For Co-Op Classics today, we will head back to 1995. Pierce Brosnan's James Bond and Buzz Lightyear were in the theaters, the O.J. Simpson trial was on TV, and Drew Barrymore gave David Letterman one of his best birthday presents ever. As far as computers went, you had a dial-up modem, 8 megs of memory, and crystal clear VGA graphics. The DOOM clones were out in force, and a nice variation of that formula was Hexen.
In this age of Xbox Live and Playstation Network, we are spoiled by easy access to other players. You can enjoy games with friends from other cities, states, even across the globe, all without leaving your family room. However, it wasn't always this way. In the mid 90s, taking your entire computer with you to a LAN party was one of the best ways to enjoy multiplayer gaming. Doom was the forefather that got everyone addicted, and a parade of other games followed it, all eager to attain the same popularity.
Several games succeeded by changing up Doom's basic formula. Duke Nukem 3D gave us a memorable character as protagonist, and cranked up the humor. Heretic came along, shifting the theme from sci-fi horror to dark fantasy, and replacing guns with crossbows. Hexen was the sequel to that game, and added in a class-based system that was unheard of in similar games of the time.
Taking a page out of the RPG handbook, Hexen allows players to choose one of three classes as their adventure begins. The fighter has increased health and armor, and the ability to use brutal, up-close melee weapons. The mage is the opposite, with weak health and armor, but possessing magical powers that could be used at a great distance. In between these two extremes, the cleric has well balanced strength, armor, and magic ability.
Each character class had their own set of weapon upgrades, adding to the custom feel. The fighter began with only spike-studded gloves, and could collect an axe, a magical hammer that shot projectiles, and an enormous magic sword that shot room-clearing bursts of green energy. A lowly wand is the mage's starting weapon, but he can eventually freeze enemies in ice, summon huge lightning bolts, and use a skull-topped staff to shoot fireballs that home in on opponents! The cleric's arsenal is equally impressive, including a mace, a creepy, serpent-eyed staff, and a spell that summons bursts of flame. The coolest weapon in the game is the cleric's final weapon, a cross shaped staff that summons ghosts to tear enemies apart. The weapons all look incredible on screen, and you feel like you are the one shooting ice from your hands, or punching enemies to a pulp.
Hexen's class system made it unique compared to other shooters of the time. It gave the player another meaningful choice to make, whether that was for the single player story, playing in co-op, or taking down your friends in deathmatch. In Doom, everyone was the same, player skill aside, and that could get old (after a very long time, admittedly). Playing the game as a fighter, then a mage, then a cleric tripled the replay factor. In co-op mode, you could tailor your character to the needs of the group. Any combination of players worked pretty well, the more variety, the better. Players had cover one another's weaknesses, which only added to the sense of teamwork. I always preferred to play as the fighter since I wasn't exactly good at dodging, and the extra health and armor really helped. A nice mage partner and I could do quite well together.
Hexen was followed by a sequel, Hexen II, in 1997. Based on the Quake engine, Hexen II was one of the first games I remember that truly impressed me when running on a machine with a good video card. Hexen II revamped the classes, and added in another for a total of four. It also incorporated even more core RPG structures, like a leveling system, with stat bonuses and extra hit point and mana pools rewarding advancement.
The original Hexen was ported to several home consoles, including the Nintendo 64, Saturn, and the original Playstation. A version of Hexen II is in development for the iPhone. Both games, as well as Heretic, are available on Steam, but being as old as they are, it's uncertain whether online multiplayer would work or not. I don't know about you, but I'd buy on day one if Hexen or Hexen II were released on Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network!