After reading a recent article about nostalgia for old games, and whether or not they hold their own to games today I felt the need to write a new blog. The main point of the blog is to focus on the limits of one of the all time favorite genres, the first person shooter. Please do not take this the wrong way, I love my FPS games, but the more I play, the more I realize the lack of innovation.
Lets look at the industry leaders, Call of Duty and Halo. Each one of these has its attractive appeals to it, but how different are they in nature? True, each franchise has its own niche, but overall I see these games as having limits which sooner or later will cause the genre to become weakened. Call of Duty fans probably have noticed by now that there are some strong similarities between Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2, the one that always stuck out in my mind in particular was the scene where you're down and have to take the 'last shot.' How many more ways can this be done? Yes I get it, its climactic and increases the tension for the player as the bitter end could very well be approaching, but really is there a great amount of difference between a knife to the eye and a bullet to the head. Halo likewise has generally been the same old, same old game (with the exception of Halo Wars). Each time the series, generally speaking, has improved but sooner or later there will be a limit to what these games are capable of. These FPS games are reaching their limits, so whats left?
I'm not a professional game designer by any means, but there are some things which we can learn and have been learned from the Call of Duty, Halo, and other franchises.
Customization - This is a crucial aspect to most games today. The majority of games today have picked up on this idea, but what could be expanded upon? To this I point to a game that could've been amazing but did not live up to the hype. Brink was an excellent shot at trying to make the FPS into something different. The amount of customization was ridiculous and made for unique gameplay. Along with class customization, you had weapons customization, and a fairly structured means of perks. This made the games potential great because it all felt very fair regardless of how you set up a class. This runs contrary to both Call of Duty and Halo. Call of Duty, in particular Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2, have gone overboard with equipment that becomes a standard. The claymore is the most obvious example. After playing Black Ops for some time I learned Hacker is an amazing perk, and it taught me one thing, claymores are the most frequently used equipment in the game. Modern Warfare 2 has become outrageous with claymores due to the One Man Army perk, its not uncommon to see someone set up five or six claymores around them as protection. Halo is a different version of the same story. In Halo the goal is often to get to a shotgun, a sword, a hammer, or the sniper rifle. Essentially these need to be fixed by allowing more customization that is fair to all players.
Movement - Again a new area which has been expanded upon, but is becoming increasingly limited. Halo finally got more creative after three games with Reach's different abilities to be stealthy, fast, or temporarily indestructible. Call of Duty progressively got better over time with sprinting, and now diving. These are nice, but again Brink is an excellent example of trying to improve the FPS. The SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system was crafty, albeit a little buggy at times. The system, however, allowed you to move literally anywhere on the map and opened up many new ways to travel. This could be complimented by the way Halo Reach's map system was done. Over time I've been to tons of different maps and it seems like they could be endless variations of the same map, this combined with the SMART system of movement could prove rewarding to those who choose to explore and become more inventive with their gameplay style.
Environment - This is a critical component to every game regardless of whether or not its a FPS. This is a difficult balancing art, there has to be consistency and variety all in one setting. This is also where I stop complimenting Brink and say that this is the worst feature of the game. There were only eight maps and could be learned quickly making gameplay boring and predictable. Halo and Battlefield 2 were my paradigms for this section. Halo Reach offered a great amount of variety from the reuse of the same maps. Variations of the map made this fun and changed enough that it kept the game interesting. Battlefield had a brilliant idea to make the environment interactive allowing for buildings to be blown to pieces, bullets to penetrate through thin walls, and the overall destruction created something that most games had not seen before. (I know this doesn't fit in with the FPS matter, but major props to Red Faction Guerilla and Red Faction Armageddon for their geo-mods, FPS could learn from them.)
Story - This is the last thing I will touch on, but it is by far the most important in my opinion. Being a late 80's child I saw the development of modern gaming from a far more primitive time. The reason we bought games originally was because they had a story, with the rise of online multiplayer it seems like that has faded away. All games today, particularly FPS, are starting to see some wear from reused concepts, or even the lack of concepts. Call of Duty is the perfect example of where the story is nowhere as important as the online multiplayer. I've met many people who have never played the campaign and only play the multiplayer. In this case all I can say is gaming has gotten away from story. There is no co-op for Black Ops, and Modern Warfare 2 was very limited. I can't say I sympathize completely, the Call of Duty franchise has gotten lazy and the campaigns are short. Halo at least has found a positive way to incorporate the story into multiplayer. Humanity itself is beginning to see the limits of story-telling, but surely there has to be hope out there for something to keep us entertained as we take on the personas of our FPS counterparts.
I have tried to be appreciative of the FPS genre and give it leadway into the future, but with new games coming out all the time I can't help but worry that sooner or later it will go the way of the movie industry. At the end of the cycle of creativity is the brutal path of remastering and remaking what has already been done. Creativity is what the FPS needs before we lose the genre altogether.