The first-person shooter genre is massively popular and has a huge and loyal fan base committed to spending hours in virtual environments blowing each other to smithereens. There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline soaked chaos of a good FPS session. If it goes well it can be better than a course of anger management, if it goes badly then that’s what you’ll need to recover.
There have been loads of great first-person shooters over the years. In this article I’m going to take a look at the top ten FPS games of all time. Rather than flood the list with entries from the same series, each series will only be allowed to claim one spot. I’ve also listed them in chronological order so as to avoid having to rank them – picking just ten is hard enough!
It was 1992. Everyone was unwittingly craving some violent first-person action on their new computers and we were all still angry about those damn Nazis. Enter Wolfenstein 3D. It may not have single-handedly created the FPS genre but it definitely served as a template for a new wave of engrossing shooter fun. Running around castles and shooting Nazis dead has never really lost its appeal and the Wolfenstein series has spawned a number of different titles over the years with that basic theme in common.
A year after Wolfenstein the real poster boy of the new FPS wave crashed onto the scene. Doom was a big chunky, gore fest of epically violent proportions. Who could possibly be a more diabolical enemy than Hitler’s henchmen? How about some assorted freaky demons from Hell itself? Doom was a great sci-fi/horror blend; it equipped players with an awesome arsenal of weaponry and plonked them in labyrinth style environments full of hidden goodies. The range of demonic enemies in Doom was the real attraction and it went on to spark a couple of sequels, loads of mods and countless imitators.
Valve’s masterpiece was the game that introduced the idea of narrative and character to what was generally a genre filled with run-and-gun gameplay with a thin backstory. It also gave birth to the ultimate nerdy gamer hero, the bearded and bespectacled, theoretical physicist, Gordon Freeman — the perfect antidote to macho, action hero meatheads like Duke Nukem. Half-Life 2 was similarly awesome and the series continues to push the boundaries offering gamers true immersion and allowing them to think their way through various problems and find their own solution. The illusion of a wider world instead of a linear corridor of gameplay really makes the Half-Life games stand out in the FPS genre.
This Half-Life mod transformed the multiplayer landscape and created a new framework for team based gameplay. From simple team deathmatch to hostage rescue or bomb disposal, Counter-Strike was fresh and new. Players started in a safe zone and had to buy their own weaponry before entering the field of combat. Team tactics and co-operation was the path to success with CS and an early death meant spectating on the rest of the round – there were no respawns here. CS changed the face of multiplayer FPS overnight and it remains amazingly popular to this day.
Aliens vs Predator 1999
The hook for Aliens vs Predator was the ability to play as an alien or a predator. Actually it was all about playing as an alien. With three separate campaigns from the human, alien and predator point of view AVP was something different and it made good use of the excellent sci-fi universe created by the movies. Playing an FPS unarmed, but with the ability to run super-fast, stick to walls and ceilings and bite heads off with a single chomp, was refreshingly new and different. There have been a few decent sequels. Multiplayer gaming with the different species is a nice alternative to the standard military human vs human set up.
Unreal Tournament 1999
The Unreal Tournament series was the deathmatch king. Even the backstory offered the perfect set-up, basically futuristic psychos going head to head in arenas across the galaxy purpose built for their battles to the death and televised for the entertainment of the masses. UT offered really fast multiplayer action, clever level design, and a great range of diverse weaponry. It offered instant gratification for any gamer looking to embark on a kill streak and that fast-paced adrenaline buzz was addictive.
Deus Ex 2000
This absorbing sci-fi game brought some role playing elements to the FPS genre and allowed gamers to carve their own path through a dystopian future to uncover a conspiracy. Puzzles had multiple potential solutions, the narrative could be altered by the player’s decisions and the story was rich and deep. Thanks to the range of gameplay and the layered storyline the game had great replay value and it definitely took storytelling in an FPS to a new level. It was also refreshing for blurring the boundaries between genres.
This sci-fi FPS cast you in a war against various aliens and as a launch title it helped to sell the then new Microsoft console, the original Xbox. It made a number of subtle innovations to the FPS genre, creating new standards, such as the automatically regenerating health bar if you take cover and the ability to throw grenades without holstering your weapon. It was a seriously absorbing game and the co-operative gameplay option made the single player storyline a really enjoyable experience for two. The multiplayer took off with the sequels because the original was pre Xbox Live, but Halo is primarily about the single player experience.
It has grown into the biggest selling FPS franchise ever, by a distance. Whether or not you are a fan of where the series went there is no doubt that the early releases distilled familiar FPS mechanics into one neat and highly playable package. The games go for a realistic military style with real weaponry and scenarios lifted directly from various conflicts across the globe. I probably played CoD 2 the most of any of them and the multiplayer was flawless fun.
Easily the most interesting FPS release of recent years BioShock brought an underwater city to life and cleverly mixed retro styling with a sci-fi storyline. It is essentially a survival horror FPS and it introduces an alternative weapon and power up system with plasmids. The gameplay is fairly standard, although the ability to use your different powers in interesting ways does offer something fresh. The real attraction is the art style, both the beautifully realised setting and the character creation. BioShock 2 is also very good, although it is essentially more of the same. The forthcoming BioShock Infinite switches to an entirely new setting and looks very promising.
It was tougher than expected to pick just ten titles (even lumping series together) so here are a few great FPS games and series that have to get a mention before we wrap up — Quake, Thief, Medal of Honor, GoldenEye 007, Vietcong, and Left 4 Dead. Post a comment and give a shout for your pick.
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