25. Westerado: Double Barreled [official site] (2015)
Developer: Ostrich Banditos
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Westerado’s gunplay is strange and awkward, allowing you to shoot only horizontally and therefore requiring careful positioning and timing before you fix yourself in place and raise your sights. It’s fun, but what makes the game special is how its guns can be used in any situation and how they tie back into the larger systems and story.
The setup is a familiar western revenge tale: your family have been murdered and you want to find the person responsible. Uniquely, you don’t solve that mystery by following a linear story; the murderer is out there in the 2D open world from the off, they look different every time, and you can perform jobs and visit towns in any order you want while looking for clues.
You might visit a local saloon, perform an oddjob for the bartender there, and be told that the person you’re looking for wears big hats. You gather detail like this piece by piece till you have the perfect picture of the killer you’re searching for.
That’s if you’re playing sensibly, because there are other ways. You can also simply point your weapon at any character in the game – and there are hundreds – and yell, “It was you!”. If they don’t confess, you can then shoot and kill them. Doing so will close off jobs, turn towns hostile, and otherwise render the experience as nothing else but a run-and-gun, but you’ll eventually find, kill and take your revenge all the same. Maybe you’ll get lucky and it’ll be the second person you meet. Maybe it’ll be the last. Either way, there are few modern games willing to tie such empowering and fun consequences to your actions.
Notes: Double Barreled is a enhanced remake of the original Westerado, which was a free browser game published by Adult Swim. You can still play it online and it includes everything that makes Double Barreled great, albeit at lower resolution and detail.
Read more: Alec’s Westerado: Double Barreled review.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Red Dead Redemption never got the PC port it deserved, sadly, but it’s probably Rockstar’s best game, and perfect if you crave more of the western setting.
24. Project Eden [official site] (2001)
Developer: Core Design
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
It came out two years before the Eden Project opened. What an SEO nightmare. From Core “Tomb Raider” Design, this far-too-forgotten Eidos release combined steampunk third-person action with single-player four-way co-op. Oh yes.
In your squad is a grisled vet, sulky engineer, whizz-kid computer technician, and giant robot lady. Each has unique skills, and using their abilities, you have to figure out how to get through elaborate situations by having them all play nicely together.
Just the switching between four distinct characters feels like an approach all-too rarely repeated, which when combined with Core’s instinctive ability for canny puzzles created something rather special.
Despite involving shooting, the game really made its focus the brain-bits by removing any notion of punishing death (characters respawn) – again, something that seems brave today. Come on Crystal Dynamics – revive this license too.
Notes: The game’s enemies would adapt to how you’d killed them, meaning you’d have to think of more innovative methods as you played.
Read more: Here’s Quinns’ retrospective from 2010, on Eurogamer.
Where can I buy it: GOG
What else should I be playing if I like this: It’s surprisingly difficult to name anything similar, but you could take cooperative third-personing online with Warframe.
23. MechWarrior 2 [unofficial site] (1995)
Almost everything admirable about MechWarrior 2 feeds back into the weight of the machinery you’re handling. Rather than building a first-person shooter with some screen furniture to represent each BattleMech’s cockpit, the team at Activision created a vehicle simulation that focused on the physical sensation and capabilities of the tons of metal encasing your pilot character.
As momentum builds and a lighter Mech breaks into a sprint, it’s possible to fool yourself into thinking the machine is almost human, but when systems overheat and limb actuators fail, you’re instantly reminded that your vessel is an unwieldy thing, and that it will eventually fall hard.
The most advanced control method allows for independent operation of legs and torso, so that Mechs can swivel at the waist. Few other games before or since have captured the feeling of controlling a machine so powerful and yet so claustrophobic in its eventual failure and collapse.
Notes: The first MechWarrior game, released in 1989, contained a complete Mech management and RPG style mission system. There’s hope for a return of tactical Mech combat should Harebrained Schemes’ BattleTech Kickstarter be successful.
Read more: On The Evolution And Development of Mech Games.
Notes: The bestest Mechs are found in MechWarrior: Dark Age, in the form of colossal industrial machines that are converted into BattleMechs. Nobody else seems to appreciate them but they are the MechKings of my heart.
Where can I buy it: The second-hand market.
What else should I be playing if I like this: The sequel/expandalone Mercenaries is an improvement in many ways, notably the campaign structure. Mechs crop up everywhere though, from the delightful Match-3 shenanigans of Ironcast to the multiplayer metal-wrecking of Hawken. The Powered Battle Armour of Looking Glass’ Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri may not be entirely mech-like but it feels as good as the real thing.
22. Oni [official site] (2001)
Publisher: Gathering Of Developers
If Mirror’s Edge – or any other third-person game, for that matter – had managed to blend movement, shooting and hand-to-hand combat as effectively as Oni, nobody would have complained about the fisticuffs and firearms interrupting the parkour. Bungie’s Orwellian shooter/brawler hybrid smoothly transitions from martial arts to sniping, and from frenzied beatdowns to desperate point-blank blasting.
The whole things comes in a sci-fi wrapper with a light anime influence to the visuals. The levels were famously designed by real life architects and the authenticity of the structures tends to make them somewhat dull. Large functional rooms are the order of the day for much of the running time, but what you do in those rooms is the reason for Oni’s enduring charm. You fight, you flee, you pummel and punch. There are various classes of enemy, each with their own fighting styles, and a whole armoury of guns to work your way through. You can only carry one weapon at a time though – be it rocket launcher, pistol or laser – and running out of ammo, and switching back to feet and fists feels like powering up rather than powering down.
Oni’s great achievement is in the fluidity of its combat system. Unlike Rocksteady’s free-flow Arkham fighting, borrowed by Shadow of Mordor and others, Oni’s martial arts don’t feel like they’ve been plugged into the world. They’re a part of it. Whether you’re moving, shooting or performing a lariat, you’re fully in control and entirely dependent on your own skillset and awareness of your opponents’ weaknesses.
Notes: Cheats, rather than mods, unlock the greatness of Oni: ‘shapeshifter’ allows you to switch characters using F8 and ‘reservoirdogs’ makes enemies pick fights among themselves, making for a great spectator sport.
Read more: Eurogamer’s original review, written by Tom ‘Tom Bramwell’ Bramwell, is an interesting look at the game’s flaws. And is fascinating as a pre-Halo evaluation of Bungie.
Where can I buy it: The second-hand market
What else should I be playing if I like this: Mirror’s Edge is an architectural and visual improvement but fluffs the combat. There’s nothing quite like Oni so maybe go down a different fighting route with Metal Gear Revengeance, Devil May Cry 4 and DMC.
21. Gang Beasts [official site] (2014)
Publisher: Double Fine Presents
Good action doesn’t come only from slick combos or powerful right-hooks; it can also take the form of desperate grappling and clumsy pratfalls. That’s what Gang Beasts offers: the slapstick of four hairless jellymen fighting atop moving trucks, spinning fairground ferris wheels and swinging window cleaner’s gondolas.
Your move set is pretty simple – punch, lift, grab – but from this the most wonderfully cinematic battle stories spill out. You’ll be knocked unconscious by a hit to the head, hoisted into the air by an enemy, and then wake up moments before they throw you into an abyss. You’ll fight back, grabbing at your foe as they try to shake you off, punching you with their jelly arms as you grip at their jelly face. They’ll shake free of you, but only by knocking you backwards into the wire supports holding the platform you’re both standing on, which now collapses on one side and leaves you both gripping the rails with one arm while you continue to wildly swing with the other.
Each of the environments you fight within are filled with traps and gimmicks that are perfect for the kind of yelping couch multiplayer the game is designed to inspire. You’ll feed friends into huge grinding cogs, or giddily skip across the collapsing wooden boards of a pier, or frantically punch and push your way past one another to escape an oncoming train on the subway level. The drunk toddler style, especially when combined with the latter addition of silly hats, means you can never take it so seriously as to be cross when you die, but the fidelity of the environments makes for endless dramatic fights.
There’s a rough singleplayer mode at this stage also, in which you and three friends can fight against AI foes of various sizes, with more planned for the future. But Gang Beasts even in its early access form is a comic, surprising delight.
Notes: Gang Beasts was initially released for free and that early prototype is still available to download now. It lacks the hats and many of the new levels, but it’ll give you a taste of the game.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Couch multiplayer has taken off in the past few years. If you’d like a game about precision rather than clumsiness, try TowerFall Ascension, featured elsewhere in this list.