One of the purest, oldest forms of human play and competition is hitting targets from a distance. Naturally, shooting at stuff is one of the most popular forms of video gaming. Shooting is such a base-level mechanic that the “genre” space of shooting games is full of all kinds of different experiences. But like any space, this one has a storied history of games that continue to inform the present. So let’s take a look at ten of the best shooters considered “classics,”
Aliens vs. Predator
Not to be confused with about fifty other games with the same title or similar (usually with or without that s), the PC shooter based on this weird, pseudo-fanficition property is pretty rad. This is mostly due to the fact that, for a shooter made in the 90s, Aliens vs. Predator had some pretty high concept ideas for how these non-human creatures should control. Also, it was pretty scary for, again, a PC shooter from the 90s.
Today, gamers may know Deus Ex as the weird cyberpunk game that almost did some cool stuff as Metal Gear Solid was seeming to wind down. Then, a sequel came out and did some weird stuff nobody liked and poofed the whole franchise out of existence. However, Deus Ex was around well before that, with a PC shooter/RPG hybrid that aimed to provide as much player freedom as possible, famously including the chance to talk your way out of almost any confrontation.
DOOM is, and I promise, the only part of this list I’ll use the “what can I say that hasn’t been said already” cliche. I’m invoking that here because I’m actually too young to really have a handle on DOOM . Sorry! Seriously though, DOOM is responsible for every decision modern game-makers make with respect to movement in shooters. DOOM is about never stopping and, as we saw in the most recent title in the series, there’s plenty of room for that concept to grow.
Duke Nukem 3D
Duke Nukem kinda sucks, honestly. But Duke Nukem 3D was a very important aspect of gaming and shooter history. It showed both that parody was a viable path to take for a big game release and that it was okay to be weird, stupid and still be a contender in the mainstream. The concept is dated now, but arguably opened a lot of doors at the time for creativity in general.
Nintendo 64 games don’t often hold up for various reasons, but it’s important to grab at least one shooter from that platform. The Nintendo 64 defined multiplayer console gaming before online gaming became the juggernaut it is today with Goldeneye 007 . Even now, when a game has 4-player local co-op, you know you can have fun with it almost regardless of what the actual game is.
Do us both a favor and watch Noclip’s documentary on Half-Life . It’s a great companion piece if you ever want to go back and play the series again or are looking into it for the first time. With Half-Life , Valve straight-up changed the face of first-person video games forever, practically overnight. From telling a story that felt big, to physics technology and even genre subject matter, Half-Life is a video game flashpoint.
Bungie’s Marathon was the beginning of the path that led to Halo: Combat Evolved . This was a DOOM -like shooting game, but one with a particular focus on storytelling. It had sequences of serious dialogue in-between the shootouts. This isn’t quite Half-Life levels of transformative, but it exists in a similar space, as it ended up changing the game in a totally different kind of way.
The Quake series basically asked, “What if DOOM was multiplayer-focused, and pushed the boundaries of first-person movement even further?” Quake II is responsible for so many things we take for granted in shooters today, such as the very concept of rocket jumping. These games are all about going as hard as possible, racing through looping stages, leaping across chasms, and somehow fitting deathmatch competition in there.
System Shock 2
If you’ve ever wondered why BioShock is called, well, BioShock , here’s the answer. Well before it was cool, the System Shock series was doing oppressive, horror-hybrid shooters with a scary antagonist harassing you from afar. System Shock hasn’t aged as well, but the sequel is known as one of the all-time greats, thanks in part to its blend of systems and horrifying villain.
Out of all the classic shooters out there, floating throughout history is a stream of aging assets and bullet renders, Unreal Tournament is my favorite. There’s just something about the sci-fi Bloodsport vibe that really turns my lizard gamer brain on in the right way, and the satisfying ways in which the outlandish weapons can tear the little, chunky polygon avatars into gibs is a big part of that. It’s quick, responsive deathmatch action at its finest, and almost infinitely replayable.