10. WOLFENSTEIN 3D
While it may be the grand-daddy of all FPS's, Wolfenstein 3D sadly hasn't aged that well. With
confusing mazes and repetitive gameplay, it's a game that tends to get a bit stale after a while. It's still worth mentioning though as it helped popularize the genre and lead to future successes for id and at the time, it was one of the first smash indie hits on the PC, helped in large part by the free shareware episode that spread the game all over the world.
Quake is a bit of a mess. But it's a damn fun mess. It was one of the first FPS's that featured true 3D
environments and 3D models instead of sprites, giving it a unique look for the time. Helped by an extremely atmospheric soundtrack and sound effects by the legendary Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, intricate level design, and a multiplayer that is still active to this day, Quake quickly became a legend among gamers. Sadly, in my opinion, as good as Quake is, and being one of the most visceral FPS's ever made, it's also a bit tough to play for any lengths of time given the monotone graphics and somewhat repetitive gameplay. The technology behind the game might in many cases be more interesting than the game itself. It also feels like the Lovecraftian influence was criminally underused and the story never quite got wrapped up. Still worth playing though!
Released in 1998, Half-Life pretty much revolutionized the industry upon release. It was one of the first FPS's to tell a complete in-game story, but without ever taking the player out of the first person view or taking control from the player in any way, achieving this through heavily scripted scenes. It also brought in some survival horror elements, making ammo sparse in some places and intentionally making the player feel vulnerable. You'd have to play tactically and carefully in order to survive. The technology behind the game was also rather impressive. Using a heavily modified Quake engine, it supported skeletal animation and some very complex AI routines that helped give the enemies in the game a very eerily realistic feel to them. It also had no definitive level structure, taking you from area to area with a "loading" text on the screen, which helped the genre move away from the heavily level-based structure of the past. Half-Life still holds up rather well today, although some of the mechanics feel a bit antiquated, especially crouch-jumping.
SiN launched almost at the same time as Half-Life and thus quickly became overshadowed by the latter's enormous success. Undeservedly so as SiN did a ton of stuff that was rather innovative at the time. The outcome of the game relied on how well you completed mission objectives, as failing some of them or missing some things could affect what levels you got to play, where you'd start and so on. It also featured hackable computers, some of them featuring a fully featured DOS prompt to peruse. Mixed with some really cool weaponry, and a talking badass protagonist who obviously takes a few hints from Duke Nukem, SiN to me feels like one of the most typical 90's FPS's ever, in all the best ways. Sadly it's bogged down by some uneven difficulty spikes and some annoying vehicle sections with bad controls.
Easily one of my personal favourites from the 90's, Blood is one of the goriest games I've had the pleasure of playing and more than lives up to its name. It's pretty much a spoof game, though as where Duke Nukem spoofs action movies, and Shadow Warrior spoofs kung fu movies, Blood takes its inspiration from horror flicks. Almost all of the weapons are fun to use, and the protagonist, Caleb, has so much dry dark humor he's a delight to be listening to as you play through the game. Featuring some amazing level design and graphics for the time (helped by its use of voxels for some objects to give them a 3D look), it's a hell of a ride that's worth taking if you're into oldschool shooters.
Eradicator is one of those kind of overlooked gems from the 90's. Soaked in a really hardcore cyberpunk/biomechanical sci-fi atmosphere obviously influenced by H.R. Gieger, it's a pretty awesome FPS that has a ton of features that are kind of mindblowing for a 1996 game. Not only do you have 3 characters to play as, all properly voiced, you can remote control bombs, exploding RC cars, control things through terminals in the game, and it mixes a lot of cool oldschool shooter combat with some really challenging puzzles, often involving timing, forcing you to have pretty much the entire level memorized in some cases, which to me might be the only thing not making this game great. But I think it definitely deserves more attention.
4. STAR WARS: DARK FORCES
When it comes to Star Wars games, some might argue the sequel, Jedi Knight, is the better game but to me, this is still one of the best Star Wars games and shooters of the 90's. What makes this game so awesome is that you're not playing a jedi (yet) and just a mercenary doing missions for the rebels. It even ties in with Episode IV, explaining that you retrieved the Death Star blueprints for the rebels (this was way before Rogue One, lol). It has a lot of amazing features for the time, including a flashlight, and some more objective-based gameplay than earlier shooters which were more about just getting keycards and getting to the end of the level. Sadly, there's no quicksave option which to me is the only thing not making it that fun to play. But it still is an amazing FPS and worth playing, especially if you're a Star Wars fan.
3. UNREAL TOURNAMENT
While some might argue this is cheating a bit, the game DID technically come out in 1999, keeping it firmly within the 90's. It's in my opinion one of the best multiplayer shooters of all time, with lots of awesome and memorable one-liners, unforgetable weapons and levels, and a mix of game modes that always keeps the game fresh. In my opinion, the game never gets old and it's always fun to play this. It has an awesome soundtrack as well, and for the time mindblowing graphics using the then somewhat new and noticable Unreal Engine that nowadays is used in pretty much everything.
Making a list of the best FPS shooters of the 90's without mentioning the big daddy of them all would be a criminal offense. So here it is. Mentioned. There's really not much to say that hasn't already been said about Doom. It set the standard, it popularized online deathmatches, it created insane controversy due to its satanic imagery, and is STILL played and enjoyed to this day. It is the rock star of gaming, showing its age but still kicking ass. But... as good as Doom is, it's not my absolute favourite... that would be...
1. DUKE NUKEM 3D
Duke Nukem 3D did so much for the FPS genre it's insane. Where previously shooters had been based in fantasy or sci-fi levels with more abstract level designs, Duke 3D had levels that felt more set in the real world, helping grounding it in reality like few shooters before it. It was also the first FPS to feature a talking protagonist. And boy did he have much to say! Duke's personality still is entertaining to this day, being a total spoof of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Campbell and pretty much every macho man you can imagine. He's also got an insane weaponry at his disposal, with an arsenal unlike any other. While you have all the default weapons you'd expect, it is stuff like the shrink ray, freezeray and not to mention, the almighty Devastator that still makes Duke Nukem 3D a unique experience. Hail to the king, baby!