The 21 Best First-Person Shooters Since N64's 'GoldenEye'

GoldenEye | Nintendo
GoldenEye | Nintendo

After two decades and multiple "next-gen"console releases, N64's GoldenEye remains a pinnacle of first-person shooters. The 1997 game spawned countless imitators and inspired dozens of genuine classics. Today, we're counting down the 21 best shooters published in the wake of the godfather, GoldenEye.

21. Rainbow Six: Vegas (2006)

Tactical espionage in a terrorist-stricken Sin City? Almost as scary as a Vegas bachelor party. The sixth Rainbow Six game's iconic environments and strategic gameplay forced gamers commonly trained in running-and-gunning to think ahead and plan for each encounter. A balance of chaotic action and well-executed strategy amounted to a franchise best.

20. Dying Light (2015)

Cross the bizarro weapon-crafting and bloody head-smashing of Dead Island with the nonstop parkour of Mirror's Edge and you produce the rage-virus lovechild that is Dying Light. Electrify a machete, decapitate a walker, then Spider-Man your way to the next objective? Sequel, please.

Metroid Prime
Metroid Prime | Nintendo

19. Metroid Prime (2002)

Few old-school, side-scrolling games made the jump to 3D as well as Metroid. The GameCube classic's alien worlds were stunning, and play perfectly translated the franchise's upgrade-based exploration into first-person shooter. Each new ability unlocked secrets, locations, and new ways to battle invading space pirates. Sliding around the universe as a deadly, high-speed pinball didn't hurt, either.

18. Prey (2006)

With a fantastic Native American hero, gravity-defying physics puzzles, and a unique "spirit-walking" ability -- allowing players to traverse the world in true out-of-body fashion -- this alien-abduction story was anything but cookie-cutter. Bonus points for a jaw-dropping opening sequence set to Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper."

17. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (2004)

Movie tie-in games uniformly suck, so the fact that an action-RPG-FPS hybrid starring Vin Diesel stands out as one of the best modern shooters is something of a miracle. Butcher Bay told a dark story in claustrophobic environments, incorporating stealth violence into a role-playing campaign (which sounds like Diesel's influence). It shouldn't have worked, but it absolutely did.

Mirror's Edge
Mirror's Edge | Electronic Arts

16. Mirror's Edge (2008)

While you technically can shoot a gun in the first Mirror's Edge game, blasting people away takes all the fun out of the first-person "runner." The sci-fi parkour simulator was one the smoothest, most original gameplay experiences of the last console generation; sliding down a ramped glass ceiling into a dropkick that sends your enemies flying off a roof proved ungodly satisfying.

15. Left 4 Dead (2008)

The Left 4 Dead franchise didn't pioneer the zombie shooter subgenre, but it connected players online in a way that endless copycats have tried -- and failed -- to replicate since. With a clever class system, Left 4 Dead laced the best team-based shooter elements with horror-movie scares. Exploding, gaseous Boomers still haunt our memories, while teammates' screams will forever ring in our ears.

Portal | Valve Corporation

14. Portal (2007)

Portal imagined a sleeker FPS, your gun opening physics-defying doorways in a laboratory hellscape. Red and blue, up and down, the puzzles challenged the most seasoned snipers. The hilariously deadpan GLaDOS made the game as witty as it was difficult.

13. F.E.A.R. (2005)

If you watched The Ring and thought, "Man, I'd love to blast that long-haired Japanese well-dweller with a machine gun," then F.E.A.R. was the game for you. Blending elements of J-horror with traditional FPS action, F.E.A.R. was the rare game that could transition from action set-pieces to true, bowel-releasing terror.

12. Metro 2033 (2010)

Metro 2033 was a bizarrely WTF experience. Psychic powers? Check. Ghost monsters? Oh yeah. Post-apocalyptic Russian subway systems? Sure. Ammo treated as currency, so that the better guns you buy, the less you have to shoot? Weird and innovative. Metro 2033’s clever twists on shooter tropes made it a surprise from start to finish.

Deus-Ex | Eidos Interactive

11. Deus Ex (2000)

While the recent Deus Ex: Human Revolution fell short during its boss battles, the first entry in the franchise took player choice to ridiculous heights. You could go in guns blazing and slaughter everybody with your high-tech weaponry, or figure out one of a dozen non-violent paths to your objective. The futuristic setting offered up even more genre-bending attack options: climb the roof and attack from above; infiltrate the sewers and strike from below; or hack your way through the security systems and walk through the front door? Everything was possible in Deus Ex.

10. DOOM (2016)

Logic can bog down many first-person shooters -- does shooting your way out of danger really make sense? DOOM doesn't overthink the crazy carnage. You chainsaw a demon into two bloody slices because it's nuts. You blast a floating eyeball out of the sky to turn it into a puddle of squishy bits. The game revived speedy running and gunning not seen in old-school FPS titles (like the original DOOM). From graphics to gameplay, the unpretentious -- and, in many ways, unsophisticated -- reboot nailed the basics while upgrading our nostalgia.

9. Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014)

Surprisingly moving and enjoyably complex, The New Order infused new blood into a gaming classic, by rewriting history. Now players led a resistance against the Nazis in an alternate 1960s. The New Order offered up a rewarding upgradeable skill system and a nonstop series of Hollywood set pieces. Harrowing or high-octane? We'll just say plowing down mechanized Nazis still has its pleasures.

Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 | Ubisoft

8. Far Cry 3 (2012)

Far Cry 2 teed up the open-world shooter and Far Cry 3 knocked the concept out of the park. From the wilds of Africa to island tropics, the series created living worlds in which to hunt (and be hunted by) the wildlife. Players planned raids on enemy camps, explored hidden depths, and paraglided across the landscape. The worlds were so well-designed, it was almost a shame to blast 'em to hell. Almost.

7. Halo 4 (2012)

Master Chief. The Covenant. Gorgeous, alien planets. It's Halo, what more is there to say, really? There's a reason why Halo’s iconic hero, gripping story, and crack-like multiplayer have defined gaming for three console generations. While the original Halo defined the shooter for Microsoft's Xbox, the fourth chapter perfectly tuned the story, locations, and gameplay to date.

6. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

A list of the greatest first-person shooters could easily be stuffed with Call of Duty titles. The COD franchise has rapidly become the most successful -- and typically well-crafted -- shooter series in gaming history. But Modern Warfare offered the perfect combination of flawless multiplayer and riveting single player, where players engaged with global missions that extrapolated from modern military headlines.

Half Life 2
Half Life 2 | Valve

5. Half-Life 2 (2004)

Half-Life 2 piled on spindly creatures, foreign weapons, and mechanics previously unseen in gaming -- the gravity gun leaps to mind. Alien face-huggers. Sadly, despite being told for more than a decade that the third game is on its way, few gamers actually believe they'll live long enough to see its release...

4. Bulletstorm (2011)

Unforgivably underrated, Bulletstorm may just be the funnest -- "most fun" doesn't sound fun enough -- game on this list. Using an energy lasso and an arsenal of twisted weapons, players tossed, slammed, decapitated, exploded, nut-shot, or tore enemies in half to drive up a combo counter. Visually gorgeous and a ridiculously addictive combat system rewarded imaginative mayhem.

3. Borderlands 2 (2012)

You're certainly never going to find a more hilarious shooter, or an FPS brimming with more pop-culture Easter eggs, or an action RPG with a weirder set or characters, or a cooler collection of guns, or a better, more handsome villain, than in Borderlands 2. The game's a near masterpiece. Play alone or with a friend, but we dare you not to laugh.

Dishonored | Arkane Studios

2. Dishonored (2012)

Dishonored transforms obvious influences -- from BioShock to Half-Life 2 to the legendary Thief franchise -- into the ultimate amalgamation. With an impressive variety of powers at your disposal, players have unprecedented freedom to plan and execute their supernatural assassinations. It's also the rare shooter with voice talent behind it; Lena Headey, Susan Sarandon, Brad Dourif, Michael Madsen, and Carrie Fisher all add to the mayhem.

1. BioShock (2007)

The BioShock series produced two of the finest titles in gaming history (seriously, if we had the cheat code, this top slot would be a twofer with BioShock Infinite). But the first, watery Rapture demands the attention; the retro designs and truly batshit combination of powers -- summoning bees, anybody? -- would earn the game a place on the list. An enthralling story, laced in politics and philosophy, makes it the most tense first-person shooter of all time.

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Christopher Monfette remembers when GoldenEye was cutting-edge technology. He's also very old. Follow him on Twitter @cwmonfette.