Pokemon GO in 2019 is a game I shouldn’t care about. When it launched in 2016 it was in a lot of ways a mediocre experience. Outside of catching the original 151 Pokemon the game itself relied heavily on the nostalgia of the Pokemon franchise and augmented reality gimmick of having them show up in the real world. If you didn’t care about the IP, the game itself was very lacking. In 2019, the game is flooded with a multitude of tasks, activities, and events that can involve anyone from yourself to a large group of people. These additions create an experience that incentivizes users to be more dedicated to daily play without feeling like a grind. Friendship has been introduced and allows users to now exchange gifts, trade or even battle each other. Quests (research tasks as they are referred to in-game) have been added that reward items and even special Pokemon. Events now fill each month’s calendar with new (and sometimes shiny) Pokemon, exclusive rewards and new ways to play the game. There is even a burgeoning competitive PVP scene which gave Pokemon GO its first-ever appearance at the Pokemon World Championships this year.
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.
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.
Soulcalibur is that rare sequel that supplants the original. The successor to 1995’s Soul Edge, Soulcalibur perfected the formula for 3D weapon-based fighting games. A smash-hit in arcades and the first “must-have” game for the Dreamcast system, Soulcalibur is remembered for its balance, imaginative characters, and smooth combat. In the flood of new fighting game franchises that were introduced in the mid-90s, Soulcalibur separated itself from the pack because the core gameplay mechanics were so strong. Any fighter – whether a ninja, pirate, knight, or warrior monk – could challenge any other and the outcome would depend on the skill of the player. There is a reason why this fantastical tale of swords and souls has spawned so many sequels.
Like so many Blizzard games, this long-awaited StarCraft sequel released in 2010 was less about rolling out wildly new real-time strategy mechanics than honing the traditional rock-paper-scissors dynamic to perfection. Has there been a more finely tuned asymmetry between three discrete factions in an RTS series? Its enduring legacy can be summed up in three letters: MLG. As in “major league gaming,” or just “e-sports,” a form of competitive video gameplay that's come to encompass a now very wide variety of genres.
Sure, there's undeniable nostalgia associated with this 1986 NES classic, but there's no arguing how engrossing the original Zelda was to play. Mixing upgradable weapons with a (then) sprawling map and some pretty good puzzles, Link's original adventure delivered an experience unlike anything console players had experienced. Shigeru Miyamoto, the game's legendary designer, set out to create a world that felt like a "miniature garden that [players] can put inside their drawer." And through the cartridge's ability to save games (the first console title to offer the option) they could do exactly that. Instead of toiling to beat Zelda in a single sitting, players could instead pace themselves, scrutinizing every last nook and cranny of Hyrule at leisure—an obsession that's continued through all 18 games (and counting) in this storied series.
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.
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.
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.
Pushing the limits of the NES's 8-bit architecture, 1987's Castlevania was a monster of a game, with stirring graphics, sophisticated physics (for such an early platformer) and unforgettable music that perfectly matched the title's creepy feel. While nowhere as frightening as the yet-to-surface survival horror genre, it offered an experience in stark contrast to Nintendo's whimsical Super Mario games. Exploring Dracula's castle as vampire hunter Simon Belmont, players ran into some pretty haggard stuff. Bloodstained gates greet players off the bat, holy water and crosses were throwing weapons, and, oh yeah, you have to beat Death—and that's not even the final boss.
Iconic monsters – most notably the Alien facehugger-like Headcrabs that transform scientists into gruesome zombies – and impressive soldier AI gave Half-Life a spooky atmosphere backed up by enemies that pose a real threat. Great and memorable weapons, from the simple crowbar to the silent sniper crossbow and the biological homing weapon that shoots alien bees, made fighting through the spooky ruins of Black Mesa a fantastic battle.
But it’s one specific moment in Symphony that elevates it from merely being a “game I love” into its position as one of the best games ever made. It’s also one of the most epic video game secrets of all time. After you’ve played through the entire game, defeating massive bosses, equipping badass loot and discovering dozens of secrets, right at the moment you think you’re about to win, you discover you’re only halfway done! Symphony’s (spoilers!) inverted second castle is much more than just a lazy way to extend the quest. It has devilish new enemy patterns, new bosses, and fantastic new equipment. Not bad for a secret that is easy to miss entirely.
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.
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.
Valve's MOBA is one of deepest, most mechanically complex games ever made, and though its base stays the same, mechanics are always being changed and added. The high barrier to entry will drive away new players, but those who crack the shell and get hooked have a very strong chance of rarely playing anything else again. Its 100+ heroes all play differently, and coming close to truly understanding one could take hundreds of hours. Even then, there's always something new to learn. Every failed strategy, every death, every comeback is a chance to discover something new. Getting better isn't just about making numbers go up – you feel the improvement, and every time you outplay an enemy feels as satisfying as the first.
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.
We were justified in doing so. Rock Band literally invented a new form of multiplayer – one that was not only cooperative, but also one where four of you could share a physical energy in the room. It remains a feeling that no game has replicated, and the very act of learning the "language" of the game – teaching your hands to work the guitar neck, or your hands and feet to work in concert to "play" the drums – was a game in and of itself. Even once you learned that language, moving up the ranks, from Easy to Expert, was an adventure with a tangible payoff: you could see and feel the results. And dominating a classic song you and your friends all know and love as a four-player "band" playing on the highest difficulty made memories that last long after the console turned off.
^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap Peckham, Matt; Eadicicco, Lisa; Fitzpatrick, Alex; Vella, Matt; Patrick Pullen, John; Raab, Josh; Grossman, Lev (August 23, 2016). "The 50 Best Video Games of All Time". Time. Archived from the original on August 30, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
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.
Longtime pointy-eared and green-trousered protagonist Link's 1998 Nintendo 64 odyssey through a vast, three-dimensionally exquisite version of Hyrule routinely tops "best" games lists for several reasons. Its approach to letting players explore a 3D world was so consummate and sublime, that it felt less like Nintendo shoehorning eureka concepts into a new paradigm, than the paradigm bending to Nintendo whims. Its clockwork puzzles, artful area and dungeon levels, and breakthrough interface—we can thank Nintendo for intuitive lock-on targeting that preserves our freedom to execute other actions—were so groundbreaking, they're reverently hat-tipped by just about every designer, prompting some to call the game a "walking patent office."
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.
Developer Riot’s initiative to reboot League of Legends’ lore has also made it more captivating on the narrative front as well. Each new Champion or Champion makeover is presented with such beautiful pageantry that it’s difficult not to get sucked into catching up on any lore you may have missed. With continuous improvement updates and a constantly changing roster, League of Legends stands as one of the best competitive games in existence.
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?
This action-adventure game published by Electronic Arts came out for Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in November 2019. The game takes place in the universe of Star Wars, following Jedi Padawan as he tries to complete his Jedi training and restore the Jedi Order — while action ensues. Fallen Order was the fastest-selling digital launch for any Star Wars game in its first two weeks on the market.
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.
And as is typical of Blizzard as a studio, Diablo II can be played on countless different levels. I never even touched most of what the game had to offer, but ultimately I didn’t need to. The simple joy of wading through thick knots of enemies with my necromancer and his summoned brood of skeletons and mages, setting off chains of corpse explosions and painting the world red was an end game in itself.
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.
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’re doing it right, you’ve named each of your very mortal soldiers after your friends and family, making the inevitable casualties you’ll take in combat sting far more than losing nameless fodder. Randomly generated maps ensure you never quite know what might be lurking around the next corner, and destructible terrain means that knocking down a building is always an option. The unpredictability makes the feeling of going from scrappy underdog to elite alien-butt-kicking futuristic super soldier squad incredibly rewarding, every single time. Except when you lose horribly.
Symphony of the Night is much more than just a fun side-scroller with an awesome twist, though. Dracula’s castle has never been more varied, filled with gorgeous gothic pixel art and backed up by a fantastic soundtrack. Alucard and all of his monstrous foes are lusciously animated. It’s basically the entire package. Art, animation, sound, gameplay, design… even replay value, thanks to multiple playable characters. It all comes together perfectly.
Contra was one of the few cooperative video games of the 8-bit era where player two didn’t feel like a burden dragging you down with every step. With plenty of weapon drops to go around and hordes of enemies coming from every direction, a partner’s firepower was a welcome addition in most situations. And if a friend couldn’t keep up the pace on the waterfall level, you could easily incentivize them to improve their skills by scrolling the screen upward and killing them, which I did whenever my little brother lagged behind.