The first-person shooter genre has been one of the most popular and most important genres of all time. Ever since the genre took off in the 90s, we’ve seen plenty of variations on it, including story-based FPS games, ones with heavy RPG elements, and others that feature vast, open worlds. We’ve seen the genre grow and evolve over the years, and with next-gen right around the corner, it looks like FPS games are ready for another giant leap ahead with Titanfall and Destiny.
Before we start this new generation and experience brand new, even more innovative FPS experiences, it’s time to look back at the storied history of the genre and give credit to the fantastic games that have released over the years and have paved the way for the next evolution of FPS titles.
In the 90s, the FPS was most popular on PCs. The reason for that is the genre was practically born on PC with Wolfenstein, which was a great game, and I had problems choosing which of those 90 FPS titles to include on the list. From Unreal Tournament to Quake, many popular PC FPS titles of the 90s deserve to be on here, but I had to pick one, and so I went with one of the most famous and controversial, the original Doom.
Doom’s creepy sci-fi setting coupled with the fast-paced FPS gameplay expected from id Software results in an experience quite unlike any other. The game really helped propel the FPS genre to new heights, though it was unfortunately the center of controversy, with some groups going as far as to blame Doom for causing violence in those that played it.
I’m not turning this into the “video game violence” debate again, as that’s tired and worn out. But years from now, when the medium is finally recognized for the art that it is on a wider scale, Doom will not be remembered as the catalyst for violence, but rather an integral and infinitely important step forward in one of the most important genres in the history of gaming.
This seventh generation has been huge for FPS games. Thanks to the success of Call of Duty, we’ve seen first-person shooters become much more prevalent and embody the attributes of other popular genres. Borderlands mashes together an FPS with a dungeon crawler in the vein of Diablo, plus throws an absurd amount of guns into the mix as well for good measure.
Known for its fun co-op play and addicting RPG progression system, Borderlands is a quest-heavy adventure with charm, humor, and gorgeous cel-shaded visuals that help it stand out from the rest of the FPS games on the market. It’s a crowded genre for sure, but thankfully there are unique games like Borderlands out there to keep things fresh.
08. Battlefield 3
DICE and “first-person” just go together. Not only did they create the cult classic Mirror’s Edge, but DICE created and cultivated the mega-popular Battlefield franchise. In fact, the Battlefield series has been so popular that it has really been the only serious contender to the Call of Duty throne. The closest anyone has gotten to knocking Call of Duty and Activision down a peg was EA and DICE’s Battlefield 3.
After finding success on consoles with the campaign-focused Bad Company franchise, it was about time DICE returned to their roots with Battlefield 3. Featuring impressive destructibility, large scale maps, and even larger scale battles, Battlefield 3 is an excellent game on PC and consoles. While its campaign could’ve taken a few notes from the Bad Company spinoff series, the multiplayer here is a serious contender, providing a great challenge and unique features that make it superior to Call of Duty in many ways.
With Call of Duty: Ghosts looking fairly mediocre and Battlefield 4 looking absolutely amazing with its revamped campaign and heightened destructibility (plus the ability of console players to play with the full 64 players on Xbox One and PlayStation 4), I think 2013 is the first year we see the Call of Duty franchise taken down a peg.
Speaking of EA, there’s another FPS series they’ve helped grow over the years. Crysis is better known as that game that won’t run at highest settings on your super expensive gaming rig. The game’s visuals have still been hardly matched, even by the demos we’ve seen of eighth generation visuals running on PS4 and Xbox One.
The original Crysis is my favorite. Crytek creates a unique science-fiction world with intriguing technology that basically makes the player a superhuman on the battlefield. Despite this, there’s plenty of gameplay variety in the original Crysis, including a heavy focus on stealth as well as encouraging player creativity to get through situations.
06. Far Cry 3
One of Ubisoft’s strongest franchises, the Far Cry series has never been better than Far Cry 3. The game features an open world, free-roaming structure to house great FPS gameplay. It has been described as “Skyrim with guns”, and that is a pretty apt description. Thanks to a variety of different quests, a satisfying upgrade system, and plenty of RPG elements, Far Cry 3 is just as hard to put down as Bethesda’s epic RPG.
Far Cry 3 is just so much fun that it’s ridiculous. The main story features a lot of varied missions, ranging from flamethrower-filled levels of absolute insanity to stealth heavy sections that test the skills of players. But like any open world game worth its merit, Far Cry 3 is filled with side activities that are just as fun, if not even more entertaining, than the core story and side quests.
Players can take part in various challenges across the islands that are connected to the Internet for leaderboard integration. There’s also hunting challenges that task players with hunting down the various exotic animals of the islands, which include huge sharks, vicious lions, and even Komodo dragons. Far Cry 3 has it all.
05. BioShock Infinite
Some people would label the BioShock games under the “FPA”, or first-person adventure genre, but I am not one of those people. To me, the BioShock games have always been FPS titles, albeit with a heavy focus on storytelling, RPG elements, and the use of magical abilities. BioShock Infinite features even more intense and frantic gunplay than the first game, which is a lot slower and features more survival horror elements.
BioShock Infinite made waves earlier this year and has already been hailed as a possible Game of the Year contender. I played through and thoroughly enjoyed BioShock Infinite’s masterfully crafted city of Columbia. The setting, the themes, and the jaw-dropping story all work in tandem to create not only one of the most memorable gaming worlds of all time, but one of the most memorable games in general.
There will be a lot of debate at the end of the year about which game deserves the title Game of the Year, but you have to believe that BioShock Infinite will always be a part of that conversation.
04. Halo 4
Honestly, any of the Halo titles could’ve fit here, but I went with the most recent entry for a variety of reasons. For one, it provides that classic Halo multiplayer experience that fans have come to know and love, but adds even more features and gameplay mechanics to really perfect the experience. Secondly, it features what was, to me, the most exciting and entertaining campaign experience in Halo history.
The original Halo titles are hugely important in that they helped establish and maintain the Xbox brand. Microsoft’s original Xbox probably would’ve died out completely if it wasn’t for the original Halo, Combat Evolved, releasing alongside the system as a launch title. Bungie revolutionized how FPS games are played on console, developing a brilliant new control scheme and tweaking everything just right to create one of the most satisfying FPS experiences possible on consoles.
343 Industries had a Herculean task ahead of themselves when it came to carrying on Bungie’s legacy and pushing forward with Halo 4, even after gamers were already told they “finished the fight” in Halo 3. I’m glad that Master Chief found a new fight because Halo 4 is everything I love about Halo. The dynamic and constantly challenging multiplayer, the smart enemy AI that leads to exciting battles in the campaign, and finally a story that makes Master Chief a more interesting character than I ever thought he could hope to be. Bungie created Halo, but 343 has perfected it, giving gamers and Master Chief the greatest Halo adventure to date.
03. Half-Life 2
Half-Life 2 at number three, Half-Life 3 confirmed? Not quite, but if anyone was wondering why gamers have been begging for a third Half-Life game for nearly a decade now just needs to play Half-Life 2. After experiencing Gordan Freeman’s best FPS adventure, they will find themselves writing all the online petitions possible and sending letters to Gabe Newell in an attempt to get one of the most anticipated games in the history of gaming made.
Half-Life 2 built on the foundation laid by the original Half-Life very well, but upped the ante considerably. The entire story is told through the eyes of Gordan Freeman, with the game choosing to forgo traditional cut-scenes in order to maintain maximum player immersion. The visuals are so great that they still don’t feel outdated, and the game is so technically sound that it’s truly stunning. Half-Life 2 is practically perfect.
But what matters most with an FPS is this question: is the gunplay fun? In Half-Life 2, it is, and it is very much so. Half-Life 2 features a wide variety of intense, exciting levels with a variety of different enemies and plenty of different firearms to employ against those enemies. Of course, I can’t talk about Half-Life 2 without mentioning one of the most famous guns in all of gaming…the Gravity Gun.
The Gravity Gun is just what it sounds like. Using this weapon, players are able to levitate objects. This is used for combat purposes such as decapitating enemies with saw blades or smashing their heads in with toilets, but it can also be used to solve the physics based puzzles that are sprinkled throughout the game to great effect.
Two DLC expansion packs later, and gamers are still waiting to get the full conclusion to the franchise. In the meantime, if you want to experience Half-Life 2 yourself, then your best bet is to pick up the amazingly cheap collection called The Orange Box, which features two other first-person games. One is the multiplayer based FPS phenomenon Team Fortress 2, and the other is the original puzzle game that rocked the industry, Portal. Yep, Valve’s pedigree is very, very impressive, and they are one of the true masters of the genre. Need more proof? Check out Left 4 Dead as well as all their other games. Who knows, maybe if we give them enough of our money, they will finally get around to making Half-Life 3!
02. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
During the fifth generation, the RPG genre took off like wildfire thanks in no small part to the massive, unparalleled popularity of Final Fantasy VII on the original PlayStation system. In the seventh generation, the FPS genre has easily been the most popular, with the Call of Duty series breaking sales records and inspiring a multitude of clones. But there was one game that started it all, and that game was Call of Duty 4.
Yes, the other Call of Duty games that preceded it were great too, but Call of Duty 4 is the one that really changed the industry. The set piece filled campaign has been mimicked many times, but none have been able to capture the magic that was found in Call of Duty 4, with an action-packed campaign filled with jaw-dropping moments and exciting FPS gameplay.
Most people when they think about Call of Duty, however, they don’t think about the campaign. Call of Duty is synonymous with its fast-paced, balls to the wall multiplayer that has been the selling point for all subsequent entries in the series. Revolutionizing online multiplayer, Call of Duty 4 features brilliantly designed maps and a ton of FPS fan both offline or in (up to) four-player split-screen. In fact, I have never had more fun with an FPS than with Call of Duty 4, with the exception of this next game…
01. GoldenEye 007
Wasn’t it obvious? GoldenEye 007 is by far the best FPS ever created. It is the anomaly of licensed games; whereas most licensed titles are cheap cash-ins, GoldenEye 007 is one of the most brilliant, and most important games ever created.
The reason many Nintendo 64 systems were sold is due to GoldenEye. Yeah, Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 helped, but Rare’s FPS masterpiece is what really gave Nintendo 64 an edge over the original PlayStation. Everything about the game is just downright amazing, from the absurdly fun Facility map, the challenging story mode, and the Bond fan service everywhere you look.
GoldenEye 007 is James Bond filled with a healthy dose of Nintendo. There are plenty of secrets to discover, maps that are designed so well that many of them still have yet to be topped almost 20 years after the fact, and a multiplayer component that is universally known and respected. I spent many hours in front of my TV with a few buddies playing round after round of GoldenEye.
Some detractors will denounce GoldenEye earning the top spot by saying that I am blinded by nostalgia, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. “Go back and play it now, it sucks!” I’ve heard people say. Well, I still play GoldenEye from time to time. It’s the reason my Nintendo 64 isn’t in a box in my closet collecting dust; it’s the epitome of what I expect from a video game: pure, unadulterated entertainment. GoldenEye 007 is proof that when we talk about video games being art, we really need to take in consideration the artistry of the gameplay first and foremost.