20 Essential Video Games You Must Play Before You Die –
Now, I’m not saying that you *are* going to die. I am not saying that. Chances are that if you’re reading this then you’ve probably got a rich and full life ahead of you; one that’s filled with wild summers, cosy winters, and the sort of sexy bikini parties that will be the unrivalled envy of every single one of your instagram followers. But, be that as it may, you can’t hold back the ravages of age and, one day, you’re going to cross paths with old father time himself. Sorry about that.
Which means that the window for you to do everything is getting smaller by the day. Those holidays you wanted to take, those bands you wanted to see, and most importantly, all those video games you wanted to play. As the old saying goes, “never put off until tomorrow what you can possibly 100% this weekend”.
But with the icy cold hand of your own mortality weighing heavier on your shoulder by the day, you’re going to have to be selective about the games you scrawl hurriedly onto your bucket list. After all, life’s far too short to play Leisure Suit Larry or anything that was released as a tie-in to a movie, especially when there are so many titles out there that don’t just make gaming a pleasure, but more or less make it an art form.
Some changed how people thought about their console, some changed how people thought about their genre, and some straight up changed how people thought about their own lives.
So here, for your reading pleasure, are the 20 video game titles you simply have to play with what little time you have left on this earth.
In 2007 the world was already intimately acquainted with the concepts of first person shooters, role playing games, and survival horrors, but in August of that year 2k games proved that you could combine all three. The results were nothing short of spectacular.
Opening with a place crash and the protagonist seeking refuge in a sprawling, secret underground metropolis named Rapture, Bioshock was a long and engrossing battle for survival in a world that was slowly tearing itself apart.
From the morality-based gameplay, to the weapons and powers that could be harnessed, right down to the iconic characters you would encounter, Bioshock remains one of the most immersive games ever released.
19. Tomb Raider
Almost as famous for spawning the first ever virtual super celebrity, Tomb Raider wasn’t the first 3D action adventure game ever released, but it remains the most influential.
Back in 1996, gaming was yet to truly hit the mainstream and Sony’s groundbreaking Playstaion had been in the hands of European gamers for less than a year. Released to little fan-fare, Tomb Raider went on to sell 7 million copies and become one of the most widely acclaimed titles ever seen.
Taking control of one of gaming’s first genuine heroines, Tomb Raider took players to some of the strangest corners of the globe in a quest for forgotten artefacts. One of the first games that rewarded genuine exploration, it was years ahead of its time both in terms of graphics and storyline.
The popularity of real-time strategy games has waned somewhat over the last decade, but it arguably peaked in 1998 when Blizzard Entertainment released what many dismissed as simply “Warcraft in space”.
Jumping forward into humanity’s space-faring future. Starcraft pits three unique races against each other in one of the most engrossing and unpredictable storylines gaming had seen at that point. Playing as the techno-punk Terrans, the nightmarish beasts of the Zerg, or the enlightened and psionic Protoss, the game’s 30 missions redefined the RTS genre and shipped a record 1.5million units on PC.
Almost 20 years later, Starcraft remains one of the most popular online games in the entire world and was even adopted by the US Air Force for teaching new recruits how to develop tactics and crisis manage.
17. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Still lauded for having one of the best soundtracks in gaming history, Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 introduced a whole new generation of teenagers to the joys of skateboarding when it was released in 2000.
Whilst nobody in real-life was pulling 900s from the wall of the their local high school, the game’s innovate gameplay took the success of THPS1 and added just enough new features to make it perfect. Players could now create their own skaters, and ollie, kickflip and grind their way through their own unrealised skating dreams.
The levels too were simply perfection, with genuine skateparks from all over the world combined with some wonderfully rich original locations.
Billed originally as Combat Evolved, Halo is now widely regarded as the most important launch title for any console ever and the entire success of the XBox owes a huge debt to it.
Picking up the FPS genre, that hadn’t had an eye-catching title since a certain James Bond picked up his golden gun, Halo went where no game had gone before with a wonderful array of weapons and vehicles to pit against genuinely intelligent enemies.
Set in Bungie’s wonderful science-fiction universe, Halo sees a super-soldier named Master Chief going up against the ruthless Covenant and the horrifying Flood. The story twists and turns through various intergalactic battlegrounds and, although every instalment of the series has arguably improved on the formula, the franchise’s first outing remains the most defining.
Almost an astonishing 8 years old now, Portal was the title that dared to take something as old fashioned as a puzzle game and revolutionise it for modern consoles.
Under the simple premise of being a lab rat of sorts in a testing facility, the player is given a Portal Gun – a device that is capable of creating two openings of a doorway on any flat surface you aim it at – and given a series of increasingly devilish rooms to work their way out of. With promise of cake at the end of it all.
One of the most original games ever conceived, Portal’s physics, gameplay, and focus on ingenuity means it’s still one of the most addictive titles you can find even to this day.
14. Pokemon HeartGold & SoulSilver
If Call of Duty is a game designed for adults but mostly played by children, then Pokemon is the genetic opposite; a game largely designed for children, but played predominantly by adults. Putting to one side the cartoon, card games, cuddly toys, comic books, and weird fan fiction, the Pokemon series remains one of the most innovative, engrossing, and highly-detailed RPGs ever conceived.
The premise for the game’s six different generations is always the same; a budding young trainer heads out into the world to catch these creatures called Pokemon, train them, and use them to battle his or her way to glory and save the world in the process. There’s something like 649 of these creatures now, each with their own abilities and moves, and their base statistics vary wildly between each individual. Making it one of the most detailed micromanagement games in existence.
Despite all the different variations, directors cuts, and rereleases, HeartGold and SoulSilver – a 2009 reboot of the 1999 edition of the game – is probably the best instalment of the franchise to date.
13. Mario Kart 8
Party games have their detractors, but Nintendo still defy any group of friends to pick up controllers for a Mario Kart game and not have the best few minutes of their entire lives.
The eighth instalment in one of gaming’s most successful franchises, Mario Kart has delighted and infuriated players from the first SNES edition right up to last year’s WiiU release.
Taking an idea as simple as racing go-karts, Mario Kart’s addition of hazards, pick-ups, ingenious level design, and huge array of playing options makes it an impossibly enjoyable experience for players of all ages and abilities.
12. Resident Evil 2
While its predecessor Resident Evil might have coined the term “survival horror”, the sequel was the game that defined the entire genre. Taking the player back to the nightmarish setting of the zombie infested Racoon City, the player once again battles the victims of the deadly T-Virus and the agents of the shadowy Umbrella Corporation.
What took Resident Evil 2 to the next level though was its extensive and inventive focus on exploration and puzzle solving, with a vast improvement on the unsettling atmosphere that aided the success of RE1.
The saves were limited, the ammunition scarce, and every human and creature in the city had designs on your flesh. Countless other games have come along since (even in the same series) but nothing’s quite found the right balance between the survival and the horror elements.
11. Super Smash Bros. Melee
Almost 15 years after its release, and with numerous other titles released in the series, Super Smash Bros. Melee is still considered the instalment best suited for multiplayer carnage.
Initially a Japan-only game with little expected of it, the success of the original Smash Bros. forced Nintendo to go all out for the sequel, and boy did they. Drafting in famous faces from the Mario, Pokemon, Zelda, Starfox, Donkey Kong and other franchises, the game put Nintendo’s most recognisable characters together in one of the most fun fighting games ever conceived.
Featuring a revolutionary array of power-ups, some staggering level design, and breathtaking graphics for the time, Melee rightly retains its place as one of Nintendo’s finest works.
10. Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
After a seemingly endless back catalogue detailing some of the world’s most historical conflicts, 2007 saw the Call of Duty series catapult itself into the present day with the genre-defining Modern Warfare.
Taking the player across the world through the various skirmishes contested by a US Marine and British SAS Commando, COD4 dealt with political unrest in Russia and war in the Middle East in the franchise’s usual hyperbolic way.
Gaining world-wide acclaim for its revolutionary use of weaponry and customisation, the game kicked off the FPS online explosion with players across the globe taking each other on in massive skirmishes, death-matches, and missions.
9. Mortal Kombat
The game that was so groundbreaking it spawned the introduction of age specific restrictions on video games sales, Mortal Kombat fell out of the genius tree and his every single branch on the way down.
Just as video game players and designers were starting to realise the potential for carnage, along came Midway games with something that allowed you to pulverise ninjas, shoot fire at opponents, then rip out their spine while a deep voice bellowed “Fatality”. It simply couldn’t get any cooler than that in the early 90s.
While fighting games are almost unrecognisable from their simple 2D ancestors, Mortal Kombat remains the title that wrote the book on the genre.
8. The Last Of Us
A landmark game in many ways, The Last of Us broke new ground in terms of character development, story, subtext, visual design, sound and, perhaps most importantly, its depiction of female and LGBT characters.
Set in a post-apolocylptic America, the game charges the player with safely escorting a young girl through the wasteland, dodging and fighting off some zombie-like residents and otherwise unfriendly people along the way. Unlike other undead-shoot-em-ups, the last of us make the protagonists feel inherently vulnerable throughout the game and saw death as a last resort in most situations.
At the heart of the game’s brilliance though is the relationships of the characters, and a new emphasis in games that prioritise the story at their heart over the action in your hands owes a lot to the brilliance of The Last of Us.
7. Fallout 3
Everything about Fallout 3 was stunning. Everything. From the scope and grandeur of the story, to the unprecedented way this post-apocolyptic world was realised on screens, the game placed the player right in the heart of a wasteland that was both familiar and completely unfathomable.
Returning to the desolate and warped world of the Fallout franchise, the third instalment finally gave the setting the modern adaptation it so richly deserved. Setting the player off on a quest to track down his scientist father, the game crosses the ruins of Washington DC and pits you against warring factions, a resurgent government, super-mutants, and other nuclear beasties over almost 100 missions in the game and its DLC.
The setting is stunning, the dialogue is fantastic, and some of the weapons and armour you can acquire are brilliantly fun. Even the Pipboy player interface, the learning of new skills and improving of your abilities is inspired in its amusement and its simplicity. As story telling goes, there are few titles that can rival Fallout III.
6. Half-Life 2
Set in a dystopian alternative timeline where the human race is being, for want of a better word, harvested, Half-Life 2 picks up where its seminal predecessor left off.
Heralded for its focus on exploration, as well as its inventive approach to AI tactics, Half-Life 2 became of the of the first games to attract perfect scores from a number of different video game publications. Maximum PC even going so far as to label it “the best game ever made”.
While the genre has come on leaps and bounds since then, nothing has managed to replicate Half-Life 2’s enthralling nature, intelligent dialogue, and engaging story.
5. Final Fantasy VII
While the argument over which Final Fantasy is the best rages on decades after some of them were released, it’s not unreasonable to say that the seventh instalment in the series is the most iconic.
Making the series’ first leaps into 3D graphics, the game not only sparked huge sales of the Playstation console, but brought RPGs out of Japan and introduced them to the rest of the world. There’s been no looking back since. Even if it’s become visually dated, the game’s blockbuster storyline is still the source of much debate and nostalgia even today, and first plays are still capable of reducing grown men to tears.
Taking elements of environmental disaster, megalomania, genetic manipulation, gods, and the universe, the game’s plot twists and turns wonderfully through its 3 disc running time, and benefitted from a staggeringly beautiful combat and magic system.
It bombed at E3, was slated by the media before it was even released, and then went on to be *the* defining FPS of its generation – if not all time.
So many things that gamers take for granted in the genre now were pioneered in GoldenEye. From giving players a freedom to complete missions how they saw fit, to the fine tuning precision of the controls, it even invented the idea that different parts of the body should take damage differently.
Taking a number of the film’s scenes and set pieces, the game stuck to the GoldenEye story whilst adding its own twist to ensure it was every inch as good a playing experience as it was a watching one. Its multiplayer function remains the bar against which all future groups of friends running around shooting each other will be measured.
Still, almost 20 years since its release, it’s regarded as some of the most fun it’s possible to have on a console. Be that playing through the game’s single player storyline or going through a war of attrition with up to 3 other human beings.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Considered by many to be the finest game released during the seventh generation of consoles, the fifth instalment of the venerable Elder Scrolls series took both open-world games and the fantasy genre to new heights.
Following the story of a Dragonborn, a prophesied warrior with the power to absorb the souls of dragons, Skyrim features around 250 separate quests for the player to complete as well as one of the most extensive item and weapon development systems seen in gaming. Removing the traditional ideas of character classes and replacing them with complete freedom to develop your skills how you saw fit. Become great with a sword, or deadly with a bow, or a powerful magic user, or some combination of all three.
A huge choice of races and appearances also added to the unique flavour that accompanies every play-through, as almost no two players of Skyrim will likely have had the same experience on their journey through the world. But what really blows the doors off for Skyrim is the look, with every possible sort of terrain rendered in almost impossibly beautiful detail.
2. The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Although released to an almost deafening dismissal of being “just for kids”, Ocarina of Time is a game that has grown in stature and prominence in the years since its release.
Representing Link’s first ever foray into the world of 3D, the game pushed the very limits of the N64 and offered one of the biggest open world environments ever seen in gaming at the time. Treading familiar ground in terms of story line (you’re out to get the Triforce to save Hyrule again), the game beautifully combined elements of action, adventure, and RPG in a way that looked so effortless it didn’t get the acclaim it was due until years later.
Hindsight’s a wonderful thing though, and some 17 years after its initial release the genius of Ocarina of Time is plain for all to see. The locking target system and buttons that change their use depending on your environment are now all staples of the genre, and can trace their roots back here. For an action RPG of the time, it’s simply flawless.
1. Grand Theft Auto III
When the full power of the Playstation 2 was being realised, there was only one question on the minds of gamers; “will they do a 3D GTA”. Come October 2001, Nobody was disappointed.
Taking the story back to the series’ original setting of Liberty City (loosely based on New York itself) Grand Theft Auto III allowed players to rob, steal and murder across three huge islands. With a storyline that featured dealings with lowlifes, the mafia, the yakuza, corrupt policemen and some special business interests, the story gripped players from their very first carjacking and didn’t let go until the closing scenes.
With an unprecedented scope for exploration, a seemingly endless array of vehicles, and complete freedom to cause as much carnage as was humanely possible, GTA III set a bar for open-world action-adventure games that has since never been surpassed. Subsequent sequels have taken the franchise on to new heights, but without this example to show the way, gaming as a whole would have taken a completely different path over the last 15 years.