First-person shooter video games are all the rage nowadays. While younger gamers might covet Call of Duty or Battlefield as the gold standard within the genre—to be fair, both made this list—there are a slew of other titles that are both superior and more influential.
The online marketplace has arguably become oversaturated with first-person shooters, but there they are, bright as day, waiting for you to pick up that gun and go ballistic on your online foes. Which isn’t to say these games are bad; there are plenty of impressive titles recently released and in the pipeline. If you’re a first-person shooter nut, then it’s a good time to be gamer. Call of Duty and Battlefield release games annually and other titles like Wolfenstein: The New Order offer hours of fun. Then you have your games like Destiny, which are more role-playing focused but a first-person experience nonetheless. And on that topic, I want to be clear that I purposely avoided first-person games that heavily incorporate RPG elements or have an optional third-person mode. I wanted to list the best first-person shooters from a traditional sense, so you won’t find your Fallouts here.
If there’s one thing that became increasingly clear while writing this list, it’s that the old days spawned much more memorable first-person shooters than what is offered now. Maybe it’s the oversaturation, or maybe it’s just nostalgia, but it’s a feeling I just couldn’t escape. So with that in mind, here are the top 15 greatest first-person shooters:
15. Unreal Tournament (1999)
Unreal Tournament is in many ways one of the godfathers of first-person shooters, especially of those in an arena setting. It’s fluid, fast-paced and high-octane action that pits you against opposing players with creative and gore-inducing weapons. It practically begs you to pick off your foes with well-timed headshots to watch the ensuing bloodbath while inching ever closer to the top of standings. And that’s what Unreal Tournament is all about: being the best. Whether you get your hands dirty in close with a number of close range weapons or hang back and provide cover fire, well, that’s up to you. It’s ultra-satisfying either way. Boom, headshot.
14. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (2010)
Some of my fondest memories in competitive multiplayer came from Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Stuck behind enemy lines with nothing but a knife in hand as a tank mockingly circled around me, I tightly wrapped a bandana around my head and applied some eye black grease to prepare for the ensuing battle. I bolted toward the tank in an erratic formation, constantly strafing to avoid being hit with a missile. It fired at me twice, missing both times before I vaulted on top of the beast and unleashed a fury of slashes to its armored exterior. I died, of course, but boy did I feel like a badass. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a gem and boasts maps that are almost fully destructible. It’s still the highest point of the series.
13. Far Cry 4 (2014)
Far Cry 4 is the amalgamation of every Far Cry game before it. It’s expertly crafted and its various tweaks to the gameplay and design enhance the experience considerably, whether you’re playing story missions or riding elephants through enemy strongholds. This is living, breathing world full of hilarious possibilities and escalating mayhem. The action rarely ceases, making its world a wonder to behold when driving or running aimlessly through the lush jungle paradise. The customization options are plentiful and there’s even a cooperative mode to sink your teeth into. If the DLC content proves just as fun, Far Cry 4 will be a hard first-person shooter to topple on next-gen consoles.
12. Turok 2: Seeds of Evil (1998)
A Nintendo 64 classic. If you’ve played Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, you’re familiar with the Cerebral Bore. What is the Cerebral Bore, you ask? It’s only a weapon that locks onto your enemy’s brain waves and unleashes a drill that slowly digs through their skull. So yeah, just your run of the mill weapon, I guess. Turok 2 puts a bow in your hand in the opening level as you take on ferocious dinosaurs before shit hits the fan and you start riding triceratops with machine guns and rocket launchers strapped to their backs. It’s amazing. And the four player multiplayer is a blast as well, up there with Golden Eye and Perfect Dark in terms of fun factor.
11. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
Before the Call of Duty franchise started thumping its chest and going full Michael Bay, there was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. There were other Call of Duty games before it, of course, but Modern Warfare was the last of its kind. It has a well-paced campaign that isn’t all explosions and clichés, but more than that, its online multiplayer was one of the best ever. The map design was at its peak here with just enough space to deploy tactical strategies with a mix of head-on action. It was closer to the vein of Counter-Strike than the later Call of Duty games we now get annually.
10. Bioshock (2007)
Bioshock’s biggest strength is likely its well-crafted story. There’s enough depth and intrigue there to keep the player moving forward while also enjoying the game’s unique gameplay. Utilizing syringes to fuel the use of elemental powers, or “plasmids” as they are referred to in the game, complemented the touch of RPG elements in that you could approach enemies in a number of ways, whether by direct combat, stealth, or hacking turrets. The game also blended survival horror elements through the use of the Big Daddy and scarce ammunition. Bioshock is the total package, and its sequels are no slouches either.
9. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)
For many, Halo is one of the key cogs in advancing first-person shooters. Its tight controls and smooth gameplay are still replicated by other developers to this day. The matchmaking of current-gen first-person shooters are always compared to Halo, which offered a meticulous standard across the board. The story was solid, the gameplay was great, and above all, the multiplayer was perfect. Every map was unique and offered its own challenges and advantages for players to utilize; injecting a tactical element that many shooters still lack. Love it or hate it, Halo is always used as a barometer for the quality of first-person shooters, whether it’s by declaring it a “Halo clone” or a “Halo killer.”
8. Doom (1993)
If you’re a gamer, you’ve almost certainly played Doom at some point in your life. Released way back in 1993, Doom is considered one of the most influential video games ever, especially within the first-person shooter community. The game implemented elements of horror and action with the gore meter set to 10 and plenty of demonic creatures to battle. While it may seem archaic to the gamers of the new generation, its creation is responsible for many of the titles we love today. It’s that rare piece of nostalgia that is deserving of those warm feelings and general praise. So listen closely, young whippersnapper, this is a game you need to experience if you consider yourself even a casual gamer.
7. Duke Nukem 3D (1996)
Another classic. Everyone has played Duke Nukem 3D. Everyone. If you haven’t, get out. No, seriously, get out. The campaign was laden with one-liners, strippers, exploding corpses, monsters, hidden areas, and general hilarity. It’s one of the finest first-person shooters around and has been ported to almost every console—the new “Megaton Edition” was just released on PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3 and PC. It caused a considerable amount of controversy for its level of violence and tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top facetious tone. The sequels never quite did Duke Nukem justice, besides a few solid titles, with the original still maintaining a superlative standard.
6. GoldenEye (1997)
Raise your hand if you spent hundreds of hours playing GoldenEye’s multiplayer mode—and the single player wasn’t too shabby either. This was the gold standard (ha, get it?) of first-person shooters on N64 for many critics. For its time, the graphics were amazing, the gameplay was even better, and stacking dozens of remote mines on a player’s face while he took a bathroom break was just the bee’s knees in multiplayer fun. GoldenEye was all about creativity and sharing laughs with friends. It remains a testament to the good ol’ days of local multiplayer as we make a complete transition to online-only.
5. Metroid Prime (2002)
Metroid Prime is one of the best games on the Nintendo GameCube. Bringing Samus Aran to the first-person genre was a risky endeavour by Retro Studios, but the move paid dividends more than anyone had anticipated. In short, this is one of the finest games ever created, and that’s no exaggeration. The platforming was well-designed, the combat was deep and satisfying, and the puzzles were smart and challenging. Samus also had the ability to use x-ray vision, thermal imaging, and a visor that pinpointed enemy weaknesses. The combat was smooth and the boss battles were epic, and best of all, very difficult. This game was no walk in the park, a nod to the NES days, while also injecting new life into the series with progressive ideas for the first-person shooter genre.
4. Half-Life (1998)
Half-Life tops the list of many first-person shooter lists, and that’s because it’s the godfather of godfathers in the first-person shooter genre, at least for the post-Half-Life era. Its design inspired developers for years and it ushered in a new age for shooters, one that threatens to be derailed by the likes of Call of Duty—that’s a topic for another day, though. It received critical acclaim for its narrative, presentation, gameplay and graphics. In short, it was the total package. It placed realistic gameplay at the forefront and it created tension that remains difficult to replicate in video games to this day. The sense of impending danger is always there and heightens the stakes considerably. So if you haven’t played it yet, get to it.
3. Half-Life 2 (2004)
Well would you look at that, another Half-Life title makes the list. Released six years after its predecessor, Half-Life 2 improved upon the original with improved graphics, gameplay and technical aspects, receiving considerable praise for its sound, AI, physics system, etc. Valve set out to reward exploration by making certain areas entirely optional and the expert level design made that a reality. Another underrated aspect of Half-Life 2 is Valve’s decision to start the player with no weapons. That’s right, no assault rifle and grenades for you. You had to go out and earn your arsenal, so when you finally had a stacked array of fine weaponry, you were damn proud of it.
2. Perfect Dark (2000)
GoldenEye was the top dog on the N64 in terms of first-person shooters. That is, until Perfect Dark came around and stole the spotlight. Developer Rare had no issue with this, though, as they were the masterminds behind both games. Perfect Dark was essentially the spiritual successor to GoldenEye, refining the gameplay and shooting mechanics and offering a standalone campaign that incorporated aliens and reptile-like creatures with some political drama. Its multiplayer mode outclassed GoldenEye’s in every facet including more creative maps and better weapons—the Slayer, for example, fired remote-control missiles. One of the best features of Perfect Dark was its cooperative play, which allowed two players to tackle story missions together. It’s a shame the remake on Xbox 360 turned out to be a dud.
1. Counter-Strike (1999)
Counter-Strike, another classic title developed by Valve, is the gold standard of first-person shooters. Its competitive online multiplayer is among the most challenging experiences in gaming, but one that progressively gets easier and more rewarding the more hours you sink into it. There’s no spray and pray tactics here as holding down the left click button had you firing at the ceiling while eating a barrage of bullets. Every movement, shot and tactic has to be carefully planned. To stray from the pack means almost certain death, so working with your team is an essential part of the gameplay. Bomb maps, hostages maps, and VIP maps are the game modes, each expertly designed relative to the mission. Like its gameplay, everything has purpose in Counter-Strike. It’s a first-person shooter with brains.