The first person shootergenre has come to dominate the gaming industry in recent years, thanks in no small part tothe rise of online console gaming. Franchises likeBattlefield, Call of Duty and Halo have become pillars of online play, drawing in millions of players everyday and reshaping the face of the industry in a very significant way.
Just like other genres, the first person shooter has evolved dramatically over the years, occasionally undergoing what might be called a paradigm shift, where new technology or game mechanics redefine the direction of the genre. These shifts can be both major and minor, sometimes easily identifiable and other times subtle, making their identification difficult to those without a background in that game style. We’ve taken a look at the history of the FPS and singled out what we consider to be a few of the major contributors that shaped the genre as we see it today.
When talking about FPS gamesthese days, it seems to be the natural assumption that some element of competitive multiplayer is involved. This is pretty obvious when you look at the top-selling games in the genre, likeCall of Duty or Battlefield, and the forthcoming Respawn Entertainment title Titanfall, which are sold almost exclusively on the basis of their multiplayer experience.
But before consoles became the go-to platform for easily available online gaming, all the action was in PC gaming. In 1996, when consoles were still just isolated pieces of living room hardware, a little game called Quake was rocking the PC world with its introduction of some of the first reliable multiplayer servers. Just so happening to also be the first FPS to use 3D polygons rather than sprites, Quake’s success was immediate and long-lasting, and it wasn’t long before other developers attempted to replicate the game's success, with Starseige: Tribes and Counter Strike both helping to bolster the online FPS scene with their release in 1999.
Quite on the opposite end of the FPS spectrum from multiplayer-focused games is the immersive, role playing experience. Rather than focusing on high-intensity combat, these titles place an emphasis on narrative, which can make for a dramatically different game despite the similarities in actual play mechanics. Using the graphical technology from Quake, Half-Life managed to re-imagine the FPS experience by creating an immersive atmosphere, complete with non-combatants, detailed environments and a robust background story.
Half-Life was also notable for its distinct lack of cut scenes and power-ups, both of which tend to subtract from the immersion that earned the game so much praise. The artificial intelligence used in Half-Life was some of the most advanced at the time and goes hand-in-hand with the game’s legendary attention to detail. Half-Life’s legacy still endures today, spawning dozens of mods and eventually producing the sequel, Half-Life 2.
One franchise that managed to successfully encapsulate both of these trends during its prime is the Halo series. Though originally planned as a third-person shooter for Mac, Halo was adopted by Microsoft as the premier launch title for the Xbox release in 2001. Much like Half-Life, Halo was praised for its attention to detail, character design and high quality of dialogue.
While Halo wasn’t initially developed to support online play, since the Xbox at that time had no significant internet functionality, a slightly modified version was released on PC that had full online multiplayer support. Xbox Live was made available to Xbox owners about a year after the console’s release and in 2004, and Bungie followed up on the huge success of Halo with the release of Halo 2. Finally able to take full advantage of Xbox Live, Halo 2 quickly became one of the most played games of the time, enjoyed for both its single player campaign and its multiplayer matchmaking.
In retrospect, anyone familiar with today’s most popular FPS titles can trace back their primary sources of inspiration with relative ease, using some of these game-changing examples as benchmarks. While most games seek to separate themselves from the crowd by introducing innovative mechanics or high-quality graphics, the reality is that most developers tend to fall back on the games that influenced them the most.
That’s not to say that developers have run out of ideas or are just copying the success of other games, though. Rather than that, itshows the versatility of the genre and how, through careful manipulation of time-tested gameplay mechanics, developers find themselves continually on the cusp of the next genre-defining instalment in the long and storied genre.
So what recent FPS games will people be talking about as game changers in ten year’s time? I’d put my money on Aliens: Colonial Marines... or maybe not.