Evolution & Downfall of First-Person Shooters

Here is my take on FPS games on where they manage to evolve and why I believe that they are fading away into obscurity.

Great Genre by all means, but is it at its downfall?


Where do I begin? First-Person shooters were something new when PC gaming started to make a name for itself. Id Software's Doom and Wolfenstein 3D were the prime examples of being the grand-daddies in the genre, and for many years, game developers started to imitate or create FPS games of their own that seem to be either clones or something completely different. Personally, I have nothing against the FPS genre, but the only thing that grinds my gears is that so many of them are made; especially in the United States and it seems like nobody can come up with something in a different genre of any sorts. I will rant on about that in a bit, but some FPS games will be held, dearly, in my heart as they are truly definitive for evolving the genre with all their respect. I think it was around 1992 or 1993 when FPS started to make a name for itself in the gaming industry with Doom and Wolfenstein being the founding fathers of the genre. Let us delve deep into id Software's Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, 3D Realms' Duke Nukem 3D, Bungie's Halo series, Nintendo's Metroid Prime trilogy, Activision's  Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Valve's First-Person Puzzle game Portal as well as Left 4 Dead.


Doom (1993)


As for being one of the first games in the FPS genre, it is one of my all-time favorites. What makes Doom so unique for its time is not only for being the first game to utilize gameplay through a first-person perspective, but it is also the first game to feature a soundtrack score done by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor. This game had to be the most simple for an FPS game because when you fight against the many enemies from the legions of hell, you can shoot straight and the bullets will never miss! That is great programming because it would be hard to try and aim manually as the it would have been impossible to do so by the technical standards of the Windows 95 computer. As for this game having levels, they are simple, short, and really fun to go through, and the buildings with the scary atmosphere are so artificial that it engages the gamers into their own imagination as if they were in a B-Horror movie instead of a game. Even the enemies don't look real as they are all pixelated. That is another great way to implore your imagination into the game's reality because even though it doesn't look real, it is still scary to watch! This is a great game and I do not believe that anyone has not played this game at all because it is astounding in every right.


Wolfenstein 3D (1992)


This is another great game for being the first to reference history into a game, as well as being the first WWII First-Person Shooter. Probably the most prominent feature is that you are an American Soldier who is infiltrating the castle, Wolfenstein, to bring Hitler and the Nazis to justice. Yeah, the game takes place in Nazi Germany during World War II. While the game isn't historically correct, but id Software does have a sense of creativity in creating a scenario that is becomes more on fiction than just fact. The game has everything you can expect in a World War II game, the enemy Nazis, Hitler, the Nazi dogs, and ... giant, mechanical droids? Maybe they are based on some war machines, like tanks, but I don't buy it. However, it is something original that is really fun to fight against because they are really tough! In the past, two versions of the game existed where one was on the Super Nintendo and the other on the PC. For those of you who thought that the SNES would be superior to the PC version like Doom, man-oh-man, were you wrong. Because of Nintendo's strict policy of toning down the violence of anything that relates to gore or actual events would be too much for young gamers, so id Software was forced to tone down the violence and create the SNES version with new enemies that were not in relation to Hitler or the Nazi army. The PC version remained unaltered as fans consider that game to be the more superior version over the SNES. I agree, but the SNES version still was not bad if you looked past its anti-violence policy.


Duke Nukem (1991)


While the first Duke Nukem was a typical side-scoller for the MS-DOS in 1991 and Duke Nukem II being the first to leap into the FPS genre, many fans were mesmerized by the commerically successful Duke Nukem 3D on the PC. With the game being the first to make a jump from pixelated graphics to 3D polygon models, Duke Nukem 3D was at the height of its popularity when this entry made gamers jump in excitement. What is so unique about the Duke Nukem franchise in general? You have got to be kidding! The one thing that makes the franchise so awesome is because of the main character himself! Duke Nukem was the first, talkable protagonist who had a bad habit of swearing in the course of action and he did some really naughty things to his enemies. Probably the highlight in all of that is where Duke Nukem defeats one of the bosses, drops his pants, and takes a dump on the monster's head! I'm not kidding. Some of his most common phrases would be "Blow it out, yer ass!" and "I'm here to kick ass and chew bubble gum!". Yeah, they are funny to listen to and it had to be one of the first franchises to have the tendency of cursing during the gameplay. Duke Nukem is amazing for its time, and pray to the heavens that Duke Nukem Forever will finally be released!


Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)


Being one of the most overrated and overlooked franchises in the gaming industry, Halo delivered games every three years that always improved itself in every way. While I am not a fan of this series, what I do enjoy about this game is the storyline that it has to offer. Think of Halo as a combination between the cult phenomenons of Star Trek and Star Wars where you play as a human cyborg by the name of 'Master Chief' and his mission is to save the planet earth from the forces of an alien race known as the 'Covenant'. In the sequel, things become a bit more clear on who and what is behind the whole war between the two races. On the Covenant side, there are three prophets who are corrupted into a desperate struggle to conquer the universe, and their primary goal is to capture planet earth as their second base after the ring world, Halo, was destroyed in the first game. Even though Master Chief fought agains the Covenant, alone, he did have a partner to help him with defeating the prophets and destroying Halo, once more. The partner was a former member of the Covenant and his name is the 'Arbiter'. The Arbiter's job was to work with the prophets to destroy heretics who opposed the Covenant in every way, but he was fooled when he learned about the true motives of the three prophets. At the end of the series, Master Chief's fate made him drift into space with Cortana, alone, and the Arbiter becomes the new leader of the Covenant and establishes peace with the human race. The story is quite deep and very enjoyable to watch, so this is definitely another great way how the FPS genre evolved.


Metroid Prime (2002)


The Metroid series hasn't been one of those series to take a step into the FPS formula, but it sure did when Metroid Prime hit the scene on the Nintendo Gamecube. In the past, Metroid was all about side-scrolling through planets in a non-linear format, but Metroid Prime went on the FPS route. In actuality, the Metroid Prime trilogy was not in the genre of First-Person Shooter games, per se, but it was the first FPS game to give a sense of adventure in the non-linear format, just like the games in the main series. For the first time, Metroid Prime was able to create the "First-Person Adventure" genre. While the game played out like a First-Person Shooter, but you also travelled on planets in a free-roaming format without going through a linear pattern of levels. Of course, there were no levels in the game because you travelled on planets like Tallon IV,  Aether, and so many others. While the games do succeed with the First-Person Adventure formula, it even had its share of a great story because Metroid games were starting to deliver many stories after Super Metroid on the SNES. The Metroid Prime series is about the galactic bounty hunter, Samus Aran, who travels to many different planets because of Space Pirate activity that deals with them using a malevolent, energy source called 'Phazon'. There are so many mysterious to the substance and they all come together with the third game in the trilogy. Metroid is one of my favorite franchises and it evolved the FPS genre with its sense of adventure.


Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)


Call of Duty has been a franchise that competes against EA's own Medal of Honor series. Call of Duty has proven to be the winner over Steven Spielberg's own WWII FPS series as they become more redundant with being in the WWII format. Call of Duty was kind of the same way for a while, but it did something completel different when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit the shelves, over a year ago. The game was one that was completely original as it did not take place during a historical event like World War II. The setting took place in modern times, and it was at an age where nuclear warfare and terrorism were starting to become popular in the world of politics. You got to play as two different characters with one mainly being a protagonist in the British military. What made the game so unique was its visual representation of telling the story through character movement. One of these scenes that depicts this is where the USMC search for a terroist named Al-Asad, but a nuke detonates the whole city as it kills most of the USMC soldiers as well as the character you control. Speaking of which, you control the character for a few minutes after the explosion to see the destruction that the nuke left, and then the character's eyes shut as he lies down dead. As I have said before, I do not particularly enjoy FPS games that have the same formula, but this game went above and beyond that with character movement in the field of cinematic storytelling. It's no wonder why that game was the best-selling game of 2007.


Portal (2007)


Okay. Now, let me go on record by saying that this game cracks me up every time I either watch it or play it. The thing that makes the game so funny is the antagonist; a form of computerized, artificial intellegence named GLaDOS. This character will crack you up laughing with her constant teases, puns, and harassment that will make you want to say, "Be quiet!" Of course, she can be very annoying, but the things that you do against her is where she will start to bite your rear-end with comedy. Probably the funniest thing with GLaDOS is at the end when the main character burns GLaDOS with the use of the portal gun and that your efforts are meaningless because you will never get any cake. Oh yeah! That's another thing I forgot to mention. Cake is being referenced in the game as a fake prize because the main catchline of the game is, "The cake is a lie!" It has become an internet phenomenon where people can make parodies about the quote. On a different note, what made Portal so unique for the gameplay? Well, you can use a gun that shoots beams to open portals from one area to another. Now, that is innovation. Wouldn't life be simple if we had these devices that can teleport us to places that we can't reach? I like the idea! Science should bring that product to reality, in the future! Portal is really fun if you enjoy puzzle games and want to have a good laugh at the same time. As for being made by the company that made Half-Life 2, it's not wonder why the game is so great!


Left 4 Dead (2008)


Let us take a look at another game that was also made by Valve Software! Now, we are really getting serious with how multiplayer really affects the gameplay in a FPS game. Left 4 Dead is your typical, zombie-survival game with having one goal in mind: 'Staying Alive'. Like I said, the game is all about multiplayer and it is up between you and four other people to stay alive, no matter what. Also, let me say that I like survival horror games like Resident Evil and House of the Dead, but Left 4 Dead gives it a different approach as to where you play as 4 different characters that are not that popular. Think of it like this: It's like Resident Evil: Outbreak, but with gameplay that is dealt in a first-person perspective. The action between the 4 survivors and the undead are just good to be true! I will admit, this game is more entertaining with the multiplayer feature than Resident Evil and House of the Dead. House of the Dead is more well-known for rail-shooters while Resident Evil sticks strong with single player. I'm sorry folks, but I found that the multiplayer feature in Resident Evil 5 is where the dark atmosphere of the game was missing. Left 4 Dead stands out as being the first FPS game with the theme of survival horror and multiplayer to make it really fun and cooperative with others either near you or from across the globe; thanks to online support!


Those are the games that I feel that evolved the FPS genre. I know that there are some games that I missed out on like Battlefield and Half-Life, but I just wanted to broaden my viewpoints on where the games really stuck out well. Half-Life may have had a great story that was on par with Final Fantasy VII, but it was still your average FPS game. That is where I think FPS games are starting to drag because they become more of the same with nothing new to innovate the genre. How many World War II games are there? Too many to count. How many futuristic games are out there? Too many to count? How many FPS games have the element of adventure like Metroid Prime? Not that many. How about a FPS game with RPG elements? I know that Fallout 3 had that feature, but you could also switch back to the third-person view, so it really does not qualify as a FPS. In other words, not that many or any at all. How many FPS games are there to where you can not only shoot guns but throw grenades? Almost every FPS game has that feature. How many FPS games are there that have an awesome protagonist like Duke Nukem? Not that many. I figure that you probably are getting to the point of what I am talking about. FPS games are becoming really redundant because they stick with the same formula that have generic characters and the same core gameplay of shooting a gun and throwing grenades. Resistance: Fall of Man and Killzone 2 may be big-time sellers, but they fall in that same category of retaining the original formula. I think game companies need to start making more FPS games that are outside of the formula like Portal, Duke Nukem, Call of Duty 4, and Metroid Prime because it is just ridiculous on how many are released every year. It is the same when you count how many EA Sports games are out there that have the Madden NFL license where they are the same game but with roster updates, every year. The gaming industry in the US should be about entertainment and not becoming a drag with games. I have played many games that have shown the aspect of entertainment. I have played entertaining franchises like God of War, Mortal Kombat, Elder Scrolls, World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, City of Villains, and a ton of others that know how to be creative and entertaining at the same time. First-Person Shooters are not the strong point for US-based games; they should be almost anything. Why have we not seen many RPGs made in the US? Why have we not seen many Hack 'n' slash games in the US? Why have we not seen many Fighting games in the US? Why have we not seen many Adventure games in the US? It is all coming down to being the same when there are those who are probably going to say that FPS games are easy to make. They might be, but think outside the box some more than just one genre. That is where I think FPS games are going downhill.


In conclusion, FPS games are fun with their own features that stand out than most others in the genre, but everything else can be boring and not that fun to play. I know that there are those who say they enjoy FPS games, but in the next 10 years when developers keep creating games based on WWII or in futuristic settings, would you still be willing to play it? I wouldn't. If I were to enjoy any FPS game, I would stick to the ones I find most appealing and ignore everything else. We need more innovation, originality, and creativity to create new things outside of just the standard FPS formula, or the future could be really bleak. I can give you a bit of advice. If you make a FPS game, think outside the box than just using the same formula over and over. That is being creative! FPS games should take time to develop new things or for developers to try other genres. We could see a revival in FPS games that are fun in the coming years. Innovation is not lost as long as you have a creative mind and you know what to do to make a game feel right is in your hands. Innovation is a gift to where you can make the next great franchise in the future. Innovation is within you...always.

Latest Jobs

Manticore Games

San Mateo, California
Senior Software Engineer - Mobile

Sony PlayStation

San Diego, California
Sr. Online Programmer

The Walt Disney Company

Glendale, California
Associate Marketing Manager - Walt Disney Games

Insomniac Games

Burbank, California
Accessibility Design Researcher
More Jobs   


Explore the
Subscribe to
Follow us

Game Developer Job Board

Game Developer Newsletter


Explore the

Game Developer Job Board

Browse open positions across the game industry or recruit new talent for your studio

Subscribe to

Game Developer Newsletter

Get daily Game Developer top stories every morning straight into your inbox

Follow us


Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more