First-person shooters are amongst the most passionately loved of all games genres. But which FPS games are the best? We've complied a list of the 39 best ever first person shooter games.
And becuase we couldn't bear to leave them out, we've added in the odd third-person shooter too. It may annoy the purists, but we're here to celebrate the best in a great genre of gaming.
Now read our controversial: 18 Worst Video games ever
All these shooter games are great and you could make an argument for any of them to be the best, but we've chosen Half-Life as our best ever first-person shooter. You may, of course, disagree. If you don't agree with any of our choices, let us know in the comments field below, and check out our original list of the 28 best ever first-person shooter games from 2008 to see how our thoughts have changed. See also: The 18 best role-playing games for iPhone and iPad
Why it's great: It might seem like cheating to include two games from the same series, but Half-Life and its sequel are two entirely different animals, in a way that the endless lineage of interchangeable Call of Duties really could do with learning from. Where Half-Life 2 is a blockbuster, high-speed shooter with some psychics puzzles, Half-Life is Indiana Jones starring a silent physicist trapped in an underground, labyrinthine research centre filled with traps, strange beasties and grand-scale setpieces. It's an adventure in the truest sense, where the shooting's really just a means of getting to the next wild scene.
2. Aliens versus Predator Classic 2000
Why it's great: Or simply 'Aliens vs Predator' if you prefer thinking of it in terms of its original, turn of the century release rather than the recent spruce-up for modern systems. AvP is all about atmosphere rather than gimmickry or heavily scripted moments, with the fear and tension just as profound whether you're a human, a predator or an alien. There's a lot of impatience with shooters which are set in metal corridors these days, and with good reason, but AvP understands that those corridors mean claustrophobia and danger, rather than just means of keeping the player on strict rails.
3. The Typing of Dead
Why it's great: Alright, technically speaking there are no guns, but don't let that put you off playing one of the most singularly strange videogames of all time. An official modification of arcade staple The House of the Dead 2, it sees its wooden-voice zombie-hunters toting chest-mounted keyboards instead of automatic weaponry. Words appear above the monsters heads, and you need to type 'em as quickly and accurately as possible to kill the beasts. It makes no sense on paper. It makes perfect sense in practice, and doesn't lose any of the tension and danger of action games despite the absurdity.
4. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
Why it's great: It's tricky to pick the highest watermark of the slow-diving New York City cop's three odysseys of violence, but the hyper-noirish second game just about takes it despite the first being a fresher breath of air and the third being a graphical and dialogue tour de force. Like so many of the best shooters, it's about atmosphere as much as it action, with tortured hero Max pursued by demons as he pursues criminals. Stylish, dark, and just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek with it.
5. Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter
Why it's great: For a series that officially only reached number 3 last year, there sure are an awful lot of Serious Sams to choose from. It's this 2009 spit'n'polished remake of the very first that's the clear highlight, however. 'Serious' is taking the mickey, as this is about as far departed from reality as you can get, but in a sense it's accurate - this is very, very serious about action. Action that involves constantly running at ludicrous speeds, battling enough on-screen enemies to fill at least a dozen IMAXes, and boss fights against city-sized monsters. Wonderful. Stupid. Stupidly wonderful.
6. Portal / Portal 2
Why it's great: Stretching the definition of shooter perhaps, but hey, you carry a gun at all times and you kill robots. It's just that the gun fires physics-bending portals rather than bullets, and the robot killing happens indirectly as a result of said portalling. It's an action-puzzle game about navigating through tricksy environments by creating teleporting pathways, and it has sharp, tragi-comic dialogue to die for. The first is arguably the better game in terms of the challenge it offers, but the second is longer and has the edge in terms of gags and characters (see Portal 2 review).
7. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
Why it's great: STALKER is one of the most important shooters of all time, yet one that far too few people have played. Partly that's because it has something of a reputation for bugginess, and partly because it probably looks too odd, slow and maudlin by half to folk looking for a quick action fix. That's such a shame. The bugs are by and large fixed, and the sheer sense of place - an alternate-universe, mutant-infested but nonetheless faithfully-recreated Chernobyl and its environs - is all but unbettered. Creepy, alive and surprising - plus the shooting has a survivalist, every bullet matters mentality rather than the usual 80s action movie style. Third game Call of Pripyat is a more polished, but first game Shadow of Chernobyl has more to offer if you can bear the rougher edges.
8. Battlefield 3
Why it's great: There's a very good argument for what's in fact the seventh Battlefield game not being in this list, and that is that its singleplayer mode is a load of tedious, uninspired nothing. That's bad news for anyone who bought it for singleplayer, but Battlefield 3 is really about its large-scale, wide-open multiplayer battles. Huge armies going at each other with vehicles and aircraft as well as a wide selection of guns: it's got spectacle and strategy that its arch-rival Call of Duty does not. The relentless focus on levelling up and unlock perhaps dilutes the essential appeal of Battlefields past, but if you want an instant war, here's where to go.
9. Halo: Combat Evolved
Why it's great: 'Which is the best Halo?' is the kind of argument you never want to get into the pub unless you want to die of boredom. Anyway, the answer is the first one. A strikingly otherwordly and vast setting (well, until the sadly claustrophobic last missions), the seamless use of land and air vehicles in wide-open levels and the clear sense of being just one part of a larger war. Later Halos devolved into the Arnie experience and took away the freedom of movement, though in their favour they're much greater multiplayer accomplishments. The recent Xbox Live Halo 1 re-release is well worth picking up as it adds online multiplayer to the old dear, and even if it doesn't have as much variety and the video-making tools of Halo 3, there's something to be said for its no-fuss simplicity (see also Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary review).
10. Left 4 Dead 2
Why it's great: Believe it or not, when the first Left 4 Dead was released back in 2008 there was an incredible amount of excitement about the concept of co-operative zombie-shooting game. Now every videogame in the whole wide world has zombies in it and it's harder to see the appeal, but L4D - and particularly its more fleshed-out-sequel - makes the battle against the undead feel fresh to this day. The danger of death and with it crushing defeat is ever-present, the horde are innumerable and resources forever in short supply. For all that, it's high-speed, breathless action that's more than capable of taking you by surprise, not some fearful trudge.
Our list of the 39 best ever first-person shooter games continues with SWAT 4 and Spec Ops: the Line. If you don't agree with any of our choices, let us know in the comments field below.
11. SWAT 4
Why it's great: A forgotten gem from the creators of Bioshock, this is rare proof that military shooters don't need to be po-faced, thick as two short planks and all about who's got the best gun. Ideally played in co-op, SWAT 4 sees you and a squad of all-too-fragile chums trying to take out the bad guys with a minimum of fuss - sometimes even non-fatally, with the use of a gun that fires high-velocity bean bags. Whether bloody or bloodless, every mission requires extreme caution, communication and forward planning. Add to that couple of remarkably creepy levels and you've got something that's quietly very, very special and one of the best co-op games of all time.
12. Spec Ops: the Line
Why it's great: The tedious name belies what's proven to be one of 2012's biggest talking points in gaming. Sure, it's a fairly ordinary third-person shooter in terms of action, but it's got two aces up its otherwise forgettable sleeve. One is the setting, a post-disaster Dubai that pairs gleaming skyscrapers with sandstorms. Luxury yachts litter the dunes, huge billboards promise absurd indulgences amdist the burned bodies... It's a darkly memorable sight. On top of that, the game poses difficult questions about what it is to be a shooter, and what the consequences of such extreme violence might be. Which rather makes it a shame it's so guilty of what's it's criticising. Whether you agree with its message or not, it's something of must-play. See also: Spec Ops: The Line review.
13. Team Fortress 2
Why it's great: Ah, the great multiplayer leveller. While this cartoon-esque team shooter does have plenty of room for shooting expertise for those who desire it, it's also an instant-fun riot for rank amateurs. Pick the character that most appeals to you - the slow but steady, blood-crazed heavy, the headshotting Sniper, the fast-running scout, the rocket-jumping Soldier - and get in there. You don't have to be good at shooters to feel like you've contributed, and you're guaranteed a laugh. And if fighting other players seems a bit too scary, TF2's recently had a co-op mode added in which you and four others fight off hordes of AI-controlled robots. A true classic.
14. Metro 2033
Why it's great: If you like the sound of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. but think it sounds a bit too free-form and maudlin for you, cast your eye Metro 2033's way. It's got a lot of its fellow Ukranian game's vibe, but opts for more of a rollercoaster action take on irradiated mutants and post-apocalypse survivors. Not that it skimps on weirdness, mind - Call of Duty this most certainly is not. Given Metro 2033 is packed full of memorable sights, both in terms of monsters and showing the starving society hiding from the horrors on the surface inside Moscow's subway system, it scarcely matters that its shooting feels a little off.
15. Dead Island
Why it's great: Well, it's not for everyone -hardly bug-free and more than a little obnoxious in tone, this tale of a zombie outbreak on a Caribbean island is very much an acquired taste. Stick with it and it's full of surprises and a palpable sense of danger, while the juxtaposition of groaning dead-head and blissful beach setting never quite loses its edge. Like so many of the more timeless shooters, sense of place is just as, if not more than, important than how satisfying it feels to unload a full clip into something's face. And here, the weapons you use are cobbled together from what's lying around in this former paradise, rather than waiting in convenient ammo crates. There are admittedly many things Dead Island fumbles, but giving its players a overwhelming sense of desperation is not one of them.
16. Far Cry
Why it's great: Speaking of paradise islands, here's a game today's on-rails shooters could do with learning a trick or two from. Far Cry was the predecessor to Crysis, but for much of its duration it avoids sci-fi in favour of having you battle armies of mercenaries across wide-open outdoor spaces. There are speedboats, there are jeeps, there are even hang-gliders. Far Cry's best levels have an incredible sense of scale, and with it great freedom to approach battles in the way you see fit. Sadly, its indoor-set levels, and the eventual arrival of frankly annoying simian mutants, sees the second half of the game lose its edge, but it can't undo the huge, emergent achievements of the first half.
17. Dead Space
Why it's great: From afar, Dead Space looks like it's guilty of every sin in the shooter design book - oh so much brown, cramped metal corridors and a lead character who's entire personality is in his silly outfit. But this slow-burn horror-shooter knows what it's doing. It's all about feeling more tangibly a part of the creepy, deep space world you're playing - from the crunchy thud of your huge metal boot on either floor or mutant skull, to the use of a mining laser as a weapon which gradually carves away at enemies rather than just make them fall over, to the way the game's interface - health and ammo counters - are shown as lights along your character's spine rather than bars at the bottom of the screen. Plus, an overwhelming sense that everything really is going to hell and there might just be nothing you can do about it.
18. Quake III: Arena/ Quake Live
Why it's great: Perhaps *the* definitive multiplayer shooter for those who want a no-nonsense test of skill, Quake III's intense battle of shotguns, rocket launchers and railguns was recently reborn as the free-to-play, browser-based Quake Live. It's as rewarding and as brutal as it was a decade and a half ago, although the payment models (for access to additional maps and modes) haven't gone down too well with everyone. There's certainly something eternal about Quake III - a perfect blend of speed and accuracy, and the constant, sport-like striving to forever better your own abilities.
Why it's great: Back in the early 90s, the gaming industry hadn't yet decided that shooters must necessarily be about a man with a gun running down a series of corridors. Descent has you playing in small spaceship, in a zero-gravity environment where you have freedom of movement in all directions. Unlike the vast majority of shooters since, you're able to approach the level from any angle you see fit, which as well as being hugely liberating means fights are arguably more about tactical movement than aiming aptitude . Descent compensates for your extreme mobility with extreme cruelty, never afraid to dump overwhelming odds on you with no notice. If you can't quite stomach the appearance, look instead to 1999's 3D-accelerated Descent 3.
20. Tribes: Ascend
Why it's great: 'free to play' is as terrifying a phrase for life-long gamers as it is exciting for the men in suits who secretly rule videogames, as it's been horribly abused in a very short space of time. Here's a game that really gets it right, however. This 2012 reboot/remake of the peerless jetpack-based online shooter Tribes, it retains the heart and soul of the game while adding in plenty of new stuff and a much more modern look. It's also very good at offering the choice between paying for or slowly earning via play its assorted new weapons and load-outs, so it doesn't seem to exist primarily to ask you for money. However you choose to lay hands on new goodies, the thrill of Tribes is that success relies on so much more than being able to move a cursor around rapidly - you've got to understand the 3D space you're in, and the tactical opportunities having a jetpack strapped to your back affords you.
Our list of the 39 best ever first-person shooter games continues with DayZ and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect.
Why it's great: Ah, the surprise hit of 2012. This official modification of 2009's super-hardcore military shooter Arma II seemed to come out of nowhere, and now it's played by untold legions of people, is due its own standalone version and even has an (alleged) copycat game on the way. It's another zombie survival game, but this is set in a vast, open-world recreation of a fictional ex-Soviet state, where anything can and will go wrong. You might run out supplies, break a bone, have your kit (or life) taken by other players, or you might become infected yourself. DayZ's world lives and breathes and constantly surprises, but rarely to your benefit. This is true survival, and absolutely terrifying with it. It's also a shooter wherein laying hands on a gun is a major, game-changing event rather than just par for the course.
22. TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
Why It's Great: It's not often that you get to bend the space-time continuum on a regular basis, teaming up with versions of yourself from both the past and the future to solve puzzles. For Cortez, the protagonist of the TimeSplitters series, this is day-to-day life.
TimeSplitters had a quirky, surreal style that fit right at home with the time-traveling dynamic, allowing players access to a wide array of weapons from both the future, present, and past. One minute you may be dueling it out with six-shooters, the next firing plasma guns at your enemies - talk about weapon variety! With a rich single-player campaign and addictive multiplayer modes, TimeSplitters 3 is a shooter well worth revisiting.
23. Counter-Strike: Source
Why It's Great: Before there was Halo, there was Counter-Strike: the game that everyone played, even if they didn't play games. What started out as a Half-Life mod turned into the most popular online shooter ever created. Its simple, round-based, terrorists vs counter-terrorists gameplay was fueled by a genre-first weapon purchase system, and the elegance and perfection of Dust sealed the deal. CS: Source came along when Half-Life 2 was released, porting the game into a next-generation engine and stopping the rampant cheating. Despite what some critics said, Valve made the right choice with the port; CS is an experience that will stay pure forever.
24. Thief: The Dark Project
Why It's Great: Thief pioneered the use of stealth in the first-person perspective. Though not truly a 'shooter', Thief's innovative use of first-person conventions opened it up to an audience thirsty for a new experience. As Garret, a creature of the night, it was your mission to slip between shadows, sneak around guards, and steal to your heart's content. When trouble popped up, as it often did, you rarely responded with force. Garret packed a hefty bag of tricks, from water arrows to douse torches to a nifty blackjack that could down an enemy guard with one whack. By melding first-person shooter gameplay with a deep stealth component, Thief was truly ahead of its time.
25. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas
Why It's Great: From the first moment you signal your team to rappel into a casino, blasting the windows open as you toss a smoke grenade into a blackjack parlor, you know you've hit something special. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas took the dynamic of acting as a team and made it a central asset to the FPS experience. With an emphasis on teamwork, Vegas was also a blast to play co-op or competitively against (and with) other players, constantly forcing gamers to think on their feet as they moved through expertly detailed Las Vegas layouts. What happens in Vegas is a blast.
26. Battlefield 1942
Why It's Great: The Battlefield series truly lives up to its name; instead of casting you as the lone American soldier up against a castle of Nazi goons, you took on the role of one selected unit in the midst of a massive battle. Battlefield's online play was extraordinary for its time, truly giving the players the experience that they were part of a history in motion, reenacting famous battles from the Battle of the Bulge to Omaha Beach. With historically accurate maps ripped straight from history textbooks, a wide array of era-specific vehicles at your fingertips, and team-based gameplay that made you a true team player, Battlefield 1942 proved itself as one of the most authentic - and enjoyable - World War II shooters to date.
27. Unreal Tournament
Why It's Great: Unreal Tournament was a bold move from the team at Epic Games, who later went on to create the fabulously popular Gears of War. Though Unreal Tournament is now regarded as a modern classic, at the time it represented a huge gamble for Epic: at the time, the studio was more famous for its single-player campaign than its multiplayer modes. But upon its release, Unreal Tournament became an instant classic due to its lighting-quick action, massive arsenal, and open support for fan-made mods and mutators. The controls, graphics, sound, and online modes were all hugely influential - this is another series that played a key role in the creation of Halo.
28. Metroid Prime
Why It's Great: Metroid Prime for the GameCube isn't your traditional first-person shooter. Like its 2D predecessors, Metroid Prime focused more on exploration and adventure than white-knuckle combat. Nintendo and developer Retro Studios took the Metroid franchise and turned it on its head with an incredibly deep shooter that still maintained everything from the original titles that made Metroid a household name.
29. Perfect Dark
Why It's Great: Rare took the FPS world by storm with the announcement of Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64, which served as an important refinement over the classic Goldeneye 007. Players could choose to take part in an epic single player mode, engaging in stealthy espionage and Rambo-esque gunfight sequences as they fought their way towards the truth behind dataDyne's dark past, or jump head-on into a multiplayer experience that many would compare to that of GoldenEye. With incredibly inventive weapons (laptop gun, anyone?) mixed with beautiful graphics and a fantastic soundtrack, Perfect Dark was - and still is - a true must-own shooter. Unfortunately, the Xbox 360 prequel Perfect Dark Zero radically altered the winning formula and lost many of its fans in the process.
Why It's Great: Crysis is literally one surprise after another. You're dropped on North Korean territory in a government issued nano-suit, and charged with taking down the radical KCP faction. So far, so good. But halfway through your pursuit, a race of advanced extraterrestrials enters the fray. Throw in some surprisingly open-world gameplay, astonishingly detailed visuals, and the option to switch between your nano-suits abilities on the fly, and you have one of the most complete PC shooters ever created. While the steep, steep system requirements definitely took their toll on the game's sales, Crysis is one of the few games that was actually worth the investment in new PC hardware.
Our list of the 39 best ever first-person shooter games continues with System Shock II and Duke Nukem 3D.
31. System Shock II
Why It's Great: The sequel to the stellar System Shock (and precusor to BioShock) was groundbreaking in more ways than we can count. This is a survival-horror game for the hardcore horror junkie. From the game's skin-crawling storyline (a race of alien parasites slaughter the crew of a cutting-edge space vessel), to the manipulative and utterly indifferent ‘ally', to its unbelievably bone-chilling audio design, System Shock II is one of the most immersive games ever designed. The sole survivor of the faster-than-light Von Braun military starship, you battled deformed humans, psionic lab chimpanzees, and unspeakable cyborg half-breeds with wrench (and pistol) in hand. In the end, though, the ultimate brilliance of System Shock II revolves around its devious plot twists. Not everything is quite as it first seems.
32. Duke Nukem 3D
Why It's Great: Take equal parts Ash from the Evil Dead films and Rowdy Roddy Piper from the cult classic They Live, sprinkle a myriad of pop culture references layered with clever puzzles and fast-paced gameplay, and you've got Duke Nukem 3D in all its glory. This game, for its time, was revelatory because it imbued its environments with never-before-seen levels of interactivity. We're talking functional mirrors ('Damn I'm looking good'), functional toilets ('Oooh...much better'), and more movie references than any game before or since. The graphics haven't aged particularly well, but the gameplay and interactivity are still unmatched. See also: Duke Nukem Forever review.
33. Doom II
Why It's Great: When a game tells you to leap head first into the depths of Hell, guns blazing, you don't ask questions; you point your BFG-9000 at the closest Cacodemon and let 'er rip. Revolutionary for its time, and still an absolute blast to play to this day, Doom II set new standards for what to expect from a shooter, not to mention helping pave the way for the FPS genre in general. A wide assortment of colorful weapons (including the notorious double-barreled shotgun) and an even wider selection of demonic enemies made this trip to the afterlife worth taking, and gave gamers the perfect excuse to scream 'See you in Hell! before blasting a Spectre's head off'.
34. GoldenEye 007
Why It's Great: Who doesn't remember crowding around a television in the dark, eyes red and drooping from exhaustion, hands aching and cramped around a Nintendo 64 controller as you mutter to your friends, 'One more round!' GoldenEye was a simply exquisite title on all fronts and is still regarded as a crowning achievement in multiplayer gaming. From races through deserted military barracks in search of the prestigious Golden Gun to simply arguing over who got to play as Oddjob, GoldenEye had a winning formula on all fronts that has yet to be matched by any other FPS. Without Goldeneye, Halo simply wouldn't exist.
Why It's Great: A collective gasp spread throughout the gaming community the first time casual gamers and jaded critics alike first laid eyes on the underwater dystopia of Rapture. Featuring one of the most engaging premises in a video game to date, BioShock was more of an experience than it was a game. With smart, scary gameplay and a refreshingly mature storyline, BioShock also marked a significant turning point in the video game industry, tearing asunder any stereotypes that this was a children's medium or a passing mainstream fad. BioShock gave its players an amazing amount of freedom regarding how they were experience the world of Rapture, from blasting enemies with powerful genetic abilities to hacking turrets and security bots, it was evident from the start that there was no one way to play BioShock. Truly a modern classic.
36. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Why It's Great: Modern Warfare grabbed the hearts and minds of gamers worldwide in late 2007, becoming a bonafide phenomenon almost overnight. Updating the already prestigious Call of Duty series with a new modern setting, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare pumped vitality into both its single-player campaign and its pulse-pounding multiplayer modes. A combination of new RPG-styled Perk abilities, weapon upgrades, and ultra-tight controls make Call of Duty 4 a modern-day legend.
37. Half-Life 2
Why It's Great: Rise and shine, Mister Freeman& Wake up and smell the ashes. It's tough to find a game more spell-binding than Half-Life 2. From the moment you find yourself riding that train into the dystopian future of City 17 to the instance good ol' Barney tosses you your trademark crowbar, gamers everywhere knew that they were in for one hell of a ride. With unmatched in-game cinematics and a memorable cast of allies and villains, Half-Life 2 was an experience more than it was a game.
38. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Why It's Great: It's rare to find a movie-based game that's better than the film itself - much less a Vin Diesel one (XxX for the GBA, anybody?) Amazingly, Chronicles of Riddick took the gaming world by storm with a genuinely original gaming experience, impressive HD visuals, and smart stealth-based action.
Taking place before the Riddick films, Escape from Butcher Bay told the tale of how Riddick came to be the badass you meet in Pitch Black, all the while painting a gritty environment with the ‘inescapable' prison world of Butcher Bay. Throw in note-perfect voice work by Diesel himself, Ron Perlman and even acclaimed rapper Xzibit, and you have a cinematic experience that's not only unexpected, but simply excellent.
39. No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way
Why It's Great: No One Lives Forever had all of the elements for a winning FPS formula: a tongue-in-cheek script, fantastic visuals, tight controls, imaginative weapons, and of course, a shag-tastic 60s leading lady. Throw in outlandish situations such as shooting while skydiving or gunning it out in the eye of a tornado and you have the makings of an unforgettable experience. A savage spoof on the James Bond genre of spy films, NOLF2 is a deserved cult classic and is not to be missed.
If you don't agree with any of our choices, let us know in the comments field below