Saturday, 15 August 2009

Do first person shooters need to cover new ground?

It’s amazing how popular a genre has become when all it really is, is a super advanced point and click adventure with very fancy animations and lots of gore on the clickable objects. Breaking it down like that almost makes it seem bizarre how it is one of my favourite genres, but does it need to start learning new tricks?

I still remember how proud my friend was when he ‘made’ a first person shooter in PowerPoint. It was impressive at the time, shooting the targets as they appeared to trigger the next, even though it was only a slideshow with a moving button. As simple as it was though, it could still technically be counted as an FPS. What is it that has made clicking things until they are dead so addictive? Will the addiction last?

I’m not entirely sure about gimmicks in first person shooters. Cover systems made popular by games such as Rainbow Six Vegas are all well and good, and could be seen as a way of trying to push the genre forward. The thing is though, games with vanilla mechanics in comparison, such as Half-Life 2 and Bioshock seem to stick in my mind better. Could it be that a more detailed narrative is the way forward? Do we need a tangible reason why we should be clicking on the bad things to make them disappear, or should we be focussing more effort on what happens when you do click the on screen representations of living things?

This is getting to be quite a ponderous blog with the liberal sprinkling of question marks that have appeared in it so far, but it is interesting to think about the future of FPSs. Can they afford to stay so straight forward, or is a gameplay evolution needed?

Many people seem to argue that the future of games in general is going online, but shooters seemed to have dominated that market long ago. Games like CounterStrike and Unreal Tournament are all fun when you initially try them, but unless you turn in to a die hard fan, eventually the online deathmatch formula gets stale as well.

I just had a play on the open multiplayer beta for Section 8, and I have to say, it is refreshingly different. Spawn points aren’t fixed, but instead you start 15,000 feet above the battlefield and plummet to the ground, landing wherever you choose. Some sites are better than others, with important objectives like capture points being guarded with AA guns.

The winning condition is first team to 1,000, and this can be achieved through killing people, destroying their stuff and completing various objectives that crop up. It is a very fun experience though, a bit like the love child of Unreal Tournament and Tribes. You have a jetpack that can give your jumps a decent boost and an insane sprinting mode that kicks in after holding shift for about 5 seconds, giving the player surprising manoeuvrability. It makes the run and gun style seems a lot fresher than it has been recently.

The great thing is that Section 8 is building on a well established formula that in my eyes has been done to death now. I want more from online shooters than just hunting down the other players and waiting for them to come back to do it again.

I really enjoyed Quake Wars: Enemy Territory, as well as the original Enemy Territory as they gave the player objectives to achieve as a main goal, with the team deathmatch portion being a background set piece. I think that works really well, and gives plenty of tactical options when trying to juggle things like killing and missioning.

Even simple missions like in Team Fortress 2, such as capturing the point, are an improvement over plain deathmatches as it means there is the opportunity to sneak behind enemy lines, and craftiness is involved. I know there are objectives in CounterStrike, but due to the one life per round mechanic, the game is usually won deathmatch style, which I think is a bit of a shame.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still happy with the classic ‘shoot everything until it doesn’t move, then shoot it again for luck’ approach to shooters, but I think so much more can be done with the genre. Developers just need to take a few more risks to try and come up with something a bit different, but this is much easier said than done.

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