From arcade classics to recent console hits, these are the 50 greatest games ever.
Whether you play video games The Info Blogs or not, they’ve become an integral part of our culture. For some, it’s hard to imagine a world without video games—the chip-up-loop of an arcade legend like Space Invaders or the growling “Finish Him!” immortal Kombat can be as evocative as a Michael Jackson or Beatles tune.
Representing multiple generations of gamers, TIME’s tech team put more than 150 nominees through a multistage ranking process to compile a cross-section of gaming’s best ideas across nearly four decades. Here are our picks for the 50 greatest video games of all time.
1. King’s Quest III: To Heir Is Human
In the 1980s, the years that led up to Nintendo’s reign were dominated by PC titles, and of these were better imagined than Sierra’s. When honoring their adventure line, critics typically laud the original King’s Quest. But it’s the third installment released in 1986 that deserves the most acclaim because it was also twice as big as the first two installments and as clever as any in the series. Following the adventures of Daventry’s 17-year-old Prince Alexander, the game hit closer to home with its primary players, who, like it or not, were pretty much boys. Yet despite the outmoded graphics (or maybe because of them), the keyboard-controlled adventure is still a joy to play (try it yourself). From amassing all the ingredients to make potions, avoiding the wizard’s evil black cat, and stealing the pirate’s treasure, it’s pure magic.
The improbable sequel to a fan mod for a Blizzard game came out in 2002; Dota 2 stormed the e-sports scene in 2013 with its sophisticated twist on real-time resource management and turf control. Arguably the pinnacle of the multiplayer online battle arena genre (or MOBA, which is just another way of saying “competitive real-time strategy game”), it sees two teams of five jockey for sway over lush, jungle terrain beset by ever-spawning computer armies, locking horns at a river that cuts diagonally across the asymmetric map. Difficult to master but thrilling to watch, Dota 2 matches unfold like frenetic attention-deficit sprees, camera views pinballing around battlefields flush with antagonists converging on dozens of flashpoints, as players battle to demolish the other team’s “ancient.”
3. Angry Birds
Rovio’s debut 2009 mobile game, now one of the most recognizable franchises globally, definitely benefitted from being one of the earliest titles for the iPhone. But the studio’s quirky avian-flinging physics puzzler—players have to slingshot roly-poly birds at likewise round, entrenched pigs—also honed in on key elements of smartphone gaming’s then-nascent purview: bite-sized levels for on-the-go play, easy to pick up (if grueling to master) gameplay, and eventually a free-to-play biz model built on microtransactions. It’s safe to say Angry Birds established the template for all the untold numbers of mobile games vying for our e-wallets since.
4. Guitar Hero
Guitar Hero reanimated the music video game genre when it launched in 2005, magically transmogrifying players into bona fide fret-shredding, tremolo-slapping Rock Gods. Sure, you had to provide your own sweatbands, eyeliner, and hair extensions. But for the price of the game and its eponymous accessory, players hammering buttons on faux guitars were able to rhythmically glimpse what it might feel like to be a Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jake E. Lee. While games like Dance Dance Revolution had proven popular with smaller audiences, it was Guitar Hero‘s rolling collection of classic and modern rock anthems that drove it to mainstream accolades (to say nothing of all the impromptu house parties).
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