PC gamers in the 1990s were treated to a host of great shooter titles, and lots of hair metal as well. As the genre grew, we saw games that pushed the envelope of the genre and eventually gave us the games we enjoy topday. These eight shooters from the 90s were some of the best examples of how the genre was so ghreat in that decade.
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Most shooters in the 90s focused on single-player campaigns. After all, internet connections were slow, and the majority of multiplayer was done in a LAN setting. That all changed with the launch of id Software’s Quake. Not only was it one of the first gamers to bring a truly 3D experience to gamers, it included a multiplayer experience that revolutionized the concept. Its sequels (especially Quake 3: Arena) would further cement its legacy.
Duke Nukem 3D
The 90s were an era of action heroes toting huge guns and blowing things up. Movies, TV shows and games embraced this idea, and nowhere was that more evident than in Duke Nukem 3D. You’re the titular Duke, and you’re armed to the teeth to take out an alien invasion. You’ll find time along the way to spout one-liners and rescue helpless strippers. It’s definitely a product of its era, but it’s still a solid shooter.
Wolfenstein 3D was the game that kick-started the modern FPS genre. At time it was released, id Software was a relatively unknown company. Playing as a Polish-American prisoner, you break out of the Wolfenstein prison, kill hundreds of Nazis, and eventually take on Adolf Hitler in a robot suit. Yeah, it’s just as crazy as it sounds. You can get a glimpse of the original game in this year’s Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, as you get to play levels from the classic in dream sequences.
Blood built on the foundation that Duke Nukem 3D laid down. The main character, an early 20th century gunslinger named Caleb, is out for revenge against a dark god. The game incorporates both occult and horror themes, and features an arsenal of cool weapons like a Tesla rifle and flare guns. It also lets you use voodoo dolls against your enemies. Toss in one liners that are even more over-the-top than Duke Nukem’s, and you’ve got an awesome 90s shooter.
Hexen was a first, tentative step in adding RPG features to first person shooters. The dark fantasy game allowed players to choose from three distinct classes, each with different abilities. Items also functioned differently based on your class. Hexenbrought together magic, action, and fantasy gameplay in one tight, first-person package. It definitely caught the attention of fantasy fans everywhere in the 90s.
Valve’s flagship series stormed on the scene in 1998 and added something new to the genre: solid storytelling. It also made finding weapons and health pickups far more believable than any game that came before. The game’s opening sold you on the world, and the game included one of the most-loved protagonists of all time in Gordon Freeman. As a bonus, once you finished the main game, there were a number of mods to enjoy, including Counter-Strike and others.
Set in the 40th century, Starsiege: Tribes set two teams against each other in huge online battlefields. Including five distinct game modes, Tribes includes vehicles and jetpacks to help players get around. It incorporated lots of customization options, allowing players to build their own loadouts from a wide range of weapons. Players quickly discovered that if you timed your jumps properly while going downhill, you could accumulate momentum – a trick called “skiing.” This became so popular it was built in as a feature in the ensuing sequels. Tribes was noteworthy because of its great balance and heavily teamwork-focused gameplay.
After the release of Unreal, Epic Games saw the movement toward multiplayer-focused games and created one of the best multiplayer shooters of the day, Unreal Tournament. The maps were entertaining and well-varied, the weapons were almost perfectly balanced, and the gameplay options were nearly endless. You could pop in any number of mutators to change up the gameplay, and many of them fundamentally changed the game. Add in all the options created by modders, and it’s no wonder that Unreal Tournament is still held up as an example of how great shooters can be even 16 years later.