Did you even need to ask? I keep a top x list, partially commented. Because of course I do. Last updated at the end of last year:
1. Deus Ex
Of course this is still the greatest game in the world. Deus Ex still shows off the potential that games have to meld story and gameplay, to offer freedom of choice in mechanical as well as narrative terms, and to imbue the player's actions (and inaction) with consequence. It is a game which rewards exploration with more than just perks or 'achievements', a game which respects the player enough to allow them to act how they want, and not restrict their choices through scripting in order to offer a 'cinematic experience'. The graphics were shonky, the voice acting off kilter, but by allowing the player to express themselves Deus Ex also allowed them to truly immerse themselves in the world. It may be all 1990s conspiracy theories and sunglasses at midnight, but for all its tropes Deus Ex pulls the player in like no other.
There remains no game quite like it, none that has taken its mantle: the sequels sought to control things too much, reduced the game down to something more manageable, less interesting, and nobody else seemed to want to make the effort to make such a complex, cross-genre game. So it goes.
Pretty much the opposite of Deus Ex, Rez is a highly constrained, focussed work of videoaural delight. Not, strictly speaking, a rhythm-action game, it nevertheless hits the same buttons as that genre, keying the player in to the sounds of the game as they shoot enemies to the beat and lose themselves in wireframe universes.
Maybe an hour long from start to finish, even without the various extra modes and remixes unlocked the game would remain essential - an immersive, interactive album to tune in and zone out to. Whether you're travelling through the calm void of an opening level, desparately evading a giant, running man made of flat-shaded tiles, or experiencing the birth of the Earth in gradually-evolving graphical styles, the game is never less than captivating. It's also unusual in that, alone of the titles in my list, this is a game that doesn't have any feeling of unfulfilled potential, no regret that it never saw a sequel, never spawned a series of games to evolve its ideas. Quite simply, it's perfectly-formed: the visual design is so strong, so tied into the hardware it was made for that there's nothing in it waiting for an upgrade in technology to improve it; the gameplay, visuals and sound are perfectly keyed, with nowhere to go but down in terms of their synchronisation. Rez is perfect as it is, achieving everything it set out to do, and so remains, and will remain, as fresh as it was on the day of release.
Just an incredible experience.
Still the best pure shooter ever made. Still the most satisfying enemy AI in an action game. Still the most enjoyable local multiplayer FPS. The only disappointing thing about Halo: Combat Evolved is that no fucker registered just what was the most important part of its evolution, least of all its developers who put out a series of disappointing sequels before sodding off and producing a disappointing spiritual follow-up instead. Bah. But enough of that. Halo was a revelation at release - Goldeneye had shown that console FPS's were viable; Halo showed that they could be incredible.
Enjoyable on Normal, the game opened up into something altogether more satisfying on Heroic, and Legendary formed the basis for the greatest co-op adventure ever played. The enemy AI, though essentially simple, has yet to be bettered (in combination with the levels, carefully designed around it) in allowing you to enjoy dynamic battles that were not only different every time, but felt like you could honestly be playing against human opponents - opponents who could work together, panic, predict your actions, be tricked, lose track of you, and generally make all of the mistakes, and all of the brilliant leaps of logic, that a human would. No other game, before or since, has managed the same.
4. Little Big Adventure 2
Little Big Adventure 2 represents the absolute apex of what Zelda-like games have yet achieved. A huge game filled with unusual places to explore, interesting people to meet; a world which tasks you with gradually unlocking a small set of abilities, while crafting ever-more-complex situations for you to use them in order to solve actually-challenging puzzles. A story that's more than just a byline to the events unfolding. Gorgeous graphics for the time, that manage still to be pleasing on the eye - not bad for a game from 1997 - accompanied by a brilliant soundtrack.
It was balls hard, never afraid to be alien, and made ever inch gained, every new area found, an absolute delight. It was also the Frenchest fucking game you ever played.* I would buy an HD remake - or, hell, a remake with a more modern control scheme - in an instant. God, but I miss Adeline Software.
*tied with Captain Blood
5. Day of the Tentacle
The absolute best adventure game ever made. Bar none. Day of the Tentacle manages that incredibly rare thing in an adventure: it manages to be both brilliantly written, and filled with mind-bending but fair puzzles.
The characters are pitch-perfect; the comedy always hits its mark; the graphics haven't aged a day - a genuinely astonishing feat for a game now a quarter of a century old; the voice-acting puts most modern games to shame (did I mention the game is twenty-five?); the time-bending, character-swapping puzzles have yet to be bested; I only wish that Day of the Tentacle - a sequel itself - had received a follow-up. I would love to explore The Mansion on a new adventure, just one more time!
6. Rock Band 3
The ultimate party game. There's really not much else to say. Just brilliant with large groups, with players passing the mic/guitar/drums/keyboard in a constant flow of merriment and noise, perfect to dip into and out of for as long as you liked, allowing for casual conversation and serious gaming as the audience wants.
7. Persona 4: Golden
The little* JRPG that could. A genre I thought I would never get on with - some games had come close (Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star, Lost Odyssey) but even the best writing, most enjoyable stories, most enticing worlds to explore were ruined by the random battles, the grinding seemingly essential to the genre.
And then Persona 4: Golden appears, and blows those issues out of the water. Instead of grinding mindlessly between dungeons, here you get to drive your character's social life, affecting both their home life and their performance in battle as their social ties influence their world. Here we have a story that isn't about saving the world, or uncovering conspiracies, or other Big Significant Events, but instead about protecting a small town from a murderer, while helping your friends to get over their personal demons.
And let's focus on that last part a little more: here's a game whose main moral message isn't that Might Makes Right, or that Tyrants Must Fall, or any variants on the typical Hero Saves The World fare, but rather that nobody is perfect, and that acknowledging the parts of ourselves that we don't like and learning to work with them is crucial to help us move on and improve as people. When was the last time you played a game that tried to touch on a theme like that?
Just an incredibly impressive game. The yellow colour scheme and snazzy music are pretty neat too.
*not so little
8. Shenmue II
Ah, man, another game filled with regret over things that will never be. For most it's the lack of closure, the fact that we never got to find out the full story behind Lan Di, never got to avenge Ryo's father, never managed to get Ryo to realise that he was deep in the closet. But for me, that was a sideshow: the story was pretty generic, if well told, but what made Shenmue II (and its predecessor) so special were the incredible worlds they built to explore; towns and cities that were alive in ways that no open-world games since have even begun to approach.
In this respect, despite the massive differences in genre and ambitions, the Shenmues most remind me of the original Deus Ex - both filled with landscapes that feel real, and where your actions feel accordingly real too: no cartoonish crime sprees, no acts of unbelievable violence, rather these are worlds where you find yourself roleplaying an actual character - partly through built in limitations (there's a reason you aren't given the option to start fights as Ryo, a reason that as JC Denton you are never raised too far above the capabilities of a human), and partly through the coercion of the world around you. I doubt I'll ever explore a virtual townscape as well realised as the Shenmues' Yokosuka or Hong Kong, and that's a crying shame. But at least, when the urge takes me, I can go back to my Dreamcast and explore them once again.
9. Fallout 2 A little clunky in execution generally, its interface issues are forgiven thanks to the wonderful SPECIAL system used to build your character, and the way the game and the world react to it. Whether approaching the world as a cool, scientific gunslinger; a blind, charismatic martial artist; or even a well-meaning, thuggish character with so low intelligence that you can't string words together; you'll find that the world acknowledges you for what you are and treats you accordingly. And don't expect a kind, understanding world - nuclear war has been and gone, and what's left isn't all that forgiving.
Elevate or destroy various factions; leave cities as thriving hubs of understanding or hollow wastelands; support the law or backup the crimelords: choices come at you thick and fast, and you'll never find yourself simply following along with the story.
Fallout 2 remains a masterclass in RPG design; look past its archaic control scheme and you won't be disappointed.
10. Thief 2
The greatest stealth game ever made. I'm not sure what else to say.
Incredible, expansive, believable level design. A game where sound matters as sight. A stealth game that believes in letting the player choose their approach. A game whose difficulty settings don't just make guards 'cleverer', but rather changes your objectives - at the highest levels not allowing you to kill while also forcing you to go out of your way to clear every level of virtually all its valuables. Thief II is, quite simply, the stealth game fan's stealth game.
11. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan
Oh, man. Gitaroo Man was quite the thing, but this is the pinnacle of single-player rhythm-action games to date.
Just a glorious use of the DS's unique features, the combination of frantic hand-eye-and-ear coordination going on in the bottom screen while ridiculous, frenzied antics go on at the top was just perfect. The fact that the music was ace, and that it, along with the storylines, were made more entertainingly exotic by the whole thing being Japanese, just added to the joy. A glorious, hilarious game, with one excellent sequel and a decent western spin-off, it's incredibly sad that the franchise died with the DS, and its developer sunk into shovelware obscurity. Oh, iNiS, what happened to you?
12. Phantasy Star Online
I hate online multiplayer. Can't stand it - the strangers, the awkward voice/keyboard chat, the lack of cohesion, the focus on competition over fun… I hate online multiplayer, except for this.
Step 1: have all communication constructed of basic verbs, nouns and emotes Step 2: thanks to said communication system, allow players from all around the world to play together Step 3: make large, peaceful hubs the centre of the game, and make all gameplay co-operative Step 4: make the combat timing-based, make your worlds colourful and fun to explore, dust with a sci-fi theme and score with a sumptuous soundtrack Let simmer for a year or two, then serve, and you'll have the one online multiplayer game that I've truly loved.
13. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
14. Valkyria Chronicles
A great strategy game with brilliantly designed levels, an innovative set of mechanics by which the game is played (mixing turn-based, command-point based strategy with real-time, third-person action elements), and a story which actually manages to be pretty compelling despite being Peak Anime at the best of times. And that art-style, man!
Valve done good! Excellent writing, a decent story, great puzzles, fun core mechanic, great setting, perfect length - after the shitshow of the overwrought, purple-prose filled, shitty-combat-filled series of games that made their name, I can honestly say I never saw Portal coming. A fantastic game, from an unlikely source (pun most definitely not intended).
16. System Shock 2
Or: Ken Levine, the before he turned out to be a bit shit years.
The greatest horror game I've had the pleasure to never finish because of sheer terror, System Shock 2 is just a masterpiece of level design and, along with the original System Shock and Deus Ex, is largely responsible for modern games' weird fascination with leaving notebooks and datapads everywhere to tell their stories for them.
Only, unlike the majority of the games so inspired (including Irrational Games' own Bioshock series), in the System Shocks they actually make sense, and are carefully placed and used in ways that fit perfectly with the (terrifying, collapsing) world around you. One terrible ending aside (yes, I did look it up once I'd given up on finishing the game without going into cardiac arrest), System Shock 2 remains an incredible piece of world (well, ship) building, carefully feeding the player its story through dialog, notes and the very world itself. Much is made of Half-Life's mastery of the "play, don't tell" approach in games, but it's System Shock 2 that really nailed it.
17. Full Throttle
The second-best adventure game of all time, and another one with Tim Schafer's paw prints all over it. The puzzles aren't quite up to Day of the Tentacle's standard, and the action game segments were… misguided at best, but the writing is pin-sharp, the story deeply compelling, and the characters brilliantly written - not least the secondary female character who manages that rare feat of being close friend and ally to the main character without being a romantic interest, and who merrily subverts the damsel in distress plot device. Couple that with voice acting that is second-to-none and a kick-arse soundtrack and you've got one hell of an adventure game.
18. Super Metroid
Intelligent Design may be best known as the developers of Advance Wars and Fire Emblem, but you'd do well to remember their involvement in the creation of Nintendo's crowning achievement. Travelling back and forth through the ever-expanding corridors of a scientific research colony as it gradually succumbs to new and more menacing dangers, gradually increasing your power but never losing your sense of isolation, Super Metroid is the perfect adaptation of Alien's ambient horror transposed into a 16-bit-game-friendly design. It helps that the art design and music still hold up to this day, of course
19. Beyond Good & Evil
20. Planescape: Torment
If you're very lucky I might post the rest of my top, er, 112 games of all time when I'm home with access to the full list. Your breaths are surely bated