Updated: August 8, 2008
One of the major reasons why most of people still use Windows is the gaming community. It begins with constant hardware upgrades, required to stay apace in the losing game of ever-rising minimum requirements for this or that game. And it ends with users running Windows, because most games are made to work only under Windows. But this does not have to be so.
If a sufficient number of high-quality games is made available to Linux users, there will be a massive, natural migration of games toward this new, exotic and FREE operating system. Kids will not have that many problems adapting, the same way kids of the 80s and 90s did not have any problems adapting to new operating systems back then. They will do anything to be able to play games, including learning how to operate Linux. And most kids not having any income and being at the mercy of their parents, the appeal of free games, and legal in the same breath, will be too hard to resist.
The truth is, there are quite a few games for Linux, but the problem is - not that many people are aware of them or willing to take the plunge. This is becoming less and less of any issue every day, as the games are moving from console nightmares and WINE hacks toward stable packages, some already being shipped via repositories of the larger distros. Let us dispel the fear and doubt.
This article / review will introduce some of the most popular First Person Shooters (FPS) that can be enjoyed on just about any operating system, including both Linux and Windows. A separate article will introduce many games in other genres. The common thing all these games have in common is that I have played them - and liked them!
These FPS are extremely easy to install, configure and run. They are stable and will not crash if you push them too hard. They can be played both in single and multiplayer modes, on LAN and online. They offer solid graphics and a reasonable plot. Don't expect a saga of emotions and cut-scenes. If you're into hardcore blasting of monsters without too much fussology, you're in for a tremendous treat. So here we go.
OpenArena is an open-source First Person Shooter, based on the ioquake engine, with the game play and style mainly following the Quake III Arena, from which the game was branched and developed. To the average user, this means good if not tremendous graphics, an extremely fast-paced gameplay and lots of instant action.
The single player mode is rather decent, but the game really shines in the multiplayer mode - with several human players taking part in a savage, head-spinning carnage against witty-mouthed bots, on a broad range of well-made maps.
While most of the time the goal of the map is to kill anyone and everyone around, i.e. Free For All game type, you can also play in Team Deathmatch, Tournament, Capture The Flag, Capture The Flag Elimination, Double Domination, and other games types, all of which require different tactics and different levels of cooperation.
The LAN multiplayer works without any special issues. In rare cases, you might have to run a dedicated local server. I have tested the game in a home network aplenty with routers and firewalled machines running different operating systems, without any issues.
OpenArena also runs in Windows, allowing you to play with friends who do not use Linux. The game is fully self-contained, making it ideal for sneak LAN parties at workplace, where you're not allowed to install anything. Lastly, it is the fastest and most action-paced of the three, so this should be your choice if you're impatient or looking for an electronic armaggedon. It also has the best choice of weapons.
Sauerbraten is one of my favorite FPS. I have come across it while it was still in its infancy, in late 2004 and have stayed loyal ever since. Like OpenArena, it is free, open-source and cross-platform, with Quake-like game style. Sauerbraten is based on Cube, a game and a rendering engine. This legacy offers phenomenal graphics, extremely well-made and complex maps and modest demands on resources.
Of the three games reviewed here, Sauerbraten delivers the most wholesome package. First, it has the most complex single-player mode, with tons of levels that need to be "solved." Second, the gameplay is accompanied by a deep electronic "commentator" voice announcing kills, spawns and collection of special packages, creating an eerie and surreal atmosphere. Third, your killing sprees are accompanied by fast-paced, hard-rock music. Fourth, Sauerbraten has an impossible number of maps - and last but not the least, the best graphics overall.
On the other hand, it is the "heaviest" of the three, although any semi-modern machine will handle it without any problems. The Windows version also requires a symbolic installation, making it somewhat unsuitable for sneak LAN parties at workplace.
Speaking of multiplayer, it runs well and without any issues. Joining LAN games merely requires a player to open the console (by pressing tilde) and typing lanconnect. Many other commands are available, all of which can be input through the console. Here's a pair of screenshots of myself and a friend (with a somewhat funny name) mucking about on LAN. Actually, he meant to spell Blackhawk, but he got confused. Go figure ...
The multiplayer offers several game mods, all of which take place on different maps. The game also features a map editor, allowing you to make changes even as you play.
Nexuiz is the third brother in the unholy Quake trinity. Like the other two games, it offers everything: it's free, open-source and will run well on almost any operating system. Turning off advanced graphics effects makes it well suited for older hardware. Nexuiz is primarily a multiplayer game, whether online or on LAN.
Like OpenArena, it requires no installation whatsoever, making it a great choice for workplace disobedience. And like Sauerbraten, it features in-game music (techno) and quite solid graphics. The choice of colors is particularly appealing, allowing for stunning visual effects.
The single-player, while somewhat overshadowed, is quite decent. You'll have a generous choice of weapons to collect and monsters to kill.
Let's see what each game can offer us. OpenArena and Nexuiz are lighter than Sauerbraten, and the Windows versions do not require an installation; they can be played from portable devices. Sauerbraten is the heaviest, but the extra really shows in graphics and the abundance of maps. While the poorest in visual effects, OpenArena has the fastest pace and best action overall. Nexuiz wins online, while Sauerbraten takes the LAN.
All three games are fairly decent. Considering that they cost absolutely nothing, they are extremely well made. While they lack some of the polish the commercial games have, the raw core of action is there, and you'll have plenty of fun playing them, whether alone or with friends online. Here's a table summarizing the merits of each. Please note that the grades are based on MY experience.
If you're a Windows user considering moving over to Linux, yet afraid to make the move - afraid that you'll lose your games, then there's no reason to fear, especially if you're into shooting. There's a broad range of games to choose from.
OpenArena, Sauerbraten and Nexuiz are the three most popular open-source FPS. They offer great fun, solid graphics and will work well in any environment you choose, be it Linux, Windows, home, work - you name it. If you're into fast games, then you should try OpenArena. If you simply must have graphics, then try Sauerbraten. If you're looking to pwn you friends in online deathmatches, you might want to start with Nexuiz. Whatever choice you make, you're guaranteed to have lots of pleasure.
In a follow-up article, I will present many other games, non-FPS. Being a Linux user does not mean you have to compromise or abandon your habits. Linux offers its own share of gaming experience - simply, it's slightly different than what you're used to, that's all. And I'm here to help you make your baby moves into Linux gaming. Enjoy.