Despite constantly shifting trends in gaming, first-person shooters have retained relevancy for over three decades. The concept is simple: you control a weapon-wielding character from a first-person perspective. And with such a straightforward premise, there are so many slight modifications that can be made to the formula, these oftentimes making or breaking a first-person shooter (FPS). Today, we’re going to discuss titles that truly got the genre right. These are the best first-person shooter games of all time.
After developer Rare’s success with Goldeneye 007, the company wanted to take their winning formula to even further heights. They created Perfect Dark. Released in 2000, Perfect Dark transports the player to the future, where a war between two alien races is brewing. Featuring all the most-loved elements of Goldeneye 007, the game’s original storyline and upgraded mechanics make it an even better title, even if not as influential.
The first mainstream game to combine FPS and horror elements, 2007’s Bioshock sent—no pun intended—shockwaves throughout the gaming community. The player must investigate the reasons for the collapse of a utopia called Rapture. With an equal amount of action and frightening moments sandwiched between one of the greatest stories in gaming history, Bioshock still holds up today.
In 2004—the year Half-Life 2 was released—the original Half-Life is one of the most revered PC titles of all time. Somehow, Half-Life 2 managed to exceed every expectation. Combining open-world exploration, puzzle-solving, and, of course, FPS elements, HL2 encapsulates everything a gamer could want. Throw in an immersive plot and graphics that were, for their time, revolutionary, and you’ve got one of the best first-person shooter games of all time.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare didn’t only signal a change for the CoD franchise—which was before largely based on historical events—but it signaled a change for first-person shooters in general. Its variety of multiplayer modes have been imitated by the majority of FPS games that have followed it; it essentially set the precedent for how we play FPS games online, turning what could once only be a hobby into a globally recognized esport.
All this being said, its single-player mode, often overshadowed by the boundary-pushing multiplayer mode, is impeccable (as highlighted by the legendary mission “All Ghillied Up”).
2000’s largely online Counter-Strike introduced a form of gameplay that was more strategy-based than that which preceded it (which was focused on simply killing as many bad guys as possible). It forced players to adopt a methodical form of thinking; just a couple bullets could determine the outcome of an entire game.
2019’s Apex Legends took the successful Fortnite formula (a free-to-play battle royale game) and applied it to the FPS genre. It also implemented a since-widely imitated ping system, which allows players to place a beacon over locations and items of interest. Fortnite even added a ping system of its own within six months’ of Apex Legends’s release, cementing its influence. While it remains to be seen whether or not free-to-play battle royale games are just a trend, Apex Legends will be looked back upon as one of the best games to come out of the genre.
Left 4 Dead 2
Inspired by classic arcade shooters like House of the Dead, Left 4 Dead 2 took the co-op shooter experience to a whole new level. Sure, zombies may be overplayed in the current era, which makes it all the more surprising that the game managed to make the concept unique. Featuring intricate level design and cinematic presentation, Left 4 Dead 2 is still fun to play over a decade later.
Does 1993’s Doom really need an introduction? Considered “the godfather” of the first-person shooter genre, both critics and gamers alike were enthralled by the release of Doom, which puts players in the shoes of a space marine whose mission is to annihilate hordes of demons. Yes, it’s campy fun, but it changed gaming forever. In fact, for a good while, any FPS released after it was labeled a “Doom clone.”
Halo: Combat Evolved
If you’re between the ages of 25 and 35, you’ve definitely played Halo at some point in your life. Whether you yourself were a fanatic, or it was the go-to game at your friends’ sleepovers, Halo was big. For a while, it even single-handedly carried the entire Xbox console.
The hype around Halo was justified. Featuring constant action, beautiful landscapes that demonstrated the superior graphical abilities of the Xbox, a story players actually cared about, and the ability to drive on warthogs (a sort of futuristic military jeep), the game was a fresh take on the FPS formula Goldeneye had set forth only four years earlier.
Let’s kick off this list with a game that altered the course of history. Many of the most common FPS tropes are rooted in 1997’s Goldeneye 007. Featuring a huge weapon variety, immense levels to explore, and—most famously—an incredible multiplayer mode that allowed four friends to duke it out, the game’s influence can still be seen today. And believe it or not, it remains as fun to play as ever.