There are some games that come along and simply revolutionize the way things are done. For the popular first-person shooter, with the establishment of regenerating health as a novel game concept by the ever-popular Halo: Combat
Evolved, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare took the first-person formula, pumped it with adrenaline and gave the shooter genre as a whole an entire makeover. Whether you personally enjoyed it, and regardless of your current view of the series, COD:MW gave FPS games the kick in the pants they needed away from WWII and into the modern age.
Today, every shelf is lined with games containing the same basic concepts that MW refined. The FPS formula has found its niche, and developers are giving the gaming community copies of this formula, regardless of whether or not they have improved upon it. The major problem, as with any medium, is that we have reached a halt. I can’t remember the last time a AAA FPS game did something entirely different. I say triple-A because there have been many games in the indie scene that have switched it up a bit (most notably Hard Reset). And this is a problem.
With most reviews of new FPS games, the main complaint is that it’s all been done before. Every reviewer has seen every exploding building, every unlockable, and every melee kill. FPS games have become stale because a template has been established, and companies know that it works, and more importantly that it sells. They know that the COD way of doing things will give solid gameplay and lasting multiplayer. But as I said before, the problem is it’s become boring.
I recently wrote an article looking over the problems with modern-day survival horror games, and it made me begin thinking about FPS games, and the rut they’ve found themselves in as well. There’s a way to break away from this rut. There’s a way to keep that tight gameplay and engaging multiplayer while retaining uniqueness. Actually, there’s a few ways.
1. Player Connection
FPS games have an incredible advantage when it comes to bringing the player into the world that the developers have worked so hard to create. The player is literally in the shoes of whoever they are playing. That brings an instant element of connectedness, but with many FPS games they lose this because of some of the design choices. In order to keep up with high-octane thrills they toss out any kind of realism to the world, throwing hundreds of enemies into a shooting range of sorts, leaving much to be desired by those who can see past the visual thrills. If more attention were to be paid to the world itself, the game could truly bring the player in. I, for one, am sick of desert after desert of cookie-cutter enemies, waiting for the next bullet in the head. I want to feel like I have a purpose being in your game.
Although this ties in with player connection, storyline by itself deserves some attention. The reason it deserves attention is because most modern FPS games throw it under the bus in favor of the multiplayer. A 4-6 hour campaign with no real
objectives other than to shoot some meat bags feels tacked on, and insignificant. If the developer doesn’t care about an aspect of their game, why should you? It all comes back to the idea of creating a world for the player to truly be a part of. There are many people who can’t stand the combat in Mass Effect, yet adamantly love the series, simply based on the world it creates. Mass Effect is one of the industry’s biggest leaders in terms of storyline and world creation. The player really feels like they have been transported. That suspension of disbelief kicks in, and the game’s worth multiplies. Now, I’m not saying that you need to have a sci-fi setting or anything of that sort to draw the player in. You can create a world even based on the world that we live in. Populate it with believable characters who matter, and you’re well on your way. So many times, the narrative is thrown aside in favor of testosterone, and that’s great, but it’s old hat. FPS games need to prove that they matter if they want to be separated from the pack, and this is a great way to do it.
3. Make Every Kill Count
I don’t want to know the kill count of someone after a quick run-through of the latest Medal of Honor campaign. I really don’t. Because in all reality, the biggest break in terms of separating the player from the game they are playing is the fact they are having a hay-day creating a virtual genocide. I would love to see a developer make every single kill matter. Imagine knowing the people you’re shooting at, and knowing that you shooting them is going to have major consequences. In life, guns have consequences — that’s just the way things work. That’s how our world functions, yet this idea is entirely thrown aside in FPS games. And I know that it’s easy to say, “Well the game just wouldn’t be fun that way.” But think of a game like Deus Ex, where entire playthroughs are done non-lethally. Or Metal Gear Solid, where bosses can be put to sleep. It can be done. It has been done, but never has it been made the core of a project. Creating an atmosphere that encourages the player to live and let live would not only be an interesting game dynamic, but it could help emotionally as well, as far as storytelling is concerned.
Obviously these tactics themselves won’t create a fantastic FPS, or game in general. It takes planning, courage and most of all, a willingness to break the mold. So these are just things to be taken into account, as I feel they have been cast aside in favor of ”what works.” FPS games deserve to be where they are, but being at the top doesn’t mean that it’s OK to lay back and say, “It works, so why change it.” Technology is changing — games are changing. And if I have to read one more review that talks about being sick of the same old FPS, I might blow. Make something different, and make it matter. Before long, you’ll have a successful IP and some bragging rights to go along with it.