15. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege (2015)
Rainbow Six Siege does what Battlefield games have thus far only pretended to do: provide a multiplayer world which is destructible at a granular level. Instead of buildings collapsing when scripted levers are pulled, in Siege almost every door, window, wall, ceiling, and floor can have a hole poked in it via gunshot, grenades, battering rams and breaching charges.
It feels like technical wizardry and the consequences ripple throughout the entire experience, creating tension from the ability to be attacked from any angle, encouraging teamwork through asymmetric missions which force one team to defend themselves against the other’s attempt to breach their compound, and forcing traditional Rainbow Six tactical awareness without a planning phase by requiring you to hold a perfect mental map of the building around you at all times.
It’s equally impressive for being a team-based multiplayer shooter that feels fresh, offering something different from the Counter-Strikes and Call of Dutys while staying true to the spirit of the Rainbow Six series.
Notes: Now has a cheap Starter edition if you want to give it a try without going all in. You can pay to add bolt ons if you want the full package afterwards.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is another series highlight, particularly in terms of poppy, glitzy co-op vs AI. If you want real tactical action, you’ll want to be back to the original Rainbow Six trilogy.
14. Planetside 2 (2012)
Developer: Daybreak Game Company
Publisher: Daybreak Game Company
“It is the grandest of combat operas,” wrote Jim after two years of playing this wide-scale, tri-faction sci-fi multiplayer shooter. The size of the maps stretches into kilometres, allowing a freedom of movement nothing else here can beat, but PS2 doesn’t come up short in terms of what it gives you to use in those vast spaces. Stealth suits, mech suits, jeeps, dropships, light assault aircraft, tanks, APCs, all vying for control of bases and outposts, and colliding in huge battles outside of them. The fight rolls seamlessly from massed outdoor battles to tense indoor skirmishes and back again, and fortunes can turn on a dime as reinforcements roll in or a well-time flanking operation pays off. While PS2 does require a team to come alive, it is not the exercise in infinite patience and dedication of something like EVE: you can drop in, get involved, be useful and feel you were part of a war effort without having to set aside large portions of your life. Nothing else aims for simulated conflict on this scale, let alone achieves it.
Notes: A mediocre battle royale spinoff called Planetside Arena has been released, arguably stripping away the one thing that made the game unique among shooters – it’s grandiosity.
Where can I buy it: It’s free-to-play (with optional microtransactions) from Daybreak.
What else should I be playing if I like this: It’s spaceship-based and an MMO, but EVE Online is the logical step upwards if you want more scale, more unpredictability and more flexibility. Battlefield 1 is probably the way to go if you want a more focused war, or one which requires less dedication to a team.
13. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (2017)
Developer: PUBG Corporation
Publisher: PUBG Corporation
Or Plunkbat, as it is universally and uniformly known. Yes, you could play this in vanilla third-person mode but then it wouldn’t make our list, would it? And you don’t want us to have a bad list.
Plunkbat drops you from a plane full of screaming, hollering murder fans onto a massive map filled with tiny houses, trundling cars, and dangerous bridges. And guns. Guns everywhere. Before its release the battle royale coals had been burning strongly for a while (with Brendan Greene’s own Arma 2 mod providing the spark) but this was the game to throw petrol on the fire. It’s the reason Fortnite went from zombie defence build-em-up to massive multiplayer death battle. It’s the reason Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is adding its own battle royale mode.
But it’s not the game’s influence that gets it on our list. It’s the tension and the teamwork, the suspense of wandering across an open road, the panic as the death circle closes in, the excitement of a frantic gun battle, the adrenaline of a chicken dinner soundly winnered. In that plane full of hatenoise, you have a 1 in 100 chance of being the last person standing. And when that comes to pass, it’s a more savoury victory than being the top of any Call of Duty killboard.
Notes: Plunkbat is definitely the correct nomenclature.
Where can I buy it: Get it on Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Fortnite battle royale, I suppose?
12. Overwatch (2016)
One fine day, Blizzard decided that they wanted to take over multiplayer shooters. And so they did. From afar, Overwatch’s sudden dominance seems effortless, although it’s powered by a budget and expertise that almost no other game can dream of.
A team shooter that owes much to the venerable Team Fortress 2, put pushes for far more variety of characters and skillsets even if it feels a bit less tight for it. This is MOBA values applied to the online shooter, with a heavy focus on each character having a very particular set of skills and personality. You find your favourite, you learn them well – and then you switch gleefully to a new one once they’re released. It’s all backed up by extremely well-planned lorefluff and cosplay inspirations that has made this a darling of wider game culture as well as the hardcore.
The polished to the nth degree sheen to Overwatch can be a bit of a turn off, but even if that is the case for you, it’s such a tight, enjoyable and accessible without being dumb online shooter that it flat-out doesn’t matter. Blizzard totally owned it.
Notes: Overwatch has been consistenly adding new characters and maps since its release, including a hamster in a giant ball.
Where can I buy it: From Blizzard.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Team Fortress 2 for your history lesson. Apex Legends for a battle royale shooter where hero skills matter slightly less.
11. DOOM (2016)
Developer: id Software
Yes: 2016’s do-over of the quintessential first-person shooter is a gory triumph in its own right. Classic weapons and a familiar bestiary help, as does it being so open about the fact we’re all here for bloodshed, but it’s the momentum system that makes it so damn good. Killing is movement is killing is movement: the more you kill, the faster you move, and this builds and builds in tandem with your learning how to play and how to survive.
A roomful of enemies that seems intense and unfair near the start of the game is like a country ramble compared to what comes later on – but rather than this being a simple matter of difficulty, it’s because DOOM trains you on the job, expertly and effortlessly. You don’t hit walls here. You punch right through them, cackling and grinning, having the time of your life. A completely unexpected, brilliant comeback. Doom still matters.
Notes: Thanks to this, we really don’t need to think about Doom 3 any more. Also: Doom remains a going concern, thanks to a trickle of updates and user-made ‘Snapmap’ levels, so it most certainly doesn’t end when the campaign does.