The last thing I’ll say before we jump in is man did we have quite the tie for tenth place on this list! While I ultimately went with the game you’ll see here in just a moment, it’s absolutely worth noting that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Half-Life 2, Resident Evil 4, The Legend of Zelda:Twilight Princess, and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves all held a 96% on Metacritic as well, and it truly hurt waving those games goodbye — especially since two of ’em are some of my all-time favorites! Ultimately, I chose the one that felt the most “iconic,” and I think you’ll see what I mean.
As always, feel free to comment on what games you think are missing or shouldn’t have made the cut.
10. Bioshock (2007, 96%)
See what I mean by iconic? I can still hear the “would you kindly”s even now. While I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to say Bioshock was the first game to really grapple with politics and philosophy head-on (I mean hell, the Metal Gear Solid series was three deep by this point and several JRPGs had been doing this for decades), I think Bioshock did it in such a shockingly confrontational way that it left players a bit transfixed. The world of rapture was also so beautiful, horrific, inspired, and immersive, you couldn’t help but feel as sunken into it as protagonist Jack.
9. Super Mario Galaxy (2007, 97%)
On a list that is almost entirely pretty heavy, serious, and/or mature, it’s nice to see a friendly face, huh? When Super Mario Galaxy was released back in 2007, folks were quick to praise it as being the greatest platformer Nintendo ever made and it’s pretty easy to see why. Super Mario Galaxy takes what made Super Mario 64 great and elevates it. Literally. Instead of jumping through portraits to other worlds, in Galaxy you soar around them as you traverse through space collecting stars. The game is bright, vivid, smart, and unique, and earned praise for being one of the Wii games that most effectively used the system’s controls without feeling overly gimmicky, giving folks a reason to pick up the console.
8. NFL 2K1 (2000, 97%)
Maybe it’s just me but it always feels strange to see a major sports title make a best games list because I just operate under the assumption that they have to be getting better, right? While this is mostly true, there are some sports titles that are so drastically better than their predecessors they leave a lasting impression. Enter NFL 2k1. NFL 2k1 introduced a lot of elements that are now staples in the sports genre, most notably an online mode and franchise mode, which allowed you to play manager, draft players, and take your team through multiple seasons. The game also had massive AI and physics improvements, making for gameplay that felt more real and far less predictable and gamified than ever before. Improved graphics and audio, as well as more commentary than ever before, made this NFL entry an extremely significant one.
7. Grand Theft Auto III (2001, 97%)
Simply put, the Grand Theft Auto series would not be what it is today without Grand Theft Auto 3 and — considering how iconic the series has gone on to be — that says a lot about this game and how deserving it is of a spot on this list. The first 3D Grand Theft Auto, GTA3 served as the blueprint not only for the series and its tone going forward but also for what sandbox games in the 2000s would come to be. While it’s certainly not the best-written game in the series, Grand Theft Auto III made GTA, and Rockstar Games, a household name.
6. Metroid Prime (2002, 97%)
Since Metroid’s release back in 1986 (yes, it really has been 35 years), the series has gone on to become of the most beloved Nintendo franchises ever created. While it never reached quite the same iconic status as Mario or even The Legend of Zelda, Metroid — alongside Castlevania, of course — ultimately led to the creation of a new video game genre: the “metroidvania.” All this to say this series is kind of a big deal, and Metroid Prime is widely regarded as one of its best titles. The first 3D Metroid game, Metroid Prime used the foundation of the beloved title Super Metroid as a frame to make the series transition into a new dimension work rather than seem too drastic of a departure. In addition, Prime didn’t embrace the FPS genre in a way fans were worried it might. While there’s still plenty of gunning, it still retains the spirit of its predecessors and is both gorgeous to look at and smart.
Interestingly enough, this isn’t even the top Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game on this list despite fans of the series widely regarding it as a pretty damn perfect game. Just goes to show how great the series is, huh? One of the things that makes Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 so fantastic is the addition of reverts, a trick that players could slap on to their combos to make them astronomically longer, thus making the game even more fun. It also introduced hidden combos, a balance meter, online capabilities, and female skaters, which was a pretty big deal to this girl back in 2001.
Created by the same studio that created the iconic 3D first-person shooter Goldeneye 007 (and Banjo-Kazooie, Diddy Kong Racing, and many other incredible yet less relevant games), Perfect Dark is — in a sense — a spiritual successor to Goldeneye. The sci-fi shooter featured more weapons, levels, missions, challenges, incredibly fun multiplayer modes, a better story, and more intuitive AI, making for a better functioning game with all the dressings you’d hope would come with it. When it comes to games that got pretty close to making FPSs just as fun to play on console as they were on PC, the deceptively large and smart Perfect Dark makes the list, though falls short compared to the next game we’re gonna talk about.
3. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001, 97%)
While it might not top this list, when it comes to which game on here has arguably had the greatest impact on the generation of gamers who grew up playing it, it’s gotta be Halo: Combat Evolved. Prior to Halo, the idea that a competitive, online multiplayer shooter experience could be enjoyed on console was, well, a bit laughable. Sure, we had the aforementioned Goldeneye and Perfect Dark on Nintendo 64, but those games were in a whole different ballpark than the titles that were releasing on PC at the same time. Halo defined what a first-person shooter on a console could look like, both revolutionizing and defining the genre while also giving the Xbox the oomf it needed to become a must-buy console.
2. Grand Theft Auto IV (2008, 98%)
If Grand Theft Auto III defined the series, Grand Theft Auto IV revolutionized it, ushering in a new and more mature era for the franchise. Following the more comical Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Vice City, IV offered a more grounded story with higher graphical fidelity than ever before and more realistic driving. In addition, it added the first heist style missions to the series as well as an online component, two things that were expanded upon in Grand Theft Auto V and made that title the best-seller it is.
1.Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (2000, 98%)
While Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was already heralded as an instant classic when it hit shelves in 1999, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 broke new ground and improved just about everything the first one had to offer in pretty significant ways. It had better graphics, better gameplay, and a more diverse catalog of music. It also added in new tricks, introduced manuals to the series — thus enabling players to create longer combos — and introduced both park and character customization, all now staples of the series. In short, it does just about everything you want a sequel to do, making it arguably the greatest game of its decade.