Jetpacks are fun, aren't they? It seemed inevitable we'd finally get a game built around flying free as a bird. That game came in the form of Dark Void, developed by Airtight Games (also known for Quantum Conundrum and the upcoming Soul Suspect).
While a number of the game's weapons and assets changed over the course of development, the core focus on dogfights similar to Star Wars: Rogue Squadron remained the same.
Dark Void was the harshest critically received game on this list, receiving a mediocre scores from most news outlets, many criticizing the bland on-foot sections, limited campaign, and lackluster storytelling. One thing most critics agreed on though was that the actual jetpack mechanics and all combat scenarios utilizing the jetpack were outstanding experiences.
With the added bonus of the Survivor Missions DLC pack that adds a challenge mode focused purely on the best parts of the game, it's still worth consideration if you want to see what could have been. The flight mechanics are still impressive to see in action, and hopefully the ideas behind them will be revived by another developer for PS4 and Xbox One.
First person shooters have run out of ideas, you say? Well, not in the case Syndicate's 2012 reboot by Starbreeze (also known for The Darkness, Brothers, and Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay). Instead we got a distinctive cooperative shooter experience that presented one of the most aggressive shooter/RPG-lite games for 360, PC, and PS3. It could have been another break out title for EA; except for the small problem that almost no one played it.
A combination of way too limited marketing, a lackluster (and altogether unnecessary if still fairly polished) single-player campaign, the removal of the competitive component due to time constraints, and angry fans of the normally isometric shooter series all combined to make Syndicate's release more of a silent puff than an explosive hit. Rumors have also swirled that the title was originally considered as an open world title, suggesting even more changes in design and development. Despite all these problems, the game was received average to above average reception from critics.
The strength for Syndicate lies in it's multiplayer co-op mode. It features nine missions from the original Syndicate, rebuilt with modern tastes in mind. In addition to highly aggressive AI, the game gives players an armory of breaches, tactics, and fully upgradable weapons to play around with.
Perhaps you want an armor piercing semi-automatic sniper rifle with a virus that damages and spreads amongst your opponents while you raise an overshield on each of your teammates. Maybe you go with the burst fire pistol, self-revive ability, and EMP so you can swoop in, grab an objective, stun all enemies, and be gone before they can even hit you. Instead of requiring players fit into traditional Tank/Healer/DPS/Buff roles, you use what works best for you and your allies can make up the difference. The game's various difficulties also change enemy spawns and behavior instead of just giving your opponents larger health bars.
One other notable aspect for those tired of Gears of War style of grit is the game's attempt to combine Mirror's Edge's high contrast color palette with an almost Goth-like sensibility to character design. Instead of war torn cities and grunting military men, you're in slick high rise corporate buildings fighting UAV drones, automated turrets, and riot police. Every location is made to be distinctive and features it's own specific theme.
While the PC community is all but dead, there are still active fans on PS3 and Xbox 360 who play the multiplayer. There has been no DLC released for the game, although Starbreeze is still apparently working on a new Free to Play experience called Cold Mercury that may take some inspirations from Syndicate. While singe-player fans have only average fair to look forward to, co-op fans would benefit from giving this title a look before EA cuts the plug on the servers.
While Metro: Last Light has taken the post-apocalyptic franchise to new heights, a lot of gamers (especially those on PS3) missed out on the original Metro 2033. It's got more bugs and some serious design changes than Last Light, but it also offers are far more genuinely harrowing experience for 360 and PC gamers. Even on Normal, there are some scenarios that reach Silent Hill level of "oh my gosh how am I going to survive this?"
Stealth options are more problematic so those who played through Last Light first on a stealth run will have problems here depending on whether you used silenced weapons or knives. Despite those issues, the game feels far more visceral and far less cleanly handled like Last Light. It feels genuinely like you are clawing for every inch of life, so those wanting a more authentic, less shooter-y experience should definitely try the original.
I have to give full disclosure for this one: I am actually in the "Thank You" credits for this one (right at the end, I'm "Paradigm"). I was a fan of it back when less than a thousand people knew it existed in ModDB. So if that at all worries you about my bias towards this, fear not, it's actually become fairly popular on it's own right (and was even reviewed by Game Informer), and I'm still openly critical of the things it could have done better. With that out of the way...
Tiny and Big: Grandpa's Leftovers will remind you of the time when game developers just took an idea and ran with it. It is an unconventional game looking purely to it's own designs rather than trying to fit in any particular genre. At it's most basic, it's a puzzle platformer, but with three core mechanics instead of just one gimmick.
You can cut almost anything with your laser, you can drag almost anything with your hook claw, and you can propel almost anything with a rocket. You can make your own bridges, platforms, or knock aside walls in your way to progress. With a custom made physics engine built for the game, it's almost a miniature sandbox of options. Despite a linear progression through the campaign, every level hides secrets and can be solved multiple ways. At one point near the game's end, I was able to just use my knowledge of the game to bypass a puzzle and it all continued to run properly.
Tiny & Big: Grandpa's Leftovers is the sort of game for people who really want a fresh experience, even if it's still got bugs and little slip ups due to the nature of it's freedom. Checkpoints can sometimes be unforgiving, your response time can be pushed to the limit in some boss fights, and the physics can get wonky if you do something -really- off the wall.
It's also a great game for indie music enthusiasts. One of the things you collect in the game is the game's excellent soundtrack, with some songs hidden in places most games wouldn't even let you access. Combined with a more meta-story about ancient gods you can only uncover through thorough exploration and some hilarious moments the developers have for certain playstyles, there's a hefty amount of replayability for collectors.
If any of this catches your interest, it's worth at least a try of the game's Steam demo. Considering the fairly low requirements for playing it on PC, Mac, and Linux, it's probably the second least stressful game on PC hardware on this list, so even primarily console gamers can give it a shot.
In case Metro 2033 wasn't bleak enough a game for you, there's one option sure to both test your trigger finger and your moral stamina. Spec Ops: The Line is one of the darkest shooters available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. 2K took a leap of faith that gamers would appreciate Yager's reboot of the Spec Ops franchise. However, sales barely broke one million, and even after being released on Playstation Plus, the game still hasn't reached a lot of gamers' radar.
You'll survive through a sandstorm plagued near-future Dubai as Captain Walker, a member of a Delta Force squad that gets pushed to the brink as they go to hell and back. What starts as a recon mission turns into all out war as your morals and skills are both put to the test. Do you choose to kill a fellow soldier to keep yourself hidden or do you let them live? Is it the civilian or the corrupt soldier who pays the price for justice? Are you even human anymore? Is this even reality?
Those expecting a traditional shooter experience need drop those expectations by the door upon entering Spec Ops: The Line. Beyond the brooding narrative, it offers a far more tactically styled control scheme. The shooting puts emphasis the player's aim over auto-aim assisting every shot while strongly encouraging assigning targets to your squad so you can focus on the most pressing hostiles. The campaign, while short, has branching choices decided by gameplay preference over simple "good or evil" decisions. Failing one style of play may result in total failure for the alternative as well but the game continues on all the same. The game's multiple endings also give you a dramatic level of control for how the finale plays out. Last but not least, the game features a brilliant PC port that can scale to many different rigs.
The multiplayer was a wash due to the cumbersome nature of progression and the lack of content for both competitive and cooperative missions, but did feature the unique focus on using line of sight and squad tactics to succeed over super human abilities and magic knifing moves. If you had the right mindset, it could be a rewarding if still completely average experience, sitting somewhere between a squad shooter for co-op and a stealth shooter for the competitive multiplayer.
Horror games often have trouble keeping players afraid when sequels arrive. FEAR 3 all but gives up on being a terrifying game in it's singe-player, but Day 1 Studios managed to craft something special with it's multiplayer. Despite most horror fans being doubtful of genuine horror working well in multiplayer, FEAR 3 managed to deliver thanks to it's tense modes. While Soul King was just a twist on Deathmatch, every other mode is built around some super natural element beyond the player's control while utilizing aspects such as mid-wave pauses to build tension.
Contractions took horde mode but added visual blocking fog, unyielding enemies, limited means of acquiring supplies needed to survive, and Alma's spirit meddling with players by blinding them and teleporting them across the map.
F***ing Run prevents players from retreating and makes every shot count as you desperately attempt to escape the coming wall of death that grows louder and makes your screen turn grey the closer it gets.
Soul Survivor turns one of your own against you and as they eliminate your squad, your former allies become new enemies. By the end of a match, there can be only one player remaining, fleeing from three player controlled spirits possessing enemies and trying to consume the player's soul.
It was an innovative approach to multiplayer with fresh ideas. Similarly the game's cooperative play added in a number of new ideas to traditional shooters by letting players be the ghost of Paxton Fettel, letting you toy with levitating enemies, possessing foes, and guarding your partner as he slows down time for you.
While the campaign lacked the genuine intensity of the other multiplayer modes, it still took a number of risks with the franchise. Abandoning some of the traditional systems didn't pan out as well, but the new ideas presented took the series otherwise standard TDM, CTF, KOTH style multiplayer and spun it on its head.
It was exceptional for all the things you wouldn't expect a horror game to stand out for, but sold so poorly that Day 1 is now all but a skeleton crew. While the game's public servers are fairly vacant, the game has a loyal cult following, and is definitely worth looking up for co-op fans and those who'd like to see more experimental attempts at creating horror games.
Here's one that really slipped you by unless you're a frequent browser of Steam's indie offerings. Gunpoint, is "A 2D stealth game about rewiring things and punching people". Imagine Inspector Gadget as a crime noir with just as much camp and silliness but with the added bonus getting to make chain reactions and a wealth of hilarious dialogue choices between missions.
The game has a demo that lets you try the first few missions freely, and the final game comes with a level editor. While the rewiring mechanic can take getting used to, the game feels very natural and offers an experience you really can't get elsewhere. It can run on basically anything, so if you have a computer, it's worth checking out. It should be noted though that the level editor doesn't have Steam Workshop support yet, so you have to manually get new levels from fellow fans of the game, but otherwise it's a great time.
Warhammer 40K Space Marine is a game that sounds too good to be true. A game that beautifully hybrids brawling mechanics with third person shooting that works great in single-player and multiplayer. Not only all this, but a game accurately representing the Warhammer 40K universe, and it was developed by a studio known only for strategy games before it's release. Yet somehow Relic pulled it off.
Despite being critically lauded, retaining an active fanbase, and some decent DLC expansion packs all seemed to be in the game's favor, most players I meet haven't even heard of the game or expected it to be "just another shooter". It is anything but ordinary.
You can transition from brutal melee kills to shooting off all manner of weaponry from Heavy Bolters to Laser Cannons with an ease and grace that contrasts perfectly with the otherwise grim and gritty science fiction setting. Warhammer 40K was one of the dark science fiction settings that existed long before Gears, and owns it's distinctive take on the setting with sincerity. This is a world of eternal war and insane scale as men in hulking suits do battle with thousands of space hill-billy like Orks and demons from nether regions of Hell.
The art direction is just like the miniatures from the role playing game, the voice acting is Hollywood grade, the characters all feel like they belong in this world, and the levels inspire awe in the scale of their designs and the game's many attempts to break the traditional "running down a corridor" shooter mold. There is a clear style and tone to the world that it just revels in it.
This is a game that loves it's universe and wants nothing more than to be the epic power fantasy of being an Ultramarine. This even transitions to the game's numerous multiplayer options, giving both Marine versus Marine combat and Marines versus Environment combat options for every fan. The multiplayer features three distinct classes with each filling a distinctive role and their own weapons to choose from. The game gives a huge leg up in accessibility by letting you copy any player's loadout, regardless of your level, if they kill you.
Once you've had enough fun beating on opposing teams of marines, you can take your friends into the game's dungeon crawler -inspired horde mode. Four marines enter, no Orks are left alive as you rely on team tactics and powers to hold back the unending waves of enemies across multiple linked maps that have different environmental bonuses and layouts. If you survive until the final map, the game ups the difficulty again and gives you bonus waves of Chaos Marines that will push you to the limit.
There is so much on offer in a single package, it's disappointing to realize that with THQ's closure, the planned sequels will never see the light of day. The one major negative as a result is that the game ends on a cliffhanger for the campaign's progatonist Captain Titus. The multiplayer has an unfortunate amount of progression padding as some levels don't even unlock new equipment for no reason. Regardless though, it is a worthwhile game and not something you want to overlook as a fan of either brawlers or shooters.