When we were kids, it felt like video games experimented more and took daring risks. Whether it was the next step in visual fidelity or complex narrative storytelling, games constantly saw innovation.
While most classics are elevated in status because of nostalgia, some propelled the industry forward. Check out this list of genre-defining video games that more than hold up to this day. We’ll include titles that are at least fifteen years old to keep things fresh.
1. Bioshock (2007)
Initially, players expected Bioshock to be a typical first-person shooter with horror elements. What they got was a masterclass in world-building and exploration.
Bioshock takes players to an underwater city as dangerous as its beautiful named Rapture. Even today, this game’s narrative is hailed for its unpredictable storyline and twists.
2. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
The release of Modern Warfare was the turning point for first-person shooters. Never before had a game felt this true to life in visuals and gameplay.
The single-player campaign featured genre-defining missions that developers still try to recreate today. The multiplayer laid the base for future titles, and players had a blast with it.
3. Half-Life 2 (2004)
Half-Life 2 is a game that implemented innovative ideas for its time. A state-of-the-art physics system and gameplay elements that incorporate it made this game incredibly fun.
The narrative was one of the strongest of its time. Valve created a world ruled by the Combine that was exciting to explore and filled to the brim with lore. Arguably, the best part of the game was the Gravity Gun. You could magnetically pick up objects and propel them at enemies!
4. Command and Conquer: Generals (2003)
You can’t mention real-time strategy gaming without respecting Command and Conquer: Generals. Even today, this game has a thriving community focused on adding to the game via user-created mods.
Real-time modern strategy games were few and far between at Generals’ release. The game launched with simple mechanics that were easy to learn yet difficult to master. The bottom line is that Generals provides players with hours upon hours of content before it even begins to get stale.
5. Star Wars: Battlefront II (2005)
Multiplayer sandbox combat across land and air on foot and in several vehicles? That sounded too good to be true until the release of Battlefront II.
Jaw-dropping visuals and unscripted battles made this game incredibly fun to play. The level design allowed late-match comebacks and added a layer of unpredictability. Each match was different than the last.
6. Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
Shadow of the Colossus promised players a seemingly lonely open world to explore, taking down humongous colossals. Players did not expect how monumental the game would be for the coming years.
Several years after release, players keep returning to the game to find one more secret hidden in the world. Every boss fight was different, and figuring out how to take down each beast was part of the fun. The world as a whole and the beasts within display a sense of scale unparalleled by even the most recent titles.
7. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
San Andreas pushed the limits of what was possible within open-world games. Rockstar set new standards for artificial intelligence, level design, and world detail.
San Andreas is still remembered for its exciting missions, fleshed-out characters, and detailed world. With this game, players wreaked havoc on a walking, breathing city.
8. Far Cry 2 (2008)
While it’s known for its arcade-like shooter gameplay today, Far Cry focused on survival action back then. This game concentrated on immersive elements such as weapon degradation and disease.
Players had to strategize combat encounters and exploration to survive. Going all-out guns blazing wasn’t always the best option. There was always the chance that weapons could jam. Even today, the dynamic fire-spreading physics system stands out.
9. Mass Effect (2007)
In an era where Star Wars was everyone’s favorite science fiction movie, Mass Effect capitalized greatly. A universe filled with lore, detail, and open-ended gameplay cemented this game as one of the best.
Put simply, this game allowed players to role-play in a galactic-scale sandbox. Players had to make difficult choices, choose paths to take, and directly influence the flow of the narrative and combat. It doesn’t get better than that when it comes to role-playing games.
10. Tekken 5 (2004)
Tekken 5 was arguably the most influential arcade fighter of its generation. High-quality cutscenes and solid controls solidified its status in the arcade fighting community.
By far, the best part about the game was the characters. Each character had their own move set to perfect and individual storylines. The game offered several hours of quality content.
11. Battlefield 2 (2005)
Battlefield elevated the popularity of sandbox modern combat shooters. Players must engage in combat across a large map on foot or various battle vehicles.
Battlefield 2 has fluid controls whether you’re battling on foot or in any vehicle. The ragdoll physics meant hilarity ensued in each multiplayer match. The varied sound design of the weapons and vehicles was nothing short of impressive.
12. Burnout Paradise (2008)
Racing cars at high speeds while a fantastic soundtrack plays in the background? It doesn’t get better than that. Fortunately, for racing fans, Burnout Paradise featured just that.
In this game, players unlocked and furthered their reputation in Paradise City. There was a plethora of vehicles to unlock, both premium and janky. Players could use these vehicles in events ranging from standard races to surviving onslaughts and timed levels.