Welcome to The Gateway! The Gateway is a new series of articles, that presents the best games to start you in the said genre. This time the games covered will be, FPS or First-Person Shooters.
Wolfenstein 3D (1992)
This is where it all started. Wolfenstein 3D was one of the first FPS games, and often regarded as the “grandfather of 3D shooters”. Released in 1992 and developed by id Software and published by Apogge Software, Wolfenstein 3D established most of the FPS foundation.
The game is inspired by Muse Software’s 1981 game Castle Wolfenstein and is the third game in the series. You play as a captured Allied spy B.J. Blazkowicz and he must escape a Nazi Prison “Castle Wolfenstein”, and along the way carry out several crucial missions to stop the Nazis. During your journey, you will fight Nazi soldiers, officers, dogs, mutants and of course a variety of bosses.
The game is not actually 3D, more accurately it would be classified as 2.5D. The environment is 3D, while everything else (weapons, enemies, pickups) are all 2D. You have a small arsenal of weapons at your disposal (Knife, Pistol, Machine Gun and Chain Gun). All of the weapons are so-called “hitscan weapons”, meaning that as soon as you point your gun and shoot, it will immediately damage the enemy. All of the levels in the game are mazes, and usually will require that you collect all the keys, and flip switches, to navigate to the exit. The environment is 3D, while everything else (weapons, enemies, pickups) are all 2D. As all of the levels are mazes, there are of course secrets (a common theme in 90s shooters). The secrets are usually behind pictures, and will usually contain ammo or treasures (extra points).
The game had 6 episodes in total, and each episode had 10 levels, usually ending with a boss fight. Apogee Software distributed the game as shareware. This means that the first episode was free, and you could order the rest later (usually via mail). Wolfenstein 3D was also one of the first games where users could create their levels. The game’s engine was later licensed to other companies, and used in numerous other games, and the source code would later be released for free in 1995. This was also the last Wolfenstein game that id Software worked on, and all of the other games were developed by other studios.
If you like this, you should try: Spear of Destiny (a prequel to Wolfenstein 3D), Rise of Triad (an intended Wolfenstein 3D sequel)
DOOM was the game that started the FPS boom, and one of the greatest and most important games ever created. Released in 1993, just over a year after Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM was a huge improvement in almost every aspect.
The premise follows a space marine (popularly called “Doomguy”), as he battles hordes of demons invading the two moons of Mars: Phobos and Deimos, and ultimately arriving at Hell. The game originally contained three episodes, with the fourth episode being introduced in Ultimate DOOM.
The game uses an id Tech 1 engine (also known as the “DOOM Engine”) and is an improved version of Wolfenstein 3D engine. The levels are still mazes of sorts, but there are know: diagonal walls, elevators, stairs, dynamic lighting, and multiplayer. You know have a larger arsenal at your disposal, and the game introduced projectile and area of effect weapons. You start with your fists and a Pistol, but you can later pick up a Shotgun, Chaingun, Rocket Launcher, Plasma Gun, BFG 9000 and a Chainsaw. Rocket Launcher and Plasma Gun are projectile weapons (a projectile is seen), and BFG 9000 is an area of effect weapon (it damages multiple enemies). There is also much more variety in enemies that range from zombies to more dangerous demons. Every demon is unique in its design and attack. Some will throw fireballs at you, while others will try to eat you. You also can use the environment against them, like explosive barrels, crushing ceiling or having them fight each other.
There are now 5 difficulty levels, with the latest level (Nightmare) providing a real challenge. Initially, the game was distributed by id Software, using the shareware model, and the later physical copies were published by GT Interactive. Each episode had 9 levels in total (8 plus a secret level), and each one was unique. The game’s music is composed by Bobby Prince, while some tracks are a MIDI rendition of then-popular metal and rock songs.
DOOM was immensely popular, with the estimated 15-20 million people playing the shareware episode. The game also created and its designer (John Romero) coined the term “deathmatch”. The game was so popular, that several universities banned multiplayer matches, due to players crashing the networks. This also led to several corporations to ban DOOM, due to their employees spending too much time playing and overwhelming the network. DOOM was ported to almost every system available, which led to a saying “if it has a processor, it can run DOOM”.
Due to DOOM’s popularity and influence, new first-person shooters were often called “DOOM Clones”. This games played similarly to DOOM, but this term died down in 1998, and was replaced with the term “first-person shooter”. DOOM was also a subject to several controversies and was one of the first games to receive an “M” rating (for 32x version). The game was criticized at the time for violent gore, demonic imagery, and a “mass murder simulator”. Despite, all of this DOOM is still one of the most successful and recognizable FPS games ever, with a large fan base. Even after 26 years after its release, DOOM still has mods made, that change or enhance the game greatly.
If you like this, you should try: DOOM 2, Final DOOM (an official fan expansion). Mods: Brutal DOOM, Aliens TC, Golden Souls, Ashes 2063, PRODOOMER. Any of the source ports.
Duke Nukem 3D (1996)
Duke Nukem 3D, is the game that can make you feel like you are starring in a 90s action movie. The game is the third game in the series, and the first on that was an FPS (the first two were platform games). Released in 1996, and developed by 3D Realms, Duke Nukem 3D can be considered as their answer to DOOM’s popularity.
You play as Duke Nukem, and after saving the world in the previous game, Duke flies back to Earth. Hoping to finally take a vacation, Duke is soon shot down and finds out that aliens are invading Earth. He crash-lands in L.A. and finds out that almost all humans have disappeared, and finds only women trapped in slime or kept for diversion. Duke must do whatever he can to stop the invasion, and save Earth.
The game uses the Build Engine, created by Ken Silverman (at the time considered the primary rival of John Carmack). Build engine offers more interactivity and highly destructible environment. For instance, you can blow up walls to find secrets or alternative routes, or set up traps for enemies. You can also interact with the environment in a much greater way. You can turn on lights, use security cameras, drink water (restores small amounts of health), or simply interact with the environment to get a funny Duke quote. Duke Nukem was also one of the first voiced protagonists (voiced by Jon St. John), and he will comment on almost everything. Most of Duke’s quotes are references to then-popular TV shows and movies, and in some cases other video games. Duke will also say one-liners, when you kill a group of enemies, perform a spectacular kill or defeat a boss.
Duke’s has a large arsenal of weapons to choose from. The weapons range from mighty foot, Pistol, Shotgun, Chaingun cannon (also knows as the Ripper), RPG, Pipe Bomb, Laser Tripbombs, Devastator, Freezethrower, and the Shrinker. Several other weapons were introduced in the expansion pack, in later releases. The weapons are more creative and unique than other FPS games at the time, and most importantly they are fun to use. The game also offers pickups which are stored in the inventory and can be used at any time. You can pick up items like portable medkit, steroids, night vision, scuba gear, protective boots, holoduke, and jetpack. The holoduke and jetpack, are probably the most useful ones, as holoduke serves as a decoy, and jetpack allows you to explore the map and reach previously inaccessible areas. The game offers a good enemy variety, but is a smaller roster than some other FPS, like DOOM. The most memorable enemy in the game is the Pig Cop. A mutated member of the LAPD, is now a large mutated pig, with the letters LARD inscribed on their uniforms.
The game saw several releases over the years. Duke Nukem 3D was initially released as shareware, but soon 3D Realms released a full version. There was an expansion pack called “The Plutonium PAK”, which added a fourth episode and patched the game to a 1.4 version. There were also two editions of the game that contained all of the episodes, called Megaton Edition and Atomic Edition. Unfortunately, they are no longer available, and the only official release available is the 20th anniversary called “Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour”, which added the fifth episode and added new content. Duke Nukem 3D, also has a large number of add-ons, both official and fan-made.
Duke Nukem 3D was also a subject to controversies due to its violence, and light erotic content. For instance, if you press the interact button near a stripper, Duke will offer money, and a small censored animation would play. In response to this criticism, censored versions of the game were released in certain countries to avoid it being banned. Duke Nukem is one of the most beloved games of the 90s and still has a dedicated fan base. Due to its mod capabilities, fan modes are still being made today. The game was ported to almost every platform, and there are several source ports available.
If you like this, you should try: Blood, Shadow Warrior, Redneck Rampage, Ion Fury (all on Build engine). Mods: Alien Armageddon, DNF 2013, and many others.
Quake was a game-changer in FPS genre. It was the first game to be fully rendered in 3D, not just the environment, but also enemies, weapons, and other objects. Quake plays in a similar manner to its predecessor, DOOM, and it was one of the first games to use a full real-time 3D rendering. Released in 1996 and developed by id Software, Quake was years ahead of its competition.
The story is almost non-existent and is basically DOOM with Gothic elements. The government was experimenting with teleportation technology called and developed a prototype called “Slipgate”. Slipgate will eventually get corrupted by mysterious forces called Quake, and begin sending hordes to test Earth’s might. You play as Ranger, and you are tasked with stopping the Quake and its hordes.
Quake went to various changes during development, and the final product is quite different from its original vision. The project lead John Romero first envisioned the game as an action game taking place in a fully rendered 3D environment. He also wanted to implement third-person melee combat, but this was ultimately dropped, due to time constraints. The levels are still mazes of sorts, and some levels and enemies may be closer to medieval RPG, than those found in science fiction. The weapon arsenal at your disposal consists of an Axe, Shotgun, Double-Barreled Shotgun, Nailgun, Super Nailgun, Grenade Launcher, Rocket Launcher, and a Thunderbolt (a weapon that shoots lightning). The enemies and environment seem to be inspired by works of H.P. Lovecraft, and other dark fantasies. There is a larger roster of enemies, all with their attacks and abilities. All of them are unique and require different tactics to take them down, but they all provide a good challenge.
The game uses a “Quake engine” (sometimes called id Tech 2), and it features true 3D rendering in real-time. The engine uses precalculating lighting and shadows, as opposed to previously used sector static lighting, but the main contribution of Quake is multiplayer. Quake expanded its multiplayer component, by even more popularizing deathmatches. With updates like QuakeWorld and programs like QuakeSpy, finding other players became easier and reliable. Quake like most id Software games supports modding. The first mods available were small changes, like gameplay fixes and patches, but the later mods were more ambitious. The first major mod for Quake was Team Fortress. The mod introduced a Capture the Flag gameplay, with classes for players. Each class had its own weapons and armor, and of course unique abilities. Team Fortress was a huge success, and Capture the Flag mode, would become a standard multiplayer mode in future games.
Quake was a huge game-changer in the FPS genre, and it still has a dedicated fan base, that still makes content for the game. Besides the great gameplay, Quake also features a soundtrack composed by the front-man of Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor. The music adds a whole new layer of the atmosphere while playing the game. The logo of the band is also inscribed on Nailgun’s ammo boxes, which is a nice touch.
If you like this, you should try: Quake 2, Hexen II, Team Fortress
Half-Life is probably one of the most recognizable FPS titles. Released in 1998 and developed by Valve Software, for the first game Half-Life was a huge success. Developed by using GoldScr (a modified version of Quake Engine), the game was as Valve’s co-founder said the attempt to create more an immersive world, rather than a “shooting gallery”.
You play as Gordon Freeman, and you work at the top research government facility Black Mesa. During one of the routine experiments, things go wrong and teleport to the alien world opens. This, of course, devastates the facility, and a bunch of the hostile aliens are now in Black Mesa, attacking anything and everyone.
Half-Life brought several new things to the FPS genre. For instance, there are no cutscenes, but instead, everything happens right in front of you. This gives you a good sense of immersion, which is exactly what Valve was aiming at. The second one is AI. The AI in Half-Life was always highly praised, and for good reason. Each character in the game hostile or friendly behaves differently. For instance, scientists will run away from danger, marines would communicate and try to use the best tactics, some aliens would run away when wounded, etc. Each AI will behave differently, and there are small details put into them, really show the dedication that Valve put into the game. The weapon arsenal at your disposal is big and ranges from pistols and shotguns to rocket launchers and alien weapons. For the most part, Gordon will be wearing an HEV suit. The suit serves as a HUD display, and will regularly inform you of your health and damage you take, and will even serve as armor if you charge it.
Half-Life was a huge success, and a receiver of over fifty awards. The game received two expansion packs: Opposing Force (1999) and Blue Shift (2001). These expansion packs feature new plots, weapons and enemies. Half-Life was also hugely mod friendly, and fans still create mods to this day. Some of the most popular mods are Team Fortress Classic, Counter Strike, Action Half-Life, They Hunger, USS Darkstar, etc. Several of the mods will became standalone games, the most famous one being Counter Strike and Day of Defeat.
Half-Life would eventually receive a sequel in 2004, named Half-Life 2, another highly praised game. For the first game the Valve Software developed, Half-Life was more than just a commercial success, it made them a part of video game legends.
If you like this, you should try: Half-Life 2, Counter Strike, Black Mesa (fan remake)
Unreal Tournament (1999)
After their success with their first FPS Unreal, Epic Games decided to create Unreal Tournament (UT) a spin-off of Unreal. Released several days before id Software’s Quake 3, UT belongs to a sub-genre of FPS, called arena shooters.
Arena shooters are FPS games with a focus on quick seat head-to-head multiplayer matches. UT, however, features a single-player campaign, where you fight against bots for the title of the Grand Champion. The single-player campaign serves as a good introduction to the multiplayer mods, as you will play every mod available. The multiplayer mods are: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Domination, Capture the Flag, Last Man Standing and Assault. Some of these mods were standard at the time, but Assault, Last Man Standing, and Domination are all a twist on the existing game mods.
In Assault is a game with two teams, where one is assaulting the base, while the other team is defending it. The map has objectives that the attacking team must complete, while the other team must defend the base.
Last Man Standing, is the twist on the deathmatch game mode. The player’s task is to stay alive as long as possible, emphasizing a number of deaths, rather than lives. If you run out of lives, you lose.
Domination, is the twist on Capture the Flag game mode. There are two teams, and they must control various points on the map to gain points. You control them by touching the point, and the team with the most points wins.
UT was hugely successful, and eventually got three sequels (2003, 2004, 3), and a huge fan base. The game was hugely moddable and received numerous fan-made maps and mods. Unreal Tournament had several free expansion packs, which were eventually bundled in 2000 re-release: Unreal Tournament: Game of the Year Edition. This release is the definitive version of the game and is easily available on-line.
If you like this, you should try: Unreal Tournament 2004
Quake III Arena (1999)
Quake III Arena, is the third game in the Quake series, but this time the game is focused on multiplayer. The game doesn’t feature any story-driven single-player campaign but instead offers a single-player tournament against AI bots.
The game offers a story synopsis as: “the greatest warriors of all time fight for the amusement of a race called the Vadrigar in the Arena Eternal”. Single-player serves as a practice mode for multiplayer matches. During the tournament, you get to play all of the default maps that Quake III Arena offers. The game has seven tiers and as tiers progress, you will fight more and more bots. At the end of each, there is a boss battle of sorts, where you play a one-on-one map, against one of the more advanced bots.
Quake III Arena, features what could best be described as “minimalist design”. There aren’t many pickups, aside from weapons, ammo, armor, health and several unique power-ups. There are 10 weapons that you can equip: The Gauntlet, Machine gun, Shotgun, Rocket Launcher, Railgun, Plasma Gun, Lighting Gun and BFG 10K.
The most important part of Quake III Arena was its engine. The game was developed using an id Tech 3 engine, one of the most popular engines at the time. Offering excellent modding capabilities the game received a large number of mods, and later even games. Parts of its source code were even used to create other game engines. In 2005, John Carmack announced that the id Tech 3 source code would be available under GNU license (V2) and is free to download. The release of the source code also helped the total conversion mods like Tremulous and Urban Terror to receive standalone releases.
Quake III Arena was hugely successful, praised by reviewers and gamers at the time. The game received an expansion pack Team Arena, which was focused on more team play, and added new maps and weapons. As with all successful games, Quake III Arena has a huge fan base, which created countless mods and maps. The game also had a good competitive scene, which led to a large community of competitive players and was used in professional e-sports tournaments.
If you like this, you should try: Quake Champions, Open Arena. Mods: Tremulous, Urban Terror, Smokin’ Guns.