How Consoles Changed FPS Games

If anyone ever asks me what’s my favourite genre of games, it’s undoubtedly First Person Shooters (FPS). And if anyone ever asks me what’s my favourite game of all time, it’s undoubtedly Quake 3/Quake Live. I simply love the fast-paced, frantic, and yet strategic nature of Quake 3, which was released all the way back in 1999. Unfortunately, this style of FPS games have completely disappeared from the face of the earth. No one develops games like Quake or Unreal Tournament nowadays, and to me, it’s a shame that kids nowadays will never get to experience the thrilling sensation of playing games like these.

Long before Halo…

The growth of FPS games can probably be traced back to 1992, with the release of the first true FPS game: Wolfenstein 3D, a game which I’ve never played (I was 1 year old in 1992). Soon after which, Doom came along with wonderful things like textures and variations in height (stairs!) and most importantly, multiplayer deathmatch games. Listen up you kids who think Halo is the best game ever, without Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, there would never have been a Halo for you to waste your lives away on. Wolfenstein 3D essentially invented the genre, while Doom introduced the idea of multiplayer FPS games.

Fast forward a couple of years and Quake was released, the first ever 3D FPS game. Coupled with the advent of this thing we call the Internet, the game became a huge hit as it was one of the few games that could be played over the net rather than just a local network. Its style of gameplay would be emulated and improved upon throughout the late 1990s with the release of the 2 sequels to Quake as well as the first Unreal Tournament game. I won’t go into the details of how different these games are from the FPS games of these days (eg. strafe jumping, rocket jumping), but let’s just say they’re a lot faster than games like Halo or Team Fortress 2.

Of course, even in the late 1990s, there were signs of what FPS games were going to be like in the future. Half-life changed the way people viewed a single player campaign in an FPS game, with its immersive story and gameplay. In 1997, one of the most popular console FPS games up till this day was also released: GoldenEye 007. And in 1999, Counter-Strike got released as an official Valve product, even though it was originally a community mod. While Counter-strike’s multiplayer game modes were similar to Quake’s, its style of gameplay was completely different, featuring realistic weapons, movement, etc. Unfortunately, its popularity meant that future games would be developed to mimic its gameplay.

Now if you haven’t noticed by now, let me get one thing straight: I hate Halo. No, I don’t think its an inferior game even though its not my preferred type of game. Rather I despise it because I personally blame it changing the entire FPS genre (for the worse in my opinion). In 2001, the first ever Halo game was released to widespread popularity and critical acclaim and is widely considered to be the game that helped bring FPS games to consoles. Before Halo, putting FPS games on the console seemed like a stupid thing to do. The lack of a mouse and keyboard meant a lack of precision, something that’s of monumental importance in any FPS game. And while I applaud Bungie for managing to making FPS games work on consoles, its obvious that they had to tweak certain aspects of FPS games in order for Halo to be a viable game to play on consoles.

First and foremost, they made a huge change that would forever plague future FPS games, and is a “feature” that gamers now expect and come to rely on:

Regenerating health

Now personally, I consider this gameplay change to be a crime. In many FPS games before Halo, and even some future games, the player usually has a fixed amount of health that he loses as he takes damage from enemies. The only way he can replenish his health in many cases is running around desperately searching for health packs. However, with regenerating health, the player can simply hide behind a crate for a couple of seconds, knowing that all his wounds will magically heal and he can just charge out again. To me, this style of gameplay takes away a lot of the thrill, tension and strategizing that one experienced when playing FPS games.

For example when you’re low on health, you start to get nervous and stop charging out so much. Instead you have to slowly creep around, searching for health packs and hoping that you manage to avoid all enemy bullets. In my opinion, it’s so much more satisfying when you’re on a brink of death and short on ammo when you suddenly manage to pull of a string of beautiful headshots, clearing the remaining enemies. Unfortunately, most gamers nowadays would rather have the instant gratification of continuously mowing down enemies instead of stopping once in a while to search for health packs and plan their attacks.

This is the mindset I have when I’m playing FPS games of today that have regenerating health:

  • Hiding behind cover
  • OK, I’m ready…
  • CHARGEEEEEEEEEE
  • BANG BANG BANG
  • Oh crap I’m dying
  • Run back and hide behind cover
  • wait.
  • wait.
  • wait.
  • Oh I’m at full health.
  • OK, I’m ready…
  • CHARGEEEEEEEEEE
  • Rinse and repeat

In such a scenario, killing enemies becomes methodical and almost monotonous. The only satisfaction one gains is from mowing down enemies one after the other. This is especially evident in games with lousy game design like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, where enemies just keep magically spawning over and over again until you cross an arbitrary checkpoint. There’s no tension, there’s no strategising, just methodically aiming and pulling the trigger.

S-l-o-wwwwwwwwwwww…

The other problem I have with Halo is the pace of its multiplayer games. Once again I applaud Bungie for creating a great single player campaign with an immersive story. Its multiplayer portion on the other hand is abysmal in my opinion. No more strafe jumping, no more rocket jumping all over maps. Instead you slowly walk and jump around a low gravity map in many cases, and while the controls do work, it’s only because the pace of the game has been slowed down to accomodate the longer time it takes to turn your character around with a console controller as opposed to a mouse. There’s no way one can play fast paced deathmatch games on a console. Thus, the general pace of the game had to be slowed down to compensate for the lack of precision that comes with console controllers.

While most people have come to accept this new pacing of FPS games, I personally think it’s way too slow.

Console market = $$$

Unfortunately, as developers saw that there was much more money to be made from console games, more and more FPS games were developed with consoles in mind instead of the PC. While most games were released on both consoles and PCs, its obvious that they were developed so that console gamers could play them as well. Thus came the end to an era of fast paced deathmatch games from the late 1990s. Instead more games tried to go for a more realistic feel as well as having a single player campaign of “epic” proportions. Games like Quake and the original Unreal Tournament took a backseat to Call of Duty games. Crysis, Bioshock, Resistance, Battlefied. Even the subsequent sequels to Unreal Tournament went for multiplayer matches of a much larger scale that focused more on action rather than teamwork and strategising.

To me, it’s sad that games like Quake can no longer be appreciated by most teens nowadays. I’ve tried introducing Quake to many friends in the past, and all of them complained about one thing: it’s too fast. Before they can even settle in to appreciate the minute details and strategies of the game, they can’t even get used to the pace itself. I think that speaks volumes about how much FPS games have changed over the last 2 decades since Wolfenstein 3D.

All in all, I blame consoles for forcing FPS games to change in the many ways that they have. Too many considerations had to be made for console gamers’ sake, many of which compromised the original nature of FPS games. Yes, there might have already been a trend towards having more “realistic” shooters, ala Half Life. However, without consoles, I find it hard to believe that games like Quake would completely die out. Unfortunately, it’s a fact that there’s more money to be made from console gaming, thus publishers are all desperately going after the market, leaving people like me hanging dry.

Oh well, back to Quake Live.