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Zoned In: Has the FPS genre grown static?

Has the FPS genre grown static?
By Steven Hopper

Is the adage 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' limiting creativity in the genre?

Since the genre first pioneered decades ago, the FPS genre has been one of the most successful ones around. Classics like Doom, Halo, Wolfenstein 3D, Quake, and Call of Duty have carved themselves out to be powerhouse franchises and near-household names (well, gaming households, that is). The genre was a no-brainer for the video-game industry as soon as the technology was available to do it justice.

Video games have always been about providing immersive experiences, and you can’t really get more immersive than putting you in the eyes of a character, seeing what they see and being in their shoes (or combat boots) in a way that no other gaming experience can provide. However, as intrinsic as these games may be, has the genre tapped out? When was the last time that you played a truly innovative FPS that revolutionized the genre?

For me, that would’ve had to have been Half-Life 2. Valve’s sequel pushed the boundaries of the genre by combining a fantastic narrative with great gameplay. The game didn’t rely on cutscenes to push the story forward, instead keeping the player in full control of the action and truly immersed in the experience. Other games have done that since then to an extent, but few have carried it off with such gusto and effect.

The first-person perspective has also evolved beyond the shooter genre as well. Games like Oblivion have showed that the first-person perspective can be used to successfully transplant players into a fully-realized universe, and even shooters like Bioshock have done very well to add RPG-like character development to the formula while keeping the action levels high for twitch-gamers. However, the genre hasn’t really had much in the way of innovation in terms of gameplay, as even some of the biggest titles to launch for the genre aren’t that fundamentally different from games that were on the market years ago. In many cases, swap out the weapon sets and environments, and you have a pretty similar experience throughout.

What’s to blame for the lack of innovation in the genre? Could be the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Publishers focus on the bottom line when it comes to developing their games, so if a concept sells well, it can be pretty tempting to not stir the pot at all. An example of this could be Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Modern Warfare 2 was a great game to be sure, a visceral experience that kept the action going throughout. It also sold extremely well, as did its predecessor, making it pretty difficult for Activision and developer Infinity Ward to really mess with the concept much.

Another potential reason could be the shift in focus to multiplayer. Most FPS games hitting the market feature some form of multiplayer gameplay, and as online play is hugely popular, many developers and publishers are choosing to focus on this element when it comes to creating their games. There have been some great advancements in the past few years for multiplayer elements in games, including downloadable maps and content, as well as leveling systems like those seen in the aforementioned Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. However, the focus on multiplayer and the innovations therein make the stagnation in single-player gameplay all the more apparent.

While it doesn’t seem like there’s much change happening in the FPS genre anytime soon, there’s a lot of life in the genre, as shown by its massive success. However, hopefully the genre’s success will inspire more creativity in terms of compelling storytelling and truly immersive experiences.

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