I have been trying to write about video games ever since I began writing blogs on the internet about four years ago. I never got around to it because I felt like I wasn’t really qualified to write about games like those guys on them fancy websites. That’s probably still true. This isn’t going to be some complex analysis of themes and a deep dive into nuances of a game or a genre. This is just me talking about first person shooters.
Now, one of my earliest memories of playing video games apart from watching my sister play solitaire on Windows 95 while I waited my turn, was Wolfenstein 3D. That was the beginning of a long love affair between me and the genre. There’s just something very enticing about FPS games that I cannot fully explain. Perhaps it’s me playing out a power fantasy. Perhaps it’s getting involved in the story and a feeling of empathy towards the protagonist. Perhaps it’s the right level of difficulty that keeps you coming back to try again when you’re stuck on a particularly difficult level. I think it’s all of those things and some other things that I haven’t thought about yet.
I’m just going to list some FPS games that I really enjoyed playing, while talking about what I liked about them. Spoiler alert.
The first FPS I ever played. I spent a ton of time on this game. You could not look up or down, and you only got a few weapons, but the premise was simple, and it offered a great level of challenge which ramped up as you increased the level of difficulty. The cheat code was pretty simple too, which was helpful.
I recently played The New Order, which really brings this franchise to the 21st century, while keeping the essence of this game intact. I really appreciated the story the new game offers. You can dual wield assault rifles, which looks stupid considering how massive the gun models are. It is all stupid in a good way, however.
I really wish I had a lot more to say about this, the first ever FPS I ever played but suffice it to say that this is the game which made me fall in love with the genre.
I like Id software’s approach towards the original DOOM. The story is there, but it isn’t shoved in your face with cutscenes. It’s just kind of in the background, left for you to piece together yourself. The central aspect of this game is shooting demons in the face. Of course, this was the most influential game in the early history of FPS, and the fact that it is still offers up an enjoyable experience to me today is a testament to it’s timelessness.
DOOM 2 is my personal favorite of the franchise, as it extrapolated all the ideas of the original into a more complete package. More enemies, different environments, skull keys.
Which brings me to DOOM 2016. You’ve heard everyone wax lyrical about it, so let me do that for a little bit more. The music is phenomenal. The glory kills are amazing and don’t slow the game down. The gun-play is viscerally satisfying. The Doom-slayer’s absolute disdain towards story exposition and indeed demons, which he shows through his actions makes him a great protagonist. However, the Cyberdemon gets defeated way too easily,and the cliffhanger ending to the single player campaign pissed me off a little. The multiplayer is nothing to write home about but I’m not much of a multiplayer person myself so that’s neither here nor there.
Duke Nukem 3D
Duke Nukem is a problematic figure that is best left in the past. The character and the game itself exemplifies the ultra-violent, highly inappropriate FPS that ran roughshod across the videogame landscape in the 90s. As pre-teen/teenager however, I really didn’t care about political correctness and really liked ultra violent power fantasies, so I played countless hours of this game.
This game had you in the shoes of a roided up freak, a one man army who threw around one liners and was in a world that seemed like a homage to 1980s action movies. Women are treated like objects of desire, things that need to be rescued, hostages and incubators for the alien invaders.
But behind all the crassness which I felt was cool at the time, there were a few clever game mechanics. Not only could you shoot aliens in the face, but also lay traps and use holograms to distract them. Shooting aliens in the face worked for me at the time.
I found this game in the bargain bin of a CD store. Me and my cousin bought a game each. He bought something that turned out to be a set of ghostbusters themed mini-games. I got Shadow Warrior.
The original Shadow Warrior is quite similar to Duke Nukem 3D- this game outs you in the shoes of Lo Wang, an assassin for hire who needs to kill demons on his mission to exact revenge from former employer Mr. Zilla. His name’s a pretty obvious dick joke.
This being an FPS from the late 90s it came with its fair share of inappropriate racial stereotypes and toilet humor in the form of one liners and objectifying women. It was a step above Duke Nukem in terms of gunplay, with weapons having alternate fire modes, a melee weapon and having different kinds of grenades.
A similarity between SW and DN was also the level design which was often maze like. Areas were cordoned off and you had to find keycards. There were also a lot of Easter eggs and secrets.
I enjoyed the hell out of Shadow Warrior, so I was extremely excited when I heard that it was being remade. The 2013 remake of the original Shadow Warrior is indeed a great FPS which has it’s own identity. The new Lo Wang is the greatest example of how a character can be brought into the 21st century. No longer is he an inappropriate old man Asian stereotype. Lo Wang is an irreverent assassin who is also an unabashed comic book and pop culture nerd. In the beginning of the game, he flubs his one-liners. He tries too hard to use one-liners and his early attempts fall flat. After a spirit entity enters his mind and gives him magic powers, he gets to be the bad-ass he always dreamt of being. As the game progresses he gets into his stride. Towards the halfway point Hoji ( the spirit entity inhabiting Lo Wang’s head) even says something along the lines of “Am I misunderstanding or are you actually enjoying this?”. This is a subtle arc of character progression which continues into the sequel.
In fact, his psychotic enjoyment of vanquishing his opponents is reflected in the initial few dialog sections of the sequel, and they took me by surprise. I was turned off by this change in character initially but it made a lot more sense to me as the game progressed. His anger juxtaposed with the psychotic enjoyment he took in slaughtering demons was surprising at first, but it really makes sense in a world taken over by demons.
Side note: Flying Wild Hog really seem to like using a person occupying the mind of the protagonist as a way of plot exposition and character development. I came to this conclusion after playing Hard Reset, which is in many ways the proto-Shadow Warrior.
Also, the sequel is a Borderlands style looter-shooter with a focus on Co-Op. You get weapons, and you add stuff to your weapons to give them different characteristics. The UI for that was pretty terrible in the beginning, with no way to filter the different types of stuff you could add to your weapons. Having a favorite gun was pointless because you’d run out of ammo for it and would have to use whatever else you had.
The guns however, are secondary to the excellent melee weapons in Flying Wild Hog’s rendition of this 90s classic. The melee weapons feel satisfying to use, and there are powerful ranged and area of effect attacks associated with them so they end up being the most useful weapons in the game.
The sequel is also very movement focused. You can strafe, circle strafe, jump, double jump, dash, and dash in mid-air while jumping. This dovetailed with the new approach towards level design. The first game was linear. The second has procedurally generated levels with a lot of open space, and multiple routes across the map.
All in all though, the single player campaign of the sequel was quite unsatisfying. It lacked the sense of purpose I saw in the first game. The interactions with the new spirit entity in his head were nowhere close to the amazing back and forth of the original.
To be honest, all this was just an excuse to be able to write about my personal favorite FPS of all time, Red Faction. I’ve thought of countless think-pieces about the Red Faction franchise, and some of them even made it to the draft stage, where they lie for eternity, because I couldn’t flesh out the ideas.
Red Faction was released at around the same time as the original Halo, Serious Sam, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, to mention a few. It probably got lost in the shuffle in an overall great year for FPS games.
Looking back at the game, I can see why people thought of it as a B+ game overall. The gun play wasn’t really genre defining. The plot wasn’t as complex as a Half-Life. But it’s still my top favorite FPS.
The original Red Faction featured “GeoMod Technology” which allowed players to alter some parts of the terrain. Although you couldn’t just destroy literally everything in the game, you could use that mechanic in enough spots to make it interesting.
What made Red Faction so amazing to me though, was its sense of humor. It had a weird dichotomy to it- the plot took itself way too seriously, but the game allowed you to do stuff like stick bombs on to enemies and watch them run around screaming and flailing their arms. The NPCs had some hilarious dialog. The enemies call you a miner in the beginning of the game and the way they address you changes as you progress. A simple touch that really makes you feel like the protagonist of the game.
The campaign isn’t short either. Of course there are the customary turret and vehicle segments and a couple of stealth segments shoehorned in but they aren’t overbearing. The game ramps up in difficulty towards the end, with tougher enemies and more powerful weapons. All of these points are better explained in Classic Game Room’s Review.
This was the game which I played for hours on end without stopping. I played and replayed Red Faction’s single player campaign and I enjoyed every single time. The game found a balance between story, gameplay mechanics and humor that I’ve tried to find in every other game since.
Which brings me to Red Faction 2. I’ll admit I was very disappointed by it when I first played it. I was expecting something closer to Red Faction, but the sequel didn’t make a good first impression at all. The initial levels were terrible, and it was on earth instead of mars, which didn’t make sense to me. Also GeoMod was barely used in the game. The UI was pretty bad too. Using and switching between grenades was too clunky. The environments weren’t as compelling as the first game. The voice acting and NPS dialogs were quite funny but the game lacked that great balance between violence and humorous dialog that the original had.
Looking back at it though, I think I may have judged it too harshly. It did have it’s own sense of humor and it did have some great local multiplayer. The game allowed you to dual wield weapons, something I hadn’t seen since the original Shadow Warrior. It also had cheat codes which allowed you to do some really interesting things. The third game in the franchise was a return to form, with GeoMod being front and center. It was however, in the third person perspective. The fourth and final game was also quite stellar in my opinion, with the best use of a magnets in a game ever.
One of the finest linear narrative driven FPS games. That’s me trying to find a fancy way of saying that despite all the scripted events that take place while playing these games (half life and opposing force. Not Blue Shift. That one I don’t like so much.) all those events make sense and drive the story forward. They don’t feel like they take away from the experience.
That’s all I really had to say about this game, honestly. It isn’t a power fantasy. You have to conserve ammo. Some of the enemies are very annoying. The section of the first game where you are on the alien planet is pretty weak. First person platforming in general is bad.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Modern military shooters are focused on multiplayer and the single player campaign is mostly an afterthought. Bad Company 2 was the most bearable of these kinds of shooters. The scripted events in these kinds of games are annoying. Speaking of annoying, “Please return to the battle zone or you’ll fail the mission” makes me sad and angry.
This was more of an experience. A short game, but both the stealth and violent approaches were interesting to play. I had to watch a walkthrough to be able to complete the game using stealth because I am impatient and not very good at video games.
Metro Last Light
Great story, your gas mask gets dirty/wet/whatever and you have to wipe it off. It looks cool. Again, this isn’t a power fantasy. There’s a focus on survival and it goes well with the post apocalyptic setting.
You can use different types of guns. The currency is bullets. Post apocalyptic. The last level was annoying because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to shoot at and had to watch a walkthrough video.
Handsome Jack is probably the greatest video game antagonist in this list of games. The game has a unique and interesting universe. Different weapons, and one of them involves throwing the gun itself to reload it. It is a definitive looter-shooter, which means there’s a lot of leveling up and too many weapon drops, but I waded through all of it because I liked the story so much. It was funny and self aware.
For the final boss I just sat in a corner of the map and sniped for hours instead of actually doing it like the game wanted me to.
What was the point of all this?
For a long time I’ve been feeling like I’m playing it too safe. I don’t write my own opinions on here anymore. I try to cover my bases at all times. That’s not a bad thing- nobody can complain, I do my research, and try to remain as objective as possible. But that’s not really very fun to write, or interesting to read.
Also, I really wanted to write about videogames, and I was too afraid to write anything at all. I looked at all these think pieces trying so hard, being so serious and thought provoking. I really don’t have anything to say along those lines. However, I wanted to say these things anyway. All this time I was trying to find something to write about and the only thing I cared about was creating something thought provoking. Every time I tried I found that it already existed. So I decided to look into my own experiences and talk about those.
I wrote this mostly for myself. I thought about all the games I’ve played over the years and saw how many of them were first person shooters. The reasons why were pretty easy to see, and further analyzing it didn’t seem compelling, and more importantly didn’t seem like a fun thing to do. So I took a meandering route through all these games, thinking about what it was that I liked about each and every one of them.
As Hoji would say- “Every hero needs this kind of thing. Call it a… catharsis. Think of it as a spiritual laxative.”