When it comes to legendary video game genres, few are as classic as the first-person shooter (FPS). Having been a part of the gaming world for almost 50 years and counting, there is such a huge assortment of games within this space that it’s incredibly difficult to narrow down the absolute best FPS games of all time.
Legendary developers like Bethesda, Rare, Irrational Games, and Bungie are just a few of the big names that have helped develop and release some of the best FPS games of both modern and retro times.
While this list will be ranked according to Metacritic, frequently regarded as the premier source for aggregated video game reviews, there is no doubt going to be some fantastic games that just missed out on this list. As unfortunate as that may be, let’s take a look at the games that do make the list of the absolute best first-person shooter games of all time!
What is a First-Person Shooter?
This genre of video games is best described as games played from a first-person perspective that involves shooting and potential action elements. What’s most notable about this genre is that you are playing the game from the eyes of your protagonist so you see in the game what they would see.
Unlike a third-person video game, you will not see the full environment around you. Instead, you will only see what is in front of you and slightly to your peripheral. The protagonist’s arms are usually visible from the bottom half of the screen as well as whatever weapon is currently being carried.
First-person shooters can be single-player or multiplayer as well as involving a mission or a quest and usually involve progressively fighting harder enemies or a big boss at the end of certain levels. One of the best first examples of a first-person shooter was in 1992 when Wolfenstein 3D was released and became one of the most influential games in the world at that time.
#7: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Epic single-player campaign picks up immediately following the thrilling events from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
- The definitive multiplayer experience returns, with a host of new perks and enhancements
- New cooperative SpecOps mode, the perfect combination of Modern Warfare's single player intensity and the addictive replayability of its multiplayer
- Special Ops Mode allows two players, either alone or with a friend, to engage in unique mission play and features split-screen functionality.
- Modern Warfare 2 contains new and updated weapons, new weapons attachments, and a variant of the multiplayer weapons customization system
Released in 2009, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 remains the pinnacle of titles in the Call of Duty lineup which is no easy feat considering there have been 21 Call of Duty games released in total.
The game launched on Windows, PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 would later come to the Nintendo DS, macOS, and the Xbox One as its final hurrah. Scoring a 94 on Metacritic, Modern Warfare 2 has been praised as a must-have FPS title for its outstanding environment and excellent multiplayer experience.
The game itself picks right up as a successor to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and watches as Russia and the United States are on the brink of war. In total, throughout the length of the game, you will play as five separate characters all looking to accomplish separate but related missions including locating a missing satellite, rescuing a special prisoner, and retaking Washington D.C. after a surprise Russian invasion.
No matter how slowly or quickly you work through the single-play storyline, every moment is a rush and engrossing enough to believe it’s real. Multiplayer involved team-based deathmatch-type games that helped set the tone for what modern-day FPS multiplayer looks like today.
#6: Halo 2
- Master Chief can now wield two weapons at once, board Covenant vehicles and steal Covenant weapons like the incredible double energy sword
- Lead an all-new unit of super-soldiers, the ODST -- tougher, badder and deadlier versions of your old comrades
- New enemies, allies and surprises
- Intense combat with enhanced AI and real-time lighting
- Incredible single-player action with massive landscapes and huge cities to explore and defend
- Destructible and interactive environments
- Take the action online with your Xbox Live and switch sides
Halo is a name that needs no introduction in the FPS space nor as the game that helped launch the Xbox series of consoles into the video game industry giant it is today.
Following up on the massive success of the original Halo title, Halo: Combat Evolved, Bungie quickly moved ahead with plans to release a sequel. Widely considered not just one of the best first-person shooter games in history, Halo 2 is broadly considered one of the best video games of all time, period. Having sold more than 8 million copies worldwide, it also holds the title of the best-selling game for the original Xbox and still holds a 95 Metascore.
The Halo 2 campaign heavily focuses on single-player or co-op as you swap between two characters as Master Chief or the Arbiter. With four different difficulty levels, the game presents a challenge to gamers of all skill levels, but where Halo 2 really shines is its multiplayer system. Adding support for Xbox Live enabled online multiplayer as soon as the game was released in 2004 until the service was discontinued in 2010. Between that time, Halo 2 consistently ranked as one of the most played multiplayer games on Xbox consoles.
#5: GoldenEye 007
- Nintendo 64 game cartridge
- U.S. version
Ever since its release in August 1997, GoldenEye 007 has been one of the most heralded first-person shooter games of all time, an argument that is boosted by the game’s 96 Metascore.
Based on the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye, the player follows a storyline similar to that of the movie taking down enemies while looking to recover or destroy various objectives as part of each mission. In fact, GoldenEye 007 has often been praised as one of the best games to closely adapt the storyline of its namesake film.
All of the film’s popular characters are here including Bond, Boris, Natalya, and Alec as the game culminates in a final shootout above the massive telescope dish that similarly wowed audiences in theaters.
Original expectations for GoldenEye 007 were low but what started off as a sleeper hit for the Nintendo 64 would soon grow into a giant. In total, the game sold more than 8 million copies worldwide grossing more than $250 million and holds the position as the third best-selling Nintendo 64 game of all time. GoldenEye 007 was deservedly considered the best multiplayer game on the Nintendo 64 console as it enabled four players to compete against each other in deathmatch-like scenarios.
- Bio Shock lets you do the impossible as you explore a mysterious underwater city. When your plane crashes, you discover Rapture - an underwater Utopia torn apart by civil war.
- Caught between powerful forces and hunted down by genetically modified "splicers" and deadly security systems, you have to come to grips with a deadly, mysterious world filled with powerful technology and fascinating characters.
- As little girls loot the dead, and biologically mutated citizens ambush you at every turn. Now you're trapped, caught in the middle of a genetic war that will challenge both your capacity to survive and your moral allegiance to your own humanity.
- Make meaningful and mature decisions that culminate in the grand question - do you exploit the innocent survivors of Rapture to save yourself - or risk all to become their savior?
- Biologically mod your body with plasmids - genetic augmentations that empower you with dozens of fantastic abilities
As soon as BioShock was released on the Windows and Xbox 360 platforms in August 2007, the world knew the game was going to be different.
A PlayStation 3 port would come later in 2008 but it was the Xbox 360 version that would help propel this title into a place as one of the best first-person shooters of all time. That argument is only helped by its incredible 96 Metascore based on 88 total critic reviews.
Gameplay itself takes place in an underwater city built during the 1940s in an effort to find a utopia of sorts away from the outside world. Unfortunately, utopias are hard to find and even harder to build, and things go off the rails, turning the city of Rapture into a dystopia and, thus, our story begins.
Skipping ahead to 1960, the plot of BioShock follows the protagonist, Jack, as his plane crashes into the Atlantic Ocean where he discovers Rapture where he is asked to help stop some of the evil Rapture citizens that remain in the city.
As players dive deeper into the plot, they discover that the game adds sprinkles some RPG elements but it’s the FPS gameplay that really elevated BioShock into selling more than 4 million copies.
#3: Halo: Combat Evolved
- Bundled with seven of the most popular multiplayer maps.
- Include a bounty of new features including cooperative play over Xbox LIVE.
- New challenges
- New fiction to uncover
The game that started the Halo craze, Halo: Combat Evolved was the launch game for the original Xbox console in November 2001. Since then, Halo has become a giant in its own right as the series continues some 22 years later and has become an industry staple in the first-person shooter genre.
Selling more than 6 million copies, Halo: Combat Evolved holds the distinction of being one of the rare games to earn a 97 Metascore, even as it is likely deserving of a perfect 100.
Set in the twenty-sixth century, Halo: Combat Evolved puts you into the boots of Master Chief, a supersoldier with cybernetic enhancements that make him a nearly unstoppable force. Overall gameplay is almost handled from a first-person viewpoint, though the game does shift into a third-person perspective when Master Chief is driving a vehicle or using a mounted weapon. Within the game, Master Chief will battle enemy after enemy sent by the Covenant, the alien species looking to activate a Halo ring and use it as a weapon against Earth.
One of the most memorable aspects of Halo: Combat Evolved is that it was one of the first FPS games to not require a player to put away their weapon to launch a secondary weapon like a grenade. As trivial as this may seem, this gameplay has now become a staple of FPS titles.
#2: Metroid Prime
- Renewed copy
- Play as Samus as you fight the deadliest creatures in the galaxy
- Use bombs, missiles, lasers, and your ability to morph into a ball
- Wear new suits that give Samus all-new powers
- Flawless camera angles, fantastic 3D graphics, and massively detailed game worlds
Samus is back with a new mission to keep pulling back the layers of the mystery that surrounds the ruined walls on the planet Tallon IV.
Metroid Prime was released to the world on GameCube in November 2002 as the fifth game in the Metroid series but the first to play as a first-person shooter. Picking the series back up after eight years absent from console gaming, Metroid Prime was a smash hit, selling more than 2.8 million copies worldwide, and is often considered one of the greatest video games of all time. It’s hard to deny this claim with Metroid Prime earning a 97 Metascore across 70 different critical reviews.
Even as the game is heavily focused on the FPS format, there are numerous third-party elements like puzzle-solving sections scattered throughout the game. As Samus advances through the game, the character earns additional power-ups like more powerful suits of armor that help protect against different elements.
One of the highlights of Metroid Prime was its hint system that would give the player small clues throughout the game in order to help the overall progress toward the final battle. The popularity of the game has been so strong that it was recently re-released on the Nintendo Switch in February 2023 to huge critical acclaim.
#1: Perfect Dark
- Complete Perfect Dark N64 Tested Works
- Renewed copy
Anyone who says Perfect Dark isn’t deserving of the number one spot as the best first-person shooter game of all time has likely never played the whole game.
As good as GoldenEye 007 was on the Nintendo 64, Perfect Dark is the best game not just on that console, but with a 97 Metascore, the highest Metascore-rated FPS game ever.
While Perfect Dark is often regarded as a spiritual successor to GoldenEye thanks to both titles being released by developer Rare, it carves out a world all its own and for all the right reasons.
A major highlight of Perfect Dark captured you right from the jump where your player could not just move right or left but also lean right and left. This small but major game improvement dramatically helped with stealth movement throughout the single-player campaign. The main protagonist, Joanna Dark, has been set on a path to complete various objectives all while the AI in the game attempts to slow Joanna down and stop her from completing each mission.
Upon completing the campaign, four bonus levels were unlocked where players could take on the role of a character other than Joanna Dark. With co-op mode, two players could try a level together as a split-screen affair which upped replay value significantly. Thanks to heavy word of mouth, Perfect Dark would go on to sell more than 3.2 million copies.
There are so many excellent first-person shooters that narrowing it down to just the top seven does a disservice to many excellent titles. Half-Life is a fantastic FPS series that is deserving of its own best-of list, and the same could be said for the games occupying the Portal name. Still, games like GoldenEye 007 are so popular that even 20 years after its launch, it has been re-released on the Xbox Series X/S and the Nintendo Switch, which is a testament to just how well FPS games can hold up over time.