Despite having been the industry’s driving force of graphical fidelity and use of technology since the early 90s, the first-person shooter is paradoxically one of the most timeless genres. 30-year-old classics remain just as playable as the most cutting edge contemporary releases. Which is all to say, you can have as much fun playing 1995’s Dark Forces as 2021’s Halo Infinite.
We’ve compiled together what we consider to be the very best FPS games you can play in 2023. That means we’re picking games that you can pick up and play right now, with the minimum amount of effort, on modern consoles and PCs. No need to figure out how to plug a SCART cable into your new TV, or run a virtual machine to edit your autoexec.bat and config.sys!
This also explains some notable absentees. No One Lives Forever remains in miserable licensing hell, and is unavailable to buy anywhere. At the time of writing, the long-promised GoldenEye 007 remake has yet to appear, and so remains relegated to N64s and questionable ports. Oh, and that one game you were expecting? We left it off the list too, because we like that vein on your forehead.
So click on, and bathe in the glow of a thousand reticules, in no particular order.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
Sometimes gems are found in the strangest of places. The first two games in Techland’s Wild West-themed Call of Juarez series were — you know — fine. Then 2011’s threequel, The Cartel, was pretty dreadful, and a commercial flop. So hopes weren’t set high for the fourth and final game, 2013’s Gunslinger. Yet, it’s an absolute stunner, a witty FPS with gorgeous art, that makes incredible use of an unreliable narrator.
You play as Silas Greaves, a self-titled legendary bounty hunter in the Old West, whose stories just happen to have him cross paths with (and inevitably best) some of the most famous names of the era. Think Pat Garrett, Johnny Ringo, Billy the Kid. You play out Greaves’ tall tales as he tells them, which means every time he talks himself into a corner, or one of his impatient tablemates calls him up on a lie, you see reality shifting around you to match his latest version or exaggeration.
It’s such a brilliant idea, and better, is deftly executed in an already solid shooter. There’s nothing else like it.
Star Wars: Dark Forces
As Kotaku’s Luke Plunkett has often mentioned, LucasArts’ Dark Forces is the “most Star Warsy game of all time.” Nothing quite so powerfully evokes that sense of being inside the universe of the original trilogy, not even almost 30 years later, than this game. But what mustn’t be forgotten is that it’s also one of the greatest FPS games ever made, and that’s despite coming from a developer that was famous for its 2D point-n-click adventures.
When talking about the most important evolutions of the FPS, it’s tempting to skip right from id’s Doom to Quake. The former took 2.5D first-person shooting from shareware obscurity to mainstream dominance, while the latter sped all of gaming into a 3D future. But in-between came Dark Forces, and it did something that too often gets forgotten: it added story. Oh, and looking up and down. And verticality. And ducking. And jumping. Seriously, this game was pivotal to the genre, and most of its advancements are taken for granted, or misattributed.
Of course, innovations aren’t quite so relevant to the player three decades on, but it’s wonderful to report it really holds up. This begins the tale of Kyle Katarn, a Rebel mercenary whose story took place contemporaneously with that of Luke, Hans and co. In Dark Forces he’s integral to the stealing of the Death Star plans, then becomes embroiled in the Dark Trooper Project, all of which sits in my memory with far more importance than anything a Skywalker ever did. Katarn would go on to appear in many Jedi Knight games, as well as cropping up in novels and comics ever since.
You’re definitely going to want to make sure you add a mouse-look mod, easily found here. You may even want to play it with this fan-made modern overhaul that just got released. But I recommend keeping it as true to the original as you can, because it shines. Just beware if you have vertigo: this was the first game to make icy cliff tops truly terrifying.
Every time you fire a gun in Destiny 2 it feels like unwrapping a beautifully packaged gift. From the firecracker snap when you pull back the trigger and release each voluminous round of technicolor space magic, to the devilishly satisfying pop of every shield-crashing body blow and atmosphere piercing headshot, Bungie’s scifi MMO is grizzly but revelatory in its moment-to-moment action.
Pair that with some of the most rewarding space-thruster traversal in a first-person shooter and ambitious level design that’s as evocative as it is tense, and it’s no wonder why millions of players are still treating Destiny 2 like their number one side hustle over five years later.
Ethan Gach, Senior Reporter
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
There are many, many competitive online shooters around these days. But few, if any, play as tightly and perfectly as Valve’s tactical shooter, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
It shouldn’t be surprising that CSGO is so damn good, after Valve has spent the last decade updating the fourth incarnation of the game, improving nearly every aspect of it and its popular maps. Logging into the game in 2023, you can feel the decade of polish. And that’s all built on its core concept: terrorists versus anti-terrorists, one team trying to blow shit up, the other trying to defuse shit down.
The game is snappy and smooth in a way that most other games can only dream of. Sure, CSGO might not be the prettiest game any more, but it still runs circles around most other modern shooters. And then you remember all the mods and community creations that exist for it and it becomes clear that CSGO is a very special thing.
Zack Zwiezen, Staff Writer
A thousand cheers for the old-school FPS revival! Spearheaded by New Blood Interactive and 3D Realms (yes, that 3D Realms), the last five or so years has seen a slew of wonderful, ultra-fast, 2.5D shooters that have so successfully captured the mid-90s joie de vivre, while sneaking in modern ideas like physics, dynamic lighting, and functioning mouse controls.
While there are so many to recommend, like Gloomwood, Amid Evil, Cultic, and Ion Fury, we’re picking the poster child for the entire movement, Dusk.
Like most, this manic shooter pitches itself on that Doom-to-Duke Nukem axis, the best sort of nostalgic, where it plays how we remember these games feeling, rather than how they really were. Which is to say, a lot of clunkiness is removed, physics make the world more tangible, and the art is much more involved than was ever possible three decades ago.
But it’s more than nostalgia: Dusk is an extraordinarily good shooter in its own right, and one that gets progressively better the more you play. Level design begins great, but goes to majestic places, along with an excellent range of enemies, weapons, and even lethal soap.
Developers Respawn are undoubtedly now more famous for both Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Apex Legends, two utterly vast hits. But it was with giant-robot-piloting FPS Titanfall that the studio (formed by Call of Duty legends Jason West and Vince Zampella) made its name. The original game, released in 2014, was an extremely strong multiplayer shooter, but it was the 2016 sequel that entered legendary territory. And, weirdly, not primarily for its multiplayer.
Titanfall 2’s single-player campaign was a massive surprise. (Too much of one, if anything, given the game’s lack of commercial success, squashed as it was between Battlefield 1 and CoD: Infinite Warfare.) Its linear story about Titan pilots fighting on the world of Typhon isn’t stunningly original, but it’s the setting and the level design that make this such a favourite.
A few traditional opening missions establish that this is a great shooter, set in enormous open levels, with multiple pathways to find. You’re wall-running, shooting, and sneaking, seeking out power to get your buddy Titan BT in working order, and generally having a good time. And then you find the neighbourhood factory. A literal factory that produces entire prefabricated neighbourhoods. The scale is extraordinary. And then the time travel begins.
The game is bursting with creative ideas and missions containing features that could have been entire games to themselves. It makes it heartbreaking that Titanfall appears to be no more, evolved into Apex Legends with nary a sniff of single-player giganto-robo potential. But we’ll always have Titanfall 2.
Doom is the shooter, and Doom (2016) is a nearly perfect tribute to its past achievements and future promise. It’s pure demon-ripping adrenaline, unadulterated by breathless NPCs, guided sequences, or an abundance of cover.
Many modern shooters punish you for being overly aggressive. Doom revels in it. Ultra-violent executions reward you for health, creating a feedback loop of having fun to have more fun. A cornucopia of secrets, collectibles, and Easter eggs make its horror house mazes rewarding to explore as well, but Doom never overplays its hand. You’re here to find zen by blasting a space marine-sized hole through Hell’s army, and maybe enjoy some power-ups and wiping out an entire room with a BFG along the way.
Doom does not try to make you feel guilty about that. Instead, it’s fine-tuned to help you realise that fantasy bravado and joy.
Ethan Gach, Senior Reporter
Team Fortress 2
The significance of Valve’s Orange Box is almost too big to be taken seriously. It seems too unlikely that there was ever a time when Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal, and Team Fortress 2, the latter three of which were brand new, were released together. As if that’s normal. As if three of the most important video games ever made could just so casually be chucked in together, paired up with the biggest FPS ever, and then priced as if a single game. Sure, right, yeah, that happened. But given its longevity and online nature, it’s easy to forget what a crucial part Team Fortress 2 played within it all.
While online multiplayer shooters were so in vogue and plentiful at the time that you’d find them cluttering up the streets, they were all-too-often unwelcoming or outright hostile games to try and play. Team Fortress 2 took everything Valve knew about the genre from both Team Fortress Classic and Counter-Strike and put it into the Super-Fun-O-Tron-3000. This was an online shooter that even the most offline and single-player of gamers wanted to try.
It helped that the marketing for the game featured a series of hilarious “Meet The…” cartoons, that themselves became such a huge undertaking that they didn’t finish appearing until years after the game’s release. It made the whole thing seem so much more approachable, like it wanted you to give it a try, not just your mate Steve who plays this sort of thing.
For a good while, this leant itself to an atmosphere of fun and frivolity over hardcore seriousness. Valve’s many years of additions, improvements, community features, then making it free-to-play, has kept it alive. 2022 saw the game suffering from a lack of love, in the form of a bot infestation, but the latest updates have aimed to address this directly.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Any video game that lets you kill Nazis is already doing something right. And in MachineGames’ Wolfenstein: The New Order, you certainly kill a few truckloads of SS officers and other Nazi scum. But what really makes this soft reboot of the classic id-developed shooter series worth playing is the story it tells and the intense gunplay.
You’ll actually care about the characters you meet in New Order and when some of them don’t make it, it stays with you after the credits roll. Plus, the combat is fantastically brutal, loud, and fun. Guns feel heavy, bullets and bombs rip Nazis apart, and being able to lean around corners and ledges to fire off desperate blind shots really adds to the intensity of it all. Truly one of the best shooters released in the last decade and easily the best Wolfenstein game ever made.
Zack Zwiezen, Staff Writer
What a daunting game to try to summarize in a couple of paragraphs. Once the greatest FPS game ever made, almost two decades has certainly seen it start to curl at the edges, but it remains a gaming masterpiece. Valve’s incredibly long-delayed sequel to the mighty Half-Life, Half-Life 2 is the game that made physics fun, and is still the measure by which so many shooters are judged.
If anything, in fact, it was the game that ended single-player FPS for far too long. No one else could really compete, and everything suffered in comparison. From its Gravity Gun (introduced far later in the game than you remember), to the stunning relationships with NPCs, to that time you realised you could improvise bridges out of corrugated steel over the sand to avoid Antlion attacks, it’s a collection of iconic moments linked together by one incredibly boring hovercraft ride.
Remember the Antlion army you could control? Remember the real emotions Alyx would have you feel? Remember how fricking cool your Gravity Gun gets right at the end? It’s all still there, and all still worth playing through yet again.
Should this be Doom? That would unquestionably be the more iconic name to drop. But when it comes to going back to and playing again today in 2023, it surely has to be Quake. Or both. I’m not stopping you. I can’t stop you. But while Doom took what had been tested and proved by Wolfenstein 3D and rendered it in grisly brown, it was Quake that put the whole thing on wheels.
Released ahead of the technological arms race that would develop between id and Unreal developers Epic, Quake was, on some level, John Carmack showing off what he could code. On another, it was John Romero, American McGee, Sandy Petersen and Tim Willits showing off what they could design. It was, alongside the same year’s Tomb Raider, the explosion of 3D into gaming — OpenGL transforming our games into spaces. Stellar level design, combined with ridiculous speed, and some of the most satisfying weapons to have graced the genre, mean Quake is still a game against which fast-paced shooters are measured.
It definitely helps that an official remaster of the original game was released in 2021 across all formats, ensuring it runs on all modern consoles and PCs.
Call of Duty (2003)
You are more than welcome to replace this entry with the Call of Duty game of your preference. Perhaps you’re being extremely picky, and think it should be Call of Duty II. Maybe for you the series only made sense once it entered Modern Warfare. Perhaps for you it’s all about 2020’s Warzone. Whatever the case, there’s no getting away from Call of Duty’s importance to first-person shooting, no matter how weary we may have become of its annual blockbuster bluster.
But let’s go back to its roots, because it turns out they’re damned fine ones, and ones well worth returning to on the series’ 20th year. It’s safe to say that Call of Duty began with slightly different ambitions to the billion-dollar series it is today. While bombast and explosions were always a core element, the first three games had another ambition: to tell the stories of surviving veterans of World War II, most of whom have since died.
This meant that rather than playing as some generic gruff hero, you played as the lowest ranked soldiers, the nobodies sent out to brutally die in the terrible conflicts. Often you could better survive a level’s onslaught by hiding behind a wall than trying to stand alongside your squadmates, although doing so felt utterly monstrous. This was a game about tiny moments within the larger war, about desperate struggles, scrappily getting through a Nazi encampment with three bullets. The original Call of Duty remains a deeply moving game to play, in a way the series has never managed to recapture.
Listen, Overwatch needs to be on this list. For years it was the quintessential hero shooter experience, offering an impressively deep roster of characters that spoke to a variety of players. Like to play back a bit and support your team? There’s Moira waiting to spray piss all over your squad. Want to play even further back? We got Ana, who uses a sniper rifle that shoots healing ammunition across the map. Want to wade into a fight swinging a big-arse hammer? There’s Reinhardt. Want to wade into a fight and punch the shit out of enemies? Choose Doomfist. Are you a singular shooter player who cut your teeth on games like Call of Duty and Halo? We got a guy for you.
But last year, Overwatch 1 was erased from existence and replaced by the free-to-play Overwatch 2, which changed up a few key heroes and took a player off of each squad to support a faster, deadlier 5v5 format. Overwatch 2 has some work to do to reclaim the crown as king of the hero shooters, for sure, but there’s still little else like it out there right now. It’s been my most-played game since it launched, and that’s after I spent months lamenting the removal of the OG title. When searching for a first-person shooter that’s all about team composition, counters, and smart plays, it’s tough to find anything else that’s quite like Overwatch 2.
Alyssa Mercante, Senior Editor
You can’t go wrong playing any of the Metro games. But if you can only play one, I’d suggest the most recent and biggest entry in the post-apocalyptic series, Metro Exodus. Unlike the first two games, which are primarily set in and around the metro tunnels of Moscow, Exodus explores multiple regions outside of Russia via a stolen train. And as you and your ragtag group push further out into the bombed-out wasteland of the world, you connect with them more and more.
Eventually, you help throw a wedding, surprise people with gifts, and share tender moments with your spouse. But don’t worry: All the heavy, sim-lite action and exploration of the first two games returns in Exodus, it’s just all at a larger scale now. And every few hours you hop back on your train and head off to a big, new region to explore, complete with new quests, characters, monsters, and challenges.
Zach Zwiezen, Staff Writer
Left 4 Dead 2
If we were picking a list of iconic moments in FPS history, then the entry would be the original Left 4 Dead. It was yet another breathtaking moment from Valve, where playing a shooter felt like something entirely new. But given we’re looking at the best ones to play right now, it might as well be the sequel, given it is pretty much the same format, just a little bit better in every aspect.
This is a co-op shooter for four players, each taking on a scripted persona in a series of electrifying escapes from zombie hordes, competing against an AI “Director” that builds the game around you according to how you’re all playing. With extremely strong writing, featuring an impossibly large number of lines such that the characters you’re all playing say exactly the right things to match the circumstances you’re in, this terrifying sprawl through New Orleans adapts itself on the fly, making each game unique.
And yes, it still has the Witch, surely the scariest enemy in any FPS, ever.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Sure, we’re cheating here, but what are you going to do about it? It’s Halos 1 through 4, along with Halo 3: ODST (which isn’t a soundtrack, no matter what you think), and Halo Reach, all remastered to work on your modern machinery.
It saves us having to pick a favourite Halo, while also reminding you that you can just get the whole bunch in one easy package (that’s also on Game Pass). Although, yeah, it’s also instead of putting in Halo 5 or Infinite, and you can hate away.
Halo almost feels like it comes from a parallel universe’s FPS releases. The genre thrived on PC, but while there were obvious contradictory examples like the N64’s GoldenEye, was assumed to really rely on a mouse and keyboard. 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved was the launch game of launch games, released for the original Xbox to make it a machine worth owning, and proved that a controller could deliver the goods. Ever since, Master Chief and his giant space rings have been an integral part of gaming.
You don’t have to decide which one is best. It really doesn’t matter! You can just sit and binge the whole lot.