Compiling this list of the best FPS games made us reflect on the genre's amazing history and extraordinary growth. Before we knew what to name them, we called them “Doom clones.” id Software’s groundbreaking work sparked a phenomenon when it began to circulate as shareware over 20 years ago, and since then shooters have propagated through mods, experimentation, LAN parties, co-op, esports, and big-budget masterpieces. Guns and enemies are their bread and butter, but we don’t think of our favorite shooters simply as outlets for simulated violence. We celebrate the way they test our minds and mouse reflexes, the personal stories they generate, the captivating worlds they’ve founded, and the social spaces they provide for lighthearted bonding or hardcore competition.
Whenever we sit down to make ourselves feel important by listing games, our first step is settling on what the heck “best” means. In this case, we’re mostly concerned with identifying which shooters are fun now, today. Games—3D games especially—age. They’re products of the technology they were built on, and sanctifying Battlefield 1942 over Battlefield 1, for example, doesn’t help us help you figure out what games to play.
We value that more than the historical significance of a game, and doing so helps us build a list that recommends what’s great today rather than publishing a popularity contest. (For historical significance as the primary criteria, check out our list of the most important PC games.) We don’t ignore a game’s impact completely—innovation and influence just has a lesser weight under our criteria. We’re also laser-focused on the things that make a shooter a shooter. We consider Fallout: New Vegas, System Shock 2, and Deus Ex to be must-play experiences, but do we celebrate them because they’re great shooters, or because they’re excellent story-driven games that happen to feature guns? Drawing these kinds of lines helps us provide a better service to you.
Consider this a living list (most recently updated on August 7, 2017) which we'll continue to add to from the past and present as we play new games and revisit old ones.
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