Like role-playing games, strategy and simulations, first-person shooters have been an integral part of GameStar’s repertoire for a quarter of a century. And that’s why, on the occasion of the big birthday celebrations, we want to take you on a little journey through 25 years of GameStar shooters: With 25 old titles that even still stand the test of time in 2022 and move us incredibly then and now.
We deliberately refrain from claiming completeness, a ranking according to test ratings or similar mumbo jumbo, but rather tell our very own anecdotes and experiences – so if you miss a shooter in this article: don’t fret, just write us in the comments why this game is your personal FPS oldschool highlight of the last 25 years!
And because it has become so incredibly much text, the article appears in two chapters: Here is the first part of our shooter list, the sequel will appear on GameStar.de soon!
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Phil Elsner: The first Modern Warfare is probably the most important CoD of the entire series for me. Not because the brilliantly staged single player mission All Ghillied Up gives me goosebumps to this day. Not because it was full of little innovations that still shape the shooter landscape today. And not because it finally offered an alternative setting to the then completely hackneyed Second World War, in which I had been on the road almost constantly since Battlefield 1942 and Medal of Honor.
The reason is much more mundane and personal: Call of Duty 4 made me the multiplayer fan I am today! Without nights spent searching for new attachments at LAN parties, I probably never would have gotten into online mode. And without the hundreds of hours on MW’s servers, I might never have had the motivation to get as deep into Titanfall, Rainbow Six: Siege, or Hunt Showdown, all of which have had a huge impact on my gaming tastes.
In short, Modern Warfare opened up the world of online shooters to me, and will therefore always have a place in my heart. Now, of course, there are better multiplayer options, but even today the solo campaign is simply brilliant: just fire up the original or the remaster and you’ll experience some of the best CoD missions of all time, even in 2022!
Unreal Tournament 2004
Phil Elsner: M-M-M-MONSTER KILL. As a shooter fanatic I can’t leave such a review list without UT! Now you might ask: “But why UT 2004 of all things, that was just a slightly improved rehash of UT 2003.” I counter: UT 2004 was actually something like the Ultimate Edition of the predecessors – the all-round carefree complete package of the series, so to speak!
It had the quick and wonderful simple deathmatches, capture the flag on facing worlds, but it also had really great new features: The Onslaught mode, designed around base conquest and vehicles, which almost rivaled Battlefield. Or the return of the great Assault maps. Or a real single player with leagues, tournaments and even team management. Have I already mentioned the vehicles and how fluffy they were to control?
UT 2004, in my eyes, simply had everything a multiplayer shooter needed back then and kept me busy for years thanks to community creations like mods, new maps, and the mutators (just saying Instagib). And even if the graphics are more than dusty: Even today, there are still populated servers running, where you can shoot like almost 20 years ago! Who says arena shooters are dead?
Left 4 Dead
Valentin Aschenbrenner: In retrospect, Left 4 Dead features shockingly minimalistic gameplay: I grab up to three friends, sprint from A to B on a relatively linear map while fighting off the AI director’s undead goons with a handful of weapons. There’s not much more to say about the gameplay of a Left 4 Dead match. But my goodness, was it fun back then – and it still is today!
Left 4 Dead managed to almost perfect the concept of an entertaining co-op shooter with asymmetrical PvP elements back in the day. This was reflected not only in the sales and player numbers, but also the countless imitators, only a few of which reached the class of Left 4 Dead, though. (Whereby World War Z is still one of my personal favorites.) It’s a shame that Valve never bothered with a full-fledged successor after part 2 and at some point even ex-developers of the development studio simply did their own thing.
But even if Valve would still eventually take pity on a Left 4 Dead 3, the unforgettable evenings with the very first part could not be reproduced even by the perfect successor. Left 4 Dead simply hit a nerve at the time, rode the perfect wave and gave me and my circle of friends one fantastic co-op game after another. Despite simple gameplay, despite minimalist gameplay, despite manageable maps and maps – the overall concept was simply right.
Far Cry 2
Valentin Aschenbrenner: In Far Cry 2, everything was still a little easier. I wasn’t kidnapped every five minutes by a talkative super-villain who had a frighteningly hard time sending my character to the afterlife. Far Cry 2 only got to grips with these elements and served me up a villain in the form of the Jackal, who I only realized years later that I had played him before in Part 1! Embarrassing.
Far Cry 2 had quite a few other strengths that all successors to the shooter would criminally neglect. For example, the game, set in a fictional African state, generated a completely unique sense of freedom that I always remember fondly. As a lone mercenary, I try to play the country’s hostile factions off against each other, getting closer to my ultimate goal. In the course of this, I travel through the sun-scorched desert, fight my way laboriously from base to base, and struggle with my malaria disease and rusty firearms.
What others found annoying about Part 2 created a unique atmosphere for me that none of the newer Far Crys can match: a bit of a survival feel – although I’m not really a fan of the genre. The morally grueling final act with its nihilistic ending has also stuck in my mind to this day, and the biggest selling point of Far Cry 2 is something I would have liked to see in many more games: Realistic-looking fire that I can use to my personal advantage. For example, I set fire to one side of the enemy camp, only to have my adversaries come under fire from the other and surround them. Lousy and fun as hell.
Star Wars: Jedi Knight 2 – Jedi Outcast
Dimitry Halley: Star Wars: Jedi Knight 2 has been talked about in so many best lists. Alone by me. No Star Wars game gets the Jedi fantasy so brilliantly realized in my eyes, swordplay to perfection. But here and now it’s all about shooters – and that’s actually an aspect that has been fabulated about quite rarely: what an excellent shooter Jedi Knight 2 actually is.
Because Jedi Outcast starts out as a shooter. Ex-Jedi Kyle Katarn has hung up his lightsaber (is there even a tab on the saber hilt for that?), hires himself out as a trigger-happy mercenary as he once did in Dark Forces and infiltrates an Imperial outpost on Kejim at the beginning of the campaign. For the first four or five levels, you’ll blast your way through hordes of stormtroopers with an arsenal of world-famous Star Wars weapons before the dark Jedi Desann painfully illustrates that firepower is nothing compared to the power that the Force gives you.
After that, the gameplay shifts to swordplay, but wait! If you unpack Jedi Knight 2 again today, forgo the lightsaber for a change and keep using blasters. Sure, there’s no getting around your own blade against other Jedi, but aside from that, Jedi Outcast is still a really good Star Wars shooter!
Advancing against stormtroopers with your E11 blaster, flanking them with your bowcaster, it all feels so much like a gunfight from The Empire Strikes Back. And Jedi Knight involves the larger Expanded Universe: namely, Kyle Katarn’s sniper rifle is actually banned galaxy-wide because it vaporizes enemies. This, of course, makes it the ultimate crime tool, because there’s nothing left of your crime but a little pile of ashes. Bad thing… but also fun to use, because enemies really do vanish into thin air.
Together with the great nested level design and wonderfully gloomy Episode 5 scenery, Jedi Knight 2 remains for me to this day the reference for what a Star Wars shooter should look like. Although, depending on your point of view, it’s not one at all.
Christian Just: Everyone always recommends SWAT 4 as the best part of the series. I understand why, but for me personally the third part was more important. In 1999, as a youngster, I was still storming virtually, while by 2005 Sturm und Drang was already pulling me into the real world. That’s why part 3 remained my last SWAT for a long time.
What can I say? I loved SWAT 3! After the isometric second part, it reminded me again of my first PC game: Police Quest SWAT. This time it wasn’t an interactive movie with mouse click function, but a real 3D shooter. Especially the AI of my teammates impressed my 15-year-old self. The artificial colleagues behaved believably realistic (compared to other games of the era), also the movement animations with side leans and co. seemed as if there were really special forces acting. Sneaking through rooms, giving orders, clicking on bad guys – that was SWAT as I loved it.
Because the cops didn’t really hold a gun in front of them: As in the interactive movie, my mouse pointer became a pointing device. This seems completely out of time today, but back then (cough!) it didn’t bother me at all. That’s exactly what I’d like to recommend SWAT 3 as today: A journey into the gray past of tactical shooters! It not only puts me in retrospective reverie, but also makes me look reverently at the achievements of the last 25 years, see most recently Ready or Not.
Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force
Peter Bathge: I can still remember the box of Elite Force. It was one of those thick cardboard boxes, back in the days when you bought games in stores and before everything went into cheap DVD cases, which nowadays only contain unlock codes for the download store of your choice. Where was I? Oh yes, I remember the Elite Force box so well because I bought it twice in the course of my life, that’s how brilliant this shooter was.
Today you don’t need a box anymore, Elite Force is available as a download on GOG.com and so even younger generations can easily experience one of the best licensed titles at that time. More than 20 years later, there is a lot that I miss in today’s shooters, first of all a gripping single player campaign. What impressed me most, then as now, was the developers’ attention to detail: from weapons to levels and enemies to the sounds and voice actors, everything really does look as if it came from an episode of “Star Trek: Voyager”, demonstrably the ninth best science fiction series – except that here you get to play along and whack the evil aliens with a phaser.
The fact that in 2022 (with the exception of the not quite as excellent, but still very good sequel) there is still no other Star Trek game on this level of quality is an intergalactic crime that belongs before the Federation Council. But maybe Star Trek: Resurgence will bring back what Elite Force still gives me today: the feeling of really belonging to Starfleet.
Peter Bathge: Whether Crysis really deserves one of the highest ratings in GameStar history – that’s a question for historians and maybe Petra Schmitz, real shooter experts. I’m merely a lowly baller-boom “Oh, how pretty” gamer, and therefore still have fond memories of this graphical powerhouse. So at least until the aliens show up …
Whether it’s due to a lack of optimization or proof of the progressiveness of this uncompromisingly PC-oriented splendor shooter, the fact is that you can still use Crysis to benchmark new PCs and push even the most modern computers to the limit. It’s not for nothing that “But can it run Crysis?” has become a meme.
But if you look deeper than the beautiful island fauna and the great water effects, you’ll notice that Crysis was also ahead of its time in terms of gameplay. The open-world and sandbox gameplay approaches, where you slash your way through the jungle at will and knock North Koreans off their feet left and right, may have inspired many a subsequent shooter developer. If it wasn’t for the aliens and the stupid ending, I might have given Crysis a 94 rating. But I’ll talk to Petra about that on another occasion.
No One Lives Forever 2
Martin Deppe: Kate Moss? Kate Bush? Kate Winslet? No way! My favorite Kate is spelled with a C and is called Cate Archer. Because I have a lot in common with the tough agent from the two No One Lives Forever movies. In Nolf 2, we shoot our way through an Indian village together on a child’s tricycle, a hunky Scotsman in front of us cursing at the tiny pedals, dozens of killer pantomimes around us. We crash through Siberia on snowmobiles, sneak through a trailer park full of ninja chicks in the middle of a tornado, infiltrate a huge underwater fortress.
To call Cate Archer a female James Bond would be an insult. And that’s for Cate. Because Agent Archer is twice as cool as the double zero and looks as stylish as she is fantastic in any outfit – in a skin-tight diving suit as well as thickly wrapped up in furry winter clothes. And because it’s all set in the wild sixties, it’s just as colorful and wacky.
With sneak games, I usually get impatient at some point and reach for the gun. This doesn’t happen with Nolf 2, the agent gadgets are much too funny for that. From the hairspray welding torch to the cutely deadly cat bomb, the arsenal invites experimentation – especially the Utility Launcher, which shoots different types of arrows to take out robots, cameras or guards. Hachja… Now that Jagged Alliance 3 is finally in the works, a Nolf 3 would be great too!
Phil Elsner: I speak now times, what many think: In times of Battlefield 2042, you sometimes really just wish the BF classics back. “If DICE had just relaunched Battlefield 3, then we fans would have been satisfied,” was the community tenor among dozens of articles in recent years at GameStar.de – and not without reason.
With Battlefield 3, the tradition-steeped shooter series had reached its absolute prime: insanely beautiful graphics, impressive level destruction, the class system with a focus on teamwork, great map design – somehow everything came together in BF3. DICE managed to elegantly transport the sandbox gameplay of the past into the modern era without losing the magic that makes Battlefield Battlefield.
Battlefield 3 even did such a good job that you can enjoy the shooter even today without hurting your eyes – and not every shooter that has 11 years under its belt can claim that! A little tip: A little trip back in time to Battlefield 3 is worth it just for the solo campaign, which was often swept under the multiplayer rug back then, even though it’s actually really good. Or for the great Project Reality!
Martin Deppe: When I think of Doom, my right knee always throbs. Blame this incident on a winter morning in 1993: I work as a student at a gas station at night, and in the morning around four the fresh newspapers and magazines always come in. Besides the paper with the big letters and even bigger lies, this time there is a PC magazine, and on it is a disk with demos. Among other things from Doom. Bought! My shift ends at half past seven, I get on my Vespa (which, by the way, will mutate into a flying Vespa in the first episode of “Raumschiff GameStar”, but I can’t even guess that at the time). After twelve hours on shift, I’m actually dead tired, but exhilarated at the same time, so I install the demo “just to have a look.
Stupid idea. Because Doom grabs me immediately. Not even because of this newfangled 3D graphics, but with its sound. Because I’m wearing headphones as an exemplary flatmate, the massive weapon whomps, the chainsaw, just everything comes across twice as crass. Worst of all, though, are the sounds I can’t place. Snorting monsters in a dark room, knocking behind me, snarling critters around the next corner. Wide awake, I continue to play, because I feel that I’m experiencing gaming history live.
And then it happens: As I plow through masses of demons with my last shotgun ammo, a monster taps me on the shoulder from behind. Whoo-hoo! My right knee jerks up in shock, dengels against the desk top, behind me the beast laughs. Great, this Doom even has surround sound, I still think, turn around – and behind me stands my grinning roommate. The ass! Allegedly he knocked a few times to take me to the university. But it’s only … noon???
Brothers in Arms 3
Phil Elsner: Among the countless WW2 shooters I’ve played in my life, Brothers in Arms 3: Hell’s Highway will always hold a special place. Because it managed to do what hardly any title can do to this day: make me feel like a soldier who has to do his job and keep his team alive. I’m not an invulnerable superhero who mows down enemies by the dozen. Not an elite special agent saving the world by himself. I’m Matt Baker, leading his squad through enemy territory in 1944.
Teamwork and smart decisions are always more important than a quick trigger finger! And that’s exactly what Brothers in Arms makes you realize from the very first second. What looks like a first-person shooter is actually a tactics game: I have to use cover, gain an overview of the battlefield. Locate the enemy, then position my men so that they can fall into the enemy’s unprotected flank. “Fire and maneuver” is the name of the operational tactics that Brothers in Arms 3 recreates extremely realistically for its time. Instead of dull gunfire, a dance of reconnaissance, barrage and movement orders begins.
Oh, and then there’s that story! The characters of Hell’s Highway are not interchangeable shooting gallery characters. Every single member of Baker’s squad immediately grew on me at the time, and I won’t deny that tears were shed at times during some of the cutscenes. It’s about courage, friendship, fate. I guarantee you: If you can overlook the old-fashioned graphics, you’ll experience a story that has rarely been seen in the genre.
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