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.
It gave us a deeper look into the wonderful world of Aperture Science without completely dragging all of its mysteries out into the light. It also mixed its “thinking with portals” puzzles up even further by weaving in gel mechanics that felt entirely fresh and completely natural at the same time - while simultaneously and subtly using them to tie gameplay mechanics into the story, patiently waiting until its incredible finale to pay off those setups with one of the weirdest and most spectacular video game endings around. Couple that with a seriously good co-op campaign and even a full-on custom level builder and sharing systems added post-launch and Portal 2 has stayed the high bar by which all first-person puzzle games should be measured, even nearly a decade later.

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.
SimCity 2000 may not be the most complex or original of the city-building series, but it’s definitely the most iconic. The sequel to the original SimCity is a beautiful, funny, detailed sandbox that gives players control of a huge, customizable map that they can manage how they see fit. You can build the perfect metropolis – see little sailboats in your marina and cars on your streets, get a statue built in your name, keep your advisors happy by building mass transit and hospitals. Or you can burn it all to the ground with catastrophes like earthquakes and alien attacks.
When I was younger, few games settled an argument like GoldenEye. Living in a flat with three other people, if we couldn’t decide like rational adults whose turn it was to do the household chores, it was decided over a game of GoldenEye’s multiplayer. The battleground was always the Facility and to truly sort out the men from the Bonds it was Slaps only. Anyone who picked Odd Job was instantly disqualified. 

There’s a reason a snake’s skeleton, and not a snake itself, features prominently in the title sequence of Snake Eater. This was the game that stripped the Metal Gear formula down to its very core and proved that it could still function even outside our expectations. It forced us to take what we knew about espionage and infiltration and learn how to apply it in a new, unfamiliar environment, and it did so with a bold and elegant understanding of its own systems. You could have all the stealth know-how and military training in the world, but out there in the unpredictable jungle of the Russian wilderness, you were exposed, vulnerable… a Naked Snake. And it worked.
In nearly three decades no game has supplanted Super Mario World as the best game ever made... Which is stupid. I’ll get to that in a bit. Super Mario World is a relatively simple game to describe. It’s a Super Mario game, and we all know what that means: Mushrooms; perfect running and jumping action; and a giant world to explore, crammed with secrets.
BioShock will likely always be remembered for its game-changing “Would You Kindly?” twist, but the first adventure in Rapture is so much more than a dressed-up dupe. From first encountering a splicer caring for a gun the way a mother cares for her baby to the still-enrapturing Andrew Ryan twist toward the game’s end, BioShock delivers one enrapturing setpiece after another. That’s largely in part thanks to one of the most memorable locations in gaming history. So much story is embedded in the dilapidated hallways and shuttered rooms of Rapture, a decaying underwater labyrinth that demands to be investigated. The mark of a good experience is one that you keep thinking about long after you’ve finished it. And I still haven’t stopped thinking about BioShock, its incredible location, and those awesome Plasmids, over a decade later.
X-COM’s magic is how it makes the war to defend Earth from a vastly superior alien invasion force feel so intensely personal, even with its extremely dated (but expressive) graphics and spreadsheet-like interface. Part of this comes from the way that every decision you make, from where on the globe you place your bases, to which alien technology to research, to whether to spend your soldier’s last few time units to reload his weapon, crouch, or take a Hail Mary shot at a distant alien, has enormously high stakes. Choose right, and your team of alien hunters will gain a leg up on the battlefield from advanced weapons (like the guided Blaster Launcher missiles), armor, or tactical positioning; choose poorly and literally everyone could be slaughtered – or worse, transformed into drooling zombies to serve as incubators for horrific Chryssalids.
Rovio’s debut 2009 mobile game, now one of the most recognizable franchises in the world, definitely benefitted from being one of the earliest titles for the iPhone. But the studio's quirky avian-flinging physics puzzler—players have to slingshot roly-poly birds at likewise rotund, entrenched pigs—also honed in on key elements of smartphone gaming's then-nascent purview: bite-sized levels for on-the-go play, easy to pickup (if grueling to master) gameplay, and eventually a free-to-play biz model built on micro-transactions. It's safe to say Angry Birds established the template for all the untold numbers of mobile games vying for our e-wallets since.

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.


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.
After Arkham Asylum laid the groundwork for a superhero game that hit all the right beats, Batman: Arkham City took everything to the next level by letting Batman loose in the streets of Gotham (sort of). Not only did it nail the feeling of stalking and beating down thugs with an impressive array of gadgets, it raised the stakes of what a caped crusader could deal with in a single night.
BioShock will likely always be remembered for its game-changing “Would You Kindly?” twist, but the first adventure in Rapture is so much more than a dressed-up dupe. From first encountering a splicer caring for a gun the way a mother cares for her baby to the still-enrapturing Andrew Ryan twist toward the game’s end, BioShock delivers one enrapturing setpiece after another. That’s largely in part thanks to one of the most memorable locations in gaming history. So much story is embedded in the dilapidated hallways and shuttered rooms of Rapture, a decaying underwater labyrinth that demands to be investigated. The mark of a good experience is one that you keep thinking about long after you’ve finished it. And I still haven’t stopped thinking about BioShock, its incredible location, and those awesome Plasmids, over a decade later.
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.
Snicker all you want about its two-dimensional graphics, Pong deserves a slot on this list because, as the first arcade cabinet to catch fire with the mainstream, it's arguably most responsible for the modern video gaming phenomenon. A table tennis simulator developed by Atari and first released in 1972, the multiplayer game consisted of a pair of dial-controlled paddles and a bouncing ball—just enough to qualify it as the first sports video game. The popularity of the arcade version led to an in-home setup that was sold by Sears in 1975. And when imitators including Coleco and Nintendo followed, the first shots were fired in the console wars. Sure, by today's standards it's not as riveting as others on this list, but then that largely depends on who you're playing against.
×