Why It’s Great: If horror films have taught us anything, it’s that children are frightening. From The Omen’s Damien all the way to the infamous girl from The Ring, the idea of innocence corrupted has garnered plenty of screams from audiences worldwide. Enter Alma, a sociopathic psychic that makes the Children of the Corn look like the Cabbage Patch Kids. With astonishing graphics and blistering shootouts, F.E.A.R. fired on all cylinders, featuring some of the smartest AI seen in an FPS as well as an incredibly cool bullet-time ability that is guaranteed to make you feel like a one-man-army. Set all of this in one of the creepiest atmospheres this side of The Shining, and you have yourself one hell of a game. Literally.
#9: System Shock II
Why It’s Great: The sequel to the stellar System Shock (and precusor to BioShock) was groundbreaking in more ways than we can count. This is a survival-horror game for the hardcore horror junkie. From the game’s skin-crawling storyline (a race of alien parasites slaughter the crew of a cutting-edge space vessel), to the manipulative and utterly indifferent “ally,” to its unbelievably bone-chilling audio design, System Shock II is one of the most immersive games ever designed. The sole survivor of the faster-than-light Von Braun military starship, you battled deformed humans, psionic lab chimpanzees, and unspeakable cyborg half-breeds with wrench (and pistol) in hand. In the end, though, the ultimate brilliance of System Shock II revolves around its devious plot twists. Not everything is quite as it first seems.
#8: Halo 3
Why It’s Great: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: you’re sitting around your house/apartment/dorm-room, buzzed up on Red Bull/booze/Dr. Pepper, the clock behind you reading 3:00/4:00/5:00 AM as your buddy sitting right next to you suddenly screams a satisfying HEAD SHOT! directly into your ear. The Halo series has been one phenomenon after the other, with some of the most highly-regarded (and utterly addictive) multiplayer gameplay offered to date. With ground-breaking visuals, fantastic map design, and an amazing assortment of vehicles to pilot, it’s no surprise that even with wave after wave of shiny new FPS titles releasing for every system known to man, Halo is still the gamers’ choice. Halo 3 proved to be more of a refinement than a re-invention, but over a year after its launch it’s still the most-played game on Xbox Live.
#7: Duke Nukem 3D
Why It’s Great: Take equal parts Ash from the Evil Dead films and Rowdy Roddy Piper from the cult classic They Live, sprinkle a myriad of pop culture references layered with clever puzzles and fast-paced gameplay, and you’ve got Duke Nukem 3D in all its glory. This game, for its time, was revelatory because it imbued its environments with never-before-seen levels of interactivity. We’re talking functional mirrors (“Damn I’m looking good”), functional toilets (“Oooh…much better”), and more movie references than any game before or since. The graphics haven’t aged particularly well, but the gameplay and interactivity are still unmatched.
#6: Quake II
Why It’s Great: The first Quake was a muddled affair, a hodgepodge of disparate design elements and simplistic, Doom-styled combat. Quake II turned that formula on its head by crafting a believable, integrated world. You no longer blasted random monsters in non-descript brown castles; in Quake II, the storyline pitted the human race against an overwhelming assault by a race of cannibalistic cyborgs. Though the single-player game was fun, Quake II’s true legacy was its visionary approach to online gaming: gamers cross-country rushed home from school or work to boot up Quake II on their high-end 56k modem. With a wide array of mods, maps, clans and user-generated content, Quake II was the multiplayer template that helped later forge online-focused games such as Halo and Gears of War.
#5: Doom II
Why It’s Great: When a game tells you to leap head first into the depths of Hell, guns blazing, you don’t ask questions; you point your BFG-9000 at the closest Cacodemon and let ‘er rip. Revolutionary for its time, and still an absolute blast to play to this day, Doom II set new standards for what to expect from a shooter, not to mention helping pave the way for the FPS genre in general. A wide assortment of colorful weapons (including the notorious double-barreled shotgun) and an even wider selection of demonic enemies made this trip to the afterlife worth taking, and gave gamers the perfect excuse to scream “See you in Hell! before blasting a Spectre’s head off.
#4: GoldenEye 007
Why It’s Great: Who doesn’t remember crowding around a television in the dark, eyes red and drooping from exhaustion, hands aching and cramped around a Nintendo 64 controller as you mutter to your friends, “One more round!” GoldenEye was a simply exquisite title on all fronts and is still regarded as a crowning achievement in multiplayer gaming. From races through deserted military barracks in search of the prestigious Golden Gun to simply arguing over who got to play as Oddjob, GoldenEye had a winning formula on all fronts that has yet to be matched by any other FPS. Without Goldeneye, Halo simply wouldn’t exist.
Why It’s Great: A collective gasp spread throughout the gaming community the first time casual gamers and jaded critics alike first laid eyes on the underwater dystopia of Rapture. Featuring one of the most engaging premises in a video game to date, BioShock was more of an experience than it was a game. With smart, scary gameplay and a refreshingly mature storyline, BioShock also marked a significant turning point in the video game industry, tearing asunder any stereotypes that this was a children’s medium or a passing mainstream fad. BioShock gave its players an amazing amount of freedom regarding how they were experience the world of Rapture, from blasting enemies with powerful genetic abilities to hacking turrets and security bots, it was evident from the start that there was no one way to play BioShock. Truly a modern classic.
Why It’s Great: Modern Warfare grabbed the hearts and minds of gamers worldwide in late 2007, becoming a bonafide phenomenon almost overnight. Updating the already prestigious Call of Duty series with a new modern setting, Call of Duty 4 pumped vitality into both its single-player campaign and its pulse-pounding multiplayer modes. A combination of new RPG-styled Perk abilities, weapon upgrades, and ultra-tight controls make Call of Duty 4 a modern-day legend.
#1: Half-Life 2
Why It’s Great: Rise and shine, Mister Freeman& Wake up and smell the ashes. It’s tough to find a game more spell-binding than Half-Life 2. From the moment you find yourself riding that train into the dystopian future of City 17 to the instance good ol’ Barney tosses you your trademark crowbar, gamers everywhere knew that they were in for one hell of a ride. With unmatched in-game cinematics and a memorable cast of allies and villains, Half-Life 2 was an experience more than it was a game.