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Considering first-person shooters are one of the most popular gaming genres, 2017 wasn’t the best year for new entries. I’ve had to technically cheat on a handful (you’ll see when you get to them), but I do stand by this list. This is normally the part where I anecdotally rant about something, but let’s get straight into the omissions, because there are a lot.
You won’t see Destiny 2 here, because incremental changes spliced with backward steps from the original games do not a great sequel make. While Call of Duty: WWII was a breath of fresh air compared to the recent sci-fi thrust of the series and had an okay campaign and admittedly awesome zombies mode (albeit with one real map at launch), the multiplayer ranges from decent (console) to frustrating (PC).
There are a bunch of Steam Early Access games I’d love to get on here, but they’re not fully released. Sword with Sauce is an amazing action-packed proof of concept in alpha form. Tannenberg takes a World War I setting, slows the pace, throws in friendly fire, and ups the intensity. Black Wake isn’t technically a first-person shooter per se, but it’s a first-person game with shooting and it’s all about battling pirate ships. Get on it.
Quake Champions is still in development but, based on what I have played of it, it wouldn’t make this list in its current form. Free-to-play shooter Argo was unplayable when I took it for a spin. Star Wars Battlefront II was DOA at launch, not just because of microtransactions (which, at the time of writing, are still disabled) but also because progression is tied to loot crates. That’s just bizarre.
There are other omissions I could go on about – boring Strafe, B-grade Sniper: Ghost Warrior, or intended CoD-killer Days of War (which didn’t make a pop let alone a bang at launch) – but that can wait for another best-of intro. For now, let’s jump into my top 10 first-person shooters of 2017.
I was trained at the school of hard shooter knocks by the granddaddy of first-person shooters, Wolfenstein 3D. After that, the old family PC didn’t have the grunt to run Doom, Rise of the Triad or Duke Nukem 3D, but I did manage to play those at friends' houses. During high school I was dangerously addicted to both Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat. Thankfully I can retrospectively claim that was the foundation of what would later become my career.
I’m in my tenth year as a freelance games critic and shooter specialist at several publications. I’ve heaped praise on divisive shooters like Brink and Syndicate, and I’ve torn chunks out of shooters like Halo 5: Guardians and Star Wars Battlefront II, which other critics gave safe scores. The point is, after playing pretty much every shooter of note in the last decade (and beyond, if we’re keeping score), I have a lot to say when it comes to my favourite genre.
Fear not, FPS purists, I’m getting the controversial stuff out of the way first. Yes, Sniper Elite 4 is a third-person shooter, but I’d argue that if you’re playing it like a traditional third-person shooter, you’re playing it wrong. You should, instead, be spending the vast majority of your play-time aiming down sights on your preferred sniper rifle. That’s the first-person technicality I’m using to get Sniper Elite 4 in this list, also because nothing else on my 30-odd shortlist was worthy of my top 10.
Played as a third-person shooter, Sniper Elite 4 is a tough fight. But you’re also missing the best parts of the experience. The series has always been a little janky, but it hits full goose-stepping stride in this fourth core iteration. Played as it’s primarily intended – as a long-range head-popping simulator – Sniper Elite 4 shines, regardless of whether you need the training wheels to curve your shots (Wanted-style) or you’re a god-level marksman and can do it without assists. Either way, you’d be mad to miss out on the addictive mayhem of Sniper Elite 4. Play it in co-op for coordinated head-popping.
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Controversial entry number two is a little less tenuous because it’s most definitely a first-person shooter. That said, I’ll flag from the outset that Shadow Warrior 2 released on PC in 2016. For consolers, though, it landed in 2017, and it’s well worth taking for a katana-wielding spin, even if the on-screen madness is easier to tame with a mouse rather than a joystick.
As far as the resurgence of old-school shooter properties go, you’ll only find one that’s better these days (which is lower down the page). Where Flying Wild Hog’s Shadow Warrior reboot was more of a corridor shooter, Shadow Warrior 2 seeks to open up proceedings more, and that goes beyond the more free-flow level design. There’s a bigger arsenal. More gore. Deeper RPG mechanics. And even more junk jokes. Shadow Warrior 2 isn’t the kind of shooter that’ll haunt you after you’re done with it, but it’s not trying to change the world. What it wants to do is empower you with the tools to entertain yourself in free-flowing combat that’s a hell of a lot of fun. And it achieves this effortlessly.
Have you ever wanted to be John Wick while you direct the action of John Wick? If you answered in the positive, and you really should have, Superhot is the very real answer to that very rhetorical question. Oh, I almost missed my disclaimer: as with Shadow Warrior 2, Superhot was already in the wild when 2017 rolled around (for Xbox One and PC), but it landed on PlayStation 4 in July 2017. So that’s why I get to cheat and put it here.
Besides, if you’re a PlayStation 4 owner seeking a different kind of first-person-shooter experience, Superhot is definitely worthy of your attention. Plus, it’s available in PlayStation VR, if you own the requisite tech, which elevates it to even greater levels of immersive awesome. Superhot somehow manages to be both chill fragfest and intense action, with the differentiating factor being, well, you. Like a Marty Kaan rant to the camera in House of Lies, you’re in charge of time, and it doesn’t move forward until you want it to. There’s no better way to admire your surroundings, pick your next target, and dream up the classiest way to take them down before accelerating time.
Normally the remasters go lower on these kinds of lists because they’re a kind of cheating, but given the disclaimers for the last three, and the lack of quantity when it comes to the quality 2017 first-person shooters, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition gets to slide up the list. It does get a lot more straightforward after this one, I promise. On the topic of sliding things, though, you’ll be sliding in the game, unless you want to do the boring thing and play it like your standard shooter (don’t do that).
What you want to do is ignore the dick jokes and marvel at how no other developer has lifted the idea of incentivising players to one-up themselves (and their buddies) with the kind of outlandish overkill that’d make the Punisher blush. There really isn’t another game like Bulletstorm, and the new-gen facelift makes the painful combo juggling even more attractive. It doesn’t matter that the AI ain’t too bright: they’re not there to challenge you, they’re there to let you challenge yourself to kill them in increasingly over-the-top ways.
This is one of those love-it-or-hate-it kind of games. Rising Storm 2: Vietnam drags a rusty bayonet under the "hard" part of "hardcore" to emphasise what you should expect. It’s like a 64-player take on the Dark Souls philosophy that death is the best teacher. Well, that or static training videos and online help guides. Either way, you should still expect to die a bunch while you’re learning the ropes online.
Hope for a competent team and a forgiving squad when you first start out. Friendly fire is jammed in the "on" position. Play on a terrible team and you’ll be searching for the quit button faster than you’d care to admit. In simple terms, it’s like Arma and Battlefield Vietnam had a baby. In slightly more complicated terms, it’s an asymmetrical team-based showdown where you’re absolutely reliant on your teammates for success. When you have the right crew or the requisite knowledge, Rising Storm 2: Vietnam is very rewarding. Just don’t be ashamed if you suck for the first dozen hours. It’s not as tightly executed as Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad or the original Rising Storm, but it’s always intense.
That’s too many entries in a row without some controversy, so let’s get that started again with LawBreakers. As a big fan of PC gaming, it’s hard not to be sad about the realities of the player base for LawBreakers. This is a solid shooter – at times it flirts with greatness – but the community is dead on PC. At the time of writing, there were 18 people playing in the last 24 hours. In the entire world. Ouch.
The learning curve can feel steep between classes, but master that and you’ll find a game that’s one of the best recent examples of an arena shooter. There’s a nuanced class system, and the zero-g sections of the map make for fun three-dimensional combat. While the PC side of things is dire, the PlayStation 4 community is reportedly a lot healthier. That’s a shame for PC-loving me, as you can do things on PC with the faster classes that you can’t do with a controller. But the good news is the game still has a following. If it ever hits free-to-play on PC, definitely take it for a spin. What I got to play of LawBreakers before the community disappeared was even more fun than I had with Early Access Quake Champions.
Just when you thought Doom was the only hell-associated series to impress fans, along comes indie gem High Hell to change that. Because it’s indie you can safely expect stylised graphics, but they add to the overall charm of this addictive run-and-gun shooter. Forget about taking a stealthy approach, High Hell wants you to kick the front door to pieces as you hunt down every last enemy and blow them to kingdom come.
As you’d hope from that kind of description, High Hell doesn’t take itself too seriously, which just adds to the fun. This isn’t at all surprising given the dev’s street cred: Terri Vellmann forged the well-received FPS dungeon crawler Heavy Bullets. The multicoloured mayhem of High Hell is backed by the thumping tones of Doseone’s soundtrack for a high-adrenaline sensory hit that begs repeat play-throughs. Full disclosure: you’ll want to play it more than once to get your money’s worth. High Hell is short but hella sweet, built with speed-run aficionados and afternoon warriors in mind, more so than the FPSer seeking a solo experience that’ll stick around for days.
You young whippersnappers might have glossed over the mention of Day of Defeat in my intro but you really shouldn’t have. It’s one of the greatest World War II first-person shooters ever made, and it started out as a Half-Life mod. You can still play it today on Steam (gun for the Source version), but you really don’t have to anymore because Day of Infamy exists. As those first two words of the game title imply, New World Interactive has made a spiritual successor to Day of Defeat.
For those familiar with New World Interactive’s previous work, Day of Infamy is a little more hardcore than Day of Defeat, and a World War II take on the preceding Insurgency (which was a more hardcore take on Counter-Strike). The even higher lethality of Day of Infamy means you should shun CoD-like run-and-gun tactics in favour of more methodical methods. When you’re playing with a competent and communicating team against a similarly matched foe, Day of Infamy provides a fantastic sense of teamplay satisfaction on public servers, the likes of which are hard to find in other team-based shooters.
This marks the third entry for Third Reich killing in this list, and boy does this one pack a wallop. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the Wolfenstein sequel you’ve been looking for since, well, Wolfenstein 3D. That’s not to say the other Wolfenstein games that came after the granddaddy of the genre are terrible, but they’re not exactly stellar.
MachineGames changed that expectation with Wolfenstein: The New Order and continues the trend with gusto for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. PC port woes aside, The New Colossus is a solid Nazi-slaying simulator. There’s a bonkers story. Larger-than-life characters. Most importantly, the gunplay is even better than the fantastic offering in The New Order. There are more tools for getting the job done, and there’s a progression system that incentivises you to try new gameplay tactics.
Best of all, it’s tough. Shooters are too often too easy these days, and even on Normal difficulty you’ll get the third degree from the Third Reich goons if you don’t respect their capacity to eviscerate you. Naturally, you should be gunning to do that to them – akimbo shotties or otherwise – and send them to sieg hell.
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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.
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