The FPS genre is home to some of the best level design on PC, from the secret-filled maps of Doom to the thrilling roller-coasters of Call of Duty. Some of the levels here have been chosen for their intelligent, complex design, and others simply because they’re fun or memorable in some way.
I’m focusing on self-contained single-player levels, and as such won’t be including any multiplayer maps or open-worlds. In no particular order, here are some of our favourites. What are yours?
(Yeah, I know calling Thief or Deus Ex an 'FPS' is doing them a disservice, but they're in first-person, and you can fire projectiles, so they count.)
Liberty Island, Deus Ex
A small level, but one that showcases everything that’s great about Deus Ex. There are dozens of ways to navigate the island and complete the mission—which Tom ‘Gunpoint’ Francis wrote an entire feature about.
Ravenholm, Half-Life 2
Fun with weapons, but doubly so using just the gravity gun and the environment, this is probably the best level Valve have ever designed. A tense, terrifying gauntlet of zombies, spinning blades, and poison headcrabs.
Operation Overlord, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
This level recreates the chaotic horror of World War II’s Omaha beach landings. Charging through an endless, deafening hail of Nazi bullets, surrounded by fallen comrades, is a bleak, but exhilarating, experience.
Hollywood Holocaust, Duke Nukem 3D
The maps in Duke 3D are all packed with detail, stuff to interact with, and things for Duke to make dumb jokes about. The entire L.A. Meltdown chapter is great, but this first level will always be my favourite.
All Ghillied Up, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
This isn’t a great level from a pure design standpoint, being little more than a linear series of scripted events with scattered instant fail states. But it makes up for it by being absolutely drenched in atmosphere.
Lady Boyle's Last Party, Dishonored
One of the most satisfying multi-path levels I’ve played since the original Deus Ex. There are countless ways to infiltrate the party and deal with your target, and the environment design is stunning.
Fort Frolic, BioShock
Everyone loves Fort Frolic. Demented artist Sander Cohen turns Rapture’s adult playground into a macabre monument to himself and his twisted art. A triumph of level design, art, and atmosphere.
We’ve Got Hostiles, Half-Life
As if marauding aliens weren’t bad enough, this level introduces Half-Life’s tough-as-nails HECU Marines: fiendishly clever, heavily armed human enemies sent to kill everything in Black Mesa.
Robbing the Cradle, Thief: Deadly Shadows
I could explain why the Shalebridge Cradle is a great level, but you should probably just read the feature Kieron Gillen wrote about it for PC Gamer a thousand years ago. Summary: it’s really bloody scary.
The Silent Cartographer, Halo: Combat Evolved
One of the most memorable Halo levels. Taking place on a beautiful-looking island dotted with alien ruins, it mixes Halo’s infantry and vehicle combat to great effect. Hopefully we’ll see Halo on PC again some day.
Our Mutual Fiend, Half-Life 2: Episode Two
Half-Life 2’s grand finale is a fitting end. After finally reaching the White Forest base, Gordon uses the so-called Magnusson Device to take out an army of Striders. A frenetic, but tightly designed level.
Pauper’s Drop, BioShock 2
This level from the brilliant BioShock 2 gives us a glimpse into the lives of Rapture’s poor and downtrodden citizens. Even for Ryan’s broken city it’s a grim setting, with some great horror moments.
Wolverines!, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
One of those rare moments where the Call of Duty series breaks off its rails and sets you free-ish. Defending Burger Town from wave after wave of tough enemies is modern Call of Duty at its best. Ramirez! Do everything!
Gloom Keep, Quake
A grim castle surrounded by a moat, dotted with deadly traps, and filled with unholy monsters. If you were playing on easy (boo!), this was the first time you’d come face to face with the terrifying Shamblers.
There are better Doom levels, but Hangar, or E1M1, is so iconic, I just had to include it. This was, for many, their first taste of an FPS, and it’s a bloody mix of close-quarters combat and devilish secret areas.
That's all for now, but are there any we've missed?