15: BioShock (X360, 2007)
Sure, we had seen multi-branching game stories before. We’d played through games with compelling stories before. I think there might even have been a game vistas of retro architecture in beautiful decay. But I challenge you to find a first person shooter made before 2007 that explored philosophical themes such as Ayn Rand’s Objectivism in such depth. Or at such depths.
BioShock was the game that taught us about philosophy, it showed us what kind of people we were, and it single-handedly popularised the use of the somewhat abstruse biological term plasmid.
If you haven’t played through BioShock and were wondering what all the fuss was about, Rand described Objectivism as "a philosophy for living on Earth that was grounded in reality, and aimed at defining human nature and the nature of the world in which we live." Happy to help.
14: Elite (BBC Micro, 1984)
The space exploration and trading game that inspired an entire genre. Or multiple genres. Effectively the first open world ‘sandbox’ game it also sparked the idea for MMORPGs such as Eve Online.
Elite is a masterpiece of coding, hand-crafted by David Braben and Ian Bell to fit inside an almost comically small memory footprint. The UK punches well above its weight in the world of videogame design — despite meagre encouragement from government — and that success can be at least in part ascribed to the success of games such as Elite showing the way.
And maybe, one day, Elite will return…
13: Final Fantasy VII (PS1, 1997)
You need to be a lot more than just pretty to make this list. In fact I can think of at least one example that’s downright ugly. But there is a level of graphical and musical excellence that can raise the bar for everything that comes afterwards. And Final Fantasy VII did that.
The series found its early popularity in Japan and Korea but by its seventh instalment , it was the hottest RPG of its day worldwide. That success was driven partly by its story, partly by its memorable characters but largely, it has to be said, by its utterly ravishing visuals. You need to be a lot more than just pretty to make this list, but when you’re that pretty, no-one’s going to refuse you a slot.
12: Football Manager 2005 (PC, 2004)
There are plenty of games that simulate real-world activities we might never hope to actually enjoy. We’ve already touched on the Underground driver sim but there’s a sim for practically everything: Fighter planes, submarines, rollercoasters, tractors: pretty much anything you can think of.
But the sheer nerdy depth and detail of Football Manager kicks the simulation game into another dimension. Azerbaijani student Vugar Huseynzade actually scored a job managing FC Baku’s reserve team because he was so good at Football Manager. No matter how good I get at Myth II, no-one’s going to offer me the leadership of a huge Dungeon & Dragons-style army. Football Manager, among the myriad sports games out there, might be the first one that you can put on your CV.
11: Grand Theft Auto III (PS2, 2001)
Before Grand Theft Auto III, games tended to be oppressively linear. Ask any Call Of Duty player today and they’ll tell you they still are. GTA III introduced the ‘go anywhere, do anything’ sandbox game to the masses. Its success came with a fair chunk of controversy. The amoral world of Liberty City was a brutal place, and commentators worried about the influence of some of the more questionable side missions on impressionable young minds.
If anything, the outcry helped sales, and GTA III was one of the biggest commercial hits in the Playstation 2 armoury.
Its depth and replayability, especially as GTA III introduced unlimited respawns to the series, meant that players could be lost in Liberty City for weeks, even months. The Rockstar North game was widely imitated. Some of the copycats themselves became huge hits; Red Dead Redemption is GTA III in the Wild West, Batman Arkham City is GTA III in a cape. From a purely personal perspective, they’re both better games. But they couldn’t have existed without Grand Theft Auto III.