Hey, I'm Mike, the video games editor here at VICE. We've probably not met IRL, and likely never will, but hey, thanks for clicking your way to this page. I appreciate it.
Now, you might not know this, but VICE was founded in 1994. A lot of video games have come out since then. Shit loads. Most of them have been okay, tolerable, even decent in places; and some of them have been irredeemably shit. Others, a select few, have been indispensable, the games that everyone should have played. And because VICE is 21, here are 21 of those games, presented in no particular order, based on several weeks of conversations with VICE Gaming contributors and the in-house editorial team, tweets from readers, and real headaches. Maybe you've played a bunch of them and this is a nice nostalgic kick for you. Maybe you've not played a single one. But I'm going to keep this short, and let your own curiosity carry you into deeper discovery.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 (2000, multi-platform)
Didn't matter if you could skate for real or not, five minutes with this and you were fully fluent in the language of the sport: the varial heelflip, the indy nosebone, the pop shove-it, the manual, and the rocket air. Okay, maybe more like 15 minutes. And even then you didn't always know how you were doing the moves, and you sure as shit weren't always landing them. But anyway: what a game. Fluid controls (once you had them committed to memory), quick-session gameplay (making it ideal for pad-swapping between mates), and a memorable soundtrack (how many albums did Styles of Beyond sell off the back of this?) made for one hell of a distraction from lectures, homework, getting the bus to the office, and feeding the cats/kids (select as appropriate based on your own experience). Watch it in action.
Shenmue (1999, Dreamcast) and Shenmue II (2001, Dreamcast and Xbox)
There's going to be a few entries like this so get used to it, situations where we can't just pick one game from a series. For Shenmue, it makes sense to include both of the games released so far, as they're parts of the same story—one that is still unfolding, as producer Yu Suzuki is currently making a third installment. What Shenmue provided was real freedom within an immersive open world in a way that'd rarely, if ever, been realized previously. The player's character, Ryo Hazuki, could call on neighbors (mostly by just letting himself in), and the game's mix of puzzle solving, investigation, and combat made for a singularly compelling experience. It could be incredibly slow at times, and the dialogue is awful, but there's something to Shenmue and its sequel that, even when played today, is just a little bit magical. It shouldn't work, but it does superbly. Watch it in action.
Resident Evil 4 (2005, multi-platform)
The game where survival horror met third-person shooter action, and neither genre would be the same afterwards. In many ways it's the perfect game in its class—both the blueprint and the best, still. Say no more. Watch it in action.
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike (1999, multi-platform)
The fighters amongst you have spoken. This second update of Street Fighter III, which came out two years earlier, brought back a favorite character in the shape of Chun-Li and introduces Makoto for the first time. It plays, fundamentally, the same as all Street Fighter games: one on one, with the player whose health bar doesn't fall away first being the winner of (usually) the best of three bouts. Street Fighter IV is also excellent, of course, but there's something about the flat-yet-physical art style of 3rd Strike, and its so-90s soundtrack, that's just so moreish. Watch it in action.
Hotline Miami (2012, multi-platform)
Made by two-man Swedish team Dennaton, Hotline Miami merged trigger-finger twitchiness with a methodical attitude to clearing out its stages, the player reaching an almost meditative state as they unlock the puzzle of each array of rooms, bottlenecks, and chokepoints. There's a fascinating story beneath the pixel-art violence, too, involving the Russian mafia, the Miami underground and our antihero protagonist Jacket's meltdown into a surreal unknown. It's hard. Punishing. But then, it has to be. Amazing soundtrack, too. Watch it in action.
Super Meat Boy (2010, multi-platform)
Another indie production, Super Meat Boy is an incredibly tough platformer where the slightest misjudged jump can kill. But it totally nails that just-one-more-go factor, which keeps you locked into its sadistic world until you get past that series of buzzsaws which have ended your little Meat Boy several times already. There's a plot, sort of—rescue Bandage Girl from Doctor Fetus—but Super Meat Boy is really all about the precision gameplay in the same way that the first Super Mario Bros. was—just with lots more blood. Watch it in action.
Journey (2012, PlayStation 3 and PS4)
Thatgamecompany's beautifully short and perfectly formed adventure had me crying real tears. It's wonderful in a way that games so rarely can be, subtly tugging on the emotions over its duration until it peaks at a stunning crescendo, and the waterworks commence. I wrote about it in greater detail over here. Watch it in action.
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos / Dota (2002, PC and Mac)
Is this Blizzard's real-time strategy peak? It just might be—but it's like an alien language to anyone who never bought into the preceding games. The plot is a minefield of unpronounceable characters and dramatic events, but if high fantasy was your thing in the early 00s, and you had an internet connection, there was a good chance you were playing this. The game's world editor produced the wildly popular mod Defense of the Ancients, maybe better known simply as Dota, a multiplayer online battle area twist on all things Warcraft which is, via its 2013 standalone sequel, the most actively played game on Steam today, with some 900,000 daily users. Watch it in action.
Wipeout (1995, multi-platform)
The game that effectively sold Sony's PlayStation in the UK, this future-set racing game felt like a vision of sport several years from now slapped into your face with the weight of an anvil, where techno was in, tires out, and its developers Psygnosis, based in Liverpool, were coolest games-makers in the world. Looking back, it's slightly less fun than something like Mario Kart, but as a showcase for what this new console on the block could do, Wipeout was really something else, and helped to push Sony's machine ahead of its rivals. Played in HD today, it's still a slick mover with a propulsive soundtrack. Watch the HD version in action.
Super Metroid (1994, Super Nintendo) and Metroid Prime (2002, GameCube)
Super Metroid was a SNES essential, a sprawling, enveloping sci-fi adventure with an open-world, go-anywhere map—new areas becoming accessible via power-ups—and multiple endings depending on how good a player you were. While it's only in two dimensions, the sprite work is consistently stunning, and the atmosphere the game generates is comparable with today's first-person titles—which is where Metroid Prime comes in, as the first game in the Metroid series to opt for said perspective. Initially, its makers at Retro Studios were criticized for putting the player behind the eyes of Samus Aran, but the reviews speak for themselves. It went a long way towards changing attitudes to first-person gameplay, too—all of a sudden, having sights on the screen before you didn't mean that all you had to do was shoot things, with Prime placing great emphasis on exploration. Watch Super Metroid in action.
Katamari Damacy (2004, PlayStation 2)
You roll stuff up—stuff like cats and ships and lamps and cattle and trees and toys and fish and schools—into massive balls to remake the universe after the King of All Cosmos has wrecked it all on a drunken binge. I fail to see how this isn't one of the greatest things of all time. The name translates, from Japanese, to "clump soul." Again, amazing. Watch it in action.
Pro Evolution Soccer, the Collina and Henry years (2003-2005, multi-platform)
FIFA is the best football simulator on the market right now. But it wasn't always this way. In 2003, Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 3 absolutely stormed home consoles with a bunch of amusingly named unlicensed players and a bloody referee, Pierluigi Collina, on the box. With more realistic AI and ball physics than any previous football game, and occasionally hilarious commentary, it became the new standard, and maintained its champion form for the following couple of years, where French forward Thierry Henry crept onto the cover. In 2005 he faced off against England's Brave John Terry, as you can see above, but he was absent the next year, replaced by Brazilian player Adriano, and didn't the game suffer. The age of FIFA had begun, and by FIFA 10 the PES series would never be able to catch it. Watch it in action.
Metal Gear Solid (1998, PlayStation)
Without Hideo Kojima's PS1 masterpiece, who knows where the stealth genre would be today? Its cutscenes went on too long, and its character names were, well, odd, but MGS was one of those games that burned itself into the memory, never to be removed by future interactive adventures. A generations-spanning, critically acclaimed franchise started here. Watch it in action.
Portal 2 (2011, multi-platform)
Darkly funny, fascinating, brain-turningly treacherous, visually arresting… Portal 2 is simply a joy, from beginning to end. Valve's "proper-game" sequel to its considerably shorter release of 2007 turned a handful of great ideas into a fully fledged, wholly awesome trip through Aperture Science as you knew it, and beyond. How Valve squeezed so much variety out of the sole weapon available to Chell, the portal gun, is something of a magical mystery that I never want to see the boring reality of. Portal 2's local co-operative mode, in which you and a friend control the robots P-Body and Atlas, is one of the best things you can do with a partner when there's nobody else around, apart from, well, you know what. Cleaning the bathroom. Watch it in action.
Quake (1996, multi-platform)
From the makers of Doom, id Software, Quake is the first-person shooter that popularized multiplayer competition in the genre (for a skipload of people). Also: rocket jumps. Also: plays amazingly well even now. Also: Nine Inch Nails. Watch it in action.
WarioWare, Inc: Mega Microgame$! (2003, Game Boy Advance and GameCube)
Microgames. That'd never work. Except it did. And it was brilliant. Whatever you do in it though, however great you get at each over-in-seconds challenge, Wario still fucking hates you. What a dick. Watch it in action.
Grand Theft Auto (1997, multi-platform), Grand Theft Auto III (2001, multi-platform), and Grand Theft Auto V (2013, multi-platform)
Couldn't separate them. The freedom the first game gave you was incredibly refreshing, and the radio-style soundtrack provided its primitive visuals a real connection with the real world. The third game's move to 3D was like nothing seen before, and gave amazing weight and depth to the series' now familiar crime capers, and the fifth GTA might just be the greatest video game of all time. It's certainly right up there. Watch the original Grand Theft Auto in action.
Demon's Souls (2009, PlayStation 3) and Dark Souls (2011 multi-platform)
When is a game like running a marathon? Rarely. Never? Hardly. That's how Edge's Jason Killingsworth summarized Dark Souls, a diamond-hard RPG that continues to fascinate newcomers and provide return-play appeal to its passionate hardcore fanbase. Wrote Killingsworth: "Dark Souls' vertigo-inducing breadth makes it the gaming equivalent of a marathon… Reading War and Peace? Dark Souls immerses us in war, and lots of it. But it also lets us taste the most incredible peace—sublime moments of quiet interspersed between the violence like rests in a musical score." Says it better than I ever could—and Demon's Souls is where From Software's Souls series (which includes Dark Souls II and Bloodborne) began, a dark and dangerous game of immense challenges giving way to incredible satisfaction. Watch Demon's Souls in action.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998, Nintendo 64)
All the awards. All the review scores. Ocarina of Time had to be in here, somewhere. It's the best Zelda game, and perhaps the greatest role-playing game ever created. You might not get to create your own character, but that doesn't prevent so many moments in this exquisitely fashioned fantasy epic from connecting with you on a deep and lasting level. Almost every 3D game since this, and Super Mario 64 (wait a minute), has a degree of debt to pay to its design. Watch it in action.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015, multi-platform)
It's the gift that just keeps on giving, an action-RPG of unparalleled intricacies and astounding scope. This spot was reserved for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, so if you'd like to pretend that's here, cool. But I had a change of heart after spending another evening with Geralt and his pals, and I'm just… I don't think I'll ever tire of The Witcher 3. It really feels like a forever game. Watch it in action.
Super Mario 64 (1996, Nintendo 64), Super Mario Galaxy (2007, Wii), and Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010, Wii)
The greatest video game character the world has ever known, in the greatest platform games the world has ever known. Again, there is no point picking a favorite. Play them all. Each is a perfect ten. Game over for everyone else. Go home. And cry, if you're a spiky blue mascot. Watch Super Mario 64 in action.
It would be remiss of me to not at least mention some other games that came up, but didn't quite get as much support as those above. In no order: the Pokémon games, The Last of Us, Halo: Combat Evolved, StarCraft, Chrono Trigger, Bayonetta, the Mario Kart games, Half-Life, BioShock, Ikaruga, Theme Park, Ico, Star Wars: TIE Fighter, OutRun 2, Vanquish, the Mass Effect games, and GoldenEye 007. All, decent.
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