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.
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 it's not the marquee attraction, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's suite of multiplayer options beyond racing are some of the best the franchise has had since the N64 days of Block Fort. But it's really the finely tuned racing of Nintendo's longstanding franchise that takes the spotlight — it's never felt better to race (even in the face of Blue Shells), while courses are beautiful, wonderfully detailed, and represent some of the best of the franchise both new and old.

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.
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.
Its premise was straightforward: you found yourself alone on a space station where you were apparently the only thing left alive. Well, the only organic thing. Rogue AI SHODAN wastes little time in establishing herself as your formidable opponent. Along the way you pick up elements of the backstory through audio logs (another design feature that's standard fare now) and can mold yourself in any way you choose, from a DPS/combat focus to a pure hacker that can infiltrate any system. System Shock 2 was tense, smart, and as great as it was immediately upon its release in 1999, ahead of its time.
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.
As a kid, I played almost any game that had a cool character on the box or starred my beloved Ninja Turtles. But even then, although I lacked the vocabulary to explain it, I knew that Super Mario Bros. was special, and better than almost everything else. So when I received Super Mario Bros. 3 from Santa one year, and saw on the back of the box that Mario could fly, I knew I was in for something special.

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.

Although The Witness doesn’t offer a narrative in the traditional sense, that's not to say it does not have a story to tell. Philosophical metaphors and allegorical imagery are layered into the world, allowing the player to discover as much meaning as they care to. Unlike so many games that are desperate to hand-hold and drip-feed, The Witness has a refreshingly high opinion of its player, expecting them to think for themselves. It’s what makes The Witness so challenging but also deeply special.
Who can forget the moment they first shot the face off a possessed farmer in Resident Evil 4, only to conjure a lively Lovecraftian horror with tentacles squirming from its neck? This was Resident Evil reborn, its creaky fixed perspectives and klutzy directional controls supplanted by a freer over-the-shoulder, shoot-first perspective that felt at once elegant and intuitive. Instead of cheap haunted house scares in claustrophobic spaces, the story shifted to organic exploration of delightfully creepy areas, punctuated by frenzied scrambles to fend off the series' most inspired adversaries. Capcom's timely embrace in 2005 of action-oriented principles stole nothing from the game's cheerless ambience, and actually amplified the sense of trudging through a phantasmagoric nightmare.

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.
Super Nintendo players knew Final Fantasy VI as Final Fantasy III for years after its release in 1994, because no one expected this Japanese series to become so popular stateside that the original II and III would be localized and the series renumbered. What made Final Fantasy VI one of the exemplars—not just of console roleplaying, but the genre in general—was how pitch-perfectly it synthesized so many different tangents: real-time battles, summonable magic-bestowing creatures, indelible characters, party-swapping, heartrending plot twists, an unforgettably iniquitous villain, a four-minute play-along opera and its artful inflection of dark fantasy steampunk.
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.
KOTOR was a 40-hour role-playing epic set 4,000 years before the Original Trilogy. As such, it had the freedom to tell the story it wanted and invent a new universe of characters without Lucasfilm slapping it on the wrist and telling it no. And so we got Revan and one of the best twists in gaming history, and we got the dark wit of robot party member HK-47. Best of all, we got a Star Wars story where your choices truly mattered. Choosing to double-cross someone you'd agreed to help would earn you Dark Side points, and eventually you could become truly evil and sadistically powerful. But so too could your benevolent actions bring you to the Light Side and make you a virtuous hero.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic almost single-handedly rescued Star Wars video games from purgatory. It was also one of the first times the beloved IP was handed to a world-class developer in BioWare. The result was not just one of the best role-playing games ever made, but one that helped legitimize Western RPGs on consoles and establish the fledgling Xbox as a destination for top-tier third-party games.

Spelunky is a game about triumph. When you finally make it to a new area for the first time, when you finally beat Olmec, when you finally beat your best time, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. You earned this. You did it. But maybe you should go back and try to beat it. You can shave a few seconds off, right? Spelunky is a game about always being able to improve.
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.
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. 

The original Fable, while very very good, never quite lived up to co-creator Peter Molyneux's lofty "plant an acorn and it will grow into a tree over the course of the game" promises. Fable 2, however, fulfilled an amazing amount of this charming, decidedly British-humored action-adventure. The world of Albion came alive on the Xbox 360, while Fable 2 was also one of the first games to give you a full-time canine companion. The dog was, in gameplay terms, rather straightforward, but for many players, the pooch tugged on your heartstrings and made you care about him/her in a way that you typically wouldn't above the average human or fantasy-pet RPG. Solid combat, a multiple-choice ending, great music and world-building, and a deft balance of action, adventure, and role-playing helped make Fable 2 both the pinnacle of the series and one of the finest bits of escapist fantasy ever coded.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Final Fantasy VI was a revelation for me back in the mid ‘90s. It’s dark, steampunk-laden world was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I loved how the heroes were more brooding and complex than their cheery predecessors. The music affected me profoundly as well; some of my favorite Nobuo Uematsu pieces (including "Dancing Mad" and "Aria di Mezzo Carattere") are from the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack.
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. 

By no means the first city-builder, SimCity 2000 undoubtedly influenced all those that succeeded it. The 1994 game established a near-perfect balance between the inputs and outputs of running a (virtual) metropolis. Graphics that rendered the corner-view of each building, bridge, road, hill and valley made the series look more true-to-life. And the constant chatter from policy advisers as well as feedback from the local newspaper—precursors to modern notifications—made players’ roles as mayors feel particularly realistic.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.

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.
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."
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