocks above, leaving you no idea of how to get up there, just with the knowledge that you can get up there.

    Super Metroid is an impeccable action-platformer – that’s the “easy” part. What makes it truly special is its genius combination of puzzle-solving, atmosphere, storytelling, exploration, game design, and gameplay. There’s nothing else like it.

    Daniel Krupa

    Puzzle games can sometimes be a little dry – more concerned with logic, reason, and the elaborateness of their design. Portal was totally different. Its challenges were embedded in a much bigger story, filled with memorable characters and enduring moments.

    Video games in general manipulate space and perspective better than any other medium, and Portal takes full advantage of that unique strength. Enter the portal gun – one of the great video game tools. Instead of firing bullets, it rips through space, allowing the player to traverse a level almost instantaneously. Sounds simple, almost like a cheat, but the intelligent design of each test chamber prevents players from making a beeline to the exit. Other variables, like velocity, also had to be considered.

    Portal’s design remains exemplary and its humour, undiluted. Escaping Aperture Science elevated the puzzle genre beyond mere interactive conundrums.

    The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

    02

    Zach Ryan

    Fans waited seven long years for their chance to return to Hyrule, and after numerous delays and development issues, Nintendo did not disappoint. The first 3D Zelda game revolutionized the way people thought about action adventures and 3D combat, earning nearly unanimous perfect scores and critical praise from every outlet. Mechanically,Ocarina of Time is a marvel; slowly introducing systems and increasing the complexity in such a masterful way that many of the elements from Ocarina of Time continue to be industry standards today. Narratively, it’s still one of the best stories ever told in a Zelda game as you seamlessly jump back and forth between timelines in a quest to thwart the evil Ganondorf and save Princess Zelda. It became the template for Legend of Zelda games for nearly twenty years, and is still regarded as one the greatest games of all time.

    Marty Sliva

    Super Mario World means so many different things to me. On a base level, it’s my personal favorite game in what’s probably my favorite series of games. It’s an incredible platformer that oozes charm, creativity, and challenge. It took what Nintendo built with the first three games on the NES, and cranked it up to the next level. Everything was bigger, brighter, and more complex.

    But on a personal level, it’s the game that I associate with my introduction into thinking about video games on a deeper level. I was just absent-mindedly gazing at the television as my fingers adhered to years of muscle memory. Rather, I was looking past what was on the surface level, and really thinking about what went into the design of the game. I distinctly remember practicing with Mario’s cape for hours on end until I mastered the ability to glide across entire levels. In an age before the internet, I combed every inch of every stage, eventually finding every single secret exit and finally getting that perfect “96” next to my save file.

    It’s still a game I go back to on a yearly basis, and I’m shocked that over 25 years later, my fingers are still familiar with every little nuance of the game.

    Simply put, Super Mario World is my favorite video game ever, and IGN’s pick for the best game of all time.


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