The first-person shooter has come a long way since its inception with the release of “Wolfenstein 3D” in 1992. The genre achieved mainstream success with 1993’s “Doom,” and what began as little more than a series of shooting galleries in labyrinthian hallways has gone on to become a popular medium for telling bombastic stories and exploring imaginative worlds aided by the immersion granted by its first-person point of view.
“Half-Life” in 1998 and “Halo: Combat Evolved” in 2001 cemented the genre’s commercial viability. Although some FPS games are derivative, they’re easily overlooked compared to the plethora of titles that have pushed the envelope of the video game medium. You can explore stunning science-fiction worlds in “BioShock,” “Half-Life” and “Metroid Prime.”
You can overcome insurmountable odds with friends in “Left 4 Dead” and “Deep Rock Galactic.” You can experience historical fiction through “Call of Duty,” “Battlefield” and “Medal of Honor.” Perhaps most importantly, you can compete in nail-biting multiplayer games with players all around the globe with countless titles.
The sky’s the limit for this genre, but, in recent years, innovations have been few and far between. “Borderlands 3” displayed precious few improvements over the series’ previous mainline entry despite a seven-year gap in releases.
The battle royale craze gripping gamers’ attention since 2017 with the likes of “Fortnite,” “Call of Duty: Warzone” and “Apex Legends” shows few signs of letting up, but they aren’t experimenting much. No matter how good the formula, eventually most people will move on to something new.
So, what’s next? It’s difficult to say. Last year’s “Valorant” has become a wildly successful esport, but it’s essentially just a hybrid of previous competitive-multiplayer shooters “Counter-Strike” and “Overwatch.”
After years of people speculating that the FPS genre was a shoe-in for virtual reality, the folks at Valve finally succeeded in March with “Half-Life: Alyx,” which numerous critics said was “VR’s first killer app.” But according to Statista, just 1.76% of Steam users – Steam being the most popular PC game storefront – actually own a VR headset.
Older franchises are struggling. Even “Call of Duty” sales were slipping, so they injected the IP into the battle royale subgenre with “Warzone.” The acclaim of “Halo” arguably peaked in 2010 with “Halo: Reach,” so developers 343 Industries are shaking things up with the upcoming “Halo Infinite” by making its gameplay “open world,” a big change for a franchise that has typically featured concise narratives and focused skirmishes.
“Battlefield V” failed to live up to Electronic Arts’ sales expectations, but a recent earnings call confirmed there will be a new series entry by “holiday 2021.” EA CEO Andrew Wilson described more of the same but bigger, citing “more players than ever before,” “maps with unprecedented scale” and a desire to elevate to another level the “vehicle and weapon combat the franchise is known for.”
This is puzzling given “Battlefield V” reviewed well and only underperformed due to lack of player retention, a vital metric for any multiplayer game. Is “more but bigger” really what the franchise needs? According to Statista, in 2016 27% of all U.S. video game sales were shooters. In 2018, that figure dropped to 20.9%.
That’s a surprising decline, but in recent years I’ve been impressed with how diverse new game releases are in terms of genre. Story-driven games are the crème de la crème for many PlayStation owners, open-world action games are becoming steadily more common, indie studios are pumping out roguelikes, and my backlog of role-playing games is growing at an alarming rate.
If the shooter is finally waning in popularity, then this isn’t a bad thing. It’s been the dominating force in the gaming industry for about 15 years. I was 7 years old when “Halo: Combat Evolved” was released, and while the game is impressive, I distinctly recall being very annoyed by the subsequent shift to every other AAA game release being a first- or third-person shooter.
I was a close-minded child and eventually warmed up to the gameplay style, but there’s something to be said for diversification even in video games. The genre is getting seriously tired when an upcoming game like “Back 4 Blood,” a supposed spiritual successor to 2010’s “Left 4 Dead 2,” appears to add nothing worthwhile to the concept. “Team Fortress 2” still averages 50,000 to 80,000 concurrent players, and it was released in 2007.
Let the existing shooters breathe a little while developers tread new ground in other genres. Variety is desirable and worth celebrating.
Riordan Zentler can be reached at email@example.com.
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