The Best First Person Video Games That Don’t Include the Words ‘Call,’ ‘Duty,’ or ‘Of’ That Shouldn’t Be Overlooked

There are no spoilers in this article. Except Bruce Willis’ character in the Sixth Sense was a ghost all along. Sorry

Huzzah, it’s that time again where I introduce a new article in what seems to have been donkey’s months. During these months belonging to said donkey, I have come across some video games for your consideration that must be highlighted. I understand that these may have been played by you already as they are increasingly popular but I feel the need to explain why I think these are the best. Prepare to be enlightened!

So let me elaborate; whilst reading an article I discovered that the story/campaign mode in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 happens to be over quicker than England’s World Cup dreams (including penalties). Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that Call of Duty’s tend to be solidly made games and that its unique selling point is the multiplayer and I agree with that; I have had many enjoyable occasions shooting and being shot. But some games can be elevated with either the use of a good script; a good set of mechanics; or both. Military based shooters like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Killzone and Destiny, no matter how much you dress them up, will always be good but it takes a special game to mix up the formula. These games hit the marks whilst putting you in the forefront of the action.

THE UNFINISHED SWAN

credit: Giant Sparrow

credit: Giant Sparrow

I first heard about The Unfinished Swan at E3 a few years ago and proceeded to watch the previews of it. Released on the PS3 and later the Vita and PS4, this indie game literally gave you a blank canvas and you were made to fill it in. Armed only with a contraption that fires paint pellets, Monroe must hunt down the elusive unfinished swan that escaped from his mother’s painting. And you are made to paint the surrounding areas to reveal walls, buildings, furniture and of course, the path which you are meant to go and as you progress the story unfolds. I’ve never seen a game so invitingly lush with so little present. Each splat gives identity to your environment; the more you paint, the more you discover. It’s unashamedly humble in that fundamental mechanic; you can’t help but think that such came from something so simple. Like some of the greatest indie games such as Journey or Flower, complexity isn’t really an issue; it’s supposed to lull you into drinking it all as slowly as possible. Of course you can speedrun it, but where would the fun in that be? Giant Sparrow made this world to be coloured-in, why blast through it and miss it all?


THE STANLEY PARABLE

credit: Galactic Café

credit: Galactic Café

Not so much of a game but more of a walking simulator? Erm, a discovery simulator? A, ah… You see, you can’t just play The Stanley Parable once because each time it could end with different results. The great thing is, is that this package it comes in is a different level of story design. You play as Stanley. Stanley is controlled by the dulcet tones of the narrator who… well, he tells the story and you fill in the gaps or fills in the gaps left by your incompetency. Basically, if you think you’re in control of the situation, you probably aren’t. With multiple endings, you lead Stanley through on many tangents and twists and turns, it’s hard to keep up. But my lord is it funny! If you like your Douglas Adams type humour; slightly dry with a dash of cynicism, you will absorb this game and try to find everything you have missed just to hear the facetious put downs from your narrator. It’s dark, silly and just wonderful. Not sold? Go play the free demo (downloadable from the link below); it’ll handily put the game into perspective for you. If you enjoyed that then you have no excuse to not play through the gloriously meta, odd world of Stanley.


ANTICHAMBER

credit: Demruth

credit: Demruth

If MC Escher was to build a video game, Antichamber might be the result. For those of you who are unaware, Escher was the artist who liked to make his audience go “well how does that make sense?” to which he points out “look, the water goes under the interconnected towers and falls out of the top whilst still remaining on a linear plane just as you see it” so you reply “oh.” Antichamber is full of brain benders that put your mind to the test. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and design; stark white walls, basic outlines and bold colours make up your path with little instruction to follow. You only have your own intrigue to propel you forward. It’s a testament to prove how good a first-person puzzler can be, regardless of how psychedelic the journey may seem. You can appreciate when it teaches you how to use your noggin almost three-dimensionally and that sometimes the easiest route may appear to be more complex than what you think. It allows you to experiment with its seemingly endless chocolate-box of teasers where any combination is possible if you’re brave enough to pursue it in the hope of it reaching the end goal. Satisfying, clean and well made, Antichamber takes the rules and your brain and throws them into the washing machine on a quick spin cycle. Y’know, one of them really loud, fast cycles that sound like they could pull the Moon out of orbit.


MIRROR’S EDGE

credit: EA Games

credit: EA Games

Ever felt the need to experience motion sickness right on your sofa? Well Mirror’s Edge may fill the void that will undoubtedly be where your dinner was. EA’s masterful Mirror’s Edge is a first-person parkour simulator, essentially. It feels weighty as you fling your character, Faith, off buildings; scaling up walls and careening over rooftops of a clean, cool-as-air-conditioned, futuristic city. There’s a lot of trial and error with Mirror’s Edge as you painstakingly try to get from one chapter to the other in a tirade of button presses at the optimum time. Carving up a path and going the slow way isn’t the best bet. You are likely to get along much better if you string together your vaults, wall runs and leaps to keep your momentum going. The story was about as strong as Poundland coffee and the gunplay is frustratingly naff but if you gloss over that then you have a really good, sturdy puzzle-platformer (which is really what it is). It’s what the film industry would call a sleeper hit; not fantastic by any means but it garnered a vast following and EA recently shed more light on its sequel Catalyst, which thankfully took out that dire gunplay and replaces it with an open world. Everyone’s a winner!


SUPERHOT

credit: SUPERHOT

credit: SUPERHOT

This was an odd one to place because it is actually a first-person shooter but its mechanical value adds something new to the table. The free (flash) prototype I have played serves as a demo to its full-release but they both fundamentally play the same way. The act of shooting a gun in a game is quick; you pull the R2 button in front of the person you’re aiming at and a fraction later – depending on how good you are – that person is dealt with and will now only haunt your dreams later that night. Superhot takes that quick element out of the equation but only when you’re standing still. When you move the mouse or strafe, time catches up. Cue having to plan the trajectory of not only your bullet but also yourself; a feat not as easy as it seems because sure enough, you’re pitted up against enemies who also have weapons. There’s no ‘start level; bish bash bosh; next level’ vibe about it. Like a good chess player you need to think about your next move a few moves ahead. It’s incredibly unique and the success of the prototype has headed a full, shiny release for the end of this year.


PORTAL/PORTAL 2

credit: Valve

credit: Valve

I could waffle on and on about how brilliant Portal is but I’ll try and keep it short but I couldn’t write a column about how good first-person video games are without it. I’m lumping both of Valve’s efforts together because I feel that they are both as important as other; Portal 2 doesn’t feel like a sequel per se, more of a natural continuation of the greater arc. Set in the clinical testing facility that is Aperture science controlled by a sentient AI named GLaDOS, you play as Chell; who for all intents and purposes, is a lab rat. Armed with only a device that fires two portals which lead in and out of one another, you are forced to think with physics and solve each puzzle. And like all good sentient AI in science-fiction, GLADoS is wired to be hell-bent on destroying you and so you must use your newly acquired skills to escape the facility. Throw in Wheatley (a personality core from GLADoS’ mainframe voiced by Stephen Merchant) and suddenly you’ve got a double-act made in heaven but fuelled by suffering and brimstone. GLADoS’ acidic wit is sharp, smart and practically charming compared to Wheatley’s in-your-face foolishness. The puzzles have such a wide scope to keep you ploughing on and it would be a fine game if that was the be all and end all. But it’s the riffing between characters, the story (which does get a bit dark in places), an amazing soundtrack, its atmosphere and presentation which earn Portal a place on this list. GLADoS may be characteristically evil and her put-downs can be quite brutal but you can’t help but love her. She’s also a cracking singer…


Don’t think at all that this is a comprehensive list as I’m sure there are dozens of great titles I may have missed. I do like my shooters, I can’t deny it. I mean, Borderlands’ vast wastelands and unholy amount of weapons keeps beckoning me back; Bioshock’s eerie and twisted nature questions how far man is willing to go and Call of Duty blows stuff up with rockets. And when the time dictates to level up Roland, visit the depths of Rapture or blow stuff up with those rockets, then these are all worthy. But when you want to take a step back whilst still being in someone else virtual shoes, these are some of the best combinations of some fantastic storytelling, amazing visuals and crucial ideas ever to have graced video gaming. It’s something I expect to get better and better as consoles, PC’s, developers and concepts constantly evolve.

Words by Jimmi

The Unfinished Swan Website

The Stanley Parable Website

Antichamber Website

Mirror’s Edge Website

Superhot Website

Portal 2 Website

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So Jimmi bought Dead Space

I will obviously keep spoilers to a minimum; we know how much we don’t like them.

Recently, I had been thinking about getting a first-person shooter for my PlayStation 3 as a means of verging away from just playing driving and racing games. I bought this up with Kat and she recommended that it could be a good idea, as long as I stayed away from any Call of Duty game. I thought this was understandable as I think I’d only get a Call of Duty game if I really had to and if it was insanely cheap. Going through lists of potential contenders, she mentioned that she watched someone else play Dead Space a few years ago. Although it is a third-person shooter rather than a first person shooter, it does have guns, explosions and action and so it ticks all the right boxes to be an enjoyable game. Seeing as Dead Space 3 has recently been released, I decided to look into it a little bit on Wikipedia before venturing out and what I read sounded alright. Browsing through the High Street chains that weren’t closing down, Kat and I looked to see if we could find anything that resembled a good shoot-em-up, but we weren’t initially looking for Dead Space. I browsed over the original Borderlands, Far Cry II and even F.E.A.R as they all seemed to be high on action but they seemed a bit out of my budget in the case of the first two or weren’t favoured well in reviews in F.E.A.R’s case. We carried on searching through the second hand shops until I came across, lo and behold, Dead Space for a bargain £5.99 in Chatham’s branch of Cash Converters. I asked more about it from Kat and she said it was terrifying. Not knowing whether this is because my girlfriend has a low tolerance for anything remotely scary, or that it was genuinely pants-wettingly horrific I was hesitant. So what was I to do? Go with what Kat says and miss out on potential bargain. Or spend the night awake reliving the terrors that she foretold me about?

Bugger...!

Bugger…!

We got back and rather than sliding the disc into the PS3 as soon as I possibly could, I thought I would look up a review or two. Gaming news and review website GameSpot gave it a rather high 9 out of 10 in 2008 and Metacritic has the PS3 version marked in the realms of 88 out of 100, which shows it must be a very good game. Reading over the GameSpot review, I started to feel the surge of fear and regret even more as I glanced through their article. Here are some quotes that stuck with me:

“something terrible has happened”

“preserving the horror experience”

“grunts of pain”

“feign death among the corpses of their peers to rise up and attack when you least expect it”

 “Even more alarming than their ghastly appearances and uncouth manners is the fact that they are quite intelligent”

And, even more terrifyingly;

it can continue trying to eat your face

Oh dear. Never the less, I decided to see why it was rated so highly but was still adamant on playing a nice game like Flower or Eufloria. But no, Kat wasn’t having any of it. She wanted me to play this £6 blood-orgy to see what it was like and to see if it lived up to what she could remember. Or she wanted to see me soil myself and poke fun of me. Of course, it wasn’t until after we got it back from Chatham that she told me things tend to ‘jump out’ and that you have to ‘watch your back’ which made me feel a lot better about returning it and getting my money back. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for cheap scares. They are and can be genuinely funny. But the way she was describing it to me wasn’t coming across as funny. It coming across as terrifying. I had unwittingly bought a survival horror game…

So, I started the game and made a new profile for the save data. The first cut scene started and immediately the living daylights were pulled out of me by the vibration of the Dualshock resting on the case… Yeah, this wasn’t going to be my thing, I thought. To cut a long story relatively short, you play as Isaac Clarke, an engineer on-board a mining ship called the USG Kellion. It receives a distress call from Concordance Extraction Corporation (CEC) and naturally, the crew of the  go to see what all the fuss is about on-board the recently crashed and seemingly abandoned USG Ishimura that was dispatched by the CEC. As the Kellion approaches, it malfunctions as it came into dock on the Ishimura. Isaac space-suits up and he and the crew begin searching the wreck. This serves the tutorial level to get used to the controls, which are actually for a game of this calibre, very simple and there is a lot of help to get you started. For example, pressing R3 shows a navigational line to follow to the next objective which is very handy as there is no traditional head up display or map to follow. The map, inventory and useful tidbits of information are bought up as a hologram in front of Isaac. This also includes video and audio logs, computer screens and various interactive parts that you come across as you venture through the horror. This first bit was fine. It didn’t look like a survival horror game at all. It looked like a cross between Red Dwarf set in the same distant future of WipeOut. However, I was thinking why did we, of all people, have to go towards the distress call? Why didn’t we just fly past the world and go to a nice beachy moon that has two suns and many alien bartenders serving alien martinis? In fact, I would have rather bought Alien Bartenders, had it been a real game but Dead Space was the game I bought so I duly had to carry on.

After getting to grips with the controls, you eventually get onto looking at a computer screen in a small room to find out the status of the ship you have just boarded. When everything seems fine, a lock-down of the area happens. Orange lights begin to flash and you, as Isaac, cannot escape this room as the crew outside begin to panic. You can only look on in horror out of the windows as something drops out of the ceiling. Between the slow strobe of the warning beacon and the darkness, we see one of the crew being horribly eaten by a mutated, clawed thing as blood splatters onto the window whilst the rest of the crew start to open fire and run away. The only way out is through another door in the room, thus separating Isaac from the crew. This shook me up quite badly as I had no idea what was to come next. The flashing lights and the discordant music only added to the drama. As you run down the corridor, things only get worse. You were being followed by one of these things, that we have all come to know and love as Necromorphs which are the mutated remnants of the Kellion’s crew. Isaac takes a beating and manages to get into the safe haven of a lift. The doors shut out the Necromorph and all is calm until it tries to break in again and eat the soft squishy stuff in Isaacs head. This was really ‘new pants’ territory! I just knew it was going to happen… The Necromorph however is no match to the heavy lift doors and so as they slam shut, limbs fly all over the encloses space as blood rains all around. The lift opens up onto a new floor and even more disturbingly, a dead body. Learning that the Necromorphs can feign death and that things can pop out, the corpse made getting the first weapon, the Plasma Cutter, a whole lot more distressing. I unwittingly used all the ammo and Isaac’s right boot to make sure the corpse was as dead as it could be. I’ll admit I was a bit confused as to what to do and at this point and I really wanted to stop playing this and put on a different game that wasn’t going to scare the bejesus out of me. The blood-curdling screams overheard in this room were not nice; to say the least and I had no idea how to get out. Luckily – after about six minutes of franticly looking around and panicking like a headless chicken, whilst have a small meltdown thinking that the guy in the corner was going to rear up and attempt to ingest me – the clue was right under my nose. The doors opened and, say it wasn’t so; another Necromorph was outside the door eating another dude’s face. And yes, he wanted seconds! Having no ammunition, I had to resort to using the R1 function to beat the living snot (or Necromorph equivalent to snot) out of the mutated-face eater with the Plasma Cutter. It eventually went down dropping ammo and credits, because, y’know, these were people once upon a time. And now they resemble something between a zombie and very hungry praying mantis.

It was horrible. But, you know what? It was very satisfying. It was gross. But it was brilliant. It is a bit of a gore-fest and if you don’t mind that then this game can be very addictive. The mechanic is actually pretty cool too. For example, the Necromorphs will not back down under a shot to the head or torso, as you would expect a zombie or a Nazi to. It requires you to dismember their limbs with the array of tools and weapons at your disposal. They’re a bit unorthodox as guns when you think about it; however they do the job very well. As you progress, you can upgrade your weapons, armour – or RIG (Resource Integration Gear) – and inventory just as upgrades work in other video games. Credits can be used to buy more weapons, health packs, statis packs, oxygen refills and lots more items found in the in-game store that will help you fight through the hoards and waves of undead space zombies. You can also keep your items in the stores safe, leaving it for later when you may need it rather than clogging up your inventory, which after the amount of different pickups you find, you will have to make room for. If you want to get rid of them altogether, you can sell them for credits to spend on better weapons or something that will come to be more useful later on.

There are a lot of handy abilities that build up some interesting puzzles too. The statis packs you encounter give you the chance to slow down time to either attack a Necromorph or get through jamming doors or past quick enemies; kinesis lets you pick up objects to clear a path and gives you the capability of throwing them at the undead; and zero-G lets you stick to surfaces and leap from one wall to another when gravity is taken out of the equation. And these can all be put together to create conundrums that leave you standing around thinking what to do but having to remember that you could be eaten at any moment. It makes you think quickly but cleverly. All the guns and weapons have a primary and secondary fire mode too. The Plasma Cutter can be fired either horizontally or vertically, depending on which Necromorph limb you want to slice off. The Line Gun fires a larger area burst of energy than the Plasma Cutter but can also deploy a mine that goes off after a few seconds. I found this out the hard way as the shiny blue object it fired out of the front of it looked too enticing not to check out. Yep, cue an explosion and Isaac flying onto his back. Oxygen and statis can also be replenished at various stations dotted around the ship. Save points can come thick and fast so you can always save your progress as you carry on or on some levels they can become scarce so you have to battle your way through, just to save the game but chances are, if you’re looking for one, there will be one around the corner and hopefully not being guarded by a Necromorph.

It does make for a very interesting game. It is terrifying because you don’t know what is around next corner and the visual and sound add to a fantastic bone-chilling atmosphere which is stunning. Lights flicker on and off and walking around can trigger a quarantine lock down, which normally means something is going to happen. You normally see Necromorphs moving in the darkness but aren’t necessarily sure as to whether it is actually what you think it is or whether it is some poor chaps mutilated remains still twitching. Either way, they’re going to be either stomped on or de-limbed. Level two, however did not favour well with me. After going through the labyrinth of corridors, part of the mission required me to remove a blockade from the medical unit of the ship. Seeing as I don’t particularly like medical things, I thought this was right up my alley. Walking around, seeing remains of the people who looked like they were half way through surgery is very unnerving. There’s one section where you watch the Necromorph tear into someone and actually turn into one and another where you hear the heavy dull thud of something banging on metal only to discover it’s one of the demented crewmembers banging his noggin on a wall, only to watch him collapse in a pool of his own fluids as you get closer to him. It is a scary game without a doubt. But you can take it with a pinch of salt. It is actually rather funny if you allow it be, in much the same way a ghost train at a fair is funny. Quite a few times I would burst through doors, aiming in anticipation shouting ‘c’mon you mother-flipper! Let’s be avvin’ yer!’ and shrieking ‘ahhhhh, kill it with fire!’ as I blast a horrible scorpion like beast with the Pulse Rifle or Flame Thrower. The ragdoll physics are sometimes laughable too. As you walk over or continue to dismember the dead, the bodies normally leap around uncontrollably. It can be hilarious watching the dead Necromorph bouncing down the corridor but also discomforting because when you do it unintentionally you do think it’s still alive. And so you unleash your weapons full force on what is essentially nothing “wasting” valuable ammunition (I use the quotation marks because making sure the thing is dead is not wasting in my book). And when they do attack you when you let your guard down, boy do they go for it. The cinematic is gruesome but hammering ‘X’ can make you fight off the snarling creatures and drop kick them in a shower of blood and gore. I have only played about two hours through the story and I have gone from being tempted to take it back because I didn’t want the pleasure of knowing what happens next (I even went as far to say to Kat that I won’t be buying a game on her recommendation again) to changing my opinion entirely (and also retracting my statement). I have come to accept my fate. I am going to work my way through fighting these horrible things and hopefully I should emerge the other side a better person. Or white as sheet unable to close my eyes at night. And herein lies the problem; I see it getting much worse in the process. Well, Necromorphs… Let’s be avvin’ yer!

Oh, and another thing. If at all you do buy Dead Space, I can assure that it will be worth it especially if you can find it for £5.99 or less because it is a lot of game for not a lot of money. Amazon has it for about twelve quid currently, but I would recommend you look around Cash Converters, CeX or even the pre-owned deals in GAME. GAME currently have it for about £8 pre-owned online and you can even download it off Steam currently for £9.99 if console gaming isn’t your thing. I urge you to play it because it is a quite a different gaming experience which, if you’re like me and seem to be only tied down to one genre, you will come to know it and even love it. It is no wonder then why it was rated so high and received countless awards and the atmosphere it creates is very immersive which makes it very reminiscent of sci-fi horror films like Alien or The Thing. The original has created some sort of a legacy and as a result Dead Space 3 has rocketed into the UK Gaming Charts at number one! However, if you do get scared by the sound and visuals (the sound was highly praised by critics) then follow this simple tip. Just turn the music volume down, turn on the subtitles and (even if you own it then try it anyway) play some cool Jazz in the background. I can tell you the experience I had it will be a lot better and more relaxing if you’re a bit faint hearted; it changes the situation of waiting for something to jump out at you into something almost bearable. Everything is a lot better when done to Jazz. Including killing space zombies! I might have to try that whilst playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I’m petrified that even Jazz won’t do the Redead justice. Man, are they screwed up!

Posted by Jimmi

You can read the GameSpot PS3 review by clicking this handy link.