There was a time in my life where I spent just as much time playing first-person shooters as I did anything else. I mean fucking hours. Long periods of time.
Talking late 90s/early 2000s. There was a ton of good shit out there, and FPS felt to me like just another window of video gaming. Unfortunately, over the past 20 years we have seen a bastardization of an entire genre into this one piece of sweaty mess.
Game development has taken first person shooters to a place where the only thing that is valued is perfect eyesight and twitch reflexes. As opposed to game design, mechanics, or really anything to push the genre forward/make it interesting. Now, you even think about first person shooters, you think of fuckin G-Fuel, assholes, and bro racists.
But, it didn’t have to be this way. Lets take a trip down memory lane for a minute and visit with The Unholy Trinity. The three games that fucking made the entire FPS genre a fucking nightmare.
One quick note before we start. Not striving for historical accuracy here. This is based entirely on how I saw the shit go down and my experience playing each of these games. If you want history, there is plenty of that. Go elsewhere.
Also, not even touching microtransactions. That’s a completely separate axe I have to grind, and would only muddy the waters here. I’m just looking to talk about why these games fucked the FPS world up.
Half-Life: Counter Strike
Now this is a rare instance of what it was vs. what it became. The original CS mod on a disc (which several people I know stole from my local Wal-Mart) was everywhere. Mandatory to bring it to LAN parties.
From a gameplay experience perspective, it was fucking raw. Barely polished. Crazy wall clipping. Shit not working right. Like people make fun of Battlefield for that shit now, that was part of life back then. There also wasn’t a military-style shooter done this well up until this point. So that helped it get steam.
I still say the main reason CS caught on among gamers was its usability. You could take one disc to a LAN party and then everyone could play it. You could play it online just as easily. And once the original steam platform launched, you had mods on top of mods. Stupid stages, goofy madness.
I can only speak to my experience with this game breaking bad. But, I can remember clearly two points where I realized that this game was going to destroy what gaming meant.
I had a CD of this with me in the dorms in college. Brought it from the heavy LAN party days. I also had Starcraft, but that was a little trickier cause you could actually get your CD key nuked if people tried to play on battle net.
So, the usability made everyone play it. Then it became a thing. Then it became the only fucking activity the assholes on my floor wanted to do. Then they got aggro about it. Where if you did well, they encouraged you to like actually go to the other dorm room and shit on the people you stomped.
I know this is a microcosm but i saw the genesis of bro culture around the first person shooter build up in real time. I stopped playing because I got board of the game and to be honest, I started playing with alot of the same type of people I hated my entire life up to that point. Bro assholes that used CS as a way of filling that adrenaline need when football was out of season.
The other point…was when our next game showed up….
Call of Duty
I remember the first time I saw someone playing this game. My reaction was straight forward, “Oh someone built on the Counter-strike mod?”
What I took from Call of Duty across the board was that gamers were ok with incremental changes in what they know. Same (or very similar) mechanics and gameplay. Just WWII this time.
The rise of Call of Duty from the ashes of Counter-Strike was something that caught me off guard. To me, playing it, felt like just more of the exact same. But then, the aforementioned competitiveness got worse. And also, like, it felt like your ability to learn got minimized simultaneously.
It just felt as time went on that if you wanted to enjoy these games, you had to do nothing but focus on first person shooters and understand the mechanics (that will never change) at a base line level.
Truthfully, I felt sorry for CoD more than hated it. It was always transparent in its motivations: give you more of the same till you are like Mr. Creosote. Just fucking eatin Burger King all day every day until you convince yourself its haute cuisine.
Nah, my actual ire has always been targeted firmly on one game…
Halo: Combat Evolved
I fucking hate this game with the fury of 1000 suns.
I will never forget the first time I heard the word “Halo.” It was a guy I knew in college trying to sell me on switching to Xbox from my PS2. Was like “You have got to play this game Halo. This changes everything.” Presumably like The Shins.
I remember playing it and just being….way underwhelmed. I was like, “So this is like fucking big open field baby FPS.”
Everything about it just felt wrong. From how slow the gameplay was to the textures to how your character just felt like the most boring indestructible god. Not in an awesome way.
It is just an extremely stupidly written, boring, fucking whitebread bullshit franchise. And for some reason, THIS thing took off. Not any of the other good shit that came out around the time (more on that next week), nope it had to be fucking Halo.
This bland space-for-dummies FPS was the calling card for nerdom of the next generation, and I will never forgive it for that. In fact, thats probably my main gripe with it. Halo became the gold standard for no fucking good reason other than it was THE FPS for the XBox.
People STILL look at the first Halo as an achievement, and it makes me sad. Nothing about this franchise was ever good. It will stay forever and continue to influence game designers to make their shit as boring and featureless as possible for the rest of time.
The Unholy Trinity gets us to today. Where every FPS (for the most part) is trying to be one of those three games or some combination there of. Sure, Fortnite wiggled its way in there, but the raw combat design and mechanics at its core is still this bullshit. Still relying on you memorizing the screen. Still relying on the least common denominator of what this kind of game should be.
Next week, I am going to cover the Holy Trinity. The games designers SHOULD have taken inspiration from to design the next generation of FPS.
Till next week, stay away from the darkness (above) and move toward the light.