Throughout the years, there have been many first-person shooters on the market—one could even say that there have been too many of them. As a result, many of them have slipped under the radar and were not given the proper recognition they deserved. These shooters were mostly made by smaller developers and thus released by smaller publishers; however, they offer more in the way of unique elements and take on a setting previously done by bigger developers. Finally, I would even go as far as to say that these shooters have personality because they were made with more focus on the art rather than market success.
1. Project I.G.I: I'm Going In
Developed by Innerloop Studios and released in 2000, this is a tactical shooter focused on stealth and infiltration, which according to AbsoluteGames.ru (2000), was supposed to be the PC's answer to GoldenEye on the N64, giving the platform a secret agent of its own. The premise is theft of nuclear weapons and espionage with an emphasis on silent takedowns, evasion, and precision fire.
The player is essentially dropped in a stealth theme park with many routes to take, context-sensitive actions (rope slides, surveillance hacking, and hidden weapon caches) all this while building up his arsenal of real-world weapons. (MP5SD, Glock-17s, AK-47s, etc.) Regarding the in-game arsenal, the weapons have to be reloaded, cocked, and primed to fire, and it takes reasonably long for a fire-fight. An in-game MP5SD submachine gun takes about five seconds while it takes less for the player to die from continuous fire from one enemy.
As mentioned above, realistic weapon simulation (ballistics and handling) are among the main features; therefore, the player has to really choose his weapons and know how to handle them in a certain circumstance. On my first playthrough, I thought I could use an Uzi 9mm submachine gun against a whole base; that didn't end well. Upon respawn, I opted to scale a guard tower, stab the sniper manning it, and use his rifle to take out his friends that were patrolling the routes to my objective. I gave myself room to move fast and remain undetected while also avoiding angry AK-47-wielding security teams who hunt you down when the alarm is raised.
At the time of its release, Project I.G.I. was among the few realistic/semi-realistic shooters alongside No One Lives Forever, Soldier of Fortune, Delta Force Land Warrior, and Medal of Honor Underground on the PS1 that aimed for maximum realism. While all of its counterparts from the decade were mostly run-and-gun games; Project I.G.I. had a playground of options to infiltrate a level with interactive environments along with AI that behaved like real human beings who attempt to dodge incoming fire and hang back while suppressing your position as opposed to the cannon fodder enemies of the times. Each rifleman on patrol has his part in the open-ended level just as much as the active computer terminals and overhead power cables where many things can be used by the player.
So far, I have spoken about open-ended sneaking; however, there is a lot for the honorary John Rambo here because not all weapons are silenced; one of them being an M16A2 with an M203 grenade launcher attached. While unfavorable in the game and real-life, it is possible to go toe to toe against an entire base with an assault rifle in-hand, running from cover to cover and dodging almost pinpoint accuracy of the enemies. The feeling of control when you take out a squad with an SPAS-12 shotgun in close-quarters with recoil, ballistics, and barely escaping with your life is tense yet rewarding.
Overall, Project I.G.I is a shooting and sneaking adventure where you have many options of doing both across detailed terrain with realistic weapons and smart enemies. A game where you can experiment with paths through levels; choosing between an AK-47 or an SVD sniper rifle or stick with your knife and be a ninja till you break into a weapons storage and find yourself an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.
2. Urban Chaos: Riot Response
Before Rocksteady Games staked their claim with their Batman Arkham series, they made this riot police simulator with melee and gun combat, replete with riot shields, tasers, and support from civil defense agents such as paramedics and firemen. A PS2 and original Xbox exclusive, this game starts off with a raid on a police precinct from masked gang members armed with Molotov cocktails, axes, and even firearms, and it's your job to handle the situation as a member of a newly formed riot unit.
One of the best features of the game is a focus on melee combat where the player blocks with a riot shield and hits back to arrest the assailant, which serves the police theme well, as opposed to killing everything. Guns are present and fun to use; however, things get too crazy when enemies start taking hostages, come at you with buzzsaws, and even their bosses take swings at you. This game get's crazy and requires you to really defend yourself. Effectively, this police sim is more Painkiller/Serious Sam than Rainbow Six Raven Shield or SWAT 3.
Urban Chaos: Riot Response plays out like an ultra-violent movie as it takes no prisoners, and it is always giving the player something to fight, which enhances the mood. It really impressed me as someone who was coming from other police sims such as SWAT 3, where the focus was tactics, planning, and hostage rescue. I have always had a fascination with police-themed games, and this one really took me by surprise with threats I had yet to fight elsewhere in the medium.
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Typically, in a police shooter, (and most notably in SWAT 3) you have to check corners and order team members around while keeping a check on your side using your MP5 to keep suspects at bay. In Urban Chaos, you have to think fast, use your reflexes, and become a living gun turret that tears up the bad guys who are hurling profanities and petrol bombs at you.
As you cleave, shield-bash, shoot, and kick down doors to rescue civilians, you are treated to impactful combat where blood flies, heads explode, and bodies light up as your taser fries criminals who are about to hit you with improvised weapons. Few games made today succeed in creating a sense of exhilaration and conveying this feeling since most of them focus too much on the story. Focusing on the story bores the gamer to tears with cutscenes without giving him control.
Finally, Urban Chaos has a progression system to encourage multi-playthroughs of levels to unlock new weapons and tools to play with. This provides depth to a potent formula of non-stop action. The game does not have any gimmicks, nor does it try to reinvent the wheel, but that is what makes it a great shooter/fighter; the ability to crack skulls and shoo crazy enemies in a real-world setting. Sure, Serious Sam and Painkiller exist, but Urban Chaos: Riot Response deserved a mention for the simple fun I had with keeping the streets clean.
I am a huge Terminator fan, and ever since watching the first film at age five, I was invested in the lore and mythos of the franchise to the point of obsession. (I spent time writing my school creative writing stories about it, drawing HK drones in art class, pretending to be the Terminator and sometimes pretending to be Kyle Reese) I remember during summer holidays, taking a huge stick in my grandparents' village house, dubbing it my plasma rifle, and running around the garden, diving, taking cover in bushes, and waging a war against the giant trees as if they were the attacking T-800s.
When I played my first shooter (UnreaL) in the late 1990s, I wanted one to be set in the Terminator universe to be either a TechCom soldier or the titular cyborg portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, I did not know that my wish would be granted in 1996 in the form of SkyNET and its expansion, Future Shock. I only discovered it in 2006. Developed by Bethesda Softworks, the game is set before the events of the films where the protagonist completes missions for the resistance by traversing the destroyed cities, fighting SkyNET machines, and gathering familiar weapons from the M4 carbine to the plasma rifle.
The game was impressive for its time, considering it had a fully 3D world with driveable vehicles and environmental hazards such as radiation. It also had a multiplayer component with a deathmatch mode where it was humans vs. Terminators wherein the former used light weapons and moved faster, but was very fragile, while the latter carried heavier weapons and were more durable.
SkyNET had free mouse aim, which allowed for a more fluid combat experience where you had to be accurate to survive and have ammo remaining for the more powerful machines, including the flying HKs and the humanoid T-800s from the films.
The game had an immersive presentation where the stylized graphics enhanced the mood of the dead civilization, while the moody synth soundtrack adds to the eerie silence. The game was also among the very first true 3D games where the aforementioned vehicles actually felt realistic enough; the could be seen racing across trenches and exploring multi-story buildings in search of weapons and throwables to survive.
SkyNET has a long campaign (it's made by Bethesda after all) with lots of content to go through, with puzzles to solve and really tense moments to spare. I once rode from my starting point in my jeep to scout out a base where my objective was located. I ran out of ammo fending off multiple walkers, so I drove to find a city where every building was interactive. I entered one, and after scoring some shotgun shells and body armor, I left it only to hear the sound of an approaching T-800 from nearby. It was an intense and frightening moment. I tried to sneak my way out of the confrontation, considering I had only 45 health.
Overall, SkyNET is an open-world shooter before anything else. It has big levels with things to find and lots of enemies to dispatch as you fight the machine menace. The game is very faithful to the Terminator license as it pays lots of attention to the authenticity and lore of the mythos in question. Finally, the game has very intense moments when you run out of resources and have to fall back and improvise. It's akin to an actual dangerous situation when your plan falls apart.