The Top 50 Games of All Time (30-21)

How exactly does one go about determining what makes a game great, much less what makes one better than another?  It’s a tough question.  We do, however, have some basic criteria that we can use.  Graphical fidelity, sound design, art style, gameplay; the list is endless.  Some games stand apart, though.  How a game stands the test of time is always a good basis, and how their influence is felt through the generations is always fascinating to watch.  After going through roughly thirty-one drafts, ten arguments and at least one major complete shake-up, here are the Top 50 Games of All Time, part 3.  You can see part 1 in its entirety here, and the same here for part 2. But first, a recap.

50. Super Smash Bros. Brawl

49.  Gears of War 2

48.  Twisted Metal 2

47.  Castle Crashers

46.  Gran Turismo 2

45.  Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

44.  Resident Evil 2

43.  StarCraft II

42.  Grand Theft Auto IV

41.  Mario Kart

40. God of War 3

39.  Arkham City

38.  Red Dead Redemption

37.  Ms. Pac-Man

36.  Braid

35.  Diablo 2

34.  Uncharted 2

33.  Rock Band 3

32.  Portal

31.  Mario 64

30.  Skyrim:  Some video games don’t offer a lot of content.  A short campaign, perhaps a minigame or two, and that’s it.  Some games come packed with content, offering thousands of hours of online play or high score challenges.  Skyrim eats both kinds of games for breakfast.  With hundreds of side quests, some long-form faction quests, a substantial main story, an entire civil war subplot you can explore both sides of and an innumerable amount of seemingly random “radiant” events going on all over the world, Skyrim offers the picky gamer an insane amount of options at any one time.  A ridiculously broad spectrum of races, perks, weapons, enchantments, sign stones and equipment allows any number of character builds to be employed, but the real magic of Skyrim is found in exploring the large and incredibly detailed world, and taking part in the stories waiting within it.  Simply stumbling upon a random dungeon, something we’ve been doing for years, is an exciting event in Skyrim, which is a high compliment.


29.  Mega Man X:  While Mega Man may have fallen on some tough times recently, there is a reason millions of fans are clamoring for another romp as the Blue Bomber.  The classic Mega Man games were pivotal titles for the NES, but, with the release of the Super Nintendo, Capcom decided a more mature route was the way to go.  In retrospect, it was the right decision. Adding upgradeable armor, a surprisingly deep storyline (introducing fan favorite Zero in the process) and more secrets than you could shake a stick at; Mega Man X took the basic Mega Man formula and made it even better.  X was a much more grown-up version of his little brother, and his journey to defeat the evil reploids and defeat Sigma carried a lot more emotional weight than another humorous romp against Dr. Wily.  Hidden capsules all over the place allowed X to upgrade his armor, gain life replenishing E. Tanks, and even unlock his own Hadoken once certain circumstances were met.  The best part is how it has aged though.  If you don’t believe me, boot it up again and see how much fun you have with it.  Mega Man X has been like a fine wine, only getting better with time.


28.  Minecraft:  Few games have fostered such a creative mentality as Minecraft.  Part video game, part virtual sandbox, part Lego construction kit, Minecraft allows the player to build almost anything they put their mind to, while providing just enough true video game material to keep us on our toes.  Booting up the game can be a little disorienting for first time gamers; Minecraft simply drops you into the world with nothing but the randomly generated landscape to greet you, but, as you spend time with it, you begin to realize that what they have really given you is a giant world of opportunity.   Things seem fine and dandy at first, at least until night falls.  As you scramble to find your way back to your crafting table, you hear a peculiar hissing sound… KABOOM!  Upon respawning, you find all your equipment gone, but that curious block of sandstone you placed next to it is still there.  Congratulations, you just learned your first words in the vocabulary of Minecraft.  The absurd amount of support developer Mojang has continuously thrown at their premiere title has enabled one of the most hardcore fan bases you will find in a video game.


27.  Fallout 3:  War. War never changes.  But video games do.  The first two Fallout games won gamers over with their unique setting and humorously surreal dialogue.  When Bethesda began development on the third entry in the vaunted series, some fans cried foul.  Fortunately, it turns out Bethesda knows a thing or two about good game design.  Fallout 3 was a huge success, garnering near-universal praise from fans and the media alike.  Some of the set-pieces from the game, like the trip down Tranquility Lane or the nuking of Megaton, have since become legendary, but the framework of the game was brilliant in its own right.  A great leveling system let players adapt their own playstyles, but it was the V.A.T.S. combat system that drew the most praise.  Mixing traditional shooter combat with a more strategic interface fit perfectly in the Wasteland, and made exploring it one of the more enjoyable experiences of the last decade.


26.  Mass Effect 2:  When BioWare told us about Mass Effect, and how it was planned as an expansive trilogy where your decisions carried over throughout the series, we were excited but skeptical.  How would something like that even work?  When Mass Effect 2 released in early 2010, all questions of how BioWare could pull it off were immediately put to rest.  Offering a level of interactivity not seen before, Mass Effect 2 allowed players to import their Commander Shepard from the first game, complete with all the decisions you made their, into the sequel.  Suddenly, choices you made three years ago were impacting the game you were playing now, and not just in trivial ways.  The fates of characters, entire species and the political climate of the entire galaxy were at stake, with player choice determining all of them.  Polishing the shaky combat and inventory systems of the original, Mass Effect 2 remains one of the best sequels you’ll ever find, and a game that nobody should miss.


25.  Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas:  When you’ve made a game like Grand Theft Auto III, a title that forever changed the way we look at video games, topping it is no easy task.  Of course, Rockstar made it look easy with the follow-up hit Vice City.  Sticking to the same core mechanics that made GTA3 such a phenomenon, Vice City delivered with a much improved storyline, a perfect (and quite expansive) soundtrack, and basically anything else you could have wanted.  Those who expected Rockstar to deliver a similarly improved third entry were in for quite a disappointment.  San Andres blew the previous two games out of the water, offering an awesome (and upgradeable) protagonist, three distinct cities and a whole lot of potential destruction.  Although it was immediately recognizable as a GTA game, San Andreas defied all expectations, and has offered, in a very tongue-in-cheek way, perhaps the best social commentary available in gaming.  That’s pretty cool.  And you can take on the FBI with a rocket launcher.  That too, is cool.


24.  Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2:  I remember the first time I played Tony Hawk (the game, not the person).  It was on a Pizza Hut demo disc, and after about five minutes I was completely addicted with it.  I probably spent two hours repeating the same two minute run, trying to perfect my run with Kareem Campbell.  When THPS 2 released, a more widespread audience got to learn the addiction as well.  THPS 2 was a huge seller, and really perfected the mechanics that we would, sadly, eventually get tired of.  But, in the chunk of time that was the year 2000, it was a way to live out our skateboarding fantasies, and was almost single-handedly responsible for myself and thousands of others giving an actual skateboard a try.  I was considerably better at the video game.  And I should be, because there is no telling how many hours I spent scouring every stage for the myriad unlockables, score hot spots and the all-important hidden tape.


23.  Half-Life:  Things were different in 1998.  While console gamers were gushing about how awesome it was shooting people in first-person, computer gamers were smirking in satisfaction.  The console gamers always think they’ve got something new, but of course shooters had been around for ages.  It’s not hard to see why computer gamers are sometimes contemptuous of console stalwarts.  When you’ve got Half-Life in your library, it’s easy to do that.  Way ahead of its time, Half-Life presented one of the best stories you could find in a shooter, before people even knew you could do that.  Showing the strong writing and polished game mechanics that Valve would later be known for, Half-Life also has the neat honor of spinning-off one of the most intense games ever, Counter-Strike. While a couple of outsourced expansions did little to improve upon the base game, Half-Life 2 was a tremendous success in its own right.  But it was the original game that opened the most eyes, and it has to be regarded as one of the founders of the modern FPS.  I expect that, in a few years, I’ll be able to add Half-Life 3 to this list.  Perhaps as soon as 2058.


22.  The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion:  Bethesda has always set a high bar for their internally developed games but, even after the epic known as Morrowind, I don’t think anybody had an idea of how  truly great the fourth installment in the Elder Scrolls franchise would be.  Proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that next-gen had truly arrived, Oblivion gave gamers a humongous world to explore, hundreds of characters (all with their own AI and daily routines) to mess with, and enough equipment, quests and enemies to keep them busy indefinitely.  Soon, players were thinking up ridiculous (and awesome) things to do in Tamriel.  Murdering a guard by leaving a poisoned apple in his inventory, placing a distinct trail of household objects across the world (and finding it hours later) or simply murdering the Adoring Fan in the most humiliating fashion you could find; these were the quests that truly made Oblivion shine, and the reason it garnered nearly every Game of the Year award it could get its hands on.


21.  Goldeneye 007:  Quick, name the first FPS you played competitively on a console.  Stop lying; I know it wasn’t Call of Duty 5, that’s not even a thing.  Chances are it was Goldeneye, and if you are anything like me, you played it a lot.  Goldeneye was such a perfect game at the perfect time.  With the N64, we finally had easy access to four-player simultaneous play, and an analog stick (somewhat) conducive to shooter play.  Sure, we all had to learn the nightmarish “strafe with the c-button” system, but once you got acclimated and started firing on all cylinders, Goldeneye started scratching an itch we didn’t even know we had.  A solid campaign stuffed with unlockables and iconic stages made it a worthy title even by yourself, and I’ve never understood why more games haven’t followed its system of adding tougher objectives (instead of just enhancing the enemies) as the difficulty rises.  Without Goldeneye, we could very well be living in a world with no Halo or Call of Duty.  Boo!  Scared you, didn’t I?

Alright, only twenty games left on the list.  Is your favorite game yet to come?  Or will you have to write me a stern letter?  Have a guess as to what number 1 is, or should be?  Leave a comment!

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