The Great Video Game Debate, Take 6: First Person Shooters
And welcome back. Next up in the "friendly" video gaming discussion between my friends over at Soul Kerfuffle and LastBestAngryMan and myself is First Person Shooters.
Ok, admittedly the last category, Sports Games, was not my "cup o' tea," if you will. To answer LBAM's question, no, I don't really play "real" sports games (i.e. football, baseball, etc...) all that often. I can see the draw, but I prefer watching games and getting my ass royally kicked by Robo-Chuck (The Machete) in fantasy sports. Just not my thing.
What is my thing, however, is the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre. I have loved them since the first time I stepped into Castle Wolfenstein at a friend's house in 1992. I have played just about every major-release FPS on the market as well as many more lesser-known and indy titles. Along with good RPGs and the Civilization games, they are my absolute favorites.
First person shooters aim to fully emmerse players in the gaming environment. The gamer in essence "becomes" the one staring down the barrel of a gun or running from zombies. Many people find this perspective much more involving. It allows for "direct" interaction with the gaming environment, which can translate into a more personal experience.
Yeah, I know, I need more involvement when playing games. But I digress...
I think the first thing to take into account when looking at FPS games is platform/input device. While consoles like the PS3 and Xbox 360 have made leaping strides in recent years with multi-axis controllers, it is still my opinion that these games are best played on a computer using a mouse and keyboard, which allows for a faster and more presice range of motion and a far more customizable setup. It is true that console systems have "keyboard and mouse" controllers, but it generally doesn't feel as "crisp" as a real computer setup. With that said, however, all you need to do is look at sales figures for the Halo series to see how that is changing.
Anywhoo, and without further ado...
#5 Condemned: Criminal Origins (PC/Xbox 360)
Frank Rooke, the Monolith Lead Designer for Condemned, said in an interview that aspects of the game were inspired by Silence of the Lambs (the procedural investigation), Se7en (the cat-and-mouse between the main character and the main villain), and 28 Days Later (shear deranged human brutality). You can find the interview here.
Condemned takes those aspects and creates an incredible game that is scary as hell and downright frantic at times. You play the part of an FBI agent who was just framed by a serial killer. Your search to catch him and clear your name takes you through all kinds of dark and eerie places including slums, abandoned buildings, and subways. The game very successfully plays every trick possible on your eyes and ears until you sit completely (and gleefully) paranoid at your computer.
The game takes entertaining (and challenging) steps towards semi-realism. Instead of an unending stream of "bad guy" soldiers and evil monsters, most enemies are vagrant drug addicts or gang members hooked on a new PCP-meets-crack drug that makes them nervous and violent. Guns are very few and far between in the game, break easily when misused, and can not be reloaded. Most of the time you find yourself ripping a piece of conduit off the wall or picking up a piece of iron rebar with concrete attached to defend yourself. The hand-to-hand combat system is very well done for a FPS.
There is a plan for a sequel. Unfortunately, however, it is only planned for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, which makes me want to stomp around angrilly.
The absolute most important aspect of this game, however, was that it finally lets me, albeit in a pixilated fashion, rip the arm off of one of those industrial office paper cutters and hit someone with it. Don't even try to tell me you've never thought about it.
#4 S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)
Admittedly this game was gunning to be my "worst FPS game" until about two weeks ago. Not because it's bad - quite the opposite - it's an incredible game. It just took a few miserable weeks to get the bugs out. I'd literally sit there and almost be able to play a great game. Frustrating.
But that is neither here nor there now that I figured out the problem and completely reprogrammed the damn thing to work right (if you need any help with crashes, send me a private email and I can help).
Also, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has the most annoying title in the world to type repeatedly. But I refuse to cut any corners. Enough gripes. On to the good stuff.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is loosely based on the classic Russian Sci-Fi novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. No, I've never read this book, but when a FPS is loosely based on literature (Halo and the Aeneid, Half-Life and The Mist), it statistically has to be good. Maybe I'll read it now that I've finished S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. takes place in "the Zone" - the fallout area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after a second explosion in the near future. The second disaster leads to several physics anomalies and mutational byproducts called "artifacts." You play a S.T.A.L.K.E.R., a prospector of sorts, who enters the Zone to collect these valuable artifacts. Unfortunately there are other S.T.A.L.K.E.R.s and bandits with the same idea, a military who doesn't think people should be nosing around in the Zone, mercenaries working for wealthy scientists, and packs of mutated wild animals (and people) - all of whom don't want you to succeed.
The Zone in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. makes for an incredible setting. The whole area is littered with decrepit buildings, burned out military bases, abandoned science centers, and a lot of radiation and physical anomalies. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is almost beautiful in it's bleakness. The most striking aspect is how graphically close the game comes to modern day Chernobyl.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s dedication to detail is astounding
and creepy. Which is the real Chernobyl?
and creepy. Which is the real Chernobyl?
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a brutally realistic game at higher levels of difficulty. Different weapons take different bullets, so the really awesome and unique weapon you find may be worth jack when you find out its ammo is difficult to come by. Those bullets tend to be very fatal very fast (and expensive) at lower levels before you find decent body armor. Even then, in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. it's only a few shots and you're out. Throw on top of that the fact that equipment degrades with use, guns can jam, and that you have a very limited (realistic) carrying capacity (and food and medical supply weight adds up fast), and you have an extremely tough game.
But damn does S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game deliver with regards to action, plot twists (the storyline is very well written), and overall creepiness...
Ok, I cheated. I used cut and paste every time I needed to write "S.T.A.L.K.E.R."
#3 Doom 3 (PC)
When it took id Software about 10 years to develop a squel to the classic Doom II, you just knew it had to be good. And was it ever.
Doom 3 really fleshed-out the previous games in the series with a great storyline including awesome writing and animated cutscenes. It was difficult enough to challenge even the most veteran of FPS gamers and was extremely entertaining.
Where Doom 3 was really an innovative viking, however, was in its use of lighting effects. It made you extremely paranoid about every dark corner - you had no idea what, if anything, was about to jump out and grab you. That's why you always lead with the shotgun.
#2 Quake (PC)
The original Quake could possibly be described as a turning point in FPS games. While the storyline was a little mish-mashed (too many cooks in the kitchen a la John Romero and American McGee), it innovated the FPS genre in several areas.
Graphically, its game engine was the first to use three dimensional models for characters as opposed to two dimensional sprites. This brought another level of "realism" to the game which at the time really pushed the envelope.
It was also the first game to really bring "free look" graphics to the forefront. Free look allows the player to look around and target by moving the mouse. Previously in FPS games, the directional keys were used to turn right an left and you targeted whatever was right in front of you. Needless to say, free look let players truly immerse themselves in three dimensional environments. The system has been used in just about every FPS since.
Quake's soundtrack and effects were written by Trent Reznor which makes it inherently awesome. That's really all I can say about that.
Finally, Quake was the first FPS with widespread multiplayer acclaim. People (myself included) spent hours playing, modding, and creating new levels (while they were supposed to be studying calculus) to play online (abusing their college's T1 lines) with their friends (who were also abusing their college's T1 lines).
All in all, Quake was the basic model for the overwhelming majority of FPS games today.
#1 The whole Half-Life series (PC)
This includes Half-Life, Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2, Episode 1, and Half-Life 2, Episode 2.
If you look on Metacritic, these above mentioned games are tied with Baldur's Gate II as the greatest PC games of all time with a score of 96 (universal acclaim). There is a reason for that, and it is simple: they are, in fact, the best computer games of all time.
Storyline, writing, setting, puzzles, gameplay, graphics, challenge, etc... The HL games have it all and are widely considered masterpieces frequently copied in the genre.
Half Life beats Halo.
Literally. With a Crowbar.
Literally. With a Crowbar.
For me, on a personal level, nothing comes close to these games for one reason, and one reason only: I used them for maniacal entertainment at Soul Kerfuffle's expense, much in the same way Bugs Bunny used to pick on Elmer Fudd.
After beating him into near submission (just about when he would threaten to quit), my friends and I would allow him to kill us a few times to get his confidence level and excitement up. Then, just when he thought he was getting the hang of it, I would wait for him to take a "tactically superior position," usually on a high cliff or overhang, and then inform him he was standing on a remote detonated bomb.
SK: That's it, I've had it, I quit.
TPTT: Oh come on, just play a little more.
SK: I quit the next time you kill me. I swear to god.
*Six kills for SK later*
SK: Yeah. This is awesome. I'm going to kill your ass with this crossbow again from way up here!!!
TPTT: Well, maybe you will.
SK: What do you mean? I've killed you six times from up here!!!
TPTT: Look at your feet.
SK: Oh Shit.
TPTT and friends: bwhahahahahaha
*Nachos (SK's player name) has left the game*
It almost made up for the right straight whoppins I got in Starcraft...
Special Mention: The Halo series (Xbox, Xbox 360, PC)
I feel I should give special mention to the Halo series. I've played the first and second ones (I do not own an Xbox 360 and am disappointed the third isn't out for PC) and they are enjoyable, well-written, graphically beautiful games.
Why not in the top 5 list, you ask? When I played them, I didn't see anything really "new" or "innovative" that made them stand out in particular. Why special mention, then? The Halo series, in my opinion, almost single-handedly updated the FPS for consoles and took them mainstream, and by all means should be commended for that. Hell, Peter Jackson is supposed to produce the movie. Uwe Boll is jealous.
Honorable Mention: F.E.A.R., Quake 2, Descent, Far Cry, Crysis, Call of Cthulu
Worst FPS Ever: NRA Varmint Hunter
The enemy here are squirrels, groundhogs, and parrie dogs, which you blast with a high powered rifle (you sick bastards). If you paid money for this game a) you should be ashamed, b) the last 7 years of American History are all your fault, c) your family tree looks like a telephone pole, and d) Charlton Heston thanks you for the donation.
Highlights from the Metacritic reviews include the following gems:
"Throwing rocks at cars would be a more fun game than shooting rats in NRA Varmint Hunter. Playing this game made me feel like a hobo at a garbage dump with a metal detector." - Cheat Code Central
"All the thrill of the hunt, without the thrill or hunt." - PC Format
"Finally, there’s multiplayer. It doesn’t work. There’s a multiplayer button on the main menu, but it just takes you to the Speedco Web site. That’s ok guys. The game sucks and I doubt shooting varmints along side critterlover678 will make it any better." - G4 TV
"The biggest objection I have with the game, aside from it being roughly on par with a facial performed by a living urinal, is that you can't even move." - IGN
"I've played Flash-game advertisements that are more fun than NRA Varmint Hunter." - PC Gamer
Only one thing could save this game...