RANKED! The 20 Best Video Games of the Last 20 Years
In October 1958, the first video game known to man was released. Things have come a long way since Pong, with the medium quickly leaving behind the white-collar world of 2D tennis to venture into nearly every experience under the sun. The 21st century has accelerated this evolution, bringing us the most exciting simulations the world has ever seen. Mom used to think video games would rot our brains. Little did she know our obsession would grow into a billion-dollar industry affecting every facet of civilization. Today we celebrate the digital age’s favorite pastime with the 20 best video games of the 21st century…so far. Insert quarters here.
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20. 'Journey' (2012)
One of the most poetically designed adventures became the high watermark for a new breed of psychological experience-based games created to soothe and uplift. Journey's approach was inspired, an experience unlike anything we'd ever seen. And the impact has widened the definition of what a video game could be.
19. 'Gran Turismo 5' (2010)
Gran Turismo took racing games to the next level, crafting an experience so realistic it launched the career of a future race car driver. GT5 was the apex of gaming technology, graphics, user experience, car and track selection, and fun. In the next 20 years, we fully expect VR and GT to take race car gaming to places we've only dreamed of.
18. 'Super Smash Bros. Melee' (2001)
It’s easy to forget a game that came out nearly 20 years ago, but for those who wear the scar tissue of defeat, we know that this is still one of the best shoulder-to-shoulder games ever made. Frustrating, addictive, and fun as all hell, this classic fight game has continued to inspire the ruthless competitor in us all.
16. 'Uncharted 2: Among Thieves' (2009)
Video games have often been a form of escape, a way to play out our fantasies, defeat the baddies, save the day, and win the fair maiden without scraping our knees. Uncharted 2 delivered all these things with swagger and a sense of humor that was completely new. Thanks to Hollywood-ready cut scenes and voice talent, the overall experience became more than just watching a swarthy Lothario hunt treasure like some second-rate Indiana Jones. It became the first cinematic orgy in which we actually welcomed putting down our controller to sit back and watch the drama unfold.
17. 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2' (2009)
When Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 came out, it was a cultural event. At local retailers in cities and suburbs around the globe, lines formed like Harry Potter was in town. And the game delivered on the hype, setting the benchmark against which all other first-person shooters would be measured. With its smooth playability, notorious campaigns, customizable killstreaks, and co-op mode, this game established the template for what the franchise would become.
15. 'Super Mario Odyssey' (2017)
Super Mario Odyssey brings Nintendo's most famous plumber back down to his roots where the mustachioed hero is able to do what he does best: have fun. The ebullient innocence of Mario's misadventures is recaptured here in all its glory, full of running, jumping, and woo-hooing. But because gameplay has evolved, the moves go further than ever before, helping Mario race yetis, "capture" and control other creatures, and survive in low-gravity terrains. The result is pure, rollicking fun.
14. 'Fortnite: Battle Royale' (2017)
In mid-October, 5.5 million players watched as a black hole destroyed all things Fortnite. It was a seemingly catastrophic and panic-inducing event. Luckily, 36 hours later, Chapter 2 of the franchise went live, commencing the newest iteration of the behemoth beloved by some 250 million gamers worldwide. Whether you find the game juvenile or not, the appeal is undeniable. With a colorful design and irreverent tone (and lots of dancing), Fortnite has popularized the battle royale format like never before.
13. 'The Sims' (2000)
At the start of the new millennium, The Sims rebooted itself for an interconnected world, becoming the pop-culture harbinger of a simulated reality. Giving players unchecked power to create or destroy as they saw fit, The Sims achieved massive success while humans descended into a virtual world that gave them more dexterity than could be found in the real one. It was a groundbreaking game that paved the way for a mad future.
12. 'The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' (2011)
Is it any wonder that Skyrim came out the same year as Game of Thrones? Suddenly dragons were in. Skyrim presented a massive world waiting to be discovered, with questing, pillaging, plundering, and mead drinking at every turn. It was an antiquity nerd's dream. And thousands of hours of rambling fun.
11. 'Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain' (2015)
If jarring, idiosyncratic, eerily realistic, and highly challenging covert ops is your thing, then The Phantom Pain is your cup of tea. Kojima Productions developed cutting edge technology so that Big Boss could sneak around with uncanny levels of stealth and dexterity. It is Hideo Kojima's pièce de résistance and a stunning creation in the world of gaming.
10. 'The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt' (2015)
The storytelling of The Witcher 3 is as good and nuanced as it gets. The characters are magnetic. The plot is action-packed. And the story sucks you in immediately, setting you loose in one of the richest RPG worlds out there. As a lone wolf navigating events beyond his scope, Geralt of Rivia isn't tasked with being the hero, he's tasked with making his own way in a wild world, which is about as relatable as it gets.
9. 'World of Warcraft' (2004)
Arguably the natural evolution of D&D culture, World of Warcraft was the first to master the sprawling open world, multi-player adventure game. Though it took them 10 years to reach 100 million players, the devotion of the existing fanbase is unparalleled. Through the ever-expanding completion of quests, brotherhoods have been formed -- as well as $10 billion in revenue earned for game maker, Blizzard. It's a river that runs deep and wide, and will continue to flow as long as video games may live.
8. 'Grand Theft Auto V' (2008)
GTA V takes the cake for most units sold on the legendary PS3, with a whopping 21.3 million (nearly twice as much as the runner-up). For better or worse, the game was a phenomenon, collectively eating up more idle hours and pissing off more non-gamers than any other title on the list. But hey, we all want to run wild from time to time, and GTA let us do just that.
7. 'Halo: Combat Evolved' (2001)
Back in the day, everybody played Halo. Even moms and grouchy sisters-in-law. The graphics were slick. The gameplay was buttery. The campaigns were epic. And the battle royale was more addictive than (insert your drug of choice here). The game singlehandedly made Xbox a player in the console wars and elevated the art of the first-person-shooter to near perfection. Plus, the aliens finally fought back like they had something to lose.
6. 'Half-Life 2' (2004)
Earth has already been invaded. A rebellion is forming. And you, dear friend, are thrust into the center of the action as renegade scientist, Gordon Freeman, looking eerily like a young Walter White. Using your big brain to solve puzzles and your awesome Gravity Gun to distort the laws of physics, you seek to free humanity with your rag-tag band of revolutionaries. It's a groundbreaking and thoroughly enjoyable game that succeeds in all its aspirations and helped to expand the palette of game physics forever after.
5. 'Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild' (2017)
Trading in slick graphics for total immersion and playability, the Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild has reached new platitudes. It’s no wonder the game is rated 10/10 across the board and revived the legend that is The Legend.
4. 'Portal 2' (2011)
Puzzle games got a huge makeover when Portal 2 hit the scene. Gone were the boring interfaces and predictable set-ups. Dissolved were the academia and no-story package. Portal 2 presented a fully-baked world, a zany narrator, cool graphics, and a serious sense of urgency. These awesome features perfectly supported the star of the show: the puzzles themselves. Inspired. Brain-altering. Sometimes maddening. Portal 2 took all the high hopes of thinking-kid video games that have toiled in vain since the dawn of game-kind and made them a reality.
3. 'Red Dead Redemption 2' (2018)
Nearly 10 years after the original captured the hearts (and thumbs) of gamers around the world, Rockstar Games unleashed the follow-up. And boy did it deliver. Every minute of that eight-years-in-the-making shows, from the vastness of the interactivity to the attention to detail (your horse's testicles shrink when it's cold out). It's a time machine romp through the high stakes madness of the West, the last great frontier captured in all its blood-soaked glory.
2. 'BioShock' (2007)
Part first-person shooter, part RPG, part philosophical dissection, BioShock made waves upon its release in 2007 due to its sharp design and cerebral tone. The game offers the fantastic in the palm of your hand, presenting players with a unique quest and set of challenges that can be handled in various idiosyncratic ways. While developer Ken Levine shrugs the story off as him "having a liberal arts degree," the ambition of BioShock, as well as the questions it poses, make a rare and precious gem in the lassez-faire treasury of games.
1. 'Minecraft' (2009)
Sometimes a game can be more than just a game. Like when it becomes a culture, an economy, and a mirror to human civilization. Minecraft is such a game. Legos on steroids, the game invites users to create whatever their heart desires. Using blockchain technology, the world is literally your canvass, the net result being a total collaboration between creator and user where the lines are infinitely blurred. Whatever the future may hold, much of it is being dreamt up on Minecraft first. The game has shown existence as meta, proving civilization and reality are mere constructs, a folly in which we all subscribe and play to varying degrees of success. Or maybe it's just a bunch of pixels being pushed around on smartphones. Either way, after Minecraft, the landscape of gaming can never be the same.