Since the early 1990s, first-person shooters have continued to rise in popularity. Each year, games like Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, Battlefield, and more sit atop the list of most played games, proving the staying power of the genre. But what are the best first-person shooters ever released?
From games that changed the genre entirely or showed just how deep they can be, there is no shortage of great games to choose from. But we did have to be specific with what we were looking for.
For this list, we’re not looking at first-person games that have shooter elements. Instead, this list focuses solely on games where the main mechanic and gameplay loop is shooting while in first person.
What are the 10 best first-person shooters?
10. Quake III Arena
Fast-paced, fun action made Quake III Arena an incredible experience. A game that solely focused on multiplayer, Arena had you go through map tiers that varied in complexity. Weapons took time to master, but, once you did, made you feel like nothing could stop you.
It was a game I remember having on a flash drive in the early 2000s where I’d put it on computers in my school’s computer lab to host large LAN parties. It didn’t get much better than that.
As a franchise, Counter-Strike might be the best competitive first-person shooter series ever made. For specific games, though, Counter-Strike: Source is the best of them all. The game featured extremely balanced multiplayer that required more skill than luck, and everything was improved over the original game. The Source engine also proved to be a perfect match for the genre.
Some may have expected to see Halo 3 here, but I think Halo 2 was a better game. A stellar campaign and addicting multiplayer made for a near-perfect first-person shooter experience. Halo 2 also made the idea of matchmaking becoming a prominent feature for online multiplayer rather than having to manually find lobbies to join.
There have been a lot of team-based horde shooters released over the years, but none have really been able to capture the magic that Left 4 Dead 2 did when it launched in 2009.
The variety of the infected required you to learn the mannerisms of all of them as well as the best ways to take them out. Fighting a Jockey was a different tactic than taking out a Tank or Boomer. It’s still a great game to go back to with friends over a decade later, and I don’t expect that to change.
6. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
With a great story and excellent multiplayer, Bad Company 2 was the perfect Battlefield experience. The maps were some of the most detailed ever seen at the time, and showed just what developers could do, especially for online multiplayer.
The ability to destroy environments to help expose enemies was a feature that Bad Company introduced to the franchise that has become a mainstay in Battlefield games for years.
A first-person shooter where everything slows down when you don’t move and speeds up when you do. It’s a concept that Superhot mastered perfectly.
By standing still, you were able to map out how the action could playout in your mind, giving you the ability to think about how you wanted to attack the numerous enemies coming at you. It led to some intense and entertaining gunfights.
What made the game even better was the incredible VR version that came out not too long after the original was released. That took the experience to a whole new level of intense.
4. Titanfall 2
If you’ve never played Titanfall 2, I implore you to change that. The game has a campaign with excellent pacing and variety, and multiplayer that remains some of the most fun you’ll have today. Everything in-game just flowed so smoothly whether you were in or out of your Titan. Everything that happened in matches felt fair and justified, and nothing left you wondering why it happened. It all just made sense.
I truly believe that Titanfall could’ve been the next huge series had EA not released around Call of Duty and Battlefield, and released the games in the spring.
3. Half-Life 2
A first-person shooter with great puzzle elements, incredible gameplay with physics, and realistic NPCs? Half-Life 2 really had it all. The game’s level design remains some of the best you’ll see in any game, anywhere. I could write 1,000 words about why I love Half-Life 2, but one sentiment should tell you all you need to know: There’s a reason fans have been begging for a Half-Life 3.
Until the end of time, every first-person shooter owes something to Doom. This game, for a lack of better phrase, put shooters on the map. The boomer-shooter era was pretty much born from this game. Plus, it added some nice innovations to the genre at the time with things like a deathmatch mode as well as ambient lighting within levels.
1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
While many likely won’t agree, the original Modern Warfare deserves to be here at the very top. A game that completely changed the online first-person shooter genre forever, it showed just how deep multiplayer could be. From map variety to unique weapons and features like perks, there was nothing like experiencing Modern Warfare for the first time. It was the game that kickstarted the Call of Duty franchise toward becoming the juggernaut it is today, and it deserves its flowers.