I’ll be honest – I’ve never been a huge fan of first person shooters. While I can fully appreciate the genre and the relevance of games like Halo and Modern Warfare, I’ve always preferred a good action game. The reason, I suppose, is not so much the logistics of first person shooters and the different set of skills it takes to mastering them, but rather that – as evidenced by this poignant picture – they’re all really rather redundant. I’m certainly not arguing that all action games are unique bastions of creativity, but it’s very, very difficult for me to get excited about first person shooters anymore.
While the Halo series does stand out amongst first person shooters – not due to any superiority in how the controls feel or in online play, but rather because of its futuristic, space-based design – the series is redundant within itself. Aside from a few new weapons and items, was there any real, substantive difference between Halo 2 and 3? From what I’ve seen of Halo: Reach, it looks like a souped-up version of Halo 3. In many ways, the Halo franchise is like the Madden franchise – distinguishable from the rest of the games in their respective genres, but ultimately, each new game in each series is simply a polished version of the last. Now, this isn’t to say that the Halo games aren’t impressive – they are – but even as a series that stands out amongst first person shooters, it’s really just more of the same.
As a whole, the genre of first person shooter is quite static and it’s my opinion that it needs to evolve to remain relevant. Obviously, the sales numbers of Modern Warfare 2 and the pre-order sales numbers of Call of Duty: Black Ops show that the genre is more relevant than ever, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not alone in my jadedness. Gamers are going to become fed up with clone after clone being put on the market and offering nothing new in the line of gameplay. What will Call of Duty: Black Ops be? My guess is just that – a Call of Duty game with some “Black Ops” missions, totally indistinguishable from the more recent Call of Duty games aside from the missions themselves. To me, 99% of first person shooters involve running around realistic terrain with realistic weapons and fighting against other humans (or humanoids). I’m sure there are some exceptions to this (like Halo, for example), but these are the characteristics of an overwhelming majority of games in the genre. At least give me some giant robots or dinosaurs or aliens to shoot at once in awhile.
Ironically, the two shooters that stand out the most to me as being evolved and different were made years ago. Half Life 2 was story-driven and involved more than just shooting; you played a detective in a sense, exploring the world around you and using your environment to your advantage. I haven’t read anything about a Half Life sequel coming out anytime soon, but I’d be excited for a game with that type of spin on the genre. I suppose that Bioshock would fall into this category, too. The other series that seems to me like an evolution of the genre – and of which I am a huge fan – is the Gears of War franchise. Billed as a third person shooter, the Gears of War games are really first person shooters with a third person cover system. It’s incredibly innovative and a welcome departure from the standard, constant first person view. Anyway, the first person shooter I am excited for is Bulletstorm, as it seems to not only make the environment around your character fully interactive, but there are many sick, twisted ways to slaughter enemies. As awesome as a head shot is, it does get old after awhile.
Besides the general premise and design of most first person shooters, the feature I dislike the most is the health system. What ever happened to health bars and being low on energy? Now, when you’re shot, you can simply duck down or run and hide for a few moments and then – voila! – you’re completely healed. Gears of War is also guilty of this feature, and I think I dislike it so much because it, in a way, rewards cowardice. Until first person shooters try something new – and maybe Bulletstorm is a start – I’m really just not that interested.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, screw you, Madison. I love my shooters and it’s action games that are becoming generic.” You’re not completely wrong. There are many, many generic action games that are nothing more than a quick God of War clone (Dante’s Inferno comes to mind). The difference is, however, that the so-called best first person shooters aside from Halo – Killzone, Modern Warfare, Bad Company – are all very, very similar to one another, while the so-called best action games – God of War, Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry – are really nothing alike aside from being in the same genre of game. I’d also add Bayonetta to that list, as anyone who claims it is “Devil May Cry with a female” has clearly never played it. Also, Witch Time? Totally unique. So, for my money – and my expectations – action games are where it’s at. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the new Castlevania, as well as Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2. Even if both games end up being less than what I expect, I’ll at least have the experience of playing games that can stand out amongst other games in the same genre. And oh, the game I’m perhaps most excited for? Vanquish, which looks like it employs a similar cover element as Gears of War, although the third person sequences are, unlike in Gears of War, fast and furious.
This wasn’t meant to be a rant against first person shooters, because there are some that I really do enjoy quite a bit. That being said, I’m yet to play – at least in the last few years – a first person shooter that wowed me with its innovation and design. Here’s to hoping that deviation from the norm becomes the rule and is no longer the exception.