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Shooter games are all the same. Guns, guns, and more guns. The main differentiator between most shooters is the setting, but even that might no longer be true. Battlefield, Call of Duty, Halo, Counter-Strike: aren’t they all the same burger in different wrappers? If that’s how you feel, then take heart! There are a lot of other options out there.
Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a game like Counter-Strike, but sometimes you just want something a little different. The next time an urge like that hits you, be sure to give one of these unconventional shooter games a try.
Hawken (Free, Windows)
Hawken is the next evolution in FPS design. You’re no longer just an infantryman with an array of guns at your disposal; instead, you play as the pilot of a fast-paced mech with its own array of unique weapons. You can jump, fly, and launch rockets to your heart’s delight, which makes for some intense gameplay in a truly 3D world.
There is no singleplayer component to this game, so if you’re looking for an intriguing campaign with twisting plots, you won’t find it. However, Hawken is a fantastic game to play with friends and will keep you entertained for a while. With five game modes, eight map types, and three mech classes, there’s a lot of fun to be had.
Hawken is free-to-play with a freemium model built on in-game purchases. As with most freemium games, you can progress without spending a cent but money will buy convenience and faster progress through boosters. It’s currently in the Steam Early Access program but it shouldn’t be long before the gates open up to the entire public.
Loadout (Free, Windows)
Loadout is a fast-paced arcade-style shooter game from an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective. It has a cartoony art style reminiscent of Team Fortress 2, but that’s where the similarities end. This free-to-play game is a unique gem that deserves to be judged on its own merits.
What sets it apart from other shooter titles? The wide range of character customization options. In the Outfitter, you can create and equip various loadouts with items that alter or enhance your character. The Weaponcrafting system allows you to design, create, and fine tune your own weapons. How’s that for a cool game mechanic?
While the game has five uniquely different game modes, it suffers from a small map pool. The gameplay is fun but beware that you might grow sick of the scenery. Loadout‘s matchmaking has also been criticized for producing unbalanced matches, so keep that in mind before you jump into that.
If you want to learn more, check out our review of Loadout.
Tribes: Ascend (Free, Windows)
Tribes: Ascend has one of the highest skillcaps of any FPS title. Not only do you have to deal with the traditional issues of hand-eye coordination, you also have to learn how to “ski” across the terrain. If you thought bunny-hopping (or strafe-jumping) in Quake was difficult, this game will blow your mind.
Tribes: Ascend‘s gameplay revolves around a class-based loadout system that’s similar to Team Fortress 2 in some ways. You pick a class and a loadout of different weapons, armors, and items for that class. Different gear comes with different benefits and costs and additional loadouts can be purchased with in-game currency.
Indeed, Tribes: Ascend is another in the group of FPS games with a freemium business model. Some players think the game falls into the same freemium traps that cause it to be overly grind-heavy while others think it’s fine. Your mileage may vary.
Unfortunately, Tribes: Ascend is no longer in active development as the developers have decided to focus on their other projects (e.g., SMITE). However, you can still play it and the game has a sturdy core community that won’t be dying off any time soon.
Natural Selection 2 ($25, Windows/Linux)
When the first Natural Selection debuted back in 2002 as a mod to Half-Life, it took the online shooter community by storm. It was never extremely popular in terms of concurrent players online – likely because it had to compete with fan-favorite Counter-Strike – but it’s the kind of game that people talk about even if they don’t play it.
In 2012, a standalone sequel was released on Steam and it cranked up every aspect of the original. If you love shooters and you aren’t playing Natural Selection 2, you really ought to be asking yourself why not.
The core conceit of the series is a war between two teams: man vs. aliens. That would be unique enough on its own, but the real unconventional factor here is that Natural Selection blends the FPS and RTS genres. Each team has a commander who plays the game from a top-down view, placing buildings and researching upgrades for the rest of the team.
This is war as it was meant to be played. If you were a fan of the original mod and didn’t know that Natural Selection 2 was released, do yourself a favor and install it right away. You’ll love it.
What other unconventional shooters are out there? I’m sure there are plenty of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. Share your favorites with us in the comments below!