Monolith is a classic developer that you may or may not have heard of, whose library includes more well-known titles like FEAR and Condemned. They’re also very well known for one of the most expansive list of titles available on the PC to date, having produced a ridiculous amount of memorable titles often powered by their in-house engine. LithTech was powerful and gorgeous, often rivaling at times games like Quake with their visually impressive graphics and implementation of cutting edge animation technology. Today we’ll take a glimpse into an era when engines like Unity didn’t even exist, and Unreal wasn’t quite so ubiquitous or dominant.
Oh Shogo, you reached for the stars and came up a little short in the end, but you tried so hard. Shogo: Mobile Armor Division was Monolith’s ambitious attempt to capture the zeitgeist of 80s and early 90s mecha anime, going out of it’s way to provide an expansive open level design featuring both on-foot missions and pilot sections for tackling larger challenges in your mobile armour. The intro is a delightful snippet of optimism in the face of the game’s troubled development cycle resulting from GT Interactive’s pressure to release that also wound up sinking Blood II: The Chosen.
Shogo does not play anything like a mech simulator, instead placing you in a cockpit that feels like a traditional shooter where you go stomping around in someone’s Anime-flavored Tabletop Wargaming session. Your rockets crush vehicles and chunk infantry into red mist as you speed through blocky skyscrapers resembling that one city carpet we all had as a kid, all whilst smacking other mecha around with your howitzers. Glitchy gameplay, hammy dialogue, and homicidal AI companions that often cannot differentiate between friend or foe, Shogo is a flawed game with a lot of heart. Just be warned, you will find yourself making terminal velocity eye-rolls at a few of the game’s extremely tone deaf jokes, but its very nearly so-bad-its-good levels of fun.
What do you get when you throw a bunch of horror comedy classics into a blender with noir flicks and old cowboy films? A Bloody mess. Monolith’s perennial masterpiece features beloved Anti-Hero Caleb, some sort of cheeseball mash up of B-Movie Horror tropes dressed up in a cowboy hat and some of the most endearing cynical personality traits this side of Thief’s Garrett. Blood was a triumph of humorous video games, showing that you could still do dark elaborate world-building without resorting to Duke3D’s level of yucking it up about space marines.
Blood was all about experimentation and novelty- Magical voodoo dolls, Pitchforks, and an arsenal built on the healthy foundation of a compelling super shotgun. Blood’s legacy lives on strong to this day, inspiring quite a few RENOWNED ENDEAVORS WITH REPUTE FOR HATING MONEY.
Now, Dear Reader, you may be wondering: “Blood wasn’t on LithTech! It was on the Build Engine.” and you’d be absolutely right. But exploring Blood is foundational for understanding the sequel, Blood II: The Chosen.
Blood II: The Chosen
After Blood’s enormous success as an anachronistic Weird-West 1930-40s style cult classic, Monolith had to decide where to take the game next.
And clearly, the far flung dystopian cyberpunk future was the answer! I’m not sure if it’s an accidental nod to Shadowrun or a straight pastiche riffing off Blade, but Blood II’s surreal shift in tone and setting was an ill-omen for the game’s equally mysterious gameplay choices. With the opening subway level re-appearing OVER THREE TIMES, it becomes extremely clear that this game suffered heavily from GT Interactive not giving Monolith nearly enough time to actually polish the game.
Still Blood II is a wonderful testament to the developer’s unstoppable gusto for the bizarre, playing like some kind of Turok-Meets-Mysteries-Of-The-Sith mashup oozing with colored lighting and laden with preposterous weaponry. Blood II coats one’s memory of it with a strange red stain that won’t come out, and upon reflection we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Sanity: Aiken’s Artefact
While the studio’s top down shooter Ice-T vehicle was as unmemorable as you might expect from a game where you play a genetically engineered ‘Agent Cain’ in pursuit of his coincidentally named brother, ‘Abel’. While Sanity should probably be sidestepped on a list of memorable Monolith moments, the leading man’s endearingly earnest performance deserves a nod of respect.
Alien Versus Predator 2
Dripping with atmosphere, Monolith’s Aliens Vs Predator 2 was an incredible game that offered up some of the largest scope of multiplayer depth around.
While any game that offers AVP2’s simulator grab bag of eat-people-from the-shadows Alien, explode-people-from-the-tree-tops Predator, and get-killed-by-everything Marine is obviously going offer many memorable moments, what can top the opening twenty minutes of the Alien campaign?
Our journey through the Alien’s life-cycle starts us off as a facehugger sprinting from shadow to shadow in search of a host, before treating us to a first person chest-bursting sequence and then we’re off to find a box of cat-shaped snacks to eat. The chest-birthing was peak early 2000s video game gore, a brief masterpiece of then leading technology animation, sound effects and “oh my god that was the coolest thing ever” excitement at school the next day.
No One Lives Forever 2
NOLF2 deserves an article to itself. A ’60s spy romp through the kitsch of period James Bond knock-offs that is consistently as hilarious as the gameplay is imaginative. From fighting your way through a trailer park caught in a tornado to fending off hoards of super-soldiers straight out of Wolfenstein, the game is relentless in throwing new ideas, characters, and over the top set-pieces at you.
But the most memorable moment? The array of gadgets disguised as Cate Archer’s lipstick, nail clippers, hairspray, etc. in particular, the perfume that allows you to dissolve the bodies of henchmen and remove the risk of detection.
While licensed properties during the early 2000s generally had a habit of rapidly descending to the bottom of the bargain bin, it was no surprise that hot on the heels of AVP2 and NOLF2’s apex success, Monolith’s take on
Tron 2.0, the disc-jockeying cyber-fantasy cult classic was a superlative shooter. Far from a cookie cutter FPS, it went the extra distance with surprising RPG elements in the form of weapon upgrades, augmentations and ability choices that fed into a cozy breadth of player choice.
Of course, for all this, Tron 2.0’s most memorable feature is it’s starting weapon: the Disc. With the compelling rhythm of waiting to catch the disc after throwing it, multi-disc upgrades and the ability to ricochet it off walls or through multiple enemies, other weapons were always going to struggle to match the Disc’s satisfying versatility.
While Monolith had even many more games to offer, it’s important to take a look back at the foundation that eventually lead to the FEAR & Condemned franchises which we’ll be examining in the future. It’s a reminder that success is hard won through trial-and-error, business deals gone wrong, and the determination to make unique adventures that stand proud of their artistic accomplishments.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice