Myst is a perfect example of a monumentally influential game that would be almost excruciatingly painful to play today. The 1993 graphical adventure famously let players loose—sort of, since it consisted of a slow-loading series of beautifully rendered photos—on a mysterious island. Despite its now-clunky mechanics, it established an entirely new kind of fiction whose influence can be felt in everything from mythic sci-fi novels to the ABC television show Lost. Its vast popularity also helped establish the then-nascent CD-ROM format.
Taking it a step further, those cutscenes were paired with some truly talented voice acting and narrative design. As I played through the storyline I learned to love the different little characters I interacted with and felt genuine anger when the Zerg managed to capture Kerrigan and bend her to their will. This character had been with you through thick and thin and after she's captured you, of course, begin the mission to rescue her.
^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap Peckham, Matt; Eadicicco, Lisa; Fitzpatrick, Alex; Vella, Matt; Patrick Pullen, John; Raab, Josh; Grossman, Lev (August 23, 2016). "The 50 Best Video Games of All Time". Time. Archived from the original on August 30, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
In this era of Trophies and Achievements, completing everything in a game is common. But when Yoshi’s Island came out, the reward for exploration was greater than a Gamerscore: for collecting all of the extremely well-hidden red coins and flowers and then finishing a level with 30 stars (which basically means you can’t get hit), you received a 100% rating. If you did this on every level in a world, you unlocked two more levels in each of the six worlds. And these levels were even harder than the others!
^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg ch ci cj ck cl cm cn co cp cq cr cs ct cu cv cw cx cy cz "The Top 200 Games of All Time". Game Informer. No. 200. January 2010.
What's the plot of Galaga? Who cares: You've got a bunch of quarters, and you want to blast a bunch of aliens. Released stateside in 1981, Galaga is the exemplar of the arcade's golden age, a simple shoot-em-up where the only objective is to beat the other jerks' high scores. (Serious players know the trick is to let the aliens tractor-beam your ship, then blast it free with another life, thereby getting double the firepower.) It's one of the few old-school arcade games that's still just as much fun to play today, thereby passing the often cruel test of time.
Achtung! If Doom is the father of modern first-person shooters, Wolfenstein 3D is their granddaddy. Made by id Software and released shortly before Doom in May 1992, Wolfenstein 3D cast players as William "B.J." Blazkowicz, an Allied spy captured by Nazis in World War II. As Blazkowicz, your job is simple: Escape from Castle Wolfenstein and shoot a bunch of bad guys in the process, which was (and remains) the definition of "thoughtless catharsis"—words that to this day define so much of Wolfenstein 3D's progeny. 

When Tony Hawk Pro Skater came out, it was like nothing anyone had ever played before. It just felt so insanely intuitive, it had great music, it just felt… cool? Gamers, skaters, heshers, posers, there was not one demo that wasn’t drawn into the cultural singularity of gaming and skateboarding like a rent-a-cop to a skate video shoot. When Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 came out, and improved upon the original in virtually every single way imaginable (even more flexible controls, an expanded soundtrack, more unlockable secrets, custom skaters, even a park editor!), the popularity of the game just exploded in a way that could only have ended in steadily diminishing annual releases. But for one shining moment, we all collectively agreed that THPS2 was, and still is, the perfect skateboarding game.

This iteration of Hyrule was more than just moving between enemy-filled screens, it encompassed everything an immersive experience should be: a vast open world that teased you with secrets hiding just beyond your reach, begging you to come back with new and inventive tools. Each zone – whether in the cheerful overworld, dimly lit caves, or the intimidating Dark World – was brought to life through a culmination of details like the sound of the Tempered Sword cleaving the air, the catchy jingle of a puzzle well-solved, and the ambient tunes of Koji Kondo’s score. This version of Hyrule more than any other before or since, is the one I fell most in love with.


Who can forget the moment they first shot the face off a possessed farmer in Resident Evil 4, only to conjure a lively Lovecraftian horror with tentacles squirming from its neck? This was Resident Evil reborn, its creaky fixed perspectives and klutzy directional controls supplanted by a freer over-the-shoulder, shoot-first perspective that felt at once elegant and intuitive. Instead of cheap haunted house scares in claustrophobic spaces, the story shifted to organic exploration of delightfully creepy areas, punctuated by frenzied scrambles to fend off the series' most inspired adversaries. Capcom's timely embrace in 2005 of action-oriented principles stole nothing from the game's cheerless ambience, and actually amplified the sense of trudging through a phantasmagoric nightmare.
Interplay's original Fallout arrived like a cloudburst after a PC roleplaying drought in the mid-1990s. But it took IP newcomer Bethesda's application of exhaustive, obsessively traditional roleplaying ideals tempered in its fantasy Elder Scrolls games to craft an experience in 2008 that surpassed the original in virtually every way. Both vast yet densely textured, packed with unforgettable characters and ethical nuance, sonically bleak yet whimsically tuneful once you found the right radio station--Fallout 3 showed us what a haunting and freewheeling post-apocalyptic masterpiece could look like.

Who can forget the moment they first shot the face off a possessed farmer in Resident Evil 4, only to conjure a lively Lovecraftian horror with tentacles squirming from its neck? This was Resident Evil reborn, its creaky fixed perspectives and klutzy directional controls supplanted by a freer over-the-shoulder, shoot-first perspective that felt at once elegant and intuitive. Instead of cheap haunted house scares in claustrophobic spaces, the story shifted to organic exploration of delightfully creepy areas, punctuated by frenzied scrambles to fend off the series' most inspired adversaries. Capcom's timely embrace in 2005 of action-oriented principles stole nothing from the game's cheerless ambience, and actually amplified the sense of trudging through a phantasmagoric nightmare.
When I was famished for Dungeons and Dragons, Divinity: Original Sin 2 filled that void for me. It gave me the freedom to cheat, steal, kill, or persuade my way with kindness through the campaign with a friend (or three!) just like in D&D. Creative play is not only allowed, but encouraged and intentionally made possible by the developers. It felt liberating playing a huge RPG that rewards “cheating” the system, and encountering NPCs and opponents that acknowledge and react to it. I’ve since recommended it to all of my real-life D&D parties, and they’ve all come back with the same opinion: This is the best D&D experience you can get from a video game. DOS2 even has a Game Master mode, which lets you build your own campaigns. But, the built-in story is decidedly plenty and nearly infinitely replayable. The premade characters all have their own special storylines, and the numerous way things pan out depend on player actions, backstory choices, race, and more. Whether playing on an easy or hard difficulty setting, as an Elf Ranger or an Undead Conjurer, as a helpful adventurer or a murderous thief, DOS2 is a fun fantasy world to get lost in no matter what.
Half-Life 2 showed us in 2004 how a developer could approach a genre (the first-person shooter) given to bang and bluster, and dignify it with a mind-bending dystopian tale that at times rivaled the literary. Taking up as a weaponized theoretical physicist, players explored a paranoiac's world, questioning the nature of everything as they cut through waves of alien Combine before taking hold of an ingenious tool that made gravity itself a plaything. Alas, like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood or Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, we may never know how protagonist Gordon Freeman's tale ends. But it's a measure of how deeply studio Valve's work resonated, that when it comes to lists of most anticipated sequels, gamers talk of little else.

For whatever reason, it's not often you get a decent video game based on a movie. Rare's 1997 Nintendo 64 shooter GoldenEye 007, which ties into the 1995 James Bond film, is a glorious exception. A heart-pounding single-player campaign let gamers slip on the (doubtless immaculately tailored) shoes of the man with a license to kill. But as with other shooters on this list, multiplayer is where GoldenEye truly shines. Grenades bounce off walls, golden guns perform single shot kills, and cheaters prefer Oddjob because he's a smaller target. It was, for many, the reason to buy a Nintendo 64. One word of advice: Don't even bother with the Klobb.


Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn was very much a leader of the pack during the RPG renaissance of the early 2000s and is still an excellent example of that genre’s strengths. From its fantastically written characters and story to its vast arsenal of weapons, armors, and magic, Baldur’s Gate II was an adventure that you could not only get lost in, but that could be lived in, spending hundreds of hours exploring every hidden secret and mystery.
In a universe where Everquest was king, and MMOs seemed like a dominated market, leave it up to Blizzard to turn one of their key franchises into the biggest MMO there ever was, and possibly ever will be. After six expansions, World of Warcraft has shown very little signs of slowing down. Of course, the player-base has always fluctuated, but the massive hype around a brand new expansion is always enough to bring even the most retired player back for more.
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