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The 100 best games ever

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.

88. Limbo

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.

86. Nidhogg

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.