The Top 10 Shooters of All-Time
A cross-platform spray-fest of the 10 best first-person shooters ever
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Top 10 Shooters of All-Time
- The Orange Box
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
- BioShock The Collection
- Counter-Strike 1.6
- Halo The Masterchief Collection
- GoldenEye 007
- Quake III Arena
- Doom Eternal
- Destiny 2
- PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
Thanks in large part to franchises like Medal of Honor, Call of Duty and Battlefield, along with the explosion of eSports, first-person shooting is one of the most popular and profitable parts of gaming. We cut through the noise of nearly 50 years of history to give you the top ten shooters you really ought to take aim at before you die.
How did we pick this list?
Our editorial team selected the products in this list based on our own reviews and professional reviews. This accumulated data was used to determine our overall winners. For each category, we carefully selected parameters based on our research and identified the products with the highest review score within those parameters.
Why we chose it
Here we are, at the absolute pinnacle of first-person shooters. I've taken the easy way out by selecting a compilation. That said, I'm certainly not afraid to tell you which specific part of this (ludicrously great value) package I love the most.
Team Fortress 2 is one of the greatest team-centric multiplayer games ever made, and its roster of classes are as balanced and nuanced as they are amusing. Likewise, Portal is hands down one of the funniest games this side of a Tim Schafer production, and it's a brilliant puzzler to boot. Half-Life 2 Episodes 1 and 2, likewise, reek of quality, though they're mere moons orbiting a more heavenly body.
Half-life 2 is my pick of the litter – both in regards to this reddish-yellow prism and the wider genre. The world-building sucks you in like a tractor beam and never lets go. The gunplay is visceral and Valve always nudges the action towards thinking-man's shooter. Yes, the gravity gun has lost some of its impact over the years (not literally, punching toilets into zombies is still devastating) and the need to crowbar stuff has rusted with age, too.
All that being said, a trip to Ravenholm is still white-knuckle stuff. Those jack-in-the-box leaps of headcrabs and the piteous shrieks of mutated humans are timelessly creepy. If only Valve had the guts and good sense to round this masterpiece off, properly.
Why we chose it
Though this medium has largely desensitised me to violence, there are a few moments in gaming where I've been marked by a catastrophic in-game event. I'm going to spoil Modern Warfare's particular PTSD inducer – I'll just say that the folly of mankind and the insanity of nuclear weapons are both put on full display.
Don't get me wrong. Modern CoDs absolutely go bigger on production values and ooh-rah action set-pieces these days, but Activision never managed to recapture the sense of personal attachment that was forged with these SAS operators and US Marines. They sure tried to, though (see: the not as excellent 2019 reboot).
Looking beyond the rollicking solo campaign that still puts most Hollywood blockbuster scripts to shame, Modern Warfare's multiplayer was revolutionary and is still revered like no other. Infinity Ward basically laid out a blueprint that's now used by multiple generations of shooters – we're talking personal progression systems, match-turning perks/attachments and killstreaks.
Better yet, there's an uncluttered purity here which, while not being perfect, was certainly the most well balanced CoD fans would have for years and years. Couple that with some brilliant map designs (Crash, Strike and Backlot) and no wonder this is the well that Activision devs return to whenever they desperately need to steer this franchise back on track again.
- Creepy, utterly enthralling setting
- Addictive and intelligent guns + super powers combat
- Second game was a bit of a non-event
- BioSHock Infinite was neutered in development
PLATFORMS: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
RELEASE DATE: 13th September 2016
DEVELOPER: Irrational Games
PUBLISHER: 2K Games
Amazon Price: From $29.83Buy at Amazon
Why we chose it
Here's me cheating again with a compilation. By doing things this way, I can single out the first BioShock as the unquestioned pick of the litter, I can highlight BioShock Infinite as a must-play as well, and I can also tell you to skip the somewhat inconsequential BioShock 2.
Unlike the series of iffy experiments it depicted, the original BioShock had all its science nailed. Every game in the series is a first-person shooter, with a focus on story and character customisation that's achieved by bending your DNA. Guns and belting things with a monkey wrench will only get you so far – to survive the oncoming freakshows will require shrewd use of your environment and the elemental properties of your self-inflicted super powers.
For example, you might Zeus people to a crisp if they're standing in water or immolate them should they be sliding on an oil slick. Failing that, just ping their explosive projectiles back to sender with telekinesis. Better yet, you'll need to leverage every sneaky tactic in your bag of tricks to take on the local, lumbering mini-bosses. Think: David vs. Goliath match ups in running battles through claustrophobic arenas.
Marry all that with some of the most imaginative writing and world-building in gaming – and Shyamalan-level plot-twists –and BioShock becomes something truly special.
4. Counter-Strike 1.6
- A gameplay loop that never, ever gets old
- Easy to get into, but has a high skill-ceiling
- AWP is insanely OP
- Hacking a-holes abound
PLATFORMS: PC, Xbox
RELEASE DATE: 9th November 2000
Why we chose it
Before we begin, a brief introduction for those of you who have been living under a rock. Counter-Strike (or CS) is a hugely influential shooter that's just about the best team objective multiplayer one can have. Basically, five terrorists battle to perpetrate an act of terror (explosions, murder, kidnapping) while an equal number of counter-terrorist operators try to thwart it (rescue, bomb defusal, turning everybody's head into a canoe).
As if that wasn't satisfying enough, matches are tense back and forths that need to be decided over the course of multiple rounds. Also, doing well in a match will earn you moolah to spend on better gats for the next round. It's simple, addictive stuff.
Popular too: the Counter-strike franchise has sold over 35 million units. The latest iteration in the series, Counter-Strike Global Offensive is nearly a decade old and still boasts almost a million players a month.
I've landed on Counter-Strike 1.6 for this list because it was such a community-driven experience that was effectively hammered into near perfection by hardcore players for hardcore players. Average Joes often created and refined the best maps. Likewise, every facet of it was modded into a balance that (almost everybody) accepted.
Why we chose it
This represents the first time in this article where I chicken out and present a compilation release. Expect to see it again, because it allows me to effectively not "pick my favourite child" – something I was told to never do. (Incidentally, if you're reading this, Hugo, it's totally you. Daddy loves you best.)
Anyway, while I know that everybody has their own personal gateway Halo, I don't think I'd be out of line by tapping the first one over the rest (especially the remastered Anniversary form of it). What a shooter. What an iconic bucketheaded hero. What a wave of warm shivers down your spine when the soundtrack goes full Gregorian chant.
In the original formula, Bungie snagged our attention with claustrophobic corridor shooting against AI that were incredibly reactive by turn of the millennium standards. That said, minds were fully blown when Chief made planetfall – sorry, ringfall – on a hostile world that was vast enough to warrant drive-able buggies, tanks and short-range fighter craft. And the more we delved into this achingly beautiful and eerily life devoid hula hoop, the darker and more desperate our fight became.
Chuck in a fully-featured multiplayer mode that absolutely holds up to this day, and Halo becomes an undeniable classic. You'd have more luck prising a primed plasma grenade off your person than shaking this off any self-respecting Best Of list.
- Basically the best movie companion game ever made
- 4-player split-screen multi is endlessly amusing
- Single stick controls are tough to go back to
- Cheating jerks who use Oddjob in multi
PLATFORMS: Nintendo 64
RELEASE DATE: 25 August 1997
Amazon Price: Check site for current pricingBuy at Amazon
Why we chose it
Though many of them would never admit this, GoldenEye was the first console shooter to make PC gaming elitists look over the fence and take notice. For starters, movie tie-in companion titles were never meant to be this desirable. For seconds, this wasn't just a mindless trigger yank-fest – Rare added stealth as an option and wove in complex objectives that scaled with the difficulty selected.
Excuse my lazy reviewer cliché, but here was a game that made you feel like you'd slipped into 007's tuxedo (or possibly a dry martini). It was a suave simulator. Because along with a vast array of pistols, power weapons and the pimp-est slap in gaming, Rare let us "do it for England" with some sweet Q-tech.
Even better, when the flick faithful solo campaign wrapped, you and four frenemies could have a blast – literally, with remote mines and rocket launchers – in a multiplayer mode that's still world class. Scenario matches like Licence to Kill, Man with the Golden Gun and You Only Live Twice basically never get old.
All this being said, the N64's graphics (and controllers) have aged like milk. One day, a hundred or so lawyers will sort out the licensing issues needed to bring this back (uh...officially). When they do, someone's gonna make some serious money-penny.
Why we chose it
Unlike the story-driven games that preceded it, Quake III Arena was built to be a pure, gib-filled gladiatorial meat-grinder. Cocky players armed with railguns, rocket launchers and shotties go in one end, polygonal chunks of meat (that were impressive in the day) come out the other. That sounds like a gameplay loop that could get boring – it never, ever does.
Yes, technically there is a slight single-player component to all this (skirmishes that feature bots whose skill levels range from cannon fodder to downright cheaters) but that's not where Q3 shines.
Going head to head with a player of equal skill level in this game is nothing short of a bullet ballet, a strategic symphony where dominating the playspace and pickups is as important as having Deadshot level aiming.
Moving effectively -- be it by strafe jumping, launch padding or propelling yourself by firing ordnance at your own feet – is also a huge decider in who lives and who punches their keyboard to bits. You could argue that the original Quake (1996) was a more significant pioneer in terms of 3D graphics and esports, but I'd say Quake 3 was when arena shooting was perfected.
8. Doom Eternal
- Looks like a mindless power fantasy, has tactical depth
- Amp up soundtrack and slick visuals
- Jumpy-jumpy puzzles are always iffy in this genre
- Ultra-nightmare bug killed my save
PLATFORMS: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
RELEASE DATE: 20 March 2020
DEVELOPER: iD Software
Amazon Price: From $135.66Buy at Amazon
Why we chose it
Take the following advice from somebody whose love affair with this series started with a 3.5-inch shareware floppy disk. While it could be easily argued that every entry in the series (and its home-made mods) still play phenomenally well, Doom Eternal totally represents this franchise reincarnated into the best modern form we could have hoped for.
The "push forward" combat philosophy that was championed in the 2016 reboot got honed to a wristblade razor sharpness. Cover hopping and cowering to reload is for dead men walking -- to slay doom is to run pell mell, sensibly flicking between weapons that pair perfectly to specific demonic threats.
Like-wise, a true bad ass will never stoop to scooping up health and ammo from the floor. Any materials you require shall be (somewhat nonsensically) gouged or burned free from the unwilling organ donors who dare to oppose you.
Other positives include an actual plot, and one serious stimpak to the arm in terms of player mobility. The Doomslayer is an absolute dervish of death who can double jump, 8 way air dash and grapple swing through these hellscapes. Speaking of empowerment, your arsenal here can be steadily augmented with firefight-flipping secondary functions.
Basically, Eternal is so good, it makes the previous entry – a widely praised ripper in its own day – feel boring. That's how you do a sequel.
9. Destiny 2
- Shared shooting with a talented fireteam is amazing
- PvP game is as strong as the epic PvE Raid content
- Bungie keeps messing with the meta in weird ways
- Trials and Raid loot require super hardcore homies
PLATFORMS: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
RELEASE DATE: 6th September 2017
Amazon Price: From $27.99Buy at Amazon
Why we chose it
When Bungie decided to cast aside its Mjolnir armour and try something other than a Halo, FPS fans were psyched. Admittedly, what came next was under-cooked, but Destiny still came with the nucleus of a cracking idea – a shared world shooter that mixed sc-fi "space magic", classic RPG classes and super kinetic gunplay. Destiny 2 eventually came along and delivered what was missing: a story worth a damn, gun balancing and hours of replayable content.
We're now four years past D2's launch, and it's a quite a different beast. For starters, its runtime has been bolstered, and the pew-pew evolved over the course of many major expansion packs. For seconds, financial backer (and chronic micro-transaction proponent) Activision has been shown the door in favour of a free-to-play model. You could say Bungie has once more seized control of its own glorious Destiny.
Thank the Traveller, too, because now we're steering back to one of the smoothest feeling and slickest looking shooters in the genre. Nobody out there does movement like this. Very few can match the addictive loot game as well. As you'd expect, Destiny 2 elevates to something truly sublime in co-op, if you can find the perfect fireteam of like-minded, class complementary Guardians.
- Gameplay loop is super addictive
- Getting less buggy, but still imperfect
- Not the prettiest battle royale option out there
PLATFORMS: PC, Xbox One (Preview)
RELEASE DATE: 20 December 2017
DEVELOPER: PUBG Corporation
PUBLISHER: PUBG Corporation / Microsoft Studios (XBO)
Amazon Price: From $73.05Buy at Amazon
Why we chose it
I was addicted to PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) during its janky Early Access phase on Steam. Despite a stack of technical issues, it has tense moments that I simply haven't experienced in other shooters. And I've played a lot of shooters. I've been off the pursuit of chicken dinner in recent weeks, though, but that's entirely because of the crew I play with.
Y'see, the pursuit of chicken can drive players to do boring things. The looting/running/driving simulator parts of PUBG are rarely fun, no matter how great your banter is, and the midgame can be sparse in even the most fight-seeking of rounds. These days, the most fun I have with PUBG is playing aggressive rounds, with a hot-drop start, an action-packed midgame where I actively hunt down fights, and an explosive (literally – I throw a lot of frags) endgame that results in delicious chicken-flavoured rewards.
That game is fantastic. The shootouts are intense, the long-range gunplay is brilliantly nuanced, and cowering in a corner when you're the last of your squad alive and enemies swarm outside is a feeling ripped straight out of a top-tier horror game. It's easy to hate PUBG. But it's got so many core elements of the experience so right that it feels like a breath of fresh air in a popular shooter space that's increasingly playing it safe.
About FPS games
Most video game historians agree that Maze War (1973) was the progenitor of all FPS games. Though it must have looked like voodoo magic in '73, obviously it now lacks in graphics, sound, plot and, well, everything. That said, you can still feel the spark of what would come to ignite a mega fire in just a few short decades. Raw DNA: the thrill of hunting while being hunted, and the need to keep mobile with your head on a swivel, lest it get turned into swiss cheese.
I'd argue that the genre truly got its mainstream start when Wolfenstein 3D arrived in our homes on a shareware diskette. It lacked multiplayer. It had three guns. But gott in himmel, was it fun to murder Nazis – a tradition that I'm happy to see has carried through to modern day blast-a-thons.
From there, you and I came to know and love all the cornerstone releases that built this genre into the towering beast it is now. The pioneering "over modem" deathmatches of Doom (1993) and Rise of the Triad (1994). Then, the flood gates opened with offshoots like Heretic (1994) and notable wannabes like Dark Forces (1994) and Duke Nukem 3D (1996).
Before too long, we had the 3D graphics revolution -- polygonal death pushed by Quake (1996) and Unreal (1998). It was at this point that the first-person shooter split into a few unofficial sub-genres. You had narrative / multi-objective-driven shooters like Half-life, System Shock and Deus Ex. Stealth-fests like Thief or gladiatorial arena murder in Unreal Tournament and Quake 3.
From here, we're only a stones throw from what was to become the next big thing that more or less dominates the genre today: AAA military shooters.
Best products chosen
- We considered more than 620 FPS games across 30 gaming platforms.
- We then whittled down this exhaustive list to a top 10 based on our own hand-on experience testing games.
- The products on this list are chosen by our editorial team and are not selected based on commercial relationships.
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