Before online gaming hit the mainstream, Local Area Network (LAN) parties were the ultimate multiplayer gaming experience. Sure, these days the online world offers countless ‘better’ ways to entertain ourselves (thanks to the internet, winning from a EuroMillions jackpot isn’t out of the question even for someone in Australia), but nostalgia is powerful! An old school LAN party with your best buddies is a great alternative to the online games we usually play.
For us slightly older kids, it didn’t get any better than ordering bulk pizza, firing up a network of Windows XP machines and spending hours trying to win bragging rights over our friends.
It was always an added bonus to be able to throw your pizza crusts at the guy who just stole your frag. You can’t do that over the internet. LAN parties – 1, online gaming – 0.
There’s a huge catalog of great games to choose from, but anyone who’s been to a LAN knows how hard it is to get them all working for everyone. It’s far easier to just pick a handful and stick with them. With that in mind, here are a few classic games that are still as fun today as they ever were. You just need to pretend the graphics are a little better than they are! For old time’s sake, fire up your old towers, turn on your 19 inch CRT monitors, and read on.
Medal of Honor Allied Assault (EA Games)
MOHAA is an excellent first person shooter that pits the Allies against the Axis powers (for those too young to know what they are, it’s pretty much goodies vs baddies). It was one of the first popular World War 2 shooters, and was the spark that lead to the creation of Activision’s wildly successful Call of Duty series. It has an excellent single player campaign (particularly the Omaha beach level, which could have been taken straight from ‘Saving Private Ryan’), but LAN play is where it comes into its own. The maps are truly excellent, and their amazing balance means you can dominate with a shotgun or a sniper rifle in the same map. For those lacking fine motor skills, the Bazooka (Allies) and Panzerschreck (Axis) are the ultimate way to infuriate your friends. Aiming one in their general direction will usually be enough to blow them up. It’s also hilarious to see them elevate 2 meters into the air whenever a shell lands near them.
It offers the usual Team Deathmatch and Free For All for a good dose of chaos, and the objective based game modes are so tense that you’ll find yourself holding your breath for minutes at a time.
Starcraft is so timeless that even though it was released in 1998, it’s still played competitively well over 20 years later, particularly in South Korea. A game way ahead of its time, Starcraft has excellent graphics and a killer soundtrack. It’s a sci-fi RTS game that’ll have you hooked, like it has so many others.
There are three sides to choose from: The human ‘Terrans’, the creepy, reptilian-bug-like ‘Zerg’ and the superior alien race, the ‘Protoss’. Of course in any game each side has strengths and weaknesses, but few manage to balance them as perfectly as Starcraft does. Among other things, this ultimate balance helped make this game famous, and it’s obvious why from the get-go; you’ll find that no team is able to dominate any other. Most people, however, quickly find the team that they prefer. If you like to quickly assemble an army and decimate enemy bases as fast as possible, then the Zerg is the team for you. The term ‘Zerg rush’ was coined for this exact reason, and it describes a huge swarm of relatively weak soldiers that are able to quickly overwhelm an opponent. If you like moderately powerful units with a moderate creation time for each, the Terrans are for you, with their mech-warrior Goliaths and Siege Tanks. For super powerful units, with a slow creation time, the Protoss are the team to use. Their Reaver units can lay waste to an enemy base in no time at all.
Oh, and these days it’s free!
Aliens Vs Predator (Fox Interactive)
The AVP movies were almost as disappointing as The Phantom Menace, but the 1999 FPS game was great.
For LAN play, you can choose to be either an Alien (surprise surprise), a Predator (who would have guessed!) or a Colonial Marine. The gameplay is so tense, immersive and claustrophobic that you’ll quickly forget about the slightly blocky graphics.
The Alien is super quick, jumps like an olympian, can run along walls and roofs, and can use its tail to kill with one strike. Aliens have no long range weapons, but it doesn’t matter when you can sneak up silently and take someone out before they even know you’re there. It can even use its ‘inner jaw’ to replenish its energy from defeated enemies’ corpses. The Predator can cloak itself (although the Alien can still see it) and has several enhanced vision modes, including its famous infra-red. It can take a beating more than the others and can blow opponents away with an array of alien-tech weapons, including its iconic shoulder cannon and the Smart Disc, which is like a homing frisbee skirted with razor blades. The Marines have an awesome bag of weapons at their disposal, and the same Heartbeat Sensor from the Alien movies. This can very useful, but it’s easy to rely on it too much; often by the time it detects an enemy, a super-fast Alien has speared you, or an invisible Predator has dismembered you. They carry a Grenade Launcher, a Pulse Rifle, an auto-targeting Smart Rifle, a Flame Thrower, a Rocket Launcher, a Mini-Gun… you get the idea.
AVP is best played at night, with the lights off and your headphones loud!
Red Alert (Virgin Interactive)
Red Alert is a real-time strategy game from 1996 (yes… computers existed back then!) in which you can play as the Allies or Soviets (goodies vs baddies again). There is an intriguing single player campaign for each side involving time travel and Albert Einstein, but really, you’d only play that on the sly to get a competitive advantage for your next LAN.
Electricity-firing Tesla coils, flame tanks, nuclear missile silos; this game has some pretty cool weapons. I always preferred the Soviets because of their Mammoth Tank. Think of what Hafthor Bjornsson would look like if he were a tank. Not only is it a total behemoth, it’s also super durable and can cut Allies’ soldiers and tanks to pieces. The Allies have superior naval capabilities, so if you’re playing on a map with lots of water, they’re a safe bet. Their Cruisers can pretty much take a Soviet base apart from the far side of the map.
Despite its age it’s a super addictive game and a worthy addition to any LAN.
Red Alert has been released as freeware.
Destruction Derby 2 (Psygnosis)
The title gives strong clues as to what this game is about; a bunch of cars, in a derby, trying to destroy each other. What’s not to like?!
All the players start in an arena, where the aim is to wreck as many opponents’ cars as possible, while keeping your own intact. The last one standing is the winner. While not a game you could play for hours on end, it’s still great mindless fun, and worth at least a cameo appearance at your next retro LAN.
Whether you want to relive the glory days of LAN gaming, or want to show your kids how amazing old school gaming can be, these games are a great place to start.
They may not have all the bells and whistles that come with modern online gaming, but these ground-breaking titles hold their place in gaming infamy and helped lay the foundations for the games we see today.