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The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time
The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

30

StarCraft (1998)

It has long been said that any encounter with extraterrestrial life would carry with it drastic changes to our world, such as forcing us to adapt to new technologies overnight. Though the aliens in StarCraft are fictional, their arrival upends pretty much everything that’s expected from real-time strategy games. The old, traditional Terran forces serve to showcase the asymmetric balance of the new alien races, with old fog-of-war conventions and the rock-paper-scissors combat of Command & Conquer and stolid swarm tactics giving way to forced innovation. The Zerg slowly web their “creep” across the map, blocking and burrowing their menacing, swift-tendriled troops, while the Protoss rely on regenerating energy shields to make the most of a more limited number of troops. The campaign further emphasizes the compelling clashes between species, a dynamic that allowed StarCraft’s multiplayer to thrive long after the game’s release. Riccio

The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

29

Psychonauts (2005)

In a time when retro throwbacks are ubiquitous, and the platforming genre has been riding a creative high for some years now, it’s almost hard to remember the environment Psychonauts released in, where the glut of platformers had been reduced to scavenger-hunt simulators, bred for ease of use and waste of time rather than genuine inspiration. As immensely boisterous and entertaining as Psychonauts still is today, it’s miraculous once you think about the logic guiding its creative peers at the time, and Tim Schafer choosing to fly in direct opposition to most of it. The game’s concept alone would make for some fine storytelling in just about any medium with any tone—trade summer camp for corporate espionage, and you’ve got Inception, in fact—but combined with Double Fine’s abstract, exaggerated visuals, a willingness to push the absurdity envelope for humor’s sake, and truly unique, meticulous mechanics, Psychonauts remains a work of creative and comic genius that works wonders out of that concept. Clark

The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

28

Final Fantasy Tactics (1997)

Not for nothing is one of the 20 main classes in Final Fantasy Tactics labeled a Calculator. This is a game for math geniuses, with no end to the mix-and-match job customization offered. Or it’s a game for future military commanders, with over 60 chess-like scenarios to survive, often at great odds. Or, with real-world inspirations like the War of the Roses at heart, perhaps it’s a tale for historians. There’s magic, too, and yards of in-game lore to read, so it’s for English majors as well. Other games presented lessons, but Final Fantasy Tactics was the complete package, a school unto itself. Many strategy RPGs preceded and followed it, some even hewing closely to the same fundamental systems, but none have managed to capture this blend of fact and fantasy. Riccio

The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

27

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)

Dozens of games have referred back to the things Symphony of the Night did back in 1997 to veer the traditionally linear Castlevania series off into completely unknown open-world territory, and few have done it as spectacularly. The main castle and its spectacular upside-down counterpart are staggering achievements in art design, and the score contains two or three of the best classical compositions of the last two decades. But more than this, the experience of exploring every haunted nook and cranny of this place, so drowning in secrets, unique weapons, and non-repeating enemies, is astounding to this day, whether the player is on his or her first or 40th playthrough. Clark

The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

26

Max Payne (2001)

On a winter’s night some months after the death of his wife and child, renegade D.E.A. agent and ex-cop Max Payne takes to the streets of New York on a bloody Punisher-esque quest to avenge his family, cleaning up the corrupt city and uncovering the conspiracy that cost him everything. Combining graphic-novel noir storytelling with addictive Matrix-inspired “bullet time” gunplay, Max Payne still stuns for its rush of varied visual poetry. At the push of a button, Max moves and aims in slow motion, giving him the edge against his trigger-happy enemies, and these endlessly replayable sequences evoke the fantasy-fulfillment of playing Neo in The Matrix’s infamous lobby scene, or as one of John Woo’s renegade heroes. Aston

The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

25

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)

In 1991, a console game of such depth and sophistication as boasted by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was simply beyond conception. In fact, it was almost beyond possibility: Nintendo had to expand the capacity of their console’s cartridges to make room for the breadth of what they’d hoped to do here. The results were well worth the expense and effort. You didn’t just play this game, but plunged headlong into its adventure, entering a story and a world whose fate you felt lay in your hands. Today, though, A Link to the Past ought to be regarded as more than a milestone for a franchise still evolving. It is what is in its own right: a legend. Marsh

The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

24

Planescape: Torment (1999)

The leads of most video games tend to come in two varieties: pre-defined and blank slate. With its immortal protagonist The Nameless One, Planescape: Torment goes for both. He awakens in a morgue with no memory, and he soon learns this is par for the course; his many past selves have left scars on the incredible, unorthodox world and on the imaginative characters that have crossed his path. The game is about learning who he’s been, as well as defining who he’ll be. It asks hard questions about the nature of the self, and about whether it’s truly possible to become a better person after so many transgressions. Though nearly 20 years old, Planescape: Torment is still one of the benchmarks by which we measure the quality of video-game writing, with a level of choice and complexity that’s rarely equaled in any other RPG. Scaife

The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

23

Mass Effect 2 (2010)

The Mass Effect universe was too big to stay confined to one platform, and with Mass Effect 2, Bioware finally let PS3 owners explore the galaxy on their system of choice. Gamers will probably be divided forever about whether this sequel streamlined or dumbed-down the combat, but the appeal of the Mass Effect series isn’t the fighting, it’s the world. Lots of design docs have concept art that seems straight out of OMNI magazine, but only Mass Effect 2 managed to implement that in-game, creating thousands of beautiful planets with obsessively detailed backstories for everything on them. Even more than the ambitious Elder Scrolls games, Mass Effect 2 realizes the potential of video games for executing the kind of rich world-building that fantasy and sci-fi fans love, and very much unlike Elder Scrolls, they tell the story with acting, writing, and direction that you don’t have to apologize for. McKleinfeld

The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

22

Portal (2007)

One great thing about video games is that every aspect of them, from how trees look to whether gravity works, is a decision. Valve’s previous games had expertly simulated physics, but Portal asked what would happen if, like God, you could make physics different. And it presented that slapstick joke with sophisticated narrative panache. Bringing together of wunderkind student designers and veteran comic writer Old Man Murray, Portal grounded its spatial wackiness in recognizable (in)human resentments. The story of GLaDOS and Chel is one of the great, Bechdel-test-passing double acts in gaming history, made all the funnier by Chel’s classic-FPS taciturnity. McKleinfeld

The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

21

Super Mario World (1990)

Super Mario World feels like Nintendo’s own technology finally catching up with every lofty, unattainable gameplay idea they couldn’t implement between 1985 and 1990. This is from an era where the first game a developer released on a new system had something to prove, and the chip on Nintendo’s shoulder shows here. The game still feels massive, teeming with secret stages, alternate exits, Rube Goldbergian stage design, and verticality the likes of which could never have been done prior, and hasn’t really been done as expertly since. Add the fact that this is a Super Mario Bros. game that actually gives Super Mario a cape, and features Yoshi’s first appearance in the series, makes it one for the ages. Clark

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