Shooter games dominate the medium, which can be discouraging if you’re not actually very good at them. Luckily for you, we’ve found quite a few great FPS games that are a blast to play no matter what your skill level.
When you’re just starting out, you might not want to subject yourself to a bunch of really skilled players online, so it’s always worth it to train in a single player campaign first. We’ve got a list of great single player games to start off with, but if you’re looking for multiplayer, scroll down to the next section.
Single Player Games
Single player shooters can be an awful lot of fun, but they obviously depend more on good stories than their multiplayer counterparts. The single player experience is also a much friendlier way of getting used to the shooter genre, since you don’t have the added pressure of trying to do well with other people in the mix.
Portal and Portal 2
This list would be incomplete without mentioning the Portal series, so let’s get it out of the way immediately. The original Portal was built off of the same game engine as its Half-Life contemporaries, but it’s a very different experience. There are no enemies to kill, no grand landscapes to explore. It’s just a series of puzzle rooms, played in first-person shooter style, that use a “Portal gun” to move the player and puzzle elements around.
It sounds simple. And the mechanics of it are. But Portal offers a master class in game design, mixing a few devilish puzzles with satisfying physics and a surprisingly engrossing story about an experimental AI gone bonkers.
Portal also shows off some of the best razor-sharp humor in any video game. Portal was an instant classic, and remains so today. The sequel, Portal 2, was one of the most anticipated games of all time. It was bigger in every way, fleshing out the backstory of Aperture Science, adding a few new characters, and giving the player new tools to progress through the new puzzles. It would be worth it for the single-player campaign alone, but there’s also a full separate co-op campaign for you and a friend to work through.
Just don’t cross your fingers for a Portal 3 any time soon. Valve doesn’t really do the whole “making games” thing anymore.
System Shock and BioShock Series
System Shock 2 is an undeniable classic among not just shooters, but video games in general, because of its engrossing story and the way it allows you to build out a character with skills in almost any sci-fi specialty. Sure, you can blast your way through the cyberpunk/horror story, but you can also buff up your hacking skills or psychic powers to take out enemies in less conventional ways.
BioShock was the spiritual successor to System Shock, trading the sci-fi setting for alternate history in an Art Deco Atlantis. Again, you can shoot your way through the excellent story, but you’ll be depriving yourself of the gameplay options made available by “plasmids” (read: magic) or stealth. The story is also pretty fantastic.
BioShock 2 is best skipped—it was a disappointing sequel developed by a separate team. But BioShock Infinite, a prequel to the original that is set on a floating city of religious zealots, is widely considered one of the best games of the last ten years. The setup of BioShock is expanded with a new swashbuckling mechanic for moving around the levels, and a useful AI character who can rip open holes in time and space.
BioShock Infinite is available on a wide variety of consoles and PC platforms—even Linux!—and you’re really missing out if you don’t give it a try.
The original Fallout games—Fallout and Fallout 2—were top-down RPGs release in the late 90s. But starting with Fallout 3 (in 2008), they’ve become first-person shooters. Well, technically: the interesting VATS system allows you to pause time and carefully select your targets, which you’ll have a variable chance of hitting. It’s an effective, if sometimes inelegant, way to merge conventional action shooting and turn-based combat.
The Fallout series takes place in an alternate future of the United States, where culture froze after the 1950s and then blew up when the world was destroyed by nuclear war. Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4 all share broadly similar elements, though New Vegas is generally considered the best by fans.
Fallout 3 is good if you’re going through them chronologically (story elements carry over from game to game), and the more recent Fallout 4 includes a much more comfortable UI and a deep crafting system, but has been criticized for giving the player fewer narrative choices.
All three games offer options to solve problems and progress through the story that don’t rely on combat, especially if you focus on hacking or charisma skills. I’d definitely recommend the Fallout 4 DLC Automatron if you prefer exploring to shooting: it lets you build a nigh-indestructible robot buddy to kill all the bad guys for you.
Metal Gear Solid Series
Technically, the Metal Gear Solid series are shooter games, in the sense that your character has a gun and can shoot people. But the setup for the series actually pre-dates first-person shooters, and it shows: in Metal Gear, you’re always better off avoiding combat by sneaking past your enemies or silently incapacitating them. That’s why they call it a “Tactical Espionage Action” game.
The series became a classic way back on the PlayStation with the original Metal Gear Solid (technically the third game in the series going back to the 1980s), thanks to its unconventional sneaking around, rich and sometimes goofy characters, and a deep story about paramilitary conflicts, nuclear proliferation, clones, and giant robots. Yeah, did I mention there’s quite a lot of anime influences throughout the series?
You might need multiple consoles to get through all of the games these days (only the first and last games were released on the PC), but going all the way from one to five is a rich experience. The storytelling can veer into the insane at times, but the sneaky, creative gameplay is always satisfying. Metal Gear Solid 5 is the most recent game in the series, and likely to be the last—Metal Gear Survive, and any other new game made without series auteur Hideo Kojima, doesn’t really count.
Multiplayer games are the flipside of the shooter universe. They tend to eschew deep storylines in favor of pure, multiplayer fun. You’re typically loaded into a map with other players, and thrown right into the fun. You’ll find different modes of gameplay, as well. Death matches operate like a battle royale, where your objective is just to kill everyone else. Team death matches work similarly, but you play as part of a team whose job it is to kill the other team.
You may also find various other team modes, depending on the game. Some offer conquer the flag scenarios, some provide objectives (like setting or diffusing bombs).
Overwatch is insanely popular at the moment, and not just because of its colorful character design and frequent content updates. It follows the trend of the “hero shooter” genre that began with Team Fortress 2, and Overwatch’s rich diversity of characters is its greatest strength. And I mean that in both the literal and figurative senses.
Among Overwatch’s 27 playable characters (at the time of writing) are entries that don’t rely on lightning reflexes or perfect aim. Most of the support characters can heal their team members with lock-on or aura tools. Tanks characters can protect their team with shields or deal out damage with massive melee hits and lock-on weapons. Defensive heroes can build up turrets to damage and slow enemies automatically. Heavy characters with explosive weapons excel at splash damage and knocking enemies off the map.
The point is, no matter what your play style, skill level, or preference, you can probably find more than one character in Overwatch that suits you. Even players who are shooter novices can perform well in the competitive mode with the right hero and some practice. Just try not to get too tempted to spend more money on the game’s gambling-like cosmetic loot system.
Splatoon and Splatoon 2
Nintendo has always leaned on the strength of its classic single-player franchises to drive sales. So when the company revealed Splatoon, a team-based online shooter set in enclosed arenas, it came out of left field. Even with the kid-friendly squid character designs and weapons (players shoot “ink” instead of bullets), it was a big departure.
But Splatoon and its sequel, Splatoon 2 (on the Wii U and the Switch console, respectively) aren’t your usual team shooter. The goal isn’t to simply shoot more of the enemy team, it’s to cover the most surface area of the map in your team’s paint ink color. Covering the ground in your team’s ink also lets you and your teammates quickly move around in “squid” form. A wide array of weapons, including such unconventional entries as a giant paint roller and bucket, mean you don’t need sniping skills to paint the town (and the other team).
At the end of the round, it’s not who has the most kills, but the team that’s covered the most of the map in ink that wins. The games turn conventions of the shooter genre on their head, and incidentally take advantage of the generally less-precise controls available on console. If you have a Wii U or a Switch, it’s a must-have.
Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2
You might recognize Plants Vs. Zombies as a top-down tower defense game. That’s the original: Garden Warfare is something wholly different. It’s an online team-based shooter wherein opposite teams control the titular plants and zombies in full 3D brawls. Multiplayer is available in both player-versus-player and co-op arenas.
The beauty of setting a full 3D shooter in the universe of a 2D tower defense game is that it’s still using a lot of elements from that genre. Strategic placements of your turrets, barriers, and healing structures can be just as important as shooting your enemies, if not more so. With the team-based setup and strategic action, it has a lot in common with Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games like League of Legends, with more satisfying over-the-shoulder combat. There’s also a variety of characters to choose on both sides, allowing for multiple play styles and fluid adjustments.
Titanfall and Titanfall 2
Titanfall comes from Respawn Entertainment, formed by the former makers of the Call of Duty series. But don’t let that fool you: this sci-fi multiplayer is a whole new beast. Gameplay is split up between pilot modes, where players use rocket packs to wall ride and zoom through levels, and Titan modes, where the pilots jump into huge building-sized mechs to duke it out with overpowered weapons and big steel fists.
Titanfall’s parkour movement system was groundbreaking when it came out, almost relegating its titular giant robots to a second banana feature. But it’s the Attrition game mode that’s particularly notable here. This main multiplayer mode allows players to score points by taking out waves of AI-controlled bots, in addition to other players and their Titans. Create a loadout that focuses on auto-targeting human weapons and splash damage for your Titan, and you’ll usually outscore opponents who exclusively hunt down the other team’s players.
Titanfall 2 expanded on the original with new weapons and movement abilities, particularly the grappling hook that lets players zip around stages like Spider-Man. But it also added a much-needed single-player campaign mode, which was unaccountably missing from the first game. The campaign is short and the story is a little dry, but creative and varied levels and the camaraderie of the main character and his snarky robot pall are well worth a play-through.
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