10 Most Influential Video Games Of All Time
There’s probably no consensus on what the top 10 video games ever released are but most of us have an inkling based on review sites and word-of-mouth. As for my own yardstick of exceptionally good games, they must either have hugely impacted the development of subsequent titles or that they must have gone beyond the standards of gaming at the point of their release.
Even then, such lists are still vulnerable to individual’s perceptions and subjectivity. To start off this discussion, and at the risk of disagreement, I’m showing you my personal Top 10 List of Greatest Video Games Ever (not by order of ranking).
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1) Tetris (1984)
There’s a reason why Tetris appears in so many Top 10 lists of greatest video games despite its clearly simple gameplay – it is the most addictive and influential puzzle game of all time! We are all familiar with this building-block puzzle game because we have all played it at some point of our life, just as it is for chess, rock/paper/scissors and solitaire.
(Image Source: Wikipedia)
The beauty lies in its simplicity; anyone can pick up the game within minutes. Nothing can be as intuitive as fitting in seven geometrically-shaped blocks (Tetriminos) as they come scrolling down the screen. Hours of gameplay with the catchy classic Russian folk tune (“Korobeiniki”) playing in the background will have you seeing things around you in Tetris pieces.
The game has sold millions of copies along with countless clones and variants incorporating new rules and block pieces. The true impact of Tetris, however, is not just the sales per se; it’s the number of subgenre puzzle games that has sprung up adopting similar tile-matching and/or falling blocks concepts.
We all remember classic hits like Puzzle Bobble (1994) and Puzzle Fighter (1996). Not to forget also the recently popular Candy Crush Saga for smartphones and Facebook, which can be said to have evolved from Tetris’ gameplay.
2) Super Mario Bros (1985)
While not the first game to come of the platform gaming genre, the game is widely considered to have revolutionized game design through its pioneering concepts of power-ups, continuous scrolling screen, alternate secret paths and the varying environmental physics which have all been employed in subsequent platform games.
(Image Source: Digital Spy)
Other than its superior graphics and sound at that time, Super Mario Bros’ controls had also been praised for its responsiveness and precision, easily allowing players to control how fast Mario run and how far or high he can jump. All these amazing features made the game intensely captivating, consequently bringing in an abundance of players to the world of video games and even inspired some of them to become game developers.
As the game that popularized and defined side-scrolling platforming genres, it came as no surprise that Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros was the best-selling video game of all time (40.23 million copies sold worldwide). The record was subsequently broken by Wii Sports in 2009, 24 years later.
Mario, the character is in itself one of the most recognizable faces across the globe and has remained as a childhood symbol for those of us who had played it as kids in the 80s. Super Mario Bros has even been credited as the game that revived the gaming industry from its crash in 1983, riding alongside with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
3) Doom (1993)
Wolfenstein 3D may have been coined the “grandfather of 3D shooter” for setting the first-person shooter genre proper, but Doom was the one that popularized it. Apart from its better level design that allowed players to differentiate one room from another and the enhanced lighting effects and textures, Doom’s engine even enabled players to customize levels and modify parts of the games, in a process we all know as “modding”.
(Image Source: ModDB)
Unbeknownst to many of us, the idea of multiplayer “deathmatch” also originated from Doom. Its four-player, LAN-only multiplayer is pretty much primitive by today’s standard, but it opened up an entirely new form of social gaming back in those days.
Leveraging on its popularity, Doom established one of the first large mod-making community by allowing the creation of WADs (Where is All the Data). Today, modding has become prevalent in gaming communities, especially so for first-person shooters, role-playing games and real-time strategy.
The newly introduced multiplayer mode where each of the four players concurrently pits against each other was so addictive that some players even resorted to playing it at work, resulting in a significant workplace issue of reduced productivity and slowed computer networks! Clearly, the successful implementation of deathmatch mode in Doom has left behind a crucial legacy on multiplayer in gaming not only for first-person shooters but also for all other genres as well.
4) Final Fantasy VII (1997)
As one of the defining game titles for the original Playstation, Square’s role-playing game Final Fantasy VII is renowned for its expansive universe and immersive story. The plot was made fabulous with the protagonist, Cloud‘s interactions with various characters of the game, facilitating players with a gradual and satisfying identification with Cloud and his crew.
(Image Source: Final Fantasy Wikia)
If you ever played Final Fantasy VII before, you could probably feel the sense of attachment many players have had with the characters and the storyline, which is notably evident when they grieved over the death of Cloud’s love interest, Aerith who was killed by the hands of the antagonist, Sephiroth.
That scene has been recognized as one of the most tear-inducing moments of all video games. This has earned Sephiroth the notorious reputation of being one of the most famous villians in the video game industry.
Apart from the awesome narratives, there’re numerous praises on its presentation as well. Firstly, it broke away from the 2D computer graphics in the previous Final Fantasy series to 3D polygonal graphics with fully rendered characters against gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds. The soundtrack composed by the acclaimed video game composer, Nobou Uematsu also played well with the ever-changing ambience of the game as the player navigates across landscapes.
The battle (Limit breaks) and skill (Materia) systems, along with numerous minigames (e.g. chocobo racing) infused in the game have also been considered as spectacular by players. All in all, Final Fantasy VII has been said to have brought the role-playing game genre beyond the Japanese market and popularized it.
5) Metal Gear Solid (1998)
Just when gamers thought that the most legitimate way to go through any game is to blast their way through and kill as many of their enemies as possible, the Metal Gear franchise disregarded that notion and invented the idea of ‘stealth’ with Metal Gear (1987) and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990).
(Image Source: Janne Markkula)
Along came Metal Gear Solid, the third game in the series which has been widely regarded as the game that shot 3D stealth action genre to fame. Despite making the leap from 2D to 3D, the gameplay remains similar to its prequel where the protagonist, Solid Snake uses stealth to progress through the stages and avoid detection.
As one of the first few 3D stealth games to be made, Metal Gear Solid’s approach of avoidance rather confrontation with enemies had since been adopted in numerous hit video games, including Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series.
The excellent in-depth storyline about nuclear warfare and genome soldiers, as well as the game’s lengthy cut scenes and high-quality voice acting had also for the first time blurred the line between film and video game. In other words, it was a game that almost felt like a movie with its captivating primary plot, twists and subplots to unveil the intricate intentions and personalities of each of the many characters in the story.
The result was that players had an easy and fun time identifying with the characters and end up feeling intrigued and perhaps a little overwhelmed with the storyline. Never before was there ever such a game that put so much emphasis on its plot and indeed, there are few or even none that ever did throughout the history of video games.
6) Deus Ex (2000)
Deus Ex is one of the few games I still play on-and-off even though it was first released slightly more than a decade ago. The greatest pleasure of playing Deus Ex is the uncovering of global conspiracy as you progresses through the game. Starting off as a rookie but formidable cop, you combat terrorists on the street just like any first-person shooter, accomplish missions as directed by your boss and gain skill points for upgrades.
(Image Source: Well-Rendered)
The unique thing about it is that there are multiple ways you can approach your enemies depending on how you could think out-of-the-box. This freedom of choice even extends to your interactions with non-playable characters where you choose how to advance the conversations from a list of dialogue options or even choose to kill or let them live. At a time when gameplay is pretty much linear, Deus Ex certainly path the way for recent action-role playing games like Mass Effect (2007) and Fallout 3 (2008).
The graphics and gameplay are certainly incomparable to today’s first-person shooters like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 or Battlefield 3, but there remains an unexplainable attraction to its deep plot and gameplay interactivity.
The result is an intense character identification with the protagonist, JC Denton in a world filled with conspiracy. Combining elements of role-playing, first-person shooting and adventure, you are often made to choose between going rogue and sticking to your side as a nanotech-augmented operative of the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition (UNATCO).
7) Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
You may not remember it now but slightly more than a decade ago, GTA III was a cultural phenomenon. This was in part due to the controversy it generated when the game was first released with its senseless violence and sexual content where players could easily carjack, kill innocent by-passers and pick up hookers on the street.
(Image Source: Decades in a Digital World)
The game’s popularity did not however simply came about from such notoriety; it was very much the universal acclaim it received from gamers everywhere. For one, it was the first time a video game allowed players to explore an entire city in detail without having to follow a linear path of gameplay.
As a sequel to GTA and GTA2 where these games were played from a top-down perspective, GTA III took a leap into the 3D sandbox world of Liberty City. The dynamics of the world has been designed to make players feel like they’re in the real-world with pedestrians and vehicles filling the streets and day and night cycling across time (speeded-up).
Even unique radio stations have been created for players to tune to whenever they are in a vehicle. Such is the expansiveness and diverseness of the game’s universe, which was unheard of in video games. The lack of structure was GTA III’s greatest strength; the resultant flexibility in gameplay had created a never-before gaming experience for players and laid a firm foundation for all sandbox games that follow.
8) Shadow of Colossus (2005)
This PlayStation 2 game title may be relatively unheard of as compared to the rest on the list, but Shadow of Colossus deserves a rightful place as one of the best games ever made. The game’s art direction was fabulous, as visible when you ride alone across the vast and desolate landscapes and ancient ruins on horseback and battle voluminous giants made of rocks.
(Image Source: Garapata)
You could sense how small you are as compared to these titans or ‘colossi’ the moment you see one of them from afar, seemingly moving in slow-motion due to their heavy masses. That sense of scale can also be felt as the camera angles span perfectly while you leap onto and run up the arm of the giant or as you cling to its fur and climb up the back of the beast.
It was easy to comprehend the gameplay right from the start, where there was this innovative navigation system of raising your sword against the sun to see where the reflected light points to in order to find the next colossus. As you ride towards it and close in on one, you’ll need to strategize how you could climb on top of it and stab its vital point(s) with your sword.
To date, few games have ever created what Shadow of Colossus did. The aesthetic landscape and the ‘dwarfing’ sensation both played a huge part in setting the astonishing ambience and creating that immersive experience, but the game was only made complete with the simple and intuitive gameplay.
Accompanied with superb graphics and soundtrack, Shadow of Colossus was an artwork, a masterpiece among all video games.
9) Mass Effect Trilogy (2007 – 2012)
The first Mass Effect, or arguably all of the titles in the series, have been well-received by gamers. The franchise brought out the best of RPG and action video game genre, merging them together to give rise to a new age of interactive storytelling and decision-making with action-packed combat.
This is a grand science-fiction story where you could make big and small decisions and face the consequence of your actions. The choices you make on the first Mass Effect affect the story of Mass Effect 2 and consequently, Mass Effect 3. Never before was there a video game where how the story unfolds and the fates of characters are so much contingent on what you did on the previous and current games. The interactivity on a video game’s storyline is indeed unprecedented and revolutionary.
(Image Source: Just Push Start)
The other admirable thing about Mass Effect series is its immensive universe where there’re no short of interesting characters you can interact with, be it aliens or humans. Coupled with the excellent job done on its voice acting (some from veteran actors Martin Sheen, Carrie Ann-Moss, Seth Green and several others), playing the game feels like watching a first-rate sci-fi movie.
It’s also easy for the players to get emotionally attached to the main characters in the story, especially when so much has been invested in the conversational interactions in the game. The RPG elements and the combat system are awesome too, but the greatest gift by the Mass Effect trilogy is the amount of power you have over how the game is to be panned out, leaving you so much more connected and involved with the storyline than you ever had with any game.
10) BioShock (2007)
While the strength of Mass Effect trilogy lies with the interactivity with the storyline, BioShock‘s asset lies with how it tells the story to its players. Your options are also not limited when it comes to combat with the enemies and the gradual upgrading concept of Plasmids (special powers) and Tonics (skills) are apparent and satisfying to the player.
Each weapon and special power has its strengths and uses when environmental contexts are taken into consideration. For instance, the special ability of electric shocks and fireballs don’t necessary have to be used against a target directly, the game’s physics engine allows them to be applied on water and oil respectively to shock or burn enemies by proximity.
(Image Source: TeamXbox)
Moreover, invention stations known as “U-invents” allow you to create your own ammos, weapons and other items from spare parts in your surroundings.
It’s a tale of utopia-turn-dystopia that would have you make difficult moral decisions of sparing or killing characters. This is even enhanced with the unique artistic atmosphere and architecture “utopia” of the 50’s era (the underwater city, Rapture), often evoking in you a range of emotions from panic, anger, sadness to despair.
It doesn’t seem to believe in cut-scenes, perhaps for fear that they would disrupt the flow of the game or the immersion process. Instead, you are in control of your character throughout the entire game, unfolding the story by your own through the details available from conversations with others, audio tapes, posters, sculptures, flyers, and even songs. All in all, it’s about survival, and you’ll have tons of fun over it in BioShock.
What are the top video games in your personal list? Share them with us in the comments below, or you can check out other posts we have on video games:
Author: Michael Poh
Michael is a freelance blogger and regular contributor for Hongkiat.com. He graduated from the National University of Singapore with a double major in Psychology and Communications & New Media in 2011.He believes in the power of the written word to influence and inspire. An enthusiastic video gamer, Michael is also actively engaged in various physical activities in his spare time.