20. Half-Life 2 (2004)
Half-Life 2 is often in the conversation for best game ever made, and I definitely see why. What the game does graphically and with its physics systems was absolutely revolutionary at the time. It also has a great villain and surprisingly memorable hero, despite the fact that he doesn’t speak. The gravity gun is a blast to use, and man those head crabs still terrify me to this day.
19. Fallout 3 (2008)
To me, Fallout 3 is the best Fallout game with a bullet, but this might also be because it was my first Fallout game. That’s usually the way it works. The game has such great side quests, which more than make up for the semi-lackluster main storyline — a common problem with Bethesda games. “Those!” is still one of my favorite questlines in any Fallout game.
18. Final Fantasy VII (1997)
I know we’re already in the top 20, but Final Fantasy VII is actually not my highest-ranked Final Fantasy game. What a tease! It’s certainly the game that comes up most often when talking about the best Final Fantasy games, and while its narrative, lead characters, and villain are all incredibly memorable, my top pick has a better combat system and arguably even better story.
17. Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)
This is another game that would probably rank in my top 10 most played games. Throughout high school, pretty much every Friday night with my friends ended with a several-hour-long Smash session, and Melee was always our game of choice — even after Brawl came out. The Gamecube controller just fits the style of this game perfectly, and there really isn’t a single dud on the playable character roster.
16. Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time (2009)
My personal pick for best Ratchet and Clank game, A Crack in Time was also my first platinum trophy on PS3. It deserves special mention just for that, but the game also has a surprisingly affecting story considering its roots as just a silly franchise. A Crack in Time definitely contains my favorite Clank puzzles, as well. Making Clank clones that have to match up to timed puzzles is a pretty neat idea.
15. Dead Space (2008)
I’m not a horror game person, as you’ve probably already learned while reading through this list. But there’s something special about Dead Space. While the second game veers more into action territory and I still don’t know what the hell the third game is trying to do, the first one is straightforward — in a good way. It has atmosphere to spare (pun intended) and some pretty inventive weapons.
14. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
The first 3D Zelda game is my pick for best in the series, which I know is also a pretty common pick. This game just contains so much personality and wonder, even a cynic like me gets caught up in it. “Z-targeting” was a cool new feature and the titular Ocarina of Time creates fun new ways to solve puzzles — not to mention beautiful music.
13. Super Mario 64 (1996)
Super Mario 64 blew my mind when it first released. Not only were the 3D graphics a completely new way of playing a Mario game, but there are so many things to do and see in the game — so many secrets to uncover. The platforming and graphics haven’t aged all that well, but this is still a defining gaming experience that no other Mario game has topped.
12. Journey (2012)
In my 2012 Game of the Year post, I recalled my experience playing Journey with a completely random stranger. I won’t retell the whole thing here, but it pretty well sums up why Journey is a special game, with a truly unique take on multiplayer. I’ll never forget those moments for the rest of my life.
11. Portal 2 (2011)
After playing the first Portal, I didn’t think we’d even get a second one. But boy I’m glad we did, because the sequel improves on the mechanics in major ways, and introduces another fantastic villain in Wheatley, voiced by the brilliant Stephen Merchant. And heck, J.K. Simmons’ Cave Johnson is a pretty damn good character, too. What a fun game that can make GLaDOS one of the good guys… kind of.