This was one of those games you could easily lose hours playing, either alone or with friends. Among our nerdy cadre, there was no greater source of joy, sorrow, or white-hot rage than Burnout 3. Few things could ruin a friendship faster than wrecking someone's ride just before the finish line – though thankfully all was (usually) forgotten during the next round of Crash Mode.
Fun fact: It was Steve Jobs who first introduced Bungie's Halo: Combat Evolved to the public, promising in 1999 that it would arrive simultaneously on Windows and Mac. That, of course, was before Microsoft acquired the studio and turned Halo into the definitive 2001 Xbox launch title, simultaneously proving shooters could work brilliantly on gamepads. Set on a mysterious artificial ring-world, players take up as Master Chief, a faceless, futuristic soldier fighting the alien Covenant and, later, the zombie-like Flood. The single-player campaign offered a gripping storyline that brought plot to the fore for one of the first times in a mainstream shooter, though some grumbled about its repetitive level design. The multiplayer, meanwhile, offered one of the finest such experiences of any shooter in history, replete with sniper rifles, sticky grenades, vehicles and other twists.
Dishonored managed to breathe new life into a faltering stealth genre by invigorating players with a host of magical abilities and wickedly clever tools for every occasion. By allowing you to get creative with stealth (or a total lack thereof), players could slip through levels like a ghostly wraith, or slice up unsuspecting foes as a murderous spirit of vengeance. Dishonored revitalized the stealth genre with its approach to rewarding each playstyle: whether challenging yourself to remain unseen and getting your revenge without ever spilling blood, or springing deadly traps and disposing of targets in the most gruesome way possible. Its levels are impeccably designed to reward careful exploration and planning, and provide multiple ways to complete objectives with secrets crammed in every corner.
Mario's brick-breaking, Goomba-stomping antics were enough to mesmerize the world's gamers in Nintendo's idiosyncratic side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. games. But 1996's Super Mario 64 transported Nintendo fans into Mario's universe as no other game in the series had, simultaneously laying out a grammar for how to interact with 3D worlds (and in its case, divinely zany ones). At more than 11 million copies sold, it was one of the bestselling games for the Nintendo 64, but its real impact was arguably off-platform, where it tectonically shifted the design imperatives of an entire industry. As Rockstar co-founder and Grand Theft Auto V cowriter Dan Houser put it: "Anyone who makes 3-D games who says they’ve not borrowed something from Mario or Zelda [on Nintendo 64] is lying."
Chrono Trigger is widely regarded as the greatest RPG of all time, and for good reason. What begins as a typical “day-in-the-life” adventure, quickly spirals into a sprawling, epoch jumping romp that is equally exhilarating and endearing. Created by a “dream team” at Squaresoft including Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii, and character designs by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, Chrono Trigger’s pedigree was only outshined by its universal praise upon its release in the spring of 1995. Even at the twilight of the SNES’ lifespan, Chrono Trigger’s branching narrative, colorful characters and unforgettable soundtrack were are more than enough to earn it a place on our list in this timeline or any other.
And as is typical of Blizzard as a studio, Diablo II can be played on countless different levels. I never even touched most of what the game had to offer, but ultimately I didn’t need to. The simple joy of wading through thick knots of enemies with my necromancer and his summoned brood of skeletons and mages, setting off chains of corpse explosions and painting the world red was an end game in itself.
I still remember spending hours sitting in front of the TV with the Nintendo Entertainment System sitting at my feet, rotating brightly colored puzzle pieces as they fell from the abyss, attempting to arrange them into horizontal lines that when assembled correctly would disappear and cause me to advance to the next stage. It was crazy fun, even when blocks began to fall at an alarmingly fast pace and I fell into a frenzied panic. (I still remember how frustrated I’d get making careless mistakes that resulted in giant, pixelated Towers of Pisa.)
Developer Riot’s initiative to reboot League of Legends’ lore has also made it more captivating on the narrative front as well. Each new Champion or Champion makeover is presented with such beautiful pageantry that it’s difficult not to get sucked into catching up on any lore you may have missed. With continuous improvement updates and a constantly changing roster, League of Legends stands as one of the best competitive games in existence.
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.
Sam Fisher's third adventure is actually three masterpiece games in one. In the campaign, a stunning real-time lighting engine and open mission design allows you to play in countless different ways: total stealth, full gunplay, or a gadget-fest (shoot a Sticky Shocker into a puddle as an enemy walks through it, anyone?). Memorable locations like the lighthouse, bank, Hokkaido (with its "anti-ninja flooring"), and more made every mission memorable. Game 2 is the four-mission two-player co-op campaign, in which two young agents work together in a side story that runs parallel to Fisher's adventure. You literally have to play together, from boosting each other up to high ledges to going back-to-back to scale elevator shafts, the co-op mode committed to cooperation in a way no other action game had. And then you had Spies vs. Mercs, which took the asymmetrical multiplayer mode introduced in Pandora Tomorrow and refined it into something truly unique in the gaming world. Agile, non-lethal spies playing in third-person view faced off against slow-moving but heavily armed mercs that saw the game through a first-person helmet. It was tense, riveting, and brilliant.

I came to the Diablo II party incredibly late. The first time I actually played it properly was in 2011, more than ten years after its initial release. Could this iconic game possibly live up to my lofty expectations that late in the day? Absolutely. In fact, I was surprised by just how good it was. After all, Diablo II doesn’t exactly go out of its way to be user-friendly. Even choosing a class and build is daunting, let alone learning the quirks of its many systems.


It's 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System has invaded American living rooms, and brothers Mario and Luigi are running rampant through the Mushroom Kingdom. They're stomping on goombas, de-shelling winged turtles, bashing question mark blocks and lobbing fireballs—like this is totally normal plumber behavior. (Clearly the 1970s drugs worked.) Yet however bizarre this side-scroller seems at face value, it's also as insanely fun to play today as it was three decades ago. And in the wake of Mario's nonstop running, this platformer par excellence turned the NES into a must-have appliance, Mario into a beloved gaming franchise and Nintendo into a household name. Talk about grabbing the flag.

BioShock's gripping metaphysical plot, over-the-top art deco levels and motley cast of hauntingly broken personas intermingle to furnish an experience so riveting and simultaneously disturbing that it fueled (at the time perfectly reasonable) conversations about games as more than dopamine-fueled diversions. Studio Irrational Games' 2007 first-person shooter takes the player on an imaginative journey through the fictional undersea city of Rapture, built by fanatical industrialist Andrew Ryan (whose name references Atlas Shrugged novelist and self-described objectivist Ayn Rand). The game set new standards for video games on so many levels, from its horrifying forms of self-augmentation, to its ecology of intersectional enemy behaviors and its sublime ways of channeling what amounted to a withering deconstruction of extremist modes of thought.
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.
Fun fact: It was Steve Jobs who first introduced Bungie's Halo: Combat Evolved to the public, promising in 1999 that it would arrive simultaneously on Windows and Mac. That, of course, was before Microsoft acquired the studio and turned Halo into the definitive 2001 Xbox launch title, simultaneously proving shooters could work brilliantly on gamepads. Set on a mysterious artificial ring-world, players take up as Master Chief, a faceless, futuristic soldier fighting the alien Covenant and, later, the zombie-like Flood. The single-player campaign offered a gripping storyline that brought plot to the fore for one of the first times in a mainstream shooter, though some grumbled about its repetitive level design. The multiplayer, meanwhile, offered one of the finest such experiences of any shooter in history, replete with sniper rifles, sticky grenades, vehicles and other twists.
Before Grand Theft Auto III, game levels were essentially designed as a series of boxes. Rockstar’s crime epic broke that pattern in 2001, ushering in a golden age of go-anywhere, do-anything open worlds. Designers since have been trying to recapture the sense of freedom and possibility created by GTA III’s gritty take on New York City, which allowed players to amass a criminal empire—or simply manage a mundane day job, like schlepping citizens around in taxis or putting out fires.
Thief II took everything right about stealth games, and then added a dash of steampunk-infused magic. Developer Looking Glass Studio crafted a believable world where technology was on the rise and the magic of the old world was on the run. Adding to the mix was the perfect anti-hero who wouldn't even consider the possibility of saving the world unless the end of the world meant no more houses to steal from.
And as is typical of Blizzard as a studio, Diablo II can be played on countless different levels. I never even touched most of what the game had to offer, but ultimately I didn’t need to. The simple joy of wading through thick knots of enemies with my necromancer and his summoned brood of skeletons and mages, setting off chains of corpse explosions and painting the world red was an end game in itself.
When you walk into a room full of arcade games, something looks different about Donkey Kong. Its pastel blue cabinet is a bit shorter than the others; a bit rounder, more welcoming. The glowing marquee and art on the game depicts characters that belong on a 1960s pizza delivery box. This machine clearly doesn’t hold a Star Wars-inspired space battle – but what’s in it? When you put a quarter in, the machine shows you a little cartoon of an ape clambering up a ladder, mocking you. It asks “How High Can You Get?” and the instructions end there. Barrels and fire fill the screen while the characters’ intricate animations for every movement continue the illusion that you are playing this cartoon. You probably don’t get very high. Hopefully, you have more quarters.
^ 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 da db dc dd de df dg dh di dj dk dl dm dn do dp dq dr ds dt du dv dw dx dy dz ea eb ec ed ee ef eg eh ei ej ek el em en eo ep eq er es et eu ev ew ex ey ez fa fb fc fd fe ff fg fh fi fj fk fl fm fn fo fp fq fr Polygon Staff (November 27, 2017). "The 500 Best Video Games of All Time". Polygon.com. Archived from the original on March 3, 2018. Retrieved December 1, 2017.

Fortnite changed the playing field of battle royales upon its release in 2017. Originally starting out as a purchase to play cooperative shooter-survival game with the title “Save the World,” Epic Games branched out and opened up an early access Fortnite Battle Royale mode. Over 10 million players amassed over the first two weeks of the release and Epic quickly changed their Battle Royale to a free-to-play model. Almost overnight, Fortnite became the reigning battle royale game to play as consistent updates to the map and limited-time game modes rolled out. With the steady flow of fresh content and updates to Fortnite’s Battle Royale, it stands out in its genre as a colorful and unique title other games have yet to compete with.


Pokemon GO in 2019 is a game I shouldn’t care about. When it launched in 2016 it was in a lot of ways a mediocre experience. Outside of catching the original 151 Pokemon the game itself relied heavily on the nostalgia of the Pokemon franchise and augmented reality gimmick of having them show up in the real world. If you didn’t care about the IP, the game itself was very lacking. In 2019, the game is flooded with a multitude of tasks, activities, and events that can involve anyone from yourself to a large group of people. These additions create an experience that incentivizes users to be more dedicated to daily play without feeling like a grind. Friendship has been introduced and allows users to now exchange gifts, trade or even battle each other. Quests (research tasks as they are referred to in-game) have been added that reward items and even special Pokemon. Events now fill each month’s calendar with new (and sometimes shiny) Pokemon, exclusive rewards and new ways to play the game. There is even a burgeoning competitive PVP scene which gave Pokemon GO its first-ever appearance at the Pokemon World Championships this year.
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.
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.

As its name suggests, Mario Kart 8 is a kart-racing video game and the eighth installment in the series. Published by Nintendo for Wii U in 2014, this game was followed up by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, released in 2017 for the Switch. By the end of 2019, it had sold more than 22 million copies around the world, making it the system’s best-selling game ever. 
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.

To me, everything about Skyrim was a vast improvement over its predecessor, Oblivion. The craggy, intimidating peaks of the Nord homeland and the saga of the Dovahkiin were much more interesting than the relatively sedate happenings of their neighbors in Cyrodiil. But what’s more, there’s so much lying just around the corner, off the beaten path, that you could never even stumble upon it in a hundred hours as the Dragonborn. But the fact that such care for detail, for world-building, for exploration and for immersion was paid to every tome, tomb, and quest, is enough to cement Skyrim as one of the absolute best role-playing games we’ve ever seen, and one of the best games of all time.
Suikoden II manages to support an enormous cast of interesting characters by tasking the player with building a stronghold of their own in the world, a frontier nation of sorts populated by men and women from all walks of life eager to contribute their skills to building something better for everyone. It’s a remarkably optimistic and surprisingly fun diversion from the typically-reactive storytelling stance of most RPGs.
Mega Man 3 took every lesson that Capcom learned from Mega Man 2 and expanded, refined, and remixed it. The third game in the seminal series brought Mega Man into the 90s in true Blue Bomber style, retaining the challenging platforming (though, not the tough as nails version seen in the original) and incredible boss battles the series had become known for. While taking on new enemies like Snake Man and Magnet Man, our plucky robot hero managed to learn a few tricks that would become mainstays for future games in this, and the Mega Man X, series. The slide ability gave Mega Man a much mobility upgrade, and his friendly robot pooch, Rush, allowed him to explore greater heights and find more hidden secrets than in any of his previous outings. Mega Man 3 also marked the appearance of Proto Man who’s short arc established him not only as Mega Man’s older brother but also a series mainstay and occasional foil. There’s a long running debate as to whether Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3 is the definitive NES Mega Man game, but for our money it’s the third installment, hands down.

The story of Ness, Paula, Jeff, and Poo's journey across a strange, slanted version of America was such a vast departure from previous RPGs I'd played like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. It wasn't drenched in fantasy tropes and pathos, but rather brimming with color, humor, and some of the weirdest characters and events I'd ever seen in a game. Simultaneously, it knows how to pack an emotional punch.


Contra was one of the few cooperative video games of the 8-bit era where player two didn’t feel like a burden dragging you down with every step. With plenty of weapon drops to go around and hordes of enemies coming from every direction, a partner’s firepower was a welcome addition in most situations. And if a friend couldn’t keep up the pace on the waterfall level, you could easily incentivize them to improve their skills by scrolling the screen upward and killing them, which I did whenever my little brother lagged behind.
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!
L4D2 - developed in-house at Valve - has more creative levels in its campaign, more special infected to kill (or play as, if playing in Versus Mode), a bigger variety of weapons, and protagonists with some actual personality. Even the Source Engine, though already showing its age with L4D1, looked - and most importantly, played, - just fine, considering the dozens of ravenous zombies the game could throw at you at any moment.
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.
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.
A sprawling Western that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Grand Theft Auto V as one of gaming’s greatest open-world achievements, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game of rare scope and even rarer quality. A beautiful ode to an ugly era, RDR2 combines Rockstar’s most authentic and lived-in open world ever with its most earnest storytelling to date, filling in the gaps with an astonishing array of deep systems and nearly endless emergent gameplay opportunities. Its slower pace allows us to binge on the world like a virtual museum but, when the lead starts flying, it puts the wild back in the west (and then some). Few games manage the level of uncompromising detail as Red Dead Redemption 2 does. Do we need to discuss the horse balls again?
For many growing up in the 1990s, the Pokémon craze was unavoidable. And when Pokémon Red and Blue launched in 1998, those franchise-obsessed kids were given the chance to start a critter-filled adventure of their own--one they'd only to that point experienced through TV shows, toys and trading card games. Red and Blue also had all the hallmarks of a strong roleplaying game: addictive turn-based battles, a seemingly endless goal (to catch 'em all), plenty of attainable yet rewarding goals (earning gym badges, leveling up) and an expansive, uncharacteristically friendly world. The games also managed a feat all-too-rare in the games industry: a setup simple enough to appeal to children, but with layers of strategic depth sufficient to hook adults as well.
It's 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System has invaded American living rooms, and brothers Mario and Luigi are running rampant through the Mushroom Kingdom. They're stomping on goombas, de-shelling winged turtles, bashing question mark blocks and lobbing fireballs—like this is totally normal plumber behavior. (Clearly the 1970s drugs worked.) Yet however bizarre this side-scroller seems at face value, it's also as insanely fun to play today as it was three decades ago. And in the wake of Mario's nonstop running, this platformer par excellence turned the NES into a must-have appliance, Mario into a beloved gaming franchise and Nintendo into a household name. Talk about grabbing the flag.
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