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 2. You can see part 1 in its entirety here, but here’s 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: God of War was an important game for the PS2. Building onto the house that Dante built, God of War took Devil May Cry’s intense third-person action, and added in some environmental puzzle solving, visceral combat and a whole heap of bloody Greek mythology. At the center of it all is Kratos, a character who became a much-needed mascot for Sony, and one of the most memorable protagonists of the 21st century. God of War 2 pushed the PS2 as far as it could probably go, but it was with the series next-gen debut that Kratos delivered his best performance. The scale of God of War 3 is simply jaw-dropping, and it features some of the best set-pieces to ever grace a video game, bar none. The final fight against Zeus, particularly the way it ends, will stay with me until the day I die. Sony Santa Monica’s hard work has paid off with incredible sales, proving that perhaps there is a link between quality and the financial bottom line. With the upcoming release of God of War: Ascension, the brand looks to be in good shape moving forward.
39. Arkham City: Who says superhero games can’t be elite? While Batman has certainly had his ups and downs in video game land, Rocksteady Studios showed us how to do a Batman game right with their 2009 hit Arkham Asylum. Apparently not happy with that, they took it a step further and created one of the best games of all time with the follow-up smash hit Arkham City. Featuring excellent voice acting, a world heavily laden with secrets and some of the best combat mechanics around, Arkham City stands as one of the best, if not the pinnacle, of licensed video games. For those of you who milked the campaign for every last bit of content (of which there is a staggering amount of), an addictive arcade-like challenge mode puts the stellar combat front-and-center. It almost makes you sad for the Man of Steel, and you have to wonder when he will get a Rocksteady facelift as well.
38. Red Dead Redemption: There have been some attempts at creating a good Western game, but past tries haven’t been super successful. Something about the Wild West speaks to the American soul, and when Red Dead Redemption released, it made every other entry in the genre look like a spaghetti show. Deftly blending the rugged frontier setting with a mature narrative and engaging mechanics, Red Dead was an epic on scale with a Clint Eastwood movie, and featured a protagonist who is just as deep and conflicted. While the journey Red Dead takes you on is an intense and memorable one, it’s the ending that will perhaps stand as the game’s greatest achievement, as it is one that players won’t soon forget. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it defies stereotypical tropes, and tugs on an emotional string made all the more real by the game’s interactive nature. Zombies were added to the world in the popular DLC Undead Nightmare, finally giving us an accurate portrayal of the Wild West.
37. Ms. Pac-Man: There was a time, not too long ago, when things like story and graphics, elements we take for granted in game development today, simply didn’t matter so much in video games. Arcade cabinets ruled the roost, and the goal was to have fun, test your reflexes and, most importantly, chase that all-important high score. There was an entire generation of games devoted to this idea, but one stands apart from the rest. Pac-Man proved irresistible to people everywhere, but it was the unauthorized sequel that truly shined. Adding new mazes, moving fruit and better ghost algorithms, Ms. Pac-Man was truly the better half of the relationship. The story behind the creation of the game is fascinating as well. It couldn’t have been easy for Ms. Pac-Man though. I imagine living with Pac-Man would be akin to bunking with a Roseanne-era John Goodman. Frightening.
36. Braid: It seems like, as games continue to grow as a medium, they become more and more shaped by the demands of the consumer. The Mass Effect 3 ending controversy, and the subsequent decision to release the Extended Cut DLC, is a testament to that. Mostly gone are the days when the vision of a game is shaped by one person, or at least a small core of people. While today’s games may bring about some incredible experiences, I love when the artistic vision of a truly great gamemaker gets to really shine through. Braid may be the best example you can find of that. Braid’s devious puzzles are the initial draw, but the story of Tim and his quest for the princess is the only argument I need for art in video games. Who is the princess? Is she Tim’s lost love? A personification of Tim’s regret? The atomic bomb? Finding the hidden stars and unlocking the hidden ending makes you feel like a real genius, and that speaks to the power of Jonathan Blow puzzle creation skills. A hauntingly beautiful art style and spot-on music set the tone for one of the deepest and most powerful story experiences available in gaming.
35. Diablo 2: I don’t know what it is, but playing Diablo II just brings out some primal loot gathering instinct that I thought we had evolved out of. The loop of gathering weapons and armor, killing hundreds of monsters, and then using the loot dropped from them to power up and kill hundreds of even stronger monsters just feels right. Adding a buddy to the experience takes it to another level altogether. Blizzard knows how to foster addiction if nothing else, and their legendary polish is in full force in Diablo II, evidenced by the fact that z , despite being over ten years old a spawning another supersequel, its player count is still ridiculous. Excellent balancing, fun and unique character classes and that exceptional looting are all terms that are synonymous with Diablo, and set it apart from the many pretenders to its throne. Amazon FTW!
34. Uncharted 2: Initially dubbed “Dude Raider” by the press after his initial showing, Nathan Drake has improved upon his first impression considerably. The first Uncharted was a solid showing for the IP, but the sequel nailed it in the most epic of fashions. Starting off with a bang, literally, Uncharted 2 presented one of the most breathtakingly cinematic experiences ever to grace a video game. It all started with the presentation, which was second to none: Strong writing, terrific voice acting (Nolan North!) and a graphical style that was haunting, spectacular and highly detailed all at the same time.. One of the best supporting casts of this generation joins Mr. Drake on his journey, and the Uncharted franchise shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
33. Rock Band 3: We’ve all wanted to do it. Before Guitar Hero and Rock Band changed the way we looked at music games, we’ve all spent countless hours playing air guitar and steering-wheel drumming, wishing we could somehow, I don’t know, play our favorite songs without the pesky hassle of actually learning how to play an instrument. Guitar Hero came out and introduced everybody to fake guitar, but Rock Band let us live out the full band fantasy, complete with vocals, harmonies and a drummer that keeps missing the fill. The Rock Band network is filled with an absurd number of songs, ranging from GLaDOS’s haunting rendition of “Still Alive” to an entire song book of Beatles hits. If that wasn’t enough, Rock Band 3’s Pro Mode let us take the step from gamer guitarist to real guitarist.
32. Portal: Speaking of GLaDOS, she had a passing fun game herself. Portal totally came out of nowhere to become a smash hit, while creating a record number of Internet memes. While the question of whether or not the cake is a lie may still be up in the air, the question of whether or not Portal deserves a spot on this list is not. The crazy cool portal mechanics certainly didn’t hurt, but we all know that it was antagonist GLaDOS who really stole the show. The hit follow-up added an excellent co-op campaign, and a couple of hilarious characters, but the original Portal remains of the few must-play titles for anybody who wants to associate themselves in any way with video games. Portal may be responsible for more gamer converts than anything since Super Mario Bros.
31. Mario 64: The jump from the SNES to the N64 was quite big in retrospect, and brought about some large changes. Graphics were becoming much more interesting, allowing creators more freedom in creating a world than ever before. We could easily play with three other people at the same time, a trend that continues to this day. Largest among them, however, was probably the jump from 2D landscapes to a largely 3D world. Mario 64 was an early attempt at the 3D platformer, and, as Mario tends to do, it was a resounding success. You have to hand it to Nintendo; they created a masterpiece with no real basis for comparison. There were no other 3D platformers to emulate, and wandering around the Mushroom Kingdom (or wherever those paintings took you) in three dimensions was an incredible experience. Mario 64 would become the blueprint for innumerable games in the following years, and it remains one of the best launch titles ever.
Alright, almost halfway there. What’s coming next? What games will inevitably get snubbed? Is Superman 64 creeping somewhere ahead on the list? No. No, its not.