Reborn on a slab etched with demonic incantations, the gore-fest granddaddy of modern first-person shooters lives once more. Last month id Software set free its recreation of classic Doom, with smooth controls, stylish visuals, and smart Martian level design. After weeks spent slaughtering unholy devils and freaks, we could be forgiven for thinking its 1993 all over again.
But the new Doom is only one faithful reimagining of a classic first-person shooter that has surfaced in recent years. Quake Champions, which was announced at E3, aims to give competitive arena shooters a new bloody paintjob. Bethesda continues to conjure new Wolfenstein iterations every now and then, and the original Half Life was thrust into the HD era thanks to the Black Mesa fan project. With a just-launched Kickstarter, even the famous System Shock is receiving a makeover.
And yet, there remain many venerable, pioneering shooters that still live on only in the realm of emulators and retro gaming storefronts like GOG.com. With admirable legacies and once innovative gameplay hooks, any number of them deserve a modern reinterpretation. All it would take is a little polish to make these vintage firearms shine.
Futuristic or modern-day shooters are so pervasive nowadays that it’s easy to forget that World War II dominated the genre for years. Though the supernatural Wolfenstein demonstrated the universal popularity of shooting Nazis, Medal of Honor won fans by grounding the action in a (comparatively) realistic portrayal of the global conflict. Years later, there’s no shortage of authentic military campaigns, but there aren’t many comparable analogues to the World War II shooters of yesteryear.
After a long (and completely justified) break from the era, gamers are due a return to the World War II frontlines. Gameplay innovations introduced in newer shooters and the powerhouse graphics of current-gen systems could make storming the Normandy beaches finally feel fresh again. It would also give the Medal of Honor series a chance to regain its past glory after Medal of Honor: Warfighter flopped in 2012. Aiming down the sights of a trusty M1 Garand rifle could pack just enough nostalgia to compete with Call of Duty’s high-tech gadgets.
Complex and spooky, System Shock 2 built upon its predecessor to become one of the most influential PC shooters of all time. It did it by mixing rudimentary gunplay with special psionic powers, engrossing exploration, and a fun story. Where would elegant, atmospheric first-person adventures like Bioshock and Dishonored be without such an inspiring spiritual ancestor?
With the first game in the System Shock series poised to come back in a big way, System Shock 2 could feasibly receive a facelift to bridge the gap to the officially announced System Shock 3. And let’s be honest, even masterpieces can benefit from a timely update. While still playable, the game is undeniably dated, with a clunky interface and archaic player movement controls. Such an influential classic deserves to be appreciated by a younger audience without these caveats.
Dark fantasy and the first-person shooter genre aren’t known to go together, but back in the day Heretic created frantic gunplay with magic staffs and crossbows. Based on a modified Doom engine, the game rejoiced in the same gruesome action and hellish environments. Still, it innovated more than most Doom clones. Players could stash loot picked up in levels, including an artifact that transmogrified enemies into chickens.
Though far from a landmark title, Heretic — along with sequels Hexen: Beyond Heretic and Heretic II — helped feed the insatiable hunger for first-person shooters in the ‘90s. Bringing it back now would give the genre much-needed variety, with both a novel setting and unusual weaponry. After controlling so many marines, blasting gargoyles and liches as a vengeful Elf sounds refreshing.
Stormtroopers stood in the place of demons in LucasArt’s 1995 reworking of id Software’s shooter formula. The game tasked mercenary Kyle Katarn with destroying the Empire’s Dark Trooper project — a mission that launched his career as a fan-favorite character. All the right ingredients, from blaster bolts to thermal detonators, came together to create an authentic Star Wars adventure.
Though EA no doubt plans to make Star Wars: Battlefront a recurring flagpole of its Star Wars gaming empire, there’s plenty of room for a more solitary brand of gun-slinging in a galaxy far, far away. Plus, it would be nice to get a new Star Wars game without Jedi and their shiny laser sticks.
Before the rise of Halo and Destiny, there was Marathon. A trilogy of games that came out on Macintosh computers, Marathon honed the prolific developer Bungie’s talent for crafting popular shooters. With it, Bungie told an intricate sci-fi yarn that opened with fighting alien Pfhor slavers aboard an interstellar colony ship. Beyond that, it paved the subspace lanes to Halo with mechanics like dual-wielding guns, multiplayer voice chat, and a Forge map editor.
With Halo a dominant gaming icon, and Bungie focusing on the ever-expanding world of Destiny, is there any great need for Marathon to return? Not really. Hallmarks like zany-looking extraterrestrial bad guys and a mysterious AI character can be found in both series, and Halo’s gameplay has been refined to perfection over the years. But Marathon does warrant being remembered more than it has been. At the very least, an HD remake is in order, something that can remind the gaming community of the original’s smart narrative and historical importance.
Parker Lemke is a writer from Minnesotan who has spent far too much time modding The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. He served in the journalistic trenches of his college newspaper and is a former Game Informer intern. You can follow him on Twitter.