Hidden Gems of PC FPS Games (GOG Edition)

gems-gog

In Part 2 of our Hidden Gems of GOG series, we are focusing on the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre.  While our previous article highlighted a few FPS games, we decided to take those titles off the table and choose five different games.  FPS games have been an industry staple since the late 80s, but reach all the way back 1974s Midi Maze/Maze War (sadly not on GOG).  Sadly most gamers did not know of the genre until 1992s ground breaking release of Wolfenstein 3d.  FPS games come in all shapes and sizes and cover every story genre you can imagine.  They are often used to both showcase new technology and push existing hardware to their extremes.  Keep in mind that these titles are just a small subset of GOGs large collection of first person shooters.  Feel free to debate our choices with us on the forums.

Catacombs

Presented by Ack
catacombsBefore Quake, before Doom, before even Wolfenstein 3D, there was Catacomb. Its roots trace back to the days before Id Software existed to the year 1989, when John Carmack was employed at Softdisk to develop games for the Apple IIGS. The first two releases were top-down action-adventure games featuring the wizard Petton Everhail as he made his way through numerous levels blasting massive monsters with magic, acquiring scrolls for powerful offensive abilities or healing potions to save the player in a pinch, and seeking out secrets to advance to the end. But in June 1990, Carmack witnessed a demo of the first person RPG Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss at the Computer Electronics Show. This inspired him to develop new techniques in texture mapping for the likes of vehicular combat game Hovertank 3D in April of 1991 and then Catacomb 3-D in November of the same year. Catacomb 3-D successfully converted the top-down action of Petton Everhail into the first person perspective and serve as the real beginning of the modern character-based FPS. Catacomb 3-D was published by Softdisk, and they kept the rights while the newly-formed Id Software went on to design many of the games that made the company famous.

A spin-off series appeared from Softdisk over the next couple of years, known as the Catacomb Adventures Series. Catacomb Abyss, Catacomb Armageddon(AKA Curse of the Catacombs), and Catacomb Apocalypse(AKA Terror of the Catacombs) built on the bones of those that came before, mixing fantasy and science fiction as they combined an array of monsters and level themes. The series ultimately ended in 1993 and largely vanished in the shadow of its distant cousin, Doom. But its influence lived on, and the list of names forming the developer teams across both series reads like a Who’s Who of 1990s FPS design: John Carmack, John Romero, Tom Hall, Adrian Carmack, Robert Prince, Greg Malone, Mike Maynard, Jim Row, Steven Maines, Nolan Martin, among others. These folks would continue on to help develop such games as Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, Blake Stone, Shadow Warrior, Rise of the Triad, and Strife.

The Catacombs Pack brings new life to these lost gems of gaming history. Catacomb 3-D, Catacomb Abyss, Catacomb Armageddon, and Catacomb Apocalypse are all present for those with a love of early Wolf 3D-style FPS. They all feature magical combat against an array of enemies while Petton Everhail searches for the secrets that will allow him to advance through numerous levels to face off against his evil arch-rival Nemesis. The games feel like a prelude to Hexen: Beyond Heretic, even incorporating hub systems into their designs years before the release of Hexen’s progenitor Heretic in 1994. While they can be rudimentary in design, any first person shooter buff with an interest in the history of the genre would be remiss to not experience the series. Each of these four FPS use different textures and monster themes to present an array of settings, such as ancient fortresses populated by goblins, sewer systems with submerged reptiles, or even laboratories and two-headed monstrosities of a distant dystopian future. Each game builds upon the lessons of the previous entry, so while Catacomb 3-D has the player catch on walls and uses an awkward health system that turns Petton’s face into a skull as he receives damage, these rough edges are soon polished to a shine. The final boss in Catacomb Apocalypse can even be avoided entirely if the player so chooses, which is actually rather nice considering the difficulty also increased over the course of the series. Yet the series never forgets its roots and sticks to the basics, allowing for health potion pickups and powerful magic which can be gathered and stored as needed, though not without difficulty; the player can actually shoot and destroy these pickups too, so combat around much-needed supplies can be a bad idea.

As a bonus, the Catacombs Pack also features both of the pre-FPS entries in the series, Catacomb and Catacomb II. Because this version of Catacomb was taken from the Gamer’s Edge sampler disk, it further includes a copy of John Romero’s platformer Dangerous Dave. That makes for seven total games included in the Catacombs Pack. It’s a set that any fan of PC gaming history should jump for.

Dark Forces

Presented by Bogusmeatfactory
darkforcesWith the rising popularity of Star Wars on the PC in the early 1990’s, thanks in part to successful games like Star Wars: X-Wing, Lucasarts decided it was time to throw their hat into the first person shooter genre. They did so with a little title known as, Dark Forces. Dark Forces was revolutionary for its time by applying mechanics made popular by Doom and enhancing them with story-based objectives and goals, as well as adding overarching thematic elements.

In this title, you play as Kyle Katarn, a mercenary hired by the Rebel Alliance to recover the plans for the Imperial Death Star. After that, you are sent on a twisting journey to uncover the mystery of another super weapon created by the Empire known as, the Dark Trooper. You are not alone, though. With you are a bevy of gadgets like night-vision goggles, jetpacks, as well as a variety of weapons that encourage destruction in the most dastardly ways.

What really makes this title so special is the extreme level of detail put into the levels and environments. Tiny droids scurry across the ground in Imperial bases that, when shot, offer energy modules, while large lurking sewer monsters prowl beneath the surface waiting to snatch up their prey. The game also features a varied amount of puzzles that include the traditional keycard puzzles, as well as platforming puzzles that don’t frustrate and annoy like many games do and even a few surprising mindbenders that will really challenge you to use your wits.

Visually, the game still stands the test of time with great polygonal environments that vary from space ports, to ruined cityscapes, to factories and even a snow covered Imperial base. The enemies themselves feel unique and are well detailed sprites that use high quality voice clips that offer a sense of astounding atmosphere. You really feel like you are taking part in a grand space adventure set in the Star Wars universe.

For those that want to have a great mixture of an old-school first-person-shooter combined with more modern objective-based game play, you should check out the Dark Forces series and bask in the gloriously golden era of 1990’s Star Wars video games.

Outlaws

Presented by fastbilly1
outlawsUsing a modified version of the Jedi engine from Dark Forces, Outlaws takes you back to the 1800s.  You play as retired US Marshal James Anderson as he hunts down railroad baron and criminal mastermind Bob Graham after his henchmen Dr. Death and Slim murder Anderson’s wife and kidnap his daughter.  There are also a bevy of one-off missions which feature the rise of James Anderson, all loosely based on real historical events.  Is the story cliche?  Yes, but the gameplay is as solid today as it was in 1997.  The historic firearms make for intense gunfights for middle and short range combat, successfully recreating the feeling and violence of dime novels and Spaghetti Westerns.  Outlaws is also the first FPS to feature a functioning sniper rifle with a set distance scope, which comes in handy once you realize that most of its maps are twice the size of Dark Forces’.  Multiplayer also differentiates itself from other games at the time with large maps, varied landscapes, characters with differing stats, and very tight controls.

Outlaws sets itself apart from the competition by size and style.  The maps are so large, you can actually get lost in them.  Not lost in the same style as Wolf3d, but lost because they feature fulls towns or cave systems.  The art style is cel-shaded with a nod toward realism, with heavy line work but realistic features.  But the cutscenes make for the most memorable scenes.  The story is told just as much through facial features and music as it is through the voice acting.  The music was composed by veteran Lucasarts composer Clint Bajakian, who took inspiration from Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks for the Dollars Trilogy; Outlaws won several awards upon release for its audiowork, and the soundtrack is considered one of the greatest game soundtracks of all time by IGN.  Competitive multiplayer was popular up until 2012 when the main fan server finally went down, but during the fifteen years it ran, fans created over 1300 custom maps.  The GOG version supports direct connect and lan play, while online multiplayer is also supported by Gameranger.

Aliens Versus Predator Classic 2000

Presented by Noiseredux
avpThere are many games that bare the Alien, Predator and AVP name. In fact there’s a confusing number of them that have similar titles to this one. But Aliens Versus Predator (1999) is one game that is always worth coming back to. In fact it’s more like three games with the inclusion of separate single player campaigns for not only an Alien and Predator but also a Colonial Marine. Each plays completely differently and makes for three truly unique experiences to dive into. The Xenomorph’s campaign revolves around protecting a hive from the Colonial Marines and stowing away on one of their space crafts; the Predator must visit three different plans while hunting Aliens and Marines; and finally the Colonial Marine story discovers hatched Alien eggs on space-station LV-426 and must venture on to eradicate the queen.

What makes everything click is how well the three classes are fleshed out and have their strengths and weaknesses against the others. This is most evident in the multiplayer – a feature still active today via GOG’s own GOG Galaxy client, and even offers cross-play with Steam users. Whether you feel most confident as the standard marine or want to stealth-hunt as the Predator or move at ridiculous speeds and climb ceilings and walls as a Xeno – you’ve got your play style to choose from here. The options for these mechanics mean that every match can end in some epic story of victorious boasting or the agony of being bested by something you never saw hit you. The Classic version of Versus also includes the subsequent content found in the Gold re-release along with support for widescreen monitors and several other tweaks.

STALKER

Presented by MrPopo
stalkerThe S.T.A.L.K.E.R games are a trilogy of games inspired by the novel Roadside Picnic and the film Stalker and set in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.  In the mythology of the trilogy there was a second incident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant a few decades after the original incident.  This second incident had an effect on space-time itself, causing a variety of anomalies to spawn in the Zone.  These include areas of heightened or weaken gravity, areas that discharge electricity with no discernible source, or areas of intense radiation not explainable by the fallout from the original disaster.  However, these anomalies also spawn Artifacts; strange objects with novel properties that are worth a fortune outside the Zone.  Thus, the Zone becomes a draw for treasure hunters and bandits, all while the military tries to keep a lid on things.  It is into this environment that the player is thrown to explore and try and come to a deeper understanding of the Zone.

The original game had a bit of troubled development, and many features were cut (though a few wound up in the sequels).  What was left was an FPS featuring fairly realistic ballistics, a heavy emphasis on stealth (due to the player and enemies dying in a couple shots), and some genuinely horrifying sections.  The game ends up being split into two distinct modes; above ground and underground.  Above ground plays out like a survival FPS, where you are scrounging up ammo and bandages and trying to avoid getting killed by bandits and mutated wildlife.  Below ground is where the game dips into the horror, as they are universally cramped and with an extremely well done environmental design that makes you afraid of what is going to be around the corner to eat your face off.  The game includes several mutated humanoids which tend to be the most terrifying and the most threatening to your existence.  The game is fairly linear, although you can see the remnants of the original planned more open world design.

Clear Sky is the second game and is a prequel that sets up the events of the first game.  The game brings back several of the cut open world elements, such as having standings with factions, as well as faction combat.  The various NPC factions will contents areas of the map and you can join in to help.  Even without the player involvement the faction borders will shift overtime.  It’s a neat idea in theory but the implementation is buggy and the consequences aren’t really meaningful.  The other thing added that works out a lot better is equipment modification; essentially you get a skill tree added to your weapons that allows you to focus on the properties you want while allowing you to keep a favorite gun, rather than feeling compelled to always upgrade.  On the whole, though, Clear Sky isn’t as good as the first, as you lose most of the underground creepy sections without a good replacement and the game is buggier overall.

Call of Pripyat finally delivers on the open world promise and becomes a very strong game as a result.  It also brings back the creepy sections, though those are mostly restricted to the last third of the game.  The game is now split into a couple of very large areas with some settlements and a variety of hidden secrets to find, like caches of loot.  The anomalies have also been fleshed out, now rather than the landmine approach of previous games they tend to be large areas that require careful navigation to make your way through; the reward is high powered artifacts.  One of the most interesting ones is an area where there is a grid of pillars that you need to pass through in a certain order; failing to do so warps you back to the start.  The game is just more rewarding to explore.

All three games have a large modding scene that have added features cut from the leaked alpha or improving enemy AI.  Many of the best modifications are quite extensive and turn the base games into a v2.0 release.

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