The Orange Box © 2011 Ben Griffin

Best Xbox 360 first-person shooters 2011

LicenseToQuill rounds up the best Xbox 360 first-person shooters 2011.

Once upon a time the PC was the only domain for the first-person shooter (FPS) but those days are long gone. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 have seen more first-person shooting action than you can shake a rocket launcher at. In fact, where downloadable content is concerned, the Xbox is actually highest in the pecking order, with the PS3 and PC platforms lagging behind.

Largely helped by the universal appeal of Bungie’s mighty Halo and a swathe of gamers groomed on the likes of Counter Strike, Unreal Tournament and TimeSplitters, the Xbox quickly established it as a great platform for the genre, and its successor, the Xbox 360, has carried on the tradition with enough shoot’-em-ups to sink a battleship.

Marvellous, I hear you say, but bear this in mind. For every one classic there are ten steaming piles to avoid. So to save you wasting time and money, here’s my list of ten Xbox 360 hits you really should play from 2011.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Secretly you’re thinking ‘oh no he didn’t’. Well I just did – how can a FPS list not have the biggest selling game of all time on it?

The Call of Duty series has bounced between various developers over its lifetime, ensuring every time the mantle has been passed a little bit of change and innovation has snuck in. In the case of Black Ops, Treyarch (the team behind World at War) has put its stamp over the series in a number of ways.

For one, the single-player experience has a much darker overtone than in previous Call of Duty outings. It has all the usual ingredients; big explosions, heroes with the personality of a cardboard cut-out, cheesy but memorable one-liners, a few vehicle sections and the constant enjoyment of dying on the harder difficulty levels, but it somehow ties everything together more convincingly. I’ve never played the Call of Duty games for the single-player but Black Ops was one of the first I actually enjoyed. A bit.

What really puts Black Ops on the list are two fundamental features. The legendary Treyarch-special zombie mode, which has been updated with every new DLC, adding more macabre goodness, and the online and offline multiplayer.

Treyarch replaced annoyances like stopping power, noob-tubing and the nuke from Modern Warfare 2 – even quick-scoping could go on the list, depending on your stance – with great maps, continued support, and aside from a few glitches and hacks, a genuinely fun experience. A point system that rewards players who don’t camp (PPM) is a cherry on an already tasty cake.

It isn’t a perfect game but if I want to play some Call of Duty, this is my first port of call. Even if everyone raves on about Call of Duty 2…

Dead Space 2

Buying Dead Space 2 for the multiplayer is like buying a paintbrush to mow your lawn. However, buying Dead Space 2 for its scary-as-shit single-player campaign is a sensible idea.

Set on HMS forgotten-its-bloody-name, you play as the unfortunate Isaac Clarke. Unfortunate, because the poor bloke wakes up in yet another terrifying situation wearing a straightjacket. It takes about three seconds of looking at the pools of blood around you and the general mess of the ship to know the shit has hit the fan. In fact, on the fan scale, it’s a constant stream of shit hitting a field of giant fans.

Things soon get worse as those long-armed freaks of nature start appearing. And then the velociraptor things that screech loudly. And then the giant bosses that couldn’t look any more disgusting if they tried.  Gruesome really is is an understatement.

Perhaps the sort of person who thinks the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is ‘a good laugh’ or the Grudge ‘pleasantly entertaining’ will need to go elsewhere for there scary video game thrills. For everyone else, the grim satisfaction Dead Space 2 offers will keep you hooked from start to finish, even if you can’t bear to look for the vast majority of it.

Crysis 2

I’d love a billion dollar suit that can cloak me at the click of a button but I doubt I will be getting one any time soon. Santa Claus just isn’t that reliable these days. Luckily, Crysis 2’s release means I can at least see what it might be like to own one.

As games go, Crysis 2 fits the standard shoot-’em-up bill. Big guns – check. Incredible visuals – check. Testosterone oozing from the disc – check. An engrossing single-player campaign that makes the multiplayer look fairly mediocre – check… whoa, what? Yes, Crysis 2’s single-player campaign may seem a little dull to start with, and the AI – even when cranked up to the highest notch – can seem a bit retarded, but give it a chance and you will be sucked in.

Crysis 2 confidently paints a very depressing future, and not just because the visuals are so good you could eat them. The style and level design contributes to a besieged world that not only feels like it’s in trouble, it presents tactical freedom I last enjoyed in the original Halo. Though obviously linear in the sense you work your way through a level and the story events never vary, it’s possible to complete each mission in a variety of ways. Stealth fans and those who have watched Rambo too many times are equally catered for, which makes it a great deal of fun.

Crysis 2 may take a lot of cues from its competition, particularly the Call of Duty series, but believe me when I say the story destroys any of that modern-day solder bravado we’ve seen thus far. As bridges crash around you, multi-storey buildings crumble and giant mechanical enemies jump from wall to wall, you can’t help but do two things: Marvel at some of the set-pieces that makes most Hollywood action blockbusters seem lifeless, and grin from ear to ear as you hear ‘cloak initiated’ in the deep, mechanical voice for the umpteenth time.

Okay, so it is flawed in a couple of places, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the coolest games in a long time.

Halo Reach

Halo Reach may not be my favourite Halo, but it’s still a lot of bang for your buck. Developer Bungie is a master of the genre, and one that can boast it played an instrumental role in the rise of the Xbox brand for Microsoft.

Halo Reach boasts a pretty damn good campaign – which can be played cooperatively, adding even more value – and fantastic multiplayer. Throw a few good players together and the result is genuine carnage across very well designed maps. It\s slightly more slow-paced than many of its competitors, but it’s no less frantic. Plasma swords, battle rifles and rocket launchers ensure you can flatten an opponent with very little ammunition.

Bungie.net and its metropolis of statistics rounds off a package Call of Duty has only recently started to catch on to with its Elite content. When it comes to community-driven content, Bungie was way ahead of the curve.

As many players will attest, it’s all too easy to jump into the shoes of the Master Chief and not get out of them for a very long time.

The Orange Box

Buying the Orange Box is a bit like getting a Bugatti Veyron for a tenner. There’s such a lot of gaming brilliance on offer for very little money you really question whether the team at Valve is one sandwich short of a picnic or just incredibly generous. Perhaps a bit of both?

Whatever the reason, this compilation gem gives you a slice of PC gaming history – including a game that many would argue is the finest the genre has ever seen. Look past its dated visuals and you get the sheer genius of Half Life and every episode in the series. It’s an epic adventure that still amazes, even now.

That alone would be enough to recommend it, but you also get the mighty Portal (the cake is a lie, yes) and Team Fortress 2, a multiplayer-focused spin-off. If you want to call yourself a ‘true gamer’ you have to play this box set from start to finish, no questions asked. And with Episode 3 or Half Life 3 rumoured to be on the way, now is as good a time as any to be acquainted, or perhaps reacquainted, with Gordon Freeman.