What was once considered a genre with a steep learning curve where players needed to have twitch reflexes to dodge the railgun shots of the likes of Fatal1ty has become somewhat diluted by mechanics which make it easy to kill and easier to die. We can thank the emergence of Xbox Live and PlayStation Network for providing a means for casual and hardcore gamers alike to unite, even if only for the span of thirty to forty-five minutes. I have been a fan of the genre since Duke Nukem 3D and Doom, but it is still difficult to witness the entire industry attempt to emulate the genre, creating a dearth of creativity.
That does not mean that this genre lacked any inspiration whatsoever. Despite my cynicism, I am still capable of celebrating what the genre did offer.
Gears of War
Little else comes to mind which best represents the declaration that Next Gen had arrived more than a certain memorable commercial. Flexing the newly-minted Unreal 3 engine, Marcus Fenix pugnaciously jogs in real time through a wasteland of derelict buildings, a tableau of open warfare, to the tune of “Mad World.” Avoiding a potential enemy encounter ahead, Marcus barrel rolls through a wall, finding himself emerging in a room of complete darkness, a complimentary atmosphere for the illuminated eyes of the awakened gargantuan spider-like adversary. Simply gorgeous.
While the game touts a primarily grayscale spectrum, the lack of color provided an appropriate atmosphere of bleakness as players would use walls, rubble, and otherwise conveniently placed elevated barricades in this game that accentuates the duck-and-cover style of shooting seen in the 2D games of old such as Rolling Thunder, and Mass Effect in the future. The gameplay features of “active reload” as well as the gruesome melee attacks and curb stomping ensured that this game would win the hearts of the developing fratcore gamer culture that this gen would wrought.
Unfortunately, Gears of War is among a list of franchises (in)famous for fostering a gaming culture where, outside of exceptions such as Mario, Zelda, and Final Fantasy, games that are not “mature,” featuring various levels of blood and gore, profanity, and/or nudity, are “kiddie,” and therefore inherently inferior. With online multiplayer complete with voice chatting via headset becoming a widespread feature, said culture would become normative.
The hardest of the hardcore will fondly remember System Shock, and refer to Bioshock as a spiritual successor. I’m ashamed to say to say that I am not among them, but thanks to a 2013 re-release, it is conspicuously a member of my backlog. That said, I can still confirm that Bioshock is the first FPS since Half-Life (2), that contained an enthralling story complete with plot twists and deception, thought it was conveyed primarily via tape recordings which require the player to piece things together. That said, the player is not obligated to give a frick about the story at all should s/he so choose! Oh, and all of this is experienced through the game’s single player mode, because 2K at the time of its release did not believe that every game needed a slipshod multiplayer mode for kicks and giggles.
Sure, the final boss is underwhelming, but that does not denigrate the game in its entirety. Bioshock convincingly animates an undersea steampunk utopia, Rapture, thrown into chaos and decay. I am personally no a fan of the Ayn Rand allusions, but I did enjoy the criticisms concerning genetic engineering (more aligned with eugenics here), to be found, as the game curiously juxtaposes beauty with monstrosity. The first encounter with the iconic Big Daddy certainly pumps the ol’ adrenaline, even if future encounters become trivial. Unlike the common splicers, the Big Daddy begins the game bigger, faster, and stronger than the player character, although not necessarily smarter. Some gamers might scoff at the Vita-Chambers, but I find them a welcome addition to the FPS genre rather than having to quick load or start from a checkpoint. They can be turned off for a more “hardcore mode” feel, but they can also be abused, particularly during Big Daddy encounters where the player can suicide until the Big Daddy dies with no ramifications. Finally, the purpose of fighting Big Daddies in the first place is to rescue or harness little sisters, adding an element of player morality into the game. Grotesquely adorable, these little sisters frolic about Rapture reciting their pithy lines of “innocence,” while siphoning ADAM from the corpses of splicers while docile Big Daddies act as their body guards from live splicers that want to harvest the little sisters for themselves. Should you vanquish the Big Daddy, you can then choose to harvest or liberate the Little Sisters from their ADAM curse, benefiting from your choice through upgrades such as pyrokinesis or telekinesis. For a genre as tried and true as the FPS, this game certainly provides a jolt of freshness.
Team Fortress 2
Much of my TF2 experience is from the pre-medieval mode days, before the “Meet the Soldier” video. And in those days, I joined a clan called No Heroes, paying the $4 fee for VIP status. It was in those days that I was schooled in the ways of the class that I hate the most, the Demo. I hated the Demo because I loved the Engineer, and the Demo always wrecked my well-placed turrets. By well-placed, I mean, difficult for costumed Spies to infiltrate my team’s territory and sabotage my devices; also, soldiers would not be able to shoot rockets without being torn to shreds by the turret; also, Snipers could not find my turret through their scopes. But Demos could ricochet grenades off walls and over buildings and wreck havoc anyway. Hate those guys.
When I was tired of camping with my Engineer, I’d run around with a Medic. Felt nice healing my teammates +20 HP. It was even more fun providing other classes, including the Heavy, with an ÜberCharge, and then it doesn’t matter how much damage one takes because INVULNERABILITY! EVERYTHING MUST DIE!!!! The last class that I played was Sniper. The No Heroes servers limit total Snipers per team to two, which was a good thing because that is the one class where it is entirely possible to win matches without having one. Yet, you will usually end up with like, ten of them on your team.
Payload and CTF modes all day every day.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
If you are like me have no shame in the number of games you have (yet to) play(ed), you might remember games like Eidos’ Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, a top-down perspective tactical strategy game. It was back in those days when I was first introduced to historical fiction games, and I would continue my exploration through Medal of Honor, Wolfenstein, Company of Heroes, and finally, the first two Call of Duty games. By then, the market was supersaturated with WWII simulations, and even quality franchises eventually felt derivative and unremarkable. How many Nazis–the go-to humanoid enemy that isn’t Russian in the post-Cold War era–can one frag before just plain gets bored?
Then 9-11 and the War in Iraq happened and Infinity Ward had an idea: make a game based upon the present so gamers need not pretend to be heroes of the past, but heroes of the present. Thus, MODERN Warfare was born, providing a sort of Blockbuster action movie fair to the fps genre. While the game still featured “artificial urgency,” where enemies keep coming until the player crosses a checkpoint boundary, there are rare instances when the player will find themselves exploring at leisure, because, well, it’s war, in in war there are bullets zinging, explosions and commanding officers barking orders. Unlike the previous CoD games where the player is granted generic soldiers (who are generic despite their randomly generated names) who are ultimately cannon fodder to provide a sense of realism, this game provides you with actual crews with names and personalities that are memorable like “Soap,” “Gaz,” and “Ghost.” The shooting is crisp, and there is some variety to weaponry. I am particularly fond of this game because this game came out just months after Transformers 2007, and it contains an oh dark thirty mission where the player is the gunman on an AC-130, the same aircraft that dispatches Scorponok.
After the groundbreaking Far Cry, which pushed the limits of draw distance in open space, rendering corridor shooters soporific by comparison, Crytek provided PC gamers with a beast that would wreak havoc with even top of the line rigs. Literally every “I built a new PC” topic on message boards would contain replies, “Yes, but can it play Crysis?” As the game cover art and intro suggest, the main attraction of this game is the nano suit. Being a huge fan of Predator, I am personally fond of CLOAK ENGAGED, even though movement devours the suit’s energy. Just like in Far Cry, the enemy AI cheats after detecting the player, and seems to be able to hit the player from anywhere and any distance once a camp is “on alert,” unless the player is either hiding behind cover such as a building or enters stealth mo. Also being a fan of Sonic, I am partial to MAXIMUM SPEED; combined with MAXIMUM STRENGTH, which is underwhelming by itself—one-hit melee kills and the ability to jump higher—one can play like a ninja by quick swapping between augmentations! And if you didn’t know that I like ninja, now you do.
Next up: Survival/Horror