Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: First Person Shooters

There is no genre in gaming that kicks the crap out of me like First Person Shooters. For reasons unknown, I am just not very good at these. That's kind of a funny thing, because I've played quite a few of them, and college was full of FPS sessions on the campus network. There was a game or two where I became competent, but at some point these games got too fast and confusing for me to handle, and I now spend most of my time getting fragged.

Seriously, I've gotten so bad at these games that there are some of them I can't beat even with cheat codes.

I'd also argue that this is a genre that has stagnated worse in the last few years than any genre we've covered. The Philosophy of Time Travel does a good job in his list of going through some of the landmark games innovation-wise, but you'll note that most of the "innovation" is really just graphic improvements and quality storylines. Those are nice things, but they're not innovative. With First Person Shooters however, I'm not sure how you really take them anywhere new because I think this is also a genre where people have very definite expectations now about how the game is supposed to work. Improvements to physics engines (I can blow more stuff up) and graphics (it looks really pretty when I blow stuff up) are as close as it gets.

But I'm also far from an expert in this category, so I could have it completely wrong. Here's a look at my list anyway, a list that will probably appeal to people who are also terrible at these types of games.

5 - Heretic

This game was built using the Doom engine (we'll get to Doom in a second) but was set in a medieval setting. The engine was modified to add the ability to look up and down. I liked it because you got to shoot things with a magic staff, although I constantly ran out of ammo. Fortunately that's where cheats come in.

The game was successful enough to spawn some sequels, but I really can't figure out what the order is supposed to be. The incredibly hard Hexen, for example, was based in this world (Hexen, incidentally, was strongly considered for the "Worst Ever" award due the crippling difficulty of its puzzles/key chases. This is the kind of thing that hard core FPS players probably consider one of its strengths).

4 - Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast

This was a really cool game but another one that was tough to beat without cheats (for me). But any FPS game where you get to swing around a light saber has to be considered reasonably awesome, and this one was better than the first in every conceivable way. This was developed by the same company that made Heretic, incidentally, and a lot of critics still consider it one of the best Star Wars games ever published. I might agree with that if I was any good with this genre, but the ability to deflect blaster shots with the light saber was pretty great.

3 - Duke Nukem 3D

Probably not the greatest game, but it was one that I was actually good at for a short period of time. This was the shooter of choice my first year of college. I don't think it really introduced too many innovations (except possibly the jetpack, but I don't know for sure it was the first to do that), but it was a well executed game that was certainly fun.

The sequel to this game, Duke Nukem Forever, is something of a running gag on the internet. The game was officially announced in 1997 and has been in development ever since. It received the Vaporware Lifetime Achievement Award from Wired in 2003.

Ever hopeful, 3D Realms put up a new teaser in December of 2007. They just don't ever stop making this game.

You can read all about its hilarious, tortured history here.

2 - Doom

This game provided me with two very important developmental moments in my life.

1) The first time I killed something in a game with a chainsaw.
2) The first time I played real live mutliplayer against somebody.

The days of Doom were the days of 2400 baud modems and the like. All the modems were so different that it took heroic efforts to get them to talk to each other for games like this. My buddy and I spent an entire day back and forth on the phone trying to adjust the settings on our modems, attempt to connect, reconnect, etc. The problem also was that neither one of us had a dedicated phone line for the modem... the notion was considered real extravagance back then. So we'd try to connect, then have to hang up and call each other back, often getting busy signals as one guy was trying to call the other guy or still attempting to connect.

It was worth every second though, because I'll never forget how excited I was when we could actually see each other walking around on the screen. For awhile we didn't even shoot, we just ran around in circles and chatted, almost unable to believe it actually worked.

Thinking about Doom reminds me just how far technology has come. It's pretty awesome.

1 - Quake

I can certainly appreciate this game's significance. It's basically a standard now against which other FPS games are compared. Even the sequels are measured against this game (some favorably, some not so favorably).

I have to wonder if Quake got it so completely right that there was really nowhere else to go? I mean the physics are basically perfect in terms of deathmatch. The weapons are all awesome and basically get copied in every game since. The modding community has made it so you can play it so many different ways. I mean, what's left really to do?

Worst Ever - Extreme Paintbrawl

The most hilarious video game reviews I have ever read to this day remain written about this game.

In fact, they were so funny it made me actually want to get the game just to witness the spectacle. So I ended up picking it up one day out of a bargain rack.

This isn't just the worst shooter ever, it's absolutely the worst game I've ever played in my entire life.

The AI is coded up like this:

1) Run straight
2) Goto 1

I'm not kidding. This means that your teammates just end up getting stuck in corners.

But that's if the AI is actually working. Otherwise they just end up sort of violently twitching in place until they get shot.

"Practice" mode consists of dropping you into one of the game's five fields and leaving you there - no targets, no practice opponents, nothing. You can basically practice running around in circles.

Paintballs often get stuck in midair.

Keep in mind during all this that since this is paintball, you're out as soon as you get shot.

Ironically, the game actually uses the Duke Nukem 3D engine.

Read TPOTT's list here.

Read LBAM's "list" here.


Andy said...

I completely understand where you are coming from about the "innovation" of FPS games. It's a hard genre to devise new gameplay for because, well, the entire genre is based off of one type of gameplay.

There are a few ways FPS have been successfully innovated over the past few years, however. The first is gameplay "devices." These include the time stop capabilities in Sierra's "Timeshift" and the gravity-defying movement in "Prey." They are kinda more "parlor-trick" than anything else, usually specific to selling a particular game.

A more interesting (and legitimate, in my opinion) innovation is combining FPS with other genres to create hybrids. Most notably, this can be seen in games like "Oblivion," which I will cover in much detail in our next and final post.

Mia said...

What?! No love for Duck Hunt?!?!? It probably would've made the list if they let you shoot that f*ckn dog that always laughed at you when you missed... stupid dog.

jmansor said...

If you like Quake so much how come I never get an invite to play????

Anonymous said...

Doom/Quake some of the first games I ever played over a LAN, also played Dune 2000 that way too & loved it.

What have you made of Quake Wars then ?

robustyoungsoul said...

I haven't played Quake Wars. Any time I'm looking to play some deathmatch these days, I usually just fire up Nexuiz since it's free, fast, and there's always a game to get into. I don't think I play enough to justify purchasing another FPS.