Video games are a relative baby compared to every other medium. A baby who, over the course of fifty years, has learned to crawl, walk, run, jump and fly. The rate in which video games progress is astonishing, with just five years feeling like an eternity. Movies from thirty years ago still look great but a game that is just a couple of years old has already dated. Making a list to accommodate every evolutionary sea change and groundbreaking title while also paying homage to the classics that laid the groundwork for everything that came after is no small feat. How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles? How do you compare Portal to Pong or God of War (2005) to God of War (2018)?
Firstly, I (to the best of my ability) eliminated personal bias and then focused on a set of objective criteria (importance, influence, etc.) that I used as a metric to give titles a numerical value. Historical importance was obviously a huge component but if no one plays it today (like Spacewar! or Hunt the Wumpus for example), it didn’t make the cut. Graphics were only ever a plus, never a minus (games date horribly, so I didn’t judge that against them but if a title had unique graphics, it certainly got a bump) and popularity and fun were major factors as well. It required a lot of math, some impossibly hard cuts and a ton of sleepless nights to whittle the entire history of video games down to just five hundred titles but it’s finally done.
These are the 500 Greatest Video Games of All Time.
125. Katamari Damacy (2004) | PS2
The King of the Cosmos, in a drunken stupor, accidentally destroys all of the stars, moons and other celestial beings in the universe save for Earth. His son (who’s only 5 centimeters tall) is then tasked to restore them. You’ll do this by rolling up anything smaller than his Katamari (a magical sticky ball) and the bigger it gets, the bigger the items you’ll be able to aquire will be. You’ll start with teeny tiny things like thumbtacks and paper clips, move on to bigger things like dogs and flower pots and then eventually, you’ll be collecting whole buildings. Because the concept is so out there, designer Keita Takahashi struggled to pitch the game to the higher ups at Namco, eventually seeking student aid to complete it himself. He believed in his wacky idea when no one else did and man, was he right. The game eventually became a smash hit, spawning a number of sequels, all of which emphasize Takahashi’s concepts of novelty, ease of understanding and enjoyment. No matter how crazy a game is, as long as it hits those three things, gamers will enjoy it and there’s no better example of that than Katamari Damacy.
124. System Shock 2 (1999) | PC
Ken Levine (the genius behind this, Thief: The Dark Project and the Bioshock series) was named one of the “Storytellers of the Decade” by Game Informer and there are few in the industry more deserving of the title. Each of his games has an unparalleled level of detail put into their worlds. They also have unforgettable twists that rival the best of Rod Sterling. There’s no better example of how in depth his writing is than the plot breakdown on Wikipedia for System Shock 2. There’s four extremely long blocks of text just describing the backstory. But that’s how much set up you need to get to the mind blowing twist the game is known for. A twist he himself ripped off for Bioshock, with many others doing the same. Even though it’s iconic, I won’t reveal what it is here but suffice it to say, if I ever become an amnesiac on a spaceship filled with a telepathic parasite that turns its hosts into murderous zombies, I wouldn’t trust anyone or anything.
123. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (1999) | PC
In Age of Empires II, players conquer rival towns and empires as they advance one of thirteen civilizations through four “Ages”: the Dark Age, the Feudal Age, the Castle Age, and the Imperial Age—a 1,000-year timeframe. With each new advancement to a new Age, new unlocks become available such as: improved units, structures, and technologies, but players must first build certain buildings from their current age and then pay a sum of resources (typically food and gold). To gather resources, you need Villagers and in order to to train units, construct buildings, and research technologies (among other things), you need resources. It’s a never-ending loop and I didn’t even mention the different types of resources you need to collect in order to unlock different things. The game eventually becomes a to-do list filled with a hundred small things you need to cross off every day. And that’s just the baseline of the game. All of that work is just a means to an end with the final goal being a kingdom. Which you’ll then have to defend and that’s another fifty hours of grinding right there. The RTS genre has always been notoriously detail oriented but this game takes the cake.
122. Warlords (1980) | Various
The oldest game on this list to make the cut due not only to influence but because it’s actually still fun to play, Warlords is the only game outside of Tetris and Pac-Man released before the NES that doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Honestly, how much time do you spend playing an old school quarter muncher like Frogger, Q-Bert or Joust? They’re fun for at most 75¢ and then you move on to something else. You can play Warlords for hours and hours because it had what none of those other games did: four player multiplayer. A combination of Breakout and Quadrapong, Warlords has the player try and defend their kingdom (an L shaped wall of bricks in the corner) while also trying to break the other players kingdom. You do this by bouncing fireballs off of a paddle or by holding on to one for a super shot at the risk of deteriorating your own wall. It’s all about risk vs reward, competitive trash talking and lightning fast reflexes. Before GoldenEye, this was the premier multiplayer game and before Mario Kart this was the ultimate friendship killer.
121. Divinity: Original Sin II (2017) | PC
To try and one up Baldur’s Gate II is a move only the most foolish would even contemplate let alone attempt. Certain things (like The Beatles for example) have undeniably earned their GOAT status and have never had to defend it. It’s just an agreed upon fact that certain things are the best. Well, Larian Studios decided to challenge that notion and actually succeeded. After 17 long years, a worthy successor arrived. And all they needed was too give the player unlimited choice. Anything goes in Divinity: Original Sin 2, and most situations have multiple solutions, where choices echo throughout the entire playthrough and have real meaning – not just picking good or bad options on a dialogue wheel. Characters may leave you based on your decisions, and quests ripple between acts – even changing the final encounter and the ending. From romance to rivalry, almost every character you meet has a story that effects the game in interesting ways. These range from sparing an enemy soldier, joining forces with demonic evil for the greater good, or the gravity of willingly unleashing death on an entire city. Divinity: Original Sin 2 challenges you to forget everything you know about games that often have a singular solution and the illusion of choices that always end the same way.
120. Resident Evil (1996) | PS1
While similar in presentation and arguably equal in terms of importance, there’s a number of key factors as to why Alone in the Dark, a game that Resident Evil owes everything to, didn’t make the cut and this did. 1) it’s slow and boring 2) the controls are somehow worse than RE‘s notoriously awful tank controls and most importantly 3) there’s not a single moment in it as memorable as the dog crashing through the window. I can also rattle off its improved graphics, better score, puzzle design, house layout, characters and about a million other things but it’s that scene that cemented Resident Evil as the true grand daddy of survival horror. Because at the end of the day, Alone in the Dark never scared anyone and everyone shit their pants when that dog jumped through the window. It put you on guard for the rest of the game and it’s that tension that no other game before this had. Hell, the movies couldn’t even replicate it and there was like twenty of em.
119. Soulcalibur II (2002) | Various
The worst thing you can say about Soulcalibur II, is the exclusive PlayStation 2 and Xbox characters. Those poor bastards got stuck with Heihachi (from Tekken) and Spawn when GameCube owners got to play as Link. That terrible decision notwithstanding, it’s very hard to find a single flaw in this game. Building on the formula already introduced in the console version of the original Soulcalibur, the sequel includes plenty of modes, including the expansive and secret-filled Weapon Master mode, along with a host of unlockable characters and weapons. Everything from the characters and outfits, to the gameplay, sound design and sheer amount of content on offer is simply wonderful. Add in the online multiplayer, which guaranteed this stayed in your collection for years and years and you have the best game in the series and a high water mark for fighting games in general.
118. Gauntlet (1985) | Arcade
Elf needs food badly. If you’re old enough, those four words used to be shorthand for nerd. If you got it, that meant you were part of the club. If you wore that on a shirt, you basically just made a name tag that says “I’m a nerd and I love video games”. It was a meme long before memes were memes. That was only funny to .02% of the population. But since it’s a meme about Gauntlet, the best co-op experience of its day, the nerds can be forgiven. Their enthusiasm for the game is obvious to anyone who’s played it. You, along with three other players pick between one of four classes (warrior, elf, wizard and valkyrie) on a quest to clear as many dungeon levels as you can. Each level of the dungeon is structured like a maze, with usually only one way to get to the goal. Which means whatever hallway you’re in, will get flooded with monsters real quick. Which makes the gameplay constantly frantic. Just make sure you’re avoiding friendly fire or you’ll most definitely kill that damn elf.
117. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (2010) | Various
In addition to being the preeminent competitive strategy game of the last decade, StarCraft II deserves credit for rethinking how a traditional RTS campaign is structured. Borrowing from Dune II and Herzog Zwei, Blizzard took what was great about those games and as they always do, improved upon an anyway proven formula and then made it accessable to everyone. Heart of the Swarm is a good example of this, but the human-centric Wings of Liberty instalment is the place to start: an inventive adventure that mixes up the familiar formula at every stage. From zombie defence scenarios to planets that flood with lava every few minutes, you’re forced to learn and relearn StarCraft’s basic elements as you go. The game’s competitive scene is so strong that it took Blizzard a decade to finally wind down development on it, announcing that no new additions would be coming, aside from things like balance fixes. And that’s just the multiplayer. The single player is also exceptional, it’s just that no one ever plays it because the multiplayer is just too good to pull away from.
116. Quake III Arena (1999) | Dreamcast
Quake III Arena was a massive risk for id Software at the time. A multiplayer-only title that still carries the Quake name was worrying to some. Thankfully, the focus on multiplayer would spawn the height of the Quake franchise. Virtually everything about Quake III is perfect. Every gun holds a place in the sandbox, maps are all top-notch, and the game’s AI bots are surprisingly competent. There weren’t dozens of modes or a massive weapon roster to set Quake apart from its competition. It’s Quake, after all, the biggest name in the genre. All it needed to do was focus on delivering the best deathmatch experience possible. Not only did id Software succeed with that goal, but they also set the bar so high that no arena shooter has met that standard since.
115. Fallout: New Vegas (2010) | Various
For a minute there, it looked as though the Fallout series was going to be like CoD with every other game alternating between two different developers. Bethesda made 3 and Obsidian made New Vegas but after that, the series stayed with Bethesda. As good as the series has been under the direction (76 not withstanding), there’s not a soul alive that isn’t a bit disappointed it didn’t stay with Obsidian. Rarely has there been an open-world RPG that puts this much attention into its side quests, out-of-the-way locales, and minor characters. Most open-world games try to sell you on the idea that you can go anywhere and do anything, but Fallout: New Vegas is one of the few that will encourage even the most focused gamers to see it all. More importantly, it manages to offer a variety of potential paths forward that only reveal themselves based on how you navigate its complex web of choices. If it wasn’t for the copious amounts of bugs (the most egregious of which makes Matthew Perry sound like a emotionless robot, oh wait…) this would be a perfect game.
114. Star Wars: X-Wing (1993) | PC
Over one hundred video games based on the Star Wars franchise have been released, dating back to some of the earliest home consoles. Some are based directly on films while others rely heavily on the Star Wars Expanded Universe. One of the earliest titles is still one of the best: X-Wing. A combat flight simulator that puts you in the cockpit of a starfighter during the events of A New Hope, X-Wing set the bar for space battles that no other game has surpassed. The dogfights are intense, with every encounter feeling do or die. The sequel TIE Fighter (which I’m combining as one entry since everyone else does even though they were released 17 months apart and the latter had multiple expansion packs released for it) is even better, with massive graphical improvements, better enemy AI and voice acting. It’s no wonder why they collectively made every best game of all time list and Hall of Fame back in the day — critics back then knew they were going to stand the test of time and they were right.
113. Silent Hill 2 (2001) | PS2, Xbox, PC
The cancellation of Silent Hills didn’t just sting because P.T. looked phenomenal, it stung because it looked like fans of the games were finally getting another good entry in their beloved series. Shattered Memories, The Room and Origins have their fans but the general consensus is that the only good ones are the first three, with the second one being inarguably the best. Team Silent knocked it out of the park and the rest of the games suffered because they all tried to chase it. Silent Hill 2 is a masterclass in psychological horror done right, delicately layering symbolism with emotion in a way that makes its point yet never becomes too heavy handed. It’s a balance that has been mimicked (nearly always unsuccessfully) by countless games since, and even Team Silent never truly achieved this level of perfection again. The iconic monster Pyramid Head is but one example of this – a way in which one might explain what the SH series is all about in a single image. Silent Hill 2 is often ranked among the best video games of all time, and deservedly so. It’s a dark, brutal game that’s not for everyone, but for those who dare to step foot in Silent Hill, the experience will not soon be forgotten.
112. Robotron: 2084 (1982) | Various
Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar are geniuses. The idea to use two joysticks for their game Robotron: 2048, one to move, the other to shoot, was game changing. Drawing inspiration from Nineteen Eighty-Four, Berzerk and Space Invaders, the duo wanted to create the ultimate shooter. One that had so many enemies to contend with, so many projectiles to dodge and multiple goals to accomplish that it, in their words “… create a panic in the player.” If Defender challenged players by having enemies off screen, Robotron: 2048 put them through the ringer by having all the enemies on screen at once. If you’re a fan of twin stick shooters like Smash TV and Geometry Wars, thank Jarvis and DeMar. They didn’t create the control scheme but they sure as hell popularized it.
111. Persona 5 (2016) | PS3, PS4
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 (that are so beloved, one made it into Smash Bros. and the rest got a fighting game all their own) make this one the best JRPGs no one has ever beaten.
110. Wolfenstein 3D (1992) | DOS
Doom gets all the credit but the cool kids know who was really there first. Wolfenstein 3D helped create an empire. Both games play nearly identically and while Doom is better designed, Wolfenstein is not without its charms. First of all, as much fun as it is to kill demons on Mars (which is a great band name btw), it’s never not great to kill Nazis. They may be overused at this point but back in 1992, it was still fresh. And secondly, I’d argue that as cool as the most badass demon in Doom is, they’re not as cool as taking on Mecha Hitler with a Gatling gun. Blowing off the Fuhrer’s head is about as satisfying a moment as games can deliver.
109. Final Fantasy IV (1991) | SNES
The first entry in the series for the Super Nintendo, Final Fantasy IV is basically the first Final Fantasy that truly mattered. The first three were merely snowflakes that helped contribute to the brand eventually turning into an avalanche but it was the fourth that added the most snowballs (up the that point) and is the reason the series is still a juggernaut to this day. It ushered in the active time battle era, a system that lasted for six sequels. The class system also received a nice new layer, as each class felt designed to tell a specific aspect of the story. The introduction of the active time battle system and the new focus on a character-driven narrative made Final Fantasy IV feel like a huge cut above its predecessors as well as other RPGs at the time.
108. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) | PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Where the fuck did this game come from? It felt like it just popped up out of nowhere and within seconds of its release, was considered one of the best Batman related things ever. Not just games — this was compared to the comics, TV show and the movies. That’s how good it was right off the bat. What Rocksteady delivered is still widely considered as one of the best games ever made, a cohesive reinvention of the hallmarks of the ‘superhero game’ that has since paved the way for many similarly revolutionary titles that have drawn inspiration from its systems. As they say, less is more – and by focusing the game within the decrepit confines of Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady created an atmosphere you could truly lose yourself to. Instead of letting Batman easily prey on whatever cannon fodder he fancies, perched from skyscrapers in a seamless open-world, Asylum captured the fear and claustrophobia of being locked in with your worst enemies running riot, making each encounter count. It also encouraged exploration, what with the Riddler challenges asking you to catalogue comic artefacts, unravelling curious lore about lesser known villains. The only thing that could make this game better would be an open world sandbox…
107. Undertale (2015) | Various
Created by just one developer, Toby Fox and funded entirely on Kickstarter, Undertale is the most talked about indie game (outside of the FNAF series) in probably a decade. You either played it, watched a Let’s Play of it or decided to skip it out of spite due to its omnipresence. The game infected players like a virus and made it so that they had to talk about it to an annoying degree. It’s so beloved, that a famous YouTuber (who’s an uber fan of the game) gave a copy of it to the Pope. They sounds crazy but again, all of this is understandable if you’ve played it. Famed for its humour, genuine storyline and cast of instantly iconic characters, the real strength of Undertale) and the reason it’s so beloved), is its optional battles. Players can choose to play the game non-violently as a pacifist harming no character throughout the game. There’s always the kill crazy maniac option but that’s for monsters. The game wants you to be good and has an intricate combat system built around that decision that blends turn-based strategy as well as bullet mini-games. The most interesting element of this is the fact you can talk people out of a fight and complete the game with zero violence, something not often seen in video games at the time, or even now. Undertale is a cult classic above reproach. Pretty impressive for a game birthed out of an Earthbound hack.
106. Mega Man X (1993) | SNES
Mega Man X brought the series into the 16-bit era with a bang. It slapped a new coat of paint on an already good looking series, improved the audio (the soundtrack is a banger) and added some much needed new blood to the series. Replacing Dr. Wily’s Robot Masters with Sigma’s Maverick Hunters and introducing fan favorite Zero into the fold, the game’s setting and characters were so popular, the franchise split from this point going forward. There’s the numbered entries and the X series, and it seems like the latter is considerably more popular with the fans. Even though they look and play like a traditional Mega Man, the series (starting with this entry) added plenty of cool options to help set it apart from the original series. Along with an awesome wall-jump ability, Mega Man X adds upgradable armor for the playable character. They’re minor improvements but Mega Man 3 is considered a top 5 game in the series and all that added was a slide.
105. Day of the Tentacle (1993) | PC
A sequel to Maniac Mansion that manages to surpass the original in nearly every way, Day of the Tentacle has better puzzles, funnier dialogue, more memorable characters (instead of choosing your characters like in Maniac Mansion, the player controls three of them: Bernard, Hoagie, and Laverne), a better story and evil, purple tentacles from space. It’s your job to stop their diabolical plan to take over the Earth and to accomplish this, you (controlling the three characters) must travel through time and solve puzzles that fluctuate between ingenious and maddening. Not that this counts towards its ranking but it’s technically two games in one. If you like the first game or have never played it, you can actually play it using an in-game computer.
104. Metroid Prime (2002) | GameCube
Metroid Prime is at its best when it follows the template of the games that came before it. Just as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a thinly veiled reworking of its predecessor A Link to the Past, Metroid Prime traces the the outlines of Super Metroid to ensure the series’ move into 3D is supported by an impeccable foundation. When it becomes a more action heavy fetch quest later in the game, the pace starts to die and the joy of exploration begins to fade. That section isn’t enough to taint the experience, it just goes to show how important the formula is. The Metroid series is built on backtracking and exploration. You incrementally discover more of the map as you go, with sections being locked off till you have the item necessary to pass. They’re so good at level progression, that they can rewire the brains of even the thickest of dullards and turn them into master navigators. The longer you play, the better your memory for where the locked doors are becomes. It’s truly impressive how well designed these games are with Prime being the second best in the series. Nothing will ever top Super Metroid but Prime does an admirable job of recreating the feel of that game while doing something new while also bringing the series into the new generation. The decision to make it first person is bold but it pays off in spades. Forcing the player to only see what they’re directly looking at as opposed to seeing the entire play area at once, helps up the tension (there’s some subtle spooks in these games), improves the combat and overall, helps differentiate itself from the rest of the series. I think Retro Studios did such a great job, it’s kind of ruined any new 2D side scrolling sequels they’ve released since this one.
103. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993) | Gameboy
One of the most important Zelda titles is also the weirdest official game in the series. It deviates radically from the others while maintaining the spirit of previous titles. There’s still dungeons to explore and puzzles to fight but the presentation is more cartoonishly goofy. And that’s not a bad thing. There’s talking anthropomorphic alligators and dream whales and baby chomp chomps. It feels like the first game designed for kids. Really, really weird kids. But again, it also laid the foundation for so many Zelda mechanics we still see today, introducing flying on Cuccos, trading sequences, playing songs on an ocarina, fishing, and even mini-bosses. Link’s Awakening introduced jumping to an overhead Zelda for the first time too, which allowed for 2D sections similar to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. All this and the fact that it’s portable, make Link’s Awakening an entry not to be missed.
102. Burnout 3: Takedown (2004) | PS2, Xbox
There’s two different camps when it comes to racing games: those who prefer the simulation kind and those who prefer arcade. Simulation is all about realistic physics and handling, while arcade focuses more on the unrealistic. Cars that don’t handle the way they do in real life. While I can see the appeal of a racing game that authentically captures what it feels like to actually drive a car, the freedom of fantastical racing is far more appealing to me. Racing sims are locked into a specific box but arcade racing games can literally be anything. Hover bikes or karts with cartoon physics. The sky’s the limit. While not as over the top as a sci-fi car or a cartoon vehicle, Burnout 3 still takes the cake when it comes to arcade racing perfection. For a very obvious and simple reason: it’s insanely fast. Its predecessor, Point of Impact, had fine-tuned the balance of high-speed racing and vehicular destruction, but Takedown perfected it. It’s actually surprising to me that the makers of Fast and the Furious never contacted the makers of this to make them a tie in video game. Because there’s nothing else that recreates the feeling Vin Diesel has when he flips that nitrous button. Why anyone would choose realistic handing when they could be a speed demon is beyond me.
101. Planescape: Torment (1999) | PC
If the games on this list were ranked solely by how strong the writing in them was, Planescape: Torment would be a shoe in for the the top twenty. The game is centered around an immortal amnesiac named The Nameless One and his quest to recover his lost memories. Every time he dies, his mind is wiped clean, so characters you meet might already have a past with you without you even knowing it. Some are allies, some are enemies and some are enemies lying about being allies. Who you choose to trust, as with every decision you make, will have unforeseen consequences. Since the game is more story centric as opposed to action based, every conversation you have is kind of like a fight and every decision is a mini boss battle. You have to treat every encounter, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, with as much thought and attention as a typical battle in a regular RPG because anything can change the outcome and you won’t even know it till it’s too late.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?