Looking back, I think that this generation of gaming will be defined by social networks, hash tags, downloadable content, and sweeping multiplayer suites. Before this age of The Matrix, however, things were quite the other way around. The online portions of a game were looked at almost as bonus content to a fleshed-out story mode. This reversed line of thought hasn’t disappeared, by any means. It has just been cast into the shadow of the monolith that is the online world. In commemoration of the games that stuck to tradition and made some great shooter campaigns, here are 25 that really stuck out this generation.
Here are the ground rules that determined titles that I put on this list:
- Both third and first person perspectives were considered.
- Given that this generation was also all about genre-bending, games with any amount of shooting were put on the list, so expect to see games from different genres.
- No co-op-specific campaigns were considered for this list.
- This is not an ordered list.
Gears Of War
Though Gears Of War two and three were both filled with big moments, some of which were quite emotional, none really brought with them the fear and foreboding that the first game did. It wasn’t just that the Locust Hoard was new to us as gamers, but the presentation was also wildly different in tone. Remember the spooky refinery in “Downpour”? How about the Kryll in “Lethal Dusk”? Let us also not forget the first encounter with a Berserker. Long story short, this game was downright creepy at times.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Uncharted 2 was everything that gamers envision a sequel should be: bigger, badder, and peppered with improvements over its predecessor. It accomplished that and then quite a bit more. Playing out like a modern day Indiana Jones that doesn’t suck, the breathless race to find Shangri-La took players all over the world, where we fought gun battles in collapsing hotels, climbed our way out of dangling mountain-pass train wrecks, and had a showdown next to the Tree Of Life. The development of old characters and the introduction of appealing new ones just made the narrative that much better.
Though you could make it through the game without actually shooting anyone, there was always the option to fling both bullets and the lithe protagonist, Faith, across the many rooftops and obstacles in this unique parkour-run-and-gun hybrid…thingy. The stark art style of the dystopian city this game takes place in, meshed with the gameplay that always feels like it’s on the “edge” of not working, and a serviceable mystery plot made this short game feel even shorter. Thank god Mirror’s Edge 2 is on the way.
Much like Uncharted 2, Borderlands 2 simply did exactly what was expected of a sequel. There were more guns, an actual plot, more powers, and all-new areas of the deathtrap that was the game’s setting – Pandora. The co-op made the game a million times more fun, which may make you think that this game wouldn’t be qualified for this list…but shooting and looting still sets off a little bit of a dopamine rush, even when you are riding solo.
Saints Row: The Third
Saints Row started out as a direct competitor to Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto, but by the second installment, things were already starting to get weird. That trend didn’t change with Saints Row: The Third, where we were beating people to death with sex toys, fighting off a zombie hoard, and flying around the city of Stillwater in a freaking fighter jet. The over-the-top action lent this open a heap of longevity, and I can still have fun with it now.
Prey was an early example of the mountain of innovation that this generation brought to the table. I’m not so much talking about the shooting aspect – that was pretty straightforward. However, fighting aliens aboard their mother ship as a Cherokee Indian while navigating through portals and walking on ceilings helped this game stand apart from the rest of the shooter crowd. The puzzles sprinkled throughout the campaign also harkened back to a day where shooters were made up of mare than pretty shooting galleries.
Metro: Last Light
Metro: 2033 showed us that the drab-from-the-start post-apocalyptic wastelands could have far more character to them than we previously thought. The game was great, but had a few glaring technical issues, most of which were wiped out with Metro: Last Light, a stirring tale of redemption and an entire world that served as an allegory for both mankind’s ability to destroy, but also to persevere and rebuild. The metro tunnels will forever be burned into my memory, and the moments of both natural and supper natural terror that peppered the campaign were a welcome addition in a genre has been stagnating.
Dead Space 2
This was a tough tossup, but given that this is a list about shooters, I think Dead Space 2 is a little more appropriate. The campaign felt far less systematic than Dead Spaces’s, where you were just going from stop to stop and flipping switches. The addition of new weapons, more Necromorph types, and plenty of terror made the gameplay great. The psychological thriller that was the narrative also provided an excellent look into series protagonist Isaac Clark’s deteriorating sanity.
What can be said about Bioshock that hasn’t already been said? The city of Rapture is one of the most complete and well-thought-out gaming worlds of all time and was brimming with some of the most intriguing madmen that gaming had ever saw. While the mechanics were nothing new, wielding plasmids and an array of hard-hitting weapons was a lot of fun, and your really had to think about how to best use them when facing the now-iconic Big Daddies. Of course, the plot and its incredible twist was the star of the show, and asked some very real questions about reality. The elegant design of the narrative and its themes put it head and shoulders of the complex-for-complexity’s-sake plot of Infinite.
Tomb Raider was the Cinderella Man of this generation. With the series having stagnated long ago, the 2013 reboot finally made the series worth talking about again. The small but focused and well-designed open world just begged to be explored, with its unique far-eastern architecture, puzzling tombs, and vast array of other challenges and secrets. The Metroidvania style of play made backtracking an actual joy, and the RPG-lite systems really played off of Laura’s character development quite well. There was a little too much shooting and not always enough puzzling, but I still had a freaking blast.
Far Cry 3
Once again, Far Cry 3 played the part of sequel quite well by dusting up on the many small problems of Far Cry 2 and also had some pretty interesting commentary to share about modern-day pop culture. Far Cry 3’s open world was made appealing by the lush jungle setting, hidden tribal secrets, and plenty of small side stories in the form of hidden notes and letters to make Rook Island positively breathe. With an awesome array of unlockable skills that let you take just about any approach to combat and plenty to do beyond the great narrative, Far Cry 3 is one of the few games that I found myself doing just about everything in it.
Bioware’s sweeping space opera series was one of the most ambitious projects ever to be undertaken in video games, with decisions made in one game spreading across all three titles, but the first game holds a special place in my heart. The shooting wasn’t quite as refined as it was in Mass Effect 2 or Mass Effect 3, but it did take place in a world that felt for more mysterious and romantic than it did in the darker second and third entries. The original Mass Effect also placed a much bigger emphasis on exploring uncharted planets that, although held in contention as to their quality, at least helped the game feel like more of an adventure.
Halo: ODST was an interesting little side project from Bungie, one that took a moment to step back from the grandiosity of Halo 3 and tell a more intimate tale back on Terra Nova. Playing out in a unique neo-noire format, ODST took place almost exclusively at night in the boots of protagonist The Rookie. The Covenant was once again scary thanks to the return of a health bar, and the jazzy soundtrack helped set a mysterious, warm tone that carried through most of the game. The hub world was also an interesting departure from the level-based structure the game had in the past, and toying around with silenced alterations of the SMG and beloved Pistol were great.
Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare brought Michael Bay to video games. Before Uncharted created the summer popcorn flick of video games, Modern Warfare brought the hardened military film to the medium in spectacular fashion. With a plot that was just smart enough to make you give a crap about Soap MacTavish and Captain Price and action that seemed to come right out a can of Red Bull laced with coke, the campaign was refreshing in a time where developers weren’t in a pissing contest to see who could make their game bigger. Missions such as “All Ghillied Up” and moments such as the nuclear explosion that killed off one of the main characters have already made their way into the “Best Moments In Video Game History” Hall Of Fame. I still go back and play this campaign from time to time.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Bioshock couldn’t exist without Deus Ex, and that point was further proven with 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The game’s great mystery narrative had protagonist Adam Jenson encountering numerous ethical quandaries, sneaking (or shooting) his way through clandestine government facilities, and exploring a cyber-punk world we had never seen done before – a marriage of science fiction and Renaissance architecture. The numerous upgradeable weapons and powers such as a system that essentially shot rockets out of your body gave players plenty of ways to play the campaign, and even allowed them to get through it without ever even killing anyone – minus the totally obnoxious boss battles.
Bulletstorm were a high-school student, it would have gotten out of school suspension for telling a teacher to go f*** themselves, right after kicking someone out of a second story window and yelling out “hell yeah!” Taking a combo-based game like Devil May Cry and turning it into a shooter, Bulletstorm was violence condensed into a blood sport. I couldn’t decide if I was just sick or just really creative when I would yank an enemy towards me with the leash, stick an explosive in their throat, and then kick him back into a crowd of his friends, blowing them all into gloriously bloody chunks.
Spec Ops: The Line
Though mechanically, Spec Ops: The Line really wasn’t anything very impressive. In fact, it was pretty uneven in some areas. What made the game so great, though, was everything else around it. Rather than let itself become a by-the-numbers military shooter that many gamers have become accustomed to, it forced you to take a second of pause before pulling the trigger. You witnessed the destruction of you team’s psyche, and the protagonists. I left some scenarios in Spec Ops: The Line feeling genuinely guilty. After the game was over, I was left considering how violence is used in video games, which is a fear in and of itself.
Condemned: Criminal Origins
This Xbox launch title was a tour de force of atmosphere and storytelling. Stepping into the investigative shoes of Ethan Thomas to track down the Match Maker across a variety of dilapidated urban environments made for a chilling and, at times, supernatural experience. Guns were rarely on the menu, and you often felt helpless as murderous crack addicts leapt out of the shadows to attack you. The plot twists, heavy hitting gunfire and melee combat, and spooky atmosphere grasped me from the beginning and never let go.
Ratchet And Clank: A Crack In Time
Though there are many that would call Ratchet And Clank a platforming series, it is hard to deny the large amount of shooting that occurs in this game. The gorgeously animated alien worlds pop with color and have some of the greatest art styles around. The lovable characters exist in stark contrast next to the creative and fun-to-use weapons that you blast the ever-living-hell out of all sorts of robots and other creatures with. Pretty much everything about A Crack In Time is great.
Resistance: Fall Of Man
Where plot or character is concerned, the Resistance series isn’t really the place to look. However, given that the games are made by the same people responsible for the Ratchet And Clank series, the weapons were some of the most unique that I have ever seen in a first person shooter, all of them having some cool secondary or tertiary functions. The alternate-history setting is also wholly unique, with an alien-invasion going down during World War II.
Fallout: New Vegas
While Fallout 3 was great, the decisions that you made in the game could pretty much be classified as either “good” or “bad,” which was strange considering how much the game emphasized moral ambiguity. New Vegas not only fixed this, but expanded on Fallout 3 by taking the game to a different part of America and adding so damn color, throwing in a great wild-west story of revenge, and giving you even more options with which to customize your gear and your character. This was, however, after they fixed up the game’s many launch-day bugs.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots
Yeah, yeah, I know – Metal Gear Solid is a stealth series, but I distinctly remember shooting the hell out of everyone the first time I played through the game. I believe my kill count was in the high 500’s, so dammit, Guns Of The Patriots can be called a shooter, depending on how you play it. The intricately woven fiction, the well-thought-out characters, and the wide-open environments that just begged to be explored made this one of the best stealth/shooter/extremely-hard-to-follow games out there.
This game was something of a hidden gem. The art-style and atmosphere brought to mind Bioshock, the game played like a regular old first-person shooter, and the time-bending powers kept things just different enough. Shooting (literally and figuratively) between the past and present in the narrative with the device was a slick idea that, coupled with the likeable characters, kept things interesting. I left Singularity wholly satisfied and fulfilled something that you can’t say for many emotionally empty shooters on the market today.
Shadows Of The Damned
You know that when Suda51 drops a game, you’re in for…something. Shadow Of The Damned tells the story of Garcia Hotspur, who dives headfirst into Hell when his girlfriend kills herself and gets sent down to the fiery depths to become the Lord Of Hell, Fleming’s, woman. The story is totally deranged, the art-style was utterly insane, and the soundtrack was incredible. There are too many sex jokes, penis jokes, and other crude jokes made, but they still manage to be funny if you stop taking yourself seriously for a few hours to get through this interesting third-person-shooting experience.
This is probably the most unconventional entry on this list, primarily because it is played from a top-down, isometric view instead of the third or first-person perspectives that many shooters on here play from and the 16-bit visuals. You are simply tasked with going to a specific area and killing everyone by any means necessary, making this one of the most brutal games around. After each level was finished, the techno-music backdrop cut off and there was nothing but a light, droning hum as you walked past the carnage, making this one of the more thought provoking games on this list. The AI wasn’t bright, but this actually gave the game a certain quirk that made it wholly unique – especially since one hit is all it takes to kill you.
What games do you think deserved to be on this list, and what games do you totally think belong on here? Let us know in the comments below!