First-person shooters are a defining genre of video games. When one thinks of the medium, one thinks of the classic DOOM, of running-and-gunning and blasting demons or aliens (in Half-Life) or Nazis (in Wolfenstein or any older Call of Duty).
FPS games weren’t always the juggernaut they’ve become today. In the early ‘90s, video games were dominated by Myst-like puzzle games, adventure games, and platformers. It wasn’t until John Carmack and his team at id Software pioneered the first real first-person shooters that the genre caught on and became mainstream. The rest, as they say, is history.
In this list, we take a look at 20 of the most celebrated FPS games that’ve captured the hearts and minds of gamers in recent years. Keep in mind that we’re only going to go as far back as the mid-2000’s, so we’re not putting classics like the original DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D on here.
20. Half Life 2: The Orange Box
This bundle for the PC included not one, but five full games, including Half-Life 2, its two expansion episodes, Team Fortress 2, and Portal—all of which are classics by now. The offering gave us some great narrative action, puzzle solving, and a multiplayer game that’s been persistently updated over the years with groundbreaking innovations like collecting hats. I’m being a bit sarcastic here, but you can’t deny the popularity of TF2’s collectible hats and how it became a mainstay of so many multiplayer games thanks to Valve’s experimentation with the business model.
Somewhat underappreciated by the mainstream and underrated by critics, Bulletstorm is an over-the-top FPS that introduced point scoring based on the brutality and creativity of your kills (including environmental kills), a kicking action similar to Duke Nukem 3D’s but taken to the next level, and surprisingly likeable characters. It also has a whole lot of cursing, which might be too edgy for some—but we think it gave the game character.
Released in 2005, this scary FPS from Monolith oozed terror and delivered a one-of-a-kind (at least at the time) immersive first-person horror experience that wouldn’t be replicated for years. Not only was it actually haunting—like when you looked up while climbing down a ladder and saw an apparition of a ghostly child—it was a surprisingly good shooter that borrowed the bullet time mechanic from the Max Payne games and put it to great use.
17. Shadow Warrior
This politically incorrect remake of the classic Build-engine (Think Duke Nukem 3D) FPS from 3D Realms way back in ’97 delivered old school FPS action with new-generation graphics. Developed by Polish studio Flying Wild Hog, Shadow Warrior features the original game’s protagonist, Lo Wang, who finds a Japanese sword and goes ham on the demons invading earth (aren’t they always?). The sword isn’t his only weapon, of course—he has tons of different guns and even a crossbow that fires sticky bombs for good measure.
16. Far Cry 2
The first Far Cry was innovative for its time, in that it gave players a decent amount of freedom to do what they wanted. It also held the honor of being the best looking game for several years—and before Crysis came about, everyone used it as a benchmark for their hardware’s capabilities. Unfortunately, it felt like more of a tech demo than an actual game.
The sequel, Far Cry 2, took a lot of the ideas and innovations of the first game and made it great. It had an actual open world environment, immersive elements like a map you had to actually look at to get around, and guns that could jam, and AI teammates you actually felt bad about losing in a firefight. In many ways, Far Cry 2 was a game ahead of its time, but it remains one of the best FPS experiences to date.
15. Metro: Last Light
Developed in Ukraine, Metro: Last Light and its predecessor, Metro 2033, take place in post-apocalyptic Moscow, a city ravaged by nuclear weapons. This fully-narrative game follows the trek of a survivor who finds himself caught up in a violent struggle between the Nazi and Communist for dominance over the Metro stations, where the only survivors of Russia’s populace lives. He also has run-ins with the mysterious race of “Dark Ones” who showed up after the bombs dropped, so it’s got a good spook factor going for it in addition to being an immersive and gritty FPS.
14. Borderlands 2
Arguably Gearbox’s best game, Borderlands 2 combines frantic first-person shooter action with the kill-and-loot systems of action RPGs like Diablo. Filled to the brim with over-the-top edgy humor and more Reddit memes than you can count, Borderlands 2 is a pretty damn fun co-op experience with a host of likeable characters that somehow became a lot more unlikeable when the Pre-Sequel was released. So just steer clear of that one. Also, Handsome Jack is a bastard and you can’t help but love him for that.
The newest kid on the block, Overwatch has been in the hands of gamers since entering beta some months ago and is poised to become one of the biggest multiplayer games of 2016. Combining and refining the team-oriented class-based battles of Team Fortress 2 with the art direction and polish that only Blizzard can provide, playing Overwatch is a surefire way to have a great time, especially if you’re in the mood for multiplayer.
12. Fallout 4
Fallout 4 is primarily a role-playing game with loot, exploration, character interaction, and innumerable choices to make to dictate the game’s story, but it’s no less an FPS. Unlike Fallout 3, Fallout 4 actually has good shooter mechanics that can feel pretty damn satisfying when you pop a Ghoul’s head off their body and watch it happen in slo-mo. Coupled with incredibly memorable characters like Nick Valentine and Piper Wright, this post-apocalyptic adventure is one you won’t want to miss out on whether you’re an RPG or FPS gamer.
11. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Black Ops 2 is the sequel to the game that brought Treyarch to prominence. After developing plenty of not-terrible-but-not-quite-great first-person shooters over the years, Treyarch finally came into its own with the release of Black Ops, and raised the bar even higher with Black Ops 2 greatly due to the game’s multiplayer mode and excellent single-player campaign. The game is set over a period of time—from past to near-future—in real-world conflicts like the Vietnam War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the ‘80s with some really cool story beats and none of the nonsense that made Call of Duty: Ghosts a chore to play.
10. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
This stealth-action FPS/RPG is a revolution in first-person storytelling. Like Deus Ex before it, Eidos Montreal presents a masterful cyberpunk thriller that forces us to question the notion of “progress” and how technological advancements impact humanity. Set in the late 2020’s, the world is undergoing a human revolution thanks to the advent of biotechnology and cybernetic augmentations. There’s a whole lot of narrative, decent shooting, and a cyberpunk setting that’ll be sure to appeal to any fan of Ghost in the Shell.
9. Battlefield 4
Online battlegrounds don’t get any bigger than Battlefield 4 without losing coherence and turning into sluggish respawn runs. The game’s developer DICE manages to get the pace of the action just right with Battlefield 4, which refines the experience first brought to life by Battlefield 1942. There’s airplanes, tanks, and a whole mess of battlefield with objective points for soldiers to assault and defend. Needless to say, there are few things more enjoyable than participating in an all-out 64-man battle for territorial dominance.
8. Portal 2
The sequel to one of the biggest surprises of 2007, Portal 2 further fleshes out Valve’s Half-Life setting, giving it even more depth and character than any of their previous games. This clever FPS eschews assault rifles and blowing stuff up in exchange for puzzle-solving and the portal gun. It also spawned a dozen memes, and gave millions of gamers respect for J.K. Simmons as an incredibly hilarious character actor. There’s no one else like you, Cave Johnson.
7. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or CSGO for short, is Valve’s latest iteration of the long-running mod that made Half-Life popular. Many will argue that by itself, Half-Life wasn’t anything too special, but the mod community—brought to prominence by the original Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Team Fortress Classic, and other mods like it—turned what would have been a decent but forgettable FPS into the host of an entire generation of multiplayer FPS games. Like the original, the game offers competitive multiplayer FPS action pitting terrorist against counterterrorist. What’s not to like?
Dishonored raises the bar for stealth-action “first-person sneakers,” offering a wide variety of ways to proceed through each mission. Players can use their magical abilities to sneak through maps past guards and other encounters to execute only the targets they’re supposed to, or indulge in a bit of ultraviolence by slaughtering everyone there is to slay with a wide assortment of traps, gadgets, and killer abilities.
Gameplay aside, the story puts you in the role of Corvo, the personal bodyguard and confidant of the Empress, who’s framed for her murder and sentenced to death. After escaping, you enact a bloody vendetta against the corrupt politicians who oversaw her murder, and in doing so, try to make things right again.
5. Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a reboot, or reimagining of Wolfenstein and carries much more emotional weight and darker tone than any of the previous games. BJ Blazkowicz is a Nazi-killing super soldier—like Captain America, if Steve Rogers had no qualms about smashing bad people’s faces in and pumping them full of lead. The game is set in a world where the Third Reich was victorious and life for everyone who isn’t part of the Nazi regime is about as bad as you can imagine. With an oppressive atmosphere and sympathetic characters you’ll grow to love, Wolfenstein: The New Order will defy any expectations you might have had if you played any of the previous games in the series. And the story beats will hit you like a freight train.
4. Left 4 Dead
Arguably the best co-op FPS to date, nothing (aside from L4D2, that is) manages to surpass the tension and immersive feeling that you’re in a zombie apocalypse movie of Left 4 Dead. Players take on the roles of four survivors immune to the zombie viral outbreak that’s decimated much of the United States (if not the world). Armed with simple firearms and homemade explosives, the four must make their way through parts of Pennsylvania to make it to wherever place might be safe from zombies. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead and ever wished to experience the zombie apocalypse, be sure to play L4D. Don’t forget to bring friends.
3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
What’s there to say about Modern Warfare? It’s only the game that truly defined Call of Duty as a series and brought it into the modern age—as in, it took place in the modern age. Like many other shooters, the previous games all took place in World War II but Modern Warfare took it to the modern era during the height of Operation Desert Shield and integrated realistic elements like gunning down terrorists while spotting them through a thermal-imaging system aboard an AC130 gunship, to witnessing firsthand the death of the protagonist in a nuclear explosion.
The grandfather of FPS games is back and its latest incarnation is better than anything that came before it—at least in terms of gameplay. DOOM is a fluid, fast-paced and ultraviolent first-person shooter experience that’ll have you rekindling your childhood, reliving those late nights of DOOM and DOOM II as you skipped school to get in one more level. Frankly, no other FPS plays better than the new DOOM, and that may well be an understatement. Step into the powered combat boots of the DOOM Marine and kill every demon in sight—but please remember to aim.
1. BioShock Infinite
Ken Levine and Irrational Games have a lot to say about the nature of power and how it corrupts people regardless of their political affiliations, driving them towards extremes. Whereas the first BioShock experimented with and explored Objectivist ideals and took them to their logical conclusion, BioShock Infinite explores themes of social justice, religious fervor, and the lengths to which people will go to right their mistakes.
With a gripping story, rich character development and an imaginative setting unlike no other, BioShock Infinite is one of the best video games ever made.