70. Halo: Combat Evolved
Bungie’s bombastic and stylish Halo didn’t just transplant the first person shooter formula to console gamers. It made it look easy. Halo’s space opera setting is dripping with militaristic flavor and the sense of culture and history akin to something like Star Wars.
Even decades later, this stonking sci-fi shooter holds up in a way that many of its contemporaries don’t. The single-player campaign is epic, with the series’ signature combat puzzles keeping the action interesting throughout. The multiplayer experience then provides plenty of post-game thrills and showcases Bungie’s skill at crafting interesting close-combat encounters.
Double Fine’s entry into the era of mascot platformers has flavour and charm but it’s the sheer ingenuity of the level design that sticks with you. Set in a summer camp for psychic soldiers, the game forces you to enter the minds of both adversaries and allies and fight their inner demons head-on.
Psychonauts takes an outrageous premise and runs with it, leaving lesser efforts in the dust.
68. Quake 3
As far as arena shooters go, it’s hard to top Quake 3. Id’s definitive entry into the genre is still played today, and for good reason. The weapons are iconic and the action remains tight-as-all-get out. The map design is also exceptional, funnelling players into tight corners and narrow corridors where they’ve no choice but to face their opponents head-on.
Leaving contemporaries like Call of Duty in the dust, Quake 3 is as fast and furious as first-person shooters get.
67. The Binding of Isaac
Edmund McMillan’s addictive roguelike game has grown from humble beginning to inspire a truly cult-like following. Presented from a top-down perspective, The Binding of Isaac sees you escape from a warped world of caricatured proportions and surreal body horror.
The overtly-gross aesthetic might be a turn off for some but, persistence is rewarded in this hard-as-nails roguelike where rebirth is just the beginning.
66. FEAR: First Encounter Assault Recon
Monolith’s FEAR is a classic first person shooter with supernatural trappings and cool tech running at the heart of it. The guns feel powerful. The level design swerves between creepy scripted sequences and louder moments where innocuous corporate offices are turned into battlegrounds.
Though FEAR was far from the only game of its era to feature bullet-time, it was one of the few games where it felt vital and earned. Even with time on your side, you needed to rely on the mechanic to keep up with the games brutal AI opponents, who would flank and surround you without mercy.
A branching visual novel with an interest in exploring the intersectionality between tech, labour and responsibility, Zachronics Eliza breaks from the studio’s long love affair with puzzle games in favour of introspective critique.
It’s a thoughtfully written, elegantly-constructed and remarkably well-realised yarn that follows the creator of an AI-based counselling app as she returns from a leave of absence and is forced to reckon with the ‘real world outcomes of the thing she has created.
64. Hotline Miami
As surreal as it is hyper violent, Hotline Miami saw indie game punk-label Devolver Digital break into the mainstream in a big way.
The top-down action game sees you take on the role of psychopathic vigilante on a one-man crusade against organised crime. Where other games could be accused of glorifying such violence, Hotline Miami shamelessly wallows in it. The pulsating soundtrack seduces as much the grimey aesthetic repulses with a snappy combat loop keeping you coming back for more.
63. A Short Hike
A low-stakes romp through the heights of Hawk Peak Provincial Park, A Short Hike is a game that gives as much or as little as you want it to. As a platformer, the game is less concerned with pushing you to your limits and more intrigued by the idea of creating a space where you’re free to explore that on your own.
A Short Hike is an almost-offensively charming 3D platformer that blends together the best of Celeste with the best of Animal Crossing.
Whether you’re a fan of the genre or not, Frostpunk is absolutely worth playing. The premise feels fresh, the pieces look gorgeous in motion and the ethical dimensions that developer 11bit continues to build into their take on the city sim remain compelling.
Rather than being about clinging to the old ways of survival no matter how bad things get, Frostpunk is about a world where things have already gone bad and how people navigate the rational-but-impossible compromises it takes to endure through such a cataclysm.
Blizzard’s card battler was far from the first attempt to try and transplant the popularity of games like Magic: The Gathering into the digital realm but it was the first to successfully achieve exactly that. Adapting the expansive lore of the Warcraft universe, Hearthstone breathed new life and energy into the IP and wrote the rule book for a newground genre.
Even if you really do have to sink real money and time into it to be competitive, Hearthstone remains one of the most immediately accessible and readily enjoyable digital card games out there.
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