If there were to be two genres considered that have practically defined most of PC gaming over the years, the first would most certainly have to be strategy, but when all is said and done, the second is easily shooters. Shooter games were born and bred on PC and helped revolutionize the industry time and time again throughout the decades. Whether you’re looking at the very beginning, industry-changing moments like the release of the Unreal engine, or simply stretching what you can do inside the genre with atmosphere or narrative content, shooters have explored practically infinite space and continue even still to push the envelope. With that in mind, we’ve put together an extensive list of what we consider to be the cream of the crop. The genre is massive and the content is exquisite, but we pulled together the best of the best to fill out all of the space which we feel defines it. These are the Best Shooters on PC!
Developer: id Software
All too often, a return to a series after time spent away can go horribly, tragically wrong. 2016’s DOOM didn’t pull any punches whatsoever with the series. Quite simply, this game was a return to form of the classic while bringing visually up to the spectacle it needed to be in 2016. Forgoing the cover, tactics, and strategies many other shooters had taken up, DOOM 2016 is all about fast-paced brutality, itchy trigger fingers, pure mayhem and absolute fun, giving it a strong case for returning to its long absent throne among the shooter genre. The original games are also still loads of fun with some of the best level and monster design in the FPS, so consider them part of this entry.
When it comes to a deeply researched level of authenticity and a conveyance of the importance of team work and strategy, nothing comes to mind faster than the Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six series and Siege pushes the envelope on teamwork harder than just about any shooter has ever done it before. More than an itchy trigger finger, understanding of your operative abilities, enemy reconnaissance, and a solid plan of action the difference between success and failure in your unified attack or defense of an objective.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Developer: Infinity Ward
There was a time when the first-person shooter genre was overrun with World War II era shooters. Medal of Honor and Call of Duty were largely the culprits, releasing regular entries examining the era from just about every feasible angle over and over again. Then Infinity Ward flipped the script and produced something altogether out of the ordinary. Modern Warfare took players to a contemporary world threatened by madmen with plans of nuclear holocaust. Modern Warfare wasn’t just an aside from the old formula, it was a complete revitalization of the first-person shooter with the breath of fresh air it needed in the stale wake of World War II games.
Wolfenstein: The New Order was a revitalization to the grandfather of all first-person shooters that nobody knew they needed, and 2017's The New Colossus took things a step further by bringing the series to a 1960s America conquered by the Third Reich. BJ Blazkowicz is forced to confront his own horrifying past alongside the Nazi hordes, as he continues to fight in brutally awesome and imaginative battles against ever-stronger enemies. Wolfenstein II is the best single-player FPS of 2017, but like Doom consider this an entry for the entire Wolfenstein series - Wolf 3D, Return To Castle Wolfenstein, Enemy Territory, MachineGames' recent titles, and even Raven's Wolfenstein isn't too bad. The rest though? All classics.
When the smoke clears and the hype machine is done, Overwatch isn’t exactly anything spectacularly different from quite a few games we’ve seen before. However, it is one of the best variations of its kind of team-based, objective-based, first-person shooter arenas. Overwatch has that fantastic Blizzard Entertainment polish as well as enough variation between its many heroes and maps to give it more than a little staying power among the competitive and casual shooter community.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, or PUBG for short, came out of nowhere and took the entire gaming world by storm by introducing it to the concept of a Battle Royale shooter - last man standing over an initially vast but continually shrinking area where you have to (quickly) scavenge to survive. It's enormous amounts of fun and literally every single game you play will be unique, since you never know where another player's coming from or where the safe zone will be next. You could be shot in a building in the first few seconds of play or you could survive to the very end and have a tense game of cat-and-mouse on a hilltop somewhere, all based on skill and chance. There's a reason it's the new most popular game on Steam.
Duke Nukem 3D
Developer: 3D Realms
There’s something especially enduring about Duke Nukem 3D. It’s not just that it’s another pretty good shooter capitalizing off of the success of titles like DOOM and Wolfenstein. It’s that it does all of that and embraces a B-Movie corniness that few other first-person shooters can replicate, and many have tried. Duke is an unapologetically crass hero for the human race, which makes his stance as one of Earth’s only hopes all the more comedic in nature. Gameplay and the jokes may not have aged well and Duke Nukem Forever is probably a joke that should have remained untold, but Duke Nukem 3D still has enough nostalgic value to keep a place in our hearts.
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Arma II is a pretty damn good military simulator and shooter on its own. It boasts one of the most expansive and realistic military shooter simulations in the world, favoring teamwork over the efforts of a lone hero and forcing players to consider real-world physics in most of its ballistics. What adds to the value of this game is it’s adaptation into one of the most awesome open-world zombie game mods to have come out in its time. Arma II is absolutely great, but DayZ brought love and acclaim to this game and showed off its versatility in ways it might have otherwise gone without.
It took far too long for Gears of War to make it to PC, but it’s there now and it’s still well worth it. Epic Games story-driven shooter is what practically created the craze of 3rd-person, cover-based shooters and made them prevalent in much of the time that came after it. Many of its mechanics made for an intense and adrenaline pumping good time that spanned hours of gameplay offline and on. Gears of War 4, the most recent entry, is also great although truth be told we prefer the original. Now if we could just get the rest of the series, that’d be great.
When it comes down to it, Quake was to DOOM what DOOM was to Wolfenstein 3D: The next logical step in raising the bar of first-person shooters. Quake actually nearly began as an RPG based on one of lead programmer John Carmack’s Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, but evolved into one of the first fully 3D, truly online competitive, and mostly modable PC titles. It inspired Quakecon for crying out loud, which hosts one of the grandest stages for tournaments centered around id Software shooters.
Sniper Elite 4
At the end of the day, there's something really cathartic about aiming down a sight and sniping a Nazi from a mile away. Rebellion's Sniper Elite series has always been great at this, particularly with the ultra-gory X-ray vision on the best shots (watch that soldier's testicles explode!), and the most recent game in the series is the best yet. Wide open areas, clever enemies that ensure you'll never feel overpowered, side-missions, secrets, and cool optional kills. Watching skulls explode has never been so relaxing.
Unreal was Epic Games foray into the exponentially growing market of 3D shooters, one that was able to keep up with Quake due in no small part to the strength and versatility of the Unreal. Unreal would eventually diverge into a very successful multiplayer series in the Unreal Tournament editions of the game, but the strength of the engine behind it can’t be understated. The Unreal Engine is probably the most prominent tool ever made for gaming and game development and its legacy travels far beyond the shooter genre into all corners of the industry. Playing through the maiden voyage of the illustrious engine might as well be required reading for enthusiasts of video game history.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Here’s a fact. Take pretty much any other multiplayer shooter on the market, no matter how old, new, famous, or obscure. There probably isn’t a single one of them that has a more rabid and dedicated fan base than that of Counter-Strike. Maybe it’s the fact that Counter-Strike has the origin of being a wonderful mod based on the already awesome foundation of Half-Life. Maybe it’s that it has the systems and draw to bring some of the most fiendishly excellent players in the world together to compete against one another. Either way, you can’t talk about great shooters without talking about the one that has carried one of the proudest flags of the esports for such a long time.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Half-Life 2 isn’t just one of the best shooters ever made. There’s a serious argument to be made about whether or not it’s also one of the best overall games of all time. That’s because Half-Life 2 is one of the pinnacles of action, visuals, level design, mechanics, and storytelling. It’s more than a pretty face, a flashy gun, and a few cool explosions, it’s the full package and any shooting fan worth their salt, let alone any gamer, is doing themselves a disservice if they haven’t at least tried it.
The greatest strength of Left 4 Dead was taking a survival first-person cooperative shooter and adding an effect of pure unpredictability to it. Left 4 Dead 2 builds upon that in almost every way, from giving players more toys to slay with, to offering a grand variety of new threats to keep players on their toes at every intense turn. Traversing each beautiful and dangerous environment was and still is a thrill ride that never gets tiring due to the famously random nature of encounters and the tools with which to combat them.
There’s plenty of games that might be said to do what Team Fortress 2 does better than the game itself at this point, but that doesn’t take away from its sheer presence as one of the strongest examples of team-based first-person shooters to have ever been produced. The over-the-top characters, lush environments, and enjoyable objectives set a bar for what every game like it ought to aspire to. Team Fortress 2 may not be the best anymore, but considering it’s spent its time in the spotlight and is also free to play now, it hardly has to be.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Bad Company 2 is a couple of things that were the pinnacle of its form at the time of its release. First off, its campaign is one of the few humorous shooters in existence that doesn’t ruin itself by trying to be such. Secondly, it features one of the pinnacles of destructible environments in combat, changing the dynamics of the maps at any given occurrence. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 story may not take itself entirely serious, but the mechanics that surround it are more hardened and balanced than just about anything DICE has produced before or after it.
When it first arrived, Far Cry shocked players with just how advanced the visuals were. The engine allowed for an, at the time, unparalleled beauty given to the island that you would explore and fight your way through. Far Cry was much more than a pretty face though. More importantly, the game introduced players to a new open-world environment where they could explore and attack enemies in a variety of ways. The draw distance in the game was absurdly large so players could recon areas from long distances and plan their strategies accordingly, whether that was stealth or the guns-a-blazin’ approach. Far Cry has spawned a series that carries levels of open world freedom you don’t find in too many other first-person shooter franchises - and while we prefer Crytek's first, the rest are all fantastic. Particularly Blood Dragon.
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
To be quite honest, it’s a little amazing that it took so long for anyone to come up with something like Titanfall. There have been plenty of futuristic first-person shooters, and certainly plenty of mech-piloting games, but never has anyone combined the two worlds as seamlessly and completely as Titanfall has. The game plays to both sides rather well, making soldiers versatile and maneuverable threats while making Titans the bi-pedal battle tanks they ought to be. All in all, it comes out as the complete package a shooter with aspirations of climbing in the cockpit of a futuristic fighting machine should want.
Developer: Irrational Games
When we talk about storytelling in a first-person shooters, there’s plenty that just forgo it entirely in favor of presenting an action-packed experience instead. Bioshock Infinite is a rare bird that doesn’t forgo that action, but also tells one of the most compelling stories ever told in a shooter. Irrational Games is certainly no stranger to pushing the envelope on complex ideas and narratives in their games, but Bioshock Infinite is a step far and above even that of any of its predecessors – one worth going through several times over.
You don’t often see a game that explores Russia, let alone a less than cheerful post-nuclear apocalyptic version of it. Metro 2033 was a game that brought players to a near future where survivors fight in the undergrounds and venture to the surface only in desperate search of supplies. It supplied horror elements rarely seen in first-person shooters, but the original had some issues. Luckily, these were smoothed out in a remaster of the game, providing an awesomely refined gameplay experience to one of the most interesting survival narratives in the first-person shooter genre.
The original Borderlands was a game literally bursting at the seams with content for groups players to explore and loot to their heart’s content. Unfortunately, it lacked a certain spark of life that could have made it more interesting. So how do you fix that? Simple: Add a character that can cross the line from humorous to abhorrent as much as Handsome Jack can. Even then, Borderlands 2 has a lot to like. The world is fleshed out and you even get story from the original’s characters both playable and non-playable, but at the end of the day, it’s really a dynamic egocentric antagonist like Handsome Jack that takes this game from pretty good to freaking great. Characters like Face McShooty don’t hurt either.
When it comes to horror in first-person shooters, there’s often moments of terror or moments of action. Few games can claim to blend the two into a seamless experience without sacrificing something along the way. F.E.A.R. stands in a class of a handful of games that manages to blend action and paranormal in such a way that it defines a sub-genre in shooters. Chasing Alma and Paxton Fettel through a rapidly decaying environment festering with Japanese movie inspired horror created an atmosphere that can still raise the hair on our necks and keep us up late at night either playing or sweating.
There you have it for now. We’re not going to say that we’ve exhausted our resources despite the absolute breadth of fantastic content that fills this list. Simply put, the first-person shooter genre is absolutely massive on the PC and there’s undoubtedly plenty that we put aside to make room for these choice picks. That said, we welcome your favorites as well. What keeps your adrenaline pumping? What firearm fuels your fire to exterminate NPCs and players in campaigns spanning time and dimensions?
Please, by all means, let us know what your favorite first-person shooters are in the comments below! And who knows, maybe we'll add it to the list!
About TJ Denzer
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