10) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
While some will prefer the relatively straightforward nature of the original Metal Gear Solid – or even the extreme convolution of the sequel, Sons of Liberty – none can argue that Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is anything less than a worthy successor to each. Taking the best of both games and introducing plenty of new mechanics, MGS3 was a groundbreaking achievement when it was released and in many ways even manages to impress to this day.
Substituting the tight quarters of military facilities for a large and open jungle, Snake Eater managed to breath new life into the franchise even at the outset. Forcing the player to hunt for food, make proper use of camouflage and even to heal themselves after combat (often by having Snake dig bullets out with a knife), the game managed to introduce some fascinating new ideas, even if it occasionally meant crawling through one-too-many menus.
Snake Eater has razor-sharp pacing for most of its run time, complemented by – arguably – the best boss fights in a series known for incredible boss encounters. From a man who can shoot bees out of his mouth to a fist-fight with an electric giant, the battle that stands out for most is the sniper duel with the elderly “father of sniping”, appropriately named “The End”. Taking place in several areas – and sometimes even several hours – this boss battle is often considered the best in the series, if not in any game. The fact that you can turn off the game set your clock forward and return when the boss has died of old age is just icing on the cake.
Where Sons of Liberty spent far too long talking about abstract philosophical concepts in codec calls, MGS3 brings back a much simpler – and more interesting – narrative. Seeing a younger version of Big Boss battle his former mentor in order to prevent nuclear war is every bit as ridiculous and engaging as players have come to expect from the legendary series – the best of the lot, even. Now that creator Hideo Kojima has moved on, it’s likely that it’ll stay that way. A classic in every sense, MGS3 is worth revisiting frequently and definitely worth a look for those few who haven’t already played and loved it. (Rowan McDonald-Nyland)
9) The Last Of Us
The Last Of Us is a game that shows how far the medium has come, from the days of mascot characters (like a fox wearing sneakers) and tank controls to some of the most human and emotive storytelling placed into the palm of your hand. The Last Of Us is a showcase of what gaming can achieve, what makes interactive stories special and how it can stand apart from baseless comparisons to film.
A world built through visual cues and minute detail; every place, every character, and every spoken line serve a purpose. It’s one of the first, and still only, games that manages to convey emotion through a look, an expression rather than spouted lines of hackneyed quips and exposition. The characters ARE characters rather than caricatures, and while Joel and Ellie may be the heart of the game even the smaller roles are captivating. Games struggle to evoke more than a handful of emotions during their running time but Joel’s story is often haunting, depressing, funny and even disappointing – and not in a bad way.
The game’s mechanics service the plot, not the other way around. The weighty combat is often horrifying but the violence always has context. Like any game, it’s not perfect but a game isn’t defined by its failures, it’s defined by what an audience takes away from it – like any piece of art. It’s accomplishments stand true three years on, the only game that comes close to its success is a game by the same studio, it’s no accident that Uncharted 4 learned a lot from The Last Of Us. The impeccable pacing and structure make the game timeless, and whether the sequel will meaningfully add to these characters and to this world is yet to be determined, but either way, The Last Of Us is a name that will be quoted years from now. Not only is The Last Of Us about the journey, it’s about the relationships we build along the way and in the end; about human nature itself. Despite its name, it’s the first of many games that will follow in its path. (Oliver Rebbeck)
8) Shadow of the Colossus
The sacrifice of a maiden believed to have a cursed fate. A young man so determined to save her, he sets foot in the Forbidden Lands, a place where an evil entity is said to haunt. Such entity agrees to fulfill the man’s wish so long as he can vanquish the 16 colossi that dwell in those lands, each a walking representation of the idols present in the temple. With a sacred sword in hand and the company of a faithful horse, he walks down the temple steps determined to hunt the towering figures.
This simple yet heartening plot is what sets Shadow of the Colossus in motion. From the mind of Fumito Ueda, who this year graced patient fans with The Last Guardian, the game received critical acclaim for the first time in 2005 on the PlayStation 2, later being remastered for the PlayStation 3 in a bundle with its spiritual precursor and sequel, Ico (2001). With a beautiful soundtrack by Ko Otani, an abstract style of storytelling, and cinematic camera angles, the title manages to deliver simple mechanics more than enough to tackle the puzzles that rely solely on the player’s skills and intuition.
Shadow of the Colossus is one of the few games that managed to garner a large cult following which is constantly looking for the game’s secrets, be they in the form of assets that reveal story elements or playable challenges, like the mythic 17th colossus that has haunted such fans for over a decade. (Gabriel A. Cavalcanti)
7) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
In a sea of open-world games and epic, story-driven RPGs, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt arguably manages to rise above them all, a testament to the depth of character, storytelling prowess, and fascinating world design. (And you know what, the gameplay isn’t too shabby, either.)
Following the grand events of Geralt’s first two adventures, The Witcher 3 ups the ante in every conceivable regard. The world is massive, with a staggering amount of side content to explore, and the story feels as though it’s risen to the same challenge, yet these increases never come at the expense of overall quality, never at the expense of little details. Environments feel grounded and are often breathtaking, sidequests come with narratives nearly as compelling as those of the main story, and character facial animations convey a staggering level of believable emotion. There’s even an in-game concert, the composition for which is astonishingly moving, and an in-world card game got so popular amongst players that it eventually became its own full-fledged product. World details abound, living in dialogues, books, and maps, contributing to all the rest to a foundational bedrock of believability that never falters.
If that weren’t enough to recommend it, The Witcher 3 also has two of the best-loved DLC expansion packs of this generation, each winning awards on their own merits, and they only further expand (in similarly beautiful detail) the grandeur of what the base game endeavored to build. Given Polish developer CD Projekt RED’s penchant for listening to player feedback and providing massive free updates, the state of the game is far stronger now than it was at launch, and remains as worth playing as ever; even more so if you’ve got saved games from the first two adventures still on your hard drive, since past choices will, in some ways, inform the ongoing narrative.
Fans of the genre that skipped The Witcher 3 should most definitely endeavor to rectify that, though almost anyone is encouraged to take a look. The story, characters, and the world shouldn’t be missed. This is and will be, beyond doubt, one of the gaming’s lasting masterpieces. (Michael Riser)
6) The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Wind Waker is an enriched and enchanting experience. It peaks the standard not only found in Zelda games but games in general. It goes out of its way to take huge leaps of faith right off of the average Zelda formula.
The most obvious jump being Wind Waker’s visuals, which can only be described as whimsical. It uses a cel-shaded style to present a colorful world. One filled with interesting and varied areas, brilliant character designs, and an expansive sea. Link himself also joins in on the cartoony fun, becoming utterly bulbous and seriously adorable.
The aforementioned sea is another of Wind Waker’s unique qualities. Variable islands speckle it’s intimidatingly large surface and Link has the choice to explore every one of them. He can find some special items, rupees, and even some NPCs. These characters usually have some side quest for Link, or they just help deepen the already entrancing story, which might be the best of all Zelda stories.
Wind Waker is essentially a post-apocalyptic tale, with Hyrule being completely flooded and its legacy nearly lost. Despite its cartoony visuals and light-hearted characters, the game can get exceedingly dark. Link really has the odds stacked against him, especially considering that he’s the youngest Link of them all. The game is great at making the characters personable and likable, which adds to the story’s general charm. These characters’ likability also helps drive the player to save this world, because no one else can.
The combat is also a joy. New button commands and quick-time events make it one of the most rewarding systems in Zelda history. Link can also wield an enemy’s weapon, a mechanic being fully realized in the newest game: Breath of the Wild.
Wind Waker stands out as one of the greatest games of all time for various reasons, but its sheer singularity is what truly cements it into the gaming hall of fame. (Ricardo Rodriguez)
5) Portal 2
The original Portal introduced one of the most innovated gameplay ideas in gaming history; the portal gun. That device allowed the player to effectively create two doors; one to enter, and one to exit. That seemingly simple idea, however, was explored brilliantly by using its first-person perspective to create portals mostly anywhere, and by taking the laws of physics, as we understand them, and playing with them. It was a puzzle game with a large possibility space and it truly captured people’s imaginations. The fact that it also featured exceptionally witty writing, an inviting but unsettling location in the form of Aperture Laboratories and GLaDOS; one of the most memorable antagonists in all of gaming, was just icing on the cake [see what I did there?]
That said, it was too short, and just around the time the puzzles got truly devilish, the game was over. It felt like they had only scratched the surface on what was possible with this idea.
Thankfully, Portal 2 capitalized on the original’s potential in every way and created one of the best gaming experiences of the century. New mechanics, such as the light bridges, movement gels, and tractor beams, all expand on the portal gun’s capabilities and lead to some truly clever puzzles with equally clever solutions. The game even features a co-op campaign that doubles the number of portals possible to push this concept to the nth degree. If that weren’t enough, after launch, Valve released a level editor so players from across the globe could create their own puzzles and share them with the world.
The story itself is fleshed out more as well. The history of Aperture Laboratories is explored and leads to some of the game’s funniest and darkest moments. And despite only having 3 voiced characters in this game, they’re all acted perfectly and play off each other brilliantly. Stephen Merchant, in particular, deserves credit for making his character very likable and sympathetic at the onset, but as the plot develops, he credibly transitions from that to a more defiant and menacing role. The moment where that occurs is particularly gut-wrenching and one of the finest scenes in any game.
In short, Portal 2 is a sequel so good that there’s little point for another follow-up; it’s already as close to perfect as games can get… (Daniel Phillion)
4) Metroid Prime
The flagship Nintendo franchises have certainly been through their fair share of doubt when it comes to huge transitions. Metroid Prime is no exception to this trend, as it followed in the footsteps of Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time when it made the transition from 2D to 3D.
The doubts were wiped clean once Retro Studio’s masterpiece was finally released on the Nintendo Gamecube. All of the fundamentals of the Metroid series were alive and well in Prime, including the emphasis on exploration and isolation. Even with its shiny new first-person perspective, the focus was still firmly on the gameplay experience. Battling space pirates was just as exciting as exploring the unfamiliar areas, which is a balance that few games have been able to strike since.
Prime also succeeds in easing players into the new experience with a brilliant tutorial stage that culminates in an intense boss battle. The blueprint had been set for the perfect evolution of a franchise; improve upon the same staples that fans of the series were used to while also providing a unique enough experience to draw new players in. (Zack Rezak)
3) Half-Life 2
Half-Life 2 is a well made, exciting first-person shooter with incredible sound design and a fascinating sci-fi universe filled with destroyed beauty, fear, and hope. It is not the second coming of Michelangelo, nor is it an overrated, overly linear violence simulator (as some would have you believe).
Indeed, Half-Life 2 is just a game, although a very influential game that has stood the test of time. More advanced and experimental than Halo 2, and imitated more often than Resident Evil 4, Half-Life 2 set the stage for a brand new era of propulsive action: for better and worse. But as popular as its set-piece-oriented pacing, level structure, and physics puzzles would prove, many of the outstanding qualities of Half-Life 2 remain untouched.
Valve’s Nintendo-like willingness to leave the story in the background and instead focus on the world gives its designers the freedom to reinvent the gameplay at every turn. Like the original Half-Life, you hardly go through the same situation twice. However, instead of roaming the Doom-y corridors of Black Mesa, players barrel through the sewers of an Eastern European city, escape the relentless police by boat, explore an undead village, road trip along the ravaged coastline and lead an invasion of a converted prison – and all that is only the first half of the game.
This is all without mentioning the stand-out mechanic of Half-Life 2, the immortal Gravity Gun. As the best of several excellently-conceived weapons in the player’s arsenal, the Gravity Gun unlocks the world like the bomb or bow and arrow of The Legend of Zelda. Valve would continue to develop this interactivity in later episodes, but the receiving, learning, and mastering of the Gravity Gun in the original Half-Life 2 remains one of the best non-narrative arcs in gaming.
So really, what more can be said about Half-Life 2? The characters are well-drawn, the creature designs are haunting and one-of-a-kind and the apocalyptic atmosphere is comparable to great movies, not just great games. There are better action games than Half-Life 2, but its best parts are rarely topped – and as the sum of those parts, Half-Life 2 is a true classic. (Mitchell Akhurst)
2. Resident Evil 4
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Resident Evil 4 cracked our list given that the game has been released and remastered several times through several generations of consoles, and so just about everyone on our staff has had a chance to play it. That aside, there is no denying just how influential this game was and still is. With the fourth numbered entry in the franchise, creator Shinji Mikami reinvented the wheel by adding the over-the-shoulder third-person aiming system and set a standard for action games moving forward. There is a reason why this game is cited as one of the primary inspirations for many extremely successful shooters that followed. Resident Evil 4 did for the action-horror genre what Super Mario 64 did for 3D platformers. By combining horror with genuinely clever, exhilarating survival combat and an oppressive atmosphere, Capcom created a near-perfect game and arguably one of the finest video games ever made. Resident Evil 4 is a visionary punch that continues to resonate and inspire. It is a magnificent cabinet of grotesqueries, a peerless masterpiece of relentless suspense, and outright, nihilistic terror – with a healthy dose of camp. Easily, one of the decade’s great works. (Ricky D)
1) Dark Souls
When I first picked up Demon’s Souls it was via a chance encounter at the local electronics store. I could remember hearing a little rumbling about it, some this-and-that in a long ago EGM (this was still the time of print media, after all). I took a little roll of the dice on it after reading a couple of quick reviews on my phone, and as a PS3 “Greatest Hit”, it only set me back $20. When I think about the silly things I’ve spent $20 on in my life…bad meals, bad dates, bad movies, and on, and on, I can’t believe how lucky I was to pick this game up on a whim.
Less than 2 years later, it’s spiritual successor, Dark Souls would be a game I would pre-order even at a time when I wasn’t terribly stable financially. To date, it’s hands-down my favorite game of all time and at a staggering 500+ hours of investment (curse you time logs) certainly the game I have gotten to know by and far the best.
I have since gone on to write countless articles on this series, but when I think back to my first time playing this game, I remember the 60 minutes of struggle it took me just to finish the tutorial section. I remember ringing the second bell at the 40-hour mark and thinking I must be close to the end of the game. Forgive me, I was but a boy in the world of Souls.
All these years later, the greatest and most memorable moments of Dark Souls still stir something absurdly powerful in my cortex. I recall the first time I saw the sign of the sun worshipers from poor, doomed Solaire of Astora. I remember being slaughtered mercilessly by the Four Kings of New Londo in the blackened abyss of Manus’ creeping stranglehold on the kingdom of Lordran. And, of course, I remember my first journey (by gargoyle?!?) to Anor Londo, and my many traumatic experiences there.
Even 5 years later, and with a spoiled time of Dark Souls and Dark Souls-likes in the interim, this game still holds an incredibly special place in my heart. A place so special, in fact, that it was able to supplant my nostalgia-laden childhood favorite, Super Metroid, as the best game I have ever had the pleasure of playing. It’s truly and patently ridiculous how happy I, a grown man, who is engaged, has a reasonably successful career, and is party to raising three children, am to see my favorite video game at the top of a list of other video games, but hey, here we are.
There are 100 reasons to play this game, and 100 more why it will stick with you should you put yourself through the rigors of its truly macabre sadism of design, but all I can tell you at this particular moment is why I love it: Dark Souls is truly one of a kind, and has marked a long and influential paradigm shift in the realm of gaming. If you haven’t played it, or any of its ilk, you’re depriving yourself in a very serious way. (Mike Worby)