Since the release of Wolfenstein: The New Order this image above has been circulating around Twitter and other social media sites apparently showing how far games have advanced since the release of the original Wolfenstein in 1992. But how much have first person shooters actually advanced? Not really that much. But is that really an issue? I think the problem arises when we look at the bigger picture. First person shooters are the action movies of the video game industry. They’re not necessarily bad, but they’re abundant, lack variety and can get mind-numbingly repetitive, albeit fun in short bursts. When it comes to first-person shooters we don’t really have much choice between what kind of games we’re playing. There are some exceptions like the Half Life, Deus Ex, Metroid Prime and Portal franchises.
The original Wolfenstein popularized the genre of first-person shooters and Doom took it a step further, adding more pixels to the visuals and multiplayer modes. They had ultimately set the foundation and precedent for first person shooters for years to come. In the majority of these games your character is tasked from moving from one room to another killing enemies. Moving through the environment is a basic task for the most part requiring no skill or precision movement. The majority the games get repetitive in single-player mode as you’re just walking from one action set-piece to another. That’s the basis of the majority of first person shooters and that basis hasn’t changed since the release of Wolfenstein back in 1992.
Sometimes you’ll come across exceptions to this rule. These games tend to have a couple of things in common like a strong narrative, choices in how to approach enemies (or avoid them) and environments you can interact with in someway. Half Life was like your typical FPS but it added platforming and puzzle elements. Moving from one room to another wasn’t such a simple task anymore. These two new elements made the FPS aspect of the game less repetitive and added a new dimension to the genre. The Deus Ex games added stealth and role-playing elements. Giving you choice on how you progressed. You could get through any Deus Ex game without shooting a single bullet, or you could go crazy and shoot everything up. Metroid Prime took a 2D game and turned it into a fantastic first-person adventure game. There was a narrative that you could discover by exploring and “scanning” aspects of the environment you were in. It made the game immersive. Portal is a strange game in the sense that you’re not shooting your gun to kill enemies, but to traverse the environment and to solve puzzles. And how weird is it that we consider a game where you don’t have to kill anything unique?
And it’s rare for a first person game to feature an interesting, engaging narrative. The single-player mode in FPS these days feels like an after-thought. The majority of developers seem to focus more on the multiplayer aspects of their games. Some developers have tried to create interesting worlds and stories. Id software released Rage 3 years ago, creating a big world that you navigate with a car that you could customize. The concept was interesting, a mixture of Mad Max and Fallout, but the execution was lacking. You were basically driving from point A to point B, with nothing interesting happening in-between. It was unnecessary. The levels were for the most part incredibly linear. It was a shame, because Rage had a lot of potential. The enemies could be frightening and the AI was intelligent, moving through the corridors at fast speeds avoiding your gun-fire. Then you had games like Halo, which also have the potential of a powerful narrative and a great single player mode. The single player campaign mode in Halo games ended up incredibly mediocre with flashes of brilliance. The multiplayer modes which were fun in early iterations ended up trying to imitate some of Call of Duty’s multiplayer aspects in the later Halo games, which made the game less unique and the fun short-lived.
Now that “next-gen” consoles are out developers should be taking advantage of the hardware. Sadly when you look at what games they’re working on it seems that things wont be changing in the near-future. Open-world games, third-person shooters, first-person shooters are all for the most part following very similar formulas. Companies want to have the next “big” hit, the next Grand Theft Auto, the next Call of Duty, so they take less risks and we end up with bloated, huge-budget games that end up not selling well. This turns companies away because they don’t see profit. The video game industry made a profit of $93 billion in 2013, it’s a massive market and everyone wants a piece of it. When the video game market crashed in the early 1980′s it was due to the over-saturation of the market, these days it seems like the opposite is happening, we lack choice.
Luckily indie developers are making games that are fun, varied and unique. We have designers, artists, programmers leaving the bigger development studios to start their own little companies to create the games they want and that’s really good news for us, the consumers. And luckily, we live in a day and age where these small studios are (mostly) respected and where they have the freedom to publish their games on whichever platform they choose. Ultimately, choice and variety are (obviously) a good thing. I’m not saying that games like Wolfenstein: The New Order are bad games, they can be enjoyable. But the video game industry needs to discover a balance between “more of the same” and the “new”. If not, how long will it be until gamers get sick of playing similar games, over and over again? How long can it stay fun?