10. Friends from Afar – Medal of Honor (2010)
While Medal of Honor’s 2010 reboot did little to set first-person shooter world on fire, — especially in the company of more polished and well-received offerings like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 — the game enjoyed a decent critical reception alongside a strong commercial one. In many ways, the game leaned rather heavily on the established formulas of the aforementioned contemporaries in the genre, but one mission took an FPS campaign staple and did it with great pacing and style.
In most first-person shooter missions, you play as the assaulting force and rely on NPCs to provide support. Friends from Afar turns that trope on its head and instead has the player assume the role of a support sniper manning a .50 caliber sniper rifle shooting at enemies across the canyon. The powerful gun takes seconds from the trigger pull to reach enemies moving across the mountain range, and players have to account for the bullet travel as they provide support.
9. Storm of Steel – Battlefield 1
It was evident from the word “go,” that EA and DICE were going to approach World War I with a sense of reverence and historical integrity. The war, which took on the look and feel of the rapid industrialization of the time, proved that mankind had taken significant strides forward in its ability to cause casualties on a massive scale. New weapons and technology made WWI one of the deadliest wars with 18 million killed in action. World War I was a horror on the most epic of scales.
First-person shooters often fail to grasp the horrific realities of the wars they claim to so accurately represent, making battles out to be nothing more than overt displays of valor and heroism. All too often, however, war is filled with frightened young men putting their lives at extreme risk for a cause they may not fully understand, and Battlefield 1 captures this sobering reality in its opening mission “Storm of Steel.”
“What follows is frontline combat. You are not expected to survive,” the opening title card reads as you find yourself thrust into the middle of a storm of bullets. Upon each death, you are given the soldier’s name and birth and death year. All disturbingly unceremonious, as well as disturbingly young. Storm of Steel serves as an impactful reminder that war is made up of individual lives which are too often forgotten and even more so cut too short.
8. Operation Overlord – Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
Operation Overlord was the codename for the Allied invasion of the beaches of Normandy, France, the largest amphibious assault to date and the turning point of the European conflict in WWII. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault brought the battle to life on PC in the early 2000s, capturing the frantic chaos of the assault on the beach and the tension-filled clearing of the surrounding trenches and bunkers.
In Medal of Honor, you don’t play as a super soldier equipped with an endless supply of technology. You play as a single member of a much larger picture, fighting not only for the cause but for your own survival in a battle that took the lives of nearly half a million soldiers. Operation Overlord features incredible set pieces reminiscent of the Steven Spielberg film Saving Private Ryan, from the minigun fire decimating an entire platoon as their soldiers reach the shore to snipers taking out bunkered enemies. The mission in Medal of Honor captures the gravity and grizzly nature of the D-Day invasion.
7. Fort Frolic – BioShock
Ken Levine’s dystopian world of Rapture, the underwater city in which BioShock takes place, has no shortage of twisted elements. Class warfare led to the destruction of the city that was meant to serve as the technological utopia of the world. The game, which just celebrated its 10 year anniversary, still stands as a classic in the genre, and Fort Frolic is perhaps the most twisted and memorable section of the game.
The objective of the game’s seventh mission is simple – cross an entry hall and take a bathysphere to another level. However, when the player goes to do so, he is cut off by Sander Cohen, the crazy artist and playwright. The villain’s voice booms over the speakers as a new set of enemies, the Splicers, begin to attack you. The eeriness of the level design, as well as the unique design of the Splicers encased in plaster make this one of the most unforgettable missions in gaming.
6. The Library – Halo: Combat Evolved
The Halo franchise is one of the most influential series in the genre, and Bungie’s legacy began when Halo: Combat Evolved launched alongside the original Xbox in 2001. Two elements distinguished Halo’s campaign from other first-person shooters at the time. First, its futuristic and sci-fi setting differentiated it from an era which saw many WWII, boots-on-the-ground campaigns. Secondly, its diverse gameplay which drew from a number of genres across its 10 missions.
Bungie gave a nod to the survival horror genre in its “love it or hate it” mission The Library. In this mission, John-117 is teleported into the Library of Installation 04. This level introduces players to the terrifying horde enemy, the Flood, while explaining turning the narrative of the game on its head. The game is not simply about a conflict between humans and the Covenant, but rather a broader story about an apocalypse-inducing enemy that requires the entire universe to be destroyed in order for it to be stopped.
5. No Russian – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
There is perhaps no more controversial a mission in an FPS than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s No Russian. It was so controversial that many countries censored the level — with Russian releases removing it entirely — and the game gave the option to skip the content with a warning screen at the beginning of the campaign. In the mission, players assume the role of Joseph Allen, a covert CIA agent who must gain the trust of a Russian terrorist cell. In order to do so, Allen must participate in a mass shooting carried out at Zakhaev International Airport carried out by the terrorists as they try to frame the US for the attack.
Unsurprisingly, the level drew a bevy of opinions and reactions from game critics and fans of the series alike, as the moral question was raised, “Should video games feature such controversial content?” From a content perspective, the mission advanced the story and created a believable scenario in which Russia declared war on the US while at the same time presented questions of morality. In the post 9/11 world, No Russian gave players an interesting and grim look into the thought processes and internal workings of a terrorist organization. Though uncomfortable and extremely jarring, the mission served as an important reminder that games can be more than just an avenue for entertainment, they can also facilitate discussion around difficult topics.
4. Facility – GoldenEye 007
When most people think about their original multiplayer experience with a first-person shooter, they think back to the N64 game GoldenEye 007. But the game also had an impressive campaign mode that follows 007 around the world as he tackles the same plot as the movie with the same name. The best mission in the iconic game takes place near the beginning in The Facility.
M16 has discovered a chemical weapons cache in Arkhangelsk, Soviet Union and sends James Bond with Alec Trevelyan to infiltrate and destroy it. From the brilliant score as you run through the level karate chopping soldiers in the back to the frantic planting of charges on the silos at the end, the mission captures the fun and intensity of Bond films.
3. All Ghillied Up – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
As far as covert sniper missions in FPS games go, All Ghillied Up is head and shoulders above any of the competition. When Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare launched in 2007, it was seen by fans and critics as a refreshing take on the genre that had, up to that point, been saturated with World War II, and All Ghillied Up was the high point of an all-around fantastic campaign.
In this flashback level, players assume the role of the Lt. Price as he accompanies Captain MacMillan on a mission to find a vantage point from which you can assassinate Imran Zakhaev. The methodical and stealth-driven mission presents a unique contrast to the action-packed bullet storm that most Call of Duty campaign missions become. Instead, players must patiently sneak through enemy territory on their way to the sniper’s perch. It balances moments of precision shooting with the tension of staying low and out of enemy sights — who can forget the iconic moment of crawling between soldiers and tanks in the open field.
2. D-Day – Call of Duty 2
A real-life battle as momentous and world-changing as D-Day would no doubt have its fair share of representation in gaming, and it just so happens that two of those portrayals are good enough to make this list. While Medal of Honor released first, Call of Duty 2’s recreation of the event in 2005 earns its place on the list through epic set pieces and chaotic combat.
At the start of the mission, Corporal Bill Taylor — whom the player controls — is knocked out as he runs off his boat and onto the shores of Normandy. As you attempt to regain your senses, you look around to see the carnage of the invasion as men are ripped through by bunkered miniguns and come ashore while completely on fire. Like its counterpart in Allied Assault, the mission is a barrage of bullets as you fight through what seems like endless enemies as you take the town. Even as you scour the surrounding houses, the constant ring of enemy fire envelopes you. While D-Day was a triumphant moment for the Allies in WWII, the mission in Call of Duty 2 captures the nightmare the day must have been for those involved.
1. Ravenholm – Half-Life 2
Though it released 13 years ago, Half-Life 2 still sits on the Mount Rushmore of first-person shooter titles for its impressive graphics at the time, simple storytelling, diverse weaponry, and mysterious open-endedness. Across the board, Half-Life 2’s level design is elevated by a sense of purpose around development choice. Each weapon has a unique ability that will be necessary at some point in the game, the AI creates challenges with every enemy faced, and each mission is a diverse amalgamation of traditional FPS play and puzzles.
Ravenholm’s gameplay rests somewhere between survival horror and first-person shooter as players navigate the mining town and fight the terrifying Headcrab Zombies that were once its residents. During your exploration, you meet the last survivor of the town, Father Grigori, who has taken on the noble task of putting these transformed townspeople out of their misery. The levels use of low-light interior, the graveyard, and difficult platforming create a sense of tension and terror one would expect from Resident Evil or Silent Hill.