If you've been living on Earth in the past few years, you've probably at least heard the term "First-Person Shooter". This refers to all those games where all you see is the gun in your hand and the enemies coming to collect your bullets. The 2000s have seen the production of countless games belonging to this genre.
However, for all their bang, First-Person Shooters seldom portray the actual experience of being in battle faithfully. Whether it be Bottomless Magazines, Hit Points or One-Man Army, they tend to stick to the Rule of Fun or at least the Rule of Cool.
Naturally, some game developers use the recent advances in video game technology to produce games that try to stay closer to reality. In these games, surviving a battle takes less of a steady hand and lightning-quick reflexes, and more of the ability to plan ahead, use stealthy or underhanded means, and command several combatants simultaneously. These games are known as Tactical Shooters.
The core of what distinguishes a tactical shooter from a mundane shooter is its emphasis on realism. The player's midset when playing a tactical shooter should simulate a real combatant's mindset in an actual combat. What creates realistic combat can be broken down into a few pillars of design thinking:
- Realistic Weapons: Weapons in tactical shooters should behave like real weapons. Firearms are inaccurate unless aimed, recoil should significantly impact firearm control, ammunition is not infinite, and there are no video game fairies that help you load your reserve ammuntion into neat full magazines. Most importantly, bullets should be deadly; a single shot in real life can easily take a person's life, and this should be possible in tactical shooters too.
- Realistic Characters: Player characters are not invincible demigods, but rather ordinary soldiers that can injure and die at a moment's notice. They don't move super fast, jump super high, or have hammerspace inventories. Overly gamified elements like Hit Points should be tweaked into forms that better simulate reality, such as Subsystem Damage. Jump Physics and Ladder Physics should behave more like reality rather than a video game. Finally, deaths of player characters in tactical shooters should be final and extremely punishing, in order to simulate how people see death in real life.
- Realistic Tactics: Rush into combat alone like a headless chicken should always result in your death. Taking cover, gather intel, planning your missions, and working with your squad should be the key to victory, rather than the pure mechanical skills of the player. Tactical actions that are common in real life such as leaning over cover should be made available and encouraged in-game. Real life tried-and-tested infantry tactics like suppressive fire, room clearing, or interlocking fire should naturally become viable tactics in-game with the creation of realistic combat mechanics and scenarios.
Tactical Shooters' focus on realistic, player-depowering design can sometimes feel similar to the design of a Stealth Game or a Survival Horror; the key difference is that Stealth Games and Survival Horrors depower the player to force them to engage in stealth or oppressive survival resource management, Tactical Shooters instead depower the player to force them to engage in realistic combat and apply realistic tactical maneuvers. Metro 2033 is a realistic First-Person Shooter, but it's not a tactical shooter, because its combat emphasizes resource management over real tactical maneuvers.
Tactical Shooters are by nature Nintendo Hard due to their depowering designs and high expectations for tactical knowledge in the players. These games take a lot of hard work to complete, some may take hours just to learn how to play properly.
Do note that some of the more modern First-Person Shooters may look deceptively like Tactical Shooters, especially due to the level of realism put into the physics engine and graphics. However, the distinguishing traits are all related to how the game is played, not how realistic it looks.
Military Simulation games that simulate warfare on a larger scale but still position the player in the perspective of an infantry (e.g. the ARMA series, which features vehicular simulation in addition to soldier simulation) can still be considered Tactical Shooters, as long as the infantry sim part isn't completely ignored.
Compare Tactical Turn Based for games that try to achieve similar goals without a real-time, first-person experience. See also Common Tactical Gameplay Elements. Of note is that in some contexts (particularly in Japan), "tactical shooter" is also used to name first-person shooters with team-based tactics, such as Valorant, regardless of their actual realism.
- Alpha Black Zero: Intrepid Protocol (a 2004 Dutch-made budget bin squad-based tactical shooter IN SPACE!)
- America's Army
- ARMA series (Spiritual Successor to Operation Flashpoint)
- ARMA: Armed Assault
- ARMA II
- ARMA III
- Brothers in Arms is a light Tactical Shooter, featuring many of the above criteria while maintaining a general Rule of Fun atmosphere. That is, until you ramp up the difficulty to "Realistic"...
- Conflict Series
- CTU: Counter Terrorism Unit (a low-budget indie Steam game heavily inspired by S.W.A.T. 4).
- Damage Incorporated, a very early example based on the Marathon 2 engine.
- The Delta Force series, which predates Operation Flashpoint, but plays fairly similarly, barring the size of the levels and useability of vehicles. Later entries drop the tactical aspects.
- Escape from Tarkov
- Full Spectrum Warrior takes this to the next level, featuring tactics on a Company level, not to mention an entire simulated war raging around you.
- Ghost Recon, just like Rainbow Six, later games drift away from the tactical simulation.
- Hell Let Loose
- Hidden & Dangerous
- Hideous Destructor, a Doom mod.
- Interstellar Marines (a Tactical Shooter IN SPACE! which never made it out of Steam Early Access)
- The Mark
- Operation Flashpoint, along with its Spiritual Successor series ARMA.
- Post Scriptum
- Project I.G.I.
- Project Reality, a standalone Game Mod for Battlefield 2.
- Rainbow Six is probably the Trope Maker. Later games move away from the first games' hardcore simulation, but still tend to include tactical elements.
- Ready or Not
- Receiver is a rather minimalist and surreal game that fuses this genre with low-key Survival Horror elements.
- Red Orchestra
- SCP: 5k
- SEAL Team, from the early 90's - which was also one of the first shooters to feature polygon 3D graphics.
- Secret Service
- SOCOMUS Navy Seals, though its latest reboot is more Gears of War.
- Squad, a standalone Spiritual Successor to Project Reality.
- The Sum of All Fears (A Licensed Game made for the movie using the Ghost Recon 1 engine and heavily inspired by Rainbow Six)
- The S.W.A.T. series worked up to this over a couple of borderline iterations, culminating in two very good examples of the trope with SWAT 3 and 4.
- SWAT 1 was an early prototype whose design was partway between a Shooter and an adventure game. Very uniquely, it was not a 3D-rendered game, but used full motion video. It was exceedingly realistic, to its own detriment.
- SWAT 2 would've fit this trope perfectly, if only it were a shooter. Instead, it was an isometric 3rd person game.
- SWAT 3
- SWAT 4
- Takedown: Red Sabre
- World War II Online