As long as there are video games, there will be first person shooters. The genre has carried video games on its back for years now, dragging the medium towards new heights of cinematic splendor and visceral action. Shooters sell the most, they cause the most controversy, and they gobble up countless hours as digital gladiators duke it out in myriad online arenas. It’s a categorization that includes the breakneck action of Doom, the sci-fi scope of Halo, and the secluded exploration of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Here are the games that we believe are the very cream of the FPS crop. Whittling it down to these picks was no small feat indeed.
A plane crash lands you alone at sea, with nothing but the specter of a lighthouse guiding you towards salvation. That lighthouse sends you into a paradise lost – a land of awry philosophies and scuba-diving father figures who know their way around a drill rampage or two. In the ensuing chaos, you plot ambushes, paint spliced-up drug freaks with a pallet of fire and BEES, take part in an insane arthouse project, and score below par in one of the most insane twists to grace the medium.
The shooting may be clunky, but I can’t think of many games where I so enjoyed watching my carefully planned battlefields be torn apart by my target’s bloodlust. Taking down Big Daddy in “Brass Balls” mode remains one of my most-remembered video game conquests, just as unraveling Rapture’s fall-from-grace remains my favorite dive into a set piece. My videogame memory is now bookended by that first descent into Rapture and its ultimate destruction. Somewhere in the middle is tee-off time.
Also, I’ll never trust videogame bathrooms again. Never. Again.
Halo: Combat Evolved (2001), Halo 2 (2004) and Halo 3 (2007)
I loved the Halo universe before even playing it. A friend of mine had loaned me Fall of Reach, and suddenly this place of alien xenocides and militaristic survival became a universe I needed to explore. I mean, these were Star Wars-levels of fanboying and I hadn’t even shot my way through a grunt birthday party yet.
Halo: Combat Evolved was, naturally, my gateway to the world – and first person shooters, honestly. It was the first time that I loved an FPS for being an FPS (sorry Call of Duty, but you know that was entirely an atmospheric romance). But, beyond the fun of Warthog runs and island-hopping shenanigans, there was a sense of the unknown as you unraveled Installation 04’s true purpose. I don’t think a game’s ever left me feeling that alone as I stalked Truth and Reconciliation‘s Flood-infested hallways and fled the resounding explosion that tore apart the ring world and everything Master Chief knew of his war.
Halo 2, on the other hand, made sure you knew there was more than just you in this fight. You’re back on Earth, surrounded by the remnants of Halo’s maw: the wisecracking Sergeant and your Captain’s mourning daughter. Meanwhile, the Arbiter takes up his sword in hopes to wipe away the shame of Halo’s destruction. It was one thing to fight for survival; it was something else to suddenly have your would-be destroyers humanized as the brainwashed warriors they were. That two pronged assault that eventually led to the ultimate realization that Combat Evolved was truly only the beginning expanded that universe more than any expanded universe book deal possibly could.
(Rest-in-peace dual wielding Needlers and PC Coagulation shitshows.)
I had problems with Halo 3‘s story, but I’d rather talk about the days-worth of time I spent online. As far as ranking up goes, I didn’t really go anywhere. Yet so many nights were spent in front of a splitscreen with a collection of friends. Halo-parties were events back in the day; competitive gunshows and Forge duels became commonplace, as did linking up with friends for hours of bullets and plasma. Eight years later, I’ll still return to Valhalla’s waterfalls and grandstand at the High Ground gate. These were my first days in an online game and I wouldn’t have had them any other way.
Half-life 2 (2004)
There is only one game that took the phrase “raising the bar” to heart. It took unfathomable expectations and proceeded to blow them out of the water. That game is Half-Life 2.
There is no denying that the original Half-Life changed the way games were made and presented after its success, but Half-Life 2 took everything great about the original, refined it, polished it to a shiny glimmer, and pushed the available technology beyond its limits. With impeccable attention to detail that can go completely unnoticed upon a first, second, and even third playthrough, Half-Life 2 is a game that begs to be enjoyed for decades to come. Not only does Half-Life 2 hold up, but it still looks great by today’s standards. There is no feeling quite like exploring the masterfully crafted “City 17” and looking up toward the Citadel for the first time. The narrative is one of the strongest ever seen in any medium. Just like the first game before it, Half-Life 2 tells a story that could not be told through any medium other than the art of video games. Your hand is never held, your inferences are never spoon-fed, and each tiny discovery feels significant in its own right.
Every aspect of Half-Life 2 comes together into what can be nothing less than a masterpiece. We can only hope that developers continue to use and draw from Half-Life 2 as an example of how pacing, storytelling, visuals, various systems, and characters should be properly done and merged together in order to provide an unforgettable, haunting, and life-changing experience that can be experienced through no other medium. Half-Life 2, put simply, is why I play video games.
When tasked with naming my favorite first person shooter game I had a rough time just naming one particular game that stood above the rest. So I say, “I don’t want your damn lemons! What the hell am I supposed to do with these?” So I have decided to give to you my five favorite games. But first, the honorable mentions:
Aliens vs Predator (2010)
You might be thinking, “Kyle, this game was a huge load of ass.” To that I say, “Screw you man this game is awesome!” This game had everything as far as multiplayer goes, including “being scared of the dark” parts of the map where the aliens/predators would be stalking you. Nothing compares to that rush you get when you kill a predator as a marine, it sort of makes you feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger (albeit a smaller and less Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger). Oh and also, playing as a predator is one of my favorite things to do.
For those of you who haven’t played this game yet, go get it. From the insane over-the-top action sequences to the crazy inane dialogue and story this game was a treat for the eyes and ears. It’s Gears of War with a more ridiculous plot and with an added arcade feel.
This game has everything you can want out of a first person game: really cool graphics, hordes of hell’s minions to kill with your chain gun, and of course the little picture of the protagonist on the bottom looking from side to side. This game essentially spawned and popularized the FPS genre, but unfortunately this didn’t make the top 5.
Far Cry 2 (2008)
Far Cry is essentially in the same vain as AvP, in the sense that you run around a forest and mess-up the bad people’s day because friendship, diamonds, revenge, or whatever. Just shoot them. The thing that puts Far Cry above and beyond for me is the map editor. Think forge world from Halo but with complete bottom-up control. That said, the story was way too long, the map was too big, and the game didn’t have enough Skrillex like the third one did.
Fallout 3 (2008)
Not sure I 100% count this as a FPS in its entirety, but I felt it was important to note the game for its FPS aspects. I gotta say there is nothing better than shooting super-mutants in the face in slow motion with Liam Neeson. The game flawlessly mixed FPS gameplay with role playing and for that it deserves a mention.
Rainbow Six Vegas (2006)
This game almost makes the top five but falls just short. There just is nothing like hanging upside down from a repel line and shooting some ten-year-old in the head with a revolver. The terrorist hunt game mode makes you think tactically, which more games these days need to copy. To sum up why this game is so good in six words: Attack and Defend on Calypso Casino. Look it up.
Anywho, I know most of you are probably screaming “GET ON WITH IT” at your computers so, without further ado, here is the top five best first person shooters!
(5) Titanfall (2014)
Yeah that’s right, you can boo and hiss all you want but what can I say, I love Titanfall. I carved “Kyle + Titanfall Forever” into the tree behind my apartment, sue me. This game gave me everything I could have asked for out of a FPS game: intense action, giant metal robot fisticuffs, exploding people with lasers, and extremely well-polished and balanced gameplay. Many people fault the game for not having a story, but I feel in this day and age a story is not entirely necessary for a good game (looking at you Destiny).
(4) Unreal Tournament III (2007)
This game is in the same vein as Bulletstorm. It has some pretty over-the-top action. It’s also just like Titanfall in that its storyline is mostly just the multiplayer put into a loose framework. But who cares! You have vehicles that kick major ass, weapons that feel fresh and innovative, and freakin’ hover boards that would make any Back to the Future fan jealous. This game will be enjoyed for a very long time.
(3) Bioshock Infinite (2013)
Its effin’ awesome, ’nuff said. You want an explanation do you? I hate you, made up brain audience. Why can’t you just take my word for it? Well, if you insist; I task you to find a better movie that also happens to be a video game. The set pieces are just as cool as the original Bioshock’s, but with a social commentary on patriotism in America. The super powers, as always, add that extra pizazz to the game that puts the Bioshock games on their own level. And don’t forget mechanical Abraham Lincoln.
(2) Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
I played the crap out of this game and it still is enjoyable to play (excluding the quick-scopers) which is a testament to how much fun the game is. I think this is still the best CoD game out there because it took everything from the first Modern Warfare and added more customization, more captain Price, and more ass kicking. The multiplayer maps are the best yet, the story is fantastic, and there is nothing that beats the rush of getting a chopper gunner in a care package.
(1) Halo: Reach (2010)
That’s right, Halo: Reach. I thought, back when the game was just about to be released, that a Master Chief-less Halo game would never be as good as the first 3. I have since eaten those words and then some. The game took everything I loved from the first three games and expanded on them. Every single character in Nobel Team has their own personality and reactions to the happenings of the story. Once you have completed the game you are emotionally spent and eagerly awaiting your next play through. And that is why this game achieves the number one slot on my list. Now go away so I can get my grunt birthday party on.
I think it’s important to point out that we’re talking about games that we consider “The Best” FPS Games. We’re not talking about games that we consider the most historically important. I do consider Quake to have immense historical importance, but that’s not why I chose it as my #1. I chose it because it’s an immensely rewarding, perfectly-tuned experience that is still the most fun shooter I’ve played. Still, we should set the scene a little bit here:
After Id Software revolutionized the first person shooter genre in 1993 with the original Doom, the market flooded with countless copycats. Doom’s combination of exploration, action, and gore lent itself well to many different settings, and the sprite-based graphics were easy to manipulate and modify. By ‘96, Doom and its sequel reigned over a mountain of similar shooters. The video game landscape had changed forever.
If it’s difficult to imagine the same thing happening again just 3 years after Doom’s release, well, that’s because it didn’t. Id Software’s next game, Quake, had a decidedly different impact than its predecessor. The game’s innovations were production focused. It brought shooters into the polygonal realm. It featured an atmospheric score courtesy of Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. It helped lay the groundwork for current-day online matchmaking and customization. It was a huge step up over what Doom had done, but it was not the cultural event and gameplay leap that that game had represented. Quake, unlike Doom, was very much a spiritual successor.
So then why did I pick Quake over Doom? They’re very similar games, after all. They both feature levels that twist and turn around themselves, with glorious secrets hidden in obvious and unlikely places. Their enemies are grotesque monstrosities that exist solely to hunt the player (though Quake hews closer to Lovecraftian themes and medieval embellishments). Both games forgo cutscenes and story for immersion and atmosphere. Both games revel in the kinds of gory darkness that has gradually disappeared from video gaming.
Quake, then, is a thorough and remarkable revitalization of a concept that had already been nearly perfected the first time. Its levels are more complex and more mysterious, with foreboding castles and fortresses housing ungodly monsters and beasts. Its gameplay is flawlessly executed: the player character’s speed is perfectly tuned to allow you to get yourself into and out of trouble as quickly and as rarely as you’d like. On harder difficulties your methodical pace breaks down into a mad dash for health and ammo pickups as torrents of demons destroy everything in sight. There is no goal other than survival. It is completely riveting.
I wasn’t old enough to view Quake as just a game when it came out. I can’t help but look back on it now as a relic of a long-gone era, and as the progenitor of the modern shooter. But, even with all the years that have passed and all the ways games have changed, Quake still feels like the absolute pinnacle of the idea of shooting virtual dudes in a virtual hallway.
Unreal Tournament 2004
Suddenly, the online shooter became a complex behemoth that made the simple deathmatches of years past seem straight up corny. A perfect balance of maneuverability, survivability, and weapon selection, with some of the best multiplayer maps ever designed.
Suddenly gaming seemed so much bigger. Levels weren’t levels, they were worlds. Characters weren’t characters, they were people. There was a surprise around every corner. And, most impactful of all, a sense of momentum was established in the gameplay that led the player through the story seamlessly. Shooters (and video games as a whole) would never be the same.
Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
A supremely silly and outlandish (but surprisingly captivating) campaign paired with online multiplayer that perfected Call of Duty 4’s perks and player ranking systems. A fittingly explosive send-off from the team who created the Call of Duty franchise.
Timesplitters 2 (2002)
My pick for the best local multiplayer experience you can have with a shooter. Countless characters, maps, and weapons are there at your disposal, promising endless doofy fun. Plus, the huge array of single player challenges offer plenty for those less socially inclined.