Out with the old, in with the new
GamesRadar is dead; long live GamesRadar+. As you've probably noticed, our beloved site is giving a warm welcome to new staff who've joined our team from Edge, Official PlayStation Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine, and GamesMaster. With our powers combined, we've successfully formed a 50-person Voltron of awesome games coverage. And what better way to celebrate than a complete do-over of our most cherished, argued-over list? Welcome to the new and improved list of the 100 Best Games Ever.
Forget nostalgia - these are the finest games you can play right now, even accounting for modern standards or series unfamiliarity. To prevent long-running series like Mario and Zelda from unbalancing the list, we're only allowing one game per series (with representatives for both the 2D and 3D iterations if need be). This isn't a compendium of the most important games of all time, either; historic significance doesn't mean diddly if it ain't still fun to play. Regardless of how you feel about our ordering, you have to admit that all 100 of these games are truly excellent. So, which titles do we collectively cherish above all else? Only one way to find out...
100. Alien: Isolation
You usually associate space with sleek modernism. Clean lines and pristine conditions, the sterile interiors of spaceships and orbiting stations all reflect the bleakness of space back at it. Alien: Isolation is different. It's space as seen through a CRT screen. A signal in a haze of static. Seeing the future from the past. As such, it captures the earlier films' spirit perfectly - specifically the original, where a single alien puts up more than enough fight.
It's scary enough for you to hide in a locker or crouch under a table when you hear so much as a blip on your chunky green radar, or ready a flashbang when you see the sharp end of a physics-enabled tail whip round a corner. Even after 15 hours of atmospheric exploration and cowering in terror, Alien: Isolation maintains its survival horror scares until the end.
99. Crazy Taxi
Ya ya ya ya ya! So sings Dexter Holland as the craziest of all the taxis leaps from the 128-bit San Francisco hills and straight into our hearts. While Crazy Taxi is available on everything from PSP to Xbox 360, it's the 2000 Dreamcast original that still shines brightest.
The soundtrack comprises punk-rock anthems from The Offspring and Bad Religion, with both matching the action perfectly. It's got the official licenses for a load of real stores, which sounds insipid but actually serves to give the cartoonish world a surreal twist. And the Dreamcast pad seems to be better suited to the incredibly deep control scheme than any other controller. It's pure blue-sky gaming, with an incredible score system and brilliant game design that's fun whether you're playing it for the first or five-hundredth time.
98. Heavy Rain
The most divisive game on this list? Quite possibly. Held up by some as a step forward for gaming as a whole in terms of interactive storytelling; yet decried by others as a tedious exercise in instruction following that holds both your hands way too tight.
The truth of course lies somewhere in between. Other games have certainly told their tales better, but Heavy Rain undoubtedly creates investment in the player thanks to its deep sense of authorship. But the real reason why David Cage's best game to date has made it in here is because it's different. Different good and different bad, but titles that stray off the beaten path deserve to be celebrated. Especially those which let you tap Square to amputate your own finger.
97. Battlefield 3
There's something about Battlefield 3 that hits the sweet spot for the series. While it doesn't push in new directions as far BF2 did, tell a story as effectively as Bad Company, or have the shiny visuals of BF4, it's just a fantastic multiplayer game. Its class types are well rounded, it balances on-foot combat with vehicular mayhem, it's (mostly) solid online, and the DLC is largely brilliant. Right now, it's a complete package - a brilliant, modern military FPS that still has a healthy community to this day.
The maps represent some BF series highs too. Operation Metro may be an awful meat-grinder, but it's one that clever players can counter. Caspian Border is a delightfully violent playground for big team battles, and Damavand Peak... yeah, it still feels cool to basejump off the cliff with your squadmates. The multiplayer campaign is so fantastic that the forgettable campaign is, well, forgotten. No harm done.
96. Hitman: Blood Money
Your mission: assassinate a senator's son without leaving any witnesses. Simple, right? But there's a catch: he's smack dab in the middle of a bustling socialite party, sipping fluorescent cocktails with a bevy of beauties in a glass-bottomed jacuzzi. How are you going to pull this one off, Agent?
The answer: any way you want, so long as you can keep your cool. You could take down a waiter, dress in his garb and slip a toxin chaser into a fancy beverage. Or you could 'borrow' a Santa Claus costume from a drunken entertainer and gain access to the back rooms, gently nudging the target off a balcony when he goes for a smoke. Alternatively, you could skip the whole 'subtlety' thing and just shoot out the bottom of the pool with a shotgun. Hitman: Blood Money is one of the most gloriously open-ended games ever, and begs replaying to see all the execution methods you might've missed.
95. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2
It's called 'Retro Evolved' because the idea is simple: you control a shape which must shoot pellets at other shapes. The steadily increasing difficulty and different behaviors of enemy craft (some dodge your fire, some snake around menacingly, some divide into two when hit) is enough to carry the concept through, but compelling modes provide something extra.
There's King, where you can only fire from random safety zones. There's Waves, which tasks you with destroying horizontal and vertical lines of rockets. And there's the beautifully pure Pacifism, in which players must simply survive against an onslaught of enemies without firing a shot. It's got all the simple purity and chaos that defines classic arcade twitch shooters, with neon visuals that still amaze to this day.
94. TimeSplitters 2
The last great hurrah from the core team behind GoldenEye 007, Timesplitters 2's status as a local multiplayer great remains untarnished in the HD age. Iconic characters (Robofish is banned on the grounds of Oddjob rules, natch), finely-crafted levels, and a memorable suite of weapons (who can forget the brick?) ensures that it's still potent today, topped by cartoony stylings that are surprisingly robust all these years later.
But its appeal extends to its solo offerings too. With modes boasting ideas far ahead of their time (it feels ready-made for online scoreboards and the matchmaking capabilities of today's platforms), TimeSplitters 2 is packed with classic missions and addictive challenge maps that ruthlessly target the 'one more go' mentality. Oh, and it's also home to some of the sweetest, most satisfying zombie headshot rules ever committed to a gaming disc.
93. Dragon Quest 9: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
Dragon Quest mastered its successful formula a long time ago, and on the surface, the series' ninth entry seems to follow the pattern closely. All the essentials are there - a dense-but-approachable job system, complex battles that are simultaneously straightforward and layered, and an all-ages fantasy story that gets surprisingly personal. But Dragon Quest 9: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is also more experimental than any previous Quest.
DQ9's approach to local multiplayer somehow makes turn-based co-op feel as active as Monster Hunter, and the expansive collection of MMO-ish side quests make it feel like the journey is never-ending. It gives it all a modern feel that re-energizes Dragon Quest for a whole new audience, while still satisfying the old one. DQ9 pulls off this delicate balance without breaking a sweat.
92. Unreal Tournament
The fact that a 16-year-old first-person arena shooter is still considered essential should give you some idea of this game's quality. Forget the convoluted lexicon that swamps shooters today - once upon a time, an FPS didn't need killstreaks, supply drops, and attack helicopters to keep it exciting. In the fiery crucible of UT, everyone starts with the same badass Enforcer pistol. You want greatness? You get out there and take it, soldier.
Once you jump into the action, you realize this death-drenched disco has it all: some of the best weapons ever to grace your monitor (Bio Rifles and Flak Cannons for the win), a jump-happy physics engine that rewards verticality as much as as it does speed, AI that's still as deadly and reactive as real players, and a soundtrack that'll have your blood pumping quicker than a handy shot of epinephrine. Godlike.
91. The Sims 2
The Sims changed the face of gaming when it came out 15 years ago, but The Sims 2 smoothed over the original's quirks and made it something truly special. Sims evolved from blocky, robotic lumps of polygons to actual humanoids with aspirations, careers, and babies made through actual (implied) sexual interaction instead of prolonged make-out sessions.
It's the perfect Sims game to play, because unlike more recent versions, the base game is perfectly fine as a stand-alone product, with expansions that simply add more unique content without feeling like necessities. It never tries to be more than what it is - a daft, loveable, completely over-the-top pastiche of real life. And you can totally create a house full of everyone who's ever broken your heart, then set it on fire.
90. Team Fortress 2
Not content with simply balancing a unique and engaging blend of multiplayer classes and then letting them loose in an array of engaging modes, Valve went the extra mile with TF2 by adding an artistically interesting and genuinely funny sheen atop the whole package. Seriously, what other online shooter has produced a cast that's half as memorable?
A teeming community has kept the same maps and modes fresh for years with its ingenuity; Engineers' turret positions du jour are continually adjusted, Spy tactics have evolved, and Scouts are now pixel-perfect jumpers capable of dodging every bullet in your clip. Sure, some may consider it a hat simulator, but TF2 remains a benchmark that few multiplayer shooters have even approached.
89. Plants vs. Zombies
Plants vs. Zombies is one of the most delightful games in existence. From the happy bouncing of your invaluable sunflowers, to the gentle groaning of the goofy-looking zombies, to Crazy Dave's incoherent babbling, every aspect of PvZ's neighborhood is chock-full of personality.
And it's got the gameplay depth to make all those wonderful character designs worthwhile. Just when you feel like you've got the optimal Peashooter positioning figured out, along comes a new zombie type or backyard layout to throw you for a loop. But with every unfamiliar challenge comes an awesome new plant type, and there's nothing quite as satisfying as blasting undead chumps with a well-placed potato mine, or catapulting corn to decapitate zombie football players. And that theme song... simply wonderful.
It's sometimes easy to forget what a small game Limbo is. Not because of any extraneous padding or attempts to seem grander than it is, but because it makes the most of each pixel it has available. This serenely spooky puzzler executes every move perfectly, twisting you around its finger to tell a tale both rich and abidingly direct.
A simple platformer at its core, Limbo's gameplay is bolstered by perils that hit a deep vein of discomfort, what with the giant spiders and unstoppable buzzsaws. Those terrors are couched in environments crafted to intensify their fearfulness, all abandoned machinery and deep forests full of things that could spell your grotesque end. It offers a timeless framework, leaving plenty of room for your imagination to fill in the gaps with whatever frightens you most.
87. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
It's telling that the only Star Wars game on this list is one that exists outside the film trilogy. What's that? Lucas made three prequel films? Nope, never heard of them. Let's talk about the real prequel instead. Knights of the Old Republic works because it takes a refined, semi-turn-based RPG system and fleshes it out with all the good stuff from the Star Wars universe and none of the bullshit.
Because it isn't desperately trying to nod and wink at the films, KOTOR is free to tell an engaging tale of deception, love, and the lure of the dark side. Thanks to the robust combat, great voice acting, and the fact that its character models haven't aged tooooo badly, this is still a damn fine RPG, and a better Star Wars story than any of those films with Jar Jar Binks. Whoever he is.
Fencing has such an aura of discipline and tradition that it's easy to forget it's a sport about stabbing someone before they can stab you. Nidhogg removes this haughty aura, adds in a seriously trance-inducing soundtrack and a super-blocky pixel style, and in the process creates some of the most unforgettable local multiplayer duels ever made.
Standing a few feet away from your opponent, swaying your foil up and down as you try to diagnose a weakness in their defenses, is equal parts paralyzing and electrifying. Will you go high and stab, exposing your soft underbelly for a rolling counterattack? Or will you aim low and shuffle in, leaving your head vulnerable to a soaring dive kick? Either way, some pastel blood is going to spill.
85. Rock Band 3
It would be easy to look at piles of plastic drum kits and chunky-buttoned guitars gathering dust and scoff at the rise and fall of the music genre, but just one song is all it takes to rediscover Rock Band's magic. (A quick word of warning: once you've started, it's never just one song.)
The definitive entry in rhythm-action's finest series, Rock Band 3 and its library of thousands of available songs is the pinnacle of party gaming. While the likes of SingStar and Dance Dance Revolution alienate those with scratchy voices or two left feet, Harmonix's masterpiece offers something for everyone: a wide-range of instruments and vocal options, music for anyone's tastes, and support for all skill levels to play together and still sound like superstar headliners. Got a gaming get-together? This should be at the top of the pile.
84. Hotline Miami
A man in a white suit drags himself along the floor, hands cradling his grotesquely fractured skull. Neons swell and seethe in the background, in sync with a soundtrack you're not cool enough to have discovered on your own. With that room now painted red, you're already in the next one, braining three gangsters with a broken bottle and a sociopath's resolve.
Hotline Miami is everything the baby boomers feared in the video games of the late '80s: amoral, hyper-violent, and irrepressibly satisfying every time you swing a bat, pull a trigger, or straddle a downed guard to break his head apart. Its woozy visuals and much-lauded music induce a trance-like state, in which your own death means nothing more than an extra hit of the retry button. Every attempt is in pursuit of those perfect few seconds of gameplay in which you could take down an entire floor of enemies. Few games have been, or will be, as stylish or as singular in their purpose.
83. Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast
Ever since we first took this arcade racer for a spin with the top down and the tachometer cranked, we knew Outrun was something special. And while arcades may be few and far between these days, this 2006 reboot provides the definitive OutRun experience for those who might've missed it the first time. The core sensation of driving over smooth tarmac at 60fps is wonderful, with its equidistantly-spaced trackside scenery evoking the Super-Scaler sprite effect of the original game. The surroundings even flatten and raise anew at the end of each stage, in a nod to the original's scenery changing technique. Lovely.
But there's also one of gaming's most satisfying drift mechanics to enjoy, and a sublime challenge-based Heart Attack mode to keep you playing long after all the split-ended stage routes have been explored. AM2's 'beautiful journey' is still picturesque despite approaching its tenth anniversary. Play it. Oh, and play it loud. Gaming never sounded so good.
82. Max Payne
Max Payne's first journey into the night is great for so many reasons, but one clearly stands above the rest: goofy comic-style cut-scenes, which starred the game's developers dressed up like mobsters, overlaid with cheesy Photoshop filters, and narrated by the gravelly voice of the detective himself. Alright, fine, so maybe the bullet time shootouts are slightly more notable, but the cut-scenes come right after.
It's almost pedestrian to watch a bullet fly from your gun to a goon in slow motion these days, but that's all because everyone was just so damn impressed by Max Payne's balletic hails of gunfire. Sailing through a doorway with Uzis akimbo and capping a half dozen gawping mooks before you hit the ground never gets old - and even two sequels later, the original Max Payne's raw machismo can't be topped.
81. Quake 3: Arena
Quake 3's continuing quality is testament to something that fuels a great many games on this list: the lasting power of solid, smartly thought-out game mechanics. Whatever your story, however delightful your graphics, however popcorn-launching your set-pieces, if you get your core, moment-to-moment interactions right, your game is gold. And Quake 3: Arena gets them oh so right.
Arena shooting at its absolute purest, Q3 needs nothing more than a locked roster of guns and a few standard deathmatch and team options. Within that framework, there are years of meaty, nourishing, constantly escalating gameplay. It's the physics that do it. Robust enough to provide consistency, yet also strong enough to bend without breaking, Quake 3's lightning-fast, high-flying control rules are a theme park for experimentation. Once you've mastered its mobility possibilities, like the bunny-hop or rocket jump, the possibilities for strategy (or just showing off) become endless.
A free-to-play online collectible card game has no right to be this good. But Blizzard pulled all of its best tricks to take Hearthstone from being a fun little diversion for Warcraft fans to one of the most intuitive card games we've ever played. All you need to do is look at the cards in your hand and decide how best to spend your ramping allotment of mana each turn. Sounds simple, and it is: learning how to play is a cinch. But you'll only know true mastery hundreds of hours later.
As you practice with each class and unlock more style-defining cards, you'll find there are so many interesting ways to fill out your deck and crush your opponents. By the time you realize that you can earn booster packs just by completing daily quests - and that you can break down the cards you don't need, to synthesize them into cards you actually want - you're as good as hooked.
79. Tomb Raider
Reboots are dime-a-dozen these days, but few hit a homerun as clear and true as Crystal Dynamics' reinvigoration of a venerable action icon. Emerging from the disproportionate image that first propelled then diminished her on consoles gone by, the new Ms. Croft is younger, fiercer and more resilient than ever. Time to watch your back, Mr. Drake.
The treacherous island that surrounds Croft is everything you could hope for in a reborn Tomb Raider. A vicious tale of survival and the ignorance of youth tempered into adulthood, Lara's reimagined origins build a captivating synergy between environmental puzzles and gunfights that more than stand their ground in a post-Uncharted world. Whether you're battling wolves, bandits, or the elements themselves, this Tomb Raider sets a new standard for captivating adventures.
78. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Sometimes, games are just games. Go in, fight the things, get the best sword, beat the worst thing, save the world, roll credits. That's fine. But sometimes games are more than that: intense, 100-hour-long adventures with intricate details that threaten to immerse you so deep that you'll forget to eat.
Dragon Age has always been about lore and love stories, and Dragon Age: Inquisition perfects the art. Nuance is the key: the characters have personalities, desires, and feelings, while missions require diplomacy and careful, tactical dialogue choices rather than the all-guns-blazing approach. The landscape and story don't just unfold, they radically change based on your unflagging efforts, making it totally ok to play this for 80-something hours rather than focusing on boring things like socializing or personal hygiene.
77. Super Monkey Ball
What's a game about spherical simians doing on this list? Surely there are better options than one which involves rolling around collecting fruit on floating, tilting platforms in a barely-explained premise? Oh, dear friend. You clearly haven't played Super Monkey Ball, the best monkey/ball/banana game on the market, and your life is all the poorer for it.
As a puzzle game, there's plenty to love, hate, or be driven mad by - particularly the low-friction banana frenzy, with levels that twist, turn, and ripple beneath you, threatening to cast you off into the abyss below. Its mini-games, particularly the still-perfect Monkey Target, are the precursor to the kind of colorful point-grabbing you'll find in any number of modern party games. Ergo, Super Monkey Ball is the precursor to all games ever, and that's why it's the best and there's nothing more to say on the matter.
76. Dead Space
Built atop Resident Evil 4's solid foundation, Dead Space takes a fresh approach to the survival horror genre. With more than a little inspiration from Ridley Scott's Alien - not to mention a dash of John Carpenter's The Thing - the developers at Visceral were out to make the game as terrifying as possible, trapping players in quiet corridors with some of the most horrific enemies in gaming. Dead Space's vision of the future is lonely, dark, and bloody.
The original Dead Space lacks the larger conspiracies and action set-pieces that bogged down later entries. Instead we follow one desperate man's lonely, terrified search for his girlfriend on a space station that long ago gave way to madness. The game's HUD-less display and sparing use of sound gives a naturalism to the sci-fi, all of which heightens the terror. And even when the scares might be too much for you, there's always something oddly addictive to shooting off enemy limbs. It's like popping bubblewrap - so satisfying.
75. Civilization 5
Sid Meier's Civilization 5 remains one of the best entry points into the series, as well as a great game in its own right. It skillfully blends the depth and complexity of previous Civ games with the accessibility of Civilization Revolution to create a unified whole that'll get you hooked in under an hour, and keep you playing for a hundred more.
Designing your strategy (maybe absolute conquest with Russia, or a cultural victory with the French) and then adapting that game plan based on the changing geopolitical landscape, is a fun and engrossing challenge every time you play. But Civ 5's greatest strength is its bottomless well of fan-made content. From Game of Thrones to My Little Pony, if there's a feature you hope to see in the game, chances are someone has made it a reality.
EarthBound treads where few RPGs dare: modern-day suburbia. Instead of quaffing health potions that you picked up from the local general store, order a pizza and take it to-go. Or better yet, scarf down a cheeseburger you found in a trash can - no one's judging. Beat up on Unassuming Local Guys and New Age Retro Hippies instead of garden-variety goblins and dragons. Hitch a ride to the next town with a band that looks an awful lot like The Blues Brothers. Most games would be lucky to have one or two memorable moments like this. EarthBound has them in spades.
It's a pastiche of American pop culture wrapped up in the wackiest Japanese role-playing game ever made. It's heartwarming yet haunting; playful yet sincere. But most of all, EarthBound proves that the adventure of a lifetime can start right in your own backyard. And there's nothing else like it.
Treasure has crafted so many wonderfully obscure shoot-'em-ups that it seems almost gauche to nominate one of their best-known and most accessible works for this list. But Ikaruga's genius lies in the way it serves as a gateway drug of sorts, teaching shoot-'em-up dabblers how to swoop and swoosh across the screen like a score-chasing fiend.
Almost more puzzler than shooter, Ikaruga is built around a 'black and white polarity' conceit: basically, enemies fire a barrage of monochrome light at your ship, and you can in turn flip polarities at the press of a button to guzzle up like-colored beams for energy. Thus, the screen's entire geometry changes in an instant, leading to countless death-defying, heart-stopping runs through waves of lethal plasma.
72. Fable 2
Fable 2 provides a more literal take on role-playing, letting you shape a hero through behavioral gestures that see you turn from twinkle-in-the-eye Prince Charming to pants-shitting jester with the press of a button. This latter accident - the result of a farting mini-game gone wrong - is funnier than it should be, especially when deployed before a crowd of yokels who've gathered to admire your fine dancing. You'd never see that in a Zelda game.
By putting its focus on silly moment-to-moment decisions in a world where even meat-eating can contribute to your unethical standing, Fable 2 allows your hero to gradually form over a virtual life, rather than defining them at a handful of colossal moral crossroads. Not that the game doesn't do those, too. In fact, such is the general silliness of life in Albion that when those tough calls do arrive, they hit all the harder for it.
71. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
One of the smoothest, slickest platformers ever made, this sequel fixes the few shortcomings of its predecessor. The two-act-per-level structure means the pacing is wonderful - and a perfect fit for the fastest thing alive. The opening sequence of Emerald Hill, Chemical Plant Zone and Aquatic Ruin is magnificent, packing three servings of gorgeous scrolling backgrounds, speed, hardcore platforming, and bosses into some 15 minutes of gaming.
The music is among the finest on any 16-bit machine, despite Mega Drive/Genesis' arguably inferior sound capabilities. And with timeless iconography, an ultra-dramatic final level, and countless opportunities for fun (pinball flippers, launch ramps, slot machines, secret paths, 3D special stages, etc.), this is as close to universal gaming fun as you can get.
70. XCOM: Enemy Within
XCOM: Enemy Within looks confusing in screenshots and videos - with all the little icons and aiming percentages - but it's actually quite easy to play. You don't lose a game of XCOM because you didn't understand what was happening, or because you forgot how to command your characters. The game doles out all the information in a way that's easy to understand. Instead, you lose because you made a mistake.
Maybe you charged your elite troops into a bad situation, or clumped them all up only to get wiped out by a single grenade. Whatever the reason, you understand why it happened. The action is framed within a classic alien invasion scenario that gives enough context without getting in the way of the fun. And since it comes from the same house as Civilization, you know it has that oh-so-addictive, one-more-turn effect that'll keep you up until the wee hours of the morning.
69. Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag
Who'd have thought the best AC game to date would be so... un-Assassin's Creed-y? That's not to say that Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag doesn't offer all the hallmarks of the stab-happy series; there's white hoods, sneaking missions and ancient MacGuffins aplenty. But it's the new elements that make this swashbuckling story so captivating. Boiled down to two words? Sailing, y'all.
Fleshing out a small feature of AC3 into a fully-fledged part of your adventure, AC4 gives you a vibrant 17th-century Caribbean to explore and a ship all your own to rule it with. In doing so, Black Flag becomes one of most compelling pirate stories ever told, tightly embracing the role-playing tenant that the adventure you make for yourself is far more memorable than any pre-scripted mission.
68. Worms Armageddon
Team 17's very British turn-based battler is a true curio, something that could've only come from the mad minds of late '90s games developers. Here you play a squad of fighty worms as they attempt to eradicate the opposing team by blasting them or knocking them into water. "But they haven't got any arms!" you shriek into our faces. True, but that doesn't mean these invertebrates can't use artillery.
There's exploding sheep, banana bombs, kamikaze pigeons, and sacrilegious holy hand grenades, all taking chunks out of the level as they go off. You can use grappling hooks, jetpacks, bungee cords, and scaffolding to reach new vantage points, and when you want to rub your opponent's' nose in it, do a bit of disrespectful skipping. Just make sure you don't let your exuberant trooper get prodded off a ledge to his or her watery death.
67. Thief 2: The Metal Age
The first Thief practically invented the stealth genre as we now know it. But Thief 2 does everything the original did, only better. Despite his wish for a simple life of grand larceny, Garrett once again finds himself ensnared in an intriguing plot full of pagan cults and evil machinations. The sheer atmosphere of the shadowy stages, which blend a gothic setting with steampunk inventions, more than makes up for any ancient-looking polygons.
But most importantly, the AI in Thief 2 is remarkably smart, with enemies that feel like thinking entities that you must react to instead of simply manipulating. Every area in the complex, non-linear level designs feels like a new logic puzzle, which can only be solved through the proper mix of cunning and the ability to adapt when your best-laid plans go to hell in a handbasket.
66. To the Moon
Ok, so it's more of a visual novel with sprite trappings than a full-blown RPG - but wow, what a story. Wrapping up themes as weighty as death, memory, love, loss and the interpersonal toll of mental illness, To the Moon is a game which will likely take you about three to four hours to polish off, but will stay with you forever.
Two doctors are tasked with delving into the memories of a dying man and reordering them to make his dream of reaching the moon come true. As they dig deeper into his past, however, his dream seems strangely at odds with some of his most treasured memories. You don't have any real control over how events unfold, but To The Moon is an outlier for gaming storytelling which pretty much every other title on this list could learn from.
SSX the third polishes up the series' already stellar board-based acrobatics to create an enthralling, accessible, yet fiendishly demanding rollercoaster playground. Then it explodes the whole concept outwards to create a full-blown video game holiday. In both concept and execution, the three interconnected peaks of the sprawling Big Mountain resort are a staggering achievement, mind-blowing in 2003 and still a joy to explore now.
One huge, alpine open-world, littered with race tracks, stunt parks, and trick runs, its eclectic atmospheres - from crisp, woodland backcountry to pulsating neon cities - is matched by its breadth, depth, and the sheer joy of just being there. Once you've tried a 25-minute run from the mountain's peak to its base, taking in every area in between, you'll realize that SSX3 isn't just the best snowboarding game ever - it's among the greatest games period.
64. TowerFall Ascension
Four-player TowerFall is the best thing you can do with a lunch break - yes, even better than lunch itself. It's a frenzied mini-tournament that takes place in short, frantic bursts of rapid-fire arrows, where winning is a combination of luck, skill, and other people's mistakes. Up to four archers, each with a quiver of arrows, fight for supremacy in a tiny space filled with platforms, item chests, and a ton of ways to die.
There's something for everyone: the retro-inspired aesthetic draws in the older, nostalgic crowd, while the chaotic, fast-paced action grabs the attention of the rest. Its accessible, easy controls (jump, fire arrows, repeat) make it perfect for beginners, but genius rule variations and tons of unique battlefields will keep you brawling for years. TowerFall is a simple premise executed brilliantly, as the best games often are.
63. F-Zero GX
The 12-year-old F-Zero GX not only still looks incredible, running at a ludicrously slick 60fps, but plays that way, too. Learn the tracks and train yourself to look past the eye-watering pace, and you'll enter a zen-like state of almost precognitive proportions. Where you see the upcoming corner, the loop, and the vital boost pad, unpracticed onlookers only see a blur.
With no weapon pick-ups in sight, the focus is kept strictly on white-knuckle racing. Besides, it's not like the game needs much inter-craft combat, as the courses themselves put up a fight, with harrowing cylinders suspended over flames, slippery glass roads snaking through futuristic cities, and routes littered with mines. Wonder why Nintendo hasn't made a new F-Zero? Because GX already exists, and it's still brilliant.
Computer-generated levels usually can't hold a candle to the ones that've been carved out by actual human beings. Imagine how lame Super Mario World would have been if Miyamoto's expert designs were replaced with a different set of jumbled-up eyesores every time you booted it up.
But Derek Yu's potholing platformer pulls it off. Spelunky's randomly-generated stages create a sense of wonder and exploration that pre-crafted levels simply can't compete with. There's a sense that you never quite know what's lurking around the next corner, and leaping before you look can quickly bring your latest adventure to an end. Not to mention the fact that the action is underpinned by hidden secrets and clever thematic twists that make the game as deep and absorbing as its near-endless cave systems.
61. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
The trouble with most co-op games is that you have to rely on other people (ugh) or AI 'bots with the intellect of a raisin. But Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons neatly sidesteps this by giving you control of both its titular leads simultaneously: one mapped to each analog stick. Essentially, you are your own co-op buddy - and it works wonderfully.
Directed by Swedish filmmaker Josef Fares, it's a brief game crammed with detail, character development, and cute set-pieces, whether you're tricking a blood cult or hiding from a yeti. This fantastic fairy tale of familial relations is bold, cinematic, and entirely unmissable for anyone with a heart that isn't made of icicles.
60. Grim Fandango
When Grim Fandango hit the scene in 1998, there was nothing like it. Fast-forward nearly two decades and... well, there's still really nothing like it. Part film noir, part Mexican folklore, with a heavy dash of LucasArts wit thrown in for good measure, Grim Fandango's tale of intrigue set in the seedy underbelly of the Land of the Dead feels just as fresh now as it did over 15 years ago.
Thanks to a recent port courtesy of Double Fine (the studio headed by Grim's original director, Tim Schafer), returning fans and newcomers alike can finally step back into Manny's bones and explore the dangerous yet breathtaking Sixth Underworld on modern machines. You'll still get frustrated by a wonky bit of old-school puzzle logic here and there, but Grim hasn't lost one bit of its well-considered charm.
59. Tekken 3
Fighting games were born in the once-dominant world of the arcade, but for years, developers struggled to translate the magic of the stand-up cabinet onto home consoles. Then Tekken 3 came along, whipped off its shades, and made the whole thing look effortless. It's so good you can almost smell that air of stale cigarette smoke and teenage ambition.
So what makes a 17-year-old PS1 fighter so good in 2015? It possesses one of the finest fighting systems ever, the series' well-known juggle formula percolated into a perfect storm of throws, strikes, and suplexes. It even adds two of the most iconic and rewarding characters to ever spill blood in the genre, in the forms of flame-trousered emo Jin Kazama and Chun-Li-aping kick connoisseur Hwoarang. Add to that a serving of tempo-accelerating dance tunes and enough mini-games to shake a fiery fist at, and you've got one hell of a fighting champion.
Once upon the late '90s, it seemed as if everyone wanted to make the next Super Mario 64. Some say Rare was one such contender, and cartoonish 3D platformer Banjo-Kazooie was its hopeful Mario clone. But Banjo-Kazooie is much more than that. It's a title with a ton of heart, charming in its silliness and endlessly fun to play.
Benefiting from a focus on expansive, themed worlds, Banjo-Kazooie directs all its energy toward making you want to explore its every nook and cranny. Airtight platforming controls make each location fully accessible, and a plethora of fun puzzles and silly characters leaves them feeling rich and full of life. Add in a great sense of humor that inspires some serious hilarity (we can't really think of another game where you save your sister via a life-or-death game show), and it's clear that Banjo-Kazooie does ridiculous fun ridiculously well.
57. Guild Wars 2
World of Warcraft might be the MMO that paved the way, but in the subsequent maelstrom of wannabes, only ArenaNet's daring take on the formula broke into 'must-play' territories. As soon as you log in to Guild Wars 2's world of Tyria and start adventuring, you're immediately doing so alongside armies of fellow players. Dynamic events with ever-shifting objectives kick off all over creation, with no finicky partying system required to partake.
Amazingly, here's an MMO which doesn't require a subscription, and yet manages to be updated constantly with consistently innovative content. You can expect a fresh helping of story every two weeks, alongside puzzles, mini-games, and huge boss battles requiring hundreds of players to join forces to succeed. And if you're more of a solo adventurer, that's ok too - each character's complex personal story is reason enough to keep questing.
56. Left 4 Dead
If you're looking for a stellar co-op game, you can't go wrong with Left 4 Dead. As the survivors, not only do you fight off hundreds of hungry zeds as they bum-rush you at full sprint - there's also a team of zombie players hiding in the shadows, waiting to rip you to shreds. Nothing is better than playing with a well-coordinated team and shotgun-blasting your way through a horde of zombies - or, alternatively, simultaneously pouncing on the survivors as the special infected.
Left 4 Dead has some of the most nerve-wracking gameplay you can find in a co-op shooter. The AI director knows just when to spring a surprise on the group, so every match feels different from the last. Even more unpredictable are the actions of your teammates and foes: sneaking past witches can go awry, boomers can botch an attack, and a tank could spawn at any moment. It'd be terrifying if it wasn't so fun.
55. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
C'mon, no one really wanted to be a lawyer before Phoenix Wright made his case. Wanting to be a lawyer is like wanting to start a pension fund, or getting excited about tax returns. But as it turns out, the life of a defense attorney is full of intrigue, mystery, and horrible, revenge-driven murder.
The first Ace Attorney game marks the beginning of a gorgeously detailed, well-written, and often wacky series; a narrative-led, understated handheld experience in a time when guns-'n'-gore were the order of the day. Why should you play it? The music; the look; the slow, tense unfolding of the story that will keep you gripped from Press Start to finish. It's Shu Takumi's masterpiece, and its only flaw is that it makes lawyering look too cool.
Quite simply, this is the smartest puzzle-platformer ever created. To call it Super Mario with time manipulation would do Braid a great disservice: its showpiece 'rewind all your actions' mechanic is but a fraction of what it has to offer. Each world presents distinct time-distorting powers and puzzles that feed your brain through the wringer, squeeze it out, let it air, and then forcefully knead it afterwards for good measure.
It's the rare product of brutal, uncompromising game design. Eager to avoid repeating a single idea, creator Jonathan Blow famously cut entire worlds from the plans when he discovered some time mechanics weren't generating enough wholly unique puzzles. Those that remain, combined with David Hellman's classical art style and a soothing soundtrack that matches your clock-spinning antics, ensure that Braid has and will stand the test of time.
53. Persona 4 Golden
Reenacting an entire year of high school one day at a time may not sound like one of the best RPGs of the last decade, but Persona 4 Golden's looks can be deceiving. Inaba is a mundane town that's troubled by a bizarre string of murders, and the only way to solve them is for a group of students to band together and figure it out. Finding the answers to the crimes involves an ingenious combination of dungeon crawling and personal introspection.
Persona 4 is a spinoff from Shin Megami Tensei, so it shares the same demonic style of monster collection and dense RPG combat. But when the 80+ hour campaign ends far too soon, what you'll remember most are the friendships between the characters. You get to know each of your classmates intimately as their story unfolds over the school year, and they grow and change along with the protagonist. Little moments, like sewing a stuffed bunny or fishing with a friend, can feel just as earthshaking as any boss battle.
52. Day of the Tentacle
Maniac Mansion may have put LucasArts (or LucasFilm Games, as it was once known) on the map - but it's the sequel, Day of the Tentacle, that really holds a special place in our hearts. Why? Well, it's about time. See, Purple Tentacle is a little deranged, and he's gone off to take over the world. Luckily, you've got a porta-potty-turned-time-machine, and you're off to stop the megalomaniacal appendage before he can enact his plan. Hijinks (inevitably) ensue.
But the plot doesn't just span the centuries - the puzzles do too. Sending objects through the time-tripping toilets will change events in the past, and always with hilarious results. As a bonus Easter egg, you can even find a full copy of the original Maniac Mansion hidden in the game. It's an excellent adventure that still stands the test of... well, you know.
51. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
Not even atrocities like Tony Hawk Ride or Downhill Jam can ever take away from the greatness of this skate-or-die classic. THPS3 is the pinnacle of the franchise, with ludicrously smooth controls and a playful, over-the-top mentality that hasn't yet veered into Bam Margera worship. Each of the wildly varied stages is full of sick combo lines and nifty secrets, but the two-minute time limit keeps you focused on what really matters: racking up points.
Let us not forget the glory of the revert, which - when paired with the manual move from the preceding game - turns every level into one giant playground. Once you've mastered the art of stringing together your favorite tricks and slick signature moves, you can traverse the entire map in a single magnificent combo. The eclectic soundtrack's unforgettable mix of punk rock, hip-hop, and ska ties it all together like grip tape to make this greatest skating game on the block.
50. World of Warcraft
There are sane, rational people in the world who've been playing World of Warcraft for over ten years. That's because WoW has been and still is the gold standard for MMOs, serving as the template that many have tried to mimic and none have topped. With every expansion, countless refinements and fresh zones added to the realm of Azeroth justify the monthly subscription fee for veterans and latecomers alike.
What makes WoW so everlasting is the way it caters to players of all kinds. Newbies are eased into learning the pristinely tuned class mechanics, taking on quests that make them feel like the hero at the center of their own personal epic. Meanwhile, experts will always have new ways to test themselves, either against brilliantly designed raid bosses or their fellow adventurers in intense PvP. Whatever you want from an MMO, WoW's got it in spades.
49. Ghost Trick
You know it's been a great party when you wake up as a corpse the morning after. Wait, what? It might sound bonkers, but such is main character Sissel's predicament at the outset of this ectoplasmic twist on the humble point-and-clicker. As a recently deceased ghost, Sissel must piece together the events that led to his demise while simultaneously averting disaster for a cast of characters in the present.
The twist? He's only able to interact with things by possessing them, and can only travel a certain distance at a time. Oh, and when things do go wrong, Sissel's only able to manipulate events within a tiny window of time. Cue brain-melting puzzles which gleefully dance along the line between frustration and satisfaction. And that ending. Pack some Kleenex.
48. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the best of many, many worlds. We don't just mean the Nintendo worlds it brings together, but how it seamlessly fuses the competitive edge of the fighting genre with the accessibility and just-plain-fun that Nintendo is known for.
While every Smash title has its upsides, the Wii U entry is a cut above what's come before. Its gameplay is simple enough to enjoy immediately, while the depth it lends to character mastery will keep you coming back. Refined balance makes every fighter an attractive option; you're just as likely to win with Jigglypuff as you are with Star Fox, assuming you know how to play them. Add a roster of over 50 characters with an insane amount of alternate costumes (you can be any of the seven Koopalings!), and now we really want to settle every personal dispute in Smash.
47. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Alucard, son of Dracula and the handsome hero of Symphony of the Night, has the distinction of being half-human, half-vampire. That kind of unique fusion brilliantly captures what makes one of the great grandfathers of 'Metroidvania' so great. It combines the tight 2D platforming of Super Castlevania with the open-ended structure of Super Metroid. The timeless graphical style blends the best of 16-bit-era spritework with 32-bit special effects. There's all the excitement of a side-scroller, mixed with the rich loot cycle and constant stream of new abilities typical of an RPG.
Just when you think you've reached the finale, SOTN reveals that you're only at the halfway point. But you won't be mad, because Dracula's castle is rife with secrets and monstrous, imaginative enemies, making the exploration and combat captivating from start to finish. Say what you will about the melodramatic voice acting, but SOTN's hauntingly beautiful score is still one of the most enchanting highlights of video game audio to date.
46. Fire Emblem Awakening
Not many games can boast the combination of strategic battles and romantic matchmaking, but Fire Emblem Awakening does. And why not? Too few strategy games stop to think about life outside the battlefield, but this 3DS outing is all the richer for its relationship-focused narrative.
It's completely up to you whether you just want to play Cupid and set up the couples you think are cutest, or go full eugenicist and engineer the most powerful warrior babies. The turn-based strategy is compelling enough to distract you from your romantic meddling, with endless combinations of moves, weapons, and characters to mix up into your very own flavor of tactical mayhem. Just don't mess up if you're playing Classic Mode - because once a character dies, they're dead forever, and you can't marry them off any more. 'Tragedy' doesn't even begin to describe it.
45. Secret of Mana
Where do we even start with Secret of Mana? The beautiful world full of waving grass and gentle rivers? The swelling music that fills the air with adventure and mystery? The real-time, stamina-based combat that favors patience and timing over mad dashes? The unprecedented three-player co-op which lets each person fall madly in love with their own unique protagonist? It's a bit difficult to choose.
Secret of Mana is still amazing more than two decades later, its moments of desperate struggle and quiet awe no less powerful than the first time we experienced them. It's a shame that the Mana series has been a perpetual second fiddle to Final Fantasy since then, but we'll always remember that haunting piano theme...
44. The Secret of Monkey Island
"I wanna be a pirate!" Those simple words open The Secret of Monkey Island, and they set the tone for a hilarious swashbuckling adventure, filled to the brim with cheeky anachronisms and endearingly terrible pirate puns. Where else can you fend off buccaneers with nothing but insults, or have other LucasArts adventures advertised to you in-game?
Its quips, one-liners, and zany puzzles are memorable and eminently quotable. We still laugh at the "How appropriate, you fight like a cow" line. We still smirk every time we get a chance to use that rubber chicken with the pulley in the middle of it. And we'll never forget Guybrush Threepwood's parting words of advice: "Never pay more than 20 bucks for a computer game."
There's just something about Destiny that will get you hooked. Yeah, you can get loot hoarding from plenty of other games, and traditional MMOs have the 'raiding' thing down pat. We've seen all of the parts of Destiny before. But Bungie has managed to wrap the best shooting mechanics in the genre, engaging MMO cooperation, and competitive multiplayer elements together to create a persistent open-world shooter that's unlike anything we've played before.
While the base game is sure to put you through a hundred of hours of single-player missions, co-op Strikes, intense Raids, and online Crucible matches, its universe continues to expand. The developers are constantly making improvements. New expansions loom on the horizon, giving players even more environments to explore, loot to gather, and intimidating bosses to tackle as a team. Destiny is only the beginning, and its future is looking bright.
42. FIFA 15
Sports games are never ones to make sweeping changes. Like football itself, the FIFA titles introduce improvements gradually, the overall product remaining fundamentally unchanged since some guy said "Let's kick that pig's stomach into something!" Pitches bear skid marks. Shirts get pulled. Corner flags react to contact. There's a three-second shot of the stadium before high-profile matches. New menus shave a few seconds off navigation.
Extra touches make dribbling a touch more effective, and subtle swerve gives shooting slightly more potency from distance. It's hardly a strong argument to use against the 'sports games are just yearly roster updates' crowd, but the minor things in FIFA 15 are what make it.
41. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
In a time when colors were limited, characters were simple, and polygons were gigantic, Yoshi's Island managed to capture a completely unique feeling with its adorable pastel scribbles. Mario games have always excelled at making the sinister seem sweet, and Yoshi's Island takes this idea and waddles off with it. The entire game is about stealing children, which in any other circumstance would be a reason to call the police.
But between its endearingly cute looks and slightly tiring babysitting mechanic, Yoshi's Island is a deceptively excellent little platformer. Even after you've dusted off the story, the secrets and collectibles tucked away inside each level make replaying a must. Go on, give yourself a break from zombies and guns - play a game where a dinosaur turns into a helicopter instead.
40. Xenoblade Chronicles
Many modern JRPGs stand on the shoulders of giants, but none more literally than Xenoblade Chronicles. Set on the bodies of two decaying gods, it sees knobbly body parts sprout extraordinary level designs. Sprawling thighs hold rolling plains; colonies nestle in the soft bit behind the kneecap; a pointy elbow becomes a mountain peak. The mind boggles at the sheer imagination of the world, let alone how the humble Wii handles it without melting.
And it hosts a truly forward-thinking JRPG - borrowing a real-time combat system not unlike Final Fantasy 12's, but better unifying your party members with devastating combo potential and an affinity system that powers the strongest moves. Throw in a soundtrack of solid gold earworms and hundreds of hours of hypnotic side quests, and by the time you're done with this, your body will have sprouted a few grassy fields of its own.
True emotional investment is rare in games. Very few attempt to invoke it, but even those that do are usually about as subtle as a wrecking ball wrapped in plastic explosives. Team Ico's debut - a remarkable thing to properly consider - is a standout proposition, not just in what it tries to do, but in how it does it. Character names? Nope. Exposition? Nah. Long, superfluous cut-scenes? Behave.
Instead you have two characters bonded by circumstance, and an instinct to protect that which is good from that which is not. There's a delicacy and purity to Ico which has barely been repeated in the last 14 years - how many games have hand-holding as their key mechanic? Plus, that end scene is the kind of stuff which has grown men pretending they were chopping onions.
38. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
We're not sure how, but Nintendo managed to make the prospect of being in hideous amounts of debt to a slightly sinister racoon really fun. After stumbling into town and being presented with new Mayoral responsibilities and a tent for the night, it's up to you to work odd jobs for cash (or bells, as the case may be) and spend it on town improvement. In the process, you unlock bigger and better stuff, and further debts to pay for it all. Ah, commercialism.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is all so wondrously charming; there's nothing quite like pottering around collecting bugs, or fishing while your neighbors - a lazy frog and a snooty anteater - swap fashion tips in the background. Being able to fill your house with anything from a space station to a dentist's chair is another highlight, especially when you can share your perfect (or creatively questionable) interior design skills online.
Games have a power to take us to all manner of places. So why do they so often take us to places we can actually go? For Japanese players, the world of Okami must be an intriguing collection of folklore nods and knowing references to ancient tales. For folks like us in the West, it's a wondrous explosion of stories both unknown and beautiful, all ripe for exploring from the inside out.
And doing so is an absolute delight thanks to a gameplay foundation riffed from 3D Zeldas, augmented with a cel-shaded artistic flair and a Celestial Brush which lets you paint to change the world itself. Plus, it's the only game we can think of that lets you play as a goddess of the sun embodied as a snow-white wolf wielding a disc of fire alongside an inch-high artist who's also a bug. So: win.
36. Fallout 3
Only a fool would think of Fallout 3 as Oblivion with guns. Yes, this is another 100-hours-or-more Bethesda RPG in which you roam an open world solving people's problems (mostly with violence) - but it diverges with a vengeance. First there's the dark humor which clashes '50s apple-pie Americana with the nuclear apocalypse, casting you as a resident of Vault 101 in the year 2277, forced to search a ravaged Washington DC for your father who is Liam Neeson.
Then there's VATS (or Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System), which lets you pause the action and target specific body parts to cripple and dismember. There are weapons to craft (pneumatic fists, laser cannons), companions to recruit (floating robots, dogs), and factions to join (militias, technology-worshipping monks). So yes, there are guns in Fallout 3, but there's a lot more besides.
35. Pokemon X and Y
The pinnacle of the monster-nabbing series to date, Pokemon X and Y brings the iconic franchise into a whole new dimension, adding trainer customization options and a more robust trading system to boot. The world of Kalos itself is no slouch either, filled to the brim with vibrant locations and some of the best new Pokemon designs since the first generation back in 1996.
While other reincarnations provide refinements, X/Y takes a genuine leap forward with its battling formula by introducing the Fairy type, horde encounters, and even sky-based battles. Mega evolutions also add a great tactical layer by letting you briefly super-charge your Poke-pals for a devastating show of strength, but only once per fight. It's more of what you love about Pokemon, only better.
34. Batman: Arkham Asylum
Rocksteady's debut take on the Dark Knight is, in a word, spectacular. That's no flagrant use of hyperbole either - out of a relatively unproven London studio came the greatest encapsulation of a superhero ever made outside the hallowed pages of its comic origins. Drawing on the familiar voices of '90s gem Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: Arkham Asylum adds just enough familiar authenticity to get your attention, then builds a world that practically oozes a character all its own.
The real triumph here is the balance between Bats' pitch-perfect stealth capabilities and the poetic brutality of the Freeflow combat system. Sure, if things go awry you can rely on a scrapping setup so smooth you're practically making music with your fists. But the sheer joy of stalking your enemies, sweeping between gargoyles, and snatching thugs into the darkness makes you feel as cool as the Dark Knight himself.
33. The Walking Dead: Season One
You haven't known tension in a game until you've had mere seconds to decide if you save a child and doom a young man, or vice versa. You haven't known guilt until you've seen how your choices made you an absolute monster compared to most other players. And you've not known heartbreak until you've had to ask your surrogate daughter figure to do something no child should ever have to, zombie apocalypse or not.
Taking the comics as a jumping-off point, Telltale's episodic spin on The Walking Dead revitalizes the adventure game template by making your decisions feel impactful and really, genuinely, gut-wrenchingly difficult. Seeing the sentence "Clementine will remember that" flash across the screen conveys more meaning than some games' entire stories, and we'll never forget that.
32. Chrono Trigger
With modern technology and massive budgets, it's still an impressive feat when a game can create memorable narratives, nuanced characters, and layered storytelling. Imagine pulling that off with pixelated sprites and no voice acting, while also trying your best to follow a plot that involves a lot of time travel.
Chrono Trigger is an epic collaboration from the minds behind Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, and it's the best of both worlds. All of its distinct historical periods are full of shocking developments and memorable characters, from a chivalrous frog to a gentle robot. All this is coupled with one of the era's best soundtracks, and a freewheeling combat system that abolishes tiresome random battles and amps up the turned-based action. Chrono Trigger is a trip back in time that every gamer needs to take - preferably via the brilliant DS port.
31. Portal 2
How do you improve on a seemingly perfect puzzle game? If Valve's second physics-mangling outing is anything to go by, you up the length, expand the story, and go crazy with the extra gadgets. Supplementing your portal gun with great gobs of bouncy, slidey, and whack-a-portal-anywhere-thanks-to-moondust goo, Portal 2 gives you larger, more inventive playgrounds through which to catapult yourself with speed, precision, and frantic prayer.
And who could resist the charms of Stephen Merchant as the hapless idiot-turned-sinister threat Wheatley? What's more, who'd have thought we could ever experience so much as a tiny twinge of sympathy for GLaDOS? By developing and refining all the physics-bending concepts presented by its predecessor - not to mention the introduction of fiendishly fun co-op play - Portal 2 makes the original seem like a (really good) demo.
While its star may be a sexy-dancing witch with an outfit made of hair that disappears during her - oh boy - special climax moves, don't let the look of Bayonetta fool you. Under all that cheesecake is a meaty gaming center. Actually, that sounds gross. Bayonetta's way better than meaty cheesecake.
Springing from the minds that brought us Devil May Cry, Bayonetta's gameplay is composed of big, loud, and explosively fun battles that make you feel like a badass every time you pick up the controller. The glorious excess of fights only adds to the fun, and our leading lady's sexiness doesn't take away from the fact that she can kill you with one deftly-wielded shoe. Mix that all up with a well-designed combat system that keeps battles well within your control, and this is a delicious, endlessly satisfying dessert you'll want to indulge in again and again and again.
29. Deus Ex
People throw the word 'cyberpunk' around so much these days that it pretty much just means 'in the future with lots of computers but no aliens'. Deus Ex takes the label seriously. Worldwide surveillance conspiracies; cybernetic implants; a disillusioned G-Man protagonist with murky morals; the frickin' Illuminati. Deus Ex is cyber-goddamn-punk.
Built on that pitch-perfect atmosphere is a liberating game that changes the way you approach first-person problem solving. You can kit out JC Denton to be a door-crashing super soldier if you prefer the direct approach, or maybe boost his Cloak augmentation and sneak in unnoticed. Then again, why not hack into the security grid and let the enemy's automated turrets do the heavy lifting? If you can think it, there's a good chance Deus Ex will let you do it.
28. Super Metroid
People praise Super Metroid for refusing to tell you where to go next, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Everything about each environment is structured to quietly lead you to new discoveries and hidden power-ups. Whether it's a door just past a tiny crevice that Samus can't quite fit through yet, or a precipice that's a bit too tall for her to leap over, Super Metroid is speaking to you constantly. It's just not talking through dense objective text or giant arrows.
That might get a bit dull if the world wasn't worthy of your constant attention. But Zebes is such an awe-inspiring collection of ecosystems and creatures that there's always a new detail to appreciate, even 20 years later. And that two-screen-tall Kraid fight still gives us shivers.
Representing: The 2D Metroid games
27. Ultra Street Fighter 4
Fighting games are never truly finished. They're constantly evolving, whether it's because a developer releases a new patch or a fan discovers some fresh techniques. Street Fighter 4 will soon top off seven strong years of growth in the hands of the public. Its masterful execution of fighting game fundamentals has earned it a worldwide, competitive, collegial fanbase that's still going strong to this day.
The lessons Street Fighter IV can teach you are timeless. Learning its complexities will arm you with the skills necessary to excel at nearly any other fighter. And with the release of Ultra Street Fighter 4, the series finds its largest roster yet, topping out at 44 characters with wildly distinct fighting styles. For those with the fighting spirit, Street Fighter 4 endures as the competitive fighter to play today.
26. Final Fantasy 6
All the things you love about Final Fantasy 7? FF6 did them first, and it does them better. Epic story? This is a game that uses the end of the world as its interval. Fantastic cast? All but one of the fourteen party members have fully-fleshed out personalities, back-stories, and well-hidden, intricately meshed secrets. Powerful soundtrack? Oh come on now.
And crucially, much more so than later games in the series, Final Fantasy 6 is damn funny. It's a game that understands that the most heavy, complex, emotionally resonant scenes (and it has some of the series best) are for naught if they exist in an implausibly histrionic, one-note world, so good Lord, does it make its journey one hell of a warm, human adventure. In fact adventure' doesn't cover it. Final Fantasy 6 is a game you'll live in.
Representing: The 2D Final Fantasy games
If you haven't heard of this blocky build-em-up by now, you must be living under an unpunched tree. What started out as an adventure with some twee retro-styled cubes has morphed into a cultural phenomenon that's taken over the planet. Now you can't move two feet without Creepers hissing menacingly in your ears.
All that prestige is totally merited; while it might look simple, Minecraft's simplicity is a huge part of its success. Being plonked in a randomly generated world, it's up to you to make your own fun, be that by building suspiciously phallic towers or recreating all of the cities from Game of Thrones. The scope is there to do anything your heart desires.
24. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
This is the shooter that kicked off the modern combat trend that FPS games have been stuck in for over half a decade. But that's ok, because Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is just that freaking awesome. It stole the FPS throne with a single-player campaign that's still the most thrilling, shocking rollercoaster ride in the series, and a multiplayer component that changed FPS multiplayer forever. And the best thing about it is that it's all just as glorious today.
As far as multiplayer is concerned, going back to the Modern Warfare's basic gunplay, customization options, and killstreak bonuses is still the best way to go. It's the purest form of Call of Duty multiplayer, without the bloat of extras and add-ons from the iterations that followed. Modern Warfare has been often imitated but never duplicated. So why mess with anything else when the king still sits on his throne?
There will never come a time in your life when Tetris isn't fun. Think about it: you've no doubt played it on and off since you were a little kid, always coming back to its simple yet ridiculously deep design. And even in a time when video games are approaching photorealism and VR is all the rage, those chunky, four-block tetriminos still evoke excitement in us, and the dire need to chase after a new high score or best our buddies.
Tetris comes in many forms, with all manner of bells and whistles, but the core has always been the same: lining up blocks in a way that tests your twitch reflexes and your ability to plan ahead at the same time. That kind of stimulating contrast is at the heart of so many beloved games - Tetris just presents it in the plainest, most timeless way possible. It's instantly accessible, endlessly playable, and iconic enough to invade your dreams even after you've put it down.
22. Final Fantasy X
Soaring music? Check. Beautiful locations filled with beautiful people? Of course. A twisting tale of adventure and young love? Yup, that too - it's the Final Fantasy trifecta. Throw in a giant dream whale with a penchant for slaughter, some daddy issues, and an addictive football-meets-water-polo mini-game, and you've got the best modern title in this legendary JRPG series.
Sure, FF's 7, 8, 9, and 12 are also classically excellent, but Final Fantasy 10's emotionally involving story, stellar cast, and truly phenomenal Thai-inspired world is the franchise formula at its refined best - especially now that you can play it in extra fancy HD-o-vision on PS3 and Vita. Drifting ashore on the sun-drenched Isle of Besaid for the first time is a truly unforgettable experience.
Representing: The 3D Final Fantasy games
21. Silent Hill 2
The second entry in the other long-running Japanese survival horror series does something that very few games attempt, let alone achieve. It tells its story, the deeply dark and unnerving descent of James Sunderland, with an untouchable brand of subtlety. As James, you must delve into the titular town after receiving a letter from your most definitely dead wife asking you to meet her there. What follows is a spiraling miasma of intensely personal horror.
While the likes of Pyramid Head or the faceless, flailing nurse monsters that jerkily spasm through the darkness will go down in gaming history as some of the most terrifying baddies ever designed, it's what they stand for in the grand scheme of things that truly horrifies. Do yourself a favor: don't wiki it or ask someone else what it's all about. Just dive in and prepare yourself for a narrative so laden with layered twists and turns, it'd have Tyler Durden soiling his slacks.
Perhaps more than any other developer, thatgamecompany has never made the same kind of game twice. Yet they're all alike in one very important detail. The common thread is that each taps into certain primal emotions, but the most personal experience of the three is surely Journey.
The character, the lost world, the symbolism, even the overall allegory itself: each player's interpretation of all these things will be shaped dramatically by their individual beliefs and leanings. But no what matter your ideologies, you'll be utterly blown away by the time you reach the ending. (The astonishing and timeless beauty certainly doesn't do any harm in that regard.) The most moving two-hour experience in gaming? You'd have to walk a long way to find a stronger contender.
19. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Even by today's standards, A Link to the Past is a masterwork of game development. The quest is perfectly paced, with challenging dungeons, memorable boss battles, and a massive world to explore. Plus, the 16-bit graphics are just as charming today as when it was first released on the SNES.
A Link to the Past is the game that set the bar for all of the Zelda titles that came after it. Even modern 3D Zeldas (and countless other copycats) still use the LttP formula. Every dungeon you explore as the green-garbed hero is an intense experience. Puzzles challenge your mental prowess, while tough enemies test your patience and skill. Traveling the vast light and dark worlds, scaling Death Mountain, and defeating the evil Ganon are but a few of the highlights from Link's grandest adventure, and some of the most satisfying accomplishments in gaming.
Representing: The 2D Legend of Zelda games
18. Mario Kart 7
There's an argument for most entries in the Mario Kart series being on this list. The Wii U version is one of the slickest video games ever made, the SNES original is a proper racing game underneath all the shells and Thwomps, and the DS' multiplayer remains impeccable. But Mario Kart 7 combines all of these facets to deliver the perfect arcade racer.
The addition of underwater and flight sections may offer little in the way of new tactical opportunities, but the sensation of scooting through rising bubbles or soaring past a windmill's moving blades is joyous. Link-up play is rock-solid, and you can even let your friends join in for free with Download Play. With better tracks than Mario Kart 8, better graphics than MK DS, and visual effects that literally jump off the screen, this is a showcase not only for the 3DS hardware, but for Nintendo gaming itself.
17. Super Mario World
Mario games defined the platformer in the '80s, after basically inventing the genre with Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. The SNES launch title Super Mario World became the high water mark for 2D sidescrollers, dropping the mustachioed mascot into a colorful 16-bit world full of dinosaurs and bottomless pits. And, thanks to the then-new tech on display, SMW packed in even more bits of ingenious design to the already impeccable core gameplay.
World is packed with new moves and abilities only hinted at in previous games, with improved flight, ridable dinosaurs, and more built on top of the perfect jumping action. Meanwhile, the stages are much more intricate, adding replayability and exploration to a series that already rewarded the curious. The 2D platformer still hasn't been bested more than two decades later, despite some admirable attempts from Nintendo's own New Super Mario Bros. and Yoshi's Island.
Representing: The 2D Super Mario games
It would be easy, and understandable, to focus on the astonishing "Would you kindly?" reveal when discussing the brilliance of BioShock. But the strongest suit of Irrational Games' masterpiece is its world-building, and the narrative experience within that environment. The underwater dystopia of Rapture remains one of the most wonderfully realized locations in all of gaming, given life by its architecture and incidental detail as much as its well-rounded cast.
Listening to every audio diary and reading every poster realizes an astonishing sense of place, while the idea of a city under the sea seems too obviously compelling to have never been done this well before. Then there's your journey through it, a phenomenal rollercoaster of mystery, intrigue, and revelation that astonishes time and again. And yeah, that twist. Would you kindly let us take a little lie down in a cool, dark room?
15. Mass Effect 2
It takes guts to kill off your lead character in the first five minutes of a game, but that's exactly what happens in Mass Effect 2. Sure, it's a bit of a cheat, but it sets the tone perfectly for the rest of this epic space opera. This is the Empire Strikes Back of the Mass Effect series; the dark middle-child with amazing narrative depth, a host of great characters, and a willingness to punish mistakes with a severity most games shy away from.
It's a richer experience as a result. The heightened emotional consequences of your decisions make every action more meaningful. It helps that ME2 gets the basics right - the combat is slick, exploring the galaxy is compelling - and the 'group of galactic misfits' story draws everything together so neatly. Overall, this is one of the best action RPGs ever made, and maybe - just maybe - the best Star Wars game ever, even without the name.
14. The Last of Us
Games have, quite appropriately, done the apocalypse to death. Of all the many wonderful things The Last Of Us achieves, its greatest accomplishment may be making the end of the world feel meaningful again. While a phenomenal script takes most of the credit, it helps that every aspect of Joel and Ellie's dirty, deeply unglamorous cross-country trek is utterly convincing.
It's beautiful in a startlingly unshowy way; all wonderful low-key lighting and gorgeously scuffed-up surroundings. Its brand of stealth has more balls than any other game - it constantly holds you accountable for your horrific-but-necessary actions by depicting violence as a disturbingly intimate act. Its zombie-ridden nod to Cormac McCarthy's The Road is brilliantly written. Not 'good for a video game' written, but honest-to-god 'you could air this on HBO' written.
13. The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Be who you want to be in The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. Play as a stealthy Khajiit archer and creep through dungeons, scoring insta-kill slow motion headshots and pausing to pluck the arrow from the corpse. Be a powerful conjurer able to summon otherworldly weapons, call down monstrous beings, and raise the dead, or walk the path of a destructive mage who can spread fire, frost, and shock from his fingertips. Or beef up your muscles, grow your hair, and be a Conan-the-Barbarian type who wields an axe in one hand and a sword in the other.
The point is, Skyrim is so unbelievably vast that you can carve out your own ideal experience and play precisely how you want to. Choose your quests, pick your factions, and live a new life in this incredibly rich fantasy land.
12. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
Hit the Back button and you can instantly switch between classic 2001 Halo and 343 Industries' remaster. Resist the temptation to perform this disruptive comparison every 30 seconds (like you probably do with your special glasses when watching a 3D movie), and you'll find plenty to admire in this decade-on polish-up.
Yes, on some superficial levels it's basic by today's standards, as Halo's once-progressive features - like rechargeable shields and a two-weapon carry limit - are now commonplace among shooters. But solid fundamentals endure. Alongside those mechanics sit a bevy of improvements, such as online co-op, re-recorded music courtesy of the 75-piece Skywalker Symphony Orchestra, and striking new cut-scenes, making Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary a trip down memory lane worth taking.
11. Metroid Prime
Metroid Prime stands as one of the most effective perspective shifts in video game history. This 2002 GameCube classic takes a 2D platformer starring a mysterious power-armored bounty hunter and puts you inside her iconic helmet. Exploring a distant alien world in first-person not only makes the action more tactile, but the isolated beauty more palpable.
The change in viewpoint results in some truly memorable moments. Heat from bubbling lava fields steams up your visor; icy wastes freeze the screen's edges; flashes from Samus' cannon reflect her blue eyes back at you during the brutal fights with local fauna. There's also more room for subtlety; stepping out into Phendrana Drifts as the area's signature piano theme strikes up is a wonderfully evocative moment. Here, no longer do you control Samus; here you are Samus.
Representing: The 3D Metroid games
10. Shadow of the Colossus
Every game has some kind of effect on you, though it's rarely profound. But Shadow of the Colossus' ending never leaves you, and its impact is all the greater for how you got there. As you struggle against some of gaming's largest foes (so big that climbing up their bodies is a platforming level in its own right), working out how to take them down, your approach is absolutely single-minded: How can I kill this massive creature?
In between felling giants, all you do is ride your horse to the next one. Through overwhelming solitude, broken only by the occasional lizard or bird of prey overhead, you truly feel alone in this forbidding land. The colossi may well be graphical marvels, but the game's considerable technical achievement is all but forgotten amid the many captivating, ambient moments. However long, arduous, and troubling your journey through Shadow's world, you'll finish it knowing that you just experienced something truly amazing.
9. Grand Theft Auto 5
Grand Theft Auto 5 is simply breathtaking. It's the culmination of everything Rockstar has worked toward for years, taking bits and pieces from GTAs old and new, with the improved gunplay found in games like Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3. The end result is nothing short of exhilarating. The characters are memorable in their depravity, the tunes will have you belting out lyrics at the top of your lungs, and the heists - God, the heists - will let you live out your own Michael Mann-inspired fantasies set in a fantastic representation of the City of Angels.
While the last-gen versions of Grand Theft Auto 5 are great, it's the additions made to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions that really send this one over the top. The enhanced textures and other graphical refinements improve an already fantastic-looking game, and being able to walk around in first-person lets you soak up so many small details that you'd otherwise miss. The big set-piece missions and larger-than-life characters may get all the credit, but it's the little things that keep us coming back and exploring everything Los Santos has to offer.
8. Half-Life 2
It's almost getting hard to write about why Half-Life 2 is good, such is the long-accepted canonicity of its quality. But screw it, let's get into this, because it's still really, really brilliant. The first FPS to fuse action, storytelling, characterization, and player experience into one, inseparable whole, HL2's deftness and insight are still unsurpassed. Using an initially imperceptible blend of slow-burn, psychology, and good old-fashioned Holy shit this is awesome' action, it sucks you into its nuanced, desperately believable world like the Sarlaac Pit. HL2 sets you off with stranger-in-a-strange-land intrigue, then rockets you into a truly epic journey of discovery and empowerment.
Its core shooting still puts most modern FPS to shame, too, with a tactile and eclectic box of tools, each with specific purpose and distinct strategic possibilities. It's less a weapon set, more a bunch of keys for unlocking the world around you. Spellbinding, absorbing, and utterly thrilling, its only failing is in how inferior it continues to make most of the genre look, 11 years later.
7. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Hollywood must be sick of Naughty Dog by now. Not only has the studio made the greatest apocalyptic tale ever told in The Last of Us, but it just so happens to have concocted the best action blockbuster this side of Arnie's IMDB page. From the opening moments amid a train wreck dangling over an icy cliff, to the final showdown in the heart of Shambhala, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is so cinematically mesmerizing that it deserves its own cabinet full of Oscars.
Among the nail-biting action set-pieces, furious gunfights and Croft-shaming environmental puzzles lies one of the best stories and complementary casts you'll ever find committed to disc. Returning hero Nathan Drake puts every generic protagonist we've controlled to shame, with a punchy script and a dashing yet vulnerable performance from Nolan North in his prime. With a robust multiplayer component at its side, Among Thieves is a jack of all trades, and a master to boot. A delicate balance of action, horror, comedy, suspense, and fantasy, all rolled into one treasure-bound package. Poor old Hollywood - it never stood a chance.
6. Red Dead Redemption
GTA 5 is without a doubt one of the most technically impressive games ever made, and the most densely-populated and detailed open-world of all time. So how has Rockstar not even managed to top its own Western sandbox effort, a title that's fully five years old? The answer is atmosphere. While Los Santos may be exquisitely well-realized, the Wild West that stretches out before you in Red Dead Redemption is evocative like few virtual environments before or since. Vast open plains. Awe-inspiring rock formations. Sun-baked mesas. And all of these are yours to explore as you indulge in the ultimate cowboy fantasy.
What John Marston's journey also understands is the importance of isolation. While open-world games are increasingly concerned with packing in more and more, part of the timeless appeal here is the sense of remoteness and solitude. This is bolstered by an incredible soundtrack and unforgettable set-pieces, like the entry into Mexico and the frantic ride back home. And all of these things foster that most overlooked of elements within the genre: emotional investment. A decent man trying to put things right elicits that like none of GTA's sociopaths ever could, and if that finale doesn't bring forth a tear, then you really might be dead inside.
5. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
C'mon, it has to be the one with the five-minute ladder climb, right? Where Solid Snake's stealthy Shadow Moses infiltration took PS1 and the gaming medium to new cinematic heights, Snake Eater is by far the best actual game that industry legend Hideo Kojima has ever crafted. Unlike the overly compartmentalized MGS4, this origin story of Big Boss presents a single, stripped-down journey through the claustrophobic jungles of Cold War Russia that's both easy to chart and truly captivating to play.
So many of Metal Gear Solid 3's highest points stand as definitive moments for Konami's sneak-'em-up series. The 40-minute sniping duel with crack marksman The End is still among the most cannily conceived boss battles ever, more than a decade on. Then there's that brilliant, intuitive camo system. And fighting your mentor the Boss in a field of white wildflowers. And shooting Ape Escape primates in the forests of Tselinoyarsk in an utterly bizarre but brilliant crossover. The lo-fi sneaking is still great; the bosses are never short of mesmerizing; the story is far leaner and more focused than what's come since. Snake Eater is simply the greatest stealth game of all time.
4. Super Mario Galaxy 2
We honestly can't remember what happens in Super Mario Galaxy 2's story (guessing Bowser is involved), but it's one of the most mechanically perfect games ever created. This is the peak of Mario's three-dimensional outings, with the controls at their sharpest, level design at its most creative, and an overriding sense of joy throughout.
Galaxy's clever concept of traveling between small planetoids puts it ahead of the other 3D entries in the series. The tiny plots of land in the vast darkness of outer space make Mario's journey simultaneously focused and expansive, an engrossing combination. Stage after stage is filled with novel ideas that could support their own full game, only for an awesome new dynamic to pop up just as you were getting used to the old one. The best way to sum up the pure, exhilarating fun of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is to simply quote the plumber himself: "Wahoo!"
Representing: The 3D Super Mario games
3. Resident Evil 4
Eschew any silly idea that Resident Evil 4 is looking a bit old now. That's some naive thinking, right there. You see, the things that the less discerning might call dated' are nothing of the sort. The lack of strafing, the inability to walk and shoot, the Tetris-nightmare inventory management, the largely locked camera and stiffness' of control... They're all very deliberate facets of an immaculately designed interface, with very specific purpose. As such, they're as fresh and vital today as they were in 2005.
RE4's precise, layered, strategic shooting is about understanding limitations, then bending them to their own limits in order to come out on top. It's a game about forging a tight, tactical insight into one's abilities and surroundings, and funneling that through strategy, improvisation, and organized carnage. Squaring off against Los Illuminados is cerebral and demanding, yet endlessly rewarding. The game's tactile feedback, adept pacing, hair-raising set-piece design, and sheer, relentless sense of satisfaction make it the most intellectual action movie you've ever played. Also, those headshots are just sublime.
2. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
The Legend of Zelda series holds some of the best and most influential games in history, leading the way in both quality and innovation, and representing the apex of outstanding game design. So, why does The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker deserve this spot over all the others? It's got it all: the sense of adventure when setting sail into the great unknown, the intrigue of meeting the strange and interesting faces of the setting's inhabitants, and the thrilling action of delving into dark dungeons and slaying the evil within. This cel-shaded masterpiece encapsulates the greatest aspects of the series' storied history.
Wind Waker's world is absolutely massive, giving you complete freedom to explore its open waters as you collect classic items, discover Hyrule's ancient secrets, and battle unforgettable bosses. The HD remaster's picturesque visuals bring the original GameCube version's graphics soaring over anything the series has seen before (though if you go with the GC version, it still looks fantastic). With impressive counterattack-focused combat, timeless visuals, and a fantastic story, The Wind Waker is the pinnacle of one of gaming's most legendary series.
Representing: The 3D Legend of Zelda games
1. Dark Souls
Dark Souls nudging out a Zelda game? Yes. From Software's masterpiece evolves, extrapolates, and elevates Link's loose template into something grander and truly, deeply mature. But far beyond that, Dark Souls does so while exhibiting peerless examples of all that is truly important to gaming in the modern era. Its core mechanics are impossibly precise and well-honed, yet endlessly malleable and open to vast experimentation and personalization. Its environmental design is a boggling feat of intricacy, realism, playfulness, and drama, a world wrapping around and folding in on itself in endlessly organic, yet utterly grandiose fashion.
And ye gods, its narrative. Initially cold, oblique, and indifferent to the player's presence, Dark Souls' Lordran is a world carved from the densest lore. Its history, characters, and stories infest every environment, object, and eventuality almost without a word, imperceptible to the casual player but revealed in gratifying, enigmatic patches to those who truly invest and investigate. And invest you will. Because once Dark Souls gets you, all of the above and more make it the most personal, affecting, challenging, empowering, and real-feeling journey in video games to date. However much Dark Souls might seem to hate you at first, the opposite is really true. It has only a world of wonders to show you.
Opinions are like... well, you know
Take a moment. Breath deep. Let it all sink in. Now that you've seen the GamesRadar+ list of the best games ever, what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Think we're stark-raving lunatics for forgetting your favorite? Whatever your say, we want to hear about it in the comments below!
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