Red Dead Redemption's gorgeous high plains and scrub-filled landscapes, multilayered missions and sprawling story told with both the verve of a Leone and introspection of a Peckinpah, are just a few of the reasons Rockstar's 2010 open-world opus deserves top honors on this list. The player follows former outlaw John Marston through an imagined, at times hallucinatory version of the West (circa 1911), where sudden gun duels and galloping chases ensue, counterbalanced by less treacherous diversions like herding cattle or playing mini-games like five finger fillet. Yes, it was Grand Theft Auto meets a Western, but in a way that proved Rockstar's mettle as far more than mere mischievous satire-slinger.
If you're the kind of gamer who's loyal to a specific gaming platform or console, you'll find it easy to browse through this category and uncover new games or find the hardware you need to bring your games to life. PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC and Nintendo 3DS are all examples of the major gaming consoles and platforms we cover in this video games section. Because some game companies don't release their titles across all platforms, it can be helpful to shop by platform or console as you look for new games so you can filter out titles that aren't available for what you have. This way, you can have an efficient shopping experience and avoid the disappointment of finding a title you really like and then realizing it isn't available for your specific console.
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.
Transforming competitive racing into zany fruit-tossing fun, Super Mario Kart was much more than one of the smartest-looking games on the Super Nintendo. As the first in what would become a dynastic line of racers, this 1992 gem was full of kart-racing firsts: a circuit mode with varying degrees of difficulty, a split-screen versus mode so you could take on your friends and a battle mode to break up the monotony of straightforward sprints. And Super Mario Kart launched the series to a rocket start with memorable tracks like Rainbow Road, expert tactics like drifting and maddening equalizers like the lightning bolt.
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.
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.
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.
I know you can hear them too – the plucky strings accompanied by pleasant woodwinds that greeted us every time we opened Buy Mode. The Sims is iconic for so many reasons, from its soundtrack that is undoubtedly burned into our brains to cheat code prompts that live in the memory space right next door. This unique simulation game made day to day life exciting. We could concoct drama and design our own stories, complete with the tools to build dream living spaces. The Sims gave us an incredible playground to be creators and destroyers, and though The Sims' newer iterations make Sims far more complex, the original stands as a classic. Plus, it allowed us to drown our Sims in pools, which is, as we all know, an essential Sims experience. The new Sims are too smart for that.
So often action exists for action sake – to look cool – but Uncharted 2: Among Thieves uses it to reveal more about its central character, Nathan Drake, and his relationships with a strong cast of supporting characters. That’s not to say the action isn’t spectacular. From being pursued by a helicopter on a moving train to being harassed by an angry tank in a Himalayan village, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves set a new benchmark for cinematic action, graphical fidelity, and established Nathan Drake as one of the great video game characters of his time.
Thief II gave the player all the right tools for the perfect heist, along with interactive maps for writing notes. It rewarded taking your time, and of course, listening to some of the best guard banter in any game to date. Silently sprinting along rooftops, ducking through secret mansion passages – the game didn't just make you feel like a thief, it made you feel like a master of the craft.
We’re introduced to Alyx Vance, a supporting character with a rare warmth and intelligence. We’re transported to an iconic city, where Combine barricades loom with grim authority, and Striders stalk the streets with an otherworldly menace. We get to set Antlions on our enemies and in which we play fetch with a robot Dog. In short, it is a truly memorable piece of game design.
While some would vote Final Fantasy VI the better game, 1997's Final Fantasy VII is arguably the bolder one in this anything-but-final roleplaying series. Laying complex polygonal graphics over beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds, Japanese developer Squaresoft took advantage of the PlayStation’s compact-disc drive to craft an experience Sony rival Nintendo—who’d rejected Sony’s pitch for a disc-based add-on to the Super Nintendo—simply couldn’t. The operatic, labyrinthine and often wonderfully weird tale of ecologically minded heroes out to save their “living” planet from corporate energy raiders proved the most popular in the series, selling over 10 million copies worldwide and prompting perennial cries for a remake (that's finally happening).
But it’s Super Metroid’s ability to consistently invite the player to be curious – and then rewarding that curiosity – that makes it one of the greatest video games ever made. It’s not just that there are secrets hidden everywhere (although there are, and it’s awesome) – it’s that the game teases you with tantalizing clues – items, always just out of reach. An energy tank embedded in a seemingly impassable wall. A pair of missiles only obtainable from the collapsing blocks above, leaving you no idea of how to get up there, just with the knowledge that you can get up there.
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.
With its expansive environments and crafty puzzles, this 2015 installment of Crystal Dynamics' vaunted Tomb Raider series is easily its best (read TIME's review here). It transcends the tired run-and-fight mechanic that dominates so much of the action-adventure genre by instilling genuine feelings of wanderlust and peril. Here, players might dangle from grappling lines tenuously tethered to shimmering walls framing glacial cathedrals, or explore optional booby-trapped tombs, each a study in the art of not repeating puzzles or level design. It's survivalism at its best, and a stunning exemplar in the studio's reinvention of an iconic 1990s franchise.
When Tony Hawk Pro Skater came out, it was like nothing anyone had ever played before. It just felt so insanely intuitive, it had great music, it just felt… cool? Gamers, skaters, heshers, posers, there was not one demo that wasn’t drawn into the cultural singularity of gaming and skateboarding like a rent-a-cop to a skate video shoot. When Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 came out, and improved upon the original in virtually every single way imaginable (even more flexible controls, an expanded soundtrack, more unlockable secrets, custom skaters, even a park editor!), the popularity of the game just exploded in a way that could only have ended in steadily diminishing annual releases. But for one shining moment, we all collectively agreed that THPS2 was, and still is, the perfect skateboarding game.