We’ve come a very long way from the days of playing Pitfall! and Space Invaders on the old Atari 2600. Games have advanced in leaps and bounds over the intervening years as hardware has become more powerful and game designers increasingly ambitious. Where once, all you’d have asked from a title was some joystick-waggling fun, now fiendishly addictive gameplay often comes packaged with photoreal graphics and epic, movie-quality storytelling.
It’s been a full ten years since we last asked you, the readers, to name the greatest video games of all time, and a decade is a lifetime in the ever-evolving world of gaming. So, after a fierce round of voting and a great deal of ballot counting, Empire’s definitive list of the very best games has changed significantly. What’s freshly made the cut? What’s rocketed up the charts? What’s changed the world? Read on to find out!
More than simply being the first fully three-dimensional RTS game, Homeworld's legacy lies with its storytelling. Where previous titles in the genre had tied missions together with barely coherent narratives, Relic's space opera told a heart-rending story of galactic refugees fleeing persecution to find their ancestral home. From the initial genocide that sees the death of millions to the final conflict with the Taidan empire, Homeworld made you a part of its tale. Enormous space battles threw fighters, frigates, and destroyers together in spectacular fashion, while the sparse, endless beauty of space was perfectly captured by the striking visuals and Paul Ruskay's haunting score. Remastered in 2015, its stellar landscapes are even more beautiful to behold, leaving no excuse for newcomers not to seek it out.
99. Forza Horizon 5
2021, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
There’s a racing tournament buried somewhere in Forza Horizon 5, but its real strength is in simply tearing around developer Playground Games’ lush open world recreation of Mexico and feeling the exhilarating rush of speed as you race from jungle to beach to beautifully recreated city. While the whole Horizon series has offered similar delights, the fifth is the pinnacle, boasting the biggest map and highest points of elevation ever seen, all made more impressive with shockingly realistic weather systems — see that storm in the distance? You can drive all the way to it! — extensive customisation of some of the world’s flashiest supercars, and a host of absurd minigames thanks to the hilarious Horizon Arcade. Throw in some brilliant radio stations to chill out to and this is racing elevated to meditative relaxation.
2015, Wii U
Despite a certain plumber mercilessly crushing untold numbers of turtles over the years, Nintendo has never been known for violent gameplay, so the idea of the wholesome company releasing a team-based shooter always seemed an odd direction. No-one had a clue just how odd, though — Splatoon’s neon-soaked world of style-obsessed squid-human hybrids remains a contender for the developer’s strangest property ever. Yet, in Nintendo’s inimitable style, it was also an absolute joy to play: battles where victory was determined by the most ink sloshed around the map, and where a smart shapeshifting mechanic allowed you to dive into that ink in squid form for speed boosts or stealth attacks. The ability to swim vertically on walls daubed in your team’s ink made for clever approaches to area control and attack vectors too. While its sequels have refined the formula, the sheer genius of the original Wii U version can’t be ignored.
97. SoulCalibur VI
2018, PS4, Xbox One, PC
SoulCalibur has never quite attained the same level of respect as its stablemate Tekken, but Bandai Namco’s other 3D fighter franchise remains one of the best examples of the genre, nonetheless. The sixth core instalment is a distillation of everything great about the weapons-based brawler, keeping familiar mechanics — such as the 8-way run that allows players to make use of the space in the impressively-modelled, destructible arenas — while refining the formula with subtle but important changes, such as the ability to reverse attacks and charge up your own. With an exciting roster of characters old and new — plus guests including The Witcher’s Geralt of Rivia — and a surprisingly deep story, the “Stage of History” has never had a better performance.
96. Planescape: Torment
You could describe Planescape: Torment as a Baldur's Gate-alike D&D role-playing game, but you really wouldn't be doing it justice. Focusing on an amnesiac immortal trapped in a never-ending loop of death and memory loss, it takes players on a tour of a fantastic interdimensional reality known as the Planescape, an intersection of the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse full of fallen angels, half demons, floating skulls, witch hags, and glowing green representations of immortality. Critically revered but commercially unsuccessful at the time, it's now regarded as a beloved epic, and one of the greatest and most ambitious game stories ever coded.
95. Fire Emblem Awakening
2013, Nintendo 3DS
At one point, Fire Emblem Awakening was going to be the last entry in the series. With nothing left to lose, developer Intelligent Systems threw in just about every mechanic and idea from past Fire Emblem games and a whole bunch of new ones to boot. The result? A game that is still regarded as the high point for the entire franchise, and one that convinced Nintendo to stick with it. And no wonder — with brilliant tactical battles, compelling characters, and a story spanning generations, it’s easy to see why this won over all who played it. Hopefully a modern remaster isn’t far away.
94. Valkyria Chronicles 4
2018, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
With its stunning sketchbook visual approach, Valkyria Chronicles looks more like a fairy tale than an exacting parable about the costs of war, but Sega’s manga-styled strategy game is nothing if not surprising. Not-very-subtly based on the European battlefronts of the real WW2 — Valkyria’s fantasy world is in the midst of its Second Europan War — the entire series has offered exceptional tactical gameplay and rich casts of characters, but the fourth and most recent instalment remains the best yet. Its “BLiTZ” combat system blended real-time and turn-based mechanics perfectly, and with more character classes than ever, ingenious maps, and a genuinely affecting and emotional story, it’s almost enough to make you enlist.
93. Monster Hunter World
2018, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Capcom’s action RPG had developed a bit of a reputation for being ‘hardcore’, so plans to make it more accessible with World — the fifth mainline entry — had some of its devoted fans concerned. They needn’t have worried. While World was definitely more accessible to newcomers, with a deeper story focused on colonies mapping out a dangerous new continent in its low-fantasy world and more accessible onboarding, it was every bit as challenging and rewarding as its predecessors. The signature gameplay loop of tracking down vicious monsters, then repurposing their innards for weapons and armour to take down even tougher ones, was as addictive as ever, but bolstered by a streamlined skill system, meals that provide stat buffs, and a gorgeous open world. If all that isn’t enough to win you over, maybe the fact that you have kitty assistants throughout will.
2012, Playstation 3
A red-robed figure. A fluttering scarf. A barren desert landscape. Not the three elements you'd immediately guess would combine to form one of 2012's most memorable titles. Nonetheless, That game company's third release (after Flower and organism-devouring mobile game, Flow) captured hearts and minds with its simple, speechless odyssey. Unable to communicate save for a single, ambiguous chirp, anonymous players nonetheless forged emotional bonds, united by a common goal. With beautifully stylised visuals and an enchanting, evolving score, this simple saga remains one of the PS3's most poignant legacies.
It cannot be overemphasised how groundbreaking Pac-Man was when it exploded onto the arcade scene in 1980. Toru Iwatani’s maze game was not only endlessly compulsive thanks to simple yet masterfully designed gameplay that’s still engaging well over four decades later, but became a bona fide cultural breakthrough moment for gaming. While reports of coin shortages are urban legend, the yellow maw that is Pac-Man was still popular enough to warrant pop songs and animated TV series, all off the back of gobbling up pellets and running from ghosts. Gaming’s first true icon, and it all began here.
90. Mortal Kombat II
1993, Arcade, Mega Drive, SNES
With its cartoonish levels of gore and martial arts movie meets heavy metal album cover vibe, the Mortal Kombat series might be gaming’s first guilty pleasure — but, guilty or not, there’s no denying that Mortal Kombat II was one hell of a pleasure. Taking jabs at complaints over the first game’s violence, it introduced comedic Babalities and Friendship finishing moves — to complement even more violent Fatalities, of course. It also improved on the original as a fighting game, with a more elaborate moveset. Punches and kicks landed differently according to crouched or upright positioning, characters enjoyed power balances, combo flows were impacted by tweaked recovery times, and there was an expanded roster of fighters to put those moves into practice with. Look beyond the gore, and MKII proved itself a high point for the genre.
2020, PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Hades snuck up on everyone, players and industry alike. A roguelike in an already long line of roguelikes by the time of its 2020 release, Supergiant Games’ ode to Greek mythology wowed everyone who encountered it thanks to silky-smooth combat and godlike storytelling skills. Controlling the rebellious Zagreus, son of the eponymous Hades, efforts to escape dad’s hellish afterlife perfectly meshed with the try-die-repeat model of the genre, while evolving character relationships exploring the messy family dynamics of the Greek pantheon and built a mythology that expanded with each run through the underworld. Also, everyone is weirdly sexy. We’re not unpacking that any further.
88. The Longest Journey
When directionless art student April Ryan is thrown from a futuristic New York to the fantasy world of Arcadia, players might have expected an almost Narnian adventure, a twee tale of alternate worlds. Instead, The Longest Journey is a work of magical realist genius. Writer and designer Ragnar Tørnquist served up a tale spanning twin worlds of science and mysticism, one that touched on themes of destiny and determinism while subverting tropes of sci-fi and fantasy at every turn. Arguably the last great point-and-click adventure, The Longest Journey backed up its complex narrative with high production values, ingenious puzzles — although, mention the rubber ducky one to a fan and watch their forehead vein throb as the rage throwbacks kick in — and some of the best voice acting heard in a game, resulting in two worlds you couldn’t bear to leave by the time the credits rolled.
87. Grim Fandango
LucasArts' Tim Schafer brought the world a piece of unpitchable brilliance in the late '90s with this one of a kind adventure game: a film noir pastiche set in the Aztec afterlife, starring a skeleton travel agent called Manny and a giant orange demon who happened to be the best mechanic in existence. Critics swooned, but almost no-one bought a copy, sounding the death knell of the story-driven puzzle genre and spawning a group of die-hard superfans worshipping the game's dark humour, bonkers but brilliant storyline and harder-than-a-cryptic-crossword riddles. Nowhere else would a gun that fires marigolds be so frightening. Another classic that’s benefitted from a contemporary remaster, ensuring this macabre masterpiece is playable for years to come.
86. Half Life: Alyx
2020, PC Virtual Reality
It took Valve 13 years to make another Half-Life game after 2007’s Half-Life 2: Episode Two ended on a still-unresolved cliffhanger — which made the VR-exclusive nature of Half-Life: Alyx feel like a cruel joke to many. Yet it’s impossible not to be blown away by what’s on offer here: a chance to wade directly into the battle against the Combine. Stepping into the shoes of fan-favourite character Alyx Vance, players with the real world space can literally wander the world in room scale VR. Meanwhile, Alyx’s Gravity Gloves offer an upgrade on Gordon Freeman’s Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2, and the immersion allows the game to really play up the horror factor. Yes, the barrier to entry is high — Half-Life: Alyx is really designed for Valve’s uber-pricey Index headset, and you’ll need a powerful graphics card to get the best out of the game — but all told, it’s VR’s first true killer app.
85. Metroid Prime
Cosmetically a first-person shooter, Prime retained the sense of adventure and exploration from the classic 2D Metroid titles, while perfectly transitioning Samus' morphing abilities into a 3D world. And what a world it was, too – verdant alien rainforests, sterile research facilities, the almost Lovecraftian ruins of the ancient Chozo; everywhere Samus went was full of character and mystery. Although Retro Studios' reimagining of the Metroid universe was doubtlessly influenced by Microsoft's successful courting of adult gamers with Halo, both the Gamecube original and the Nintendo Switch remaster show Samus could stand shoulder to heavily-armoured shoulder with Master Chief any day.
84. Chrono Trigger
Imagine a supergroup of Japanese creators getting together to make the ultimate RPG. Actually, don't bother – it already happened, with 1995's Chrono Trigger. Designed by Final Fantasy's Hironobu Sakaguchi, with characters by Dragon Ball's Akira Toriyama and a soaring musical score by Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu, the time-travelling saga stood leagues ahead of its counterparts. Masato Kato's whimsical story spanned millennia, with a quirky cast – including a futuristic robot, a chivalrous frog knight, and a ferocious cavewoman – belying its emotional depths. With numerous endings and shocking twists, Chrono Trigger withstands the tests of time.
83. Dead Space
2008, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
You walk down a darkened, claustrophobic spaceship corridor. Something moves. It's just debris from the crash. You continue, your torch flickering. Something else moves. It's not debris. An unspeakable terror formed of warped flesh shudders towards you, and no matter how many bullets you put into it, it won't stay dead... Merging influences including Event Horizon and H.P. Lovecraft with an aeons-old mythology of its own, Dead Space is a masterclass in horror, and a highlight of survival gaming. Despite sequels descending into action games with some token jump scares, the original remains the best and most fearsome instalment. The game’s 2023 glow-up added a welcome sheen to the ageing 360-era graphics but doesn’t pack quite the same punch that the original did 15 years earlier.
82. Fable II
2008, Xbox 360
Peter Molyneux’s ambitious series of RPGs hit its apex with this second instalment. Set 500 years after the original game, it offered returning players an even richer world, one that had evolved culturally in the centuries since — the franchise’s penchant for consequence-driven gameplay writ large over an entire society. Yet even if Fable II was your first encounter with Lionhead Studios’ rich fantasy world, it was clear this was something special, with every choice impacting your character’s moral development as much as their stats, power and appearance. Best of all, you faced whatever the world threw at you with a loyal canine companion by your side — the goodest of boys for the goodest of games.
81. Tales Of Arise
2021, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Members of the Tales fandom can be vociferous over which entry in Bandai Namco’s JRPG series is the “best” — 2003’s Tales Of Symphonia, 2008’s Tales Of Vesperia, and even the very first game, 1995’s Tales of Phantasia are regular contenders for the crown. Yet it’s the most recent entry that nabs it — a visually gorgeous outing that, despite being a cross-generational release, feels like the first of the genre to make use of the power of PS5 and Xbox Series X. It’s not just the visual spectacle, though — the complex themes of colonisation and oppression are some of the deepest the series has ever attempted, centred on the technologically advanced Renans and the Dahnan people oppressed by them. Dual protagonists Alphen, a Dahnan slave, and Shionne, a Renan noble on the run, form the core of a fantastic cast of playable characters, while Arise delivers the finest version of the series’ speedy “Linear Motion Battle System” yet seen. A tale for the ages.
80. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge
1991, PC, Mac
“I thought I'd killed the Ghost Pirate LeChuck for good. Wrong.” Pirate Guybrush Threepwood’s journal entry offers an ominous start to Monkey Island 2, but make no mistake, this is still one of the funniest adventure games ever coded. Threepwood’s quest to unite the pieces of a lost treasure map and escape the undead LeChuck for good remains one of gaming’s greatest — a voyage that takes in Mardi Gras, a spitting contest, and improper use of voodoo dolls. Nowadays, you’ll want to pick up the Special Edition, released in 2010, which gives everything a lick of HD paint but retains the option to play the game in its original form, too. Now that’s a real treasure.
79. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
2005, Nintendo DS
We trust there will be no objection to this entry — the success of Capcom’s hybrid of visual novel, adventure, and puzzle game was fresh evidence players were ready for something a bit deeper from handheld gaming. As newly qualified attorney Phoenix Wright, players wade through evidence and court statements, picking out inconsistencies to defend Phoenix’s clients. It’s pleasantly cerebral, and a well-timed “Objection!” that makes a shady witness crumble is almost enough to make you think about going to law school. With a network of gloriously over-the-top supporting characters and satisfyingly twisty writing to hook players, it’s no wonder this kicked off an entire series.
Technically, there are three Fortnites. Two of them — Save the World, a multiplayer defence building, zombie fighting effort, and Creative, a Minecraft-alike — are huge successes. But the third, Fortnite Battle Royale, is such an overwhelmingly popular game that it makes the first two look like the nichest of indies. “Game” barely does it justice, though — it’s more a pop culture hub, a virtual world where you’re as likely to have pop stars performing or giant screens showing episodes of Dragon Ball Super during crossover events as you are to actually engage in the 100-player survival shootouts. Extraordinary popularity doesn’t come from nowhere though, and it’s those shootouts, enlivened by construction elements that allow players to build defences or obstacles for strategic advantage, that make Fortnite a once-in-a-generation hit.
77. StarCraft II
StarCraft II launched at an odd time. Back in 2010, “episodic gaming” was en vogue, and this long-awaited sequel had been announced as coming in three parts. Fans were nervous — were they about to be monetarily bled dry, drip fed chapters of what should have been a complete game? Quite the opposite — far more than episodic, StarCraft II was an epic trilogy in and of itself. Over three entries and five years — Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm, and Legacy of the Void — Blizzard crafted one of the finest pieces of science fiction storytelling and real-time strategy gameplay in living memory, a universe-spanning saga that returned fan favourite characters Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan and presented a conflict that tore apart the cosmos. Coming 12-years after the original StarCraft, it proved well worth the wait.
76. Baldur's Gate II: Shadows Of Amn
To make a Balder's Gate fan happy, just shout "Go for the eyes, Boo! GO FOR THE EYES!" A smile as big as the Sword Coast will appear on their face, and you'll soon be told about Rashemi ranger Minsc, an ally of the protagonist in both the original role-playing game and its follow-up, who has a pet "miniature giant space hamster" called – you guessed it – Boo. Minsc and Boo are the finest example of the colour and character of this seminal sequel, which boasts about 300 hours of possible gameplay and an in-depth, location-hopping, Tolkien-rivalling story involving the god of murder, Bhaal, and his demi-deity progeny.
75. Halo: Reach
2010, Xbox 360
Bungie’s last turn as Halo developer is also held by many fans to be its best — and Master Chief is nowhere in sight. Instead, this prequel focuses on Noble Six, the latest recruit to the elite Noble Team of Spartans, and their effort to save the colony world of Reach from Covenant forces. Long-term fans knew it was a doomed mission from the start though, the Fall of Reach being a pivotal moment in Halo lore, but that only made each desperate battle barely survived and each comrade lost along the way the more resonant. Halo had been pulp SF before Reach, but this sorrowful farewell to the franchise from its creators added some much needed depth.
74. Divinity: Original Sin II
Use the Source, Lucian. Well, he can’t — he died before Original Sin II even started. Bit of a problem, that, since Lucian was the Divine, the one holding back the forces of the Void from invading the fantasy world of Rivellon. You can use the Source though, channelling strange, gods-given powers to defend the world in Lucian’s stead. What that means is up to you though, as Larian Studios epic is a ‘traditional’ CRPG of immense scope. Original Sin II is perhaps too obtuse in places — there are no real quest markers or pointers, for instance — but that proves part of the charm. This is a world you’re meant to explore and discover for yourself, with every interaction or combat encounter potentially splintering off into dozens of different plot directions. No two playthroughs will ever be the same, but you’ll still be drawn back over and over to try and see everything.
73. Borderlands 2
2012, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
The original Borderlands was an unexpected success, which allowed developer Gearbox to go even bigger for its sequel — more guns, more powers, more desperate-for-attention robot sidekick Claptrap. OK, it wasn’t all good. Still set on the frontier world of Pandora, Borderlands 2 introduced a new generation of Vault Hunters tracking down an even greater treasure, and the series’ first attempt at longer form storytelling and worldbuilding with the introduction of the charismatic arch-villain Handsome Jack. A stronger plot was nice, but Borderlands 2 really won players over thanks to its refined shooter and role-playing mechanics, where customisable skills and an infinite array of procedurally generated weapon drops with variable stats meant there was surprising depth behind the anarchic stream of cartoon violence.
72. Gears Of War
If you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of a Mark 2 Lancer Assault Rifle's chainsaw attachment chugging away in the back of your brain. This is because after you slice up your first locust, it never leaves you. Ever. While several of its sequels — notably Gears 5 — took the storyline into deeper and more complex narrative territory, the original Gears Of War never took itself too seriously, with the bloodthirsty and explosion-filled adventures of Marcus Fenix and his fellow COG crew resulting in whole years of gamers' lives spent on its magnificent multiplayer. A tip of the cap to Lester Speight for his voice work as Augustus "Cole Train" Cole, the stand-out character and finest Thrashball Player you'll ever meet.
71. Gran Turismo
The idea for Gran Turismo famously came from designer Kazunori Yamauchi wanting to create a game where he could drive real cars. Not just race them, mind — there had been plenty of realistic racers in the arcade scene for years. Yamauchi wanted something more authentic, something that made players feel they truly were in control of powerful high-spec vehicles. As a result, this groundbreaking title launched in the west with the subtitle “The Real Driving Simulator”, and with its nuanced controls and incredibly specific modding and tuning of cars, it earned that suffix. Pushing the PS1 to its limits with 140 cars, Gran Turismo won over a whole new generation of players, and was pivotal to the success of the original PlayStation.
2021, PS5, PC
At heart, Deathloop is a roguelike. As amnesiac assassin Cole Vahn, players are trapped on the strange Blackreef Island, where a bunch of ultra-libertarian mad scientists have created a one-day timeloop and are celebrating with a never-ending party. The only way off is to kill all eight masterminds behind the temporal phenomenon in a single loop. If it’s a roguelike though, it’s the glossiest, most polished, and achingly cool one the genre has ever seen. Taking visual cues from inspirations as diverse as 1967 vengeance flick Point Blank and the 1970s Soho club scene, Deathloop looks like nothing else. Thankfully, with its speedy gunplay, inventive superpowers, and a clever multiplayer mechanic where you can invade a friend’s game as Colt’s rival Julianna for tense cat-and-mouse hunts, there’s plenty of substance to back up all that style.
69. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey Of The Cursed King
If you’re in Europe, drop the “VIII” — this was the first mainline entry in the classic franchise to reach PAL territories. What an introduction, though! With its gorgeous cel-shaded visuals that brought designer (and Dragon Ball Z creator) Akira Toriyama’s characters to life like never before, the full 3D environments (a first for the series), and Koichi Sugiyama’s breathtaking score, Journey Of The Cursed King showed exactly why Dragon Quest is Japan’s biggest RPG series. It was the superbly named villain Dhoulmagus who made the game truly memorable, though: a deranged court jester who blended the worst aspects of the Joker and Final Fantasy VI’s Kefka into a terrifying monster who loomed over everything, and whose murderous actions gave every member of the cast a reason to unite against him.
68. The Witness
2016, PC, PS4, Xbox One
Creator Jonathan Blow may be a controversial figure these days, but there’s no denying that The Witness is a work of exceptionally brilliant game design. Inspired by the likes of Myst, players inhabit a nameless figure as they explore an island in first-person perspective. At every turn, a puzzle — sometimes obvious, sometimes part of the land itself, sometimes even more devious. All told, there are over 600 mental challenges spread over the island, and not a word of instruction for any of them — just the freedom to explore and experiment. Yet success breeds satisfying success, and soon solving them all — and the greater question of the island itself — becomes an obsession.
67. Super Mario Bros.
Sure, Super Mario Bros. may be the stuff of billion-dollar-grossing movies now, but the path to that success really began here. Although not Mario’s first appearance — that honour goes to 1981’s Donkey Kong, where the famous plumber was simply known as Jumpman — this is where director Shigeru Miyamoto really nailed the sublime platforming brilliance that would define the mainline series for decades. While later games have refined and expanded that core gameplay, the original remains both immediately intuitive and endlessly playable even now, while Koji Kondo’s music — from iconic signature theme to the sinister "duddle-duddle duh duh" of underground areas or even the invincibility theme — remains unparalleled.
66. Ghost Of Tsushima
Listen: do you hear the wind, guiding you? Disgraced samurai Jin Sakai does, calling him in the direction of his next target, as he seeks to liberate his island home from the invading Mongol forces. The subtle guiding mechanic is just one of the many brilliant touches Sucker Punch Productions added to Ghost Of Tsushima, a way to direct players around this staggeringly beautiful open world without cluttering the screen with messy UI elements. Everything in Ghost Of Tsushima is so meticulously considered, allowing for an experience that’s as close to playing a chanbara film as it’s possible to get — and the 2021 Director’s Cut release, adding accurate lip animation for the Japanese audio and even a monochrome “Kurosawa Mode”, only accentuated it. A love letter to Japanese cinema that also manages to be a shining example of stealth action gameplay? Sign us up.
65. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
The prequel to the entire Metal Gear series, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is set in 1964, setting up much of what was to come later – notably Portable Ops, Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes – making it a must-play entry in the franchise if only to help untangle the ever-expanding rubber band ball that is MGS. Helping its must-play status is the novel jungle setting, the natty camouflage mechanic and the best story in the series – a tale so slippery that a snake analogy would seem appropriate, if a little too obvious. The trademark cardboard box, overlong cutscenes, ropey dialogue and fourth-wall breaking humour are all in full effect, and coming at the tail-end of the console's lifetime, it was easily one of the best games released on PS2.
64. Super Mario Odyssey
2017, Nintendo Switch
When did you first realise that Super Mario Odyssey didn’t feature any of the Mario series’ traditional power-ups? There’s a fair chance it might be right now — Mario’s Switch debut was so meticulously crafted, its world so charming, and its gameplay mechanics so immediately absorbing that you’ll scarcely notice the total absence of mushrooms or fire flowers. In their stead was Cappy, a hat-creature standing in for Mario’s signature headwear, enabling the iconic plumber to capture almost anything he flings it at — and once you’ve transformed into a mustachioed T-rex, you’ll forget why you were ever excited by a Tanooki suit. Throw in standout moments in some of the finest levels in the series’ history — shout out to New Donk City and its signature musical number — and Odyssey gives even Mario 64 a run for its money.
That bouncing sway as you run, Doomguy's face looking suspiciously left and right, the pop pop pop of the pistol, the slightly lighter brown walls that indicated a secret corridor, the blue mega-armor, the fireball-throwing forever-bellowing spike-shouldered imps, those shadowy pig bastards, the bipedal pig bastards with horse legs, the red-bellied rocket-firing mega-minotaur, ever-so-cuddly cacodemon, the shotgun, the chaingun, the accordion-shaped plasma cannon, the BIG FUCKING GUN, the spiderdemon, that rabbit's head on a stick, the mods, the Bill Gates Windows 95 advert, the sense of overwhelming despair... Doom. Sorry, DOOM.
62. Super Mario Kart
You always remember your first car – or kart, in Mario's case. This opening lap around the Mushroom Kingdom effectively created the kart racer as a genre, providing a blueprint of super-deformed vehicles, deranged tracks, and outlandish power-ups that all latecomers would follow. It made incredible use of the Mode-7 graphical abilities of the SNES, producing a startling near-3D look – it appears quaint now, but at the time the visuals were unmatched. However, Super Mario Kart's greatest accolade was in proving that humanity had never truly known rage before experiencing the ignominy of being smashed out of first place by an unseen red shell — a rage that would only grow with Mario Kart 64’s addition of the cursed blue shell.
61. Yakuza Kiwami
2016, PS4, PS3
Almost any of the Yakuza series could have taken this spot — special shout out to Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the gloriously bonkers 2020 entry that had a homeless party member attack enemies with pigeons — but in the end it was this remake of the 2005 PS2 original that snagged it. The tragic tale of Kiryu Kazama, who takes the fall for a crime he didn’t commit only to be betrayed by his yakuza clan’s patriarch, remains as powerful as ever, but the modern glow up improves the game underlying the gripping crime drama. Combat is completely overhauled, with four varied fighting styles for Kiryu to master, while supporting characters enjoy expanded roles — notably fan favourite Goro Majima. Meanwhile, everything looks much better thanks to Sega’s powerful Dragon Engine, making wandering the neon-lit streets of Kamurocho (a fictional take on the real life Kabukichō in Tokyo) an intoxicating experience. Kiwami is the definitive edition of what was an already great title, and stands as the perfect introduction to one of gaming’s greatest series.
60. Diablo II
2000, PC, Mac
The clink of your enemies' coins, the gulp of a potion quaffed, the "ffft" of an item picked up, the twang of a skeleton archer's bow, loquacious item-identifier Deckard Cain's catchphrase "Stay a while and listen..." – so much of what makes the definitive hack-and-slasher so glorious, so enjoyable, so loved, is the audio content. Sure, Blizzard actually making a "Secret Cow Level" after hearing about the false rumours of one in the original game was inspired, but the joy of hearing a regurgitator turn blue as your Azurewrath Phase Blade ices that mother is the real Diablo II paydirt. The game has been technically improved upon in successors III and IV, but it was with this second instalment (along with its Lord Of Destruction expansion) that Blizzard truly cracked the action RPG template and crafted an infernal masterpiece for the ages - the fact that it’s the only one in the series to get the full remaster treatment with 2021’s Diablo II: Resurrected speaks volumes.
59. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
All good things must come to an end, even the globe trotting hijinks of master thieves. Still, there’s always time for one last heist, isn’t there? Thankfully, Naughty Dog’s farewell to Nathan Drake sees the renowned treasure hunter go out on a high note, reuniting with long-presumed dead brother Sam for a mission that takes the pair from New Orleans to Scotland, Italy to Madagascar. While the art direction is stunning and the action as thrilling as ever, it’s the character relationships that really elevate A Thief’s End. Whether it’s the conflicted fraternal feelings between Nate and Sam, or Nate and his wife Elena learning to accept that adventure will always be part of their lives, there’s a maturity that helps make this far more than just a run of the mill sequel.
58. Resident Evil 2
Trading the tight, confined halls of spooky mansions and ghastly research labs for a citywide zombie apocalypse, Resident Evil 2 was an escalation of hellish proportions. New protagonists Clare Redfield and Leon Kennedy were better developed than the earlier Chris and Jill, and their respective quests to escape Raccoon City before a nuclear cleansing added an urgency the first game lacked. With significantly improved visuals, RE2 created more visceral scares, but didn't forget to include a sense of humour – the post-completion minigame seeing you battling through as a lump of sentient tofu is still an infamous gaming extra. The 2019 remake astonishingly managed to maintain everything great about the original, while delivering modernised controls and fresh, fearsome visuals with it, making that just as essential a purchase. A horror classic, however you play it.
57. Dishonored 2
2016, PS4, Xbox One, PC
After the original Dishonored almost single-handedly re-energised the stealth genre, developer Arkane could have rested on its laurels. Instead, it crafted one of the most impressive sequels of all time. Dishonored 2 is mind-blowing in its flexibility, with distinct abilities depending on whether you play as deposed empress Emily Kaldwin or her assassin father, Corvo Attano. With level design that almost beggars belief (see The Clockwork Mansion, which changes around you, or Aramis Stilton’s Manor, which sees you hop back and forth in time to navigate its corridors) the game world also gives you near total freedom in how you tackle every encounter, from pure no-kill stealth to unleashing chaos with a host of unnatural powers. Just how much chaos you unleash isn’t just a matter of play style though — every escalation impacts the game world, affecting the number of enemies, dialogue, and even the affection of NPCs to you, allowing for incredible levels of replayability. Cause and effect has never been so mesmerising.
56. Assassin’s Creed II
2009, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
It may not seem like it now, having become a franchise behemoth spanning everything from Pirates to Ancient Egyptians and even Vikings, but there was a time when Assassin’s Creed could have faltered, its first instalment a solid if largely unexceptional exercise in parkour murder. But Ezio Auditore da Firenze brought real personality to Assassin's Creed's centuries-spanning spat between Assassins and Templars. Modelled on Errol Flynn's dashing swashbuckler archetype, Ezio was a fascinating character – a ladies' man whose suave exterior masked terrible rage. His blood feud with the notorious Borgia family eventually spanned an entire trilogy (also, some stuff happened in the present with a bartender, but no-one really cared), each entry evolving the gameplay of Ubisoft's free-running stealth-a-thons in important ways. But it was here, on this first journey through a stunning recreation of 15th century Italy, that Ezio quietly, slowly took our hearts.
55. Horizon Zero Dawn
Open-world games were getting a bit old hat by 2017, until Guerrilla Games figured out what they were all lacking: robot dinosaurs. Sure, Far Cry 4 was fun, but wouldn’t it have been better with a cybernetic T-rex or two? Wouldn’t Skyrim be improved if the dragons were technodactyls? Yes, yes they would. But Horizon wasn’t content to just throw some bots into the mix — it was also a brilliantly constructed RPG, and even managed to pluck at the heartstrings with its tale of outsider Aloy and a quest that takes her from merely seeking acceptance in her tribe to uncovering the secrets that ruined this dystopian, futuristic Earth. It’s also a ridiculous timesink, but once you’re in the swing of hunting down robot dinosaurs, you absolutely will not care.
54. XCOM 2
2016, PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One
You failed. This is all your fault. What are you going to do about it? When developer Firaxis chose to make the ‘bad’ ending of 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown — where the alien invasion of Earth is successful and their PR campaign has painted XCOM as the aggressor — the canonical one was a stroke of bleak genius. It set the stage for a sequel with even greater stakes, where XCOM is reduced to a guerrilla outfit and your every decision, in battle and out, has to take into account not just reclaiming our planet but how to do so with reduced resources and with a public that thinks you’re the bad guys. Of course, XCOM fans had shown they love a challenge, and the fact that this was also blisteringly difficult in places thanks to procedurally generated maps and fiendishly clever enemy AI, only made them love it more. Just try not to mess up again, eh?
53. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut
2021, PC, Mac, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
It’s a rare game that manages to combine influences as disparate as Twin Peaks, existentialism, Estonian poet Arvi Siig, British author China Miéville, and, err, alcoholism. Rarer still is one that makes them all work so well together that it seems effortless. In fact, there’s only one game that’s pulled it off so far: this one. Disco Elysium starts off simply enough, playing as a hungover amnesiac detective looking to solve a murder, but soon you’re debating Communism with your own inner thoughts between bouts of engaging with the impacts of societal decline in the once prosperous city of Revachol. That might sound like a tough pitch — and the game being a willfully old-school RPG where combat is eschewed in favour of lengthy, nuanced conversations, and the smallest of changes in stats can drastically alter the outcome of a pivotal interaction may not help — but Disco Elysium pulls you into its deliciously dark world like nothing else. The Final Cut adds full voice acting (excellent) and four additional quests that delve into the political ideologies, implications, and repercussions of the world and the player’s choices within it, for an even more mind-bending experience.
52. Sid Meier’s Civilization IV
Building an empire is like building a house — you need strong foundations. The same applies to the Civilization series — the first three games in the turn-based strategy series were popular and even genre-defining works, but in retrospect were just laying the groundwork for Civ IV to build its own empire. Beyond the visual razzle-dazzle of 3D graphics made possible by its bespoke game engine, it saw a significant boost to AI systems, entirely new traits for the political figureheads guiding each playable society, and enough improvements to combat, diplomacy, and cultural development that you’ll feel you could probably do a decent job of taking over the real world. Civ IV so firmly established itself as a master text for 4X games, that it’s still referred to by developers decades later.
51. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
2017, Nintendo Switch
If the original Mario Kart invented the kart racer, then Mario Kart 8 perfected it — well, on its second lap, at least. Although the base game had landed on the ill-fated Wii U to solid reception three years prior, the 2017 Deluxe version was its breakthrough moment. Not only did it cram in every racer and bit of DLC from the Wii U and a few new ones besides, it updated key aspects of the game itself, such as the ability to hold two power-ups at once, adding a surprisingly tactical edge, and a host of new battle modes. Best of all is how Nintendo supported the game for years afterwards, with regular expansions adding extra tracks and characters. Sure, you’re going to get into even more fights with your friends over it all, but this is a real victory lap for the franchise.
50. Warcraft III: Reign Of Chaos
Warcraft III was when Blizzard's hit strategy series cemented itself as high fantasy, charting the fall of noble hero Arthas after his possession by the demonic sword Frostmourne. The introduction of playable Night Elf and Undead races added a ghoulish air to the proceedings, expanding Azeroth's scope and complexity beyond the drawn out rivalry between Orcs and Humans. The series also edged towards the RPG arena, with Heroes capable of learning individual skills and levelling up. Fans couldn't have asked for a better send off for Warcraft's RTS years before World Of Warcraft exploded the mythology into a full-blown MMO and stole the show.
49. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
2020, Nintendo Switch
Had the latest Animal Crossing arrived a year earlier, it would have gone down as merely a great addition to Nintendo’s series of quirky, chilled out life sim games. Instead, it landed in March 2020, and became, for millions, a genuine lifeline as global lockdowns began to hit during the then-emerging COVID pandemic. Being able to virtually flee the monotony of isolation in your living room for a sun-kissed isle where everyone is pleased to see you wasn’t just gaming, it was self-care. Sure, mortgage broker Tom Nook’s a bastard, and dodgy art dealer Redd never has the good stuff, but have you seen this cool fossil? Being able to visit other (real, human) friends’ islands also became a surprisingly solid stand in for actual socialising, too. Timing is everything, and this was the perfect game at the perfect time.
48. Tekken 3
The genius of Tekken is in its simplicity. Where other fighting games of the ‘90s could confuse with variable power levels for attacks or high/low differences, Tekken mapped each limb to a face button on the PS1’s controller — left kick, right kick, left punch, right punch. Yet from that incredibly clear basis, Namco unleashed one of the greatest fighters ever, one that truly found its stride with this exquisite third game. With 24 playable characters — including a 2000-year-old wooden training mannequin animated by demon magic, obviously — it boasted one of the biggest rosters in a 3D fighter to that point, while minigames ‘Tekken Force’, a scrolling beat-’em-up mode, and ‘Tekken Ball’, a super-powered twist on volleyball, offered plenty to do outside of the pummeling. With dreamy cutscenes that seemed to beggar the belief that they were coming from the PS1, Tekken 3 became a true fighting champ.
47. System Shock 2
It may have sold less than 60,000 copies when it was first released, but System Shock 2 remains one of the best RPGs ever made and established a blueprint that shaped the triple-A titles we play today. Played Borderlands, Dead Space or Fallout 3? All of them owe a heavy debt to Looking Glass's space horror, not to mention the BioShock games – System Shock's direct descendants. The RPG elements were revolutionary in an era when Doom and Quake were the litmus test for first-person shooters, the sense of isolation was terrifying, and then there was SHODAN. Chillingly voiced by Terri Brosius, the demented AI is one of gaming's greatest villains and the second act switcheroo one of its most shocking twists. Trapped in complicated rights issues for decades, the long overdue remaster of the first (and also brilliant) System Shock hopefully bodes well for this masterwork getting a fitting visual overhaul in the not-too-distant future.
1984, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron
Elite defined the space sim, the trading sim, and the galactic exploration sim, in one go. And it did all this on a BBC Micro of all things, 40-odd years ago. Calling David Braben and Ian Bell's epic 'ambitious' doesn't do it justice. Players had hundreds of star systems to explore, countless goods to transport and trade, and moral freedom over how to do it all. Mining or bounty hunting? Piracy or military? Peace or war? It was all an option. Sure, it’s modern day MMO successor Elite: Dangerous does everything the original did only much, much better, replacing monochrome wireframe graphics with stunningly-rendered ships and sumptuous views of nebulas and burning suns, but back in 1984, what the original Elite achieved was nothing short of astonishing. That it packed all of this into considerably less than a single megabyte only makes the game seem even more miraculous.
45. Fallout 3
2008, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Pop open a Nuka-Cola, pour yourself a bowl of sugar bombs and power-up your Pip-Boy 3000, because it's time to get lousy with nostalgia over Vault 101's finest. Taking over the franchise from Black Isle, Bethesda Game Studios hit a huge home run with their immensely detailed take on the post-apocalyptic 1950s-flavoured, retro future sci-fi franchise. As The Lone Wanderer, you chase after your scientist father, James (voiced by Liam Neeson), as you deal with the maniacal tendencies of military madmen Enclave and the general threat of mutants, be they ghouls, behemoths or mad Brahmin. The finest feature was the pause-the-game-and-pick-a-body-part V.A.T.S. aiming system, which was a real perk, though in the context of the game itself, not a real Perk.
44. Half-Life 2
2004, PC, Xbox, Xbox 360, PS3
Where Half-Life had its crowbar, Half-Life 2 had a gravity gun – or, to give its full name, a "zero-point energy field manipulator" – that had the power to pick up almost any object and blast it away from the player's general area. Rusty saw blades could be combined with gas canisters and suddenly an alien was a dark patch of dust on the floor. Gordon Freeman, the thinking man's thinking man, now had the thinking man's ultimate death tool. As well as this fancy piece of killing kit, developer Valve also delivered on story and visual shazam, delivering a bolder, more ambitious tale than its predecessor — albeit one players are still waiting for a proper conclusion to, decades later.
43. The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past
The original The Legend Of Zelda on the NES introduced Link and Zelda to the world, but it's not the most important game in the series. That honour – arguably – goes to 1991's A Link To The Past. Energetic, colourful and vast beyond belief, it did more to define what Zelda fundamentally is than any other. Alternate realities, side quests for pieces of heart, the Master Sword – all now hallmarks of the series – made their first appearances here, adding texture to Link's journey to save two worlds. The definitive Zelda for a generation, and as enjoyable now as it was on release.
42. Super Mario World
It's testament to the magic of Super Mario World's design that comparatively minor additions could result in such an overwhelmingly different affair to earlier Mario platformers. It introduced the powerful spin jump, a new way to beat enemies and reach new heights, and marked the first appearance of dinosaur sidekick Yoshi, entirely changing gameplay by eating and regurgitating foes. Mario's cape was the highlight, though – the first time you built up enough speed to launch into the air and fly was a transcendent moment. Suddenly, saving Peach or skull-crunching goombas seemed so petty when you could be soaring over their heads instead.
There are numerous ways to describe Shenmue – an RPG set in the real world. An adventure game. A low-key life-sim. If you ask creator Yu Suzuki, he'll say it's “Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment”. However you define it, Shenmue was a hugely important release. As Ryo Hazuki, wandering the streets of 1980s Yokosuka on the hunt for your father's killer, players experienced a bustling, real environment filled with nuance and detail. The variable weather system and customisable battle skills were unspeakably advanced, the sense of involvement in Ryo's world perhaps lessened only by Shenmue's over-reliance on quick-time events. Easily the most remarkable game on the beloved, if overlooked, Dreamcast.
40. Persona 5 Royal
Japanese RPGs have been popular for decades, but Persona 5 is the coolest they’ve ever been. As Joker, leader of the “Phantom Thieves of Hearts”, you’ll split your time between battling shadow demons in Palaces manifested from people’s psyches in order to steal their most corrupted desires, and something really difficult: surviving high school. That juxtaposition of the surreal and the mundane has always been the great strength of the Persona series, though — along with lashings of psychosexual imagery and demonology, obvs — but Persona 5 framed it all with achingly stylish design sensibilities that made its turn-based battles feel fresh and exciting. While the base game, originally released worldwide in 2017, was a delight, the expanded Royal version added a new team member, an extra Palace, more areas of the waking world to explore, and expanded plot and social elements, making it the definitive edition of an already exceptional outing.
39. Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
2003, Xbox, PC
Forget the prequel trilogy – Star Wars' most compelling backstory took place millennia before Anakin Skywalker ever heard the word 'midichlorians'. BioWare's RPG dove deep into the history of both Jedi and Sith, giving the player the choice of which philosophy to follow. Defeating the powerful Darth Malak and his vast military forces provided the main plot, but your choices along the way – who you help, who you kill, which quests you take – dramatically affected how that goal played out. It not only showed how engaging a Star Wars RPG could be, but KOTOR also laid the foundation for developers BioWare to create the Mass Effect, which looked to Knights Of The Old Republic for much of its inspiration.
38. God of War
“BOY!” With a gruff snarl and a single syllable, actor Christopher Judge infused his take on godslayer Kratos with more personality than the entire trilogy of original God Of War games ever had. While those Grecian outings remain vaguely canon, Santa Monica Studio’s evolution of the franchise took Kratos and his son, Atreus, to the frozen climes of Scandinavia and into a Nine Worlds-spanning battle with the Norse gods. It’s all magnificently presented — the whole game is presented as a single over-the-shoulder tracking shot — and filled with thrilling combat, but this reinvented God Of War impressed most for being a surprisingly emotional treatise on fatherhood.
37. Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 provided a masterclass in fear. With protagonist James Sunderland on a search for his long-dead wife, proceedings were already creepy, but the disturbing psychological nature of the game's threats lead to the tightening of sphincters worldwide. While the monstrous Pyramid Head has become a series icon, nowhere is he more terrifying than here, as the manifestation of James' own twisted desires. This was the first time Silent Hill itself became a character, tormenting its prisoners in horrifyingly personal ways, and leaving players with a sense of discomfort that lingers to this day. Even now, the siren marking the transition from light world to dark is enough to send shivers of genuine dread down our spines.
2022, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Who’d have thought the humble role of video editor would form the basis for one of the strangest and greatest games ever made? Framed as piecing together three never-released films starring a promising ingénue named Marissa Marcel, this FMV game from Her Story creator Sam Barlow soon reveals something darker — strange beings caught on film, observing Marcel for reasons unknown, their existence only slowly revealed by carefully cutting to abnormalities in the snippets of footage. Eventually, recreating all of the films — each a perfect recreation of the ‘60s, ‘70’s, and ‘90s movies they’re emulating, brought to life by a sensational cast fronted by Manon Gage as Marcel — becomes a compulsion, and you won’t be able to stop until you answer the central question: whatever happened to Marissa Marcel?
35. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
2018, Nintendo Switch
You’ve got to give Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai credit for his single-mindedness. When work started on this fifth entry in the platform fighter series, he set out to deliver the most complete version of Nintendo’s beloved crossover brawler possible, one with every single playable character from the franchise’s past two decades, including those from third-party games. Even the thought of juggling that many character rights is the stuff of IP lawyers’ nightmares, but the effort was worth it. Where else can you have Kirby gobble up Solid Snake, or see Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud unleash his signature Omnislash attack on Sonic the Hedgehog, or see a Piranha Plant get revenge on a certain crimson-hued plumber? Super Smash Bros. Ultimate isn’t just an ode to everything great about Nintendo — it’s a love letter to video games as a medium, and a celebration of the characters generations of players have come to love.
You might have fallen in love with Half-Life during its tram trolley ride opening, or as you were blasting rockets at a sarlacc-like tentacle creature, or, most likely, half-way through crowbarring a headcrab to a splodge of green pulp. The fact is: if you love games, you probably love Half-Life. Sierra and Valve's incredibly ambitious saga of interdimensional rifts, mysterious G-Men and speechless scientists revolutionised gaming as the late '90s knew it, and was immediately heralded as a masterpiece and a sign of what was possible with the art form. Story, substance, excitement, and unforgettable security guard characters – it had it all, and while its sequel is the superior achievement, this seminal title laid the groundwork for everything that followed.
33. Sonic The Hedgehog
1991, Mega Drive
This hedgehog started a war. Sega's original answer to Nintendo's chubby pipe-hopper – the rarely-remembered Alex Kidd – barely survived the '80s, so in 1991, along sped Sonic. With exceptional level design and simple but rapid gameplay caught in his wake, Sonic was an instant hit. He was fast, cool, and epitomised the positive, can-do attitude of the decade – and he started winning a LOT of kids over to Camp Sega, creating rivalries that persist even now. Although later Mega Drive entries fine-tuned the formula (it's mad Sonic doesn't have his ground dash move here) the original stands as a revolutionary release.
32. Dark Souls
2011, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
While Demon’s Souls came first, this was the game that blew up and spawned a thousand “Soulslike” imitators, which was curious, given how brutally difficult it was. That was entirely deliberate, though; director Hidetaka Miyazaki's pushback against the softening of modern games. With ferocious enemies, unforgiving terrain, and fatal traps, every step taken through the cursed land of Lordran was potentially your last. Yet your fate was ultimately in your own hands, failures frustrating but fair. Traps could be avoided, enemies out-manoeuvred, terrain navigated. Each death made you a little wiser, and you'd soon wade back in with masochistic delight in hopes of uncovering more of the world's hidden, horrifying secrets.
31. Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
2007, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
For better or worse, Call Of Duty's ascent to global entertainment powerhouse really began here. It's become fashionable to hate on COD in recent years, but 2007's series revamp deserved every accolade it received. Dragging the World War II-era series into the modern day allowed developer Infinity Ward to shake up the routine, drastically changing how gamers approached combat in both single and multiplayer sessions. That considerable effort was put into a genuinely worthwhile storyline is also commendable, with characters John 'Soap' MacTavish and Captain John Price gaining considerable depth over the course of the Modern Warfare trilogy. The machine-like annual updates to the franchise may be formulaic by now, but this remains a genuine high point.
30. Red Dead Redemption 2
2018, PS4, Xbox One
At a glance, Red Dead Redemption 2 is about Arthur Morgan, an outlaw looking for a way out as the age of the outlaw is coming to an end. Really though, it’s about the time you got swept up in a train robbery, chased off by lawmen, but managed to lose them in the mountains. Or the time you were wandering the vast wilderness on horseback, only to discover a cave system serving as base camp for a network of thieves. Or the time you were playing poker in a saloon, the card game interrupted by bounty hunters seeking the price on your head. Rockstar’s extraordinary western is about all those things and more, a sprawling open world that yields countless emergent, organic stories every time you saddle up. Yee-haw, cowboy.
29. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Nathan Drake first made his mark on the PS3 with Drake’s Fortune, establishing the wise-cracking hero, his iconic half-tuck and the tomb raiding third-person formula. However, it wasn’t until the second instalment in Naughty Dog's treasure-hunting series that it made its claim to true classic status, featuring all the yellow-ledge-grabbing and cover-cuddling shooting galleries you'd expect, only delivered in such a cinematic fashion that you'd often forget you were playing a game. From the opening train wreck escape to the dodge-the-Apache rooftop helicopter dash in Nepal, it was all such a slick blend of dashing derring-do and inventive set-pieces that you couldn't help but wonder how they'd top it in a film adaptation (spoiler: they couldn’t).
28. Deus Ex
'Cyberpunk'. An accurate, if simplistic, description for Deus Ex. A better label might be 'futurist' – as we edge closer to its 2052 time frame, the vision of nano-augmented humans in a corporate-owned nightmare future seems ever less far-fetched. After all, making bold and scarily precise predictions was something the game proved good at. With its emphasis on player freedom in completing objectives, branching story paths through its multifaceted global thriller plot, and wildly customisable abilities for central character Denton, the original Deus Ex foresaw the direction games en masse would take. As structurally impressive now as it was on release.
Bloodborne is far more than “Dark Souls, but make it goth”. While its lineage is clear — it’s another game by FromSoftware and is again helmed by visionary director Hidetaka Miyazaki — it’s enough of a different beast that its arrival immediately saw the genre descriptor evolve from “Soulslike” to “Soulsborne”. Its combat is speedier, abandoning shields and defensive play in favour of more mobile and aggressive attacks, while parrying involves firing a bloody great blunderbuss at enemies, an addition that perfectly matches the more frantic play and helped it win the hearts of a legion of players. It’s the setting that really makes it stand out though, with the abandoned gothic streets of fallen Yharnam becoming one of gaming’s most iconic locations, a sprawling city of narrow alleys and shadowy depths crawling with feral beasts and Lovecraftian entities. Not somewhere you’d take a holiday but, armed with a saw-bladed trick weapon, one you’ll want to explore over and over.
26. Batman: Arkham City
2011, Xbox 360, PS3
Batman is no stranger to games, but the Arkham series remains an outstanding demonstration of the character's versatility within the field. Arkham City is the pinnacle, with the notorious Asylum spreading out through Gotham's slums, creating a powder-keg waiting to explode as the Dark Knight's worst villains took control. Open world adventuring suits Batman perfectly, and Rocksteady's careful balancing of gadget-based stealth, brutal melee combat, and thought-provoking detective work made for an absorbing challenge. Filtering the best elements of comics, animation, and film, Arkham City is a distillation of everything great about Batman's world.
25. Resident Evil 4
It’s hard to believe now, but at one point, Resident Evil 4 was going to be the last stop for Capcom’s horror series. After four main games and several remakes even by the time of its original 2005 release, it seemed as if the franchise was about to shamble off into the sunset — until this last-ditch effort proved a runaway success. Gameplay was faster, with the returning Leon S. Kennedy wielding his pistol like a savant to disarm and dispatch crazed, weapon-brandishing hordes of Spanish villagers. Infected with disgusting, mind-altering Las Plagas parasites, they became a greater threat than shuffling corpses ever were. While Resi 5 and 6 almost immediately lost the magic again, veering too far into action and requiring Resident Evil VII and Village to once more revitalise the series, the balance of thrilling battles and heart-stopping terror still marks this as the series' crowning moment.
24. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
2011, PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Well, “2011, PC, Xbox 360, PS3” to start. You can add PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Virtual Reality, and even Amazon Alexa to the platforms you can play Skyrim on at this stage — Bethesda’s epic fantasy RPG is perhaps the most versatile release in gaming history. It’s no wonder though — as dovahkiin, a dragon-born, one of precious few who can speak with the winged wyrms and perform thu'ums or "dragon shouts", wandering the frosty Nordic extremes of the Elder Scrolls world is an endlessly captivating experience that captures players’ imaginations wherever and however they encounter it. Even when — or if — The Elder Scrolls VI ever appears, it still might not be enough to drag players away from Skyrim.
23. Portal 2
2011, PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Taking the smaller original Portal (initially just a bonus game on Valve’s Orange Box collection, remember) and expanding it into a larger, more complicated stand-alone venture, Portal 2 brought tractor beams, lasers, light bridges and bouncy paint to Aperture Science’s nightmarish testing facility — and it was a great success. With sardonic supercomputer GLaDOS trapped in a potato battery and ‘friendly’ personality core Wheatley (voiced by Stephen Merchant) having taken over, Portal 2 saw still-silent protagonist Chell put the new features to good use navigating even more fiendishly designed test chambers. With an engaging storyline, an equally enjoyable co-op campaign centred on “bipedal Personality Construct-based androids” ATLAS and P-body, and a catchy new song from Jonathan Coulton, Portal 2 is that rare sequel that significantly improves on the original. Now, where’s Portal 3, Valve?
22. Metal Gear Solid
Many believe Metal Gear Solid to be the first in the series. It's not – the original was released on the MSX2 in 1987 – but may as well be. The 1998 PlayStation entry made audiences sit up and pay attention thanks to incredible production values, a fantastically bonkers plot, and a contemporary hero in Solid Snake. Hideo Kojima's sharp direction resulted in one of the earliest examples of 'cinematic' gaming. More powerfully, it introduced a generation to stealth as a gameplay mechanic, and showcased the technological ingenuity games could provide. Remember, swap controllers to beat the psychic psycho.
21. GoldenEye: 007
Rare's authentic recreation of Pierce Brosnan's first turn as Bond is one of the few genuinely brilliant movie games. Not a high bar, really, but even without the licence, the N64 shooter would still be a legend. GoldenEye almost single-handedly moved the FPS forward as a genre, away from the clunky, cheesy Doom-clones of the time and towards more realistic fare. Its split-screen multiplayer generated some of the most vicious competition living rooms had ever seen, proving that high end shooters were finally viable on consoles. If not for GoldenEye, the current gaming world would be very different.
20. Spider-Man: Miles Morales
2020, PS5, PS4
2018’s Spider-Man game, focused on Peter Parker, was great. Miles’ game is better. His slightly tweaked powers — the usual suite of abilities you seem to get from spider bites in the Marvel Universe, plus electric ‘venom blasts’ and near-invisible camouflage — made for more engaging combat and better stealth mechanics, while the story was more focused, telling a more personal tale that impacted Miles’ family as much as it did New York. Best of all, it avoided the mid-game bloat and repetition of the original, while still offering a respectable 20-odd hours to swing around one of the most impressively realised game worlds ever produced.
19. The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
2015, PS4, Xbox One, PC
For almost a decade, CDProjekt had been ticking along with respectable adventures set in author Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher universe, with the exploits of monster hunter Geralt of Rivia earning a solid if not sizeable fan following. Then came The Witcher III. From its ever-grey moral complexity that drove every decision and plot point in the game — do you capture an arsonist or let him go free? The answer isn’t as obvious as you’d think — to its considered and tactical combat that demanded you prepare for even the smallest of encounters, Wild Hunt defied almost every expectation players held of action RPGs to that point and demanded they pay attention. Now, it’s considered AAA gold, and a mainstay on lists like this. Rarely has a game so fantastically improved upon its own precursors.
18. Final Fantasy IX
The last in the JRPG franchise to be released on the original PlayStation, Final Fantasy IX embraced the series' traditional roots, with a storybook aesthetic and a return to characters with specific roles, such as summoner or knight, in battle. At first glance, it seemed more juvenile than its forebears, the more sci-fi tinged FFVII and FFVIII, but if Final Fantasy IX is a fairy tale, it’s more like the original Brothers Grimm than Disney. What starts as a rousing tale of piracy evolves into an interdimensional saga of existential dread, with its break-out character — the adorable, clumsy, well-meaning black mage Vivi — and even its cheery, monkey-tailed chief protagonist Zidane Tribal faced with inevitable tragedy. A game that’s only grown in renown over the years, FFIX is now rightly regarded as one of the best entries in the entire series.
17. The Last Of Us Part II
The Last Of Us Part II could never match the seismic impact of its predecessor, but that didn’t mean this post-apocalyptic sequel wasn’t a staggering achievement in its own right — if nothing else, with its vast and incredibly detailed environments, developer Naughty Dog managed to squeeze out everything the PS4 had left to give. Set five years after the original, focus shifts from Joel to Ellie, and while there were some gentle adjustments to the game mechanics, the real strength remained the powerfully emotional writing. This isn’t a tale of survival, but one of obsession, hate, and regret, taking Ellie into incredibly dark places as she seeks revenge for a loss almost as devastating as that suffered by Joel in the first game’s intro. Told via an audaciously-conceived two-part narrative, this is a story that lingers with you long after you’ve put down the controller.
16. World Of Warcraft
2004, PC, Mac
When Blizzard threw open the gates of Stormwind and Orgrimmar in 2004, they invited players to walk the cobbled streets and ride the sun-baked plains that, until then, they had only ever experienced from the top down in RTS titles. With its colourful, caricatured visuals, huge personality and accessible yet deep mechanics, World Of Warcraft rose to dominate the entire MMO market, boasting, at its peak, more than 12 million subscribers and making an indelible mark on popular culture. Some deride it as an addictive, life-stealing time sink, while others laud it as a gaming masterstroke of unprecedented scale. Either way, in the two decades since WoW first opened Azeroth to tourism, and with multiple major expansions expanding the story and scope of the game, the impact it has had both on the gaming industry and the lives of its players cannot be understated.
15. The Legend Of Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time
"Hey! Listen! Over here!" Annoyed yet? If the high-pitched chirp of a condescending fairy sends you into a cold fury, chances are you remember the finest game on the Nintendo 64. While Ocarina is full of glorious set-pieces, epic bosses, and challenging puzzles, what really made Link's first 3D outing shine was letting players invest themselves in the quiet moments. Riding free over Hyrule Field, uncovering the vibrant world and its lore, seeing Princess Zelda with a personality for the first time, Shigeru Miyamoto's opus was one of the first truly living game worlds. A true masterpiece of the medium, and one it would take three entire console generations for Nintendo to better.
14. Street Fighter II
Literally every fighting game on the market today owes its existence to Street Fighter II. There had been one-on-one brawlers before, including its own less-popular antecedent, but Capcom's 1991 juggernaut popularised the genre. With eight playable characters – a number that would swell over the course of numerous revisions and sequels – each using their own fighting styles, SFII allowed incredibly dynamic matches. Even similar characters such as Ryu and Ken had micro-differences that affected play. Such incredible attention to detail and balance became the calling card of the series, and the high-water mark every fighting game since has tried to reach.
13. Shadow Of The Colossus
Desperation. Loneliness. Heartbreak. Wonder. Love. Shadow Of The Colossus was a morass of conflicting emotions and minimalist beauty. Travelling a barren world with naught but the horse beneath you and the sword at your side, Fumito Ueda's stark fantasy world saw players slaughtering majestic, terrifying colossi to save a lost love. With scant dialogue, no conventional enemies, and only abandoned ruins as evidence of civilisation, exploring the vast terrain was a sombre and contemplative experience — and somehow, the greater fidelity of the 2018 remake on PS4 only made it sadder, lonelier, more painful. A legitimately exceptional title, which only made the 11-year wait for the long-delayed follow-up, 2016’s The Last Guardian, that much more unbearable.
12. Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
2021, Xbox One, PS4, PC
Yes, we’re cheating here by cramming all three glorious sci-fi RPGs in BioWare’s original Mass Effect trilogy into one entry, but 2021’s remastered re-release really is the definitive edition. Guiding Commander Shepard through the murky ethical quandaries demanded of protecting the galaxy remains one of the most engaging and morally challenging experiences in the medium, thanks in large part to pivotal choices that often have no clear ‘good’ outcome. Factor in the wonderfully imagined universe and the depth of almost every character and species encountered in it, and it’s a cosmos all too easy to lose yourself in. Sure, it has downsides — driving sections in the first game, planet scanning in the second — but they can’t take the sheen off one of gaming’s greatest sagas.
11. Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo's story was essentially 'kill bad aliens' sci-fi pulp. It did, however, reformat console shooters, dragging them into the 21st century with oft-imitated tweaks such as limiting weapons held or co-op vehicular combat. Surprisingly, Halo preceded Xbox Live, instead utilising the Xbox's system link to allow up to 16 players to battle locally - while the Halo series would become a poster child for online multiplayer, this first game was counter-intuitively one of the last to physically bring gamers together. That game protagonist Master Chief was so rapidly installed as a gaming icon only speaks to Halo's impact and legacy, though, making it an easy contender for best launch game in console history.
2011, PC, Mac
Minecraft is more than a game, more than a franchise even. It’s long since transcended its origins as a charmingly blocky survival and crafting sim to become an entire ecosystem, one versatile enough to have found its way into real-world educational and scientific settings. That core survival game remains as compulsive as ever, of course — from making it through your first night in the Overworld to defeating the Ender Dragon, Minecraft delivers thrills on a regular basis. It’s the Creative mode that’s cemented it a place in history though: an endless sandbox where players are free to put their imaginations to use without limit. Whether building stunning recreations of real world landmarks and fictional realms, or generating entire other games, it’s unrivalled in its possibilities. Minecraft gave players a world of their own, then proceeded to change the real one.
9. Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow
1995-1999, Game Boy
Sure, there was the odd game with monster-catching mechanics before Pokémon — most notably the Megami Tensei franchise that eventually bore Persona — but nothing was even close to the cultural phenomenon that Satoshi Tajiri’s masterpiece became. With dozens of pocket monsters to catch, evolve, trade, and battle, all blended into an RPG that seemed to defy the humble limits of the Game Boy, it captivated players around the world and effectively created an entire genre. Its portable form factor and canny use of the link cable for multiplayer features made it perfect playground fodder, too — until most schools banned it, the killjoys. By then, it was too late though — we had to catch ‘em all, and by the time 1999’s Pokémon Yellow mixed things up by having series mascot Pikachu as the focus, we were living in a Pokémon world.
8. Grand Theft Auto V
2013, Xbox 360, PS3
There's something of an East Coast/West Coast rivalry internalised by the Grand Theft Auto games. After dominating a pseudo-New York in GTA IV, the fifth entry hopped back across its caricatured America for a sun-soaked tale of criminal fraternity in Los Santos. One of the most painstakingly realised virtual cities ever seen, it's perfectly possible to spend days blissfully exploring, while enjoying the bitingly satirical radio stations. Not enough? The complex relationships between three leads – a series first – whose lives are spiralling out of control, leads to one of the series' most engrossing stories, capped off by stunning performances from its voice cast. Impeccable. Like Skyrim, it’s been released on just about every format going since its original 2013 release, and it’s mad to think the series has skipped an entire console generation, but it only speaks to the strength and longevity of this entry.
2007, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Blending conventional weapons with chemically-derived superpowers, BioShock provided a fresh take on the modern FPS – and that was the least of its wonders. On your initial descent into the subaquatic failed utopia of Rapture - a dieselpunk nightmare fuelled by shattered optimism - you're immediately made aware that you've entered one of gaming's best-realised worlds. Piecing together the city's history reveals a chilling tale of untamed hubris and immoral experimentation. Throughout the game, the choice of saving or sacrificing 'Little Sisters' to harvest their power-sustaining ADAM mutagen tests players' morals, adding a serrated sci-fi edge to writer/director Ken Levine's cutting indictment of Ayn Rand's Objectivist principles. As thought-provoking now as it was on release.
6. Final Fantasy VII
1997, PlayStation, PC
A gateway drug JRPG for a generation, FFVII was a magical concoction of epic, planet-spanning story and deep, highly tactical turn-based battles. Placing you in the shoes of amnesiac SOLDIER Cloud Strife, the game whisked players on an eco-themed quest to take down a corporate oppressor, save the planet from strip mining of its resources and defeat the game's impossibly cool villain, Sephiroth. And then there was Aerith, a lonely flower girl whose shocking trajectory through the story is one of the most memorable and heart-breaking in video games. Even as Square Enix returns to and revamps the game with its ongoing Final Fantasy VII Remake project, the original will forever retain its importance and position as the jewel in Final Fantasy's crown.
5. Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 is the other contender — and likely winner — for best console launch title. It was also a colossal risk for Nintendo, abandoning the safe, established 2D Mario gameplay for untested 3D worlds on new hardware. The gamble paid off, though: pirouetting through the colourful stages, and getting to grips with Mario's sublime new movement set and amusing power-ups was a joyous experience. Director Shigeru Miyamoto's genius has rarely been clearer, with every jump, obstacle and challenge integrating into a perfect whole. As influential as any of its predecessors, Mario 64 codified the language that every 3D platformer since has followed.
Advertised in the US with the slogan "From Russia... with fun!", this relentless building block puzzle made peons of its victims — err, players, sorry — forced to forever align the long ones with the square ones whilst dealing with the S and Z ones as they inevitably piled up in the corner. Sheer frustration aside, there’s no overstating how important and enduring Tetris is as a game - there’s even a film based entirely around Nintendo attaining the rights! While the 1989 Game Boy version is perhaps the most iconic, it’s been released on over 60 platforms (2018’s Tetris Effect arguably being the definitive iteration), and remains simultaneously accessible yet challenging wherever it’s found. Admit it: the music is playing in your head right now, isn’t it?
3. Elden Ring
2022, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
The Dark Souls games are rightly held up as a landmark in gaming history, but they all seem like mere prelude to the force of nature that is Elden Ring. Director Hidetaka Miyazaki took everything he’d learned in the creation of Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro, and applied it to FromSoftware’s biggest game ever. It was a risk — would the light-touch storytelling, challenging combat, and detailed but proscriptive settings of the developer’s earlier works translate to an open world? As soon as you step out onto the gorgeous yet bleak plains of Limgrave and begin to explore the Lands Between, you realise the answer is a resounding “YES!” Combat is a delight, character builds are endlessly customisable, and the land itself is positively crammed with secrets that players are still discovering. An absolute juggernaut of a title, and one that deserves its near-instant legendary reputation.
2. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild
2017, Wii U, Nintendo Switch
The Wii U’s swansong and the Switch’s dawn chorus, Breath of the Wild was the biggest gamble Nintendo had taken with The Legend Of Zelda since Ocarina Of Time. Taking Link’s adventures into an open world environment was as big a shift as Ocarina’s leap into the third dimension, one that required changing everything from environmental navigation to narrative progression to the clothes on Link’s back. The pay-off was worth it though, resulting in the most stunningly realised version of Hyrule ever created, and the unfettered freedom to explore it however you liked. Want to run straight to confront Calamity Ganon armed with nothing more than a stick? You can. Want to go climb that mountain? You can. Want to unearth every secret the blighted land holds? You can do that too. Sure, Tears Of The Kingdom may have polished every aspect of the game to an even higher sheen, but it’s Breath of the Wild that provided the gems to polish. Hands down, the greatest accomplishment in a series already known for its greatness.
1. The Last Of Us
In the wake of a blockbuster sequel and a TV adaptation that shattered expectations, it’s hard to believe that The Last Of Us debuted on the PlayStation 3 a decade ago. Even then though, the impact of Naughty Dog's post-apocalyptic epic was Earth-shattering for players and rival developers alike. From its gut-wrenching prelude that can still emotionally eviscerate you more powerfully than the opening montage of Pixar’s Up, this was a game that you never wanted to end, even as it shook you to your soul; a fallen, ruined world that you genuinely cared about. With more 10/10 reviews than you can shake a makeshift shiv at, it scored highly in all aspects: combat, crafting, acting, script, sound design, art design, graphics and more. But it was its story and its characters that really set The Last Of Us apart: the relationship between Joel, a grizzled zombie apocalypse survivor, and Ellie, his teenage ward, forming an emotional core that left you in tears come the story's endlessly talked-about finale.