40. SWAT 4 (2005)
Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
It’s bewildering that this series stopped here. Surely everybody would love the chance to represent the long arm of justice; to lace up some heavy boots, load up with thousands of dollars worth of protective equipment and lead a brave team into a building to protect the civilians within and incapacitate the criminals by firing a beanbag into their beanbag? But you know what, that doesn’t even cover half of SWAT 4’s appeal. It’s also in the briefing where every word, every scrap of information could doom you or save a life. It’s in the ungodly stretches of silence where you’re meticulously picking your way through an empty building, knowing deadly gunfire could erupt at any moment. It’s in the minuscule gasps of action where you go dashing into a room after throwing in a flashbang. The whole game feels like you’re disarming an emotional bomb that could go off at any instant, and the serial killer level in particular is as perfect a gaming experience as has ever been put together.
Notes: Developers Irrational (who, of course, went on to make BioShocks) turned down the option to make a straight sequel as they wanted to stretch their creative wings, but they did pitch a SWAT game set during a zombie apocalypse instead. Publishers Vivendi didn’t think the police vs deadhead angle was workable (a great shame) but did greenlight it as a zombie shooter named Division 9. Sadly this went unmade, as 2K acquired Irrational not long afterwards.
Where can I buy it: You can get the Gold Edition on GOG. And second-hand prices aren’t too scandalous.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Try Rainbow Six Siege for a multiplayer version of storming strongholds (and defending them). Or Door Kickers for a pixelly take on the same theme.
39. Metro Exodus (2019)
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Literal on-rails shooters Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light had us scuttling through dark tunnels for days and days, so it came as a nice surprise that the third game in this dry Russian post-apocalypse dumped players above ground in some massive levels. A big radioactive swamp and a Mad Max style desert are the highlights of this rusty, pneumatic adventure. Metro has always heaped detail into its gunfights and claustrophobic stealth sections, and Exodus plows ever onward in the same way. You have a hand-pumped BB gun for shattering lights from afar in the dark of night. You change your gas mask filter when it becomes unusable. Cobwebs frizzle and burn when you touch them with a lighter. The whole game is crawling with neat touches that place you firmly in your character’s soggy Spetznaz boots.
Notes: It’s quite a stunner, so if you want to know how to get the best graphics settings for it, Katharine has you covered.
Read more: Matthew did a thorough rundown in his Metro Exodus video review. Our written Metro Exodus review said: “Metro has always been far more talented at delivering atmosphere than sensible or touching plots. And with Exodus, it again succeeds.” Nic Reuben wrote about its chummy chums.
What else should I be playing if I like this: The two previous games Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light were more linear but just as atmospheric. The STALKER series will deliver a lot of the radioactive wasteland you crave.
38. Titanfall 2 (2016)
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
This could have been the best singleplayer FPS of 2016, if it hadn’t been for the new Doom. Nonetheless, if you want straight-up action thrills with a whole lot of flash, some particularly glorious movement and impressively stressful mech-based boss fights, this is going to make you very happy. And hey, there’s a robust soldiers vs giant robo-suits multiplayer mode in there too, building on what the multiplayer-only Titanfall 1 already established.
That is, assuming you can find opponents. Titanfall 2 suffered from something of a failure to launch, having resolutely lost the marketing wars of late 2016. It may stay alive over time thanks to word of mouth, but even if it doesn’t, definitely check it out for that singleplayer campaign. It is, however, on the brief side, so we strongly recommend playing on Hard difficulty – as well as making it last longer, it makes the mech fights particularly feel that much more satisfying once you finally claim a steel scalp.
Notes: Requires EA’s Origin app to install and run, which seems to rub some people up the wrong way. More positively, in a roundabout sort of way, Titanfall 2’s retail struggles means it’s easy to find it for cheap.
Where can I buy it: Retail or EA’s Origin.
What else should I be playing if I like this: You could slam all the way into simulation and seek out Mechwarrior 4, or if it’s the high-speed, ultra-fluid, wall-running movement that most pleases you, give Mirror’s Edge or Dying Light a try.
37. Aliens versus Predator (1999)
Publisher: FOX Interactive
AvP was not just another game about killing nasties in the dark. It was a game about being inside the skulls of iconic movie monsters, and fleshing out those beasts far more than any movie ever did. Three playable perspectives – alien, predator, human marine – and all so distinct, and the motivation of each rendered sympathetic despite encountering them all as enemies from the other perspectives. To boot, AvP made much more of the first-person perspective than most of its gun-crazed genre-mates ever did. While the telltale targeting reticule was ever-present, this is a game about survival and observation, a claustrophobic odyssey of fear and strange abilities. Add to this multiplayer and skirmish modes that deftly realised the fantasy of the titular What If? and you have a smart, wonderfully asymmetrical remix of first-person shooters which somehow manages to be scary even when you’re playing an otherworldly death-machine.
Notes: Easily confused with 2010’s quasi-remake Aliens vs. Predator, which was, y’know, fine, but came across as far more straightforward. The 1999 AvP was retroactively renamed Aliens versus Predator Classic 2000 for a re-release and slight overhaul (including widescreen support, modern Windows compatibility, gamepad support and not requiring you to have CD 2 in your drive if you wanted to hear the music, which I honestly kind of miss).
What else should I be playing if I like this: Alien: Isolation is the other great Aliens game, though it doesn’t have the strategic oddness of playing as the beasts.
36. Prey (2017)
Developer: Arcane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Prey is set aboard a space station with gooey aliens who have the ability to mimic whatever they desire. They took one look at human beings and decided: “No, I’d rather be a chair”. And that is why you spend a large amount of time in this new age immersive sim looking suspiciously at furniture.
But the baddies are arguably the least interesting thing about it. Talos Station takes inspiration from Metroidvanias as it does from System Shock or Deus Ex. New powers let you access spaces you couldn’t reach before. Locked doors inspire curiosity and force you to make mental notes about the orbital’s metallic confines. “I’ll come back here,” you think, “when I can turn into a stapler.” It’s exploratory sci-fi that builds on Looking Glass’ legacy.
As a shooter, it often puts its guns last, favouring extraterestrial superpowers or environmental traps (even your wrench remains useful for much of the game). But why worry about guns when you can program two turrets to do all the shooting for you, and carry them around wherever you go?
Notes: A speedrunner once completed the game in 7 minutes.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has similarly wonderful level design, even if it doesn’t fully embrace the Metroidvania school of thought.