The "Ms." may have gotten her start as a knockoff of the original pellet-chomping arcade cabinet, but she's got way more moves than her husband. An unlicensed modification of 1980's Pac-Man, this 1982 game was initially called "Crazy Otto"—until the developers sold it to Midway, which branded it Ms. Pac-Man to lure female gamers. But Ms. Pac-Man did much more than put a bow on an already wildly popular game. With four mazes (compared to Pac-Man's one), smarter ghosts and on-the-move fruit bonuses, it quickly obsoleted the original. The fact that it's still fun to play gives it a high perch on this list. Admit it—if you came across a Ms. Pac-Man cabinet in the wild, you'd drop a quarter in. Heck, you'd probably have to wait in line.
Where Doom first popularized the first-person shooter, 1996's Quake shifted the genre to a more spatially plausible, performance-hungry 3D world. The single-player campaign, which again pits players against the forces of evil (though with a Lovecraftian twist) is perfectly fine. But Quake's real contribution was in blowing the lid off multiplayer combat. Thanks in part to speedier Internet connections, Quake players—who formed "clans" of like-minded ballistic tacticians—could find deathmatch opponents over the web. And the game's new fully polygonal engine allowed for techniques now a staple of the genre, like bunny-hopping (constant jumping to avoid enemy fire) and rocket-jumping (using a rocket launcher to propel yourself to advantageous positions).
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.
Kill a monster, make gear out of its parts, and hunt a stronger monster sounds like a gameplay loop that can get old fast, but Monster Hunter: World has taken that decade-old hook and downright perfected it. World has streamlined the cycle and made the introduction into monster hunting more palatable for newcomers all without watering down the deep action-RPG mechanics longtime fans loved most.
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.
Borderlands 2 elevated an excellent game to Legendary status. The original Borderlands captured the attention of gamers, seemingly from out of nowhere, and its sequel took everything that made the original great and expanded on it. From its seamless continuation of the Borderlands vault hunting lore, to its unmatched writing, Borderlands 2 remains the high point in the Borderlands franchise. Borderlands 3 is overflowing with improvements over its predecessor The Pre-Sequel, but Borderlands 2 still can't be beat for its awesome levels, excellent DLC, and series-best villain, Handsome Jack.
For all its inter-dimensional threats, monster hunts and magic powers, I’ve always thought The Witcher 3’s key achievement is in how it nails the mundane. Geralt’s fantasy world is one of mud, thatch and metal, his main quests are freelance work, and he loves a game of cards down the pub. That sense of reality is what helps you empathise with Geralt, understand the world, and really understand how bad things have gotten when the crazy shit starts popping off.
All Ghillied Up was my first glimpse of it in action, as two camouflaged snipers worked their way through an irradiated Pripyat in Ukraine. The highlight – not just of the demo but arguably of the entire game – was watching, breath held, as an entire armoured patrol trundled past, inches from our hiding spot, and it’s a moment of tension that’s never been matched in a shooter since.
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.
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.
This action-adventure game from Nintendo for the Switch and Wii U consoles came out in 2017. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild takes place at the end of the Zelda storyline: The player controls Link, who wakes up from a 100-year sleep and tries to save the kingdom of Hyrule from Calamity Ganon. This version sold nearly 18 million copies by 2019, to make it the best-selling Zelda game.
In the 1980s, the years that led up to Nintendo's reign were dominated by PC titles, and of these none were better imagined than Sierra's. When honoring their adventure line, critics typically laud the original King's Quest. But it's the third installment released in 1986 that deserves the most acclaim, because it was also twice as big as the first two installments, and as clever as any in the series. Following the adventures of Daventry's 17-year-old Prince Alexander, the game hit closer to home with its primary players, who like it or not were pretty much boys. Yet despite the outmoded graphics (or maybe because of them), the keyboard-controlled adventure is still a joy to play (try it yourself). From amassing all the ingredients to make potions, to avoiding the wizard's evil black cat, to stealing the pirate's treasure, it's pure magic.
Super Mario Bros. has been re-released many times, but there's no such thing as too many times because it's still fun and it's still some kid's first time ever playing a game. Super Mario Bros. spawned an industry and fueled a mushroom-powered empire. Its influence cannot be overstated. Example: literally everyone reading this can hum its theme song, right now, from memory. See? Now it's playing in your head again. You're welcome.
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.
Resident Evil 2 Remake redefined what a ‘remake’ could be. For players new to the game, this was a meticulously crafted survival horror experience that felt completely in step with the genre in 2019, while veterans got to enjoy a lovingly crafted piece of nostalgia that vitally, felt like the game they remembered from 1998. It trod a brilliant tightrope, capturing the inherent weirdness of the original - the baroque architecture and labyrinthian environments that flipped the bird to logic - while updating the control scheme to a fluid over-the-shoulder camera far more suited to the way we play games today. The result was uneasy but never frustrating, subversive but familiar. All remakes should learn from this one.
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.
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.
Not only did RE4 totally redefine the 3rd person shooter, but it did so in the seemingly incongruent genre of survival horror. Turns out, it totally worked and led to some incredible set pieces battling against chainsaw-wielding maniacs, giant men, giant fish, tiny men in Napoleon costumes, and medium-sized centipede men. RE4 unlocked the true potential of the series in a way that hasn’t been matched before or since, and will probably always be the most universally beloved Resident Evil title.
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.