When you tell somebody you’re into First Person Shooters nowadays, if they have any gamer experience they’ll likely think of titles under the Call of Duty or Battlefield monikers being played through some peasanty console. I’ll try not to be too snobbish, but even though modern consoles aren’t really that bad, they have NOTHING on the old PC multiplayer days – and I mean the really old days, before the modern CoD audiences were even born!
Multiplayer, either locally or over the internet may seem like fairly recent technology but it actually isn’t. It’s nearly as old as the FPS genre itself, and what a breakthrough it was. The days of being able to play with your friends locally, or through an online server were golden. Best of all, you didn’t get annoying children claiming to have been intimate with your mother back then. Let’s look at some of the greatest titles that set the true standards for multiplayer shooters as we know them today. Some are still very much alive, so I’ll provide Steam links when possible.
Last year saw Doom get an almighty and successful revival, thanks to the brilliant Bethesda Softworks, but the real magic took place back in 1993. id Software technically invented the FPS genre in ’92 with their hit Wolfenstein 3D, then a year later Doom saw its release. Doom was more set around shooting up demons rather than Wolftenstein’s Nazi foes, but it also included multiplayer, which meant you could play the game along side other players.
There were two modes – “co-operative”, which allowed two to four players to team up and take out waves of enemies, and “deathmatch” which allowed two to four players to pit against one another. At first this was only possible through local LAN connection, but an online service called DWANGO then later made it possible to play with others around the world.
Steam released a classic Doom collection in 2007, which is available right now. If you never played it back in the day, do it now.
Unreal Tournament (1999)
The world of Unreal doesn’t seem to be all that popular at the moment, probably due to the rise in popularity of military shooters on console, with its latest main installment release dating back to 2007. Having said that, a reboot seems to be in the works and has been since 2014.
Epic MegaGames and Digital Extremes pushed out Unreal in 1998 which was mainly single player focused, but had quite an effective and popular multiplayer mode. Originally, UT was going to be an expansion on top of Unreal, but instead became a standalone release that shifted all focus onto arena-style competitive multiplayer. The game was complemented heavily for its graphics (at the time) and intelligent AI bots – great for those who didn’t have anybody else to play with. I honestly believe that without UT, multiplayer FPS as we know it wouldn’t be the same. This game as well as our next title in this list, both set the benchmark.
The Game of the Year Edition for UT is available on Steam, and its community is still very much alive.
Quake III Arena (1999)
In the same fashion as Unreal, id Software made Quake‘s third entry heavily focused on arena-style multiplayer. Intelligent AI made it playable for any solo players, but the real fun was within the online community where people would host public servers for people to join and all hell would break loose.
Some of my fondest memories in gaming were carried out within Quake III. The excitement… The anger… Secretly setting up a cheats-enabled game so nobody could understand why I was invincible… No game as of yet has given me the same feeling when it comes to multiplayer. Quake is making a comeback soon though, with Quake Champions on the horizon. Exclusive to PC users, it follow the same style as Quake III did and is due to enter closed beta nearer the end of this year.
Half-Life was brought to us by Valve, who then later went on to give us the digital platform Steam. Half-Life focused mainly on its Single Player attribute, but the multiplayer was still quite a blast. There was only two modes – free-for-all and team deathmatch – but the games could support up to 32 players. Even to this day, you can find players still fighting it out against one another online. I can imagine that a fully packed 32 player free-for-all is hilariously chaotic.
Why not try it yourself? Many servers are still about, so grab it from the Steam Store now!
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (1997)
True Star Wars fans will most likely be familiar with this. Follow up to the Doom-esque Dark Forces, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II explores protagonist Kyle Katarn‘s force sensitivity, and adds lightsaber combat to the first person shooting experience. The game featured the classic deathmatch style games as well as team games such as capture the flag. I personally used to do a lot of free for all games as I had more character creation and lightsaber colour choice.
Two more games were made that followed up from Dark Forces II, with the latest being Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy in 2003. Since Star Wars is back in the spotlight currently, there’s hope a more modern game with similar mechanics could come into existence. You can still grab this game from the Steam Store, but if you have a boxed version stick with that and try a direct connect with your friends. Good luck getting it to work on Windows 10 though.
A year after the release of Doom, Raven Software teamed with id Software to put out Heretic. It comes with its own direction though, following the FPS style but using various magic weapons and spells as opposed to guns. It was initially released as shareware with no official release until 1996, which saw released under the name Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders. You can grab it from Steam for dirt cheap. The original still included multiplayer, although it’s not exactly easy to find anyone to play with anymore.
An indirect sequel to Heretic was released a year later called Hexen: Beyond Heretic which added different styled characters you could play as to give it more replay value.
Another classic with its own twist. Developed by Parallax Software, Descent focuses on first person shooting from the perspective of a flight vehicle, meaning you didn’t just go forward and backwards – you could go up and down too. As great as this game was though, it was very disorientating. Descent was one of the first games to allow on-the-fly joining of multiplayer games, instead of queuing all players before initiating a match.
Good news for any hardcore Descent fans. Founders of Parallax Software – Matt Toschlog and Mike Kulas – successfully raised enough money through a kickstarter for the “spiritual successor” to Descent which has been named Overload. It’s expected to make a release this year and if it’s as great as the original 2, then we’re all in for a treat.
MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat (1995)
MechWarrior wasn’t as big or well known as some of the previous mentions on this list, and was really more of a vehicle simulation game. However, there was quite a point-and-shoot aspect, even if it was quite slow compared to other FPS games around the time.
You’d be lucky to get anyone to play this with you anymore, and I’m not sure it’s even possible without going to extreme lengths. If you want to play it bad enough though, I’m sure you’ll find a way. If that fails, check out modern Mech FPS – HAWKEN. It’s completely free so stop wasting time!
Strife is another Doom style FPS that was mainly focused on its single player campaign. It had features not seen in the genre before, such as the ability to interact and speak with characters in the game.
The multiplayer to Strife wasn’t particularly out-of-this-world and I doubt many people were too bothered. It wasn’t easy to see who was in the lead, since frags weren’t very clearly tracked. In 2014, the game became available as a remastered edition through Steam, with working multiplayer so it’s still possible to play if you really want to.
Duke Nukem 3D (1996)
Along with Wolfenstein and Doom, Duke Nukem 3D is responsible for popularizing the FPS genre and even today still has players fighting each other online through the remastered releases on various platforms. It’s worth checking out, the old style of play is tstill there but it’s graphically enhanced and is quite beautiful.
Duke Nukem started out as an action packed side scroller, similar to the likes of Commander Keen, but by 1996 it became a revolutionary first person shooter with well implemented multiplayer so we could all blast each other up too in true Nukem style. 2011 saw an attempt at reviving the classic with Duke Nukem Forever, but it was arguably one of the most disappointing games of the year and was massively criticized by the press for clunky controls and generally uninspiring level design.
GoldenEye 007 (1997)
I know, shocking. I included a console game! But seriously, if you didn’t at least have a go on this game with a few friends then you really missed out and should find someone with an N64 quick.
GoldenEye 007 was a Nintendo 64 game that was based on the James Bond move released in 1995. The single player just followed the events of the film in an FPS format, but the multiplayer was what truly made this game re-playable. The game allowed up to 4 player split screen capability, and its well put together shooter mechanics made it very enjoyable. Sure, there was plenty of screen-looking that came with it, but it was the best way to spend time with your mates for hours on end.
The game has been reimagined under the same title in 2010 and it can be played on the Wii, Xbox 360 or PS3. It features Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond instead of Pierce Brosnan, but it’s not quite the same without the terribly blocky graphics.
Turok 2: Seeds of Evil (1998)
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was a brilliant game but it was purely a single player experience. It wasn’t until the second game in the Turok series did we see any multiplayer come along. The game has been revived with a remaster now available on Steam, which lets the game perform a lot better and makes match-making much simpler.
Turok 2 was one of the first games I remember that actually had a difference within the characters you chose to play as. For example, playing as a Raptor meant you were limited to only using close range attacks but they were very agile and fast, where other characters could regenerate health.