5. Mass Effect 2
Release date: 2011
While Mass Effect 3 is technically more polished, there's something about this sequel that makes it the superior game. It's just got more magic. Everything in Mass Effect 2 is a delight to experience. It kicks off with a ballsy start, essentially killing off Shepard and ripping the Normandy to pieces. The remainder is about rebuilding and redemption, as you cobble together a loveable crew of misfits to tackle a heroic suicide mission.
The overarching story provides the pace and structure, while the more personal stories onboard the Normandy (Mk2) pull you in different emotional directions. Do you side with Miranda or Jack? The Geth or the Quarians? Can you save your crew from the Collectors? Who, if anyone, will you sacrifice in the suicide mission? While many games give players choices, few offer the same level of involvement with the plot, thereby adding immense weight to the decisions you make. It all adds up to a wonderful, self-contained story, that truly conveys the highs and lows of being the hero. It's almost a secondary concern that the RPG / shooter gameplay is slick and pleasing to tinker with, or that the game looks amazing and offers incredible scale.
4. Portal 2
Release date: 2011
The original Portal is a lean, mind-bending puzzler with a darkly comic thread running through it, wringing every last drop out of its mechanics in its brief, two-to-three-hour runtime. Portal 2 takes those foundations and flawlessly builds on them, proving that bigger can actually mean better. It's got a far meatier story, expanding on the lore surrounding Aperture Science, its mysterious experiments, and the world beyond its walls without ever feeling tacked-on or unnecessary. The addition of various colors of goo adds new wrinkles to how you navigate the environments, often requiring you to use your surroundings along with your newfound mobility in surprising ways. It's also deeply funny, thanks to Stephen Merchant's portrayal of Wheatley, your bumbling muppet of a guide who finds himself suddenly drunk on power. Throw in some killer two-player co-op, and you have a recipe for one of the best sequels in gaming history.
3. Persona 5
Release date: 2016
Persona 5 originally began life as a PS3 game (originally scheduled to release in 2015, no less), and while it's gotten most of its love in 2017 on PS4, the PS3 version is just as valid a way to play one of the best JRPGs in years. It builds off the successes of past games' formula, thrusting you into the stylish world of an ordinary Japanese high school kid who suddenly finds himself the recipient of demon-busting superpowers. You'll navigate daily life, taking on odd jobs, making new friends, and building relationships that grant you special abilities to make combat easier in the Metaverse - an alternate reality that exists on top of our own, governed by the evil desires of some of Japan's most nefarious citizens. What makes Persona 5 special is its ripped-from-the-headlines narrative; a story whose villains are based on actual people in Japan but, despite cultural differences, feel just as relevant to the current state of world politics. It's a deeply relevant game, a power fantasy that goes beyond what most video games offer.
2. Dark Souls
Release date: 2011
Forget the obvious talk of Dark Souls' difficulty. The truly initiated know that the challenge is only the smallest part of the game, acting as a conduit to its peerlessly satisfying interactions and immense depth. Dark Souls world spoon-feeds you nothing and delivers a swift and bloody death for irresponsible play, but it does so from a place of pure benevolence.
No matter how insurmountable the odds may look, Dark Soul's flawless combat, staggering freedom, and deceptively ingenious level design ensure that there is always a way. Far from the punishing task-master, many believe it to be, it's a game that both believes in and trusts its player. It wants you to do well, and it rewards you gloriously when you do. And it always gives you the tools you need to do so. You just have to find and understand them for yourself.
1. The Last of Us
Release date: 2013
It feels fitting that the PS3's best game arrived towards the end of its life. Arguably a culmination of everything that AAA gaming grew to be over the course of the last generation, it's a masterpiece of affecting, mature storytelling and ingenious, gameplay-driven narrative; one that uses the graphical power of a fully mastered console as much for emotional resonance as for visual impact. Dropping the player into a beautifully realized, nuanced, all-too-believable nightmare world, The Last of Us provides the tools to survive, but wisely never the means to launch a truly empowered fight back. Every encounter and achievement in the game matters, not because of prescribed spectacle or contrived, cartoon heroism, but because of the need for the player to bring their own instincts and wits to the table.
And that's just the start of how The Last of Us builds empathy during every step of its harrowing journey through the emotional wringer. It's a perfect game, from a first-party Sony developer at the peak of its ability (so far), and something that no owner of a PlayStation 3 has any right to miss. Truly, the full stop at the end of the generation.
Looking to continue your PlayStation experience? There are already some absolute bangers on our best PS5 games list.