Dumbed Down FPSs
The first person shooter has long been one of the most popular and, arguably, the most controversial genre in the gaming industry. It all started from a humble beginning on the University of Illinois' computer network with the game Spasim. This was the first documented game which was played from the first person perspective. FPSs took another twenty years to really take off with the release of Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 which was followed by the c|assic, Doom. These two titles moved away from the wireframe 3D graphics of old and transformed the world into vivid color. Technically, it was hardly 3D at all as almost every object was a sprite pasted onto a specific place and scaled to create the illusion of 3D. It wasn't until the explosion of Quake in 1996 that 3D graphics began to flex its muscles. From here on we can simply name c|assicc after c|assic:
1997- Golden Eye
1998- Half-Life, Rainbow Six, Tribes, Unreal
1999- Medal of Honor, Unreal Tournament, Quake III, Counter Strike
2000- Deus Ex
First FPS: Spasim: 32 players online and chat!
We fly through hundreds of great FPS games to come to where we are today. On the precipice of the most anticipated FPS launch of the year, Call of Duty: Black Ops. This FPS should be the culmination of all those past titles, the very best of the best with all the lessons learned from the past plus a bit of extra added to the top. It should destroy the bar set by last year and place its own ever higher.
However, I feel it won't do any of those things. I believe FPSs have become a blueprint for a cash machine which the producers churn out year after year. Let me explain my reasoning…
In the c|assic FPS games of the 1990's a player had to not only clear countless baddies, but they could also scavenge, search, and explore their world to find extra power-ups, collect story items, find secret stashes, or simply to enjoy exploration for what it is. The levels were designed over enormous areas with many secret chambers, mini-bosses, and various ways to progress the story. The fun was had through rewarding exploration and because the levels were so sprawling the player felt they truly were in a real-world location without bounds.
Follow me down the tight, well defined mountain pass while we slowly fight endless enemies until we get to the waypoint. By the way, you may slip and fall in which case I will quickly grab you, expertly pose for a second as to create suspense, and then pull you back up into the action.
Today the fights are larger than ever and the battles scenes more epic than even some movies, but there is a constant feeling of disconnect. Although there is an enormous battlefield in front of me, I can only follow this trench or there just happens to be a minefield 10ft to each side of me all the time. Although the world looks large, the player's world is tiny. I constantly want to set out to explore and try to fight the battle my own way, but the game boxes me into a predefined path with fixed win conditions. The developers know players love to see new things and explore, so they try a bit of misdirection with cut-scenes or scripted events to keep the player's mind on something other than the boxed in dimensions of their corridor. Find that cheese little mousy.
Nothing sums this up better than the following image:
To the left we have Doom, to the right we have a modern FPS game.
Some games break away from that formula, but not usually. Some recent games that let the player explore are STALKER and Far Cry.
Puzzles are for Sissies
I remember first playing the original Half-Life. The most memorable parts of that game are not the fighting but the puzzle solving and interesting situations the developer put the player into. Having to figure out how to get the train running again or trying to get the reactor back online were some of the problems the player had to solve. It was much more than simply shooting some dudes and flipping a switch. Today, we are lucky if we get even one level where any logical thought is needed at all. The rest of the time it is simply duck, pop up and shoot, duck to reload/recover hp, pop up, repeat. I'm not saying it isn't fun, but some puzzle solving is a great way to break up the action.
Hmmm, should I run and gun, stealth kill, or simply by-pass this base? It is up to you.
With the today's extremely powerful physics and graphics engines, one would think the developers could come up with some amazing puzzles but it seems the only developer doing that anymore is Valve and HL2 was almost 6 years ago!
Another issue is letting the player choose the path to victory. Should I shoot every bad guy or try to cleverly sneak around? Deus Ex always gave the player the choice, Far Cry as well. Not in the typical FPS though, not anymore.
With most big budget FPS games these days it seems the single player campaign is slowly being killed off. Each year they get 30min-1hour shorter and the story is practically nonexistent. There is not a well crafted tale of the struggle to survive, no deep meaning layered between a twisting plot line, and there are certainly not any memorable characters to cherish.
What is left today is the husk of the former giant. Below the high intensity cut-scenes, the highly scripted Hollywood events, and the beautiful graphics is a 4 hour corridor shooter.
I hope CoD:BO breaks this cycle, but I highly doubt it.
This is not about MP and please note there are the few FPS games that come out that are like the ones in the past, but sadly they are mostly over looked by the general public.