First-person shooters you have to play before you die

The first-person shooter genre has never suffered from a shortage of titles. Since exploding onto the video game scene in the early 1990s, every year has brought with it a number of games that let players, in one form or another, hold a gun and shoot at bad guys. In the early days, these took the form of single-player campaigns that pit hordes of enemies against your unrelenting firepower. But as time progressed, LAN battles, online networking, and compelling stories began making their way into the genre. First-person shooter fans are nothing if not spoiled for choice.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and only so many games that any one person can ever play. And through all the many FPS games that have been created, only a few have ever risen to the level of classic status, or have otherwise been so innovative as to be worth a gamer's time, no matter how little he or she has. Whatever games you might want to play, here are first-person shooters you have to play before you die. They're that good.

Titanfall is all about movement

The Titanfall franchise is the first — and so far, only — intellectual property to come out of Respawn Entertainment, the studio founded by ex-Infinity Ward staff after they were unceremoniously pushed out by Activision. Given that the games were made by the creators of Call of Duty, perhaps it's not too surprising that Titanfall's multiplayer features a similarly frenetic, fast-paced multiplayer, complete with perks, custom classes, and persistent rewards.

What sets Titanfall apart from other shooters, however, is its commitment to mobility. This is not a game where you run at surface level: rather, you will be rocketing across walls, over chasms, and high into the air. Death — and escaping certain doom — can come from three dimensions, not just the usual two. If that doesn't provide enough variety, you can always call in a titular Titan as a walking tank to drive. Just remember: while you're big and strong as a Titan, you're also slow, and lose all the mobility that the other players have.

Throw in the truly excellent and innovative single-player campaign from Titanfall 2, and this series is a must-try for any true fan of the genre. Or, for that matter, by any gamer.

Half-Life was a legend twice over

In 1998, Valve Software was a brand-new developer that had never released a game. And then it launched Half-Life, and not only produced a hit, but redefined the first-person shooter genre. With its high degree of interactivity, and its refusal to ever break from the first-person perspective, the game did a better job of making the gamer feel there than any FPS before it. Combined with fantastic graphics, tight gunplay, and innovative level design, Half-Life remains a seminal release in the history of the category.

That's a tough act for anyone to follow, and indeed, it took Valve another six years before they released the sequel, Half-Life 2. But somehow, Valve managed the impossible: the follow-up redefined the genre, again. With the most lifelike character animations and lip-syncing yet seen in a game, plus Valve's own gorgeous new Source engine, Half-Life 2 was the best-looking title on the marketplace when it released in 2004. Meanwhile, its physics engine was light-years ahead of the competition, and allowed Valve to produce some of the most intricate physics-based puzzles in the medium's history. It also allowed for the Gravity Gun, still fondly remembered as one of the all-time great weapons in any shooter, ever.

If all that isn't enough for you, Valve also produced two mini-sequels, Half-Life 2: Episode One and Episode Two. Spoiler alert: they will leave you on a cliffhanger. And if you're wondering when the third one will come out … well, it won't. It just won't.

Halo was the console king

For a long time, first-person shooters had trouble making their way onto consoles. The format requires the player to move and shoot simultaneously, a difficult proposition when console controllers only had a d-pad. Plus, the mouse on a computer was capable of a much higher degree of precision than any controller. While some very successful FPS games were ported over to consoles, the PC was always the true home of the genre.

And then combat evolved with the release of the very first Halo game. Developed by Bungie, already a beloved FPS studio for their Marathon series, Halo took full advantage of the new Xbox console's dual analogue sticks to allow for fluid, intuitive movement and shooting. Its pitch-perfect balance of primary weapon, grenade, and melee attacks made every encounter exciting to the last shot. And its sprawling science-fiction story made for an exciting campaign, too.

But the multiplayer is where Halo truly shined. The first game provided endless split-screen fun with dormmates. From the second game forward, however, online matchmaking became the norm not just for the franchise, but for the entire shooter industry. Halo, more than any other title, made consoles the home for multiplayer and shooters both. From the dual-wielding introduced in Halo 2, to the various powerful items in Halo 3, on through to the massive battles in Halo 5: Guardians, the series has been a pillar of the genre for over fifteen years. You owe it to yourself to play it.

Battlefield made the FPS epic

There had been other shooters set during large-scale wars, but no game before 2002's Battlefield 1942 came close to making you feel part of a massive conflict. But Swedish developer DICE's masterpiece allowed anyone to grab a gun, storm the beaches, jump in a tank, blow up a Jeep, jump out of the tank, shoot some more guys, then jump in a plane. And on, and on, and on. All with a then-colossal 64-player count.

DICE has continued to revise and improve Battlefield over the years, taking it everywhere from the far future in Battlefield 2142 to World War I with Battlefield 1. But for most of the franchise's career, the studio has played with the modern era of conflict, starting with 2005's seminal Battlefield 2. The franchise's signature mixture of vehicles and infantry combat fit the modern mold perfectly. Battlefield has done as much to define contemporary war in the gaming space as its primary rival, Call of Duty. In fact, the modern-set Battlefield 2 predated the famous Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare by two years.

Unlike a lot of other shooters, Battlefield has always had an intense focus on objective-based gameplay, and not just killcount. Since winning the game is based on capturing key points on the map, even gamers with slow aim could add substantively to the team's win. Some classes also allow the player to heal allies, meaning these players could also support their team without having to fire — and miss — a shot.

BioShock asked hard questions

By the late 2000s, it was clear that online multiplayer was gobbling up more and more of players' attentions, and most shooter developers were throwing more of their production value into this component of their games. Story-based campaigns shrunk from lengthy affairs to brief, six-hour jaunts. But in 2007, Irrational Games bucked the trend by releasing BioShock, a sizable narrative shooter with nary a multiplayer mode in sight.

Despite sticking to an older FPS design philosophy, BioShock became a sensation by featuring one of the most fully-realized game worlds ever, combined with a thought-provoking story that went far beyond the standard "good guy vs bad guy" trope. BioShock takes place in Rapture, an underwater city designed as an Art Deco paradise without placing any laws or restrictions on its citizens. Everything's gone wrong, naturally, and the paradise has become a nightmare wasteland that the player must fight his way through. Themes of greed, freedom, and Ayn Rand's Objectivist theories are all explored here, along with some of the more memorable enemies ever put in a game.

Irrational would follow up this classic with 2013's BioShock Infinite, which moved the action from Rapture to Colombia, a floating city and an American paradise (in theory). Once again, the world was realized in stunning detail, and heady concepts like patriotism and cultural purity were explored at length. Most FPS games don't even attempt the philosophical heights of these games, and for that reason alone, you should check them out. And if you don't want to … would you kindly check them out?

id Software's games created the genre

In the early 1990s, first-person shooter games were barely a glimmer in the video game industry's eye. And then from out of nowhere came Wolfenstein 3D. Fast-paced, draw-droppingly gorgeous, and unrelenting, Wolfenstein blew gamers' minds the world over. But it didn't come from a huge, established studio: it came from a couple of kids who called themselves id Software. And id didn't mass-produce physical discs, stuff them in boxes, and ship them to retail stores around the world: they sold their game online, for download, on old-school bulletin-board systems. They were staggeringly ahead of their time. And they invented the FPS genre as we know it.

If you call yourself a shooter player, you owe it to yourself to check out id's early catalogue, from which all other shooter games followed. After Wolfenstein, id went on to create the seminal classic Doom. Where Wolfenstein had the player fighting Nazis in Germany, Doom had them fighting demons on Mars. Why were there demons on Mars? The game's answer was, effectively, "who cares, just shoot them." The game's multiple difficulty levels, broad variety of weapons, and amazing graphics turned Doom into a sensation. It remains one of the single most influential games, of any kind, ever made.

Not yet done conquering the world, id then made Quake, which yet again turned the world on its ear. Its inclusion of networked multiplayer turned an awesome solo experience into an addicting competitive sport. Once again, these innovations were copied en masse across the industry, and they're considered standard today.

Counter-Strike thrives on tension

Valve's Half-Life was a massive success on its own terms, but a part of its appeal was its openness to the modding community. Modders — or modifiers — are people who take a pre-existing game, and change it into something else. Usually, these are small tweaks and additions. But sometimes, they lead to completely fresh creations bearing little resemblance to the finished product. Counter-Strike was a mod that turned the science-fiction shooter into a terrorism-themed multiplayer experience. But in a subversion of the trend of the time, it wasn't a manic deathmatch-style game. Rather, in Counter-Strike, once your character fell, you were out for the rest of the round. By the end of the match, a single player would be left to square off against whatever remained of the enemy team, leading to some of the tensest encounters that FPS games had yet allowed for.

Counter-Strike was so good that Valve eventually bought it off the original modder, and have since continued to revise and expand on the product. Currently, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is one of the world's biggest games-as-a-service, with a steady stream of new weapons, maps, and features coming to players at no additional expense. It's also grown into a top eSport, and consistently lands in the top five most-viewed games on livestreaming service Twitch.

For all its success, no game has ever copied its team-based, one-life-per-round format to as much success. In a sea of competitors, and after over fifteen years in existence, Counter-Strike still stands as a unique entry.

Call of Duty is the biggest franchise in the genre

For years now, Call of Duty has been one of the biggest franchises in all of gaming. Its blend of fast-paced action, persistent unlocks and rewards, and spectacle-laden campaigns has propelled Call of Duty beyond all its peers into one of the highest-grossing entertainment franchises, period. If so many millions of gamers, whether hardcore or casual, can pick up and enjoy so many different titles in the same series, it's at least worth a look to anybody who considers themselves a shooter enthusiast.

There are plenty of options to choose from here. The first two games, Call of Duty and Call of Duty 2, are set in World War II and feature some of the most intense war-time experiences yet put into a campaign. Series standout Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare remains an all-time classic, both for its blockbuster campaign and its genre-redefining multiplayer experience. The Black Ops subseries has gone on to include the best-selling titles in the franchise's history, while Infinite Warfare took the action into a solar system-wide conflict.

But no matter the setting, the multiplayer experience has adhered to the same basic tenets ever since Modern Warfare: unlockable abilities as a result of actions in the match, consistent perks earned over many matches, and customizable classes to let the player go into battle however he or she chooses. Nearly every other shooter has been forced to reckon with the Call of Duty formula at some point or another. If you haven't checked it out yet, you owe it to yourself. It didn't get so big for nothing.

Overwatch is bright and strategic

Blizzard Entertainment is one of the biggest game studios in the industry. Best-known for its juggernaut massively multiplayer online (MMO) game World of Warcraft, they're also the brains behind the strategy stalwart StarCraft and the action-role-playing game Diablo. As a generally family-friendly brand, Blizzard had never dipped its toe into the traditionally violent shooter space. So it was a bit of a surprise when, in 2014, Blizzard announced that it would be doing just that with Overwatch.

But Overwatch didn't look a whole lot like its gritty peers. Drenched in bright colors and infused with an optimistic tone, Blizzard's shooter wanted to present an uplifting worldview with a diverse cast from around the world. Ditching the conventional idea of classes, Overwatch instead featured heroes: individual characters with their own personalities, backstories, and unique playstyles. Players would be able to swap out characters mid-match, allowing for fluid team compositions and a deep layer of strategy on top of all the twitch reactions. It wasn't quite like anything else on the market. Also, it was superlative. In other words, it was a Blizzard Entertainment game.

Overwatch has proven to be a mammoth success, with over 35 million units sold as of this writing. That in turn has led Blizzard to create their own, internal eSports division around that game alone, called the Overwatch League. An enormous and active playerbase, a thrilling eSports scene, and the support of one of the industry's most beloved studios: there's really no good reason for a shooter fan not to try Overwatch.

The Chronicles of Riddick is a stealth-FPS masterpiece

Movie tie-in games don't have a great track record: they're often slapdash affairs made on a tight schedule and budget. But for the Chronicles of Riddick franchise, the creatives decided not to produce a standard game adaptation. Rather, they tasked developer Starbreeze with crafting a prequel to the whole series, telling its own story altogether: Escape from Butcher Bay. The result was a pleasant surprise: an exquisitely-crafted collection of open levels that blended intense action with tense stealth sections.

Additionally, the game also features a design that cuts against the standard tropes of the genre: instead of constantly making the player more powerful, the game at several points will actually reset all the player's progress. At multiple points, hero character Riddick will be captured during his attempt to escape his prison, and all the items and weapons he has collected will be taken from him. Back in his cell once again, Riddick will have to start from scratch to find a way out.

While Escape from Butcher Bay is generally considered the better of the two, sequel Dark Athena continues with the basic design concepts in a new setting. While highly regarded, the Riddick series as a whole has never had the following that other games on this list have received. But for a completely fresh experience, with innovative level and progression design, and some of the best stealth sections in FPS gaming, the Chronicles of Riddick games are must-tries for anyone who hasn't.