Top 20 Shooters of All Time

I am going with a fairly loose term for shooters here: things move and you shoot at them. It includes FPS, TPS, on-rails, lightgun (well none made the cut but they were considered!) and shmup so long as your primary objective is to fire at enemies! RPGs like Mass Effect and Fallout were not considered even if they have shooter combat.
  1. 1.
    Halo: Combat Evolved/Halo 2
    I'm cheating and putting both here to make room for one new entry. This represents the epitome of the genre for me. Stellar campaigns, jam-packed multiplayer, couch co-op, vehicular warfare, challenging enemy AI. When you factor in Halo 2's ambitious, series-altering campaign, and it's online multiplayer it's clear which series dominated the shooter space of that era. Nothing has surpassed Halo in my eyes and I doubt anything ever will.
  2. 2.
    Half-Life 2 (and 2 Episodes)
    The closest a game has and likely ever will come to dethroning Halo as my favorite shooter. Everything about HL2 oozes class and intelligence through brilliant design. Half-Life 2 is so good it's still representative of the very best the genre has offered a dozen years after its release. But most important is the variety of ideas present in the whole game and how well executed each idea is.
  3. 3.
    Doom
    Doom was going to feature in the top 3 one way or another. It was just a matter of where I would place it. It is one of the great influencers of an entire medium. Labyrinthine, fast, challenging and more satisfying than most modern shooters. Doom's influence is very real, but it's lasting legacy is proof that great design holds up regardless of age. It doesn't matter which version (or if you play 2) just play one. It's important to understanding how everything changed at once.
  4. 4.
    Metroid Prime
    Alien, immersive, atmospheric, and brilliant are the words of the day! Exploration is king but those boss battles are out of this world. It's easily the slowest paced game encouraging careful observation over fast paced combat. But enter a boss arena and prepare have both your wits and reflexes tested.
  5. 5.
    Resident Evil 4
    The biggest influence on third person shooter design over the past decade; RE4 remains unparalleled in pacing and structure. It immediately modernized the series and legitimized a brand new style of play that most people just can't get enough. The roots of Uncharted, Gears of War and so many other modern, cinematic action games can all be traced back to Resident Evil 4.
  6. 6.
    Panzer Dragoon Orta
    The greatest rail shooter ever made. Jam packed with content, including the original Panzer Dragoon, lush visuals, branching level design, a touching narrative and brilliant boss battles. This is mastery of a sub-genre that we will likely never see replicated again.
  7. 7.
    Vanquish
    It's the best pure shooter to come out of Japan ever, and from the creator of Resident Evil 4 no less! The sliding mechanic takes it away from slower cover based shooters and encourages constant movement in battle making for the single most thrilling experience on this entire list.
  8. 8.
    BioShock/BioShock 2 (and Minerva's Den expansion)
    The original is the most impactful with its wonderful story twists, awe-inspiring setting and general sense of newness, but it's gameplay left something to be desired. However it's included because it feels better to play both together. BS2 ratchets up the level and visual design and takes on a near tower defense approach to it's combat design in some aspects making for a stellar series of fights. Minerva's Den combines the best of both main games into the best piece of BioShock content period.
  9. 9.
    Gears of War 3
    I was tempted to put the original for its strong replay value and overall influence but ultimately the third game is the series' high point. Brilliant cover shooting, feature packed and beautiful to see in motion. You should ideally look into the whole series but if you opt to play only one game none of them can match Gears of War 3 in terms of sheer quality.
  10. 10.
    Quake III: Arena
    It was a toss-up between Quake II and this, but ultimately Quake's lasting legacy works best as a multiplayer only shootout with easy to get into matches and a high skill ceiling. Unreal Tournament may have had more modes at the time, but the purest, best playing online shooter was (and in my opinion still is) Quake III.
  11. 11.
    Star Fox 64
    Easily the most beloved rail shooter, it immediately turned its predecessor obsolete and none of the sequels ever matched up. Brilliant enemy encounters and loads of secrets mixed with simple to grasp controls help make this the Star Fox to beat if that's even possible.
  12. 12.
    Spec Ops: The Line
    This is best played without reading further, but if you must: The Line feels like a prestige piece. Often mistaken as an anti war game, The Line actually piggybacks off of the original BioShock's theme of player submission and critiques the shooter genre as a whole on top of all that. The ambition of the game and its views on violence as a solution to problems encourage thought even as it cheers you on for your murderous exploits.
  13. 13.
    Crysis (and Warhead expansion)
    Crysis is more than just a pretty face. Crysis represented freeform expression through gameplay giving you the freedom to play how you want. It's visual prowess may be what it's known for but the interactive elements that make up the bulk of the game show a mastery of open-ended design that no shooter has been able to match (sorry Far Cry 3 fans, your game sucks).
  14. 14.
    Borderlands 2
    Take basic RPG elements from Diablo, mix it in with some raunchy, rather on the nose humor, combine with a zillion different guns, and mix it in with fun cooperative play and great shooting mechanics and you have your next major time sink.
  15. 15.
    F.E.A.R.
    Kinetic action fueled by the best individual shooting mechanics of any FPS I have ever played combined with cunning, intelligent and downright brutal enemies helped make up for the bland levels. It's was tense and had its fair share of occult style scares, but it makes this list for being one of the greatest playing shooters ever made. Everything else that it does well is just icing on the cake.
  16. 16.
    Binary Domain
    It's a squad-based cover shooter from the team that created the Yakuza series. That's my pitch to everyone even though I haven't played Yakuza lol. It plays like a traditional shooter but it has a great sci-fi plot, an international cast of characters you need to earn the trust of in-game to ensure the best possible outcome and some of the best designed boss fights in the genre.
  17. 17.
    Rez
    The poster child for experimentation and new experiences, Rez released in 2002 and was arguably ahead of its time as this rhythmic rail shooter has only grown more beloved over the years. It's abstract, soothing, difficult and a genuine standout moment for the medium.
  18. 18.
    Wolfenstein: The New Order
    Wolfenstein came roaring back in 2014! I love Wolf 3D and it's significance can't be denied, but The New Order embraces its old school heritage, marries it with a daring, punk-like attitude, and boldly tales the series and overall setting in excellent new directions.
  19. 19.
    Mushihimesama Futari ver 1.5
    I do enjoy a good shmup game. Maybe not as much as the true diehards as my experience is lacking (Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga, Einhander are games I have never played), but I do know I spent dozens of hours playing a Japanese import version of this game trying to improve my scores and learn the scoring mechanics. I've never put as much time into a shmup as I did with Mushihimesama Futari (sorry Astebreed). It's an addicting blast and I highly recommend it!
  20. 20.
    Metro: Last Light
    The Metro series is the opposite of the open-ended STALKER series it eventually spawned from, but I prefer it because it's mechanics are simple to grasp, narrative easier to get into, and production values are significantly higher. STALKER might be the more complex and interesting experience, but Metro is the more immediately enjoyable, highly polished and significantly less divisive game.