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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
450. Outer Wilds (2019) | Various
The universe is going to end in about twenty minutes, and you’re the only person who can stop it. The problem is that you don’t know why the universe is ending, how to stop it, or even where you are. Fortunately, you’re to be stuck in a time loop that allows you infinite tries to discover the answer to all these questions. Groundhog Day stories (which we seem to be inundated with nowadays) typically dedicate a good chunk of their time to the explanation and not the exploration. Outer Wilds does away with that almost immediately. Once you realize you have a finite amount of time, the game encourages you to take your time, not rush to get to the answers. The game perfectly captures the thrill of discovery, exploration, and figuring things out on your own.
449. Nioh (2017) | PS4
I don’t know what this title has to do to get out from under the shadow of Dark Souls since it’s done everything it can to avoid comparisons to that franchise but it feels like it’s not enough for critics to give a shit. It and its sequel got favorable reviews but both seem to have been forgotten about by years end, whereas everything by From Software gets talked about endlessly for years. It can’t be the story, which is based on an unfinished script by Akira Kurosawa and involves an Englishman who became one of the only ever Western samurai. It can’t be the gameplay, which has fast paced hack and slash action. It’s certainly not the setting, which is an alternate Japan of the 1600s filled with yokai monsters and ghouls. And it sure as hell ain’t the graphics, which are stunningly beautiful. I have no idea what it is, but this series deserves better than the label of “just another Dark Souls clone”.
448. Tron (1982) | Arcade
Can a game that’s only partially great be considered one of the best of all time? Well when that portion is as amazing as the light cycle bit in Tron, the answer is a resounding yes. The rest of the game isn’t bad, it’s just superfluous. Broken up into four sub-games, Tron consists of I/O Tower (the player must guide Tron to the flashing circle of an Input/Output tower within a set time limit while avoiding or destroying Grid Bugs), MCP Cone (the player must break through a rotating shield wall protecting the MCP cone and enter the cone without touching any of the shield blocks), Battle Tanks (the player must guide Tron’s red battle tank through a maze and destroy all of the opposing blue enemy tanks by hitting each of them three times) and Light Cycles (In a player-vs-AI variant of the Snake game concept, the player guides Tron’s blue Light Cycle in an arena against one or more yellow opponents. The objective is to force the enemy light cycles into walls and jet trails, while simultaneously avoiding them). It could contain a hundred sub-games and it wouldn’t matter, there are few things more exhilarating than a game of chicken with an AI opponent. There’s a reason Snake isn’t on this list—Tron improved upon it in every conceivable way.
447. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (2017) | Various
First person shooters have come a long way since the first Wolfenstein debuted. Seeing as it’s arguably the grand daddy of the entire genre, it predates the mods Doom introduced, the in-depth storytelling of a Half-life and the addictive multiplayer of, well, all of them. It opened the door but seemed to have gotten locked behind it for decades. It would take the second reboot of the series for it to officially come back. The New Order proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that not only could Wolfenstein work in the modern age, it was more essential than ever. Killing Nazis should never fall out of vogue. It’s an essential cornerstone to the genre and this series does it better than most. Which unfortunately took two reboots to prove. It also took The New Colossus to show everyone that you can, in fact, teach a dog new tricks. Not just content with having more Nazi killing action, this game creates a mythology as intricate as Bioshock. The world building this game does, is on another level. If this game’s story was stretched out just a bit, it could easily be a season of a TV show. A TV show everyone would watch and never stop talking about because there are moments in this game, that will have you talking about forever. Truly, I’ve never in my life seen this level of craziness in an action game not made by Suda 51.
446. Bushido Blade 2 (1998) | PS1
Fans of fighting games that hate combos have had slim pickings outside of Bushido Blade. There’s Smash Bros and a handful of indie titles and that’s pretty much it. You’d think there would be more imitators trying to ape this game’s style but they’re few and far between. Instead of memorizing a list of moves, Bushido Blade has one hit kills and limb damage. If the first strike isn’t a killing blow and depending on where you get hit, you can either play the match one handed, limping or even crawling. It sounds like a cruel gimmick for the inexperienced but again, all it takes is one good blow and the match is over. There is no timer, so matches can last seconds or go on for minutes and minutes at a time. Survival depends on your ability to read your opponent, predict what he’s going to do next and most importantly patience.
445. Hyper Light Drifter (2016) | Various
If you ever wondered what The Legend of Zelda would look like if it kept evolving but never left the 16 bit realm, the answer would look a helluva lot like Hyper Light Drifter. Much like that series, the game is an isometric platformer that primarily takes place in dungeons and other dangerous locals. The world the Drifter inhabits is run down and ruined and he takes upon himself to collect the forgotten knowledge of the past in the hope of rebuilding society. If saving the world wasn’t enough, he’s also slowly dying of an insatiable illness and must go further than anyone else has dared to go in order to find a cure. Based on the developer’s real life experiences dealing with chronic illnesses, the game is grounded in a bit of realism that the Zelda games never were. To continue to court controversy, I believe it’s also better looking than any Zelda game and it’s more satisfying to play as well. With a beautifully drawn pixel art and a control scheme that’s fluid, intuitive and loaded with tactical abilities, Hyper Light Drifter is the best Zelda game not featuring Zelda and to double down on that controversy, I dare say it’s better than most of them.
444. X-Men (1992) | Arcade
Based on the 1989 cartoon X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men, the X-Men Arcade game was the most epic thing to happen to the characters till the 2000 movie. For players in 92, it might as well have been a movie due to its massive scope. One of the only cabinets to support six players, the game has you choose between Cyclops, Colossus, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler or Dazzler (?) to take on Magneto and his evil mutant army. Littered with fan service and packed to the gills with characters and locations from the comics, this was ultimate superhero experience till Rocksteady hit the scene.
443. Yakuza 0 (2015) | Various
A series so beloved, that fans overwhelmingly demanded Sega bring it stateside and after just a handful of hours with any entry, it’s easy to see why it’s inspired such a devoted fan base. This is GTA for players who care more about the whacky than the realistic. With multiple sequels, it’s hard for newcomers to know where to jump in, that’s why Sega made the prequel to serve as an entry point. Set a decade before the first game, the story follows two protagonists: Kazuma Kiryu and how he got tangled up in the crime families of Japan, and Goro Majima, who goes from a strait-laced salary man to the infamous Mad Dog of Shimano. The combo heavy action and the multitude of mini games will keep you playing for hours, while the engaging story, filled with unbelievable twists and memorable moments, will make you want to play the rest of the series immediately.
442. Blade Runner (1997) | PC
As Blade Runner proves, movie tie-ins don’t have to follow their source material to be successful. Instead of following Ridley Scott’s film, the game is actually a “sidequel”, telling an original story, which runs parallel to the film’s plot, occasionally intersecting with it. Like the movie, the game takes place in Los Angeles of 2019 but instead of Deckard, you play as Ray McCoy, an elite detective charged with hunting down a group of dangerous replicants. Using gadgets like the ESPER 3-D scanner and Voight-Kampff profiler, you need to feed the clues you’ve gathered into machines and ask the correct answers in order to discern who is human and who is machine. How adept you are at detective work will lead to one of thirteen endings. If you plan on getting all of them, take time to marvel at its incredible graphics and make sure you talk to every NPC you run into. The game is filled with random encounters, which adds to its considerable replay-ability.
441. Rouge Legacy (2013) | Various
As the name implies, Rogue Legacy is a rouge like dungeon crawler that distinguishes itself by having a great hook. Every time you die, you get to play as one of your descendants but they each have a genetic abnormality. One might be color-blind (in which the game is presented in black and white), one might have ADHD (in which the player movies faster) or the other could have Dwarfism (in which the player shrinks down so small, he can fit into small gaps). It’s an interesting way to shake up a formula that we’ve all had to play a million times but the game doesn’t just rest on its gimmick. There’s also a progression system to help combat the game’s extreme difficulty and each level’s layout is as interesting as the one before it, which helps keep the game from getting stale after you’ve died and retried about a million times. Which you will.
440. N++ (2015) | Various
A sequel that fully embraces the belief that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. N+ was a fast paced action platformer that tested the skills of even the most skilled of players. The gameplay consisted of jumping, dodging, climbing and rebounding from walls, collecting gold pieces to extend the time allotted to complete each level. Every level was just shy of feeling impossible but since there’s so many of them, many players had to concede defeat. Because of this fact, most missed out on a good portion of the game, which meant that they physically couldn’t play anymore of a game they liked. Their only consolation was the sequel, N++. It offered the same experience as the first, just more of it. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
439. Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020) | PS4
If you could’ve weaponized the hype surrounding this game’s release, you’d have a bomb a hundred times more powerful than both Fatman and Little Boy combined. This game was being teased for years before it was officially announced and even then, it still took five years for it to come out. And even after all that time, the hype never died down. Gamers were desperate to revisit Midgar and to hang out with their old digital friends again. Knowing this, the developers used that nostalgia to subvert gamers expectations. Final Fantasy VII Remake is, at its core, the first ten hours of the original stretched to roughly forty hours. It hits the same beats and has the same general story structure except for one major detail: it’s strongly implied that Aerith knows her fate. Not because of destiny but because she knows she’s in a remake. She’s gone through this shit before and is just going through the paces. There are even monsters that actively prevent the player from altering the inevitable. The game knows the player is going to try to save Aerith and it’s not going to let it happen. So in reality, it’s not so much a remake as it is a stealth sequel. A sequel that more than earns its Final Fantasy VII title.
438. Half-Life Alyx (2020) | PC
Half-Life 3 is one of those jokes among the industry that’s never going to die and is never going to happen. It’s like how people used to joke about how Chinese Democracy and Duke Nukem Forever were never going to come out but they actually did. It took ages and neither was good but they did finally come out. Because Valve hates trilogies, the odds of it ever seeing the light of day are slim to none. So instead of asking for the impossible, we should start begging for a sequel to this because this the closest we’re going to get to a proper sequel. Set between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2, players control fan favorite Alyx Vance on a mission to seize a super-weapon belonging to the alien Combine. You’ll use Gravity Gloves to manipulate items in the environment in order to solve puzzles and fight enemies. The controls are among the most intuitive of any VR game. Basically, if you think you can pick up or knock it down, you can and it’ll feel good while you’re doing it. An excellent blending of physics puzzles, combat, exploration and survival horror elements, Half-Life Alyx is hands down the best game made for VR.
437. Sayonara Wild Hearts (2019) | Various
A dazzling interactive pop album with eye popping, sumptuous graphics and an impossibly catchy soundtrack filled with nothing but ear worms, Sayonara Wild Hearts is an on rails shooter that’s unlike anything else. Developed by Simogo (Year One, Device6, Beat Sneak Bandit; all of which could’ve made the list), the game follows the story of a heartbroken young woman through a surrealistic landscape. Each level of the game is set to a song, with the player guiding the woman while collecting hearts, avoiding obstacles, and fighting enemies. Drawing inspiration from Tarot, each character, as well as the plot and general aesthetic of the game, is based on the major arcana within a deck. On your journey of self discovery, you’ll deal with stylized versions of Death, the Devil and the Moon. If none of that makes sense to you, don’t worry. Sayonara Wild Hearts is a game you’re supposed to feel instead of think about.
436. Monument Valley (2014) | PC, Mobile
Inspired by the artwork of M.C. Escher, Japanese prints and minimalist 3D design, Monument Valley‘s art direction is something to behold. The game wants to not just delightfully confound the player with its cleverly designed puzzles but to overwhelm them with its gorgeous visuals. Much like the underrated Gorogoa (just missed the cut), each screen is a piece of art that you have to manipulate in order to reach your goal. This aesthetic excellence is fundamentally linked to the puzzles themselves, particularly with regards to the Escher influence, as creating impossible objects and optical illusions within the architecture is often the key to solving them. It’s a hypnotic journey of redemption that makes you earn the emotional catharsis by testing you with puzzles, which in turn makes the puzzles themselves better by offering a challenge you need to better yourself.
435. Towerfall Ascension (2013) | Various
You would think it would take a lot for a game to recapture the glory days of playing Goldeneye or Smash Bros on a couch with four friends but the exact opposite is true. That’s not to say Towerfall Ascension is a lesser game, It’s the fact that it’s so simple, it’s borderline brilliant. Battles take place in 2D arenas between fantasy characters with bows and only a few arrows each. Miss your shots and you can retrieve your arrows – or those of your enemy’s – from the wall. With shots being one-hit-kills, every move you make is high stakes. Add to that a dash mechanic that if done right, allows you to phase through death and pocket an arrow and levels filled with items and hazards and you have the makings of the most addictive four player arena death match since the days of the N64.
434. Planet Coaster (2016) | PC
A spiritual successor to the Rollercoaster Tycoon series, Planet Coaster may not have the importance or influence of those games but what it does have is the best creative tools of any building sim within the genre. There’s three modes to play: sandbox, challenge, and career, all with tons of features to create your ultimate theme park. Want to make a broken down, death park that will inevitably lead to tons of lawsuits? Try sandbox mode. Want to role play as a manager and deal with the minutia of running a theme park? Try career mode. Want the hardest difficulty possible? Try challenge mode. Whatever you want to do, Planet Coaster will fulfill your needs. As long as those needs include building coasters and dealing with annoying patrons.
433. Saints Row: The Third (2011) | Various
What started off as a generic Grand Theft Auto clone has evolved into a gloriously over the top, campier than Christmas action romp that only has one goal in mind: keep you entertained at all times. It will accomplish this goal by whipping absurd humor at you at break neck speed, throwing you into missions that are utterly ridiculous and giving you the freedom to do whatever you want. Skip the story and just run around naked beating people up with an oversized dildo if that’s your prerogative. The game doesn’t judge. It wants you to be happy and few games bend over backwards to accommodate the player’s delight like this one does.
432. Mass Effect (2002) | Various
Before the horrible fourth entry and the infamous ending to the third game, Mass Effect was gearing up to be the 00s answer to Star Wars. Not in terms of popularity of course but in picking up the sci-fi epic mantle dropped by that series. Something needed to fill the void and the cats over at BioWare were more than happy to do it. Taking inspiration from a number of sci-fi shows, novels and movies but without ever directly lifting anything from them, Mass Effect feels like a story you’ve seen a million times but not exactly the same. It sticks rather closely to the model created by the titans of the field and has the same tropes but since it includes player choice, you’re actually in control of how cliché the story gets. You decide if this is an epic space opera or a cheesy soap opera (yes, you can have sex with a number of your crew mates). The wide breadth of choice as well as the quality writing of each individual choice, is what separates it from every other sci-fi story and places it firmly among the greats within the genre.
431. Silent Scope (1999) | Arcade
I don’t care how realistic the graphics and gameplay are or how much time the developer put into fine tuning the details to make sure everything was as accurate as humanly possible, if a sniping game doesn’t let me play with an actual sniper rifle, no matter how good it is, it’s immediately inferior to Silent Scope. Maybe it’s just me, but I always gravitated to the arcade shooters that had the coolest guns. There’s nothing wrong with the standard plastic handgun and machine gun but the games that had shotguns or even crossbows? That got my tokens every time. The gun that trumped them all though, was the sniper rifle from Silent Scope. There’s a tactile feeling that comes from holding an actual gun, looking through the scope to aim and pulling a trigger to eliminate your target that video games just can’t reproduce. For that feeling alone, Silent Scope most definitely earns a spot on this list.
430. Utopia (1982) | Intellivision
Utopia is a rarity in that not only did it create the foundational building blocks of one genre, it wholesale made another in the process. Often regarded as the first city building game and credited as the earliest ancestor of the real-time strategy genre, Utopia pioneered so many mechanics found in games today, it’s shocking how few people have ever heard of it. A two player competitive building sim in which each player is tasked with taking care of an island filled with little digital people. You have to create shelter for them, schools to educate them (the smarter they are, the more points they can earn you), crops to feed them and so on and so forth. There’s a ton of things to create and micro manage, along with a near endless amount of strategies to help you beat your opponent. Pay your respects to the grand daddy; it’s behind everything you love.
429. Revenge of Shinobi (1989) | Genesis
If you were to pick one word to describe Revenge of Shinobi, it would be refinement. It didn’t revolutionize the genre, nor did it add anything to it that future generations have borrowed but not every game carves a place in history by making history. Sometimes finely honing pre-existing gameplay mechanics and having top notch (for the time) graphics can be enough. Especially if the game is as fun to play as Revenge of Shinobi. You play as ninja master Joe Musashi on a quest to save his kidnapped fiancée. If you guessed that ninjas were responsible for said kidnapping, congratulations, you’ve played a video game before. Like all arcade games of that time, the story is only there to get you from point A to point B with a plausible enough reason to explain why a million bad dudes want to get in your way. You don’t play these games for the story; you play them to mow down tons of enemies Revenge of Shinobi scratches that itch more satisfactorily than most.
428. Chrono Cross (2000) | PS1
Chrono Cross is the Halloween III: Season of the Witch of video games. If it had any other name, critics and fans would’ve embraced it more openly but since it’s tied to something beloved and iconic, the unfortunate and obvious comparisons doomed it from the start. Like the aforementioned Season of the Witch, Chrono Cross did everything in its power to provide a brand new experience but fans, expecting and wanting more of the same, weren’t having it. Which is a shame because not only did it match the scope of the original, it told an equally compelling story. Forgoing time travel for interdimensional body swapping and an alternate dimension quest to save the world, Chrono Cross isn’t just unlike Chrono Trigger, it’s unlike any other JRPG before and since.
427. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014) | Various
Lord of the Rings, much like Star Wars and James Bond, is a franchise that has spawned a great number of video game tie ins and like those properties, the best ones aren’t directly tied to the movies. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor has no connection to the novels or films and it’s all the better for it. By not connecting it to stories everyone already knows, the makers were free to create their own mythology and characters. Gone are the lame hobbits and in their place, a badass Captain with mystical powers on a quest for revenge. The story is enthralling but it’s the game’s Nemesis System that players will most likely remember. How it works is this: if you kill a designated target (usually a high ranking orc commander), that target will come back stronger and smarter, but if he kills you, the game alerts players in your friend’s list and they have the chance to kill him and if they do, you both get rewards. It’s a great mechanic in an already stellar Assassin’s Creed-esque action game.
426. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (2013) | Various
One of the best reviewed games on the Xbox Live Marketplace, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons won numbers awards for excellence including Best Game of the Year at the 2013 VGA show. While it was never the best arbiter of quality, it is worth mentioning that it was an award show broadcast on a channel aimed at dude bros and that it beat Grand Theft Auto IV, Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider — all action oriented games dude bros would like — for the award. Set in that context, it being nominated, let alone winning, is phenomenal. But that just goes to show how undeniably great this game was. A deeply personal story about two brothers on a quest to save their dying father, the game would still receive the same amount of accolades as it did based solely on the strength of its writing but its innovative gameplay takes it a notch further than most. You actually control both characters simultaneously, with each one being controlled with either thumb-stick. The player progresses by manipulating the two brothers at the same time to complete various puzzles, often requiring the player to manipulate both brothers to perform differing functions (such as one distracting a hostile non-player character while the other makes their way around). While it’s not the first game to have this control scheme, it is the most polished and best designed. It’s build from the ground up to be about the brothers, both in terms of its story and gameplay and since it’s a perfect marriage of the two, it’s a tale you’ll most likely never forget.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?