As disappointing as it is for older first person shooter (FPS) players to hear, my first experience with killing things from the eyes of the player character was not DOOM. Nor, in fact, was it GoldenEye on the N64. Because of my relative youth, my first experience with FPS gameplay was a fan favorite of the previous generation: the original Halo on the Xbox. Now, a decade later, I've decided to look back at all the gameplay experiences the genre has given me, and how the genre has improved in the ten years since I was introduced to Combat Evolved.
My early gaming experience was quite limited. I started with NFL Superbowl for the NES, followed by Pokemon Blue for the Gameboy Color. Eventually I acquired a PlayStation along with Driver, Spyro, and Crash Bandicoot. However, my first entrance into what I consider "modern" gaming took place in 2002, when I was invited to a friend's house to play Halo: Combat Evolved. Going from platforming to sniping friends from across the map transformed my perception of gaming from that point forward. The original Halo's multiplayer was so competitive, had so many options for killing eachother, that the game became a regular pasttime for my group of neighborhood friends.
Alas, the Xbox did not become the household console during the last generation. Instead, my family chose the Playstation 2 as the device that would suck up the majority of my playing time. While this limited the amount of Halo (and its sequel), it enabled me to enjoy a classic shooter from the 90s: starring everyone's favorite crowbar wielding scientist, Half-Life. While Halo introduced me to the FPS genre, Half-Life is what set me on my path for the middle of the decade. The immersion of the game, the excellent story, the sense of mystery (uh, G-Man?) made me an avid fan of shooters with a focus on story.
The Focus On Plot
The next game I spent some serious time with was the epic Half-Life 2. With a focus on story similar to the original and a level of polish brought to the presentation that, at the time that I first played it, was unprecedented, Half-Life 2 showed the world that a first person shooter could be both frantic and make the player think at a deeper level. During the latter portion of the middle of the 2000s, story was the main reason I approached first person shooters. From the serious and grandiose Half-Life 2 (and eventually, its episodes) to the downright funny Timesplitters 3, my quality time spent in single player stories more than made up for my deficit in the multiplayer realm.
The Modern Synthesis
In December of 2009 I finally obtained an Xbox 360, and with it the ability to play all of the modern FPSs that I had missed out on. Among the first games I bought for the system was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and what I soon discovered was that Infinity Ward had really hit the sweet spot when it comes to addicting multiplayer and engrossing story. For all the claims that can be made about the story in MW2, no one can fault it for not making the player feel like a total badass (knife throw at the end, anyone?). Despite the enjoyable multiplayer packed in, I eventually decided to move on to some of the other available games on the 360. Halo 3 gave me the same sense of fighting the good fight against the Covenant as I experienced in Combat Evolved, while retaining the semi-tactical conflicts in multiplayer that I craved in the original.
Over a year later, the FPS genre is still giving me plenty to enjoy. Playing online matches with opponents from around the country from comfort of my couch is a blast, especially considering Halo Reach and Call of Duty: Black Ops allows several of us to play together at a time. Meanwhile, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 lets me wage war on larger maps than its competitors, and the concept of destructible environments changes everything about how we can think about online gameplay. Additionally, each of these brings with it a campaign that draws the player in with intense set piece battles and characters that are interesting in the very least.
When I set out to write this article, I didn't really intend to deliver any specific message. Rather, I was simply looking to put all of the feelings I've had for the FPS genre into word form. Looking back, the genre has grown exponentially in terms of quality of presentation and gameplay mechanics in the time I've been playing them, which is amazing considering I started roughly 8 years after the genre was even created. Thus, if I had to create some kind of message I'd like to stamp on this, it'd be that as gamers we should appreciate the evolution taking place in the games we play throughout the years. Sometimes, it feels that as a whole, we forget that Portal 2 wouldn't exist if not for games like the original Half-Life.