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Why it’s better than the rest: BioShock can't be shoehorned into any single genre – it's part shooter, part survival horror, part roleplaying, part strategy, part puzzler and, depending how far you're willing to stretch the definition, possibly even part adventure game. There's lots of blood, lots of violence, lots of intense combat, lots of memorable music and lots of pretty graphics.
What makes BioShock so special, so groundbreaking and so clearly one of the greatest new franchises of this generation, however, are the things that can't be bulleted on the back of a box. The atmosphere, which dripped with enough carefully designed detail to convince you not only that an underwater city exists, but also that it's the most terrifying place on the planet. The characters, who spoke with eloquence and intelligence, and who battled with deep philosophies as well as deadly ammunitions. The story, which dared to subvert both the player's and the medium's clichéd expectations.
Above: Utterly gripping from beginning to end
Legacy: BioShock took what many developers might have considered a risk – assuming that today's gamers are mature and thoughtful, fully capable of appreciating bizarre, complex and morally ambiguous ideas in the midst of all that frenzied action. The fact that the first entry succeeded critically and commercially, justifying a sequel two years later and a spiritual prequel two years from now, has arguably given the rest of the industry more courage and conviction to experiment as well. If more developers took cues from this example of daring design, the games industry would be a better place as a whole.
Why it’s better than the rest: Like Assassin’s Creed II, the Uncharted series is proof that a game’s charm and wit can be just as important as its action – and Uncharted offers the best of all three, as well as some of the most impressive visuals on any platform. Like Tomb Raider with more heart (and roughly 150 percent more screwball repartee), Uncharted centers on Nathan Drake, a smart-assed treasure hunter whose greatest talents include recruiting interesting companions and being able to survive when hopelessly outmatched. Constantly under attack from mercenaries, monsters and gigantic, puzzle-like traps, he’s almost as much fun to watch as he is to control, as he finds ways to entertainingly freak out while expertly leaping and shooting his way through one desperate situation after another.
Uncharted wouldn’t be the same without Drake’s in-over-his-head charm, but it’d still be pretty awesome. Every level is a memorable set-piece, covering terrain that ranges from lush jungles to bombed-out cities to Tibetan mountains, and almost every puzzle is unique. Also, the environmental puzzle-solving is balanced out with Gears of War-style firefights (which could get kind of sloggy in the first game, but still) and occasional battles against tanks and helicopter gunships. So far, Uncharted has been fantastic, and we’re eager to see where it takes us next.
Legacy: While the PlayStation 3 has had no shortage of exclusive games – including the first Uncharted – it wasn’t until Uncharted 2 that it had an immediate first-party hit that was beloved by critics and sold like crazy. More than any other game before it, Uncharted 2 really showed off what Sony’s system could do, and elevated the PS3 from beleaguered third-place underdog to a must-have for serious gamers.
It also knocked Lara Croft back off her perch just as she was starting to reclaim it, which even these days is not an unimpressive feat.