The shooter is a genre that seems simple on its face. You have a gun. You shoot things. And the player with quicker, more accurate aiming usually wins any duel.
That’s certainly true of some shooters, such as Call Of Duty and Halo, but there are others which place an emphasis on teamwork and make a skilled solo player almost worthless. Here are five shooters perfect for a squad of friends that want to test their mind as well as their trigger-finger.
The ARMA series frankly isn’t the best line of large-scale tactical shooters to hit the market, but the problems that hound ARMA have more to do with bugs than with gameplay. A quick search of YouTube provides plenty of hits for “ARMA 3 bugs” and while the results are hilarious to watch, they can be a bit frustrating in-game.
Once you get over the glitches, however, you’ll discover a title that boasts impressive scope and depth. The game focuses on large-scale combat, so it offers an in-game draw distance of up to twenty kilometers and support for 60 vs. 60 battles. Yet it also scales down to provide small-squad battles including two player co-op. ARMA tries to be the only game a tactical shooter fan needs, and it’d probably be successful if the developers were better at squashing bugs.
Community is a strong part of ARMA 3’s draw. Players have flocked to the series, so there are plenty of groups to join for coordinated large-scale combat. There’s a flourishing mod community, too, which adds to the game’s long-term value.
ARMA 3 is $60 on Steam.
Rainbow Six Series
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six is the oldest tactile shooter franchise still active; the original was released in 1998. Over the years the game has been refined and dumbed-down, but the basic mechanics of strong tactile gameplay remain intact. This is a game you can play with a couple of half-drunk buddies, yet it’s also deep enough to offer a fresh experience.
The franchise, like any, has had its ups and downs. Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield (PC version only) is the high point of “old-school” Rainbow Six gameplay, which includes a mission planning stage and very unforgiving combat. This is a great title to play solo, as it has a strong campaign, but it also supports co-op for up to eight players and competitive play.
Players who want a more modern experience should check out Rainbow Six Vegas (for PC or console). This drops the mission planning stage but retains excellent gunplay and a focus on using tactics to out-wit opponents. Co-op play for up to four is supported, and console gamers can play split-screen.
Rainbow Six 3 Gold, which includes the game’s expansions, is $9.99 on Steam. Rainbow Six Vegas typically sells for about twelve bucks on console, or just $4.99 on PC.
SWAT 3 And SWAT 4
Rainbow Six wasn’t the only tactical shooter franchise of its era. There was another, lesser known series called Police Quest which began as a detective game (the first debuted in 1987) but eventually evolved into SWAT, an intense tactile shooter.
SWAT, like Rainbow Six, focuses on small-scale tactical situations that usually take place indoors. However, because players are put in the role of police rather than the military’s Special Forces, SWAT emphasizes non-lethal tactics and the protection of civilian hostages. This raises the stakes, as you have to proceed carefully to complete objectives without undue loss of life.
SWAT 3 and its sequel, SWAT 4, received praise for their relentless pursuit of realism. The developers consulted with the LAPD and put painstaking detail into the way each weapon is modeled and operates. Players can choose different attachments and even different ammo; some rounds can penetrate body arm with ease, but they can also penetrate objects and potentially kill unseen civilians.
Both games support co-op for up to five players along with obligatory competitive play. SWAT 3 is available for $9.99 on GOG. SWAT 4 is not available digitally and has become very rare, so if you see a copy, snag it!
Project Reality (Battlefield 2 mod)
Sometimes a mod blows away all expectations and actually trumps many full-release games. Project Reality for Battlefield 2 is such a mod. Like the ARMA franchise, this mod is focused on large-scale, realistic modern tactile combat. But unlike ARMA, this mod has eight years of refinement under its belt.
The result is a hugely competent mod that arguably better captures real combat than any retail game. A large variety of weapons are modeled with realistic physics that match the attributes of their real-world counterparts. Logistics is important to success on the battlefield, too, which means players must manage how ammo is distributed and vehicles are repaired. Even spawn points can be deployed via player-built structures.
And, because it’s been around for eight years, Project Reality has few of the rough edges you’d normally expect from a mod. The only problem is the game’s dedicated and skilled fan-base. Newbies can expect to die, and then die, and then get yelled at, and then die again.
Project Reality is free to download. You will need a copy of Battlefield 2, which can be purchased for about $10.
Unlike the other games on this list, which focus on modern combat, Planetside 2 is a far-future shooter about a fictional conflict between three factions. This may turn off some tactical shooter fans, but it doesn’t mean Planetside 2 lacks depth. There’s no other game that replicates combat on this scale. Indeed, battles are so large that it’s arguable the term “strategic shooter” might be more appropriate.
At its core this is a typical class-based FPS similar to the current Battlefield series. However, because each map is massive and persistent, it requires a level of tactical coordination few other games demand. Entire guilds of players fight over massive swaths of ground with a combination of infantry, tanks and air support.
This is a free-to-play game, and as such it can be a bit of a grind because certain options are locked behind currency walls that take hours to overcome. Obtaining one weapon unlock can require a whole day of non-stop play. If you don’t mind throwing a few coins at the title, though, this restriction becomes an afterthought.
These games span fifteen years and multiple platforms, but they all feature gameplay that rewards careful planning and team play over a skilled lone wolf. None of these games are forgiving to newcomers, but a challenging and satisfying experience awaits those who can overcome the initial hump.