Two Developments in First Person Shooters

My favorite development in First Person Shooters is the inclusion of story alongside exciting game play. As a child, I would ask my older brother what was going on in Doom. He conceded he didn’t really know, but he knew that it took place on Phobos,  a moon of Mars. Beyond that, details were fuzzy: demons from hell broke loose and the player had to stop them– or something. It didn’t make the game play any less fun, but I’m not sure I would get the same degree of enjoyment out of the game now as I did then. However, there’s one game I might enjoy more now than when I first played it as a teen: Outlaws (LucasArts, 1997).

There are some games that just click with us in some way. I always found Outlaws to be an early example of what the video game can be: a storytelling medium in which we guide the main character. Outlaws had all of the fun, mayhem, strategy, and twitch play of a FPS, but it had a clear story with meaningful characters. I won’t argue it as the most incredible literary work in western civilization, but it was a tremendous leap forward from the usual lack of story in other games. Some games do better storytelling than others: I think Unreal could have done a much better job of fleshing out the ancient Nali civilization, and most of the current “realistic shooters” feel like a bad remake of the dying James Bond franchise—with Spec Ops: The Line as an exception, as it has the advantage of being based on the classic literary work Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad.

I don’t think every good video game needs a story- Pong is forever the quintessential example. Also, good stories apparently don’t rest on tremendous artwork or game play (I have yet to play Thomas Was Alone, but I’ve heard good things). But sometimes good game play and good story telling can come together in one of those synergistic ways that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

My second favorite development in first person shooters is slow-motion, guided sniper bullets, because I hate it when bad guys hide behind things.

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