This is a list of video games that have consistently been considered the best of all time by video game journalists and critics. The games listed here are included on at least six separate "best/greatest of all time" lists from different publications. While any single publication's list reflects the personal opinions of its writers, when the lists are taken in aggregate, a handful of notable games have achieved something approaching critical consensus by multiple appearances in such lists.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may be a re-release of the original Wii U kart racer, but its function as both a fantastic kart racer in its own right and a more complete package of an already great game. Its selection of classic and brand new tracks make for an excellent rotation of races that keeps things fresh no matter how much you play, with a thorough roster of racers and plenty of kart customization options.
Zork was an early text-only adventure game, though it wasn’t the first—that honor goes to Colossal Cave Adventure. Released in 1980, it delivered the player into an extraordinarily rich and vivid universe, despite its total lack of graphics. To this day the opening lines induce waking hallucinations in old-school gamers: "You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here." What made Zork work, aside from its homespun, minimalist eloquence and self-referential wit (it was full of sly references to, among other things, Colossal Cave Adventure), was its eerily advanced text parser, which accepted commands from the player in plain English and turned them into actions in the game. Zork’s influence on later adventure games can’t be overstated—as an homage, the entirety of Zork was inserted into Call of Duty: Black Ops as an Easter egg.
Most of all, it was scary – like, actually scary: an exploration of the depths of human depravity and the effects it has on the people and places around us that few video games have handled with such a disturbing grace and maturity. As a hardened horror fan who’s tough to frighten, I appreciate Silent Hill 2’s ability to stick with me even a decade later.
As Microsoft Flight Simulator to the flight sim genre, so Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo series to hi-fi motorsport hot-rodding. Of all the Gran Turismo games, 2001's Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec for the PlayStation 2 remains the series' apotheosis, a madly ambitious encyclopedia of lovingly modeled vehicles and vistas surpassing the wildest gear nut fantasies. Here was a racing game to rule all others, that on its surface promised endless championship events framed by thrillingly realistic physics and painstakingly replicated visuals, but that also catered to armchair grease monkeys, who might spend hours fine-tuning then gawking at their drop-dead gorgeous rides.
There are plenty of entries in the Assassins Creed franchise that could find their way onto a Top 100 list, but for our money doubloons, Black Flag was as much fun as we’ve had in the franchise. Sure, there have been games that improved on the mechanical aspects of the AC series, but AC4 is an exceptional blend of both the massive open-world exploration that the franchise remains known for and the stealth-focused mission structure that gave the series its roots. Its naval combat and oceanic exploration offered boundless fun on the high seas, and there still hasn't been a historical guest star that rivaled the likes of Blackbeard or Mary Read.
Counter-Strike is the game that’s been with me the longest, in one form or another, but for me, it all started here. Many of the things I value most in skill-based games, I value because of Counter-Strike: good level design, team-based dynamic, the dedication required to master it, a friendly sense of competition, and a solid sense of community. It taught me the joy of earning my victories in a game, but also the importance of learning from my failures. It’s the reason I love first-person shooters and the reason I stuck by PC gaming at a young age, and I owe it all to its earliest iterations.
Game designer Will Wright has said The Sims, first released in 2000, was intended as a satire of American consumer culture. Millions of players seem to have missed the joke, happily occupying themselves with the mundane tasks of running a digital minion's life—from kitting out a new pad to managing bathroom breaks (or else). It innovated both the “sandbox” category of game in which “goals” are loosely (or not at all) defined, as well as the kind of minutely detailed task management that's a common feature of so many games today.
While some would vote Final Fantasy VI the better game, 1997's Final Fantasy VII is arguably the bolder one in this anything-but-final roleplaying series. Laying complex polygonal graphics over beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds, Japanese developer Squaresoft took advantage of the PlayStation’s compact-disc drive to craft an experience Sony rival Nintendo—who’d rejected Sony’s pitch for a disc-based add-on to the Super Nintendo—simply couldn’t. The operatic, labyrinthine and often wonderfully weird tale of ecologically minded heroes out to save their “living” planet from corporate energy raiders proved the most popular in the series, selling over 10 million copies worldwide and prompting perennial cries for a remake (that's finally happening).
Journey is the closest a video game has come to emulating the effects of poetry. In terms of structure it’s so simple: you must reach a snowy mountain peak visible in the distance. Along the way, your character surfs across glistening deserts, hides from flying creatures made entirely from cloth, and occasionally meets other players embarking on the same pilgrimage.
The seven-year gap between A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time saw Zelda fans eagerly anticipating Link’s next adventure, and they weren’t disappointed. Garnering nearly unanimous critical praise and fan adoration, Ocarina of Time was quickly regarded as one of the most important and groundbreaking games of all time, and for good reason. A sweeping, epic tale that introduced new characters, new lore, and an ever-expanding timeline theory, this version of Zelda took what was great about its predecessors and expanded on those themes and ideas exponentially.
Designed by a Russian computer scientist, mass-distributed by a Japanese company and devoured by gamers—casual or compulsive—around the world, Tetris has been a global phenomenon since its arrival in 1984. In 1989, Nintendo put the legendary tile-matching puzzler on the NES and Game Boy, where it catapulted the latter to meteoric success. It's been available on nearly every platform since, a testament to our never-ending zeal for stacking blocks. However addictive, Tetris also appears to have modest health benefits, like cravings control and PTSD prevention. Devotees would probably nod and note how much a high-scoring, in-the-zone session can feel like meditation. And speaking of Zen, the game's also generated its share of life lessons, including this apocryphal truism: "If Tetris has taught me anything, it’s that errors pile up and accomplishments disappear."
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.
For many gamers of a certain age (and now, thanks to the NES Classic, the children of same people), Super Mario Bros. was the first video game they ever played. Mario's move out of arcades, away from Donkey Kong, and into the Mushroom Kingdom changed our hobby and our industry as we know it, setting of a chain of events (Nintendo's rise from the game industry crash's ashes, the popularization of the platformer genre, etc.) that shaped gaming as we know it today.
I believe the defining characteristic that draws people to the game is the freedom to play the game as you see fit. Like grouping with friends? If so, the game gives you the ability to start with a crew and play through the entire game together, regardless of race or class. Want to make a go at it solo? Then feel free to take on quests alone. The higher level dungeons and raids demand teamwork, but with its stellar Looking for Group system, finding people to tackle a hard boss has never been easier.
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.
With its expansive environments and crafty puzzles, this 2015 installment of Crystal Dynamics' vaunted Tomb Raider series is easily its best (read TIME's review here). It transcends the tired run-and-fight mechanic that dominates so much of the action-adventure genre by instilling genuine feelings of wanderlust and peril. Here, players might dangle from grappling lines tenuously tethered to shimmering walls framing glacial cathedrals, or explore optional booby-trapped tombs, each a study in the art of not repeating puzzles or level design. It's survivalism at its best, and a stunning exemplar in the studio's reinvention of an iconic 1990s franchise.
Few games had more of a buildup prior to their release than Halo 2, and even fewer managed to live up to them in the way that Halo 2 did. Master Chief taking the fight with the Covenant to Earth was epic, action-packed, and visually stunning on the original Xbox. Sure, the campaign didn't so much end as much as stopped, but the shocking reveal of the playable Arbiter and his story that mirrored the Chief's was a twist no one saw coming.
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.