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 How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles?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.
50. Bloodborne (2015) | PS4
Even though every game they release is a banger, FromSoftware could just pump out Bloodborne sequels from here to eternity and I don’t think a single gamer would complain. Improving upon the gameplay they perfected after three Souls games (you get a gun in this one!) and offering a world 10x creepier than any they made before or since, Bloodborne stands alone within their oeuvre and everyone else’s. Part of that is the fact that it some how keeps topping itself in terms of ambience and scale. It starts by being a Stoker inspired Victorian horror game with Renfield looking ghouls and giant werewolves and then it transitions into a Lovecraftian cosmetic mind fuck. The creatures you encounter in this are unlike anything you’ve seen in any other game. They’re goopy mounds of undescribable nasty that you have to figure out how to kill and when you finally do, there’s nothing more satisfying. And that happens over and over again throughout.
49. Fallout 3 (2008) | PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Bethesda may be one step above EA in terms of being straight garbage, but the fact remains, Fallout would not be as large as it is today if not for the incredibly successful Fallout 3. They took elements of Fallout and Fallout 2 and incorporated it into their already established open-world formula best seen in The Elder Scrolls, including SPECIAL stats, skills, and even turn-based combat which was named V.A.T.S. There are some questionable story telling elements and the sewers are just atrocious but in terms of sticking close to the spirit of the original games, Bethesda deserves a shit ton of props for bringing it into 3D and in first person no less. If only they could drop their failed experiment (Fallout 76) and go back to basics. A cool wasteland to discover, interesting characters to run across, tons of gruesome violence and a comedic through line that’s there just enough to keep you distracted from the thought that you’re going to get eaten by a deathclaw any minute now. With its trio of fantastic DLCs, Fallout 3 is a great RPG title that anyone can easily get into.
48. NBA Jam (1993) | Arcade
There’s a million reasons why NBA Jam is beloved and not a single one of them is realism. Favoring fun instead of authenticity, the game’s most memorable elements are the things most other basketball games would cut out because they’re too silly. Such as the big head mode, the over the top announcer and being so good, that you’re on actual fire. Sinking three shots in succession lit your ass a blaze and running around as a dunking inferno was the best. It was a game filled with crazy ideas and crazier animations, but the craziest thing about it, might be the fact that it had an official NBA license. Unrealistic sports games usually get the Mutant League Football or NFL Blitz treatment. If they don’t have the licence for the players, developers have to get creative in order to entice players to play their game as opposed to something with Brett Favre or Michael Jordan’s face on the cover. That’s why they opt for the crazy but NBA Jam has the crazy and has the players everyone loves. It has its basketball shaped cake and gets to eat it too. Boom-shaka-laka.
47. Galaga (1981) | Arcade
A sequel to Galaxian and a slight rip off of Space Invaders, Galaga offers so much more than either one of those games, that it’s almost a slight against it to even mention them in the same sentence. To the layman, all it seems to offer is a better color palette and faster enemy ships, and while it certainly provides both, it also offers a degree of strategy that neither they, or any other shooter had at the time. Periodically, a boss galaga will come down and shoot a tractor beam down in an attempt to catch the player and if you let it (and have extra lives), you can sacrifice a life for more power. That is of course if you can shoot the galaga down before it flies away. That risk vs reward system, as well as the aforementioned colors and faster enemies, make Galaga a retro arcade masterpiece that has and will continue to stand the test of time.
46. Mega Man 2 (1988) | NES
3 may have added the dash and X might have included wall jumping, but 2 introduced everything else. The first game was such a commercial disappointment that Capcom wasn’t even going to greenlight a sequel and technically, they never did. As the story goes, the game was a passion project that was kind of made in secret and it shows. It’s the type of product that is born out of someone’s desire to prove themselves. Every level is expertly designed, the boss fights, as well as the bosses themselves, are fantastic, the soundtrack is easily among the best on the NES, the graphics are superb and the gameplay is peerless. Every game in the series (excluding the Battle Network or Legends titles) is essentially remaking this and fans have never complained. Because it’s perfect.
45. The Sims 2 (2004) | PC
The only game in this series that comes close to the amount of content this game offered was 3 and that’s due mostly to the modding community. So much of The Sims 2 is entirely different from the first one and yet, there’s no denying that this is definitely a Sims game. It introduced neighbors, going out into town, personality traits that matter, wants, goals, and even aging. It also added a bunch of little mechanics that brought out gamer’s inner psychopath. Like locking a sim in the closet so that they soil themselves to death or having them throw a pool party, deleting the ladder to get out and then watching them slowly drown. It sounds sick and twisted but don’t act like you didn’t do it. I know you did, because all of those features were present in every game after this. But so was a ton of other content for you normies out there. With its multitude of expansion packs, the game set the bar for the ultimate Sims experience and after twenty years, it still hasn’t been topped.
44. Counter-Strike (2000) | PC
Starting life as a simple Half-Life mod, Counter Strike has gone on a long journey to where it is now. After various iterations, it finally evolved into the world wide phenomenon known as CS:GO. Playing as either a terrorist or anti-terrorist, the game is a multiplayer shooter that tasks you with stopping the other team’s objective. The most common game mode is the bomb defusal, where terrorists are tasked with planting the bomb in the designated area, while antiterrorists have to secure the place, kill the enemies, and defuse planted bomb before it explodes. It’s no more complicated than Capture the Flag and yet it’s responsible for the modern day tactical shooter as we know it. Rainbow Six might’ve beaten ’em to the punch by a year but since the multiplayer of that was niche, hardly anyone ever played it. It was more of a single player experience, which is the exact opposite of CS:GO. This was all about some good ol’ team vs team action and because of that, it has remained one of the most popular games in competitions.
43. God of War (2018) | PS4
After six games and a gigantic pile of corpses made up of monsters, men and gods, Kratos finally finally has to contend with the ultimate monster — the ghost of his past. A radical sea change for the series, the game sees a completely different Kratos in a completely different world. Since he’s murdered every single creature in Greek mythology, it only makes sense that he’d be transported to the land of Norse gods. Not to murder (yet) but because of love. The game opens with the death of his wife who sends him and their son on a quest to scatter her ashes on the highest peak. Within a handful of minutes, the player can tell that this is going to be a more somber and reflective experience. We’ve never seen Kratos take care of anyone, let alone his own flesh and blood and the bond they create through their journey is the game’s greatest achievement. There’s still the epic battles the series is known for and if you’re familiar with Norse mythology, a ton of fun cameos but his relationship with Atreus (which calls to mind Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us, which isn’t a bad thing) deepens his character and finally provides a narrative for one of these games that’s more than just revenge.
42. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009) | PS3
Most of the sequels on this list are part 2s because if the first sequel nails everything right, everything after the fact will feel like a retread, no matter how good they are. Few games are perfect right out the gate. The really good ones only need certain things tweaked here and there to make the definitive experience and Among Thieves is a perfect example of that. If the first game was Sony testing the waters with a new IP, this is Naughty Dog full on cannonballing into the pool. From the opening seconds alone, you can tell this wasn’t going to just be a typical action game, this was special. After the now iconic train crash sequence, the game continues to one up itself with bigger and more elaborate set pieces. If this was a movie, it would give any other adventure movie a run for its money. It’s Raiders of the Lost Ark with Mad Max: Fury Road level of bombast. And with better characters than either.
41. Pac-Man (1980) | Arcade
Bored with shooters and wanting to create a game that would appeal to both boys and girls (that’s why the objective in the game is to eat and your collectables are jewels because women like food and they like shiny things. I didn’t make that up), Toru Iwatani created Pac-Man, a game that has exactly negative amount of shooting in it. What it does have instead though is a maze full of ghosts you need to avoid as you munch on pellets. Unless you’re Billy Mitchell, clearing all 256 boards is never going to happen, nor is eating every ghost and item you see. It’s not about racking up a high score because you’re never going to come close to beating it. You play this the same reason other’s play Horde Mode in other games — you just want to see how far you’ll make it. Which I’ll never get over personally. This is the most successful arcade game adjusted for inflation (the numbers might be a bit off but either way, it’s in the top five) and all that money it has made is from people who can’t even get past the tenth stage. But that’s how strong the appeal of this game is, you know those damn ghosts are gonna get you but you put in your quarters anyways.
40. StarCraft (1998) | PC
Set in the beginning of the 26th century, StarCraft centers on a galactic struggle for dominance among three species—the human like Terrans, the insectoid Zerg and the powerful and enigmatic Protoss—in a distant part of the Milky Way galaxy known as the Koprulu Sector. They each individually have their own goals. The Terrans are trying to eradicate the Zerg to stop them from spreading to other galaxies, the Protoss are secretly protecting the Terrans for their own a agenda and the Zerg just want to assimilate everything. Since the three are so distinct, choosing which one to play as is hard. The Zerg have strength in numbers and since they’re kind of like giant slug looking Xenomorphs, it’s the closest a game has come (at the time) to letting us swarm a base with hundreds of them. The Terrans have increased firepower and the Protoss have psychic abilities as well as advanced tech. It’s a perfectly balanced experience that millions of pro gamers still play to this day.
39. Super Mario World (1990) | SNES
Mario truly is the Beatles of video games. Think about it, what other video game series can you think of that somehow tops itself even though it came out of the gate perfect? The first one created the platformer, the third one perfected it and yet, World somehow found a way to improve upon both. It gave us Mario’s first real meaningful expansion to his core move set besides running and jumping. This time he could spin jump, throw items upward, he could pocket items for later use, and with the inclusion of fan favorite Yoshi and the Superman cape, the boundaries of every level opened up significantly. Now that you can fly, every stage becomes a mini game of spot the secret and most of the time, it rewards that sense of discovery. Add to that some truly inspiring level design (worlds feel much more distinct than just “fire world” and “ice world” now) and hidden branching paths that unlock more levels and you have the Rubber Soul of Mario games. Like the album, the only reason this isn’t the best, is that it can’t beat the influence of earlier albums and that it somehow topped itself later.
38. Overwatch (2016) | PS4, Xbox One, PC
Blizzard didn’t make a Team Fortress clone, it made a successor. They took the best bits but like a gentleman thief, they left a little something behind. That little something was for the fans. As much as gamers love themselves some Team Fortress, cosplaying as those characters is kind of a drag and since Valve already had backstories for them, there wasn’t much the community could do in terms of fanfic. Overwatch has a diverse cast of characters that are somehow all loveable, and since the story is bare bones, there’s tons of opportunities for the fans to go wild and they did. They immediately shipped some, created entirely different personalities for others (old man Soldier 76 is adorable) and asked for more representation and the thing is, Blizzard listened. They listened to all of it. They let the fans steer the ship because they know they’re the captains and as long as the captain is happy, they’ll stay on the ship. But that’s just half the reason it’s maintained relevancy after five years. The other half is its perfectly balanced gameplay, fun to play characters and humor. It’s the complete package.
37. Super Mario Kart (1992) | SNES
Mario has been apart of so many defining moments in gaming, I wouldn’t be surprised if he somehow stars in the perfect open world game or the definitive shooter some time in the near future. It’s at the point that if he stars in a game, not only will it be great but it will somehow be revolutionary. He and his cast of buddies somehow changed racing. I wouldn’t think it possible to change or improve upon a genre that’s been around since the beginning of gaming but he figured it out somehow. The trick was to add items. Giving players the ability to throw items at their opponents turned this from a simple racing game, into a party game. It attracted people to it that had no interest in racing. Since the characters are in karts as opposed to cars, you can see them at all times, which I think helped attract non gamers. They were cute and had personality, which adds to the perception of it being fun. It’s easy to be put off by a car, they’re emotionless machines. But a Yoshi? Yoshi is cute. Nintendo’s design philosophy has always been to cater to everyone, not just the hardcore gamers and no where is this more evident than in this game. Anyone can pick this up and become good enough to challenge your friends or family members within an hour. Which also means it’s the greatest destroyer of friendships since Monopoly ever.
36. Donkey Kong (1981) | Arcade
I’ve played this game multiple times in my life and I had no idea there were as many different boards until the documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters came out. Climbing up that mountain of broken metal scaffolding while jumping over barrels to rescue Pauline was hard enough, I can’t imagine how anyone could beat different variations of that. And yet people have and they do. Or maybe they don’t and the movie is just an elaborate lie. There’s no way for me to tell because again, I can’t beat three levels in a row. But I keep trying. I’ve sunk probably fifty dollars worth of quarters into that game over the years and I know I’m not the only one. Donkey Kong is one of the most successful arcade games ever and one of the most important. Without this game, we get no Mario and if it’s not for Mario, games as we know them may not exist.
35. League of Legends (2009) | PC
Somewhere between intense competition and fun and enjoyable strategy, lies League of Legends. There’s a lot to master with its roster of nearly 130 playable Champions and yet, it never feels overwhelming to new players due its incredible learning curve. It’ll teach the mechanics as you play but the higher you climb the competitive ladder, the more challenging it becomes. While the excellent Summoner’s Rift stands as the primary battleground for competitive play, the other modes like ARAM, or All Random All Middle, also provide a great means for a fun chance to practice with Champions for when things get too tense.With a an overhaul on its lore, the game has become more captivating on the narrative front as well. Each new Champion or Champion makeover is presented with such beautiful pageantry that it’s difficult not to get sucked into catching up on any lore you may have missed. With continuous improvement updates and a constantly changing roster, League of Legends stands as one of the best competitive games in existence.
34. Civilization IV (2005) | PC
If you were to Google “which Civilization game is the best?” you’d most likely get four different answers. This one, the one before it and the two after that are in a constant struggle for the the gold medal and while the other three are spectacular in their own ways, IV just brings it all together in a way the other ones don’t. With full 3D graphics, inspirational quotes from Leonard Nimoy, beautiful menu music and new gameplay mechanics (such as religion as a means to control your populace, espionage and vassal states, this game had it all.
33. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) | Xbox
I truly believe that if the Halo series stopped after the third one, it would be regarded as the greatest trilogy in gaming. Or alternatively, if Bungie pulled a Valve and just never released a third one, the first two would have the same cultural relevancy as Half-Life. Maybe I’m in a bubble but it feels as through the juice has left this orange a long time ago. I never hear anyone talk about the franchise anymore and it doesn’t seem like a single soul is excited for the newest one coming out. Those first two games had their moment in the sun but with each subsequent entry, they’re getting left further and further in the shadow. Think about it: Doom is still ranked high on lists and it took forever for a third game to come out. Same with Half-Life. Halo through, moves further and further down lists. It’s a shame really because it plays better than both and has aged better than most. Some of that is due to the soundtrack, that still slaps twenty years later. A good portion of that is because of the co-op and the multiplayer that is peerless but I think Halo’s biggest strength is its controls. Halo didn’t invent the first-person shooter. Not by a longshot. Nor was it even the first console FPS. But it was the first FPS to finally get it right on a console, and the industry hasn’t been the same since.
32. Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001) | GameCube
If you hadn’t noticed, the original Smash Bros. is not on this list. While it is certainly influential, it feels now like a demo for what Melee would become. It nailed the formula to such an insane extent that it remains the go-to Smash Bros. for tournaments even today. In fact, it’s the sole reason why Nintendo just can’t give up on GameCube controllers, giving us those ‘Melee feels’ when we play any other Smash Bros. entry. Sakurai had to fill Ultimate with every character imaginable (why no Crash?) and add an extensive single campaign to one up himself and yet, it still wasn’t enough to make it the definitive game in the eyes of pro players. Make no mistake, while the casual gamers love it — and for good reason, it’s incredible — it’s the professionals that dictate how long a fighting games shelf life is. There’s a reason no one talks about Brawl anymore: it hasn’t been played in tournaments in ages. It has nothing to do with nostalgia, Melee is the tops for a number of different reasons. It’s tighter, faster and requires more skill. It’s far more entertaining to watch than its successors and it has better balance. Since it’s more of a party game than an actual fighting game, purists balk at it ranking so high on any list but there’s no denying its importance and influence on the scene.
31. Portal 2 (2011) | PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Topping the best puzzle game since Tetris is a nigh impossible task but Valve somehow did it. Instead of reinventing the wheel, they just brought back everything everyone loved about the first one but with two giant additions. The first was the inclusion of the hilariously sardonic robot Wheatley (Stephen Merchant) and the equally hilarious madman Cave Johnson (J. K. Simmons) and the second was adding cooperative play. In this new mode, players solve puzzles together as robots Atlas and P-Body, who remind one of Laurel and Hardy. Since you need two people to solve the puzzles, it’s a completely different campaign than the single player, so in order to see everything, you need to play both. There’s also new features including tractor beams, lasers, light bridges, and paint-like gels that alter player movement or allow portals to be placed on any surface. There’s so much packed into this game, you’ll forget it only takes a couple of hours to beat.
30. Mass Effect 2 (2010) | Xbox 360, PC
If BioWare set out to make their own Star Wars, this would most definitely be their Empire Strikes Back. They ambitiously set the table with the original Mass Effect and the second entry fulfilled the studio’s promises. In a rare feat, the studio somehow nailed both the macro and micro ends of storytelling. It created a sprawling epic that changed depending on your actions (no one will ever forget the first time they played the notorious Suicide Mission), while also never losing sight of your allies. Building a team and earning allies’ loyalty gave players new avenues to get invested in Commander Shepard’s legend and also strengthened their bond with them. Few RPGs have a better cast of supporting characters or villains. The Illusive Man is an all time great villain because you’re never quite sure what is motivations are. The third one might’ve dropped the ball with its divisive ending and Andromeda all but effectively killed the franchise dead but no amount of terrible sequels can detract from this game’s greatness. Mass Effect 2 was a compelling thrill ride that represents the pinnacle of one of the greatest modern RPG series.
29. Diablo II (2000) | PC
Your average consumer could give less of a fuck what Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes has to say about anything. If a game looks good to them, they’re going to buy it. Unless it gets utterly annihilated by every critic working, very few are ever dissuaded away by a bad review. Because if that was the case, logic dictates that the opposite would be true. That great reviews equal great sales and that’s most certainly not the case. I know this because if it was, everyone would’ve bought two copies of this game. Appearing on every greatest games list imaginable and earning the record of the fastest selling game ever made (at the time), Diablo II earns every single one of those plaudits and more. Knowing how anticipated it was, Blizzard retooled the template from the original, added in randomly generated loot, created a staggering amount of customization options and built upon the first game’s story to deliver a classic upon arrival. Going to Hell has never been this much fun.
28. Pokémon Red and Blue (1996) | Game Boy
It’s actually shocking to me that Disney hasn’t tried to acquire Pokémon yet considering it’s the most profitable brand in history. Since 1997, it has grossed over 105 billion dollars. That’s 30 more than Mickey Mouse and he’s had his face slapped on everything since 1924. It’s a colossal juggernaut of a franchise and it all starts here. Before the cards, TV show (which is still on at the time of this writing) and movies, there was Pokémon Red and Blue. Along with Green, the two games were released separately so that all 150 Pokémon were included and so that gamers could trade Pokémon amongst each other with a Game Link Cable. You needed both games to be a true master and while that’s clearly a case of milking a customers wallet for all its coin, gamers didn’t mind. They happily paid for essentially the same game twice just to get additional Pokémon. That’s how addictive it was to catch them and how much fun it was to brag to your friends that you got a rare one. And with more than thirty titles with the exact same story and concept released now, it’s clear that gamers can’t get enough of it.
27. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018) | PS4, Xbox One
I bet Rockstar was pissed that we collectively spent so much fucking time discussing the effect the cold weather has on your horses’ balls. All they wanted to do was point out their programmers obsessive level of detail and we all giggled like dumbass children. Well, the joke was on us because few games manage the level of uncompromising detail as well as Red Dead Redemption 2 does. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Grand Theft Auto V, this sprawling western offers an open world sandbox filled with so many random encounters to discover, characters to meet, things to do and ways to just kill time, that even if it was half as long, it would still be gargantuan. A prequel set before the events of the first game, the game puts you in the shoes of Arthur Morgan, a protagonist just as compelling as John Marston. Watching the Van der Linde gang, the villains from RDR, deteriorate in real time, fleshes out that game and adds another level of complexity to its characters and story. It feels as fully realized as a great western novel but with the added benefit of being interactive, which trumps reading shit any day. Suck it books.
26. Final Fantasy VII (1997) | PS1
Legend has it, that this holds the record for the most returned video game in history with the typical complaint being that the graphics were blocky and ugly and that there was reading involved. I can understand the first one (Cloud looks like he has toasters for hands) but the second one makes my soul weep. I don’t blame idiots for being bamboozled though. That trailer was so unlike anything any gamer had seen at the time, that I can understand being disappointed that it didn’t look like that the entire time. But for the rest of us, the ones that could actually read, we all recognized immediately that this was important. Most of us had never played an RPG, let alone a Final Fantasy title, so this was our first exposure to the world of JRPGs. It not only opened the door to a brand new market for the west but created a demand for similar games. PS1 owners were hungry for similar titles which is why there was a glut of them on the console but none of them could match this one. And arguably few have touched it since, which is why there’s been spin offs, remakes and even a movie set in this universe. Gamers just can’t get enough of this game all these years later.
What do you think of the list so far? What do you think are the top 25 games?