The first-person shooter has come a long way since the days of floppy disks and shareware. Development studios, for the most part, have moved out of their garage and into skyscrapers. As the cost of making these shooters has skyrocketed, so too has the quality and the dividends, especially in the case of games like Call of Duty, DOOM, and Destiny, has massively improved for their makers.
More than just another genre of video game, the FPS is a working demonstration of the capabilities of cutting-edge hardware. It pushes the entire medium forward. Beyond that, the genre has made marked strides over the decades. Each of these games is a milestone – all of which have come to define the shooter as it is today.
> Castle Wolfenstein
The granddaddy of the modern shooter, Wolfenstein 3D, has a precursor of its own – Castle Wolfenstein. Designed as a ‘stealth shooter’ in the most rudimentary sense, it possessed concepts that came to later embody Wolf3D and many other shooters, albeit with an added dimension.
> Wolfenstein 3D
First-person adventures existed before Wolf3D, but gratuitous violence was never something most game designers even dared to consider. The goal was to escape a Nazi fortress and kill everyone along the way. Offering little by way of narrative, Wolf3D became the template for shooters for years to come. Mindless, but fun.
Then came Doom from the makers of Wolf3D, which stepped things up a notch with bloodier visuals and a Y-Axis. Where once levels were flat, you now had to deal with enemies shooting at you from above and below. It also spawned a host of clones – Heretic, Hexen and a very good sequel, to name a few.
Quake was the first real ‘fully 3D’ shooter. It was like Doom, but better in every way. Its multiplayer mode was leagues ahead of its predecessor, allowing players to join dedicated servers hosted all over the world to fight against each other in free-for-alls and team-based battles. It also spawned a host of modifications, including Team Fortress, which would later become the template for Overwatch’s class-based gameplay.
Whereas shooters were previously designed as a series of nondescript corridors, Half-Life took place within a massive complex. You took a tram to get in there, admiring the architectural sprawl along the way. And the maps, distinct as they were, were seamlessly knit together as if they were all part of a larger environment.
> Deus Ex
Shooters didn’t have to be mindless. As Deus Ex proves, they could also be RPGs with stories and characters right out of The Alex Jones Show. In a cyberpunk setting replete with government conspiracies and human augmentation, Deus Ex feels like an early prediction of the world we’ll soon be living in. There’s even a reference to the ‘meme wars’, long before memes were even a part of the cultural zeitgeist.
> Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Developed during the height of the War on Terror, you got to experience first-hand (at least virtually) what it was like to rain death from an AC-130 gunship, fight alongside US Marines in the Gulf, and get blown up in a nuclear explosion that puts any of Michael Bay’s movies to shame. Before Modern Warfare, video games were never quite so cinematic.
> PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
Surviving the apocalypse with others is fine and all, but what if you had to survive against 99 other players trapped on an island? PUBG is like Battle Royale and The Hunger Games all wrapped into one, and it brings about the spirit of survival in ways no other shooter could – at least at the time. Without PUBG, there would be no Fortnite.