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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
400. Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate (2013) | 3DS
This is not a series for the casual player. Each game is a hefty time commitment that requires hundreds of hours to complete but if you’re up to the challenge, you’ll find a series that rewards every second of your investment. As with the other games in the series, Monster Hunter 4 has the player take the role of a novice Hunter that undertakes quests and challenges to hunt dangerous creatures that inhabit various locales. With each creature the player kills and quest they complete, they earn money to spend on better weapons and armor. It becomes a cycle of killing and grinding but since you’re playing with three other hunters, it never becomes repetitive. In fact, since you want the best loot, you’ll actively seek out the grind. How many games can make that claim?
399. Ape Out (2019) | PC, Switch
In the fifty odd years of their existence, sound design has never been a selling point for any video game. Gamers want high resolution graphics and whizz bang multiplayer action. Nobody cares that the guns sound accurate, they just want them to look good while they’re shooting them. Ape Out caters to that infinitesimal percentage of players that want the whole experience. Ape Out is a top down action game where the player controls a gorilla trying to escape a series of maze like levels. You can either kill everything you see or evade the danger, whatever gets you to the end of the level in tact. The action is fast paced and fun but it’s the game’s previously mentioned sound design that instantly turned it into a classic. The gameplay features a loud and chaotic, all-percussion jazz soundtrack which reacts dynamically to the action. For example, the number of enemies the player kills or the more destruction they cause, will result in louder cymbal crashes and a more intense score. It soon turns into a Michael Bay film scored by Animal from the Muppets and that’s not a bad thing.
398. Joust (1982) | Various
If Spielberg wasn’t a coward, we should’ve gotten a ten minute sequence in Ready Player One where the main character rides an ostrich and tries to kill enemy knights riding buzzards with a lance. Instead, we got a pop culture infused car chase set to Tom Sawyer. Since Rush rules, I’m not saying he made the right choice but he could’ve just used that same song during the ostrich joust, I’m just saying. Besides being utterly obsessed with the 80s, Ernest Cline included the game in his book for a reason. Not because of its original concept, quirky design, or replayability but because it was the one game from that decade that fit the theme of the book. Ready Player One is all about innovative risk, which describes Joust to a T. Instead of following the popular trend of shooter games, Joust forced players to figure out its weird control scheme (you have to constantly tap the button to get your bird in the air and keep him there as you’re trying to kill things) and to wrap their heads around the fact that there is no border to the screen, so if you hit it, you warp to the other side. It gambled on the player figuring it out and not only did they, they turned it into a hit that’s still beloved today. Except by Spielberg.
397. Resident Evil (2002) | GameCube
Before rebooting every old-school classic was the rage, Capcom did it first and arguably, did it better than most. They understand that an update just needs more content to feel like a fresh experience. The core mechanic of the original remains: you’re stranded in a creepy ass mansion filled with zombies and you must solve puzzles in order to escape. That’s all still here but with enough new tweaks for fans to enjoy and to bring in newcomers to the franchise. Firstly, the layout of the mansion is different, with new rooms and alternate puzzles to complete. Secondly, there’s new enemy types such as the Crimson Heads and a brand new mini boss that lurks deep within the tunnels of the estate. And lastly, the tank controls have been overhauled, so that you’re not constantly walking into walls. Before RE4 changed the game, this was the ultimate Resident Evil game.
396. Strider (1989) | Arcade
An action game so energetic and fast paced, it inspired everything from Devil May Cry to Ninja Gaiden to God Of War. Before this title, video game protagonists ran and shot or punched their way through enemies ala Double Dragon or Contra and after this, they all became acrobats. Recreating action movies of the 80s in video game form just didn’t cut it after this. Now gamers wanted to be ultra parkour ninja badasses by jumping and sliding off of every surface while slicing and dicing robots in a dystopian future. The way Ryu’s limbs splay out like a cat getting tossed in the air every time he jumps over distances never gets old, nor does spamming the action button to hear that distinct sword ting. He’s so beloved a character, that he became a fighting icon in Marvel vs Capcom 2 years and years later.
395. Apex Legends (2019) | Various
Proof that there’s no such thing as a flooded marketplace as long as everyone’s eating, Apex Legends jumped on the battle royale train a bit later than everyone else but provided a different enough experience that it was impossible to kick them off. Gamers that want to experience the thrill of battling in an ever shrinking battlefield but don’t want to deal with the elite snobs of PUBG or the cringe ass kids of Fortnite found a home in Apex Legends. A game so tightly constructed, it’s even converting some die hard loyalists to abandon their game of choice in favor of this one. With it’s multiple game modes, innovative ping system (a non-verbal communication system that makes talking to others obsolete, which is god send), excellent progression system and gameplay and constant updates, this might eventually become the king of the hill once the babies of Fortnite eventually move on to something else. And it’s set in the same world of Titanfall.
394. Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (1985) | PC
Shifting the series from the hack and slash, dungeon crawling gameplay of its predecessors towards a more story-driven approach, Ultima IV radically changed what the series would be from then on and fundamentally altered RPGs to boot. In addition to its focus on story and characters, it also showed developers how big they could go in terms of world building. With an overworld map sixteen times the size of Ultima III and with tons of puzzle-filled dungeons to explore, the game took on Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (an RPG so good, it was named the best game five years in a row by Computer Gaming World) and was the first to dethrone it. The battles for RPG dominance looked a helluva lot different before Square hit the scene.
393. The World Ends With You (2007) | DS
An RPG mixed with a rhythm game sounds like a recipe for disaster, yet The World Ends With You somehow pulls it off. Pushing the Nintendo DS’s control scheme to its breaking point, the game has the player breaking out rhythmic sequences on one screen, while using a variety of equip able pins to fight monsters on the other. If that sounds confusing, it is but after a little time with it, you get accustomed to the game’s unique rhythms and will be itching for more lighting quick battles. But in between those fights, the game keeps you compelled with its unique story, idiosyncratic characters, and wacky sense of humor. There’s a reason fans have been clamoring for a sequel for almost fifteen years now — there’s nothing else like it and they know there probably won’t be ever again.
392. Myst (1993) | PC
Detractors called it an interactive slideshow and later generations have all but left it in the past but for a brief moment in time, this was revolutionary. In a landscape dominated with mascot starring platformers, quarter munching brawlers and combo heavy fighters, Myst was and still is, something completely new. A point and click puzzle game that has the player figure out the backstory behind the mysterious island he’s currently inhabiting by interacting with everything, reading a library worth of lore and printing out a FAQ to help you figure out where to go and what to do when it eventually and inevitably got too obtuse. Even if you didn’t have the brains to piece it together, you could always just walk around and take in the exceptional (for the time) graphics.
391. Rogue (1980) | PC
No matter how successful they get or how popular they are, few games become adjectives to describe an entire sub-genre. Outside of a handful of weirdos who enjoy all things old-school, players left this game behind forty years ago but are regularly playing the games it inspired. The tree bore many fruit but it itself withered and died. A procedurally generated dungeon crawler with turn based gameplay, grid based movement and permanent death, Rogue was the progenitor and namesake of its own genre. The foundation it created was so strong, it could be remade today worth nothing more than updated graphics and it would be as big a hit as anything else within the genre.
390. Company of Heroes (2006) | PC
One of a literally hundreds of games inspired by Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, Company of Heroes stands apart from the others by focusing not just on the realism of the firefights or recreating the battles therein but on the agony of choice. This is a real time strategy game that constantly makes you choose between the mission and your men. Is completing an objective more valuable than the price of losing a different or so men? Is a detour to save a single soldier worth endangering the entire unit? Can you sacrifice a human life in order to gain ground? If the old saying “war is hell” is true, it’s because it forces you to make these kinds of decisions. Decisions hardly any game since has bothered to tackle.
389. Hitman (2016) | Various
After the disappointing Absolution, players were all but ready to give up on the Hitman series and news of an episodic reboot didn’t exactly get them excited. Hitman had to prove to critics and fans that the series was back and better than ever with just one level, and somehow, it did. Integrating the gameplay of Absolution with the open-endedness of earlier installments of the series, and with overhauled enemy AI and level density, the team refined what players liked about the games while adding in additions that improved the overall experience. As good as the other games were, it always felt like there was only one way to properly complete a mission. This game gives you the freedom to tackle any mission however you see fit. While the other games felt restrictive, it rewards outside of the box thinking. It puts you in the shoes of an assassin and when you think like one, the game treats you like one.
388. Dragon Age Inquisition (2014) | Various
Due to the mixed reception of Dragon Age II, BioWare did the unthinkable: it sought out and addressed player feedback. It listened to the fans and actually did what they wanted. They combined elements from the first two games, revamped the combat and added a tactical camera to make fights more dynamic. Successfully integrating the fast gameplay of Dragon Age II, with the more tactical combat in Origins, the game was an excellent hybrid of the past, who’s excellent story and mature approach to romance options, allowing players to choose their sexual orientation, point the way towards a promising future.
387. Paper Mario (2000) | N64
Super Mario RPG put a fun spin on the role playing formula by introducing Mario characters into a turn based battle system typically reserved for fantasy or sci-fi archetypes. Paper Mario took the fun one step further by turning everything, from the characters and items, into paper thin sheets. Nintendo didn’t just stop there, they also added a laugh-out-loud story and silly side characters, most of which proved so popular, some fans still beg for their return. Humor and a unique art style wasn’t all this game had to offer. It also innovated on the action with a turn-based system that allowed players to boost their attacks with well-timed button prompts. With damn near a dozen sequels, Mario and friends proved a worthy competitor in a genre dominated by SquareSoft and its contemporaries.
386. Control (2019) | Various
Remedy cut its teeth with the Stephen King inspired Alan Wake and then decided to finish out the decade by doubling down on the weird. Set inside the Oldest House, the shape-shifting headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control, a secret government agency in charge of investigating and containing paranormal phenomena, Control is a third-person action-adventure game unlike any other. The creatures and general story feel ripped from those SCP Containment Breach Creepypastas, while the action (the protagonist can pick up and throw damn near anything with her telekinesis and she can also fly, too) feels like something from an X-Men cartoon. It’s a peculiar blend of action and horror executed flawlessly.
385. Ghost of Tsushima (2020) | PS4
Ghost of Tsushima removes the pressure of a doomsday clock from most open world games and thankfully spreads the side quests around so that you’re not constantly thinking about the end of the world or feel pressured into helping every single person you see. With that burden lifted, you’re free to explore the vast islands at your leisure and tackle the side quests as you come across them without them ever being stacked. It grants you the freedom to just do what you want and since the game is absolutely gorgeous, what you want to do is usually just walk around and look at shit. The black and white Kurosawa mode is a great addition but to really get your money’s worth out of this game, you really need to play it on the best available TV. The graphics just pop. They are easily enough to recommend this game but there’s also the tight gameplay. Taking a page from the Arkham games, the combat is all about dodges, parries and quick reflexes. Every fight feels cinematic because once you master the move set, you feel like Toshiro Mifune. Which means you feel like the ultimate badass.
384. Phantasy Star Online (2000) | Dreamcast
Believing online play was the future, Sega chairman Isao Okawa personally paid for free internet access bundled with Japanese Dreamcasts since internet service providers charged for dial-up access per minute, and high-speed connections were not yet widely available. That’s like if Bill Gates bought waved internet fees just so people could play Halo. It’s an insane idea but that passion payed off: Phantasy Star Online was the first online multiplayer game for consoles and was a huge critical and commercial success. The only thing gamers complained about was the single player, because once you play with others, it’s terribly boring by yourself. It hardly offered anything new in terms of features (there was different classes, a multitude of items and equipment to collect, and a fair amount of dungeons to explore) but one stands out in particular: the chat system. Commonplace now, but the game’s easy to use chat system, made communicating with players across the globe far easier. The team went above and beyond what they needed to considering it had a place in the history books regardless.
383. Dishonored 2 (2016) | Various
If a game has two all time great levels, is that enough to consider it one of best games of all time? Dishonored 2 has impeccable stealth mechanics; a one of a kind steampunk aesthetic; two indelible main characters, each with their own unique and fun to use powers; improved action and gameplay over its predecessor; new puzzles and traversal challenges and better voice acting and while that’s a well and fine, the thing that will keep it in the conversation forever, are its levels. Specifically two: Clockwork Mansion and A Crack in the Slab. They’re so perfectly designed and exceptionally well crafted, they should be used as examples of perfect level design in schools.
382. Dragon’s Lair (1983) | Arcade
Since no one on Earth has ever beaten it (if you say you have, you’re a liar and your dad’s a narc), I bet you didn’t know that Dragon’s Lair only lasts twelve minutes with a perfect run. But I do know you are aware it has over hundred death animations because if you’ve played it, you died. A lot. Created by legendary animator Don Bluth, Dragon’s Lair is a laserdisc video game that looks and feels like a movie only with quick time events. You play as Dirk the Daring, a knight attempting to rescue Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe who has locked the princess in the foul wizard Mordroc’s castle. On your quest, you’ll run afoul of a great number of obstacles, all of which are instant death. You have a fraction of a second to respond to the correct prompt and if you don’t, you’re toast. It’s a frustrating quarter muncher that somehow acquired enough masochists to like enough, that it’s in the Smithsonian. An achievement only two other games have accomplished — Pong and Pac-Man.
381. Heavy Rain (2010) | PC, PS3
A polarizing figure within the industry, David Cage, regardless of what you think of his work, deserves props for pushing interactive Choose Your Own Adventure games to the forefront and for helping get facial animation technology where it is today. Because of its plot inconsistencies, janky controls and over the top acting (all of which are solid gold meme material), it’s easy to dog on Heavy Rain but to dismiss it entirely, is downright foolish. What it sets out to accomplish, it does so extremely well. The game features four protagonists involved with the mystery of the Origami Killer, a serial murderer who uses extended periods of rainfall to drown his victims. The player’s decisions and actions during the game affect the narrative, which means you could accidentally get one or more of the main characters murdered or even worse, let the killer get away scot-free. Its story will keep you glued to your seat and the multiple branching storylines will keep you coming back for more.
380. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (2008) | DS
The third game starring everyone’s favorite top hat wearing, puzzle obsessed non-detective (and his sidekick) delivers more of what you expect from the series. There’s the same charming European setting, filled with equally charming characters, all of whom are just as obsessed with brain teasers as you are. Talking to the NPCs, which result in the bulk of the game’s puzzles, inform and flesh out the world, as well as help piece together the game’s best conundrum of all: its story. An engrossing tale about time travel and thematically re-visting the past, Unwound Future keeps you intrigued while it breaks your brain in two.
379. Kerbal Space Program (2015) | Various
If NASA teamed up with a developer to make a game that got children interested in space travel, that game would be considerably worse than Kerbal Space Program. The main mission objective of this game is make a functioning rocket that can take you into space but since the orbital mechanics are so precise, the game turns real life math into its hardest puzzle. You’re going to need to bone up on your knowledge of Newtonian dynamics, patched conic approximation and other fancy sounding science terminology. Don’t worry, that sounds more like homework than it really is. Basically, in order to figure out the trajectory and lift of your rocket, you’re either going to need to do a lot of science and math or become quick friends with trial and error. A simulation, a high-level educational tool and something that is fun to simply sit and tinker with, Kerbal Space Program might actually get us to Mars one day. That’s not a joke, NASA scientists and Elon Musk himself have shown great interest in the game. A game that also involves little green Minion looking aliens as the main characters.
378. Until Dawn (2015) | PS4
Since their inception, survival horror games have done an excellent job of making interactive ghost houses—jump scare factories that pump out the spooks like they were coming off an assembly line. But it wouldn’t be till the release of Until Dawn that a game recreated what it feels like to be in a horror movie. This is an interactive slasher film with an all star cast with a hook to die for. Pun most definitely intended. Featuring an aggressive save feature, whatever decision or misstep you make, you have to live with. You can’t reload to save the whore you just accidentally killed or the dumb jock you didn’t save because you fucked up the quick time event. Every decision is nail bitingly tense because there’s no going back and since each character has about a dozen ways to die apiece, that tension lasts throughout.
377. The Witcher II: Assassin of Kings (2011) | PC, Xbox 360
Forever living in the shadow of its sequel, The Witcher 2 was a giant leap in quality from the previous game and did everything a great sequel needed to do (improved graphics, richer story, better voice acting, punishing but fair combat, Etc.) but since the third one jumped so far past both of them that it ended up somewhere on Mars, gamers haven’t felt the need to revisit it and I doubt they ever will. The third one is so monumentally good, that everything, even a great game within its own series, pales in comparison. The Witcher 2 is a victim of itself. If it didn’t erase the foundation of the last game and rebuilt the engine from the ground up, the third one never could have won the Grand Prix. If you love The Witcher 3, you owe this game a bit of gratitude. It did what that game did first, just not better.
376. Final Fight (1989) | Arcade
In Final Fight, you select from three brawlers to, say it with me now, save your kidnapped girlfriend/daughter from a gang of outlaw punks. The reason for the kidnapping plays out like an unmade sequel to Idiocracy. After being elected, wrestler turned mayor Mike Haggar lowered the crime rate of Metro City, once the most dangerous city in America, down to record lows. Not happy that their empire is whittling down to nothing, the Mad Gear Gang decides to kidnap Haggar’s daughter in order to force him to resign. Why they didn’t just kill him is anyone’s guess. Not one to negotiate with terrorists, Haggar decides to go after them with the help of his daughter’s boyfriend named Cody and a guy named Guy who’s a ninja that kinda sorta knows Cody. They’ll punch and kick and pile drive their way through waves and waves of assholes with pipes, dirt bags brandishing pocket knives and a couple of questionably dated stereotypes in order to save Jessica and eliminate the gang once in for all. Fun side note to the story: if you beat Marvel vs Capcom 3 with Haggar, you find out he becomes President with Iron Man as his Vice President, which automatically makes him the best beat ’em up character ever.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?