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First Person Shooters to Play in 2021

I don’t know about all of you, but I get sick of constantly hearing about covid, the president, foreign wars, the economy, and other scary adult things. So let’s talk about something relaxing, like blowing stuff up…virtually. I’ve had too much time on my hands to play first person shooters due to the pandemic, so I thought I’d make a list and argue why you should too. The list only consists of single player first-person shooter games I’ve played recently only, so if you have a favorite that isn’t on the list, it might not be because I don’t like it. The list also only includes games that I own, so no Halo because I have never owned an xbox (although I’ve played every Halo). The list doesn’t include games like Fallout, Cyberpunk, and the Outer Worlds even though they are in first person and involve shooting, because combat is not the main focus of any of them. I’m ranking these games on their combat systems, not overall quality of the game. Here are eight first person shooters that you should play in 2021, ranked by gunplay, level design, combat mechanics, AI, & movement.

Honorable Mentions:

Wolfenstein The New Colossus 2017 (PS4, Xbox1, PC, Switch) – improved gunplay and massive leap in visual fidelity over its predecessor. The shift in story tone is a bit jarring and the commando alarm system is overused, but still very much worth playing in 2021.

Half-Life 2 2004 (PS3, Xbox360, PC) – Arguably the best first-person shooter of the 2000’s, but it’s strength isn’t in the game’s combat systems. The combat is fun, don’t get me wrong, but this game holds up due to the narrative/ method of storytelling, and groundbreaking physics system (still awesome in 2021).

Serious Sam 2001 (PS4, Xbox1, PC) – made to pay homage to 90’s fps games but became something else entirely. The gameplay mostly involves running backwards or circle strafing while holding onto the trigger for dear life. A good time, but an exhausting one.

Doom 64 1997 (N64, PS4, Xbox1, PC, Switch) – A surprise 2020 rerelease on non-Nintendo hardware! Picked this over the other classic Doom games because I think it’s the one that the least amount of people have played, and that’s a shame. Classic Doom combat in full force combined with a creepy atmosphere makes for a Hell of good time (pun intended), albeit in 2d without vertical aiming.

Quake 1 1996 (PC) – only an honorable mention because you need to download a source port to play on modern hardware. If you don’t play a lot of classic games, this isn’t the most intuitive process. Creepy atmosphere, fast movement, scary monsters, meat chunks…yes please.

8. Titanfall 2 2016 (PS4, Xbox1, PC)

There are very few games where the simple act of moving is worth $60. This is one of them. Double jump, wall run, slide, & sprint have all been done before but never implemented so well in first person. The guns are all fun to shoot and useful in their own ways, there are sections where you pilot your mech and wreak absolute havoc on anything that moves, and the platforming puzzles are satisfying to complete. The narrative and character building (BT mostly) are an underrated component of what makes this game fun. There is some real creativity shown in the mission design of the game’s first half, and one amazing gimmick that I won’t spoil. Like most games of this era, Titanfall 2 has a 2 weapon limit. I understand that this is due to the multiplayer and keeping consistency, but it does prevent you from really learning your arsenal. It encourages you to find weapons that you know and stick with them. While you can play this game like a classic cover-based corridor shooter, you’d be doing yourself a real disservice if you do…and that leads to the one problem that holds this game back. The enemy AI is dumb as rocks. While the game gives you all the tools to make your own fun and express creativity, the AI does not demand that you do so. They mostly sit in one spot waiting for their turn to get shot. This isn’t a game breaking issue by any means, but AI that forced the player to use advanced movement that this game absolutely nailed would have catapulted this game further up the list.

Gunplay – 7.5/10

Level design – 9/10

Combat mechanics – 8/10

AI – 6/10

Movement – 10/10

Average 8.1/10

7. Resistance 3 2011 (PS3)

The final and best act of the Resistance Fall of Man trilogy. Unfortunately, the only way to play this game natively is on the PS3, or you can stream it on PS now making it by far the least accessible title on this list. So why should you play this in 2021? Because the game is plain awesome and serves as a course correction for the franchise, and is the best shooter on the PS3. Resistance 3 ditches the 2 weapon limit and regenerating health of Resistance 2, as well as the random unfair difficulty spikes. You have an exciting arsenal too. Resistance 3 gives you a magnum revolver, bullseye rifle, auger, marksman burst rifle, shotgun, “mutator”, sniper, atomizer beam, rocket launcher, carbine rifle, and cryogun (freeze ray). I typically found myself sticking with the bullseye/ carbine, and then switching to the creative offerings once things get hectic (often). Resistance has a diverse cast of bad guys to shoot, and there’s a real sense of progression in both story and combat variety. Most missions have their own gimmick, making them memorable in mostly positive ways. The only real downside is in the story. The story itself isn’t bad, but you know where it’s going right when the game starts and the main character isn’t terribly interesting. Thankfully, game story matters little when the gameplay is so good.

Gunplay – 8.5/10

Level design – 9/10

Combat mechanics – 8.5/10

AI – 8/10

Movement – 7/10

Average – 8.2/10

6. Rage 2 2019 (PS4, Xbox1, PC)

Rage 2 is never going to win any awards for open world design, narrative, or driving mechanics. Rage 2 is NOT a better game than Titanfall 2 in total, not even close. Rage 2 honestly does one thing well, really really really well. The combat in Rage 2 is almost flawless. You start as an average FPS protagonist, capable of sprinting, jumping, sliding, aiming down the sights, etc. As you progress, you acquire abilities that are basically superpowers. You get a dash, double jump, ground slam, “falcon” punch, anti-gravity sphere, and projectile shield. Combine these with a creative arsenal and overdrive ability, you become death incarnate. Let’s talk about this creative arsenal. You get a pistol, revolver, assault rifle, shotgun, anti-gravity gun, “Thanos Snap” firestorm revolver, hyper cannon (railgun), authority pulse cannon, smart rocket launcher, and the BFG. Most of the weapons have some sort of alternate fire mode, and all can be upgraded (except the BFG because there is no need). Rage 2 doesn’t demand that you get good with all of them, but there are options available for virtually every play style. The enemy factions are unique and each contains different classes of enemies, keeping encounters fresh despite the average open world they’re found in. The one issue I have with the combat actually comes from the game not pushing exploration. The game never directly leads you to the more creative weapons, making them easy to miss. It’s entirely possible to beat the final boss, without ever finding more than 3 weapons. This game would have been better suited as a linear-progression, mission based shooter, but still well worth the heavily discounted price you’ll pay for it in 2021.

Gunplay – 9/10

Level design – 7.75/10

Combat mechanics – 9/10

AI – 7.5/10

Movement – 8/10

Average – 8.25/10

5. Wolfenstein The New Order & The Old Blood 2014 (PS3, Xbox360, PS4, Xbox1, PC)

These are the games responsible for revival of the genre. When this came out, everything was trying to mimic call of duty. 2 weapon limit, regenerating health, aiming down the sights, hiding behind cover, set piece, slow movement pace, bland characters, etc. When you boot this game up, something feels different. The protagonist gives you a reason to care about him and what he’s doing. You pick up a third (!?) weapon real fast. Is that a health pack? I’m shooting two guns at once? Then the game rewards you for playing well. The progression system is based off of your play style, so if you like to play stealthy, your earned perks will reflect that. If you prefer guns blazing like me, you will also earn perks that compliment that. There is some variety to the enemies, but the level design is what really keeps combat scenarios fresh. The only real downside to this game is that it’s graphics haven’t aged terribly well and the engine has a strange pop in effect when you enter a new area, but this is nitpicking. Your arsenal includes pistols, sub machine guns, assault rifles, auto shotguns, a laser cannon weapon, a sniper rifle, throwing knives, and various heavy weapons that can be picked up in the environment. All are great but do yourself a favor and dual wield auto shotguns whenever possible.

Gunplay – 9.25/10

Level design – 8.5/10

Combat mechanics – 9/10

AI – 7/10

Movement – 8/10

Average – 8.35/10

4. Ion Fury 2019 (PS4, Xbox1, PC, Switch)

Similar to Dusk, this is a throwback in the best way. Unlike Dusk, this game actually runs on an old engine and on all platforms. The first game to come out on the Build engine since 1998(?), Ion Fury takes place in the Duke Nukem universe, albeit distantly. For anyone that doesn’t know, the build engine uses 2d “sprites” to mimic a fully 3D world. How does a 2D game hold up in 2021? Surprisingly well. The Duke Nukem interactive environment and secret hunting is there in full force, as are jokes coming from your character in the heat of battle. The enemies are varied, and they don’t sit around waiting to get shot. Prioritization is key, as is using the right weapon for the job. Yes, you can kill everything with the Ion bow or grenade launcher, but you’re better off saving them for the big angry guys down the line. The flying enemies are annoying, but this is consistent with just about every 90’s shooter. Some of the platforming sections are rather tricky, especially considering the fact that you take fall damage, but there is little else to complain about here. The weapons on offer are the “lover boy” revolver, flaming submachine guns, a shotgun, grenade launcher, bowling bombs, mines, the ion bow, chaingun, and electrified baton. Get used to using all of them too, because this game has a relentless combat pace and you’ll be using a lot of ammo, so don’t try to stick with one gun.

Gunplay – 8.5/10

Level Design – 9/10

Combat mechanics – 8.5/10

AI – 8/10

Movement – 8/10

Average – 8.4/10

3. Dusk 2018 (PC)

Oh man do I wish this game was available on consoles (switch port coming this year, other consoles possibly later). Thankfully, it runs at 60fps on a laptop from 2009 that has seen better days. This is the spiritual sequel to Quake 1, and yes I know Quake 1 technically had sequels. It’s a chunky, fast, skill-based movement focused, gorefest of a shooter with a heavy metal soundtrack. This is a throwback in the best way. To play well, you need to move fast, prioritize targets, dodge a whole lot of projectiles, and manage your resources. I understand that the pixelated art style isn’t for everyone, but there is an awesome skill-based shooter behind it for less than $20. Dusk features a variety of weapons and thankfully, no reloading! You get a pistol, shotgun, super shotgun, assault rifle, mortar launcher, riveter (Rocket launcher), crossbow, and sword that can block incoming fire. It’s a fairly classic 90’s shooter arsenal, but that’s a good thing due to the nature and pace of combat on display here.

Gunplay – 9/10

Level design – 9/10

Combat mechanics – 9/10

AI – 7.75/10

Movement – 9.5/10

Average – 8.85/10

2. Doom 2016 (PS4, Xbox1, PC, Switch)

If Wolfenstein the New Order revived the genre, Doom 2016 gave it a shot of adrenaline mixed with Hell magic and other drugs of a performance enhancing nature. The story…doesn’t do anything special, Demons on Mars are bad and you’re too angry to die. The lore is actually pretty interesting if you feel like searching for it. Doom 2016 rejects “modern gaming trends” and is a real breath of fresh air. You need to move and be the aggressor, hiding behind the lack of cover will get you killed very quickly. Reloading slows the pace down, so they got rid of it. Your health does not regenerate, you need to manage it. The best way to do this? Get up really close to a demon after depleting their health and rip it apart. There is always some ammo scattered around the environment, but you have an instant refresh button by way of the chainsaw. It is an instant (and violent) kill that replenishes your ammo, provided you have fuel for it. The bigger the demon, the more fuel required. Logically, it makes no sense, but it makes perfect sense from a game mechanics perspective. Doom also introduces a demon faltering system. Doing damage to demons will make them miss with their projectiles and melee attacks. This gives you an opportunity to deal significant damage while avoiding taking any, and this is a good thing because Doom throws buckets of bad guys at you all at once, and they’re quite good at killing you.

Let’s talk weapons. No shooter is worth playing if the guns are boring. Doom gives you a pistol, combat shotgun, super shotgun, machine gun, chaingun, plasma rifle, gauss cannon, rocket launcher, chainsaw, and the legendary BFG. Most weapons have 2 modifications that can be toggled at any time, and each modification can be upgraded. Fully upgrading your weapon allows you to complete a mastery challenge, which unlocks weapon mastery which gives your gun a rather useful perk. The mastered mobile turret mod for the chaingun allows you to fire away without worrying about overheating, the gauss cannon siege mode mastery allows you to move while charging it up, the super shotgun allows you to fire twice, etc. Doom gives you the freedom of choice to use just about any weapon in any scenario, as all have a mod that make it useful. This is actually the one thing that hurts the game in my opinion. Doom has a quick switching mechanic that allows you to skip cooldown animations, allowing for massive damage per second combos and essentially stun locking heavy enemies in place with falters. The issue is that every weapon is a valid option at almost all times, so there is nothing pushing you to learn high damage combos and explore the less obvious mechanics that Doom employs, when a couple of super shotgun blasts to the face is a perfectly viable solution to most problems that are presented to you. You can essentially use 1 or 2 weapons for the entire game and find plenty of success. Some really like this because it gives you freedom to tackle battles however you want to, but I find that this makes you approach every fight the same way which can get a little stale by the end of the game. On a positive note, you will love this game if you like metal music. It’s heavy, somewhat electronic, and the way it is mixed makes it essentially react to whatever you’re doing on screen. Even if you don’t pick up this gem, give Rip & Tear and BFG Division (Mick Gordon) a listen, you will not regret it.

Gunplay – 9.5/10

Level design -9/10

Combat mechanics - 9/10

AI – 8.5/10

Movement – 8.5/10

Average – 8.9/10

1. Doom Eternal 2020 (PS4, Xbox1, PC, Switch)

This is it, the best single player first person shooter that you can play. Doom Eternal takes everything great about Doom 2016 and cranks it up to 11. Unlike 2016, you’re heavily incentivized to switch weapons, learn the combo system, falter enemies, and really think about what you’re about to do before doing it. So, let’s attempt to do this game justice and break it down.

In most games, resource management dictates your level of enjoyment. Some games force you to get by on the bare minimum, some give you more than you’ll ever know what to do with. Doom Eternal’s levels and arenas don’t have a huge resource yield. Some arenas might have two ammo packs and one health resource. This sounds awfully scarce but there’s a huge caveat. You are in complete control of replenishing your health, armor, and ammo. Just like 2016, glory kills are the best way to replenish your health. Your charged melee attack, the blood punch, will also yield health if you pick the punch and reave perk. Finally, when fully upgraded, enemies killed while frozen (ice bomb grenade) will drop health. While there is some armor scattered in most arenas, the best way to get it is to light enemies on fire before damaging them. Enemies on fire drop armor when you shoot them. Going further, you can get additional armor from enemies when you achieve super shotgun mastery. The “meathook” (yeethook) will set enemies on fire for a brief moment when attached to an enemy. Shoot it quickly and you have an additional 20 points of armor. The chainsaw works much like it did in 2016, but one pip will automatically recharge. It’s a good thing too, because your maximum ammo capacity is less than half of what it was in 2016.

In Doom Eternal, you can defeat every single enemy the old fashion way… shoot it until it dies. This is not the smartest way to approach most heavy enemies though, because they can be tanky, they are extremely aggressive and do massive damage rather quickly but don’t worry, you’re not helpless. Some heavies have weak points that can be broken. You can shoot off an archnatron’s turret, a revenant’s rocket launchers, and mancubus arm cannons, significantly decreasing their lethality. Destroying a weak point is also a guaranteed falter. Most enemies have some kind of weakness as well. You can instantly stagger a cacodemon with a sticky bomb/ grenade in the mouth, or you can kill it with a single charged arbalest shot. One blood punch will instantly kill a pinky or knock the armor off a cyber mancubus, leaving it extremely vulnerable. Doom Eternal also greatly expands on 2016’s falter system. Falters not only prevent enemies from damaging you, but also give you an opportunity to set up a DPS combo, gather resources, or escape and reposition. Eternal features “hard falters” which will falter a demon no matter what. Some ways to do this are with a grenade, destroying a weak point, chaingun shield bash, and a plasma heat blast. Eternal also features “soft falters'' that will falter an enemy if they haven’t been recently faltered. Some ways to do this are remote detonated rockets and reaching a certain damage threshold. Doom Eternal encourages quick swapping weapons in order to cancel cool down/ reload animations. The marauder enemy is meant to teach this skill. The only efficient way to damage him is by shooting at him when his eyes glow green. This falters him, giving you a small opportunity to damage him. You have time to get a single super shotgun blast in before he recovers and proceeds to continue trying to ruin your day. If you learn to quick switch weapons, you can falter him with a super shotgun, quick switch to a ballista shot, and then hit him with another super shotgun blast before he recovers. This allows you to eliminate far faster and be more ammo efficient. This technique is always faster and more ammo efficient than just continually shooting with one weapon, and there are several fun weapon combos that you can do this with. The enemy aggression has been ramped up since 2016, so you will need to engage in Eternal’s deep combat systems if you want to find success.

Unlike Doom 2016, not every weapon is valid in every scenario. Each weapon more or less has its own specific function. Doom Eternal gives you a combat shotgun, super shotgun, heavy cannon, chaingun, plasma gun, ballista, rocket launcher, BFG, Unmaykr, and crucible. You also have a frag grenade, ice bomb, flame belch, and blood punch. The rocket launcher is a good example of weapon utility, it is a slow firing, high damage weapon with massive self-damage if you’re too close to the impact. You should really use this at a distance. You can either use the lock on mod, which will fire 3 rockets at a target once you have locked on, or the remote detonation mod. The lock on rockets eliminate enemies quickly, but use a lot of ammo (you can only carry 13 rockets). The remote detonate mod is great for crowd control and faltering, but it has a slow reload time, so it is best used in combination with another weapon. The heavy cannon is another good example. The micro missile mod is great for high damage, but it cannot destroy weak points and goes through ammo quickly. The precision bolt mod is excellent for destroying weak points in a single shot, does decent damage, but is slow to reload, so it is best used in combination with the rocket launcher, ballista, or super shotgun. One criticism of Eternal is that some players feel that it limits your creativity by forcing you to use different weapons. This actually forces you to be creative and find ways to effectively use your arsenal. So it might be inefficient to try to kill an arachnotron with the heavy cannon, but if you destroy the weak point, falter it, then melt it with micro missiles from the heavy cannon, you’ve killed it with your weapon of choice and played the game correctly so everyone wins.

Doom Eternal can be a really challenging game. You’re pretty underpowered in the early levels and enemies hit hard. If you’re unfamiliar with the game’s mechanics, you’re probably going to die quite a bit. Every death should teach you something though, because the game does not go out of its way to find cheap ways to kill you. If you pay attention to the gameplay systems (the game literally shows them to you) and learn how to approach encounters in a somewhat thoughtful manner, you’ll have a lot of fun and will want to get better at the game. While no game is perfect, there’s a few annoying environmental hazards, Doom Eternal is pretty damn close. The story might not be for everyone, but the cut scenes are short and all of them are skippable if you just want to rip and tear. I’m done writing about it, go play it!

Gunplay – 9.5/10

Level design – 9/10

Combat mechanics – 10/10

AI – 9.5/10

Movement – 9.5/10

Average – 9.5/10

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