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With all the buzz around the just-released reboot of Doom, I got to thinking about the dozens upon dozens of FPSs from the 90s that will forever languish in 2.5D obscurity. In all fairness, most of them deserve that fate. But there are a few that could make for a great modern-day reboot, especially ones that only ever had one shot at glory while Turok, Wolfenstein, and Alien vs Predator seem to get “rebooted” every four or five years. Let’s give some other shooters a chance!
5 – Killing Time (3DO, 1995 / PC, 1996)
Beyond the in-game FMV characters (few gaming relics have aged worse than 90s FMV) and the clunky controls (the 3DO controller only had a D-pad and three face buttons), Killing Time had a great story and setting. You play as a historian in an alternate-universe version of 1930s New England who is out to find a missing Egyptian artifact, only to eventually have to battle the Gothic-themed demons and ghouls that have been unleashed by it. It’s a fairly by-the-numbers tale of intrigue and double-crossing, but it was a nice change of pace from the many mindless Doom clones of the time. A lot of people missed out on it due to its lead system being the ill-fated 3DO (and the later PC port did little to bring additional attention to it given the tough competition of the time), so it never got the chance to have a sequel that would’ve ironed out some of the game’s issues (and likely done away with the FMV). Even in the decades since Killing Time‘s release, the game’s setting and tone remain underused and it would make for a great modern FPS, especially with how much better the original’s limited attempt at being “open world” could be executed today.
4 – Strife: Quest for the Sigil (PC, 1996)
Four years before Deus Ex, Strife was one of the first games to take the framework of an FPS and add role-playing elements like interacting with NPCs, improving the protagonist’s stats/abilities, and having goals beyond “kill everything that moves and find the door to the next stage.” Unfortunately, this was one of the game’s biggest downfalls commercially, as the FPS crowd of the day didn’t appreciate what Strife was trying to do and the RPG crowd assumed it was just another first-person action-fest, and it has retroactively been considered to be too ahead of its time for players of its day. To be fair, Strife wasn’t exactly cutting-edge in the visuals department, and this also turned off players and drew the nitpicky ire of reviewers. But given that Deus Ex has gone a more third-person, Metal Gear Solid-inspired route as of late, what better time than for one of its progenitors to come back and give fans of true “first-person shooter/RPGs” something that feels like the games they used to love, with visuals they’ll love now.
3 – Powerslave (PlayStation, Saturn, PC, 1996)
Another FPS that doesn’t get enough credit for its innovations and instead has to settle for newer, more popular games getting praised for them instead. Powerslave was one of the first FPSs that put an emphasis on the player having powers and abilities beyond just being able to shoot at stuff. Taking place in Ancient Egypt–yet another novel, largely underused setting outside of historical strategy games–Powerslave‘s protagonist not only used spells in addition to bullets but could also gain the ability to jump higher, levitate, walk across lava, breathe underwater, and walk through walls. All this at a time when far too many FPS characters were largely glued to the floor save for a pathetic little hop that only existed because the developers felt like game characters were required to jump, even though it served zero functional purpose. Admittedly, Powerslave wasn’t the most polished game and not as well-made as it could’ve been, and beyond its unique gameplay and setting, it’s hard to say that it was completely undeserving of its fairly low sales (a planned sequel was eventually cancelled). But all of the elements are still there for what could be an epic magic-based FPS, and a modern day version of it could be absolutely fantastic if done right.
2 – CyberMage: Darklight Awakening (PC, 1995)
Remember everything I said about Strife doing Deus Ex but four years earlier? Well CyberMage beat Strife by a year, also doing much of the same things. And with CyberMage‘s more overt cyberpunk setting, it might have been a slightly more direct influence on Deus Ex. CyberMage had a dense and richly-realized world, one that would go unrivaled in the genre for years (arguably until Half-Life), not surprising given that it was developed by Origin Systems. Why they only briefly dabbled in FPSs when they made such a great one has to be due primarily to the game’s poor commercial performance, causing them to stick with what brought in the bucks (namely Ultima and Wing Commander). One of the suspected reasons for its poor sales was the exceptionally high system requirements needed to make it run, with only the wealthiest and most tech-savvy of gamers in 1995 able to play it properly (or at all). But CyberMage remains one of the best Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk future video games ever made, and is ironically only hindered by its now-dated graphics. Screenshots of the game definitely don’t do it justice–you have to see videos of it in action to appreciate how great it must’ve looked in 1995 and how incredible a AAA modern version could look, especially all those gratuitous shots of naked female cyborg ass.
1 – Disruptor (PlayStation, 1996)
If you launched a new console in the mid-90s, you were basically required to have at least one original FPS within the first year or two (on top of the obligatory Doom port). The best of those was easily PS1’s Disruptor, a psychokinetic-based FPS that was the debut game of a little upstart company called Insomniac Games. The ability to use your “Psionics” to electrocute your enemies, drain their powers, or heal yourself recalls a certain acclaimed game released a decade later that it isn’t much of a (bio)shock to guess the name of. After Disruptor, Insomniac spent the rest of the PS1’s life working on its popular Spyro the Dragon trilogy and followed that up with the Ratchet & Clank series on PS2. The developer wouldn’t revisit FPSs until PS3 launch game Resistance: Fall of Man. Though the Resistance series was a bit inconsistent quality-wise across its three core installments, it proved that Insomniac still had legitimate FPS chops, and Xbox One’s Sunset Overdrive showed that they haven’t completely given in to only being a developer of mascot platformers. With the FPS genre growing fairly stale in recent years–so much so that the the remastered version of the nine-year old Call of Duty 4 is getting way more buzz than the next new CoD game and Battlefield going WWI to stand out–what better time than now than for Insomniac to go back to the title that put them on the map and make the next great FPS that isn’t CoD, Halo, or Battlefield?
As I said, the 90s was absolutely jam-packed with FPSs that only had one or two installments before fading into obscurity, so I’m sure I missed some of your favorites that you’d like to see make a comeback. Let’s hear about ’em in the comments!