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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
150. Persona 4 (2008) | PS2
There may not be a better a spin-off series than Persona. Born out of the Shin Megami Tensei games (which were kinda like Pokémon but with demons), Persona ditched the Pokémon like catching mechanic, kept the monsters and demons but transported them to a high school. The change was novel and helped it differentiate itself from other RPGs. Because it’s not just a location, you’re a high schooler who has to go to school. You go to classes, deal with drama and even have to get a job. It’s the same as any other high school story except with the addition of demons. Which if memory serves, makes it more accurate than any other story about high school.
149. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002) | PC
Three UCLA graduates under the name Silicon & Synapse started making games in 1991 but it wouldn’t be until three years that they’d make their mark. And what a mark it was. By that time, they changed their name and released Warcraft, one of the most recognizable names in gaming. It was a huge hit but it would be the sequel, which was compatible with Battle.net, which allowed players to compete over the then exciting and much hyped internet. It was an RPG that brought fantasy to the people but as big a leap as the second was over the first, is as big a leap as the third one was over the second. In Warcraft III, orcs and humans returned to wage battle, and were joined by Night Elves and the undead, bringing four playable races to the Warcraft universe. The story unfolds through missions using all four races. Powerful heroes play a central role in Warcraft III‘s battles, eventually leading to the creation of the game-changing MOBA genre.
148. Bioshock Infinite (2013) | Various
Where Bioshock 2 failed to stray too far from Bioshock’s shadow, Infinite leaps out of it into something almost unrecognizable. As a result though, it was all the stronger for it. Save for a few gameplay mechanics like flinging elemental abilities akin to plasmids, the game has its own identity that gamers still couldn’t help being drawn into. Columbia is almost as strong a locale as Rapture, Booker and Elizabeth are more memorable than any character in the first two games and the time travel leads to some unforgettable moments. Including the now iconic ending and the plot for the phenomenal DLC Burial at Sea. Fans have turned against it in later years (which also happened to both Metal Gear Solid IV and Grand Theft Auto IV) but it’s been established that they’re never right about anything ever. Bioshock Infinite is just as good now as it was then. And with the news that the fourth one will be open world, there’s a good chance that it’ll be the last great one for a long time to come.
147. Dune II: Battle For Arrakis (1992) | PC
Dune II is not the first RTS but it’s the one every game stole from. It introduced every key element of the genre. Such as but not limited to: world map from which the next mission is chosen, a fog of war that lifts as the player explores more of the map, resource-gathering to fund unit construction, simple base and unit construction, building construction dependencies (technology tree), mobile units that can be deployed as buildings and different sides/factions (the three Houses you can choose from) each with unique unit-types and super weapons. All that along with a story that does justice to Frank Herbert’s universe makes Dune II an essential entry in the genre.
146. Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010) | PS3, Xbox 360
There’s four distinct phases of Call of Duty games: the Modern Warfare series, the Black Ops series and everything before and after those games. There’s certainly fans of the entries of the franchises past and present but the ones that definitely get the most love are their two big flagship series. The debate continues to rage over which one is better due to both offering their own unique experience. Black Ops introduced a dynamic Cold War-era storyline that was filled with twists and turns and exciting action set pieces. With this title, Treyarch solidified their take on Call of Duty and helped solidify the brand as an annual juggernaut.
145. Bully (2006) | Various
Since the company only ever makes sequels to GTA and Red Dead Revolver nowadays, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when Rockstar used to roll the dice on new IP on the regular. They had a racing game series (Midnight Club), a stealth horror series (Manhunt), a beat ’em up based on a cult movie (The Warriors) and even a ping pong game (Rockstar Presents: Table Tennis) but their biggest gamble to date is their controversial high school simulator Bully. This proved that the developer could branch out beyond the gritty pulp of its other franchises. Even years later, Bully is a treasure trove when it comes to creativity, letting players use items like marbles and stink bombs as weapons and featuring an amusing storyline about adolescence, social groups, and rebelling against authority. The level of attention to detail is also still impressive, with every student at Bullsworth having their own model and personality. Protagonist Jimmy Hopkins/the player being expected to attend classes, presented as minigames, is also a surprisingly fun activity, and the small open-world of Bullsworth is still a fun place to explore years later.
144. Pokémon Gold/Silver (1999) | Game Boy Color
Bigger and better than before, Gold/Silver introduced 100 excellent and memorable additions to the Pokemon library, along with two new Pokemon types, and a whole host of new moves. It brought in some interesting new features that changed up the game in fun new ways. Introducing a day and night cycle added time-specific challenges, and brought in some Pokemon that could only be caught at certain times of day. This game had all the hallmarks that made the first games so enjoyable, but it expanded the experience to cement itself as the superior Pokemon game. And better yet, when you reach the end of the game, you get to unlock the Kanto region from Red and Blue which allows you to revisit all of the gyms and trainers. Silver and Gold was a giant leap forward for the franchise, and nothing has quite compared to it since.
143. Animal Crossing (2001) | N64
Slave labor and the horrors of capitalism is probably the foundation for many a critically acclaimed indie darling but a cute animal centric game from Nintendo? That’s crazy. And yet, the House that Mario built released a game all about indentured servitude, debt and the addictive appeal to material items. But since the game is filled with adorable animals, freedom to do what you want and mindless but additive tasks to keep you busy, no one seems to notice. Animal Crossing may have themes that, if written out, would put you on some sort of anti American list but within the context of the game, are kinda cute. It’s funny that you’re immediately saddled with a debt you’ll never pay off and are basically doing everything in order to put the smallest of dents in it. Who cares about that when you can go fishing or shopping or house designing. Animal Crossing will make you the happiest slave on Earth. Which I’m pretty sure is a line of dialogue that got Song of the South indefinitely banned but whatchu gonna do.
142. Papers, Please (2013) | PC
Papers, Please is outstanding in its ability to translate a highly complex social, economic, and political message into a relatively simple gameplay mechanic. It may be set in 1982 but it’s as relevant today as it ever could be. Working at a checkpoint on the border of two politically hostile countries, it’s your job to allow or deny passengers entry into the fictional country of Arstotzka. Each day is timed, and it’s up to you to process as many travellers as possible, allowing certain immigrants through and detaining others for further assessment, interrogation, or arrest. It quickly becomes apparent that in order to do your job, you’ll have to be as cold blooded as possible. Denying these people safe haven is dooming them to death but the alternative means that you can’t provide for your family. This is the closest a piece of media has come to depicting the banality of evil. True evil isn’t crazy slashers who kill coeds or demons that feast on the souls of the living, it’s this. It’s someone doing morally repugnant actions because “it was their job”. Few games test players harder than Papers, Please and imagine few ever will.
141. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003) | Various
When Jordan Mechner made the first Prince of Persia all the way back in 1988, he unknowingly created the template every action game would borrow from for years afterwards. It was a pioneer in rotoscoped action and had a unique timer function in place of traditional lives. The player can die an infinite amount of times without getting a game over but they are under the clock, and since each death takes you back to the start of the level, it’s prudent to not die. You have 60 minutes to save the princess and that clock is running in real time, so speed and memorization are key. Mechner put every idea he could think of into his adventure opus and as good as it is, if he had thought about a rewind function that lets you retry puzzles, helps you with fights and prevents you from dying, this remake wouldn’t be on the list. Getting three chances to correct a fuck up or to nail a move just right, is as revolutionary as anything Mechner put in his game and that’s saying a lot. It’s so good in fact, it’s hard to play other action games right after it. You get accustomed to the safety net and you’ll miss it in every other title that isn’t this one.
140. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017) | Switch
When Mario Kart 8 hit the Wii U, critics and fans alike hailed it as the greatest entry in the series up to that point. It had a large selection of racers, tight and responsive controls, stellar courses and thanks to the DLC, more modes and courses than any other game. But die-hard fans knew it wasn’t perfect. For one thing, the rubber banding was atrocious (it hadn’t been that bad since N64) and the battle modes in multiplayer were completely missing. It was great but it lacked certain key features to be considered the best. The Deluxe version however, fixes all of that. It would’ve been nice to see some extra goodies or any DLC support (they’re crushing it with Smash Bros. but they forget this exists) but beggars can’t be choosers. It did just enough to be considered the best Mario Kart ever and it is.
139. Hearthstone (2014) | PC
It seems like Blizzard won’t rest until it makes the definitive version of every game type imaginable. Platformer puzzlers and competitive shooters? They got you. Isometric RPGs and massive multiplayer online role playing games? Obviously they got those, too. With Hearthstone, they threw their hat into the card battling arena and so far, it doesn’t seem like any competitor has come close to touching them. Hearthstone is a turn-based card game between two opponents, using constructed decks of 30 cards along with a selected hero with a unique power. All characters and powers are from their popular Warcraft series. Players use their limited mana crystals to play abilities or summon minions to attack the opponent, with the goal of destroying the opponent’s hero. Winning matches and completing quests earn in-game gold, rewards in the form of new cards, and other in-game prizes. Players can then buy packs of new cards through gold or microtransactions to customize and improve their decks. The game features several modes of play, including casual and ranked matches, drafted arena battles, and single-player adventures. No other game within the genre offers its level of depth and complexity and what’s even more impressive is, that it’s completely free.
138. The Stanley Parable (2011) | PC
Stanley is a faceless, silent office drone who’s only purpose in life is to do what he’s told. A wry, sardonic narrator (played brilliantly by Kevan Brighting) tells him what to do. Get up from your cubicle, walk down the hall, and do to your bosses office. But at a certain point, Stanley is presented with a choice. Two doors, one that the narrator is telling you to go through and the one on the left. And it’s at this point, where gamers finally see what the game is truly about. If you’ve followed every instruction up to that point like the game wants you to, your nature curiosity is going to compel you to immediately rebel given the chance. But the thing is, the narrator knows you’re going to rebel. In fact, the more you try and trick it by doing increasingly erratic behavior, the more you’re playing into it’s game. Every single decision you could possibly make is already mapped out ahead of time. There’s not a single thing you can do that won’t have an accompanying piece of narration to go along with it. The Stanley Parable is brilliant commentary on choice in video games, the relationship between a game creator and player and predestination/fate. There’s really nothing else like it.
137. Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) | Sega Genesis
Before he was a meme character the internet wouldn’t let die and before all of terrible 3D sequels, there was a time when Sonic the Hedgehog was a legitimate competitor to Mario. He had everything the plumber didn’t: he was cool, filled with ‘tude, had a personality and was fast. Children of the 90s had never before seen such levels of sass and speed and they were immediately intrigued. Since the game came packed in with Genesis consoles, it made the system a huge hit. Everyone bought the console to get the game, not the other way around. The first level instantly hooked all who played it. Emerald Hill Zone remains one of the best introductory levels in gaming. The colors are bright and vibrant, the layout is intuitive and teaches you the mechanics without explicitly telling you, the theme is catchy as all hell and it sets up the plot through gameplay, not text. It’s a brilliant piece of game design and while most of the game doesn’t live up to it (let’s be honest, the game isn’t as good as you remember), it’s still one of the better relics of the 32 bit era.
136. Tecmo Super Bowl (1991) | NES
Chalk it up to nostalgia or a lack of choice back in the day but Tecmo Super Bowl still remains a football favorite more than 30 years after its release. There are dozens upon dozens of games that have come out in its wake that are unquestionably better but nothing can touch the feeling of sitting on the couch with your buddy, playing all night and consuming both of y’all’s weight in pizza and soda. This is the kind of game that acts like a time machine, just saying its name is enough to transport anyone who played it back in the day to the time and place in which they played it the most. It doesn’t just have the nostalgia factor though. Tecmo Super Bowl laid the foundation for everything that came after it. Preseason, regular-season and Pro Bowl modes were in, and so was the capability to control multiple teams. There was a semblance of roster editing. Players could ask the computer to handle certain on-field responsibilities. All those features are important from a historical stand point but they don’t hold a candle to the strength of its nostalgia.
135. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006) | PC, PS3, Xbox 360
As an early and popular Xbox 360 title, Oblivion marked the entry-point for many into The Elder Scrolls series. The game began in an underground prison, which afforded an overwhelming feeling of potential and grandeur when you finally stepped out into the world and realized you can go wherever you wanted, do whatever you wanted and more importantly, be whatever you wanted. Want to be a snake lady assassin thief? You can do it. Want to be a hulking Knight that beats beasts to death with his own hands? You can do that too. The freedom of choice in every avenue of this game is staggering. The open nature of both the adventure and your character build is an RPG style few have successfully emulated.
134. The Witness (2016) | PC
Jonathan Blow is an eccentric genius who has been labeled pretentious many times because of the way he thinks. The game he made before The Witness was a time manipulation puzzle platformer that has one of the best endings to a game ever but is also maybe about the creation of the atom bomb. The game he has coming out after this, is a twenty year long project consisting of many sub games within a larger game that’s coded using a programming language he specifically created for it. The man has wild ideas but since those ideas lead to games like The Witness, I says be as pretentious and/or crazy as you’d like. A puzzle game set on an island you must traverse to get from puzzle to puzzle, The Witness acts as sort of a collection of various different puzzle games that, once all solved, come together to form one larger puzzle game. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle in order to unlock a Russian nesting doll that has a key to unlocking a music box you have to wind a certain way in order to hear a code written in morse that unlocks a page written in braille and so on and so forth. It’s just one brain teaser after another. All of which are clever and all of which are fun to figure out.
133. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004) | Various
Rockstar changed the game with the third entry in the series and then somehow topped that by having an all star cast of celebrities, an unreal collection of music featured in the game and an 80s setting that was novel before nostalgia killed it. How on Earth could they top those two? Well, by making the map bigger than it’s ever been, a story that’s somewhat realistic (it starts off as a Boyz ‘n the Hood inspired tale of street gangs that gets crazier the further you get from your home turf of San Andreas) and by introducing co-op. The two v player mode was limited and you had to play a bit before you could unlock it but every new addition helped this series become one of the best in gaming.
132. Final Fantasy X (2001) | PS2
X was the series’ first entry to use fully 3D environments and voice acting and while both of those things are important, it’s the fact that it’s the first Final Fantasy game to get a direct sequel that’s the most important. As much as fans loved III and VII (and to a lesser extent IV and IX), neither one of those games got a sequel at the time. X was so immediately beloved, that the fans demanded closure. Say what you will about X-2 but it’s existence is proof positive that there was a demand for it in the first place. Tidus and Yuna’s journey to combat Sin culminated in a tear-jerker finale that remains one of the best Final Fantasy stories to date. It practically begs for a follow up. In addition to its unforgettable story, it also had a novel sphere-grid leveling system that made progression fun and inventive turn-based battles that allowed players to swap characters and influence the turn order of each encounter. X was a huge leap forward for the franchise and I’m of the opinion that it’s the last great game in the series.
131. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike (1999) | Various
How does one improve upon what is the greatest sequel in fighting (has anyone on Earth played the first Street Fighter?) and arguably in gaming period? By improving the techniques introduced in that game (such as throw-teching and enhanced specials) and introducing a game-changing new one: parrying. If you’re ballsy or a straight up gamblin’ man, you can risk it all by pressing forward rather back when an attack is about to land and you do it right, you can turn the momentum of a fight in your favor on a dime. Throw in some jaw-dropping sprite animations, a soundtrack that borrowed from a wealth of genres, and a cast that mixed old favorites and weirdos, and you have the best Street Fighter ever made. The only reason II is higher is because of influence.
130. Eve Online (2003) | PC
Eve Online is so insanely large, that some of its in game battles live in infamy. The Bloodbath of B-R5RB, a battle involving thousands of players in a single star system, took 21 hours and was recognized as one of the largest and most expensive battles in gaming history. It is so large in fact, that the Museum of Modern Art made a video dedicated to it, and all the other accomplishments the playerbase have made. Due to the large number of in-game professions and activities available to the player (including mining, piracy, manufacturing, trading, exploration, and combat both player versus environment and player versus player) as well as the astronomical amount of star systems to visit (7,800 in total), Eve Online was named the greatest MMORPG seven years in a row by various different publications.
129. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000) | N64
Link has three days of in-game time to achieve as much as he can before the moon crash lands on Clock Town, destroying it and its inhabitants. Those three days translate to roughly 54 minutes in real time, which isn’t very long at all to save the world. Thankfully, Link has his trusty Ocarina of Time, which allows him to play the Song of Time to rewind back to the first day. Most things he accomplishes during that time is saved though, so you’re not really starting at the beginning. It’s Groundhog Day meets Zelda but with a tinge of the dark and gloomy. It’s one of the few games in the series to eschew the formula and I wish the franchise took more chances like this. Get weird and dark again Zelda.
128. Gone Home (2013) | Various
Returning to her family home after being gone overseas, 21-year-old Katie Greenbriar finds her family missing with a note on the front door telling her not to investigate what happened. From there, Gone Home weaves an unforgettable story that you have to piece together yourself through scraps of paper, computer logs and other miscellaneous items and notes. You’ll uncover past ghosts (the figurative and maybe the literal kind…) you didn’t know existed, current strifes you were unaware of and a lifetime of memories to reminisce over. If you go in expecting an investigative mystery that you have to solve in order to rescue your family, you’re going to be disappointed. They are gone and there is a story to unravel to figure out where they are but it’s not about saving anyone, it’s about the journey of discovery. To say anymore world be criminal, just know it’s more than a walking simulator. It’s art.
127. ESPN NFL 2K5 (2004) | PS2, Xbox
If it wasn’t for an exclusivity agreement between EA Sports and the NFL which killed this franchise dead, ESPN NFL 2K5 easily could’ve topped Madden as the best football series in gaming. That’s not just hyperbole: it earned every point of its 92 rating on Metacritic and every teardrop from those who mourn its loss. The game was a juggernaut in the presentation department in a way fans still haven’t seen matched. The on-field gameplay was spectacular, with the innovative first-person mode being the best aspect of it all. An incredible all-around package with immense customization options, the finale from the 2K series remains relevant, with a portion of football fans understandably keeping their fingers crossed that it will someday make a comeback.
126. Thief II: The Metal Age (2000) | PC
Thief II is peerless among pure stealth games – others only dare to borrow elements from it, rather than try to replicate it wholesale. That is because Thief II does not pander to the cheap thrills, slick action, and bloodshed that we modern gamers crave. It is almost stark in its stealthiness, as you wander around the seminal, sprawling levels while staying out of sight at all costs. It remains one of the few games to utilise lighting as a viable stealth mechanic, and your ideal conditions are those in which you can hardly see a thing, because that means your enemies cannot see you either. Its open levels are brilliantly designed, set around grand mansions and cathedrals that you do not feel the least bit guilty about robbing blind. But you will not be exploring them using radars, x-ray vision, or fancy abilities à la modern stealth games like Splinter Cell and MGS; it is just you, your senses, and your blackjack if you really need it.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?