FPS games are a dime a dozen, but which games actually deserve to be part of the list of top 15 FPS games of all time?
For the uninitiated, first-person shooter (FPS) games are likely the first genre that springs to mind when the phrase “video games” is bandied about. And with good reason! These games have long served as the standard-bearers for Western gaming – from the progenitors of the genre such as Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM and Quake all the way to modern battle royale iterations such as Overwatch, Apex Legends and Valorant.
While platformers, RPGs and many other genres certainly hold plenty of space on retail shelves (and within gamers’ hearts), it’s FPS games that transcend gaming to become bona fide cultural sensations – such as Halo, DOOM, Call of Duty and more.
Perhaps it’s the immersion of looking at the world of the game through the eyes of the main character – with only their hands and whatever weapon those hands are brandishing visible to the player – that makes FPS games so adored by gamers.
Whatever the reason, FPS games often represent the best of the best in terms of game design, and with that in mind, this list represents the Top 15 FPS Games of All Time. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: This list is focused more on the best single-player FPS games of all time, so multiplayer-only options such as the aforementioned Overwatch, Apex Legends, etc. will not be mentioned.
While now mostly known for the game engine that was created for it, the original Unreal (released in 1998) is an unsung gem of a sci-fi shooter with an impressive range of levels and some truly memorable moments.
Varied weapon options (including intriguing alien technology) and strong enemy AI makes the gameplay enjoyable, while the first game to use the Unreal Engine certainly makes use of that power with what were terrific graphics for its time.
The game was certainly a success over 20 years ago, with sales of 1.5 million units by 2002, but it’s the engine it spawned that has held onto the public consciousness more than the game itself, which is a shame; this is an extremely well-made FPS that deserves more modern acclaim than it gets.
Either way, Unreal Engine 5 is coming soon in early 2022!
14. F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon
This FPS from Monolith Productions bridges the gap between shooter elements and horror elements to tremendous success (and it will not be the last game on this list to do so).
Rock-solid gunplay helps to make this game extremely enjoyable alongside the supernatural horror elements that stay with you long after completing the game.
Of course, gameplay-wise, the main appeal of this game is “reflex time,” which is F.E.A.R.’s version of the famed “bullet time” mechanic first introduced in Max Payne. There is something massively satisfying about the game world and its villains floating by while you zoom through the terrain like a bullet in a china shop.
Also notable in this game is the tremendous enemy AI, which is among the best in the genre.
13. The Operative: No One Lives Forever
Ever wanted to inhabit the Sean Connery-era James Bond character with all of his droll dialogue, wicked gadgets and fantastic gunplay? That’s exactly what Monolith Productions (back-to-back entries on this list from that acclaimed developer) wanted in the year 2000, when The Operative: No One Lives Forever was released to wide acclaim.
An eminently well-designed game with an engaging aesthetic, this FPS/stealth hybrid features plenty of humor and immensely satisfying gameplay. Perhaps the best part of this game is the fully integrated James Bond-esque gadget play – bombs are hidden in lipstick, rocket launchers are disguised as briefcases and perfume bottles hold sleeping gas.
A wide range of weapons and uniformly entertaining ancillary dialogue and cutscenes make NOLF a masterpiece of the FPS genre.
12. DOOM 3
While this might be something of a controversial choice, this game was released a few months prior to Half-Life 2 and the acclaim came in hard and fast for it upon its release. While id Software are certainly known for pushing the boundaries of FPS games, this one featured far more of a horror aesthetic than the action-oriented releases that preceded it and followed it years later.
A truly chilling and immersive atmosphere onboard the Darkstar make this game extremely memorable – as well as the lack of a flashlight on guns, requiring the player-character to stumble around corners with no gun in hand. This was fixed in the remastered DOOM 3: BFG Edition, but this doesn’t seem like what the studio originally intended when they first released the game.
Popular consensus has seemingly turned on this game since its release back in 2004, when it received near-universal acclaim. Still, it has sold nearly 4 million copies – making it one of id Software’s most successful titles.
11. Call of Duty
The first Call of Duty game on this list (but not the last), also serves as developer Infinity Ward’s first-ever release. Improving upon the groundwork laid down by the Medal of Honor series, this World War II game is a masterpiece of its genre and set the stage for one of the most important gaming franchises in history.
While the CoD franchise might now be known for almost yearly new releases and is somewhat synonymous with gaming in general, back when this WW2 shooter came out in 2003, CoD was just another game set in the European theatre.
However, while Medal of Honor (and many others) were good games, Infinity Ward ratcheted up the realism and crafted terrific levels with visceral, realistic sound design and sometimes relentless AI that truly felt like you were storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
Immersive and almost flawless, this helped set the stage for the Call of Duty franchise to become the juggernaut it is today.
An intriguing take on the FPS game genre, this minimalistic indie shooter serves as a hybrid puzzle/FPS game.
Its central conceit is that time moves extremely slowly unless the player-character is moving. So, when a bullet is fired (by the player or by foes) it will move at a fraction of its normal speed unless the player maneuvers their way around the extremely well-designed levels.
The red, white and black color palette coupled with the overly polygonal level and character design make this one look like some sort of futuristic training exercise for time dilation.
If that description doesn’t get you on board, then perhaps the extremely intricate level design and fascinating central premise will sway you. Either way, this game is tremendously entertaining and a rare indie-developed entry on this list.
9. DOOM Eternal
Surprisingly the most recently released entry on this list is arguably id Software’s finest achievement. The sequel to the widely acclaimed DOOM (2016) somehow improves upon that sterling game by ratcheting up the action and tweaking everything that needed to be tweaked to the point that this fast-paced shooter is an absolute joy to play.
In summation: The mechanics are flawless, the guns are supremely enjoyable to shoot, and its ultra-gory.
Some of these FPS games are more about story, immersion and pacing than gameplay, but this game is proud to be what it is: a near-flawless run-and-gun FPS with oodles of blood, guts and guns. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!
8. Deus Ex
While it can be played in a “guns blazing” style, this game is far better suited to a stealth approach. That doesn’t mean it’s not an FPS game, though.
You control JC Denton in this RPG/FPS hybrid that’s immensely immersive and features a wide range of customization and ways to play it.
While some elements are dated, the impressive scale of this game (which was released in 2000) should wow even the most jaded veteran FPS gamers. Combine that with some excellent writing, widely varied settings, extremely entertaining villains to fight off (aliens anyone?) and the droll voice of main character JC and you’ve got a certified FPS classic.
7. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
After two consecutive WWII titles from Infinity Ward in the Call of Duty franchise, the team opted to move 60 years into the future to modern times – and the FPS genre was forever changed.
This utter masterclass in gameplay and level design likely features some of the best and most famous FPS set pieces of all time. Come on, the helicopter crash? Classic!
This game opened the doors for the CoD franchise to branch out into more modern territories that would, one day, encompass future warfare.
But it was this game, released in 2007, that still serves as the high-water mark for the franchise. So much so that it spawned two direct sequels (MW2 in 2009 and MW3 in 2011), a remastered version in 2016 and a rebooted version with the same name in 2019.
6. Halo 2
The sequel to the acclaimed Halo: Combat Evolved was hugely hyped upon its release and with good reason: It’s absolutely phenomenal.
While some of the narrative choices are questionable (controlling a Covenant Elite called The Arbiter instead of Master Chief?), the gameplay is so smooth, and the game world is so colorful and engaging that almost anything could be forgiven.
Also, this writer personally loved The Arbiter sections thanks to the always-welcomed voice acting of legendary actor Keith David.
This is the first Halo game in which you could dual-wield weapons as well as slice and dice your way through enemies with the Energy Sword – which frankly is worth a Top 10 entry on this list alone.
5. Halo: Combat Evolved
Here it is. This is the game that proved Microsoft had staying power as a console. It also signaled the rise of Bungie as a major developer (that was recently sold to Sony), though they had already produced some tremendous FPS games via the Marathon series in the 90s.
This game was a landmark when it was released in 2001, as its graphics, entertaining gameplay and utterly flawless controls paved the way for a multi-billion-dollar franchise that is still strong today.
A major selling point for this game was the sheer scope, as the “levels” were truly massive in scale for a game that was released over 20 years ago. Simply wandering around some of these classic levels, such as “Halo,” “The Silent Cartographer” and “Truth and Reconciliation” is just as fun and rewarding as blasting a Grunt’s head off from 100s of meters away with the classic Halo sniper rifle.
Halo: CE serves as a masterclass from Bungie in level design as they are both incredibly deep and reward exploration, while also subtly funneling you where you need to go. This game also pioneered the use of a regenerative shield in FPS games, which is now the standard – as opposed to the armor/health dichotomy of earlier FPSs.
Featuring a tremendous twist near the climax of the game (one of the best gaming twists of all time) and helping to launch the Xbox as a viable console, Halo clearly deserves its spot as a Top 5 FPS game of all time.
4. System Shock 2
Before there was BioShock (more on that game soon), there was System Shock 2, a 1999 release developed by gifted game designer Ken Levine. Like Deus Ex, this turn-of-the-millennium FPS pushes the boundaries of the genre as it is often regarded as a survival-horror game or an RPG.
However, the player-character is controlled via a first-person POV, and you do a fair amount of shooting, so this masterstroke release has to qualify as an FPS. And what an FPS it is!
One of the most immersive game worlds on this entire list, you are placed on the UNN Von Braun spaceship as one of the few survivors of an alien attack that has infected the entire ship – which has also been taken over by a megalomaniacal and nearly omnipotent AI.
Featuring some of the best sound design in gaming history (please, not the spiders!), this incredible FPS can be quite challenging for the uninitiated and a walkthrough would certainly come in handy – at least in the early goings.
Still, if players can make it past the early parts of the game, they’ll be treated to a deep story and engaging gameplay that will surely stay with them for years to come.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest games of all time, Valve’s Half-Life still holds up as one of the best FPS games in gaming history and helped to validate the genre as a true art form.
An incredible storyline starts off with the player-character, iconic silent protagonist Gordon Freeman, arriving on a monorail into Black Mesa Research Facility and then pushing some unusual material into a machine. This sets off a resonance cascade that opens a portal into another dimension called Xen (you know, just a normal Monday).
That’s the setup, but it’s the amazing gameplay and world-building that Valve achieve in this game that will stay with you. Every aspect of game design is absolutely flawless in Half-Life: level design, sound design, aesthetics, character design, enemy AI, story, writing – everything.
With all of those superlatives out of the way, the only thing keeping this from the top spot is its deflatingly anti-climactic final boss battle. Players who’ve played this landmark game know what I’m talking about.
Other than that, though, this game is about as flawless as an FPS can get. If you haven’t played it, do yourself a favor and add it to your gaming bucket list.
An overarching theme of this list is immersion, and there might be no more immersive FPS game than BioShock… or should I say submersive?
The game begins with the player-character entering an abandoned lighthouse and discovering a small submersible that takes him to the wondrous underwater world of Rapture. With some of the best art direction on this entire list based on the Art Deco style coupled with engaging characters, role-playing game elements as well as tremendously varied combat thanks to the use of plasmids, guns and more, this 2007 release is widely regarded as one of the best games of all time – not just among FPSs.
Ken Levine served as the director of this game, and his fingerprints are all over this – from the major twist at the end (another one of the greatest plot twists in gaming, no less) to the eerie and oppressive yet ultimately beautiful game world.
This is a watershed gaming moment, and easily one of the best FPS games of all time.
1. Half-Life 2
Valve somehow dodged the sophomore jinx and produced this masterpiece in 2004, six years after the first game introduced players to Gordon Freeman and the Black Mesa Research Facility. In Half-Life 2, Freeman has been in stasis for 20 years following the events of the first game and is awoken by the mysterious G-Man to a world that scarcely resembles the one he left.
What follows is one of the greatest stories in gaming history, which was continued in Half-Life 2: Episode 1 and 2 as well as the recent VR prequel to Half-Life 2, Half-Life: Alyx.
While the story and character writing are both truly amazing (and paradigm-shifting for the industry), the gameplay is equally as wonderful. With a bevy of wonderful guns to play with, including the now-legendary Gravity Gun, outstanding enemy AI, the incredibly immersive world of City 17 (which rewards exploration) and some truly memorable set pieces, Half-Life 2 still serves as the high-water mark for FPS games – almost 18 years after it was released.
Clearly, Valve have lost no steam (pun unabashedly intended) on crafting wonderful games in this universe as the recently released Half-Life: Alyx conveys. Perhaps one day fans of this series will see a Half-Life 3 or Half-Life: Episode 3, but until then, this game serves as a wonderful reminder on what a perfect FPS game looks, sounds and plays like.
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