Change is inevitable. Over time, old conventions are shed in favor of a new set of rules that can seem entirely idiotic by those from the old school. First Person Shooters are not immune to this rule, and have suffered as a result. That is not to say modern shooters are shabby, they are quite good. But they are certainly missing some things that not only helped define the genre, but made it great. Below are some things that I think need to make a comeback in FPS’s.
Remember Tom Clancy? Operation Flashpoint (no, not Red River)? Remember when going into each firefight in these games was literally a life or death situation? The health of you and your teammates was of the utmost importance, ducking behind a rock meant you were taking cover from enemy fire, not waiting for your health to regenerate. Missions were given more context than “go here and kill these guys because I said so.” Even outfitting your team with the proper equipment in the staging area was vital to success.
This is not to say that arcade shooters do not have their place. Doom, not the first, but certainly the most important FPS, was all about arcade action and also a whole heap of fun. But having that pre-mission map, the briefings, and planning stages to help wrack your brain a little bit sure was a lot of fun. It turned what would be a point A to point B affair into something that you can try over and over, taking a different approach each time. In an age of one-and-done campaigns, this sure would add some replay value.
Cranking up the difficulty in a modern shooter really only means two things will change: 1) you will die in one bullet and 2) the enemies shooting said bullet at you are unrealistically accurate with a shotgun loaded with buck-shot at 1200 meters. Essentially, you will play the same levels, but get some bonus frustration with each one. What games such as Perfect Dark and Goldeneye did was add more objectives to each mission, opening up parts of the level that could not be accessed at lower difficulties. How’s that for incentive to try out the gruelingly challenging Dark Agent difficulty?
Like the aforementioned planning stages, this also encouraged multiple play-throughs. It added a layer of discovery to advancing through to the upper echelons of challenge in a shooter. Sure, you were still facing ridiculously accurate enemies with an utterly neutered health bar, but at least you weren’t looking at the exact same level that you ran through on the easy difficulty.
I understand that this may not exactly be feasible with games that have around 60 different armaments, but the fact that every shooter I play anymore limits me to two weapons is really obnoxious. Whereas finding a rocket launcher in older shooters may have meant that you simply stumbled into a secret area, now, it seems that it is there to telegraph a boss fight of some sort. You use the rocket launcher to take down a helicopter or tank, go back and swap it for the assault rifle, and carry on. Want to bring it with you? Not wise, you probably won’t find ammo for the thing ever again.
Weapon wheels let you shape every encounter the way you wanted. Insomniac’s Resistance games (sans the second) are a great example of this. All of the weapon’s personalities are allowed to shine because, at any moment, you may experiment with a weapon you have yet to use and see some spectacular results. I think this may be a side effect of many shooters going the military route, taking away the ability for a developer to take liberties with the armory, but that is another article altogether.
I’ve talked about this before, but it seems that developers are taking waaaaaaaaaaayyyy too many notes from Michael Bay these days. Hell, any shooter, no matter the perspective, is an experience in sensory overload. Explosions to the left, explosions to the right, a QTE (F**K QTE’s) coming from behind and a fall off of something up ahead. It’s like going to a laser-light show in the midst of a fireworks display on ecstasy that you took to pregame the lines of blow you were going to do there. I finish the game and feel like I’m asthmatic.
Remember when massive spectacle was considered a treat? When many gun fights were toned down and memorable, and the big moments things you talked about around the water cooler? It seems that developers have literally no confidence in their ability to craft a shooter that is trying to immerse you, not distract you. Listen, we understand that they want to set a grand scale, but remember, there is another end to that scale too; and it is being utterly neglected.
If there were one word I would use to describe many AAA shooters, it would be “linear.” Run down this corridor and watch scripted events left and right. It’s awzumz! But really, there was a time when levels were branching, filled with secrets to find. Red Faction used its environmental destruction to hide plenty of goodies off to the side. Perfect Dark required you to walk in directions besides “forward” to complete all of your objectives. The player was there to be involved with the game and interact with it, not just watch cool things happen.
Then there was the occasional puzzle to mix things up. Half-Life required you to manipulate your environment, the second game had plenty of physics-based puzzles, for example. Duke Nukem 3-D had some simple jumping puzzles or “put this brick on this board to create a ramp” puzzles to mix things up. While some hated these and aren’t sad to see them go, for me, they sometimes they broke up the action when things were getting monotonous. There just seemed to be so much more variety in levels before, and I miss this.
In the wake of Call of Duty 4, the online portion of the shooter, once looked at as (for the most part) secondary to the single-player experience, began to take priority over the campaign. This is not CoD‘s fault, and there were plenty of shooters in the past that emphasized the online play, but now, all developers seem to care about is creating an online experience to move more units. In any other scenario, I would not find fault in this, but the single-player experiences I (and many others) love are suffering for this.
Battlefield 3 had a single player campaign that was as generic as they came, totally different from the excellent online action. Last year’s Homefront had a horrible, four-hour long campaign while the online was handled with care. After Modern Warfare, each sequel Infinity Ward created for the MW series of CoD games got progressively more “eh.” Return to Castle Wolfenstein had excellent multiplyer, to be sure, but the campaign was just as memorable, and one I regularly revisit. This is just one of many examples that many (note: many is not the same as all) seem to ignore.
I’m not here to suggest that modern shooters suck, I loves me some over-the-top, over-stimulating action like anyone else. Some other shooters, like Battlefield: Bad Company and Bioshock embody some of these traits quite spectacularly. It doesn’t change the fact, though, that many don’t and, even worse, refuse to in order to conform to the online shooter ideals that so many games want to emulate. Would it be so bad to see some of these things wiggle their way into some future releases? I think not.
What about you? What do you think is absent from modern first person shooter that used to be the norm in games past? Let us know in the comments below!