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.