The 50 Best First-Person Shooters of All Time

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The 50 Best First-Person Shooters of All Time

Whether you like the genre or not, it’s impossible to deny that some of the biggest and most groundbreaking games ever made have been first-person shooters. In the ‘90s the shooter exploded from weird shareware files we’d download from a local BBS into the biggest genre in the medium, and it still dominates the sales charts today. Beyond commercial success, the combination of a first-person perspective and the easy-to-understand interface of shooting things has provided a reliable framework for designers to challenge and entertain players while experimenting with storytelling, world-building and notions of player choice. Paste convened a small group of knowledgeable critics and FPS aficionados to wade through the genre’s history and come up with a list of the 50 best first-person shooters ever made. The group included Javy Gwaltney, former Paste contributor and current Game Informer Associate Editor; Patrick Lindsey and Reid McCarter, game critics and co-editors of the book Shooter: 15 Critical Essays About Games With Guns; Paste contributor Suriel Vazquez; Paste news editor Jim Vorel; former Paste games intern Eric Van Allen; and Paste games and comedy editor Garrett Martin. They focused exclusively on first-person games where shooting and other forms of combat were the primary form of interaction (so no Mirror’s Edge, Gone Home or Minecraft), and where the player could directly control the character’s movements (so no “rail shooters” like Time Crisis or shooting galleries like Duck Hunt). They weighed games both on their level of craft and their significance within the medium, and came up with a list that succinctly summarizes the rise and refinement of the shooter genre. Here you’ll find some of the most iconic games of all time alongside cult hits and forgotten favorites, and all together they chart the growth of not just one genre but the entire industry, for better or worse.

50. Bioshock Infinite
2013

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After a long and very public development period, Bioshock Infinite had a lot to live up to. Moving out of Rapture and into the clouds, into another part of the Bioshock multiverse, was ultimately the correct choice, broadening the scope of this universe in ways that fans could never have expected. The game’s combat doesn’t stray too far from the improvements made in Bioshock 2, and it has occasionally been criticized for having combat encounters that are too “samey” when spread out over the course of a full game, but in its best moments it’s still a blast to wreak havoc by employing both vigors and guns simultaneously. As in previous Bioshock entries, though, the moments that replay in one’s head later are hardly, if ever, the combat. In Infinite, the moment for me is lingering to listen to a hovering barbershop quartet singing The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” It’s not quite the mind-blowing moment I experienced when seeing Rapture for the first time, but it’s not that far off, either.—Jim Vorel

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49. F.E.A.R.
2005

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F.E.A.R.’s main strength was as a hyper-focused shooter with intense combat, where enemies would dodge your grenades, and would frequently put you in situations that tested your ability to respond to changing situations. It was also touted as a horror game, but while the horror elements mostly worked as window dressing for a shooter filled with rather ordinary-looking environments, it was enough to make you believe that at some point, you’d be faced with an enemy all the guns in the world weren’t going to kill. What could possibly be scarier in a shooter?—Suriel Vazquez

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48. Zombi U
2012

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You only occasionally had to shoot in Ubisoft’s weird, overlooked Wii U gem, but when you did, it was about as stressful as videogames get. The goal for your underarmed scavenger was survival, and that was incredibly hard in a London plagued with masses of zombies. What made Zombi U so memorable wasn’t the speed or thrill of its shooting, but how using a gun could attract more zombies, quickly removing one obstacle while potentially increasing the number of other obstacles in your immediate vicinity. It’s also still one of the best implementations of the Wii U’s gamepad, and its attitude towards player death recalled the Souls game: when you died you would respawn as a brand new character and have to track down either your previous corpse or kill its reanimated zombie form to retrieve your old supplies. It was brutal and not always user-friendly, but took a smart approach to both first-person action and the zombie genre.—Garrett Martin

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47. Hexen: Beyond Heretic
1995

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The term “Doom clone” rose to prominence in the mid-late ‘90s, and with good reason. Hexen is simultaneously a clone of Doom and its own separate beast. Made in the Doom engine, the developers jettisoned any other hint of the game’s origin. Corridors and big guns were put aside for axes and hub-and-spoke-style level design. Hexen is clearly rooted in Doom, but it uses that lineage to its advantage instead of being held back by it.—Patrick Lindsey

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46. Star Wars: Battlefront II
2005

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Star Wars: Battlefront II is the strongest argument to date that there’s more to Star Wars than lightsabers and Jedi. The game captured the large-scale chaos of a ground war and tried to contain it within the pristine bubble of the Star Wars universe. Developer Pandemic was keen to incorporate as many elements of the classic sci-fi universe as possible, letting players fight it out on the ground or in the vacuum of space—or both at the same time.—Patrick Lindsey

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45. Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II
1997

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If the first Dark Forces was well-received just because it was our first glimpse of the Star Wars universe in a first-person shooter, Jedi Knight earned every bit of its critical adoration as a much better game and realization of the Star Wars universe. The production values were just through the roof for the time, with full-motion video and a full cast of actors lending the world a cinematic feel. The levels were huge and expansive, contributing a feeling of massive scale. The shooting was likewise fine, but the game really came alive when Kyle Katarn set down his path toward Jedi knighthood and the various force powers were unlocked. To say that they transformed the game is an understatement, as powers such as force speed and force jump completely changed which areas you’re able to access. Between this game and its Mysteries of the Sith expansion, it’s one of the best single-player stories ever told in the Star Wars universe.—Jim Vorel

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44. Call of Duty: Black Ops
2010

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Building on the storytelling of previous Call of Duty titles, Black Ops jumped the series forward to the Vietnam and Cold War era, where conspiracy and paranoia ran highest. Amidst a campaign of the usual explosions and grandeur was a spy thriller, one that kept you guessing until the end. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing a reference to “The numbers, Mason! What do they mean?!” The multiplayer of both Black Ops and its sequel is still regarded as some of the best of the series, and it showed that Infinity Ward didn’t stand alone—Treyarch was there to make something every bit as influential as Modern Warfare.—Eric Van Allen

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43. Duke Nukem 3D
1996

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It’s almost a little embarrassing to go back today in 2015 and profess any admiration or fondness for 1996’s Duke Nukem 3D, especially following the fiasco of Duke Nukem Forever, but like it or not, this game forms part of a triumvirate with Wolfenstein 3D and Doom as the best early shooters. And honestly, compared to those earlier titles, Duke Nukem 3D was an FPS that truly had personality and character rather than the faceless nature of Doom Guy. Duke’s hyper-macho quips are juvenile, but in a time when the market was largely seen as prepubescent boys, it made sense. The gameplay, meanwhile, was quite a step forward from anything people had seen before, with its destructible level designs and multiple pathways. The weapon designs were likewise awesome—who can forget the first time they shrunk an enemy with the shrink ray and then stepped on them like a bug? That particular style of weapon has never been done as well again in an FPS in the last 20 years.—Jim Vorel

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42. Battlefield 3
2011

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The name’s fitting: Battlefield has always been devoted to large, sprawling, multiplayer battles with more combatants than most games allow. Battlefield 3 hinted at the confusion and fury of war more than its Call of Duty competition, a series whose games typically feel more scripted and confined. If the Call of Duty games were arcade shooting galleries, Battlefield 3 was basically a military sandbox. With the right crew, it could be more complex and more thrilling than almost any other military shooter.—Garrett Martin

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41. Destiny
2014

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There were many valid complaints about Destiny when it first came out, and despite many updates and additions it’s still not a game for everybody. It tried to unite an MMO framework with action reminiscent of Halo, which, of course, Destiny’s creators also made. Some might have complained about Destiny’s repetition and relatively empty worlds, but others loved its emphasis on loot and co-op play, and especially its system of “strike” missions. Regardless of whether you enjoy Destiny or not, it’s hard to deny that it’s a unique approach to creating a first-person shooter.—Garrett Martin

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