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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
325. Missile Command (1980) | Arcade
360 no scope is an overused meme players shout when they’re about to attempt to do something cool but almost impossible because if you can pull it off, you’re king shit and you get bragging rights forever. But back in my day, the equivalent to the 360 no scope, was blowing up seven nuclear missiles with one rocket in Missile Command. Combining absolute perfect timing, spatial reasoning and a shit ton of luck, getting a cluster of nukes with a single shot is as rewarding as shooting a ball into a hoop five times in a row when you first start playing basketball. Probably more thrilling because if you get good at basketball, you’ll be able to do that all the time. Getting good at Missile Command is a fool’s errand. You just try you best and hope it works out. If not, total nuclear annihilation.
324. Timesplitters: Future Perfect (2005) | GameCube, PS2, Xbox
If Timesplitters: Future Perfect was weighed by the amount of content it includes, it would take the combined efforts of Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage to lift it off the shelf. And that’s them at peak cocaine strength. Created by the old team that made Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, Timesplitters: Future Perfect is the sequel to the best reviewed shooter on the PS2. Although it failed to garner the same critical acclaim and commercial success, Future Perfect is far superior to its predecessor in every way. With over 100 different challenges in arcade mode, tons of character skins to unlock, a multiplayer that’s as good as Goldeneye, an easy to use map maker, and one of the funniest campaigns in gaming, Future Perfect is an all you can eat buffet of gold. Or whatever its edible equivalent is.
323. Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988) | NES
A re-skinned version of Doki Doki Panic, Super Mario Bros. 2 isn’t technically the REAL Super Mario Bros. 2. It’s the one westerners got because Nintendo thought the real one was too difficult. Released years later as The Lost Levels, that game was basically the same as the original Super Mario Bros. but with an additional challenge. In other words, it’s a terrible, boring sequel. It’s just more of the same. This game however, has four playable characters (Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach), brand new enemies and power ups (a good portion of which became mainstays) and one of the catchiest soundtracks in the entire franchise. It may be considered the odd man out while looking at the rest of the series but that’s what gives it its charm. There’s no other Mario game like it.
322. F-Zero GX (2003) | GameCube
The second film in the seemingly never-ending Fast and the Furious series is hilariously called 2 Fast 2 Furious. That ridiculous title set the tone for the rest of the franchise going forward but as fun as it is, the film in no way lives up to it. It is neither too fast nor too furious. F-Zero GX on the other hand, might be the only thing that would earn that title. The game is fast. Like holy shit, I have no idea what the fuck is happening fast. It’s an overwhelming sensory overload filled with a barrage of colors and lights seemingly designed to give hell to epileptics. It’s full throttle chaos where trying to stay on the track is hard enough, let alone getting first. But once you unlock your inner speed demon and get a feel for the tracks, you’ll be dominating in no time.
321. House of the Dead 2 (1998) | Arcade, Dreamcast
It’s an agreed upon fact that nothing beats shooting Nazis in the face other than zombies (and Nazi zombies trump both, but I digress) and since neither Virtua Cop or Time Crisis has either a single Nazi or a zombie, by the law of video game logic, that means House of the Dead 2 is the best on-rails light gun shooter. It doesn’t just rest on its laurels either. Since the enemies are zombies that are constantly moving towards you, it has a level of tension the other two just simply don’t. Dodging and ducking under enemy fire is a poor substitute for the heightened thrills of having to quickly dispatch a horde of flesh eating ghouls that are constantly lunging towards you. But don’t worry, the game balances out that terror with some of the best unintentional comedy this side of Tommy Wiseau. The poorly acted cut-scene voiceovers are a thing of beauty. But enjoy them while they last because right after they end, you’re thrown right back into the zombie killing action. Good luck.
320. Hades (2020) | Various
Hades tells the story of Zagreus, son of Hades, who is making a break from the depths of hell in an attempt to reach the surface. Since this is a brutally difficult roguelike, Zagreus will end up dying dozens of times on his quest throughout the game, so you get used to the agony of murder real quick. But it’s not the flawless gameplay or endlessly entertaining action that will get you back into the fray time and time again, it’s the cavalcade of wonderful characters. There’s dozens of recognizable Gods from Greek mythology littered throughout and each is as amazing as they are distinct. SuperGiant has already proven they can make a perfectly constructed game, with Hades they show they can make the best characters, too.
319. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002) | Xbox, PC
Oblivion may have made it a household name but Morrowind was the first game to codify the Elder Scrolls experience. It took the building blocks from previous games, reworked them and refined them till they were perfect. Imagine a blacksmith pounding away the different layers of metal to forge the perfect sword and that’s this game. And like a sword, it gives you the freedom to wield it however you see fit. The game is a sandbox that allows and encourages you to approach it anyway you see fit. Anyone who’s played Skyrim can tell you, that you don’t “beat” an Elder Scrolls game. You play it to you’ve seen and done everything imaginable and then you do it all over again. That crack like addiction started here.
318. Dungeon Keeper (1997) | PC
Pen and paper dungeon masters had known for decades what gamers had to find out with the this title: being an absolute bastard is the best. Being in control of how many monsters fill the dungeons your friends have to contend with, is diabolically, gleefully fun. A complete 180 on the traditional subterranean hack and slash, Dungeon Keeper puts you in control of the evil lairs you typically have to battle your way through on a heroic quest to save a maiden or get some loot. Now, it’s your job to kill that asshole. You do this by having imps mine for gold, which you use to buy bigger and better traps. The more adventurers you kill, the more points you get to spend on changing your floorplans to accommodate any number of evildoers. Fill it with skeletons, demons and even vampires. Whatever you need to do to kill those annoying ass wannabe heroes. To tweak a Mel Brooks quote “it’s good to be the King (of the bad guys)”.
317. Mario Kart: Double Dash (2003) | GameCube
To use the most overly complicated comparison ever, the Mario Kart series is kinda like the grunge scene of the 90s. The original is clearly the Pixies because it kick started the whole shebang, the N64 one is Nirvana because it borrowed as much as it improved, the Wii one is Bush because it stuck to the fundamentals without adding anything new and the GameCube one would be Beck because it’s the most wildly different and shouldn’t be lumped in with the rest. Every game in the series is stellar and offers their own varied pros and cons but technically, they’re all the same game at the end of the day. Double Dash is unlike the rest because it’s the only one in the series to have two characters in the same kart, which adds a whole new layer of fun. You can strategize to find the best combination of power ups, you can have two players swap between racing and shooting, the possibilities are endless.
316. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008) | PS3
Comparable to the Seinfeld finale in that it brings back every character from the series, ties everything up and is generally divisive among the fan base, Metal Gear Solid 4 is the bombastic send off fans were hoping for and then some. While the Phantom Pain may be the end of the series proper, it only answered one question no one ever asked and raised a shit ton more that will never be addressed, whereas Guns of the Patriots wrapped up every plot thread the overly convoluted story the series had, while also telling a compelling story itself. It also finally fixed the camera, so that the player has a full 360 degree view of the action and reworked the cumbersome hand to hand action of previous titles. It looks great, handles amazingly, has a killer soundtrack and goes out with a bang.
315. Alien vs Predator (1994) | Arcade
Before the film came out and disappointed everyone who saw it, fans had wanted a live action alien vs predator movie forever because of this game. There were comics and whatnot released around this time as well, but no matter how good a comic is, it can never beat an interactive experience. Why would I choose to read about kicking an alien’s ass as the Predator, when I can do it myself? With two playable predators, two human characters that surprisingly don’t suck, and more aliens than you can shake a million sticks at, Alien vs Predator delivers what the film and to a lesser degree, the comic couldn’t. How did you mess this up Paul W.S. Anderson? All you had to do, was adapt this game. The heavy lifting is already done for you.
314. Assassin’s Creed Origins (2017) | Various
The first one got the ball rolling, the second picked that ball up and made a touchdown with it, the fourth one was the celebratory Gatorade poured over the coaches head when the team won the game and Origins was the game changing play that won them the Super Bowl. Since 09, the games were released like clockwork, one a year with no deviation from the schedule till the team decided to add an additional year of development to Origins due to the tepid sales of Syndicate and Unity. Their failure assured this game would be a success because they put every available resource into it and that extra development time made the world of difference. Everything from the stealth to the combat to the open world gameplay to the story (they wisely decided to drastically scale back the Animus shit) to the graphics and acting has been improved over previous entries. It took the essential elements that make up an Assassins Creed game, threw away everything else and built on top of that a wholly original game within that engine. As reboots go, this is Batman Begins following Batman and Robin in terms of a leap in quality.
313. Darkest Dungeon (2016) | Various
Don’t be fooled by its gorgeous Mike Mignola artwork — that is but a siren call leading you to your doom. If you thought the fear system (where your characters will, without warning, flip out because they can’t handle their dealing with) in XCOM was taxing, Darkest Dungeon will break you. Using Lovecraft’s cosmic-horror-will-make-you-go-crazy as a jumping off point, the game doesn’t just use fear as a mechanic, it built the game around it. You have to build your team based on how much they can take mentally as well as their stats. Holy Knights can handle a lot but refuse to be on a team of unholy werewolves, but werewolves are immune to status ailments, so you’re going to have to choose your group wisely. You’re also going to need to reposition them constantly so that the ones in front aren’t exposed to threats the whole time. Oh, and the fear doesn’t just last in the dungeons. Your afflictions don’t reset once your done. The fear never leaves you. Kinda like how this game will never leave your mind once you’ve played it.
312. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (2009) | DS
Popularizing the visual novel and kick-starting a wave a similarly themed escape room type torture puzzles, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a complex narrative filled with horrifying events, insane revelations and tons of brutal deaths. Kidnapped and put on a slowly sinking cruise ship by an unknown person named Zero, nine strangers must work in teams to find a door marked with a “9” before they reach Davy Jones’ Locker. Far more interesting than any Saw movie, the story has that same obsession with kill traps but hooks you with its slowly unfolding narrative, not with the prospect of seeing a gruesome death. You’ll only see death, if you fuck up a puzzle or make the wrong designs, which is easy to do because of the clicking clock and anxiety not to fail. It’s a gripping experience you can only get with it and its sequels, both of which are great.
311. Grand Theft Auto IV (2008) | PS3
Maybe it’s because of its more serious tone or less fun protagonist or maybe it’s because players have already moved on from everything from the series after the release of V but there seems to be a bit of a dismissal of this title over the years and I don’t know why. It has consistently popped up on so many lists of the most overrated games, that it actually is now showing up on underrated games lists. A title that has a near flawless Metacritic score, that doesn’t have a single negative critic review and won damn near every award at the time, is now considered underrated by some. That’s how bad the backlash has gotten and it’s baffling. Niko’s murder filled journey to the American dream is the best story Rockstar has ever crafted. The rest of the games feel like fun Tarantino films, while this is a Scorsese level masterpiece.
310. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay (2004) | Xbox, PC
The Riddick franchise may not have been the “Conan in Space” Diesel wanted it to be but that’s because he focused on the wrong medium. Escape from Butcher Bay proves without a shadow of a doubt that video games are the true home of Riddick. A prequel to Pitch Black, the game tells an original story set in a location mentioned within that film. This is the hellhole prison he mentions where he got those cool ass eyes from. But before you get that surgery, you have to stealth your way around guards, kill murderous inmates and perform fetch quests for insane lifers who have power but no means to eliminate their competition. This game, more than three movies and an anime, earns Riddick’s reputation as the most dangerous badass in the galaxy.
309. King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow (1992) | PC
The sixth instalment of Sierra’s flagship adventure series finally pulls off the perfect blend of memorable storytelling and thoughtful (and often wonderfully goofy) design. While the series has always been known for its fantastic writing and voice acting, King’s Quest VI blows the other games out of the water with its hilarious script and even funnier characters. Giving the Lucasarts games a run for their money, the game looks, sounds and plays just as well as those games do, it just doesn’t have the cult following to be considered their equal. Maybe it would if the series came out the gate as strong as this game is but I digress.
308. Fire Emblem: Three Houses (2019) | Switch
The Fire Emblem series, more than any other strategy series, is about character and choice. Final Fantasy Tactics is story and character classes, Disgaea has humor and combos but Fire Emblem pushes their characters to the forefront, makes you fall in love with them and then stabs you in the heart when you have too choose between them. The battles and gameplay have always been rock solid game to game but the entries that stick out the most, are the ones with hardest choices. Having to fight against former allies and friends or being put in a scenario where you’re forced to kill or betray other friends is extremely hard and the game does it to you constantly.
307. Defender (1981) | Arcade
In the golden age of arcade video games, Defender was a diamond. This game shattered records and sold enough cabinets that it’s considered the fifth most successful arcade game of all time. Which is all the more impressive considering most newcomers to the game couldn’t last more than ten seconds. Since you have to move horizontally and the game can only accommodate one screen at a time, you have to keep an eye on the mini screen while trying not to get blasted by alien ships. It was arguably the first difficult video game, which opened the door for everything from Super Meat Boy to Cuphead to Dark Souls.
306. SSX 3 (2003) | Various
Since they’re both perfect games, the debate over which SSX is better: Tricky or 3, has long raged between extreme sports games enthusiasts and frankly, they’re both right. Picking one over the other is simply a matter of personal preference. Their technical skills are beyond reproach, so it comes down to which game you played first or which little detail or mechanic you like slightly more. For me, 3 just has a tad bit more of the things I liked in Tricky. The open world is bigger, the trick system is more polished, the combat is easier to pull off and soundtrack is just objectively better. It is the perfect amalgamation of breakneck speed, pulse pounding adrenaline, and extreme sports combat.
305. Lemmings (1991) | Various
Besides being easy to code, there’s a reason why this game has been ported to damn near every console ever made and the reason is simple: it’s fun. A sandbox puzzle platformer, Lemmings has you guide a group of lemmings from one point of the map to the other, avoiding obstacles and their own incompetence. Once they start moving, they won’t stop, so you have to strategically plan out your path lest they all fall to their doom. To help you with that, the game has eight skills that can be assigned to individual lemmings. There’s a builder class that can construct bridges over chasms, a digger to create holes to go under obstacles and so forth. The game gives you an easy task, surrounds it with tricky hurdles and let’s the player solve it however they see fit.
304. Bust-a-Move (1994) | Various
Bust-a-Move (or Bubble Bobble as it’s sometimes known as) doesn’t get enough credit for being as influential as Tetris. It has easily spawned as many imitators which I would argue, don’t add as much to the overall experience as the Tetris clones do. There’s licensed versions with characters from Pokémon or Disney, there’s versions with bombs which make the gameplay more frantic, there’s ones with trippy visuals and ones that mix different games inside them like Street Fighter or Puyo Puyo Pop. Hell, there’s even a battle royale version. And that’s just the official sequels. There’s a million different variations of Tetris because it’s easy to build on top of. Bust-a-Move has been the same game for thirty odd years. No deviations, no fancy additions. Just pointing your colored ball at a group of other colored balls trying to eliminate the ones of the same color. It’s never changed because it doesn’t have to. It’s a perfectly designed game.
303. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas (2006) | Various
Moving the series from realistic tactical gameplay to the action heavy series it is now, Vegas still has the one bullet can kill you tension from previous games but with more Michael Bay bombast and excess, so it’s only appropriate that the game takes place in the most extravagant place on Earth. The multiplayer was tightened to the point of perfection with some of the biggest maps found in a multiplayer game but it was the inclusion of the innovative cover system that allowed it to beat other games for a spot on this list. It snaps you out of first person into third person and let you gun down enemies with ease. Many of the old guard saw this as making the game too arcade-y and making the player too powerful but when has the old guard ever been right about anything?
302. Life is Strange (2015) | Various
Because of the horribly dated slang and borderline cheesy melodrama, it’s easy to dunk on Life is Strange. The game wants you to buy in to its serious moments but also seems to want to undercut those moments by having characters say shit like “shaka brah” unironically. So I can see why some would find this game too ridiculous to take seriously, but if cringe worthy dialogue is enough to get you to skip a game, you don’t deserve the magnificence of its story. A murder mystery with time traveling mechanic, the game follows Max as she undoes the murder of her friend Chloe with her rewind ability who then leads her down a rabbit hole of mystery and murder. The game will keep you hooked with its many twists and turns but it’s the two leads that will stay with you forever. Max and Chloe’s relationship isn’t on the same level as a Joel and Ellie or Lee and Clementine but it’s at the top of the middle tier. You instantly fall in love with them, which feels like a dagger when you have to make your final decision.
301. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016) | PS4
Fresh off the back of The Last of Us, Drake’s fourth and final escapade marked a slight departure from the earlier games by shifting the focus (slightly) away from lost cities and lost pirate booty, to relationship drama. The series has always been character first (which helped it stand apart from the Indiana Jones and Tomb Raiders) but this entry takes that to an entirely new level. There’s the introduction of a new half brother, a rocky marriage (to be fair, the problems arise from the aforementioned brother) and more flashbacks than a mentally scared Vietnam vet. It’s giving you all the story you can handle because you know in the back of your mind, this is all the story you’re ever going to get. It’s called a Thief’s End for a reason and it’s a hell of a send off.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?