Perfection in art and entertainment is practically impossible to come across. Finding a video game without a single flaw or detractor just isn’t going to happen, though there are a handful of games that have come extremely close. They come from a wide array of genres, platforms and eras. Some of them have held up extremely well over time, while still others have fallen a bit by the wayside as design principles have changed over the years.
By delving through the backlogs of Metacritic, one can find those mythical "almost perfect" games that are seemingly always included in everyone’s "Best Games Ever" lists. These are games that scored a 96 or higher Metascore rating, which is defined as "a weighted average of reviews from top critics and publications." Some familiar faces and franchises appear on there, but there are a dozen or so surprising entries on this list of top dogs.
These are the only near-perfect games out there, according to the rankings on Metacritic.
Grand Theft Auto Double Pack (Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City)
It should surprise no one that Rockstar is going to be a part of any conversation involving the greatest games of all time. The Grand Theft Auto Double Pack is a bit of a cheat since it’s two games, but it makes sense — smash two already great games into one and you’re making magic happen.
The content in this rerelease of Grand Theft Auto 3 and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was nothing new, but the graphics were given a serious once-over to be at their absolute best for the era. Many of the reviews are no longer available, but reading the critic review quotes on Metacritic is eye opening for the joys of yesteryear. 1UP wrote that ensuring you had 480p television capabilities would make for the "prettiest GTA experience you’ll get on a console." Ah, 2003.
At the time, this was the prettiest and most stable version of both these games available, and it isn’t surprising that having the best versions of these two already great games rolled into one release was something to get excited about.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
One of the great gaming bait-and-switches of all time made for one of the PS2’s most memorable games. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty ticked a lot of people off when it released, as Metal Gear Solid fans had no idea they would not be playing as the grizzled protagonist Solid Snake for most of the proceedings. Even though the game got a lot of love, new protagonist Raiden received a lot of ire from fans — though he’s earned back a lot of good will in the time since.
Metal Gear Solid 2 took the exciting stealth gameplay of the original and cranked it up with the power of the PS2. The technological achievements of the game were completely amazing, with websites like Game Chronicles calling it "something that looks as close to real life as it gets on your TV." This was also the entry in the series where Hideo Kojima really got to flex his storytelling muscles to create a memorable narrative.
All told, there aren’t many people who owned a PlayStation 2 and didn’t own Metal Gear Solid 2. It was one of the defining games of the console.
Gran Turismo is one of the oldest games on this list, as it was released for the original PlayStation back in the year 1998. The battle between the disc-based PlayStation and the cartridge-based Nintendo 64 was in full swing, and Gran Turismo helped showcase something that the N64 couldn’t do: total realism. Gran Turismo was like a glimpse into the future, as you could seemingly design every element of your car and take it through photo realistic (for 1998) races.
IGN called it "nothing less than divine." Other reviews lauded the game’s customization, attention to detail and multiple ways to race. About the only knock on the original Gran Turismo was the licensing aspect, which would task you with earning licenses by completing difficult driving tasks prior to entering higher level races. Considering how badly you’d be blown out of races if you couldn’t pass these tests, it’s a rather small knock.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
You knew Link was going to show up on here. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is probably one of the lesser-played titles in the series, simply because it was originally released on the GameCube. It still featured the same great combination of combat, puzzles and exploration that the Legend of Zelda series is known for, however, and also boasted one of the most striking visual styles the series has ever adopted.
The Wind Waker utilized a cel-shaded graphic style to appear as if it were a cartoon come to life, but the game used its exaggerated visuals to tell a deep and emotional story. It also made great use of its beautiful art direction with its sailing sections, where Link would hop on a boat and traverse between islands. Even two decades after The Wind Waker‘s release, it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at.
The Wind Waker may have suffered due to its platform, but it still holds on as one of the strongest entries in a consistently strong series of games. Luckily, an HD remaster was released later on so a wider audience could play the game. It was released, naturally, for the Wii U.
A phrase you often hear tossed around with incredible games is that they "revolutionize the genre." A lot of games on this list could probably claim they achieved this lofty goal, but Half-Life might have the best claim to it. Many other genres have moved past their classic roots, but shooters still get compared to Valve’s darling, even though it was released over two decades ago.
Half-Life follows the voiceless protagonist Gordon Freeman as he battles human and inter-dimensional enemies through the Black Mesa research facility. PCGamer called it "The Big One," IGN called it "the definitive single player game in a first person shooter" and GameSpot said it was "the closest thing to a revolutionary step the genre has ever taken." Not only do memories of Half-Life maintain its legacy, but it does so in an even more tangible way. Counter-Strike, the first major esport and still one of the biggest esports titles in the world, began as a mod of Half-Life.
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
It’s hard to believe that The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim released all the way back in 2011. There have been so many different versions, mods, rereleases, and ports that it would be easy to guess the game "released" just a few years ago. It regularly sits in the top half of Steam’s player count lists, an impressive feat for a decade old game that has no multiplayer to speak of.
Skyrim puts players into the role of the Dragonborn, a legendary warrior with the ability to learn powerful, magical abilities. More importantly than that, it gives aspiring adventurers a playground to run wild in, flexing their role-playing muscles and providing a near limitless way to approach character building and questing. The AV Club summed it up nicely in its review, saying Skyrim helps players "feel like the game is happening to them, and they are alive in it—not just cogs in a pre-fab Game Experience. That’s what sets Skyrim apart from some of its contemporaries." You could argue that this is a concept that every open world game sets out to achieve, but few truly do.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
One of the last major releases for the GameCube was one of its most beloved: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess also released as a launch title for the Wii, and both versions have fans who swear "their" version of the game is the superior one. Most critics tend to agree that the GameCube version is easier to wrap your brain around, as it has a more traditional control scheme.
Twilight Princess saw Link attempting to save Hyrule from becoming overtaken by another dimension called the Twilight Realm. The player could shift back and forth between the two dimensions, and Link could also transform into a powerful wolf for a host of new abilities.
The Legend of Zelda games tend to land in one of two camps: they are either experimental in many of their design choices, or they attempt to perfect elements of past games. Twilight Princess may fall into that latter category. It’s lauded for its dark, engrossing story and cinematic style, and is often compared to other heavy-hitters in the franchise like Ocarina of Time. It may not have taken many big risks, but it absolutely nailed what it set out to do.
Mass Effect 2
The Mass Effect series is frequently heralded as a tremendous bit of modern gaming, and almost any fan of BioWare’s space opera RPG will tell you that Mass Effect 2 is the best entry in the series. You could probably make a strong argument that the reason Mass Effect 3 released to such a negative response was because the second game set the bar far too high.
A lot of story-driven games get knocked because your decisions ultimately don’t affect the outcome beyond the surface level. That is absolutely not the case in Mass Effect 2. The choices you make, the quests you go on throughout the game’s extended runtime, the way you play and the strategic options you choose in the game’s climax can all have huge repercussions on the way things play out. It’s fascinating reading about the different endings people see and which crew members don’t make it out of the final mission alive. Few games truly give you that level of ownership, and it’s hard to think of any that do it as well as Mass Effect 2.
The intricacies and mechanics of every fighting game take a massive amount of skill and practice hours to crack. While games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros. and more all have pro scenes and complex webs of mechanics to master, few major fighting franchises are as complex as Tekken, and few games are as revered in their franchises as much as Tekken 3.
Like any fighting game worth its salt, Tekken 3 had an absolutely bananas storyline involving demons, corporations and, of course, a fighting tournament that determines the fate of the world. More importantly, it has a diverse cast of balanced characters to go along with a deep and impressive combo system and move list. It also looks and feels great. Tekken 2 was a masterpiece as well, and the second and third entries are still considered the best the series ever put on offer. Absolute PlayStation wrote that, as far as consoles are concerned, Tekken 3 is "a ‘better than arcade’ overall game translation here that will truly stand the test of time and perhaps be the best fighter we will ever see released."
Batman: Arkham City
The Arkham franchise helped redefine open world action games and created what many think of as one of the best superhero games of all time in the process. Even Arkham‘s less-than-stellar efforts were a lot of fun to play, but few would argue that Batman: Arkham City is the crowning achievement of the franchise.
Arkham City allowed gamers to truly immerse themselves in the role of the Dark Knight — the rush from swinging among familiar Gotham City landmarks, beating down dozens of foes at once with elaborate (but simple to perform) combos, and taking on a colorful rogue’s gallery was all part of the fun. The big names like Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Mr. Freeze are all here, alongside deeper cuts like Solomon Grundy and Victor Zsasz.
Game Informer called Batman: Arkham City "the best licensed video game ever made," and nearly every review commended it for one-upping its already damn good predecessor, Arkham Asylum, in almost every way.
The Orange Box / Half Life 2
The original Half-Life was heralded as one of the most important games of all time, and its sequel improved upon it in almost every way. Half-Life 2 itself would have been part of this list, but its inclusion in The Orange Box made that a little redundant.
Half-Life 2: Episode One was included here as a bridge to Episode Two, which was first released as part of The Orange Box. It’s probably the weakest of the five included games, though it is still pretty impressive.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two served as the big draw for many gamers with The Orange Box, seeing as this was how the episode debuted. Years and years later, fans are still clamoring for Episode Three.
Team Fortress 2 was one of Valve’s biggest moneymakers, and continues to be one of the most popular shooters in the world.
Finally, Portal made it into the bundle. What seemed like a throwaway tech demo actually proved to be one of the most influential games of all time.
Resident Evil 4
Most gamers who were around in the PS2 era have some memory of Resident Evil 4. The opening action scene, where Leon is attacked by a group of villagers armed with farming equipment (and one seriously pissed off guy with a chainsaw), is one of the most memorable action scenes of all time.
The Resident Evil series was well-loved but a bit fiddly up until this point. A lot of the tension in the original three games derived from the tank-like controls that made quick escapes almost impossible. Resident Evil 4 changed all that, veering into more traditional control territory while still maintaining the tense and terrifying atmosphere. The story is still… nonsensical, in that delightful B-Movie way, but it all adds to the game’s charm. In GameSpot‘s review of the HD re-release, the site discussed how the game "set the benchmark" for the genre on its original release. A few elements are a bit wonky, but RE4 still holds up.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the most surprising entries on this list -– not because it isn’t an incredible game, but because it isn’t typically a franchise that gets mentioned in the all-time greats. That suits the game’s tone just fine. A wild adventure with a compelling multiplayer mode and plenty of opportunities to make your own carnage, Uncharted 2 is a near-perfect adventure that really showcases what the best video games can do.
Eurogamer wrote that "the attention to detail is beyond compare" and called Uncharted 2 an "essential experience." PlayStation Universe called it "quite possibly the best game to have graced the PS3, and without a doubt one of the greatest titles ever conceived." Much of the attention surrounding Among Thieves is that it just feels like an action movie. It’s cinematic, but you always feel in control. It’s a game that lets players live as Indiana Jones and their other favorite adventurers, and that’s reason enough to put it so high on the all-time greats list.
The Nintendo 64 has more than its fair share of nostalgia bombs, but few hold a candle to GoldenEye 007. Part of its hold on the collective gaming consciousness has to do with the fact that some odd licensing disputes have made any sort of rerelease or remaster of GoldenEye dead in the water, so the only way to play it outside of ROMs is in its original Nintendo 64 form.
It can be easy to forget that one of the big draws for the game at the time was the single player mode. GoldenEye 007 did release in 1997, after all. Licensed games were (and still are) often seen as cash grabs, but GoldenEye did a great job of translating aspects of the film into a fun and coherent game. IGN called it "the best single-player first-person game on any system."
What most people remember, however, is the game’s multiplayer. The four person, split-screen experience ate away the hours as players screen-sniped and golden-gunned one another. GoldenEye 007 remains a masterpiece as both a console shooter and a couch-multiplayer legend.
In hindsight, BioShock seems like a surefire hit, but the game was a pretty big risk at the time. An entirely original IP with a strange art style, no multiplayer to speak of and a cerebral storyline about morality and ethics crammed into a first person shooter? It was no sure thing.
Luckily, BioShock was beautifully put together and planned, and its unique creative direction drew people in who were tired of the same old "outer space and World War 2" shooters. Nearly every aspect of BioShock was praised for pushing boundaries and perfect execution. Even if certain things seem a little standard in the modern day, BioShock helped pave the way for elements like combat customization and stealth in combat. The story was also incredible, and the big twist has become the stuff of legend. About the only knock against BioShock is the final boss battle, something that even the game’s designers have said was a mistake.
Back in the day, the rivalry between the Madden and 2K football franchises was intense. Each side had supporters, with Madden often coming out on top due to familiarity and market saturation and, eventually, completely knocking its competitor out of the game. However, purists were often bigger fans of 2K, with NFL 2K1 often being highlighted as the franchise at its absolute best.
2K1 improved on the previous year’s also stellar entry by introducing some major improvements, including better animations and artificial intelligence as well as totally revamping the running game. NFL 2K1 also introduced one of the most important gaming features of all time: online multiplayer. It was the first sports game that let you find opponents online, something that’s tough to imagine any competitive game going without in the present day.
Eventually, the juggernaut of Madden and EA was too much to compete against. Even with a superior product and a lower price point, the NFL 2K series disappeared just a few years later.
Halo: Combat Evolved
The Xbox had the specs when it hit the scene in November 2001 to compete with the heavy hitters, but it needed something extra to make a mark against the vast catalog of IPs in Sony and Nintendo’s stables. It had just the thing in Master Chief and Halo: Combat Evolved.
Halo was a sci-fi shooter that captured so many of the best elements of the games before it. It featured an incredible single-player campaign full of cinematic missions and an epic storyline. It had memorable characters and graphics that made it stand out as a must-see video game. On top of all that, it had near limitless gameplay due to its intense multiplayer options, giving players all sorts of ways to have late night frag sessions and white-knuckle competitive matches. It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that Microsoft’s console foray may not have found its footing if it weren’t for Halo: Combat Evolved.
Super Mario Odyssey
It’s about time the world’s most famous plumber made the list, and you could probably pick from about a dozen entries in this incredibly long-lived series as the "best" and make a compelling case. Super Mario Odyssey for the Nintendo Switch towers above them all, making perfect use of the hardware to combine all the best aspects of past Mario games. If you’ve got a Switch and haven’t played it, you’re missing out.
Super Mario Odyssey‘s central sticking point is Cappy, a sentient piece of headwear that gives Mario the ability to take control of enemies and use their special abilities. This capability makes for a seemingly infinite number of fun and hilarious combinations to solve the game’s puzzles, and it’s extremely easy to just get lost in messing around with the different abilities at your disposal.
Super Mario Odyssey just captures something magical that the best Nintendo games typically do. Fandom‘s review called it "one of Nintendo’s greatest gaming achievements ever." That’s some pretty high praise for the legendary studio.
It’s a shame the GameCube didn’t sell better, as it housed a few absolutely incredible games during its lifespan. About a year after the console’s original release, it saw one of its best ever, and a welcome return to form for a Nintendo legend: Metroid Prime.
Metroid Prime showed that the legendary Samus Aran could do a first person shooter just as well as she could do a side-scrolling platformer, and marked the first game in the series in nearly a decade. Metroid Prime didn’t miss a beat though, and helped showcase just how powerful the GameCube hardware was with its impressive visuals and expansive world to explore.
Metroid Prime is praised on almost every level for its design, mechanics and storytelling. IGN‘s review of the game called it a "must-have masterpiece" and said it was the new "show horse that all forthcoming adventure titles will be judged by." Fans have seen other Metroid games since, but few have reached the highs the first Metroid Prime game maintained throughout its runtime.
GoldenEye 007 was a tough game to follow-up, but Rare outdid itself with its spiritual successor, Perfect Dark. Anyone who spent hours in the world of James Bond would feel right at home in the world of Joanna Dark, and the additions it made to the already great existing formula helped solidify Perfect Dark as one of the Nintendo 64’s crowning achievements.
There is just so much good in Perfect Dark that it’s tough to focus on specific elements. GoldenEye‘s multiplayer came back better than ever, with a huge array of weapons and modes, ingenious level design and even AI controlled bots. The single-player story weaved a cheesy and engrossing sci-fi yarn (complete with an alien buddy named Elvis). And the graphics were great (at the time) and still have charm today.
Almost every review of Perfect Dark features some variation of "Like GoldenEye 007, but better in every way." That’s certainly praise enough to land it on the list of all-time greats.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
There are a substantial number of games from The Legend of Zelda series that are considered "near perfect," and the latest is no exception. After Nintendo squandered a bit of its goodwill towards gamers with the confusing marketing approach to the Wii U, the Nintendo Switch was the company’s chance to get back in the game. Luckily, there was a launch day game worthy of some hype: the absolutely breathtaking The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Wired UK called it "Zelda by way of Skyrim," and reviews praised Breath of the Wild for nailing mechanics from other open world games, but also being willing to experiment and take chances. Breath of the Wild really is unlike any other game in the franchise before it, and most of the criticisms of the game are minimal and nitpicky. Breath of the Wild is one of those games that everyone who owns a Nintendo Switch should have a go at.
Grand Theft Auto 5
Ever since the series was reinvented with its third installment, the Grand Theft Auto franchise has reigned as one of the most popular in all of gaming. The most recent release, Grand Theft Auto 5, executes almost everything the series is known for perfectly. It’s equal parts crime simulator, life simulator and incredible tech demo, and it’s one of the few games out there where you can have as much or more fun doing whatever you want than doing what the game sets in front of you.
At the time of its release, IGN said of GTA5: "It represents a refinement of everything that GTA IV brought to the table five years ago. It’s technically more accomplished in every conceivable way, but it’s also tremendously ambitious in its own right." The three-pronged approach to the story, featuring wildly different protagonists; the incredible attention to detail; and the sheer amount of stuff hidden out there in the world all make it hard to load up GTA5 and not get a smile on your face.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Gather ’round the campfire, cowboy, and listen to the tale of Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde Gang. The release of Red Dead Redemption 2 was one of the most anticipated game releases of recent memory, and a lot of people weren’t sure it could live up to the hype and high bar set by the previous title. Rockstar Games delivered far above most peoples’ expectations, with one of the best examples of open world gameplay seen to date.
Like Rockstar’s other big series, Grand Theft Auto, part of what makes RDR2 so incredible is how alive the world feels. Riding your horse through the wilderness, it seems like you’re just a tiny part of a living, breathing universe and that you might stumble across something new at any moment. It’s one of those games that is greater than the sum of its parts, and truly stands as an "experience" that everyone interested in gaming should have.
IGN praised the methodical nature of RDR2, calling its pace and world building "extraordinary." Saddle up with this one if you haven’t already.
Super Mario Galaxy
Nintendo has often taken some bold leaps in introducing new mechanics to its flagship IP, and Super Mario Galaxy was one of its biggest yet. It essentially took the formula set by Super Mario 64 and perfected it for the motion control scheme of the Wii. The game still stands as one of the most innovative and best uses of the console’s hardware ever released.
Super Mario Galaxy just presses all the right buttons. It’s a game that Destructoid gushed over by saying "This is the first game on the Wii that I can recommend without hesitation to gamers of any stock, from any background — a truly must-own title." That same review concluded by saying SMG "improves upon flaws in Mario 64 that I hadn’t even noticed until, y’know, Galaxy did it better." If you’re lucky enough to have a Wii or Wii U sitting around — or if you managed to grab Super Mario 3D All-Stars for Switch before it disappeared — this is definitely a game you should play.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
The Eurogamer review of Super Mario Galaxy 2 (which released in 2011) starts with a fascinating bit of information: "Nintendo hasn’t released a straight-up sequel to a Super Mario game in almost two decades." It speaks to how frequently Nintendo tries to stretch the boundaries with its red-capped mascot, and it also shows just how imaginative the original Super Mario Galaxy was — that it contained enough new ideas to spawn a follow-up. Eurogamer also writes that the challenge in creating such a sequel is nearly impossible, but "not long into the new game, you know Nintendo’s Tokyo studio has risen to it."
Super Mario Galaxy 2 isn’t particularly innovative, but it’s another of those "just plain fun" games where you can’t really describe what makes it so good. It takes the already impressive gameplay of the previous game and makes it even better. Destructoid even calls it the best Mario game ever.
When fighting game fans talk about their favorite franchises, you’ll probably hear names like Street Fighter, Tekken and Mortal Kombat get tossed around the most. However, the highest-rated fighting game on Metacritic actually comes from a different franchise: SoulCalibur.
Though SoulCalibur is not the original game in the franchise (that would be Soul Edge), it was the first to get a major release and was one of the heaviest hitters in the early lineup of the Sega Dreamcast. The franchise has had some strong releases since this game hit the Dreamcast in 1999, but none have been quite so impactful. It truly showcased the Dreamcast’s hardware in a magnificent way, as nearly every review of the game touched on how incredible it looked at the time. It was largely seen as the best reason to own a Sega Dreamcast, and continues to hold up as one of the finest examples of a 3D fighter ever released.
Grand Theft Auto 4
All kidding aside, GTA4 could probably stake a claim as one of the most influential games of all time. Liberty City and Vice City were impressive in the previous games, but returning to Liberty City in GTA4 was, quite literally, a whole new world. It no longer had the illusion of being a true world you plopped into, but it actually was. Every NPC seemingly had an agenda, and there is such a huge variety of things to do that you could put hundreds of hours into GTA4 and still discover new things along the way. On top of all that, GTA4 also implemented several multiplayer modes that, while not quite as extensive as what’s now seen in GTA Online, surely paved the way for what the series would become.
GameSpot‘s review of GTA4 summed it up nicely: "Grand Theft Auto IV is a game that you simply have to play." Just try your best to ignore Roman.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
There is a certain subset of gamers who, when reading anything about the Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchise, will immediately start humming or singing. Chances are, that song comes from the soundtrack of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, universally viewed as the high point of the series.
The first Pro Skater game laid the groundwork and capitalized on the rising popularity of extreme sports to make for a memorable romp through some wild skate parks. However, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 raised the bar by a huge margin, creating one of the closest examples to "perfection" the world has ever seen in gaming. THPS2 is the highest rated game ever released for the PlayStation – an absolutely incredible feat when you remember just how many revolutionary games came out for the console.
THPS2 was so good that it got packaged together with the first game twenty years after its release, and that bundle became the fastest-selling game in franchise history.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Metacritic‘s records go back over two decades, and tens of thousands of video game reviews run through its ranking system. Only one game on the entire website has a 99 rating: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The Nintendo 64 was home to several reinventions of classic franchises, but Ocarina of Time stands out as the true masterpiece of N64’s library.
The hype surrounding Ocarina of Time, or "Zelda 64" as it was often referred to, was immense. And yet, somehow, it delivered and exceeded almost everything gamers were hoping for. In the IGN review for Ocarina of Time, the site wrote: "When the final version of Zelda 64 arrived in the IGN64 offices, we stopped working, locked ourselves into a room with a big-screen TV and a surround system and played 17 hours straight. After only a few hours of sleep, we were back for more and we couldn’t stop until we finished the game. Then, we started over again to find all the secrets."
There is almost no fault to be found in Ocarina of Time, and it sets an incredibly high bar for the genre to this day. It’s practically perfect, and thus stands alone atop the list.