Coming on the back of 2007, which saw the release of two of the biggest hits ever in the shooter genre – Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, 2008 had a tough act to follow. While gamers were spoiled for choice with a slew of top notch shooters this year, the quality and staying power of most of them remain to be seen. Let us run through the long list.
Gears of War 2
The sequel to one of the Xbox 360’s most beloved exclusives released to excellent reviews and astounding sales. Epic Games had one catch phrase to promote the sequel, “Bigger, Better and more Badass”, and they delivered on this promise in spades. Epic focused on refining and improving the proven “cover shooter” mechanics of the original Gears of War and using the latest version of Unreal Engine 3, Gears of War 2 had it all; spell binding graphics, thumping sound, tight gameplay and fun multiplayer, including the ability to play out the whole campaign with a friend over Xbox LIVE or splitscreen on the same console. In addition to all this, they also managed to squeeze in a semblance of a storyline and an unexpected, but welcome dose of emotion into the single player campaign. Improved gameplay mechanics like chainsaw duels, meat shields, crawling when downed, and portable shields, coupled with new weapons like the flamethrower, gorgon pistol, mortar and minigun as well as the unbelievably fun new multiplayer game mode called Horde have ensured that Gears of War 2 has firmly stamped its name on 2008.
Another sequel, promising all ’round improvements over the first title, only this time exclusive to a different platform. Resistance 2 was the most hotly anticipated shooter on the PS3 this year and the finished product certainly was way better than the first game. Good graphics, a nice selection of weapons, some truly gigantic Godzilla-scale bossses and a frenetic pace in the single player campaign ensured a fun time for all who boarded this ride. The team at Insomniac even managed to craft a dedicated 8 player co-op mode with specific maps and missions, showing the serious thought and effort into improving the community experience of the game. The much touted 60 player multiplayer modes made a debut as promised and are tremendous fun to play, especially since multiplayer of this scale hasn’t been done on consoles before. All of this ensures that Resistance 2 stands out as an all ’round great game that every PS3 owner should play.
Take the plethora of games and movies involving zombies, shake out all the fluff like story, emotion, justification, etc. and only concentrate on what the fun aspect is – killing zombies. The end result is Left4Dead, the eagerly awaited new title from Valve, the makers of the Half-Life series. L4D places you in the shoes of one of four survivors of a zombie infestation and forces you to work as a team with the three other survivors to shoot your way out of the area and towards rescue. The game was designed from the ground up to be played co-operatively and it shows throughout the game. The other survivors can be controlled by your friends over Steam or Xbox LIVE or system link (splitscreen option is also available for two players). In the absence of human friends, they are controlled by some amazingly intelligent AI bots, who are often better than humans at aiming, shooting or healing. With 4 maps (called movies in the game) and an enemy randomisation AI called “The Director”, Valve has ensured that no two replays will ever be the same. With the inclusion of a versus mode allowing participants to play as either the Survivors or the Infected zombies, L4D offers a fun twist in the twisted among us.
Also read: IndianVideoGamer Year in Review: Handhelds
Call of Duty: World at War
After the record breaking release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the series returned to World War II in its latest installment. Built using the CoD4 engine, World at War delivers a visceral, engaging experience that is every bit as good as CoD4. Some excellent set pieces coupled with the strong scripting that is the series’ trademark, WaW sucks you in and keeps you hooked for the duration of its campaign that has you fighting as American and Russian allied forces. In a first for the series, the game allows you to complete the campaign co-operatively with a friend, which is a nice touch. The endearing multiplayer modes from CoD4 are refreshed in WaW with more and better perks and some inspired special attacks like releasing a pack of attack dogs on the opposing players if you manage to get several kills in a row without dying. Available in its primary avatar on all three major platforms (PC, X360, PS3), WaW is one of the “must play” titles of 2008.
For a publisher infamous for sequelitis, EA took two huge leaps of faith (*wink*) this year with Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space. Clearly inspired by games like Resident Evil 4 and Doom 3 and with more than a little homage to the disturbing flick Event Horizon, Dead Space managed to stand out as an excellent game. With a constantly prevalent sense of foreboding, super creepy atmosphere, superb enemy design, excellent audio and an interesting backstory, Dead Space manages to draw the player into the whole experience. Incorporating RPG elements like armour and weapon upgrades, limited inventory space and ammo supply, Dead Space forces the player to be judicious in his choices regarding weapon preference and spending upgrade points. With some truly inspired level design incorporating deep space staples like zero gravity and traversing the exterior of the ship, Dead Space crafts a compelling gameplay experience that you will be remiss if you skip out on.
Battlefield: Bad Company
The latest instalment in the long running and respected online multiplayer war series sets itself apart from its predecessors with the inclusion of a full fledged single player campaign in order to draw in more newbies to the series. But that doesn’t mean, they gimped the multiplayer component, because that is still very much the object of the developer’s affection. Built using its in house Frostbite engine, the game features incredible environment and object destruction. Walls, doors, floors, ceilings, trees, terrain, pretty much everything you see on screen can be blown to bits, lending the game a whole new tactical angle not present in its peers. With gigantic maps, a variety of driveable vehicles ranging from jeeps to choppers, controllable artillery, and a truly huge variety of weapons, Bad Company is an online MP addict’s wet dream.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Few games have managed to create and maintain the atmosphere of dread like the Condemned series. The sequel carries on the story from the first game and improves on the solid foundation established by it. With the best melee combat engine this side of Riddick, superb voice acting (Greg Grunberg (Matt Parkman) of Heroes fame voices the main character), an engaging storyline and unapologetically gory graphics, Condemned 2 is a game that every fan of mature themes should play.
Far Cry 2
After taking over the reigns of Far Cry from Crytek, Ubisoft had big shoes to fill; and they went out and got a bigger size. Built using the new Duniya engine, Far Cry 2 is a visual masterpiece regardless of platform (PC, X360, PS3). Lush jungle foliage, vast draw distances, detailed character models and animation, day night cycles, and an incredible physics engine all combine to create the living breathing world of Far Cry 2’s Africa. The sequel carries on the original’s open ended design philosophy allowing the player to achieve objectives using several different methods, but thankfully, “all guns blazing” is a very viable approach. The sequel is much more grounded in reality with weapons that jam, break or explode if used excessively, a map + GPS combination for navigation, realistic looking treatments for injury (you have to see the treatment for bullet wounds to believe it). With a longer than normal single player campaign and the usual clutch of multiplayer modes, Far Cry 2 will not disappoint the inner shooter junkie in us all.
It’s a standalone expansion to the best PC game of 2007, but Crysis Warhead takes what made Crysis great and amplifies it off the scale. In our review of Warhead, we termed it the energy drink equivalent of gaming. No other game in this line-up delivers the unadulterated joy of first person shooting like Warhead. You play Psycho, Nomad’s squad mate, who takes off on a branching mission in the first game. Warhead details what Psycho was up to during the period of separation in the first game. For all intents and purposes, Psycho is a much better character to play than Nomad and is appropriately menacing and cocky given the superhuman abilities granted by the Nanosuit. While Warhead doesn’t do any favours to your PC rig, if it’s capable of running the game, you will be treated to the best looking game available in the market, across any platform. If you are a shooter fan, you owe it to yourself to play Warhead (preferably after you’ve played Crysis).
There were several other shooters released during the year, including Fracture with its innovative terrain deformation gimmick and Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, the sequel to the well received original. But the titles detailed above are some of the best of the crop and are well worth looking into for shooter fans.
In 2009, we’ll have the big daddy of PS3 shooters, Killzone 2 releasing in February. March will see the debut of the Resident Evil series on next-gen consoles in the form of RE5 (it’s a shooter, kids; better believe it). Gamers should also gear up for the next instalment of the Halo franchise in the form of Halo: Recon (or whatever they name it next) and of course, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. So there should be plenty to keep the shooter fans among us well stocked.