What are the best FPS games? It’s a hotly debated topic, and one that, once the debate initiated, made the VG247 office erupt in an impromptu nerf war.
Luckily, when the dust settled, we managed to land on our top 50. Just so you can have a bit on insight into our process, here’s how we narrowed them down.
First off, we favoured new stuff over older games. While you will find a few retro shooters in this list, we prioritised newer releases simply because they hold up better today. GoldenEye might be a classic – and it still made our list – but it controls like a shopping trolley with a broken wheel.
Likewise, we thought about how to classify an FPS and decided on the simplest measure: a video game that plays from the first-person perspective and contains guns. That’s why you’ll also find this list stuffed with the odd immersive sim. Sorry.
Other than that, we just had the near-impossible task of ranking them all, and no doubt you’ll disagree with some of our placements. For that we can only apologise, but please remember that opinions are subjective. You favourite FPS didn’t make the list? It’s at number 51.
So load your gun, go prone, and take aim at the 50 best FPS games.
50. GoldenEye 007
One of the best movie tie-in games of all time, GoldenEye was released during Rare’s glory years. The four-player split-screen deathmatch is gameplay of legend. GoldenEye 007 was a pioneer and paved the way for future console shooters by deviating from the popular on-rails style and incorporating a free-roam element with varied maps. It was a fantastic shooter at the time, but it’s aged very badly.
49. Planetside 2
Few games are able to nail the feeling of scale you get from Planetside 2, a vast battle across Auraxis with thousands of other players online, where teamwork and skill are essential to winning the war. Its free-to-play model isn’t intrusive or unwelcome, and it still looks very pretty during those day and night cycles – jump on it if you haven’t already.
48. Return to Castle Wolfenstein
A reboot of Wolfenstein 3D, RtCW contained one of the craziest single-player story-based campaigns ever, based on the occult dabblings of Nazis during World War 2. Built around stopping the SS Paranormal Division from resurrecting an undead Saxon warrior named Heinrich I, the game is packed full of enemy soldier fodder, devout ladies of the occult dressed as borderline dominatrixes, occult ceremonies, super soldiers, and zombie knights – all to the accompaniment of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Für Elise.
47. Serious Sam: Second Encounter
An unrelenting alien slaughterfest, Serious Sam games are pure fun. With ‘80s action flick sensibilities, time travel, and a ridiculous arsenal of weapons, it was like stepping into the shoes of Ash Williams, only without all the drama packed in your suitcase. Serious Sam games are in no way serious, and in a world of po-faced shooters that’s something to be celebrated.
46. Wolfenstein 3D
We associate the classic id Software designers – Carmack, Romero, Hall – with Wolfenstein 3D, a widely copied, much-respected and endlessly influential run-and-gun through a distorted view of the Second World War. BJ Blazkowicz is one of the true meat-headed heroes of video gaming, and his legacy is a billion smoking bullet holes, Nazi corpses and a robot Hitler.
45. Perfect Dark
Was Perfect Dark a great first-person shooter on the N64, or was it just a decent one that has been elevated because of the Rare brand? The female protagonist, the auto turrets, and Elvis the alien make it stand out. If it took balls to have a female lead in a shooter in 2000, it was downright reckless to throw in a comedy alien sidekick. The addition of a customisable multiplayer mode shows the sort of ambition on display here. Especially telling considering it released in the early days of first-person shooters on console, when many were trying (and failing) to emulate the heavy hitters on PC.
44. Duke Nukem 3D
Duke Nukem is an asshole, and that’s why this game is remembered more for an idiotic lead character rather than the surprising gameplay subtleties. It’s not as linear as it first appears, and there’s a handful of fun, experimental weapons to toy with. You even get a co-op mode and level creator. It was superseded forever ago, but it still deserves a mention for being more than just a dickhead simulator.
43. Medal of Honor: Frontline
Up until Frontline, Medal of Honor on console was unexceptional. But with Frontline, MoH finally arrived, and it felt like the PS2 could actually hold its own against the blistering first-person shooters leaving such huge scorch marks on the PC. This was a time when Medal of Honor meant something, and Call of Duty was only a challenger. How things have changed.
Quake changed everything. Three-dimensional first-person shooting would never be the same. Quake’s pick-ups and puzzles flanked the first real glimpse of the future of action gaming, where the player was free to attack and kill with speed and aggression. Quake had grenade launchers and quad-damage. It was about destruction, and gaming leapt at it as a result. Shoot stuff. That’s what we’re here for. Quake was the first game to nail the urge.
41. Mirror’s Edge
Another game that dared to experiment with the first-person formula with mixed results, Mirror’s Edge is more about traversing the environment than it is about planting a headshot. It’s hit and miss. When the parkour flows it feels exhilarating, but when it comes to an abrupt stop it’s a slap back down to the reality of an average, clunky FPS. It’s worth persevering because these games are so uncommon, and it’s an interesting ride despite being fundamentally flawed.
40. Unreal Tournament
When review screens of this went out, people in VG247 founder Pat’s office couldn’t believe it was real. It was true that Unreal Tournament, or UT99 as it became more widely known, pushed some beautiful visuals, but elements such as the Shock Rifle and anti-grav levels gave FPS players something differentiated enough from Quake III to ensure success.
Black was Criterion’s attempt at doing for the FPS what Burnout did for the racer. The result was a playable blockbuster where you could literally bust blocks. Over the top destruction was the order of the day, and I can still remember how cool it felt to toss a grenade into a window before witnessing the rest of the windows in the building blow out from the pressure. That silent pistol is an all-timer, too.
38. Quake III
Quake III pitched off against Unreal Tournament when arena shooters were en vogue, and Carmack’s team turned out a furious, timeless take on the concept of space combat. Id’s final installment in the Quake series featured map design so perfect it hurt your brain and a weapon set forged in the fires of genius.
Quake III was the King of Twitch, a stripped down racing car of a shooter guaranteed to leave you with hypertension and carpal tunnel syndrome. A platinum beast. It’s still played competitively today, which is no small feat considering it released in 1999.
37. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s an odd game – a difficult fusion of shooter and role-playing set in the radioactive wasteland left by the Chernobyl disaster. Completely unforgiving and relentlessly frightening, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. carved itself a place in the annals of shooter fame with challenge and technical finesse. It’s buggy as shit and virtually impossible to play when the lights go out, but if you ever moan you’ll always get people saying the fault is yours. Try it. Horror shooting at its best.
36. Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
A game so big it needed an N64 Expansion Pack, Seeds of Evil reminds us that Nintendo’s old console actually had more than one really good FPS. So much of Turok 2 seemed fresh at the time: riding dinosaurs into battle; underwater weapons; upgraded abilities and targeting specific body parts for dismemberment. Why on earth haven’t we got a modern one?
“Can it run Crysis?” Crytek made this shooter so technically demanding it remained the mission of PC gamers to be able to run it at meaningful settings for years. The alien mountain stuff kind of fucked the entire thing up halfway through, but there’s no denying Crysis still looks the part over a decade on: it released in 2007. The game itself’s middling in places, but at its best it’s a sensational collision of evolved shooter mechanics (remember all the fuss made of the suit?), outpost clearance, and extreme technology. You should have played it.
34. Killing Floor 2
What’s better than killing zombies in a game with friends? Killing zombies in slow-motion in a game with friends, of course. Killing Floor 2 is like Call of Duty’s Zombies mode split out into its own game, bolstered by some great features, and bathed in buckets of gore. It’s ridiculously fun.
33. Borderlands 2
The second Borderlands was a force – a honed RPG-shooter that captured many players for many months. The wasteland sci-fi offered here has never been bettered, and god only knows how awesome the third full game can possibly be. Based on Borderlands 2, the answer is “very”. Essential stuff, if you can hack the humour.
There’s something moreish about the way an engram spills out of an alien like you just bust open a meaty pinata. There it goes, a colourful dodecahedron rolling down a hill. Never mind those other aliens shooting at me, I must chase it. Destiny is a game you play because it feels good and stimulates your lizard brain. Everything is polished, and there’s no thinking needed unless you’re raiding. The first one is still the best.
Superhot is unlike any other FPS in existence. Its visual style is minimalist, it’s an indie game that was born from a game jam, but it’s an essential buy. In Superhot, time only moves when you do. This means you can dodge bullets, grab guns out of the air, and finish every encounter like you’re John Wick after a ballet class. Once you’re done, the level is played back to you in real-time to show you how cool you are.
Why didn’t anybody buy this? It was stupid, crude, violent, and dumbass in all the good ways. But more than that, its skillshot approach to gunplay – rewarding players for the more unusual, gruesome, and complicated deaths – added tension and encouraged gung-ho, ballsy tomfoolery. Throw in an electric whip and a kick harder than Anderson Silva and you’ll laugh your way from beginning to end.
29. Dying Light
While much of Dying Light is focused around melee and fluid movement, the gunplay isn’t to be sniffed at. Dying Light really nails the feeling of tearing into the undead – chunks of rotting flesh flying off with every hit and every bullet. It’s a joy just to wander around its world, and the stupid zombie AI makes for some hilarious moments. You haven’t lived if you haven’t seen a zombie fall from a rooftop when trying to chase you.
28. Fallout 4
Fallout has never been a series that focused on the shooting. In fact, the slow-motion V.A.T.S. targeting system felt like a way of making up for the subpar gunplay initially. Fallout 4 changed all that, however, bringing on id Software to help make the gunplay sing. You can really tell. Fallout 4’s gunplay is punchy and violent, while the AI – particularly the ghouls who climb through windows and grasp from crawl spaces – makes the encounters feel fresh.
Insurgency is like Call of Duty for people who loved playing on Hardcore mode. It’s not quite a sim like Arma, but there’s no hud, you die easily, and the only way to confirm a kill is to see the body drop. It’s a stripped back shooter where there are no distractions from your HUD – you just look down the sights, aim, and squeeze, hoping to get a glimpse of the pink mist.
26. Far Cry 2
Ubisoft went all-out for immersion with Far Cry 2, a valiant mission which resulted in one of the most borked, fascinating, and ultimately unforgettable first-person shooters ever made. Set in a footnote African war in a plot not dissimilar to A Fistful of Dollars, Far Cry 2 forces you to play two factions off against each other in a bid to capture the man flooding the theatre with weapons. Some terrible NPC respawning marred an otherwise spectacular game, but there’s no question Far Cry 2 was hugely influential.
25. PAYDAY 2
PAYDAY 2 is as close as we’ve come – outside of GTA Online’s heists – to a playable version of Heat. Four friends team up to rob banks and stores, fighting off waves of police attempting to foil the robbery. It’s fast-paced, fun, and features deep customisation that keeps you playing for weeks.
24. Timesplitters 2
Co-op, primates, arcade cartridges, gangsters, cowboys and space marines – there’s nothing Free Radical Design was afraid to throw at TimeSplitters. They seemed such innocent times, when going off the rails was saluted instead of following such a constrained view of what an FPS should be. We’ll never be able to go back to the madness, but we’ll always have the memories.
23. Arma 2
Not just the game that spawned DayZ, ARMA 2 is the hardcore shooter experience. Muzzle velocities, simulated ballistics, stadiametric rangefinding and other intimidating concepts are simulated by ARMA 2 around an arsenal of realistically modeled weapons. With multiple expansions and modding, it’s almost impenetrable and not for the faint of heart. Try the free version if you’re brave enough.
22. Alien Isolation
Listen, we know this is more about hiding in lockers and shitting your pants than it is about shooting, but there are prolonged sections where you’re blasting android faces off with a shotgun so shut up. Alien Isolation is one of the best horror games ever made, it’s in first-person, and you have a gun. Nothing else on this list makes you feel as vulnerable as this.
Another, more recent immersive sim, Prey is much more about shooting than most of its brethren. You would struggle to get through Prey without firing s shot at the inky aliens attempting to kill you. The setting, a space station called Talos-1, is one of the best game environments in the genre – a giant, persistent puzzle box that becomes a second home during your stay.
20. Deus Ex Human Revolution
Everything from the bold, angular, black and gold art style to the freedom of choice makes Human Revolution such a memorable game. Human Revolution is a thinking person’s shooter, where shooting is usually a last resort and rummaging through people’s houses is just a thrilling.
It’s a simple premise but one that works well; add creepy Japanese horror influences to a first-person shooter and overclock the gore, with plenty of bullet-time thrown in for good measure. The fact that the horror sequences were well-placed means there are scares amongst the gunplay, and slowing down time makes headshots and one-hit kills a mini-game to master. Later sequels didn’t really expand on what the original F.E.A.R. offered, but this game is still so much more than the novelty it appears, and the ractive A.I. is still impressive today.
18. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
While we’re all a bit worn down by the current battle royale craze, there’s no mistaking that PUBG captured the zeitgeist. People were sick of the same kinds of shooters, and PUBG changed the pace, offering a shooter where hiding and surviving is as viable a tactic as murdering everyone. With the introduction of first-person servers, this makes the list because of its sheer popularity.
17. Halo: Combat Evolved
Come on, now. You loved this. You can blather on with your “it’s just Halo” rubbish until you’re green. You played it to death just like everyone else. Microsoft changed “FPS doesn’t work on console” to 10/10 in Edge and shut everyone the fuck up with its next-gen tale of high science-fiction and power-armoured space opera.
Halo is one of the most successful shooter franchises ever made, and rightly so. The Warthog; the MA5B; the AI; escaping the Pillar of Autumn. The co-op alone stuck it smack in the middle of indispensable territory, and future Halo multiplayer would go on to define a generation. Halo: Combat Evolved features on the playlist of any shooter fan.
16. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
The first chunk of Escape from Butcher Bay isn’t about shooting at all, but more surviving in a prison by avoiding conflict. You win by fashioning a shiv and sticking it in someone’s neck while the guards aren’t looking. When the guns do eventually come out, it doesn’t make space jail any less brutal, but it’s such a relief to finally pull the trigger up close. Who would have thought that something associated with Vin Diesel would be one of the best single-player, story-led shooters available?
15. Metro 2033 Redux
The deformed, post-apocalyptic child of a Russian novel, Metro 2033 has to be the most grim shooter on this list. Packing glowing balls, ghosts in tunnels, pneumatic weapons, ghosts, and an ending so bizarre you’d swear you’d booked a trip to happy town with Captain Mental, the first Metro was flawed but never boring. This package remasters that along with the sequel, Last Light, which improves upon the original game in almost every way and has some of the best weather effects in video games. This can still melt a PC in 2018, too.
14. Team Fortress 2
What started life at Valve as a military shooter based on a Half-Life mod eventually emerged as the cartoon classic half the planet plays today. Team Fortress 2 is one of the greatest free games ever made – a hopelessly addictive, endlessly deep take on the team shooter which never fails to surprise. And it’s free, for god’s sake.
13. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
There’s no doubt there were good Call of Duty games before the release of Modern Warfare, but this is the tipping point where the franchise over-cranked into blockbuster territory for single-player, and it’s where the multiplayer became a household name. Underneath all that bombast and showmanship stands a grand shooter experience. Modern Warfare is one of the most influential games ever made.
BioShock may toy with the concepts of choice, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty action it’s about taking apart a lumbering mechanical beast with traps and every last bullet you can scrape together. Imbuing your character with increasingly lethal Plasmids, that include sending deadly bees and cyclones at enemies, adds a tactical layer on top of the tight gunplay. Don’t let the lofty pretensions of Bioshock fool you: this is very much a first-person shooter, just one with a fantastic setting, beautiful style, and unique weapons.
11. Left 4 Dead 2
Left 4 Dead 2 caused rivers of tears when it released a year after Left 4 Dead, with many angered at Valve’s apparent dropping of the original despite assurances it’d be supported forever. Everyone stopped moaning when they realised the sequel was significantly better, adding melee weapons, new characters, crossover missions and more. We still play this game. If you can’t have fun with Left 4 Dead 2, there’s something wrong with you.
The first-person shooter’s first-person shooter. You play Counter-Strike to win, not for fun. What started out as a Half-Life mod has spawned a handful of great sequels and got the creators a job at Valve. This is the mod by which all other mods are measured. You might not play it for raw enjoyment, but you need to play it to understand the basics of how a competitive FPS works. It’s not a game; it’s an education.
Heroes never die. Overwatch is a shooter where every character feels completely different to play. While Timesplitters 2 might have got there first with character-based shooting where you play the objective, Overwatch cranked it right up and polished the formula to a mirror shine.
We really didn’t want to add two shooters from the same series to this list, but there’s no escaping the classic Doom. Everybody has played Doom. Whether it was the violence, the perspective, or the exploration that got you hooked, it’s easy to look back now and realise this was never a novelty game. It’s been ported to every format from PC to mobile, and for very good reason: it still stands up as the epitome of first-person shooting. Wolfenstein 3D may have kickstarted the genre, but Doom distilled and refined it to the model that still influences new games to this day.
7. Half-Life 2
Few games will ever claim to carry the weight of Half-Life 2. The shooter stretched all the boundaries of physics and storytelling when it released in 2004, and became a precursor to Half-Life 3, the most famous game never made. You can love it or hate it, but Gordon’s second adventure changed the world. You’ll never forget your first dabble with the gravity gun or a renewed feeling of confidence as you’re joined by Dog. Half-Life 2 is the first-person shooter that changed the rules.
6. Rainbow Six Siege
Rainbow Six Siege is a shooter built around a gimmick: destruction. But it’s done in such a way that it’s more than something to stick on a bullet point on the back of the game box. Siege is one of the most tactical, deliberate online shooters around, and it’s all thanks to how you can rip up the maps to make every breach unpredictable. Just mute chat, yeah?
If you’re not into all the talking in modern games, Doomguy is right there with you. New DOOM really leans into the seething anger bubbling under the surface of the mute protagonist and focuses on fast, madcap, arena-based gunplay that’s all about gibbing demons. It’s good as hell.
4. Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus
While Wolfenstein: The New Order has an arguably more varied campaign, Wolfenstein 2 takes the lead because of its angry, angry guns. Every weapon in Wolfenstein 2 feels powerful, and every shot does terrible damage on scenery and skin alike. Add in the fact that it has some of the best writing in a modern game and you’ve got yourself an all-timer.
3. Dishonored 2
While not a traditional first-person shooter, Dishonored 2 is the best immersive sim since Deus Ex. The first-person viewpoint really pulls you into its detailed, complex world, and the freedom on offer to approach each objective allows you to play creatively. How many other first-person games let you decapitate a man, place a mine on his severed head, and lob it like a grenade?
2. Titanfall 2
It turns out wall-running and double jumps – you know, like in a platforming game – can change multiplayer shooters considerably. Combining two different types of gameplay into one shooter – the stomping mayhem of piloting a mech across the map and the weasel-quick shooting as an on-foot pilot – Titanfall 2 never has a dull moment.
Not only is the online portion of the game fast, frenetic, and fluid, the single-player managed to deliver one of the best campaigns of recent times. Every mission has a new gimmick or surprise to keep you sprinting to the credits.
1. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DICE struck gold with the second Bad Company game. Not only did we finally get a military story with a sense of humour, but this spectacularly idiotic shooter became one of the first games not to over-promise on destruction: it actually worked. When Bad Company 2’s elements pull together towards the end of the game, the result is beautiful chaos.
Take it online and it’s even better. Bad Company 2 offered something different to other shooters at the time, placing tactics above twitch skills. Despite the size of its maps, it also had some of the most memorable and varied arenas ever created for an FPS. Still the best online shooter ever made.
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