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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
375. Spec Ops: The Line (2012) | Various
Dubai, one of the most opulent cities in the world is now its most expensive graveyard. Ravaged by cataclysmic sandstorms, the city has become the Atlantis of the desert, a no-man’s-land inhabited by outlaws and dangerous refugees. While most of the world has turned its back to the now barren wasteland, Joseph Konrad—a U.S. Army colonel, along with the 33rd infantry, has stayed behind to help rescue any survivors incapable of escape. It’s been six months since the desert reclaimed the city and six months without word from Konrad or his team. With all forms of communication down, a small team lead by Captain Walker has been deployed to infiltrate the lawless hellscape in order to find out what happened to Konrad and the 33rd infantry. Heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now, Spec Ops: the Line is a slow decent into madness and ultimately hell. With some of the most punishing decisions ever put in a video game, the game is designed to push the player to near insanity and, while it doesn’t succeed, it gets closer than H.P. Lovecraft ever did–and he created the cosmic horror Cthulhu for crissakes.
374. Metroid Zero Mission (2004) | Gameboy Advance
The Metroid series was made for handheld systems. Outside of RPGs or puzzle games like Tetris, they’re the perfect games for on the go gaming, with Zero Mission being the best. A reboot of the first Metroid game, Zero Mission once again sees Samus, the most famous bounty hunter in the universe, hired to go to the planet Zebes to eliminate Mother Brain. While there, she’ll (spoiler alert, Samus is a lady) have to contend with all number of alien life forms, all of them hostile and all of them deadly. By exploring your surroundings and constantly backtracking, you’ll find enough weapons and upgrades to kill all the damn aliens and collect your bounty. It’s your standard Metroid story and gameplay but with enough minor tweaks and additions to feel like a brand new experience.
373. Vampire the Masquerade—Bloodlines (2004) | PC
Vampire: the Masquerade—Bloodlines is an unfinished, technically broken mess that lacks polish and has more bugs than a Russian prostitute and yet, it remains one of gaming’s biggest cult classics. The gamers who love it are either able to look past the game’s deficiencies because of its intricate story and massive (for the time) world to explore or are so blinded by their love of all things goth, that they’ll turn a blind eye no matter what. Either way, their never-ending quest for a sequel has kept the game from fading into obscurity. Their devotion and constant cheerleading of this title, has bumped it up from an ambitious failure to a flawed masterpiece. They’ll never be able to convince the critics that it’s flawless (because it isn’t and they love it for that) but they can and have convinced them that it deserves to be in the conversation.
372. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989) | Arcade
Not to be confused with the impossible to beat NES game of the same name, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a side scrolling beat ’em up that has the player fight through various levels from the cartoon to defeat the turtles’ enemies, including the Shredder, Krang and the Foot Clan. On a technical and presentation level, the game is merely fine. The graphics are colorful but don’t hold up to other games within the genre, the difficulty is a bit too easy and the enemy models are boring and uninspired but its pioneering 4-player simultaneous play changed the game. It wasn’t the first game to introduce it but it was certainly the most popular. By having all of the turtles be playable at the same time, it weaponized nostalgia to create a childhood hit that’ll never die.
371. Subnautica (2018) | Various
Subnautica has been compared favorably to Minecraft on account of their exploration and resource collecting and management but where they differ is the latter games otherworldly alien planet to explore. Minecraft‘s universe is expansive but for the most part, the best things to discover are either yours or other people’s creations. The underwater world of Subnautica is a treasure trove of new sights, with damn near every inch of its considerable play area offering something to entice the player to keep exploring. Subnautica manages to draw players into the desperation of survival in a way that feels distinct from its competitors. There’s not just that creeping unease, here; there’s curiosity and fear and a bit of wonder, too. Those qualities may feel like subtle additions, but they’re enough to make Subnautica special.
370. Metal Gear (1987) | NES
While it was apparent from the outset that Metal Gear was a game changer, no one could’ve predicted what it would lead to. It introduced gamers to the concept of stealth, a mechanic that would go on to dominate the landscape in little more than a decade. There wasn’t many imitators of its gameplay at the time, but after the release of its more popular second sequel, every game had to include a stealth section. Whether it was an action heavy FPS, a story driven RPG or even a platformer, a small percentage of the game, usually no more than a level, had to be dedicated to crouching or crawling around enemies. It all starts here. And that’s just what it did for the industry. It goes without saying, that there is no MGS series without this game and without this series, video games as a whole would suffer. Few series step up to bat, take aim at crazy town and consistently hit home run after home run quite like MGS and that wouldn’t be possible without this game.
369. L.A. Noire (2011) | Various
Far ahead of its time, L.A. Noire had such advanced facial technology, that games released today still don’t match it. A murder mystery in which you interview a litany of suspects and because of the aforementioned facial technology, you’re able to read their faces like a book. Every subtle expression, every facial tick and twitch, is loud and clear. And if you’ve done the proper detective work and ask the right questions, you can catch them in a lie. Besides the story and acting, the rest of the game is admittedly mediocre. The action is weak and the open world is empty and lifeless but there’s no denying the ambition on display. It may not all work but what does work, is groundbreaking.
368. Dear Esther (2012) | Various
There will always be a debate over whether walking sims are video games or not, with their detractors pointing to their lack of gameplay as proof positive that they don’t count. If you can’t play a video game, is it still a video game? The logic behind the argument actually makes sense but it also inadvertently proves that walking sims are closer to art, than games. Which means, by that logic, Dear Esther should be mentioned in the same breath as Picasso and Dalí over Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. The only objective in the game is to explore an unnamed island in Scotland, listening to a grieving man read a series of letters to his deceased wife. Details of her mysterious death are revealed as the player moves throughout the island. Offering emotion over action and an ethereal atmosphere in place of typical gaming conventions, Dear Esther is a mood piece that will stick with you long after the game is over.
367. Frogger (1981) | Arcade
We’ll never know why the chicken crossed the road but we do, however, know why the frog did: to go home. Not as good a punchline, I admit but the set up is much better. In order to get your frog to his home (which you’ll have to do five times), you’re going to have to avoid more obstacles and ways to die than any game made up to that point. There’s four lanes of traffic, all filled with cars and trucks; a swamp full of crocodiles and snakes and a whole host of other dangers to take your lil froggy to the pearly gates. Ported to damn near every console in existence, inspiring numerous clones and spawning many a sequel, Frogger was and still is, one of the most popular arcade games ever.
366. Cities: Skylines (2015) | Various
Because it’s the go to name in city building sims, there have been few competitors to challenge the dominance of SimCity. It’s unquestionably the benchmark of genre but no one can be top dog forever. The franchise lost sight of itself and after a handful of disappointing sequels, a new challenger approached offering the same gameplay and mechanics, but in a stripped down package (no more disaster events, just nuts and bolts city building) and gamers went for it. Cities: Skylines brought the franchise back to its basics and most agree, it did it better.
365. Wizardy: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (1981) | PC
Often cited as the first party-based RPG, the first Dungeons and Dragons style game made for computers, the first role playing game with color and images (everything before this was text based) and the first game to offer a strategy guide, Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord can easily and undeniably claim another first: video games first true epic. Wizardry was both a critical and commercial success, selling over a half a million copies and winning every award imaginable at the time. While it’s certainly dated by today’s standards, its innovations helped move RPGs to where they are today and proved so influential, that numerous legendary game creators reference it as inspiration for their games, including Elder Scrolls director Todd Howard and Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii.
364. Worms Armageddon (1999) | Various
Look past its cartoonish graphics and the fact that it stars a bunch of trigger happy worms and you’ll find that Worms Armageddon is as deep as strategy games get. Not only do you have to position your squad in the most optimal location so that you inflict more damage than the enemy does, you also have to master the trajectory of your shots. One miscalculation, one missile just slightly off and it could cost you the game. But since the terrain is fully destructible, a missed shot could turn into a lucky hit. With a wide variety of weapons, including melee, projectile, and explosive weapons, as well as airstrike-based attacks and a series of gameplay modes, including campaign, deathwatch and versus, Worms Armageddon will keep you busy for weeks at a time.
363. Super Mario Maker (2015) | Wii-U, 3DS
With its easy to use interface and flexible toolbox, Super Mario Maker will make even the most inexperienced of players feel like Shigeru Miyamoto. Advanced level editors expect at least a modicum of design know-how from players but with its intuitive drag and drop tools (aka your fingers or stylus), anyone can make Mario levels. You’re limited by nothing but your imagination. Want to make a level where it constantly rains Goombas? You can do that. Fill one up with rotating saws and fire columns if you’d like or even make an auto scrolling one where the player has to do nothing but enjoy the insane ride. It allows you to make whatever type of Mario game you desire. That alone is enough to consider it a masterpiece but with its increasingly rich online library of user-generated content, Super Mario Maker is a game you can literally play forever.
362. Star Wars Battlefront II (2005) | Various
Not to be confused with the recent micro transaction heavy garbage of the same name, Star Wars Battlefront II came out roughly twelve years before that one did and is better in every conceivable way. The only two legitimate complaints against it is the fact that the single player sucks and that the enemy A.I. is often times hilariously dumb. That’s it. Because everything else is top notch. The best Star Wars games are the ones that recreate the feeling of the best bits of the movies. Whether it be swinging around a lightsaber, flying around in a Tie Fighter or pushing droids around with your force powers. Battlefront recreates the best battles in the series’ history and no game (especially the other Battlefront games) have come close to it.
361. Sensible World of Soccer (1994) | Various
The impeccably crafted grandchild of every top-down game to precede it, Sensible World of Soccer, to reconfigure Chick-fil-A’s motto, didn’t create soccer but it sure as hell created the soccer game. The career game mode enables players to manage a club through twenty seasons, with basic manager options including a transfer market (buy/sell players). Every team has a squad of sixteen players and every player has individual skills (speed, tackling, heading, finishing, shooting, passing, ball control). Player prices are calculated relative to their abilities. Not only do you have to get good at the fundamentals of soccer, you have to balance managerial skills. A full buffet of a game, it shipped with 24,000 players and 1,500 teams, a staggering number for the time.
360. Tetris Effect (2018) | Various
Tetris has been a reliable source of anxiety induced stress for what feels like a million years at this point. It’s been on every system in existence and has generated countless of sequels and copycats. So it would take a lot to add something new to the experience. Enter: Tetris Effect, a game with more style and flash than a 70s pimp. The primordial core remains (you have still have to stack tetronimos to eliminate them) but everything else is overhauled with the freshest coat of paint. The background morphs with rhythmic beats and dazzling visuals, while the blocks explode in an explosion of color. Tetris Effect is wonderful take on an old standard.
359. Jet Grind Radio (2000) | Dreamcast
Although it was financial disappointment, there are a good number of gamers who lament the failure of the Dreamcast and it’s because of games like Jet Grind Radio. Playing as a member of a gang of inline skaters inhabiting an alternate Tokyo named Tokyo-to, it’s your job to tag as many surfaces as you can while avoiding the law and other rival gangs. Playing like a mixture of Tony Hawk and Crazy Taxi, Jet Grind Radio has fluid, trick heavy gameplay and lickity-split speed that feels reminiscent of other games but is wholly original. With it’s eye popping cell shaded graphics and distinct character designs, Jet Grind Radio easily stands apart from the crowd.
358. Crash Bandicoot (1996) | PS1
Crash Bandicoot is very much like Sonic the Hedgehog in that they were the first platformers to successfully challenge Mario and that every entry in their respected franchises post the third one is terrible. They were system sellers in the fact gamers would buy either a Genesis or a PlayStation in order to play their games. For a small window of time, they were equals to the almighty plumber but as strong as their reign was, it would ultimately be short-lived. Both franchises were only great for a handful of years and after that, it all turned to shit. Sonic never successfully made the jump to 3D and Crash never recovered from Naughty Dog (the original developers of the game) ditching it in favor of Jak and Daxter. But unlike Sonic, Crash actually still holds up. They may be alike in some regards, but that’s the major dividing line. Time proved that Sonic was never really that good, while Crash is still as good as it ever was.
357. Among Us (2018) | Various
Thank God for Twitch or this game would’ve languished in obscurity forever. Released two years before it became one of the biggest games of 2020, Among Us quickly overtook Animal Crossing and Fall Guys and the newest multiplayer obsession. The foundation of the game is heavily inspired by tabletop RPGs and John Carpenter’s The Thing: it’s a game of deduction where at least two people in the group are infected and you and your team must figure it out before you are all wiped out. But since the non infected have tasks they must perform in order to stop the space ship they’re all on from exploding, the group is constantly split up, making it almost impossible to know who’s infected or not. There’s also the possibility that you might vote off someone who’s not infected, which adds even more paranoia on the pile. It’s a wild ride of finger pointing, frantically trying to prove you’re not the enemy, desperately trying to hide the fact that you are the enemy and praying your buddy doesn’t kill you. And don’t forget: red is sus.
356. Lumines (2004) | Various
From the genius behind Rez and Child of Eden creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi comes Lumines, a matching tile puzzler unlike any other. The object here is to form 2×2 square grids, connect as many as you can for a higher score but unlike Tetris and its ilk, you aren’t racing against gravity but the score. The action is timed to a thumping musical beat, so you’ve got until the next timeline interval to finalize your block’s position, because as soon as it makes its sweep, squares you’ve formed are gone. Each level comes with its own beat, so you’re constantly having to readjust your strategies to match the rhythms. Lumines is as much a puzzle game as it is a trance-like experience.
355. Vagrant Story (2000) | PS1
Even though the game takes place within the same world of Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII, Vagrant Story couldn’t be further from that series if it tried. With stylized graphics that helped it stand apart from its contemporaries, an engrossing storyline, and an in depth battle system that perfectly walks the line between being challenging for pros but not too demanding on newcomers, Vagrant Story has all the depth of a typical Square JRPG but brings so many new things to the table that it feels remarkably original even to this day.
354. Wipeout XL (1996) | Various
Nintendo may have had F-Zero but Sony had Wipeout and for my money, Playstation owners got the better end of that deal. Besides its obvious innovations and impact on the racing genre and the nearly iconic characters, there’s not a single thing F-Zero does that Wipeout and its superior sequel doesn’t do equally as well. A step up in everyway, XL (sometimes referred to as 2097) takes what worked about the first game and refines them to near perfection. The speed is just as fast, the controls are much more refined, fairer, and easier to master, and that the frame rate and graphical effects are much more impressive. Sony needs to take a break from releasing a new Gran Turismo every year and give us a proper sequel. I’m not even asking for a return of the franchise. I’m not greedy, just one more game that recreates the feeling of going this insanely fast is all I need because I sure as hell ain’t gonna get it from F-Zero any time soon.
353. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (1995) | SNES
For years, this game remained a rare, import-only Japanese release and because of its expensiveness (and the fact that most Americans can’t read Japanese), it was heavily sought out by collectors. It eventually developed a legendary status built out of insane hype and a solid gold reputation. This wasn’t a game who’s value was determined based solely on its scarcity like European Kizuna Encounter or Birthday Mania. Rondo of Blood earned an unreal reputation and actually lived up to it. Like Castlevania III, Rondo of Blood featured multiple paths, fantastic level design, and some stellar action-based combat. Due to the fact that it was the first game in the series on a CD, it had improved audio and graphics over its predecessors and its cutscenes helped define the look of the series going forward.
352. Power Stone (1999) | Dreamcast
Seeing as how the Dreamcast was an abysmal failure, even it’s best and most well known games are considered underrated gems. A perfect translation of the arcade hit Power Stone revitalized the fighting game genre with fully functional 3-D interactive combat environments. Everything in a stage is a weapon. The player can turn giant parasols into harpoons, use broken lampposts like baseball bats and pick up chairs and tables and launch them like projectiles, but the most power items are the power stones. Collect 3 and your character unlocks new devastating attacks. You basically transform into super saiyan John Wick, an unstoppable beast who can deal crazy amounts of damage to other players. Packed with all the energy and over-the-top action of a Jackie Chan movie, Power Stone is a frantic, no holds barred actioner fans of Smash Bros will love.
351. Rocket League (2015) | Various
Mixing soccer with fast as hell automobiles sounds like the premise of a cheesy Roger Corman movie (that I would watch the hell out of) but it’s actually the premise behind one of the most addictive sports games in recent years. There’s really not much more to Rocket League outside of the “soccer with cars” elevator pitch but there also doesn’t need to be. It’s a great idea on paper and an even better idea in execution. I think the fact that it’s been out for almost seven years and there’s no sequel to it says all that needs to be said about its quality. It doesn’t need a sequel because hundreds of thousands of people are still playing it daily with no signs of stopping.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?