If 2011 was the year of the number three, then nowhere was this more evident in this particular genre, with Modern Warfare, Gears of War, Killzone and Battlefield all squaring up to one another with the magic number on their boxes. It was a year when the FPS genre was defined by just how much content you could stuff into one box, with seemingly little gameplay innovation on the ground amongst the big names, the technical advances eschewed for new modes, new implementations and new playground of violence.
Outside of the usual suspects, though, Deus Ex returned with a prequel that proved to be as good a shooter as it was an RPG, bringing back some good old-fashioned stealth. And Sam Stone was back to remind us all that the FPS existed before everyone started shouting 'Oscar Mike' by delivering a game of insane fun that proved gloriously satisfying.
NB. Click on the thumbnails for price comparisons and the game's title for the relevant review where available.
Although the singleplayer may have been a bit of a dud, thankfully, DICE's FPS lived up to its name in multiplayer, serving up an expansive set of warzones, rendered beautifully thanks to Frostbite 2.0 and, if played on PC, hurling teams of up to 32 players against one another. Online, Battlefield 3 was simply astounding, with the clear emphasis on teamwork helping no end, the exceptional visuals and stunning sound work contributing to an atmosphere that was epic, frantic and a whole load of fun, whichever class you were inhabiting.
If it ain't broke... MW3 delivered another rollercoaster ride of high-octane thrills in an explosive SP campaign, some cracking co-op action, and of course the usual range of MP material. With more to do, more to unlock and more customisation options than ever before, MW3 served up a familiar but expanded platter of multiplayer delights. Elite was simply the icing on the cake...when it worked.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a triumph of open-ended gameplay, impeccable level design and the realisation of a believable, authentic universe. But it was also a shooter that brought back first-person stealth in a way we hadn't seen since Thief. A genre-crossing masterpiece.
Gears 3's campaign was beautiful and epic, clocking in at a lengthy 12-15 hours; the multiplayer was honed and polished to a nigh-perfect sheen; Horde 2.0 was stunningly addictive, and even Beast was worth a game or two with friends. It proved the culmination of Epic's five year stint in Sera, and the perfect end to one of the best trilogies this generation.
All the little things that stopped the last game becoming a classic were been smoothed out and fine-tuned in Killzone 3. Planet Helghan might not have been made up of rainbows, but it was a stunningly rendered game world. Not only a technical triumph, the campaign was incredibly good fun to play through too, thanks to some varied pacing and a healthy mix of assaults, stealth, vehicles, on-rails shooting and plenty of ‘holy shit’ moments.
An orgy of chaos; a blood-soaked, intense and outrageous affair that still provided a stern technical challenge thanks to the upscaled enemies. Serious Sam 3: BFE was stupid, brilliant, inexplicable, wonderful fun. And it had a giant, armour-plated, pirate-hunting red scorpion...which was awesome.
Best Shooter 2011: Serious Sam 3: BFE
In a genre obsessed with realism, linear storytelling and scripted setpieces, it was refreshing to see that in amongst the sea of studios looking to systematically suck the emergent fun out of the FPS genre by making every single sodding game look the same, one game stood out above all others by ditching this militaristic rulebook, sticking a middle finger up to the suits, and being pure, unadulterated fun.
Serious Sam 3: BFE saw Croteam going for broke, and they did a damn fine job. The game was pretty to look at - even if the clouds of dust were occasionally irritating - but Serious Engine 3.5's best work was witnessed in the most chaotic moments of the game, delivering vast battlefields, stuffed with foes, and blistering storms of bullets and things that go bang. The furiously frenetic dance of death that SS3 delivered was already astounding on your own. Adding fifteen other players into the mix took it to a whole new level.
Over the top? Yes. Balls-out crazy? Absolutely. Our favourite FPS of the year by a country mile?