While the Tomb Raider reboot in 2013 kicked off a new direction for the iconic heroine that was more in line with modern AAA storytelling (read: Lara was given a deeper backstory and a personality), Rise of the Tomb Raider took it and ran a mile. It continued to flesh out Lara as a driven, wary character while upping the ante on what made the 2013 game so fun; fluid traversal, crunchy combat, and beautifully intricate puzzle tombs. Add a delicately told emotional throughline centered on Lara’s relationship with her father, and you’ve got what is currently the series’ apex.
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.
Like Fallout 3 before it, Fallout New Vegas throws us into a harsh, post-nuclear America. But it very quickly becomes something greater than just more of the same thanks to some amazing writing and touches by some of the minds behind the original Fallout and Fallout 2. It’s not limited to mechanical tweaks like improved real-time combat and crafting. Several factions with deep, shades-of-gray characters populate the wastes with interesting moral decisions, making the conflict between the New California Republic, Caesar’s Legion, and the mysterious Mr. House feel like anything but a black-and-white choice between good and evil.

If you've ever had trouble wrapping your head around the fact that e-sports is on pace to become a billion-dollar industry by decade's end, just spend half an hour watching world-class teams play Counter-Strike. Originally designed in 1999 as a modification of Half-Life, Counter-Strike and its modern incarnations are some of the top e-sports games in the world. Players are divided into two teams, "terrorists" and "counter-terrorists," then the former tries to bomb an objective or kidnap hostages while the latter labors to stop them. Watching the world's best Counter-Strike players is often more fun than actually playing yourself—hence the rise of game-streaming sites like Twitch, acquired by Amazon in 2014 in a roughly billion-dollar deal.

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.
As the second 3D game in the now mega-series Grand Theft Auto, Vice City had enormous shoes to fill coming off the groundbreaking statement that was Grand Theft Auto III. And did it ever deliver. Set during the 1980s in Rockstar’s facsimile of Miami, the violence, sex, and excess of this defining decade was slathered across a fully playable world of wannabe gangsters, sports cars, mountains of drugs, and briefcases full of bills.
This meant we de-emphasized the importance of longer influence on the industry, even if many of the games on 2019’s list were hugely influential (if it were all based on influence, 90% of the games would be from before 2003). Although some of the games on this list may be a little long in the tooth, we still believe every one of them stands up as an incredible gaming experience to this day.
Everything about DOOM was incredible. The graphics were colorful and convincing. Lightning was spooky. It felt like you were on a Martian moon. It's music was memorable. Weapon design was brilliant, and enemy design even more so. From the imps to the Cacodemons to the Cyberdemon, nearly every creature in DOOM was the stuff of nightmares – and in a then-unheard-of gameplay twist, they hated each other as much as they hated you. 

The first four Silent Hill games will always be dear to me, but Silent Hill 2 holds a special place in my heart. It was the first Silent Hill game to establish the town itself as a character – in a genre oversaturated with run-of-the-mill killers, zombies, aliens, and other more conventional adversaries, Silent Hill 2’s focus on horror in architecture, in the layout and personality of a space, of the human psyche turned tangible, was vastly more interesting to me.
At its core, Shadow of the Colossus is really a puzzle game. Once you’ve managed to recover from the shock of stumbling across each of the colossi, you’ll need to figure out the best way to scale, and ultimately destroy each monster. Each of these harrowing encounters will not only leave you sweaty, but reveal just the tiniest bit more about the vague, mournful plot that main character Wander has managed to find himself in. Part love story, part monster hunt, part parable, Shadow of the Colossus borrows heavily from what came before, but inspires much of what came after.
He may not be officially recognized by the new Star Wars canon, but there’s no Jedi I’d rather have in my corner than Kyle Katarn. Dark Forces 1 and 2 may have built up his character, but it wasn’t until Jedi Outcast that we really saw Kyle at his best (or worse, if you went down that path). More than just making choices about good and evil, Jedi Outcast allowed us to live out our force-using fantasies in a time where lightsaber battles were mostly relegated to the movies.
Furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly, Halo 2 was the killer app for Xbox Live. It brought the party system and matchmaking hopper concept to consoles, instantly making every other online console game look archaic in its infrastructure by comparison. Of course, it helped that the multiplayer gameplay was, well, legendary. The maps were almost all memorably brilliant, the match options were vast, and the ranking system kept you fighting night after night to try and move up. Halo 2 remains the gold standard for console first-person shooter multiplayer, despite the fact that it's been 15 years since its release.
Though there'd already been two official entries in the Metal Gear series (not counting Snake's Revenge, which we don't talk about) it wasn't until Snake covertly slithered his way onto the PlayStation that this franchise cemented itself as a big deal. Though often lauded for its contributions to the "stealth" genre, it was billed as a "Tactical Espionage Action" game. The moment-to-moment gameplay was about being sneaky, and players were rewarded for outsmarting the defenses of Shadow Moses quietly and cleverly, but things frequently got loud during iconic boss fights and over-the-top action setpieces.
Portal undoubtedly came out of nowhere and shattered the mold, but Portal 2 took that raw and incredible concept and managed to shape it into a more polished and impressive package. It cranked the dials up on just about everything that made the original so special. The mind-bending puzzles, the surprisingly dark story, and the ridiculous humor that balanced it out - each piece of that picture was refined and refreshed to build a sequel that actually surpassed the ambition of an already extremely ambitious game, making something both familiar and altogether new.
In 1997, GoldenEye was a revelation. Not only was it a more-than-decent movie tie-in – I’m hard pushed to think of one that’s come close, even to this day – but it became the blueprint for console first-person shooters, serving up a wonderfully engaging single-player mode that made you feel like Bond, with split-screen multiplayer that quickly became a staple in dorm rooms across the world.
The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link laid the foundations Link’s quest, but it was A Link to the Past that built the land of Hyrule into a world. From it’s unforgettable beginnings guiding a swordless Link through the rain, to the final showdown with Ganon and utilizing mastery of sword and bow to defeat evil, Link to the Past measured out a perfect pace of dungeons, exploration, and a gripping narrative that was almost unheard of at the time. It’s open landscape was always inviting but never felt aimless – striking the perfect balance of freedom and purpose in your quest to save Princess Zelda.
Starting the journey of Fallout 2 as a tribesman with nothing more than a loincloth and a spear to my name and gradually fighting my way up to a power-armored, gauss-gunning killing machine is a fantastic and surprisingly natural feeling of progression – one that few games have been able to match. Exploring a vast and open post-apocalyptic world full of deadly raiders, supermutants, and deathclaws is daunting but exciting, and thanks to attention to detail, atmospheric music, powerfully written morally ambiguous quests, and voice-acted interactions with key characters, the world feels personal and vivid even though we view it from a distant third-person camera.
Civilization IV is a great turn-based strategy game on its own, but it wasn’t until the Beyond the Sword expansion that it became truly legendary, and the highlight of the 28-year-old Civilization series. The changes it makes are sweeping: it adds corporations, which add another religion-like layer, fleshes out the espionage system and victory conditions, and enhances the AI to put up a great fight.
Mario games are synonymous with fun and innovation, and perhaps Mario 64 is the best example of the latter. It gathered the core elements of Mario’s best 2D, side-scrolling adventures and worked out how to translate them into a groundbreaking 3D world. It was still recognisably Mario – he collected mushrooms and ran and jumped his way to success, but he was forever changed. He could now long jump, triple jump, and backflip. While the underlying challenge remained the same and the locations were reassuringly familiar, the shift in perspective changed everything.

The first title designed by Nintendo mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto, 1981's Donkey Kong not only brought Mario into being, it also popularized the platformer—games in which a character has to climb or jump onto platforms. After dominating the golden age of arcades, Donkey Kong went on to have a massive influence on future Nintendo titles, ranging from the NES's Ice Climber to the Wii U's New Super Mario Bros. U. Even today, demanding expert timing and patience, it remains a timeless joy to play. (What's more, Donkey Kong was arguably the first game to feature hazardous barrels.)
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.
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."
By marrying an open-ended approach to quest structure with the ability to freely explore a vast, beautiful, intriguing world with little specific regulation, the 3D Zelda game template was shattered about as fast as the average breakable weapon in Breath of the Wild. The result is a gorgeous, freeing open-world action/adventure experience that evokes the wonder and fear of exploring a bold new place with the empowering tangibility of becoming its hero.
Like Fallout 3 before it, Fallout New Vegas throws us into a harsh, post-nuclear America. But it very quickly becomes something greater than just more of the same thanks to some amazing writing and touches by some of the minds behind the original Fallout and Fallout 2. It’s not limited to mechanical tweaks like improved real-time combat and crafting. Several factions with deep, shades-of-gray characters populate the wastes with interesting moral decisions, making the conflict between the New California Republic, Caesar’s Legion, and the mysterious Mr. House feel like anything but a black-and-white choice between good and evil.
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. 

Mario games are synonymous with fun and innovation, and perhaps Mario 64 is the best example of the latter. It gathered the core elements of Mario’s best 2D, side-scrolling adventures and worked out how to translate them into a groundbreaking 3D world. It was still recognisably Mario – he collected mushrooms and ran and jumped his way to success, but he was forever changed. He could now long jump, triple jump, and backflip. While the underlying challenge remained the same and the locations were reassuringly familiar, the shift in perspective changed everything.
Suikoden II isn’t about saving the world. The scenario instead favors an extremely local perspective, gradually expanding outward from your personal circle of acquaintances to encompass your place in a war of feuding nations populated by characters with complex, realistic motivations. There are very few real villains (with one extreme and terrifying exception), a web of constantly conflicting loyalties and alliances, and a Machiavellian pragmatism that will ethically strain you as you try to balance your obligations to family, friends, mentors, and your own conscience.
So look, we want to play a better game than Super Mario World. There’s no great, existential reason for Super Mario World to remain at the top of IGN’s list. Let Super Mario World’s placement on this list be a challenge to future game developers. We dare you to make a better game: Puzzling, but not opaque; tough but not intimidating; beautiful, funny, joyful, and universally recognizable. And, while we have your attention, dinosaurs are always a plus.
As you head out for a suicide mission, you’ll meet some of the best-written characters that feel original and have the power to evoke true emotions. Perhaps one of the best parts about earning the loyalty of each of the companions was discovering more about their respective species and seeing how they’re surviving in a violent galaxy. Maximum loyalty for my companions in Mass Effect 2 was not an option; for my heart’s own good, it was a requirement.
The series’ A.I. Director, which in the first game handled how many zombies pounced on you depending on how well you’re doing, got an upgrade. It not only controlled the flow of zombies, but would try to force players to take more difficult paths in a level, and reward players with extra health packs and ammo if they were doing well. Though the original development team went on to create the asymmetrical multiplayer shooter Evolve, nothing has quite matched the visceral thrills and scares of Left 4 Dead 2, which stands as one of the pinnacles of modern co-op gaming.
This meant we de-emphasized the importance of longer influence on the industry, even if many of the games on 2019’s list were hugely influential (if it were all based on influence, 90% of the games would be from before 2003). Although some of the games on this list may be a little long in the tooth, we still believe every one of them stands up as an incredible gaming experience to this day.
While it may not be as old as Super Mario Kart or Road Rash, when it comes to arcade racers, Burnout 3: Takedown is an undeniable classic. I must have logged 60 hours in this game, and that was well before the days where I got paid to do that. I defy you to bring up arcade racers and not have someone mention Burnout 3. Its predecessor, Point of Impact, had fine-tuned the balance of high-speed racing and vehicular destruction, but Takedown perfected it.
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?
Final Fantasy VII is a landmark JRPG for a variety of reasons, but many of its achievements have now been lost to the winds of time and technological progress. Yet, its age has done nothing to change its status as the series' most popular and beloved entry, which has come about thanks to its wide cast of detailed, emotionally-driven characters that journey through one of the most memorable worlds to emerge from Japan's development scene. Fundamentally a story about dealing with loss and grief, Final Fantasy VII features troubled heroes fighting against the corporate might of the Shinra company, which is rapidly causing planetary devastation in the name of profit. The pacing of this continually timely tale is its masterstroke; Square allows you to slowly fall for its rag-tag bunch of eco-terrorists before introducing its main villain - the forever chilling Sephiroth - and then focussing the story on much more personal stakes, despite the looming apocalypse. While overall the story is heavy and sombre, the world thrives on its idiosyncrasies - a variety of bizarre incidental enemies, comedic minigames, and increasingly absurdly sized swords. It's this combination of light and dark that makes Final Fantasy VII such an enduring JRPG classic.
Blizzard’s bracing 2004 fantasy simulation World of Warcraft introduced millions of players to the concept (and joys and frustrations) of massively multiplayer online worlds. Like so many influential products, it didn’t invent so much as refine and perfect—from the way gamers meet-up and socialize online to how to populate large digital worlds with satisfying stuff to do. It was one of the first games to render a landmass that felt “real” and un-gated, allowing players to run from one end of the continents in its fictional Azeroth to the other without seeing a loading screen. It also de-stigmatized and normalized online gaming by, over time, revealing that its millions of players (some 12 million at its peak in 2010) were no different from non-players. The massive revenue it generated for years also spurred legions of game designers to try to create similar online playgrounds.
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