31. Max Payne (2001). Going into a Bullet Time dive and ruining someone’s day.
Or alternatively not noticing you’re standing next to a wardrobe, smacking your head against it in slow motion , and wallowing around on the floor like a toddler while everyone stands round you in a circle and pumps you full of lead.
29. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003). Doing fancy gymnastics at the top of an unfeasibly high building.
Remember the short period in the early 2000s when parkour was a Thing and there were all these random athletic French villains in action movies? Hence an amazing 1989 game got remade with splendid graphics and these sorts of scenes, and it was probably the best thing to come out of the whole sorry show.
28. Wii Sports (2006). Nailing a strike.
As of last year, over 80 million copies have been sold. Your extended family could compete on a level playing field with you. Your uncle had RSI from boxing. Your granny kept screaming “In your face” every time she hit an ace. This game ruined Christmas.
26. Gran Turismo 3 (2001). Cooing at the graphics.
Obviously if you were a massive nerd you played this because of the range of cars and the responsive handing that gave a realistic depiction of driving, but the rest of us gawped at the scenery before spinning out on the first bend, whereupon nothing at all happened to the car. You should clearly have played Burnout instead, but whatever.
25. Diablo 2 (2000). Reaching some utterly ridiculous level.
It’s 14 years old. People are STILL playing it. In fact until recently tens of thousands of people were still playing it online. It is an addictive game. It’s a good job being a level 91 necromancer makes you very attractive to the opposite sex.
24. The Sims 3 (2009). Having an affair with the maid.
Or indeed, doing anything. Become homeless. Have a stellar career. Produce 36 children. Burn yourself to death. Build a house. Sit in your darkened bedroom for months playing a game in which you simulate having a rich and varied life. That’s the beauty, isn’t it?
22. Sega (2003 onwards). Not releasing a console.
And suddenly half a generation of kids wondered how the hell they were going to play Sonic and the other half laughed at them for backing the wrong horse and also being complete losers with a MEGUHDRIVE or a SATUHN. The times, they had a-changed.
21. Shadow of the Colossus (2006). Seeing your first colossus and getting on its tits.
Look at the size of that thing. How the hell are you going to take it down? Also, isn’t it…kind of beautiful? And there in a nutshell is why things aren’t going to end happily. What an incredible, heartbreaking, clever game. File under “Realising you might not be the hero in all this.” (to be continued).
Note: Ico has been considered a prequel because it should really make the list but these GIFs are quite tedious to make.
20. Uncharted 2 (2009). Helicopter rooftop attack lunacy.
A video game that was more exciting to just watch than most movies that year. Even if the main protagonist, Captain SmugDick, is such an insufferable tool you’ll get more pleasure throwing him off the edge of a building than actually controlling him. Also true because there’s a lot of watching him hopping up and down next to various bits of wall while waiting for him to grab an invisible hold. It’s still great, mind.
19. Mass Effect (2007). Confronting the villain you’ve been stalking for ages and - oh.
Neat little twist. If you’ve got the chat skills, Saren, who it turns out is quite a pathetic little character, will just end it all and save you the bother. Surprising, but this is an intelligent game. A bit like the entry we’re getting to at number six, it isn’t scared of big themes like freedom of expression, prejudice and bigotry. Yes mother. It’s art.
18. Assassins Creed 2 (2009). Going to Venice and stabbing people.
A bit like a Michael Palin show, but with added evisceration. This is the game where the series achieved perfection - nowhere more so than in the Renaissance parties, brothels and dark, debauched canals of the island republic. After this it would all go a bit Farmville: this one got the correct balance between role play elements and spearing people in the intestines.
16. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006). Doling out sword-based justice from the back of a horse.
This is such an amazing game. Basically flawless. And yet it doesn’t seem to make Best Game Ever lists half as often as it should. Seriously - where is it? Anyway, it’s great, and the best thing is arguably the freedom, and that’s encapsulated by these bits.
15. Gears of War (2006). Cleaving a Locust’s head open with a chainsaw.
Gears of War introduced a lot of features that subsequent games would pick up on and do badly. Like inadvertently glueing yourself to a chest high wall and re-enacting that Naked Gun shootout with someone three yards away. And viewing everything through a thin film of poo. But still: VNN VNN SQUELCH!
14. TimeSplitters 2 (2002). Going back in time to 1895 and climbing up Notre Dame.
This game was the true heir to Goldeneye. Apart from Perfect Dark, obviously. If the first level wasn’t enough of a clue (a homage to Bond’s finest hour, in the best possible way), you probably realised once your health gauge came up. It was just a whole lot of fun. This level contains bonus hunchback.
13. Call of Duty 4 (2007). Getting burned to a crisp in a nuclear explosion.
There you are, happily mowing down helpless foreign people from the comfort of a U.S Army helicopter when HOLY CRAP WHAT WAS THAT? You’re dead. Why? What did you do wrong? Nothing is the answer: that’s war for you. It’s cruel, unjust and brutal. This game understood that. Sadly in later games the makers would decide that war is actually a big game of right wing conspiracy theory paintball.
12. Fallout 3 (2008). Fighting a Super Mutant Behemoth.
This isn’t the best bit to be honest. Because of course the best bit was - well, whatever you wanted it to be. Were you playing a remake of Mad Max or Unforgiven? It was up to you. That said, there wasn’t much to compare with taking one of these mommas down.
10. Silent Hill 2 (2001). Realising you might not be the hero in all this (pt 1).
Yup, your wife summoned you to meet her in this creepy town because you killed her. And suddenly an entire game is flipped on its head. Everything you’re witnessing and for the most part running away from is a product of your guilty conscience. A hackneyed trope? Sure, but by this point you’re so scared it works beautifully. Also this game was made in 2001. It was about ten years ahead of its time.
9. Half Life 2 (2004). Gravity gun lols.
It’s a bit harsh to distill a masterpiece down to one gun that lets you wang people and things around, but let’s. Problem is there’s too much to talk about: even the game’s distribution could be a whole post in itself, given that it takes in shady hackers, the FBI and prolonged legal disputes. But if we’re honest, this is where it gets really good.
8. Metal Gear Solid 2 (2001). Creeping around an oil rig.
Because it’s a brilliant setting for a stealth game - at once open and claustrophobic. But then it’s a very clever game, touching on themes like artificial intelligence, social engineering, free will, existentialism and political conspiracy theories. It does. It DOES. And for the most part it pulls it off too.
7. Arkham Asylum (2009). Finding Jim Gordon dead.
WHAAAT?! Did I not get to the commissioner in time? Oh wait, hang on…Of course, this is a hallucination caused by the Scarecrow, but you may not realise it at the time: you certainly will in a second, when things get really weird, but this is a great example of how games can tell stories brilliantly when they play with the very format in which they operate (you’re even set a new “Objective”: find Gordon’s killer). Metal Gear did this kind of thing best of course, but this is brilliant.
6. Portal (2007). Fighting a conflicted Artificial Intelligence that thinks you’re really rather naughty.
Best villain ever? Best villain ever. Conflicted, funny, and capable of singing you a lovely farewell. Portal would be a work of genius even if it wasn’t written so beautifully.
5. Mario Galaxy (2007). Smacking Bowser upside the head in three dimensions.
People don’t get it. They don’t realise how often Mario laid the ground. Without Mario Bros, a lot of games in the 8-bit era would have been worse. Without Super Mario World, same story in the 16-bit era. It’s unlikely the top game on this list would have been the same without Mario 64. This one is perhaps less obvious. If you strip away the gravity gimmick it’s just a really good platformer. But it’s the gimmick to end all gimmicks. Maybe it’s been less influential because it can’t be bettered.
3. Bioshock (2007). Realising you might not be the hero in all this (pt 2).
“Would You Kindly.” Your character was being controlled all this time. By those three little words. And by you, with your controller. So YOU were being controlled. Chances are you didn’t see it coming. Beautifully done.
2. Resident Evil IV (2005). Finding that everything isn’t what it seems in the Spanish village.
Yup, that’s right. Number two. Because sometimes, almost by accident, a game just gets everything right, and this is the moment you know you’re playing a serious game. It. Is. Genuinely. Terrifying. It’s also beautifully paced, challenging, and constantly surprising in every way. It’s right at the peak of what was a magnificent era for gaming.
1. Grand Theft Auto III (2001). Going wherever you wanted for the first time.
And changing the radio station while you did it. Not like there hadn’t been freedom in games before - hell, that goes back to Elite and possibly earlier - and it’s not like there hadn’t been three dimensional worlds to wander around (until now, the peak had probably been reached by Mario’s N64 incarnation). But the sheer scale of this immersive sandbox still changed EVERYTHING, for the rest of the decade and beyond.