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A tactical shooter is a subgenre of first-person shooters, where realistic ("real-world") settings are simulated by the gaming engine (to the best of its ability) and players use authentic military tactics to accomplish goals in the game, thus making tactics and caution more important than quick reflexes in other action games. Tactical shooters involving military combat are sometimes known as "soldier sims".
According to IGN, tactical shooters "are about caution, care, cooperation, coordination, planning, and pacing. In those games, making decisive pushes, quick moves for cover, strategic retreats, and last ditch grabs at the gold are not only important to success, but balanced in such a way that they become enjoyable activities in play." 
Tactical shooters are designed for realism. It is not unusual for players to be killed with a single bullet, and thus players must be more cautious than in other shooter games. The emphasis is on realistic modeling of weapons, and power-ups are often more limited than in other action games. This restrains the individual heroism seen in other shooter games, and thus tactics become more important.
Overall, the style of play is typically slower than other action games. Jumping techniques are sometimes de-emphasized in order to promote realism, with some games going so far as to omit a jump button. In contrast to games that emphasize running and shooting, tactical shooters require more caution and patience (making use of cover and avoiding being caught in the open).
Many tactical shooters make use of group-based combat, where the player character is supported by other teammates. While early tactical shooters had simple computer-controlled teammates who offered support fire, the artificial intelligence in later games has evolved with more complex teammate responses such as cover-fire mechanics. In games with a sufficiently robust artificial intelligence, the player character is able to issue commands to other computer-controlled characters. Some games in the genre allow players to plan their team's movements before a mission, which the artificial intelligence then follows. Many games also offer a multiplayer online play, allowing human players to strategize. Team-based tactics are emphasized more than other shooter games, and thus accurate aiming and quick reflexes are not always sufficient for victory.
The level design usually reflects the game's setting. For example, the player may play the role of SWAT police fighting terrorists or other criminals, or may engage in military combat in real world conflicts as either battlefield soldiers or special forces commandos. Some games take place in entirely fictional universes, and incorporate elements of science fiction. Each level will have different objectives. Although some levels may simply require that the player defeat their enemy, other levels may challenge the player with objectives such as escorting a VIP safely to a specific location or planting a demolition charge on a target. Levels are often designed with check points or alternate routes. As "run and gun" assaults are often met with heavy resistance, it becomes important to exploit a superior position and/or take the enemy by surprise and even evading them entirely.
Tactical shooters often feature a wide variety of weapons modeled after actual firearms, being more realistic than run-and-gun shooters, however simulating actual combat is often sacrificed in favor of balance as well as playability. There are often considerable modifications to in-game weapons and ballistics from their real-life counterparts in order to ensure balance in multiplayer.
For instance Counter-Strike and other games allow the player to survive multiple bullet hits to the torso (ignoring the bullet resistance of different types of ballistic vests) and even more to the legs (rarely armored in real-life), while registering an automatic kill for melee hits (whether punches or knife stabs) and "headshots" (including a pistol shot to the back of the head even if the target is wearing a combat helmet).
Tactical shooters are usually designed so that shooting becomes inaccurate while running, on the other hand increasing accuracy for crouching or prone stances. Players often have the choice of shooting from the hip ("spraying") which is less accurate but gives a wider view of the area, or using the scope/iron sights for better zoom-in accuracy but at the penalty of restricted view. Some tactical shooters even lack the crosshair seen in other first-person shooters, in order to achieve a high degree of realism.
In contrast to run and gun shooters such as Quake which allow players to carry full arsenals, tactical shooters place considerable restrictions on what players may be equipped with, so players have to carefully select weapons according to the situation and/or role in their team. Half-Life: Counter-Strike's system of allowing a primary weapon (assault rifle, submachine gun, sniper rifle, or shotgun) and a secondary weapon (pistol) has been followed by other shooters like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
Wielding or carrying heavier weapons such as sniper rifles and machine guns often incurs a movement penalty over light weapons like submachine guns and pistols, although players often find loopholes in this system.
Due to the problem of grenade spamming, the effect of explosions are often toned down and/or only 1-2 grenades are allowed to be carried.
Akimbo (Dual wielding) of weapons, despite being ineffective and inaccurate in real life, is frequently featured in tactical shooters likely as a homage to films. The Desert Eagle, despite its heavy weight, recoil, and limited magazine capability make it unsuitable for actual military and special forces applications, is frequently found in many tactical shooters as a high-powered handgun option. Examples of these elements are in Counter-Strike and the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series.
The tactical shooter genre was pioneered in 1998 with the game industry generally crediting games such as Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon with defining and refining the tactical shooter genre.  Another key title was Delta Force, which emphasized real-world weaponry and quick kills. The genre was also influenced by the SWAT series, a spin-off from the Police Quest series of adventure games.
Rainbow Six has been credited as a revolutionary game, which defined the conventions of the genre. The game was inspired by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Hostage Rescue Team, and was designed to replicate a team of specialists performing a skilled operation. The game was designed to emphasize strategy in a way that would be fun for players without the best reflexes. The series has since become a benchmark for the genre in terms of detail and accuracy.
Tactical shooters such as Soldier of Fortune feature graphic depiction of gore and violence, which both proponents and detractors consider to be more realistic than most first-person shooter games. Among one of the first first-person shooters to feature real world rather than futuristic weapons, it included single-player and multiplayer gameplay with the concept of playing as a mercenary.
Some of the most notable tactical shooters have been total conversion mods of first person shooter titles which have been released for free. Infiltration, a total conversion of Unreal Tournament (1999), has been described as "turning Unreal Tournament's wild cartoon action into a harrowing game of cat and mouse". Infiltration has been noted for detailed aiming system including hip ("hippie") and scope/iron fire while lacking a crosshair, different movement stances (running, walking, crouching, and prone, leaning around corners), and a customizable loadout system that allows configuration of weapons (including attachments) with a weight penalty. Half-Life: Counter-Strike (2000), a mod of Half-Life (1998), was the most popular multiplayer game of its era despite the release of first-person shooters with more advanced graphics engines such as Unreal Tournament 2003.
Since the 2000s, contemporary tactical shooters have been largely neglected by developers, as traditionally realistic tactical shooter series like Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon have seen their sequels drift away from careful-paced tactical realism towards cinematic centered themes and run-and-gun play, as can be witnessed by e.g. contemporary Rainbow Six titles, which completely do away with the series' iconic pre-action planning stage (last encountered in Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield), or the futuristic settings of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.
- Military simulation, where individual soldiers or units are not directly controlled by the player are often real-time tactics games. Tactical shooter is fiction, Military simulation is in real life.
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