The 15 Best Shooter Games
From the first-person adrenaline rush in games like Halo, Battlefield, and Call of Duty, to the third-person experience of the Uncharted series, a good shooter requires excellent controls, well-balanced enemy-damage ratios, and a lot of explosive action. We believe that every game on this list, including the honorable mentions, will meet these needs better than the rest.
The GamePro staff selected the following games out of the entire library of current-generation shooters, and we ranked them according to an in-house vote. What you'll encounter after the jump is the exclusive "Best of" list, showcasing fifteen ranked games and five honorable mentions, each one embossed with GamePro's favorite shooters seal of approval.
15 | Halo 3 | Xbox 360
Master Chief's saga comes to a close in Halo 3, capping off three games' worth of an epic, complex science fiction story. But in the last chapter, you don't have to fight the battle solo, as Halo 3 supports up to four-player co-op. Even though you'll probably battle with your co-op team for the right to play the role of Master Chief or the Arbiter, this last piece of the Halo trilogy features a wide-ranging plot that ties up every possible loose end.
Halo 3 is the bookend to Master Chief adventures, but it's also notable for entirely changing the look and feel of the franchise's gameplay. Not only is every gun rebalanced, but new support and power weapons are also introduced to the Halo armory, like the Spartan Laser or the Spike Grenade. Moreover, details like extra items and any weapons carried on your person are visible elements of your character model -- which can be a useful tool for spotting enemy/ally loadouts in multiplayer matches.
Speaking of which, Halo 3's multiplayer is intensely robust due to all the rebalancing, but the real star content lies with the Forge, Halo 3's signature map-editing tool. Rather than having to stick with the maps that you're given from DLC and in-disk content, you can craft your own battleground in Halo 3, right down to environmental objects and weapon drops. It's a package with a ton of customization that really rewards creative gamers, and thanks to Xbox Live's thriving bug of Halo fans, the best content is usually populated with plenty of good competition.
14 | Battlefield: Bad Company 2 | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Even though the Battlefield series is known primarily as a multiplayer experience, even to the point where fans suggested we outright ignore the lackluster single player experience in the latest iteration, Battlefield 3 (we never can and never will), the Battlefield Bad Company series, which only saw two main releases, did in fact employ a narrative-based single player campaign that was quite successful. The characters you follow in the Bad Company series are one of those typical rag-tag bunch of grunts, filling out the typical action movie tropes like the cigar-chomping leader who is "too old for this shit" and the "funny guy" who has a wisecrack for every inappropriate situation. But behind them is a well-crafted and action-packed storyline that takes your squad through a number of different environments, sometimes with vehicles, against a bunch of textbook bad guys.
It may seem like you've seen it all before, but Battlefield Bad Company 2 (the finer of the duo) really makes it work. The set pieces are exciting and effective, and the NPC banter lightens the mood along the way. It doesn't hurt that the game has a magnificent multiplayer mode as well, but Battlefield Bad Company 2 proved that you can build a modern combat game around a story and it doesn't have to be of the "super-soldier saving the world" variety.
13 | Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2 | XBLA, PSN
Sure, everyone's focus might be on Battlefield and Call of Duty right now, but Rainbow Six Vegas 2 still deserves a good chunk of your time. Squad-based tactics and loads of customization options make the game stand apart from other first-person shooters, and the roughly 10-hour story mode ensures that your single-player experience isn't going to be over the same night you bring the game home.
And Rainbow Six's multiplayer options (both a co-op campaign and the standard competitive modes) are still just as much fun today as they were in 2008. The game isn't considerably different from either its predecessor or its contemporaries -- it just does all the things it's supposed to and it does them well. And best of all, you can definitely find a copy of the game on the cheap!
12 | Gears of War 3 | Xbox 360
After a short five years, the Gears franchise finally comes to a conclusion with Gears of War 3, and the final title in the Marcus Fenix saga is just as bloody, as explosive, and as unapologetically violent as ever.
Gears of War 3 brings a lot of new weapons to the table in its fight to stay on top of the FPS market. One big gun in its arsenal is undoubtedly the four-player co-op, a series' first, along with a couple of completely revamped multiplayer modes. Horde Mode returns with "Horde 2.0," where players can now set up strategic command centers, build defenses, and get bonuses for holding ground against waves of Locust enemies. Flipping the mode on its head is "Beast Mode," where players attack COG Soldiers as the invading Locust, upgrading to more lethal enemy types over time.
New weapons, new playable characters (including female COGs), and new enemy types round out the game, and the main campaign reaps the benefits of all the improvements. Not only can you level up through frequent kills and feats of skill, but you can also swap money, weapons, and ammo in-game. Talk about teamwork.
11 | Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Handing off the vast majority of development duties on a monstrously huge video-game franchise like Modern Warfare couldn’t have been easy for either Activision or the newly formed studio, Sledgehammer Games. But by leading the development on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 with help from Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer’s proved that they’re fully capable of steering the first-person shooter franchise in some exciting (and newish) directions.
Modern Warfare 3 has much of what you’d expect from such a high-profile action sequel -- an exhilarating single-player campaign that builds on the series’ cinematic vibe and storyline, more multiplayer bells and whistles, etc. -- but it’s more ambitious than merely “more of the same.” One of the biggest improvements MW3 introduces is the new Spec Ops Survival mode, which takes Modern Warfare 2’s popular, challenge-based Spec Ops missions, and infuses the experience with a gameplay concept similar to Treyarch’s Zombies mode from Black Ops/World at War. Only instead of mowing down non-stop waves of goose-stepping undead, your enemies in Survival are living, breathing soldiers capable of strategically taking you out.
The developer has also put a lot of effort into making Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer more novice-friendly in that it rewards players of all skill levels, and not just the ridiculously good players who dominate leaderboards. While it doesn’t reinvent the franchise (nor, should it), Modern Warfare 3 is easily the strongest entry in the series yet.
10 | Battlefield 3 | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Battlefield 3 is more than a mere shooter; instead, the epically scaled combat simulator encompasses nearly every aspect of the modern battlefield -- from the medic to the helicopter pilot to the troop carrier driver. With unparallelled realism, great sound, and an approach to multiplayer that puts other combat shooters to shame, Battlefield 3 is unquestionably one of the best war games of all time. The single player campaign, meanwhile, is underrated; though certain scenes and segments are cliche or simply uninspired, the realistic depiction of urban warfare is so nerve-wracking that you'd swear you were in Tehran.
9 | Halo: Reach | Xbox 360
Changing the Halo formula again, Reach improves on the spectacular Halo 3 with new gameplay elements such as armor abilities, new melee attacks, and equipment power-ups. Taking the fight online also shows a highly refined multiplayer system that adds new modes, like Firefight, and an updated Forge mode. Not only can you destroy friends and foes with the best of them, but you can also craft memorable levels to boot.
8 | Borderlands | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
A blend of first-person shooter and loot-driven RPG, Borderlands is one of the most fun games available on PC. Your goal is simple: survive as you seek out “The Vault,” a place that contains fabulous alien treasure and technology. But the planet of Pandora is a dangerous place, full of nasty monsters and psycho convicts. The game gives you plenty of weapons -- developer Gearbox Software boasts that they have more than 1 million firearms in the game -- and each of the four characters have special skills suited to their roles, like sniper and tank.
Exploring the world of Pandora, either on foot or in weapon-baring buggies, is just fun; the gunplay is fast, and online co-op with up to four players is smooth (not to mention the best way to play the game). The game has four pieces of DLC—if you don’t purchase the Game of the Year Edition, which has all of the DLC, check out The Zombie Isle of Dr. Ned and The Secret Armory of General Knoxx.
7 | Left 4 Dead 2 | PC, Xbox 360, Mac
The team-based survival horror multiplayer game was pretty much invented by Valve when they released Left 4 Dead. The premise of both games is simple: You and three of your friends must fight your way through hordes of zombies towards a safehouse or extraction point. But if you stray too far from your friends, you might be picked off by a “hunter” zombie or strangled by a “smoker” zombie. There are few games out there that make you rely as heavily on your teammates, or are as genuinely frightening.
With the sequel, you get a new set of locations in the Deep South, a new cast of characters, and the addition of melee weapons. Like all of Valve’s games, Left 4 Dead 2 is best played on the PC. The DLC packs are all free for PC users and help flush out more of the story and the overlap between the events of Left 4 Dead and the sequel.
6 | Dead Space 2 | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Continuing the journey of Issac Clarke as he tries to figure out what's behind the mysterious menace from Dead Space's Marker, Dead Space 2 contains the same claustrophobic environments and freakish alien/zombie hybrids that made the original so effectively frightening. Unlike other third-person shooters, getting off headshots and blowing through as many enemies as you can is less important than tearing apart your monstrous foes limb by limb and conserving ammo; even without a head, these monsters can still chase after you.
The game works best when you're not fighting anything at all, when you're just exploring the eerily quiet space station. But that's because you know that an attack can come from anywhere. Monsters pop out of ducts without warning, and while you have some powerful weapons, ammo is still a precious commodity. Like a good horror movie, even making the "right" choices doesn't mean you'll be able to keep all your friends alive. Just keeping your own sanity is victory enough when the world (or space station, rather) is crumbling around you.
5 | Uncharted 3 | PS3
It’s rather telling that SCEJ enlisted Harrison Ford as part of its advertising campaign for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, as Naughty Dog’s wise-cracking treasure hunter is quickly becoming the Indiana Jones of the digital age. Known for creating some of the most cinematic moments of this console generation, the Uncharted series has consistently topped itself release after release, and Uncharted 3 is no exception to that rule.
Boasting an outstanding single-player campaign and a revamped multiplayer component that features deeper player progression, customizable characters, and fleshed-out new co-op modes, Uncharted 3 is, arguably, the best game in a stellar series. Its chockful of witty one-liners, memorable moments, and intense action that's bound to keep your heart pumping in tune with your shotgun.
4 | Metroid Prime Trilogy | Wii
Considered by many to be the greatest trilogy on Wii, and possibly even the greatest gaming trilogy ever, this Metroid Prime collection brings together all three of Samus' first-person adventures onto one disc. The games combine the same exploration and space-faring excitement of the bounty hunter's earlier adventures, but use the Wii Remote for precise shooting controllers. And besides, seeing the world through Samus Aran's visor never gets old.
The whole concept is a unique take on the first-person shooter. There's still plenty of platforming action and enemies to fight, but not as many as you find in traditional gun games -- the main focus is on exploration and figuring out the mystery of what's going in this post-Metroid world. While there might not be too many hardcore games on Wii, Metroid Prime Trilogy is aimed directly at fans who want a deep, grown-up game on their motion-controlled console.
3 | Half-Life 2 and Episodes 1 and 2 | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Glacial release schedule aside, Half-Life 2’s episodic content has been consistently outstanding. (Admittedly, it’s easy to be consistent when you move this… slowly…, but still.) Introducing some creepy new enemies and ushering the outstanding original game’s conspiratorial plot in twisty-turny new directions, Half-Life 2’s episodes are stellar continuations of Valve’s saga, and must-owns for fans that’ve waded into their rich world.
Continuing mute leading man Gordon Freeman’s saga started in the original Half-Life, Half-Life 2 is a thrill-ride from beginning to end -- an incendiary end that, as of Episode Two, caps out on such a spectacularly personal note that the lack of an Episode Three has us waiting up at night, Steam windows open, like a jilted lover. If you’re the least bit interested in the Half-Life saga, all three of these games need to be in your library.
2 | Team Fortress 2 | PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Mac
First released in 2007 for the PC, Team Fortress 2 is actually a sequel to the 1999 Half-Life mod Team Fortress Classic. After nearly 10 years of development, the game went from being a gritty war simulator to an interactive Pixar movie that’s coming to kill you.
But don’t let Team Fortress 2’s unique cartoonish graphical style fool you: this is one intense game. Team Fortress 2 is a team-based first-person shooter pitting two groups of mercenaries against each other. Each map has different objectives like capturing the flag, or holding territory, or delivering a mine cart full of explosives towards an enemy’s base.
The free game has frequent updates, lots of player customization, and a fixation on hats. It’s one of the best (and most popular) PC games out there.
1 | BioShock | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Most people talk about BioShock as a blend of shooter and role-playing game. Which it is. But a secret lies in the halls of its underwater dystopia, Rapture: It's one of the best horror games in years. Rapture is full of terrors. The crazed Splicers are out to slaughter you, and many are them decked out in their New Year's Eve masquerade regalia. The Little Sisters' habit of hanging around corpses to drain them of ADAM (the substance that grants you and Splicers their powers) would be creepy enough on their own, but the sea slugs in their gullets make them even more disturbing. And few things in gaming are as terrifying as the Big Daddy, a man sealed in a deep-sea diving suit, turned into a powerhouse of terror. The most distributed residents, though, might be those citizens of Rapture pulling the strings.
Honorable Mentions: Games that didn't quite make the "Top 15," but still rank as some of the absolute all-time best in the vast library of shooters.
Even though it's not Modern Warfare, Black Ops represents a solid take on Cold War-era combat. That means while you won't have the nifty new gizmos and weapons of the current age, Black Ops ably compensates with a diverse armory of its own with crossbows, ballistic knives, and even oddies like the tomahawk. As a plus for experienced vets, nearly each part of your favorite guns are customizable -- you can switch up attachments like the gun sight, suppressor, or the magazine -- as is your personal avatar's appearance. It's all tied into the CODPoints currency system, meaning that instead of unlocking gear, you can pick and choose what you earn in combat. Plus, the varied multiplayer modes include everything from single-shot guns to 'place your bets' deathmatches to zombie infestations.
A great shooter with motion controls? While it might not be common, Dead Space: Extraction proves it's not impossible. Retaining the creepy horror vibe of the Dead Space series, Extraction trades in your ability to free roam a facility for an on-rails experience. But that doesn't mean the storytelling is any less superb... or the alien dismemberment any less gory. As a side-story supplement to the Dead Space series and as a standalone shooter, Extraction is a great, mature game, whether you play it on Wii or in HD on your PS3.
This expansive sequel to the original GRAW improves leaps and bounds with a refined single player game, more cooperative multiplayer options, improved AI, an exceptional plot, and incredible visuals for the time frame it released into. GRAW2, as a third-person tactical shooter, boasts a robust campaign, perfect for flying solo, and a co-op multiplayer experience that will have you coming back again and again, proof that the money you'll spend on Advance Warfighter 2 is as well spent as any other game on this list.
Even though the newer video game in Guerilla Games’ gritty sci-fi franchise, Killzone 3, is also available, it doesn’t quite reach the same highs as 2009’s Killzone 2. Salvaging the best bits from the PS2 original -- mainly Killzone’s inspired universe and storyline -- Killzone 2 builds upon the strengths of the original by leveraging the power of the PlayStation 3 to deliver a much more technically sound experience. On top of its much smoother visuals and gameplay, Killzone 2 is packed to the gills with memorable moments, including a mission where you get to vaporize Helghast aggressors while commandeering a powerful mech. And once you complete Killzone 2’s rad campaign, its class-based multiplayer is a lot of fun, too.
Modern Warfare 2 is the action-packed sequel to 2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Modern Warfare 2 picks up after the events of Modern Warfare, with "Soap" MacTavish leading British SAS operatives against Russian Ultranationalists in a conflict that eventually spreads throughout the world. MW2 gets a noticeable graphical bump over its predecessor but its the tighter controls and improved multiplayer modes that really help push this series into franchise level.