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Checking the user blogs today, there are several people saying that the FPS games they play getting stale. And it's true! Trying to mimic the success of the best-selling game of all time is a great way to get a publisher behind you. The result is that your games are tasting kinda samey. Thankfully, the PC is a very different entity. The way games are made, the way they are sold, and the community they adhere to are completely different from that of a console. Where AAA games are massive on consoles, the PC's heroes tend to be quite a bit different. This isn't a rant by any means; I just want to show you the fantastic and varied shooters you can find on the PC.
The most recent shooter actually hasn't been released yet; it's in open beta. The Tribes series started in 1998 with Starsiege: Tribes and today has been revitalized with its fourth entry, Tribes Ascend. What makes the Tribes series special is its skiing/jetpack mechanic. Skiing gives you no ground friction, allowing you to slide. Use the ski downhill and the jetpack uphill to gain massive speed! You can fly through the enemy base, capturing their flag at 200km/h! Most of the weapons have projectile travel time. The Spinfuser launches a spinning disk that explodes on impact. The beautiful thing about it is that you, the player, need to judge where your target is going and shoot there. Every kill is remarkably satisfying. Gunfights through the frostbitten hills of the Katabatic at 150km/h will blow the mind of anyone used to the plodding pace of a generic shooter. Best of all, Tribes Ascend is free to play.
A few more games to whet your shooter lust, TF2 is one of the most popular shooters today with nine classes that all play completely differently and are all essential to the success of the team. Don't let the cartoon style put you off. TF2 has a lot of character, great gunplay, a lot of hilarious gore (a bit of you!) and a lot of room for strategy. Again, free to play.
Counter-Strike is has survived over a decade its hardcore gameplay alone. The original 1.6 is loved by the competitive scene and CS:Source steps it up with slightly more modern graphics (and can be used with Garry's Mod). Valve are now changing the game with Global Operations, which aims to attract new players while pleasing old fans. Find these for around $10.
Quake Live is an HD remake of Quake III Arena, the epitome of the fast-paced arena shooter. Id has done a great job of sorting players by skill, but you would be wise to learn how to throw yourself into your jumps, skip, and rocket jump by using their interactive tutorial.
The Unreal series changed the face of gaming when it debuted in '98. Boasting the best visuals of its time by miles and incredible gameplay, people placed its campaign above Quake II, but not its multiplayer. Epic returned next year with Unreal Tournament, the winner of several G.O.T.Y. awards and a clear competitor for Quake III. UT2k4 is one of the greatest multiplayer shooters of all time and is still one of my favorite games. Where most shooters need at least 14 players to be interesting, I think UT is at its most intense in 1-on-1 duels, though deathmatch, CTF, Domination, Assault, and Onslaught are very challenging.
Though it received a console port, the PC version of F.E.A.R. is easily the strongest. Smooth shooting, intelligent A.I., powerful weapons that go beyond just assault rifles, and lots of blood set F.E.A.R. as being on the best single player games available.
We all know Crysis 2, but many PC gamers cried against it. Experience the first Crysis on a proper PC to see why we all fell in love with it and go back to Crytek's debut game, FarCry. FarCry's sequels and console versions cannot compare to the game that started it all. CryTek's A.I. was the first to really nail the Predator hit and run gameplay thanks to their brilliant new A.I. You see? Graphics aren't the only way games can evolve!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have SWAT 3 and 4. I've heard about SWAT 3 but only own 4. SWAT 4 is not a shooter. GI said it years ago when it came out and I'm saying it again. SWAT 4 is a SWAT simulator. Most tactical shooters let you choose your loadout, but there is no consequence for what you pick; everyone is going to die anyway. Can you control your fully-automatic weapon? Can you fire it without hitting hostages? What about when the bad guys start getting body armor? Can you clear a room without killing anyone and arresting all of the criminals? Can you find all of the evidence? Make sure no one on your team dies? You have a better chance of not killing people if you go for non-lethal bean-bag guns but will you be able to protect yourself and the hostages when it counts? SWAT 4 is not your typical shooter and demands more tactics than even the old Rainbow Six games. It is easy to LAN so invite your friends to help you clear the bank robbery.
Recently selling a million copies, Killing Floor is Tripwire's famous not-zombie shooter (they're experiments). Whatever they are, they're ugly and need to die. Each enemy type is deadly in its own way, from the basic Zed that can swarm and grab onto you to the Flesh Pound that can decimate an entire team if they aren't prepared. The best part of Killing Floor is how the weapons feel. I cannot easily explain it, but even the starter 9mm pistol has a very satisfying punch. Also, your character is as accurate as you are. If you aim center screen without using the weapon's sights, you will still hit center screen, making for incredible long distance no-scopes and giving normal look and aiming down the sights purpose.
Tripwire's other famous series is Red Orchestra. Striving for an engaging amount of realism, the WWII shooter demands skill and teamwork. The guns have weight and feel great to shoot. Players die in one good shot, though it is possible to be wounded. RO2's large scale battles a notably different from Battlefield's and is worth your money if you're interested.
The old-school shooter is on the return. Hard Reset boasted its single player gameplay and received great reviews, though I'm not familiar with it myself. The Serious Sam series thankfully hasn't changed since it came out in 2001. The HD remakes are fantastic for fans and new players alike. I put 17 hours into Serious Sam 3's lengthy single-player game. All games support 16 player co-op and the classic games and SS3 have split-screen options.
So there you go! Around a dozen shooters that are far from the same grind that you get from your megapublisher. Look into a decent PC or find a PC gaming friend to try out what the keyboard and mouse brings to the table. The PC is very different from consoles in every way. We have different attitudes, different sales models, different inputs, and with that comes different games.