25. Battlefield 1942 (2002)
Developer: Digital Illusions CE
The original Battlefield still stands tall: so focused and so complete in its depiction of land, air and sea World War II team battles that there simply isn’t any need for all the classes, load outs, progression systems and mode remixes of its successors. The push’n’pull of the Conquest system remains a superlative motivation to fight for your team rather than yourself, and the long race back to the front line after death a glorious moment of excited tension, balancing the need for caution with the urgency of getting stuck in again. Indeed, it got it so right in one map – the legendary Wake Island – that a not inconsiderable community still played the demo until the recent, forced server shutdown. And what theme music, too: unbeatable military bombast you’ll find yourself whistling years later whenever you think you’re about to do something impressive, like carry a washing machine up three flights of stairs.
Notes: The collapse of Gamespy saw Battlefield 1942 officially go offline last year, but the community has found assorted workarounds which will allow you to connect to or host servers regardless.
Where can I buy it: Tragically, EA removed 1942 from Origin when Gamespy died, so unless you’d already grabbed it prior to that (it was free for a short time in early 2014) your only recourse is to find a disc version.
What else should I be playing if I like this: The Battlefields have returned to the 20th century in recent years. Battlefield 1 is a modern take on the Great War, and Battlefield V goes back to World War 2.
Read more: Our retrospective on Battlefield 1942.
24. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (2017)
Developer: Machine Games
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
A corridor shooter that begins with the hero in a wheelchair. “Is this what a hero looks like?” the Nazi arch-villain of this alternate history might ask. Yeah, says Wolfenstein 2. It is.
A sequel to New Order, this keeps the basic formula of gunning through fascists, careful to take out a special officer enemy before they get a chance to raise the alarm and call more stormtroopers. Yes, there’s that commitment to ultraviolence and bloody bullet-hosing that we’ve come to expect from its predecessors, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Machine Games somehow managed to hide a beating heart among all this slithering viscera.
It’s over-the-top in more ways than one. The characters of the resistance aren’t afraid to get both their hands and words bloody. In one scene, the black woman leading your resistance group breastfeeds her baby while planning to overthrow the Nazi regime and simultaneously taking the time to tell you that the phrase having balls is a thoughtlessly male way to describe bravery. Is this what a hero looks like? Yup.
Notes: If you’re still not convinced, you can always try a demo.
Where can I buy it: Get it on Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Wolfenstein: The New Order, or the demon-bashing moderno-Doom, also from Bethesda.
Read more: Our Wolfenstein 2 review, How Wolfenstein 2 takes the white dudebro hero apart.
23. Unreal Tournament 2004 (2003)
A scene as much as it is a game. Looking back, it’s easy to concentrate on all the mods and things that UT2004 spawned. It was an amazing piece of work for the creative folks among us, and it spawned amazing things like Air Buccaneers. However, it was also an astoundingly well-engineered piece of gaming technology. The Unreal engine was, at this point, as smooth as a marble, and it clocked up the core super-fast deathmatch of its predecessor with the addition of vehicles and more modes than a very expensive hairdryer. It still plays like a perfect fever-dance of competitive death, with finely-tuned controls that purr in the hand. The melting pot of aesthetic styles means it shows its age. But this is like complaining that a Lotus Esprit looks “a bit 80s”. It’s still a bloody Lotus Esprit, y’know?
Notes: For a far prettier reincarnation, Epic are currently providing an alpha version of a new UT’s infrastructure for free, with content primarily provided by the community. It’s nothing like as a rock-solid as UT 2004, nor does it have the variety or player-base as yet, but hey, graphics. Also, freeness.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Quake Live, the (semi-free) reincarnation of UT’s uber-rival Quake III, unless you believe in being entirely partisan even when it comes to pretending to shoot people, in which case the other Unreal Tournaments are the only acceptable answers.
Read more: File System Ageing: Game Of The Past Edition.
22: Alien: Isolation (2014)
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Another definition-stretcher, given the first truly great Aliens game since 1999 involves a whole lot more hiding and quivering in terror than it does the firing of weapons. In fact, the primary mechanic is movement. I.e. when to move and when you really, really shouldn’t move. It does have some traditional shooting sections if you demand them, and finds a way to make a very different and non-titular foe unsettling too, but it’s the cowering from Giger’s indefatigable giant-penis-with-teeth that really makes it. With environment design that borrows from the austere whites of Alien’s sci-fi structures, rather than the oft-imitated more industrial design of Aliens, Isolation creates a strong sense of place as well as a strong sense of absolute terror. There are some wobbles later in the game, but journey > destination.
Notes: A disclaimer: I know one of the writers on Alien: Isolation. Please seek alternative number 22 placements in Best Shooter Lists if this concerns you.
What else should I be playing if I like this: If you’re into avoiding nasties and deciphering a sci-fi catastrophe, SOMA is a very good shout.
21. Natural Selection 2 (2012)
Developer: Unknown Worlds
Publisher: Unknown Worlds
The standalone sequel to a beloved Half-Life mod, this asymmetrical multiplayer shooter ended up doing space marines versus aliens far more successfully than the contemporaneous disaster Aliens: Colonial Marines. It’s so much more than mere deathmatch though: its rare mash-up of FPS and real-time strategy sees players building bases and defences as well as battling each other directly. Each team has a commander – a single player who directs the action and builds structures – while the rest of the gang run around the sci-fi corridors, battling the opposing team and attempting to support the actions of the commander. Or completely ignoring him/her, as tends to be the way of things on public servers. A few games have taken similar positions in the time since Natural Selection first appeared, but few of them have done it with as much vigour as this. The huge differences between the sides – humans with guns, aliens with tooth and claw – saves it from the routine and predictability of standard multiplayer shooters, but be warned that you may struggle to get too much out of it without seriously committing to long-term play with a similarly-minded team.
Notes: The Natural Selection 2: Combat mod dispatches with the base-building stuff in favour of straight-up asymmetrical murder, with a touch of RPG-style levelling.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Valve’s asymmetrical multiplayer shooter Evolve might interest you. There’s no shortage of community chest-thumping that says Natural Selection 1, a mod for the first Half-Life, is the better game.