I remember way back when, on my Dad's PC, I played System Shock 2 on Windows 98 for 14 hours straight; sure, I was scared shitless half that time, but that only served to pull me into it all that much more. Even at the age of 10, I knew it was a masterpiece. Unfortunately, none of my friends had even heard of it. They were all playing Goldeneye, on the 64, a system that I never owned. So I walked across the street to my friend's house where I discovered that he wasn't home. In fact, no one was home; not even the dog. As I often did when he was too busy to open the door, I crawled in through the doggie-door(even to this day at the age of 18, I can crawl through that door. I need to gain a few pounds I guess...). I just figured they were gone at Church (My family was never the Church-going type), and decided to hang out there alone, as I did many times. After all, they were like family, so they didn't mind, as long as when they got home, I called out that I was present so they didn't freak out. So I made my way to his room, where I discovered he didn't have Goldeneye. Fuck. Well, off to Rhino's on my bike. I picked it up for a cool 32 bucks ( I still have the receipt to this day; he owes me after all), and came back to discover they still weren't home. Odd, but whatever. I walked back to his room, sat down, and popped it in. I didn't move for another 6 hours. I feverishly worked my through the lengthy campaign, memorizing the scenarios, popping off lightning quick kills with the KLOBB, and beat the campaign twice over. By evening, I had to go home where I found it hard to play my usual bit of Duke Nukem 3D on PC, because all I wanted was another taste of the quick, stealthy gameplay of Goldeneye. I returned to his house the next day, and yet again found myself immersed in the role of James Bond for hours on end. They came through the door and were surprised to find me in his room clacking away at the N64. I didn't even notice they walked into the door and therefore didn't do my usual call. When my friend discovered that I had bought Goldeneye, he was ecstatic and told me we should play together. I thought of completing the scenarios with a buddy, both of us smacking guards with carefully-placed karate chops. I was excited to say the least.
However, he introduced me to this weird thing called Deathmatch, where the goal was to kill him. I was a little put off, but I thought it'd be cool. After he got a hang of the controls, we fragging each other like no one's business. But as odd as it was, I wasn't having that much fun. Sure it felt great to pop off a perfect remote-mine trap, but I thought it wasn't nearly as fun as the single-player scenarios. I went home earlier than usual and went back to find my father had bought Dues Ex. I played the hell out of it. Almost more so than Goldeneye. I skipped the next day of school (I had Monday off because of a Teacher's Planning Day, so I had to go back the next day) just to play more of it. It was open-ended like System Shock 2, but it was way more satisfying to pop off crotchshots on soldiers instead of flogging a zombie to death. Dues Ex took up my entire week, and Goldeneye proved to be more of a chore to play with my friend. I wanted more of the story, I wanted more of the Inventory-based Character Improvement, and light RPG elements. I wanted the solitude of a perfectly designed campaign which put you in the shoes of a character and told you a story, something that I couldn't find in Goldeneye or the subsequent obsession of most Middle School friends, Perfect Dark. It wasn't an issue of controls, PC vs. Nintendo 64, but rather the special things that only a single-player experience could give you. Of course, none of this came into my mind when I was 10, 12, or 13, but it was the basic feelings that I had that I couldn't quite articulate until High School, where the waves of Halo Mind Drones tormented me. No one played System Shock 2. No one played Dues Ex. No one even played Duke Nukem! Master Chief was more popular than Duke Nukem. What was my generation coming to?
The ease of internet access and recent developments in online console technology has put the Multiplayer Competitive FPS into the spotlight in the world of videogames. It seems like if people not-in-the-know aren't talking about their Wii's or Rock Band, they refer to the current state of videogames as Halo or Call of Duty. No one says Bioshock. No one says Far Cry 2. It seems that nowadays, if the newest console FPS doesn't include a multiplayer component, it gets bashed by both FPS fans and critics alike. Why? If I said that every platformer has to include a time trial option like Mega Man 9, and if it didn't, that game sucked, people would think I have something wrong with me! Yet if a FPS doesn't have some half-assed multiplayer system, people bitch. Look at Bioshock, one of the most critically loved game of 2007. The biggest complaint of most reviewers was that it didn't include a multiplayer mode. They didn't say anything about the flawed morality system, the repetitive enemy types, unbalanced weapons (Did anyone use the Machine Gun or Chemical Thrower?), or disappointing number of plasmids. They can forgive that. But god forbid they didn't give an FPS/RPG a multiplayer component. Other than the previously mentioned Far Cry 2, there haven't been many, if any, console FPS dedicated to a cohesive single player experience in the way that those titles do. Why does every FPS now have to have a lackluster single-player dedicated to being glorified tutorials to the multiplayer component, whether it be the Male-power fantasies of Gears of War or the bullshit pretensions of Halo. Call of Duty is the exception to the rule, as both MW and WaW actually have pretty good, intense single player campaigns. But everyone ignores them! Everyone immediately hops online to teabag kids in Canada.
I want to see more Battlefield: Bad Company's, where the campaign is a well-written war-comedy. I want more Call of Duty: World at War's, where the Russians are depicted as the power hungry wolves that they were famous for being, blinded by their hatred to notice the loss of their humanities, where the punishment for recognizing this is death. I want more Bioshock's; it's brilliant writing, commentary on video games as a literary device, and developed atmosphere. All of these games have their fair share of problems, but they each showcase what a great single player FPS can be; it can be emotional, shocking, intense, and immersive in a way that no other genre can be. Unfortunately, gamers want the mindless fragging of Killzone 2 or Halo, where there is almost nothing that distinguishes it from any other console FPS. Every once in a while, a well-designed multiplayer experience earns my respect and time, like Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead, Battlefield 1943, but these are few and far between. Developers are far too busy following the Call of Duty model; put a leveling system in and you'll have people hooked, no matter how poorly implemented it is. Much in the way of movies or music, your audience doesn't want to be challenged or involved emotionally; they want to be entertained. They don't want to new or different, they want to waste hours on crap entertainment. The people that find themselves apart from the masses either A) Write blogs that will never effect anything (i.e. Me) or B) Pirate.
Are we seeing the death of the Single Player FPS? No, probably not, but we're definitely seeing the decline of it. Like the Adventure genre, it will always have it's saviors, but unless there is a rise in interest in these works of art, they'll fall to the wayside while mindless fragfests like Halo will sell millions, after all, you can't play a pirated version online! The economic benefits of the multiplayer FPS are far too obvious and the problems of the single player game in general are far too glaring (Time and money spent on designing a lengthy campaign, pre-release piracy, scrutiny of critics and FPS fans alike, etc.). As the profits of crap developers soar and as the media spreads the fandom of these monolithic franchises, the sanctity of the single player experience is going to become a rarity in the FPS genre. It's sad to say it, but in the coming years, more likely than not, I'll have a hard time finding my Dues Ex amongst all of the Goldeneyes.