Lock and Load—FPS Gaming

Strafing Through HD Worlds

There’s a certain satisfaction one can take from shooting through hordes of demons, Nazis, zombies, or even zombie Nazis. Whatever the foe, First Person Shooters have been a large part of gaming history in both game play and art design, inspiring many gamers and designers for years to come.

There’s a certain satisfaction one can take from shooting through hordes of demons, Nazis, zombies, or even zombie Nazis. Whatever the foe, First Person Shooters have been a large part of gaming history in both game play and art design, inspiring many gamers and designers for years to come.

Wolfenstein 3D (PC, 1992)

What could be hailed as the very first FPS, or at least the first successful one, Wolfenstein 3D is brought to us by id Software. It’s actually the third installment of the Wolfenstein series, though its predecessors were not done as First Person Shooters. The plot centers around fictional American spy, William “BJ” Blazkowicz, who has been captured during his search for the plans of Operation Eisenfaust and imprisoned in Castle Wolfenstein. He must escape, find the plans, and stop Hitler’s mad scheme once and for all [ 1 ].

The character of BJ is mostly unseen, as you play the game from first person view. However, you can see his head, partially animated on the bottom center of the screen. This head will occasionally look left and right over time, as well as grin when obtaining big power-ups or guns and will look correspondingly beat up as the player takes damage. The combat animations for BJ are simple—whatever gun is equipped is shown on screen, and it flashes when fired. He can walk, run, and strafe, and, while these are expected norms in modern FPS, this game was the first to set that standard. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to make the game playable and, thanks to its better than average pixel art, easy to look at.

From the classic Nazi-splattering camp fanfare, to more modern reimaginings, the name “Wolfenstein” has an unmistakable ring to it.

The interface here is bare bones. The bottom of the screen shows all the relevant information—current level, score, lives remaining, health percentage, ammo, and what gun is equipped, all in white text over a blue background, except for the gun which is a black silhouette. You can switch between weapons with keys one through four (yes there are only four weapons). You can also save your game, which if you are playing on the higher difficulty settings, you will need. Again, while these features seem par for the course for today’s FPS titles, Wolfenstein 3D was the very first to have them.

Levels are both simple and complicated. Each map is a small maze, with many doors to open and secret panels to push around. There’s only one door that leads to the next level, and it usually needs a key held somewhere in the current level. So the formula begins—fight your way through the map, find the key, find the exit, and proceed to the next level. When it comes to the art design, the maps look quite simple, having a limited color palette of gray bricks, brown tables, brown wood walls, red bricks, steel-greens and golden Nazi symbols. The secret levels get a bit more colorful, with bright purple walls that resemble wailing skulls and yellow-green moss-covered bricks. The visuals do get repetitive, but one should keep in mind the age of the game, and how groundbreaking it was in its time.

Enemies consist of, well, Nazis. The typical Nazi soldier looks like those out of old movies, with a drab brown uniform, rounded helms, and the signature armband. Some of them wear blue or white instead, indicating higher health and deadlier weapons. There are also attack dogs which will quickly rush towards the player for melee attacks. Later on, there are also mutants, with gray skin, green uniforms and chest-implanted guns. All are presented in pseudo-3-D flat pixel images, with the different frames chugging along in slow animation. It’s charming in its own classic low-tech way. Rounding out this limited enemy variety are the bosses. Hans Grosse, the first boss, is a muscle-bound brute who wears heavy blue armor and wields dual chain guns. Dr. Schabbs appears as an old scientist in a lab coat that is spattered with blood, and he throws syringes that deal massive damage. The final boss is, of course, Adolf Hitler. His first stage consists of him being inside a giant robot exoskeleton, with four arm-mounted chain guns. His second stage brings him closer to his real-world visage, except for the chain guns that replace his arms. Each of these boss fights is straightforward, you avoid as much damage as possible while shooting the boss, making them each an endurance round of maneuvering and re-supplying on ammo. There are also more levels and bosses that were added later in an expansion to the game.

This title set the expectations for essentially every FPS to come after it. Its central theme of pixelated hyper violence was not lost on censors, though it was not the Puritan crusaders who successfully banned the game. In Germany, any images that might be seen as glorifying Nazis are not allowed to be displayed anywhere, and this is what got Wolfenstein banned there, despite that the game is about killing those fascists. If you play it now, it’s apparent that it has not aged well, but it is not un-enjoyable for fans of the classics. At the very least, Wolfenstein 3D is a game worth examining for its impact on the gaming world.

Doom (PC, 1993)

Hot off the heels of their first major success, id Software once again created an amazing FPS experience in Doom. Assigned to an outpost on Mars as part of his punishment, the unnamed protagonist, a Space Marine (popularly called “Doomguy”) is working what is considered the dullest assignment imaginable. This does not remain the case, as experiments with teleportation on Mars go horribly wrong and summon demons from beyond. With the rest of his unit dead, the only thing our nameless Marine can do is fight [ 2 ].

Doom uses much of the same presentation as its predecessor, Wolfenstein, albeit with much improved graphics. The hero is basically not seen, except for his mug shot at the bottom center of the screen and the artwork on the cover of the retail box. From these we can gather that he is a muscular man with short hair and a rock-hard jawline. His Marine training is only conveyed through his ability to pick up any gun he finds and use it without issue. He will react to pain via his mugshot avatar, which will deteriorate into various stages of bruised and bloody the more health is lost.

The interface is simple and gritty looking. A gray background bar, looking like chipped asphalt or steel, is on the bottom of the screen with all the standard HUD information. Ammo, Health, Weapon quick buttons, Armor, indicators for Key Cards—which are needed to open doors, and an overall count on ammunition for each possible weapon. The game pause menu, presented in blood red font of the signature Doom style, has options for New Game, Options—or game settings, Load Game, Save Game, a Read This!—which was how you learned to order copies of Doom, and Quit Game. The options provide all that is needed, and have a nice, visceral artistic flare to them.

The mark that Doom left on the landscape has been unmistakable. It’s hardly surprising the classic has received a modern treatment.

Maps in Doom cover the fictional base and research labs on the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos. With 27 maps in total, the entire adventure takes quite a while, especially on higher difficulties where it’s much easier to die. The beginning areas resemble a combination of sci-fi military and research facilities, with rectangular and octagonal panels making up the walls and floors. Not all the lights work, some bright and some flickering, as you are essentially the only human left, so there is no maintenance crew to keep things in proper order. You can see the barren landscape of Phobos from several windows and viewports. When you make you way to the other moon, Deimos, it starts out much the same way, though portions of it start to reflect gothic architecture in its stonework and adornments, like brass skulls which replace regular switches. Progressing further, some walls and ceilings are replaced with flowing blood. The technology used seems to fuse with otherworldly demonic forces. If you are skilled enough to make it through the second moon, you then go to Hell itself. The landscape resembles human intestines in places, with several fortresses full of demons, stolen technology, and nightmare-fueled gothic visages. The sky is perpetually blood red. Elevators go up and down walls of twisting spines and torn flesh. The bricks that make up structures change from mottled gray to crimson, and there are occasional pools of lava. The layout of the maps and changes in the landscape serve to amp up the feel of the odds becoming ever worse for the hero, and they look damn cool.

There are many regular foes in Doom, and though the overall variety is not the largest, the danger presented by these enemies is increased by their numbers. Zombified Marines, wearing tattered clothes and stained with blood, will attack with rifles and shotguns. Imps, brown skinned demons with white spines jutting out from various places, will attempt melee attacks with said spikes. The larger red Demons, bipedal but feral looking with elongated mouths and classic demon horns, will charge toward the player at high speeds to bite him. Cacodemons, which resemble Beholders from D&D minus the eye stalks, and plus a whole bunch of spikes and red skin, will shoot blasts of energy from their eyes as they float through the air. The Lost Souls, floating skulls with horns that are perpetually on fire, will fly right at the player to ram him. While each of these foes is dangerous, the big boss demons are even more potent. The Barons of Hell, tall, satyr-like, red skinned demons, take a huge amount of punishment and launch big green blasts of energy from their hands, or will swing with their claws in melee range. Cyberdemons are towering goliaths, looking like demonic minotaurs with cybernetic enhancements, in particular a rocket launcher in place of its left arm. The final boss, known as the Spiderdemon, is a gigantic brain with eyes and a toothed maw, mounted atop cybernetic spider legs, with a giant chain gun mounted on the front. The 16-bit art for each foe is quite impressive, though stopping to admire them is ill-advised.

Doom was an even bigger success than Wolfenstein, and while both titles are practically household names for gamers, the original Doom still holds up today as a fast-paced and challenging FPS. It has an expansion that adds nine more maps, a sequel, and most recently a reboot. The hyper violence of Wolfenstein made its return here and, ironically enough, so too did the ban in Germany due to Nazi related material being in the game—specifically a hidden area that leads Doomguy into a level of Wolfenstein, complete with Nazis and their symbols. Doom was a landmark FPS that showed the industry what benchmarks all future FPS games could expect to be held to. Not so much in the gritty and dark setting (though that is also popular), but the challenge in surviving each encounter, strategizing on what weapons to use and where, navigating through a sometimes-maze-like map, keeping spatial awareness at all times, etc. It was these aspects of the gameplay combined with the fantastic and gore-centric graphics that made Doom more than someone’s gun power fantasy, but an actual well-made and challenging game.

Quake (1996, PC)

The third and final entry here for id Software and easily one of the most popular multiplayer games of all time, Quake is an all-new FPS experience with an all-new engine, aptly named the Quake engine, which offered full real-time 3-D rendering. The single player plot centers around a protagonist called the Ranger, voiced by Trent Reznor. The Ranger was sent to stop an unknown enemy, codenamed “Quake,” who have compromised experimental teleportation technology by hijacking it with their own [ 3 ].

As you might expect, you don’t see much of the protagonist, apart from his mugshot on the bottom of the screen and the gun he is holding. He has much of the same moves of his Wolfenstein and Doom predecessors, being able to run, strafe, and use basically any weapon he finds. His one big edge is the addition of jumping, something absent from the previous two id Software titles, and using the jump will be required to navigate some of the game spaces.

The interface is a streamlined version of the Wolfestein and Doom ones, with a similar setup on the bottom, with a bar background styled as a rusty console. You have Armor, Health, and Ammo counts, with weapon hotkeys over the top of this display that also shows ammo count for those weapons. Again, taking a lot of health damage will show the mugshot in various states of being beaten-up. The pause menu/main menu shows options for Single Player, Multiplayer, Options (game settings), Help—which shows the default key commands, and Quit. Quake has borrowed somewhat from the Doom font, but also added a stenciling style and painted it to resemble rusty metal. This interface has a decent artistic style and is different enough from Doom to make its own impression.

Quake features a sizable 32 single-player maps, split into four episodes. The majority of these maps feature stylized gothic themes and architecture, sometimes combined sci-fi elements. You’ll blast your way through castle-like structures with large wooden gates and blazing torches. There are bunker-like rooms made of steel and rivets, all rusted and old. There are blood etched runic glyphs around important doorways, and elevators and teleporters galore. On top of the architecture, stages will have their own hazards and traps to be avoided. The slight upgrade in graphics and the engine allows the entire experience to run smoothly and look both intense and intimidating.

Enemies in Quake, thanks to the new engine, move a lot faster and smoother than previous id Software titles, and have improved 3-D graphics to boot. Grunts act as the regular shock troops, with guns and low health, they provide the initial cannon fodder. Enforcers are slightly more armored, as their art reflects, and their armor is equipped with combat blasters. Regular knights, some kind of demon or zombie equipped with a sword, also provide little challenge, but their bigger brothers, Death Knights, are heavily armored and deal a good amount of damage with their massive blades. The brutish Ogres, though lightly armored, are massive and tough and wield a chainsaw and a bag of grenades. There are only three game bosses, though each one is a visage straight out of a Lovecraftian novel.

The first, Chthon, is a giant red demonic entity, with a face that is simply a vertical mouth with jagged teeth. His long arms end in giant pincers and the rest of his mass below the waist is submerged in lava. While he could no doubt tear Ranger apart in melee, he is thankfully stuck in his lava pit and can only hurl molten rocks. The second boss, Vore, walks on three legs like a tripodal spider, its flesh colored torso resembling something human but also not, its fanged maw taking up the entirety of its face. It fires a homing attack that manifests in a violet spiked pod that will explode on impact. The final boss, Shub-Niggurath, is a titanic mass of fleshy tentacles that curl up to the ceiling and spread along the floor. While it does not directly attack, it spawns hordes of enemies to kill the Ranger, whose only hope is to use the teleporter on the map in time with a floating spiked sphere to teleport his body directly into the boss and destabilize it. Every fight, from the lowest foe to the final boss, is very fast paced, requiring the kind of twitchy reaction time that many FPS players are known for.

Some inspiration from Doom can be seen in Quake, particularly the gory fashion in which combatants are dispatched. Being exploded, liquefied, or simply having one’s head blown off all mirror the hyper-violence of the famed demon killing FPS. Of course, Quake adds its own spin with its teleporters, and in particular its multiplayer, around which an entire tournament scene once thrived. While the game itself innovated a bit in terms of multiplayer FPS, it’s true gem lies in the Quake Engine, which has been used to create at least one other beloved FPS/RPG title in Hexen II. There have been a few expansions to the original Quake, and many sequels. While this series is mostly known for its multiplayer aspect, the single player campaigns are always worth exploring for their excellent graphics and fun game play.

Unreal Tournament (1999, PC)

Brought to us by Epic Games and Digital Extremes, Unreal Tournament is a somewhat fresh take on the FPS genre. This particular title’s focus is on multiplayer, though it does have a single-player campaign. The campaign setting is in a far-off future of humanity, where a single government rules over Earth. This government has legalized consensual murder under organized conditions in order to quell the unrest of its space miners. This spawned what is known as the Tournament, which grew into a professional bloodsport. This Tournament is what you play through, working your way up the ranks until you face and defeat the champion [ 4 ].

This time around, you have options for your gun toting avatar. You can play as a man or woman, and you can customize your head, armor, and voice options. On top of the armor styles, you can also change their color, creating a nice variety of player looks. Their movement and abilities don’t change, regardless of what you choose. You’ll be sprinting, strafing, and jumping around the various arena maps, picking up whatever guns you can find to combat your foes.

The HUD and interface are sparser this time around. You have your health and armor in the top right, next to a digital web representation of your body. On the bottom left is your kill count, important for death matches. To the right of this is the weapon hotkey bar, showing what weapons you currently have in sequential order. To the bottom right is the ammo count for the currently equipped weapon. The main menu is standard fair. You have Game—for choosing a new game, loading, saving, or setting game options; Multiplayer, Options—for controls, sound and the like, and Quit. Both are stylized in a futuristic, holo-screen manner, perfect for the setting and nice enough to look at.

There are many maps, and each map featured in the single player death matches are also available for play in multiplayer. The structure of each map is vastly different. Some are space stations or satellites, offering window views of deep space or the celestial body they orbit, with riveted steel and various high-tech looking consoles. There are arenas within city streets, riddled with graffiti, underneath towering skyscrapers, or even atop them. There are underground bunkers and sewers, and even fortresses built upon asteroids. The level of thought and detail put into the art design of each map is amazing, and while some of them are plainer than others, they none the less capture the eye and the imagination [ 5 ].

Enemies in single player are, well, you, for all intents and purposes. The bots control an avatar not unlike your own, which can do everything you can do, if perhaps a bit faster and with better aim. Every level of this arena play becomes more difficult, the bots’ AI increasing in its ability to grab the right items before you, and to properly maneuver around your attacks and movements. At a point it becomes a more difficult one-on-one match than a regular player could offer—though a long-time pro would still be more challenging.

Unreal attempted to take what had already been accomplished with Quake and innovate it again, but it unfortunately fell a bit short of that goal. It’s not an un-fun game by any means, but it simply doesn’t have enough of its own charm to draw an audience away from the already established juggernauts of FPS. The Unreal Engine, however, has been improved and widely used for many games, taking off running, so to speak, where the Quake engine had stumbled. Deus Ex, Rune, Bioshock, and Batman: Arkham Ayslum are just some of the titles that have been produced using the Unreal Engines 1-3. So, while the premier game for this engine may not have been the best, gaming as a whole has much to be thankful for when it comes to Unreal.

Rise of the Triad (1994, PC)

Going back in time, we come to a game by Apogee Software, now known as 3D Realms. Rise of the Triad is the story of a spec ops team known as the HUNT (High-risk United Nations Task-force). They are sent to San Nicolas Island to investigate reports of cult activity. They soon learn that the cult plans to destroy Los Angeles, and it’s up to these special agents to stop them.

When you start up a new game, you can choose between five playable characters, all agents of HUNT, each with their own set of stats. Taradino Cassatt, a blonde, tanned skin man, has average stats all around in speed, accuracy, and health. Doug Wendt, an African-American man, has slower movement speed, good accuracy, and high health. Lorelei Ni, a Chinese woman, is very fast with high accuracy, but low health. Thi Barret, a Scottish woman, has high speed, good accuracy, and average health. Lastly, Ian Paul Freely, a European-Mediterranean man, has medium speed, good aim, and high health. Each character also boasts their own voice actor, though the acting is limited to in-game combat animations like being hit. It should be noted that some of the weapons that can be found in this game are rather insane. Like the Excalibat, a baseball bat that will cause a line of explosions with one swing, and the Drunken Missiles, which fly out of the launcher in random directions five at a time. There are also character power ups like God Mode, which makes the player invulnerable and grants them ultimate destructive power for a short period. There is also the aptly named Dog Mode, which also makes the player invulnerable for a short time, but in the form of a face-destroying dog [ 6 ]

The general game look is very reminiscent of Doom and Wolfenstein. This is because it was originally intended to be a sequel to Wolfenstein 3D that was scrapped by id Software and picked up by Apogee. It uses an enhanced version of the Wolf 3D engine, essentially putting it on par graphically with the original Doom, but with a few improvements. In the case of the HUD, it’s been broken up into two smaller bars, one on top and one on bottom to mimic letterbox styled movies. In the top bar you have Score, Time, Keys, Character name and mug, Extra Lives, and percentage to next extra life. On the bottom bar, we see health, indicated by a heart and a green bar next to it, then an ammo indicator to the far right. It’s simple and to the point, though artistically it could have used a little more polish.

Rise of the Triad boasts 32 levels, though 4 of them are secret levels that require finding the secret path to them. The setting is the island base of the destructive cult, the maps showcasing an often chaotic design. It’s not that the maps don’t follow typical pathing, more that their textures are a grab bag of artwork. Sometimes the floors are a kind of red cobblestone, with variances of gray or red brick walls, or sometimes gray stained red, with randomly placed elevators and ventilation, despite there being no ceiling. The symbol of the cult shows up often, etched in special blocks that resemble small shipping containers. The amount of red in the scenery becomes overwhelming at a point, and it looks like the map designers were going too hard for a gritty feeling. Some of the maps are absurdly large, and it can take quite a long time to find all the necessary keys to make it out. These things don’t make the maps impossible to enjoy, but perhaps only enjoyable in a limited way.

Some of the enemies in Rise of the Triad look like re-skinned Nazis from Wolfenstein. They feature the signature helmets and arm bands, though the swastika is replaced with the cult symbol and the coats come in different colors. Most of these types of foes aren’t too tough to take down. But then we have the more unique and esoteric foes like the Deathfire Monks, men dressed in traditional European monk robes, which have very high health and shoot fireballs at the hero. Patrol robots, which resemble a pressure cooker with a periscope attached, and patrol a set path looking for enemies, and launch exploding disks. The bosses of this game are very over the top. General Darian, whose uniform resembles that of a Cuban dictator, and fights with a rocket launcher. Sebastian Krist, movie maker turned mad man, battles from atop his floating combat throne, which shoots missiles. The NME, a giant robot that looks like an evil, gunmetal black version of R2-D2, launches exploding disks and heat seeking missiles. The final boss, El Oscuro, appears as a monk at first, floating through the air in his plain brown robes, then transforms into a giant man-headed snake. The art design of foes, particularly the bosses, is intentionally absurd, and it makes the game all the better for it.

On the whole, one needs to be aware that Rise of the Triad contains a good deal of whimsical silliness inside of its gritty atmosphere. The game designers clearly did not mind if their game was absurd in as many ways as possible. There are a few sequels, and most recently a remake of the original was published in 2013. It has a slightly different aesthetic than the classic title, but the advanced graphics make it much easier to look at, as well as the additional colors. I have a little trouble trying to figure out what to say about this game. It’s both epic and completely bonkers, going places that most FPSs of the time just didn’t go. It certainly fulfills a power fantasy with its varied super-strong weapons, though I’m not sure who’s power fantasy involves becoming an invincible murdering dog. It’s certainly different.

Half-Life (1998, PC)

The infamous Half Life series, brought to the world by then-newcomer Valve. This game is the story of MIT graduate and silent protagonist Gordon Freeman. During an experiment at the Black Mesa research facility, a portal to an alternate dimension is accidentally opened and alien life forms invade the facility. Gordon must fight to stay alive and find a way to seal the portal back up [ 7 ].

Gordon himself appears as a middle-aged man, wearing glasses and a specially designed Hazardous Environment suit. The HEV suit gives him the ability to withstand a good deal of punishment, as well as notifications about his health and the environment around him. While he is not a soldier or trained fighter of any kind, Gordon’s intellect enables him to quickly learn how to wield firearms, and his apparently iron resolve makes him the only man who can fix what has gone wrong at Black Mesa.

Valve took an interesting approach to Half-Life’s interface. The HUD is barely there, showing only what is absolutely necessary. You can see health and suit energy—which is used for the built in flashlight on the bottom left of the screen in orange font, and weapon load and ammo remaining on the bottom right. When switching between weapons, you’ll see the toggle appear at the top left, and disappear once a weapon is selected. It’s a very nice design overall, leaving lots of space for the action on screen.

Not even Half-Life, as long awaited as it’s been, has escaped the reimagining. Even though its original graphics were significantly less dated than its predecessors.

The maps in Half-Life don’t really act in typical FPS level fashion. While there are markers for save points that mark episodic ends, the Black Mesa facility is essentially one long, connected map with very short loading sections in between certain spots. This makes it feel more like an open world game despite its linear approach. You’ll start out with nothing but a crowbar, crawling your way through tight spaces and ducts as you attempt to get out of the special research chamber and find the other scientists. This quickly escalates into a full exploration of the Black Mesa facility. A great many of the environments will resemble a modern-day research site, or at least a movie depiction of one, with long metallic corridors, different wings for different kinds of experiments, lounge areas, transport rails, ventilation shafts, giant machinery and so on. Nothing about the art style of the game is overly bright or too dark, striking a good balance between the two. Eventually you’ll visit the alien landscape of Xen, the alternate dimension from which the alien invaders hail. The inside of Xen looks like several platforms suspended somewhere in space, with strange flora and twisting cavernous tunnels. It’s a strange place to be sure and is only made so by its excellent design.

The alien foes of Half-Life are also strange. The somewhat harmless but still threatening Headcrabs are the first to be fought, looking like fleshy, four-legged crabs with mouths dead center on the underside of their bodies. When they successfully attach to a host, like a human, these Headcrabs take over the host body and turn it into a ravenous monster, typically called a Zombie, that attacks anything it sees. There are slave aliens known as the Vortigaunt, an insect-like race that are bipedal with green skin and a single, giant red eye on their face, and an energy attack that can strike from afar. The giant alien Barnacle, a fleshy pod with an impossibly long sticky tongue. This tongue is used to grasp onto its prey and pull it all the way up into its maw. The hulking Alien Grunts have vertical mouths and pincer like arms, one of them being a gun that shoots seeking hornets. The creativity of these baddies is quite impressive, and this also holds true for the game bosses. The mighty armored shell of the Gargantua, a blue skinned, massive, bipedal monster, is impossible to penetrate with firearms, and instead must be lured into a power station where the electric discharge finally destroys it. When Gordon makes it to Xen, he hunts down the formidable Gonarch, the original mother of all Headcrabs. It moves on massive four crab-like legs, quickly skittering away from Gordon as it launches out baby Headcrabs from its large sack to damage and distract him. The final game boss, Nihilanth, mastermind behind the invading Xen forces, resembles a massive and deformed human fetus. In his lair, he attacks Gordon with energy balls, one dealing massive damage, and the other teleporting the hero into trap rooms containing his minions. Witnessing these bosses in action is truly captivating; defeating them is no easy feat.

Half-Life has enjoyed amazing success in the form of an expansion, a sequel, miniature sequels to that sequel, and an updated engine reboot. Its success can be, at least partly, attributed to how it changed the typical FPS formats. It doesn’t rely on hyper violence or constant action, instead taking a path of a less blood and gore (though blood isn’t completely gone), and a lot of exploration and puzzle solving in between sections of firefights. The classic game’s graphic art has aged very well, although it’s not that far removed, and its gameplay remains solid and enjoyable.

Counter Strike (2000, PC)

A current powerhouse in the FPS world, Counter Strike started out as a simple mod for Half Life. The mod creators were hired by Valve and their IP rights were acquired so that it could be made into a stand-alone game experience. Counter Strike is a strictly multiplayer FPS that pits a team of terrorists against a team of counter terrorists. It features a few game modes and several maps to keep things interesting [ 8 ].

The characters of Counter Strike resemble modern day police, soldiers, and special forces members on the Counter Terrorist side. On the Terrorist side, they sometimes look like soldiers, and other times like private security or mercenaries. Regardless of the team, each player has the same capabilities as the other, the only difference being in purchasable items on the setup/load out screen before each match begins. CT side has sleeker guns like the M4 rifle or the Bullpup, while T side has access to the AK-47 and the Krieg 552. The various guns have their own stats like damage, recoil, ammo count, magazine size and so on to differentiate them.

The most popular game mode in CS is bomb defusal. The T side plants a bomb in location A or B, then the CT side must try to diffuse the bomb before the timer runs out or kill everyone on T side before the bomb can be planted. There is also Hostage Rescue, where CT side has a limited time to rescue hostages, while T side defends them. The third mode, rarely played, is Assassination, where one of the players on CT side is chosen as a VIP and must be escorted to the designated point before time runs out. T side, obviously, is trying to kill this VIP before he can make it to the location, but they can also win by running out the clock. All three of these game modes require a good amount of teamwork and coordination to be successful, regardless of which side you are playing on.

A good deal of the art design talent went into making sure the guns in the game closely resembled their real-world counterparts, and to that extent the designers succeeded with flying colors. They also made several fantastic maps, set in various real-world locations like Havana, Cuba, Italy, a 747, an Oil Rig, an Airstrip, and an unknown middle eastern town called Dust 2, the most played map in all of Counter Strike. Each map’s texture work and consideration for real world architecture is fantastic, though if you are going to play the game you will mostly be playing on Dust 2, but that’s fine! You’ll still be able to enjoy the artist’s depiction of that well balanced map.

The Counter Strike series has had several sequels, its latest being CS: Global Offensive. It is played in the highest echelons of competitive e-sports to this day, and it is a game that even non-gamers find fascinating to watch. For the players, Counter Strike’s attempts to depict a real-world scenario, and to lean the game’s mechanics towards as much of a realistic scenario as possible is what attracts them to it. It doesn’t rely on gore, or campiness, or anything else, apart from tight coding and realistic settings. From the standpoint of game play and graphics, it deserves a place among the very best.

This extensive look back into the history of FPS was at times a strain on the eyes, as one can only take so many brightly colored bricks of any kind, but on a whole, there is a lot to be said about how well these older games developers were able to accomplish what they did with the limited tools they had. Through dedication to their artistic desires and their incredibly smooth implementation of game mechanics, not to mention the innovative Unreal engine, they earned their place in gaming history.


  1. “From the classic Nazi-splattering camp fanfare, to more modern reimaginings, the name ‘Wolfenstein’ has an unmistakable ring to it.” Wolfenstein 3D. iD Software. 1992. PC.  Wolfenstein: The New Order. Bethesda Softworks. 2014. PC.
  2. “The Mark that Doom left on the landscape has been unmistakable. It’s hardly surprising the classic has received a modern treatment.” Doom. iD Software.1993. PC. Bethesda Softworks. Doom. 2013. PC.
  3. “Not even Half-Life, as long awaited as it’s been, has escaped the reimagining. Even though its original graphics were significantly less dated than its predecessors.”
    Half-Life. Valve. 1998. PC. Half-Life: Alyx. Valve. 2020. PC and VR.

A man of many talents, Clayton has worn several hats. His work focuses on visual mediums like film and gaming. A practiced martial artist and a graduate of Johnson and Wales University with a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design & New Media, he brings both tactile experience and academic credentials as measures of his considerable expertise. Clayton is both Manager of Steam-Funk’s core writing staff and part of the firm’s senior creative team, helping craft both The Living Multiverse and firm policy.


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  8. Steam Staff. “Counter-Strike.” Steam, Steam, store.steampowered.com/app/10/CounterStrike/. Accessed 10 January, 2020.