Blog’s looking a little empty and for a number of reasons I can’t get this put anywhere else. There’s a little post-mortem at the end, as a few things came to mind/were pointed out while I was attempting to get it published.
The LAN party is an aging breed. I wouldn’t go as far as dying, but it certainly started in another era and is having troubles adjusting to this one. The always-online lifestyle created by Steam, Origin, OnLive and the like, coupled with AAA titles no longer having LAN play as standard has brought the once staple of the home platform to obscurity and rarity. However, it is easier and more satisfying than ever to collect together a few friends, some food, a large number of varied beverages and a whole stack of hardware for a weekend of semi-friendly gibbing, tower building and radiator throwing. And that’s before you add the games. Within you’ll find eight of the best, both era-defining classics and lesser known gems from more recent times.
Developer: Black Rock Studios
Get it: Gamesplanet
Memorable Quote: “No, no, No, NO, NO, NO, NO!”
There’s something, definitely something, about collapsing a nuclear chimney stack onto three of your friends and hearing them scream with laughter as you do so. This is equally true of blowing up the entire bridge they happen to be transversing, or ramming a helicopter supported dump-truck through the fragile ceiling of the tunnel they’re in. If you haven’t heard of Split/Second before, you should at least now be interested. It’s an arcade racer in the strictest sense with the insanity and “weapons” turned up to eleven. You don’t fire a blue shell or drop an oil-slick, you blow up the taxi rank in front of whoever you’re chasing; spraying their path with molten metal and deadly husks through a ludicrously simple system that anyone can learn in less than five minutes. Drifting and driving behind opponents builds charge, which can be used in thirds for small impacts or burnt from full to zero for something much more devastating. It won’t entertain for full days, but Split/Second will provide some of the late night laughs and ridiculous close shaves/epic victories that LAN memories are made of.
Game: Unreal Tournament 2004
Developer: Epic Games
Get it: Steam
Memorable Quote: “Holy shit!”
When you talk about deathmatch, this series is either the first or second that comes to mind, depending on who you ask. It has classic fast paced action, over the top visuals and weapons to match. It knows what it is and does it very well, with a variety of modes to entertain a group of any (reasonable) size. From one on one duels for bragging rights to a 30 man war over a massive stretch of land utilising some of the most original vehicles ever coded, there’s always something going. Throw in the thousands of megabytes of community content, from maps to full conversions, and this could power a LAN party all on its own.
Game: Quake 3/Live
Developer: id Software
Get it: http://www.quakelive.com/
Memorable Quote: “Sickening rail, old bean.”
And here’s the other title that comes to mind when discussing the gaming nation’s multiplayer passtime. If UT2k4 is classic, this is classiest. It’ll run at acceptable speeds on any computer made in the last 12 years with any number of background processes or hardware irregularities. You won’t even have to install it if you don’t want to, with the miracle of Quake Live allowing it to run straight out of a browser. There will be someone in your playgroup who’s done it all before, and he’ll enjoy destroying the rest of you with muscle memory that never dies. Everyone else will have to make do with fragging at extreme speed (that’s possible even for the complete rookies) with the finest in balanced weaponry.
Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios
Get it: Steam
Memorable Quote: “… I think I crashed the game”
Magicka’s true triumph is in its bugs. More wild laughter has come from unexpected breaks in the action than the intended chaos. The brilliance of the gameplay itself, however, cannot be understated. Relying on player memory to construct spells of massive destructive force leads to one of two possible outcomes: displays of light devastating enemies as a proud gamer sits accepting praise or, more commonly, on-screen actions become a dance of headless chickens desperately trying not to kill each other in any one of a hundred ways. It’s pure comedy from start to finish. Even the additional coordination gifted by the proximity of players submits before the madness that is your average Magicka play session.
Game: HL2 Deathmatch
Get it: Steam
Memorable Quote: “You killed me with a toilet/radiator/car/paint can!”
Sometimes, you just have to throw a large metal object at your dearest friends, crumpling their body in acceptably realistic ways. Half-Life 2: Deathmatch is the game for that. While Unreal and Quake may boast a purer experience, HL2DM promises the unique pleasure of the gravity gun. Along with the obvious high-speed impact environmental interaction, it changes combat in other ways: objects can be held up as bullet shields; explosive barrels turn you into a walking bomb; grenades can be thrown back while reloads and health packs can be pulled towards – it’s real innovation. You begin to filter items in the world in a new way – what’s heavy enough to do some serious damage (preferably a one hit KO) but small enough to not block vision significantly? Will this go far enough with enough force to still hurt? Just how long has the pin been out of that grenade?
Developer: Introversion Software
Get it: Steam
Memorable Quote: “In about four hours, you’re so dead.”
Most of the other titles on this list are short term affairs lasting little more than an hour or two that are thus perfect for the hyperactive, ever-changing environment of a LAN. Defcon is something different. Start a real-time game of the World War III simulator when you turn up and just leave it running throughout the day, making changes and micromanaging your bombers and subs between bouts of whatever else is taking your fancy. While a Team Fortress 2 nemesis is a rivalry that lasts as long as it takes to get – a few minutes – enemies made during a game of Defcon will have you seething for much, much longer. Nuclear detonations reducing the population of your nation by factors of ten breeds a lot more competitive spirit than a quick respawn causing headshot.
Game: Pirates, Vikings and Knights 2
Developer: The PVKII Team
Get it: http://www.pvkii.com/
Memorable Quote: “Wait for it… Wait for it… KABOOM”
If you hadn’t heard of it before, the very name of this Source mod should have got your attention. The concept is exactly the kind of faction based FPS nonsense that breeds fun and in the environment of 10+ gamers at three in the morning, this only leads to hilarity. There’s a degree of originality in its mechanics and visuals, from holy grail modes that power up one player and force the opposing two teams to gang up on him to the absurdly entertaining keg of gun powder weapon. The first time your screen fills with kill notifications as a keg goes off in a crowded passage, the room /will/ explode in laughter. The inaccuracy and poor damage of ranged combat makes melee-fests commonplace and the chaos is a welcome change from your average FPS long-range point and click.
Game: Battlefield 2
Developer: DICE Interactive
Get it: Steam
Memorable Quote: “What we’re gonna do, right, is put C4 on this jeep and just drive ’till we ‘stop’.”
This is a bit limited to larger gatherings and was nearly relegated to Honourable Mentions on those grounds, but with the right numbers it’s such a joy that I kept it in. It’s tactical combat at its finest, with all variety of vehicles and weapons to keep a group entertained. Epic tales are produced naturally by the gameplay: going up with a new pilot in a helicopter is an exercise in stress management as it frighteningly drifts from side to side while some poor fellow wrestles with the controls. Going one on one with a tank is either a triumphant David vs. Goliath hero’s tale or a merciless slaughter. Importantly, BF2’s unique Commander mechanic, allowing a player to take control of the battle for their side and play a mini-RTS, ordering troop movements and calling artillery strikes and vehicle drops, benefits immensely from real time communication.
Blizzard’s entire back catalog – From WarCraft II all the way through to StarCraft II, almost everything ever put out by the California developer makes for a good LAN experience – especially WarCraft III’s vast number of custom maps and modes. Even World of WarCraft, assuming an already in place play group, will benefit from the closeness of friends.
Defense of the Ancients/Heroes of Newerth/League of Legends – The nerd rage produced by this genre is unrivaled and will give hours of entertainment to the right group. However, be wary of the learning curve associated and try not to scare anyone off.
Minecraft – I wasn’t 100% positive you’d have heard of this seldom talked of indie title, but am giving you the benefit of the doubt. Rest assured, this is just as enthralling at a LAN as everywhere else. A weekend project can produce real triumphs.
Team Fortress 2/Counter Strike – Some people will base their entire LANs around just Valve’s shooters, others just a few hours. Whoever you play with, wherever you do it, chances are they’ll pop up. They’re brilliant. Not much more to be said.
So this is a piece that I started with a lot more enthusiasm than I finished with. It’s not as good as I wanted it to be, I didn’t have as much knowledge on the subject as I thought I did and it doesn’t flow as well as I’d like. I don’t hate it, but I’d like it if it was better. The “Memorable Quote” thing turned out about as well as I thought it would, which is nice.
In the end, however, lists just aren’t very good. One of the editors I sent this to pointed this out, along with the fact that they were (and he made sure to say he wasn’t trying to be rude, just stating a simple fact) very easy to do. A very, very good one (such as particularly large Top X lists or incredibly well researched ones) is still excellent, in my opinion, but one such as this just isn’t worth money to a magazine or website. This will probably be the last I do unless something really catches my eye.
If you have any thoughts on the matter, please, leave them below. It’d be nice to approve a comment.