Unfortunately as time passes I realize that the classic old-school gameplay system of FPSs is dying.
I'm referring to the game design that was common in the FPSs of the 90s,and basically the very pure and first realization of the genre. My first contact with the genre was with Wolfenstein 3D,that I randomly picked off a self when I was a kid for my Super Nintendo console.
What a different game than the rest I played this was... There was no player's character in it. You could only see him on the game's box cover or during the statistics screens of each level.
There where a few other games that tried the First Person Perspective before,but they weren't shooters. The first FPS that I happened to play,also was the first FPS ever. I grew up playing games with a similar style to it. Then Doom came out,which was far more popular than Wolfenstein 3D,and people started calling everything FPS as a "Doom clone" after it. But eventually people realized that there where so many games imitating Doom,or should I say Wolfenstein 3D,that a new genre was born,the genre of FPSs.
As FPS as a genre came up because some developers decided to copy the formula of id Software's games,the genre kept evolving the same way. It seems that imitation played a big part on the evolution of this genre. Yet with some games bringing something new to the table every now and then,and with the majority of developers imitating every new mechanic they find in new FPSs,the modern FPSs have evolved in to something that has become quite different than the original formula.
Let's track how the genre evolved from its birth in 1992,to today.
The formula of Wolfenstein 3D
Wolfenstein 3D was the game that set the very basic formula everyone else copied from.
The game featured an optical numerical meter that displayed the player character's health,with the maximum being 100%,and where at 0% the character dies. The main weapons where guns,and the player was able to see only the hand and the gun of his character. It was a game that featured secret rooms and secret levels that acted as Easter eggs,and added replay value to the game. It also featured collectible gold pieces that the player would be awarded with extra lives if he founded all the hidden pieces in a level. These basic mechanics became the standards for every FPS,and games like Doom and Quake where based on this formula.
Duke Nukem 3D: mobility,immersion,and destructible scenery
Perhaps after Wolfenstein 3D,the immediate most influential game for the genre was Duke Nukem 3D. Duke Nukem 3D accepted all the mechanics of the basic Wolfenstein 3D formula,and added to it a variety of new features that many of them where to become genre standards.
Perhaps the most important thing was the ability that was given to the player's character to jump,duck,and even fly with the use of jetpack! It was so the first time in an FPS game that you could travel not only horizontally ,but also vertically. Things like that are considered standard and basic today,but back then players felt that this game gave far too much more freedom than other games of its time. Another thing that we can credit to Duke Nukem 3D was its obsession to immersion. For immersion DN3D decided to have far more interactivity than the other games,so the developers made it so if you would hit a gas pipe,gas would come out it. If you shoot a toilet,water will sprinkle out of it, if you shoot a large crack on the wall with a rocket launcher,the wall will break. DN3D enhanced mobility and added expanded 3D movement and exploration. Most of these features where adopted by the industry and became genre standards.
Half Life: Scripted scenes and linearity
Here is where some new school elements started appearing for the first time,even if the industry decided to adopt them much later on. Half Life was the first game that was introduced as a "cinematic" game,and its design was unique.It featured linear levels with many scripted scenes and cut-scenes,as well a lot of focus on puzzles.The game was specifically praised for its physics.
Half Life's features though didn't became standards immediately,but long after,2 console generations later.
Goldeneye 007 (N64):Mission based campaign
This was another unique game that refined the genre. Goldeneye introduced split-screen multiplayer for the first time,and it also introduced mission-driven gameplay. Before Goldeneye all you had to do in FPSs was to travel from point A of the map to point B alive. Goldeneye changed that by providing missions to the player,things he had to do before exiting a level. Missions could be anything from stealing data from a computer,to protect an NPC, (escort mission) to shut down a computer system. It was clear that gameplay suddenly became much more sophisticated and complicated for the FPS genre. Note that what Goldeneye brought added to the classic formula,and didn't replaced any core game mechanic. There might have been things you needed to do inside a level before exiting,but levels still started you and ended at a specific point of the map.
Halo:Health regeneration and weapon limit
Perhaps Halo is the most influential game on the "new school" FPS design.
It was a critically acclaimed title that made Microsoft's Xbox console relevant,and brought some new features like health regeneration and a limit on the weapons you can carry.
These two features started getting adopted by the industry though after the even bigger success of Halo 2. What makes Halo differ from most of the past influential games that are featured in this list though is that one of its features,namely health regeneration wasn't adding a piece to the old formula,but instead replaced. Up until now most new features where adding new abilities and mechanics that complemented the old ones,but Halo's feature was such that it replaced an already existing of the old formula. Halo also didn't featured the full list of the classic formula,as secret areas and rooms,and other replayability factors where absent in it.
Call of Duty:Iron sights and cover-based shooting
Call of Duty embraced Halo's unique features that replaced some features of the classic formula,and add a new feature which was the Iron Sights. Up until CoD you could successfully aim and hit an enemy in FPSs just by pointing at him.Call of Duty introduced the artificial inaccuracy your player would have if he didn't used the iron sights of his weapon,forcing you to have to press a button in order to properly aim enemies. Another thing Call of Duty introduced was cover-based shooting. If you tried to just walk and shoot down enemies while moving,you would die pretty quickly and easily in that game,and you had to always use cover points in fire fights against enemies. These features also started to get adopted by the industry,but as with Halo, Call of Duty's new features also replace features of the old FPS formula instead of adding to it.
The FPSs of today.
Today's FPSs have embraced the replacement of old school features with new ones. The industry moved from improving and adding to a classic formula to replacing and removing parts of it. FPSs of today feature the health regeneration and weapons limit from Halo,the cover-based shooting and iron sights from Call of Duty,and the linear level design and scripted scenes of Half Life.
They have replaced Healthbars,medkits,unlimited weapon carriage,and true player's accuracy of the classic formula with substitutes,and they scrapped things like collectible items,secret areas and secret levels that acted as factors for the promotion of exploration and replay value. In fact modern FPSs condemn exploration as something evil and as such they show you floating arrows to point to your linear direction (in case you get lost in a single straight line) ,and punish you with death when you try to leave the pre-determined path. As for replay value,you can get it as an extra with DLCs.
Modern FPSs aren't just different than classic FPSs. It's not just like they do things different,they actually punish you for trying to play them the old way. If I try to run and gun I'll die because I was out of cover,and if I try to explore the game's world I will get a message on my screen telling me that if I don't want to go the pre-determined way,it will kill me!
I'm not having fun with this guys... I loved FPSs for what they offered me,now they refuse to give it to me,and they punish me for asking it.
The problem is when the old franchises forget what they where.
I would have absolutely no problem if new franchises came up and embraced the new school of FPSs. In fact I wouldn't even care if every single new franchise was only new-school. What does disappoint and depresses me though,is the fact that the classic franchises,those who invented some of the unique features that got adopted by the industry,turn their back to their original features and mechanics to embrace those of newer franchises,ending up unoriginal imitations.
It is saddening seeing how once innovating franchises now fall so low to scrap their foundations and originality so to copycat other games.
First we got Perfect Dark Zero,a prequel of a Nintendo 64 game,to scrap everything that made Perfect Dark a diamond to become a below average imitation of Halo. Then we saw the very first FPS franchise ever,the one who started it all,Wolfenstein,to loose its dignity and pride and dare to imitate Halo and Call of Duty and include health regeneration and iron sights. Disappointed from that,the next savior of classic gaming that we all waited for was Duke Nukem Forever. But oh,Duke you too had to scrap all the things that made your past game special and awesome, to copy Halo, and to make things worse you even spilled irony against it.
Is there still hope ?
And after the last hope for an old FPS franchise to respect its own originality and keep improving on the classic formula instead of copying other games died,we suddenly got.... Serious Sam 3!
Let me tell you something about Serious Sam,this series wasn't considered "serious" at all back then. Serious Sam came up on the early 2000's as a parody of classic FPS. It adopted all of the features of the classic FPS formula,at a time Halo was coming out and developers started thinking about moving in to new school formula. Serious Sam games played well,but because of their humor everybody considered them to be... too much of imitations of the current game franchises,so most people saw these game very light-heartedly or didn't even played them because they thought they where copying other games too much. So Serious Sam 3's trailer in E3 2011 stroke as a thunder in a day with clear forecast. The game wasn't even announced until then and nobody knew it would come out.But even so,everybody was thinking that if a Serious Sam game would have come out,it would be the absolute imitation of current (new school) FPSs. Yet SS3 surprised everyone by being the one and only FPS franchise staying true to the old-school formula. Sam isn't parodying new school shooters for being new school,he is parodying old-school shooters for not being old-school,with a trailer which is slogan is "NO COVER,ALL MAN" just 1 month after Duke Nukem Forever's disappointing release. And suddenly all the people who grew up in the 90s with games like Wolfenstein 3D,Doom,Quake,and Duke Nukem 3D get shocked by it. But unfortunately we see that the industry doesn't want games like Serious Sam 3 anymore. It is a shame that such a nice game didn't found a publisher and the developers had to publish the game themselves. Which made SS3 to be only available as a digital download for computers. In fact,I realize how much the industry hates me. How much they hate it to be there games that I enjoy to play.
In the modern games that publishers publish,their games punish me for trying to play the way I like. And when one game comes out that allows me to play the way I like,they punish this game too by not supporting it and publishing it. Well screw you modern game industry. If you hate me so much,if you hate it so much that I can have fun by playing a game,then I hate you too. My beef isn't with games like Halo and Call of Duty. I don't hate these games. They just do their own thing. What I do hate is that everybody else is copying these 2 games,and that the industry thinks that if something isn't imitating these two games too much,it's not worth it.I hate that the industry hates originality and requires all games to be the same,look the same,and play the same. It not only kills creativity,it also kills the gameplay I personally enjoy so much to play. Closing this large blog post,I'd like to recommend Serious Sam 3 to everyone who grew up in the 90s playing FPSs. It's a must play game,as it's the only game the past 7-8 years that stays true to the original gameplay formula we loved. Will there be new franchises in the future that will have the classic gameplay that we loved ? Unlikely but plausible. Will the old franchises like Duke Nukem and Wolfenstein return to their roots and provide us with pure old-school gameplay on their next installments ? I don't know. What I do know is that at least we have Croteam and Serious Sam.