Today, first-person shooters are among the most profitable genres in the video game industry. But how did many of the modern conventions come about? We’ll take a look at that and toss an honorable mention to the patriarch FPS, Wolfenstein 3D.
10. Halo (Xbox) – 2001
The posterboy for the original Xbox, Halo‘s popularity simply exploded upon release and helped define Microsoft’s console as a serious contender in the market. Easy to learn, with none of the control annoyances of previous console FPSes, Halo also popularized the use of vehicles, although it was not the first shooter to do so. Players loved the story and found it to be a blast, and it spawned a series which still endures. Give it love.
9. System Shock (PC, Mac) – 1994
The first game to mesh the standard FPS formula with RPG elements, System Shock is the inspiration for many later FPSes, including Deus Ex and BioShock. Absolutely soaked in early 90′s cyberpunk sensibilities, System Shock also introduced many staples common in today’s shooters, such as looking up and down, ducking, jumping, taking cover and leaning. It was also the first notable title to use a “true” 3D engine. It’s just a crying shame that the game and its sequel were only moderate financial successes.
8. Serious Sam (PC) – 2001
The very epitome of “brainless”, Serious Sam eschews puzzles for plain old endless shooting. Originally intended to be little more than a tech demo, the game surprised everybody by being a simple blast to play with wide-open spaces, great weapons and off-the-wall enemies which attack the player in formations of dozens, even hundreds at a time. Serious Sam reminded us that simplistic gunplay is still great fun and that a game doesn’t need to be realistic to be enjoyable. The titles also pay attention to co-operative play, something which is still sadly all too neglected in many modern shooters. With a load of sequels, remakes, spin-offs and spiritual successors like Painkiller and Bulletstorm, Serious Sam’s place in history is indeed something to take seriously.
7. Duke Nukem 3D (PC) – 1996
Making the hop from 2D platformers to FPSes was a big step for the Duke. The game didn’t have much in the way of a story and the technology was soon overtaken by other shooters such as Quake, but Duke Nukem 3D still has a place in many people’s hearts. At a time where the genre was overrun by games that took themselves way too seriously, this title introduced lots of tongue-in-cheek humor. Moreover, Duke Nukem 3D‘s maps that sought to emulate real-world locations were leaps and bounds ahead of the “generic corridors” that had plagued most shooters up to that point. It’s a great game that’s still relevant today. It’s just a pity that the sequel sucked so bad.
6. Quake (PC) – 1996. (Mac, PS1) – 1998
Let’s be honest here: the single-player side of Quake and its sequels were nothing too special. In the first game particularly, it was a somewhat lacklustre affair to slog through the game’s colourless mazes. But what the game lacked in single-player it more than made up for in its networking model. Quake refined Internet multiplayer and helped turn FPSes as we know them into an e-sport. On the aesthetics side, the game popularized the use of polygon models instead of sprites and game soundtracks composed by famous artists and bands. The modding capabilities were more malleable than anything else yet seen and gave fans the ability to alter the game almost indefinitely; a precursor to development tools found in many modern shooters.
5. Goldeneye (N64) – 1997
Movie-based game titles have a history of, well, being mediocre. This N64 classic, however, is a prime example not only of how licenses can be done right, but how they can be downright innovative. Goldeneye is credited with introducing stealth elements, sniper rifles (with zoom, naturally) and for successfully translating multiplayer onto a console. The N64′s controls were often criticized for being inadequate for FPSes, but that didn’t stop Goldeneye from being a memorable enough experience to justify being remade many years later.
4. Unreal Tournament (PC) – 1999
The original Unreal was introduced to the world as a “Doom-killer”. However, many gamers felt that the final product just didn’t live up to the hype. The deathmatch-only spin-off, released just before Quake III: Arena, was an entirely different matter. Creative weapons, imaginative maps, highly intelligent bot opponents, a powerful built-in editor and absolutely rock-solid network code created a model to be emulated among FPSes for years to come. Traditional-style deathmatching has fallen to the wayside somewhat in recent years, but Unreal Tournament‘s spirit is still going strong.
3. Medal of Honor (PS1) – 1999
By no means the first World War II-themed FPS – that honor typically goes to the granddaddy of FPSes, Wolfenstein 3D – Medal of Honor is credited with beginning the trend in the early 2000s. It also set a new standard in AI and level designed, and like Goldeneye before it, it showed that shooters on consoles could be every bit as innovative as their PC counterparts. Oh, and none other than Steven Spielberg directed it, with help from a military advisor. How cool is that?
2. Half-Life (PC) – 1998
Half-Life – despite featuring the same “shooting-aliens-in-corridors” gameplay that had been a recurring theme since the days of Doom – was an evolution of the genre that resonates in FPSes to this day. The game’s unbroken narrative introduced a new level of realism to the genre that went beyond simply featuring the best graphics. The attention to detail with object placement and the scripted set-pieces were the perfect balance between a believable sequence of events and engrossing gameplay. It was the game that put Valve on the map, and set off their virtually unbroken streak of successful shooters and expansions.
1. Doom (PC) – 1993
It would be positively wicked to put anything else but iD Software’s seminal FPS on the #1 spot. Although Wolfenstein 3D began many of the conventions associated with the genre, it was Doom that refined them and appealed to the mainstream like no title before; to call the game a runaway hit would be understatement. The game pioneered many concepts associated with “gaming subculture” in shooters, such as loads of mods and fan-created content, death-matching and use of lighting to create a sinister atmosphere. It shocked conservatives with its gore and Satanic imagery, it slowed down productivity in countless offices and for years afterwards, FPSes were known simply as “Doom clones”. This relic from two decades ago influenced the industry in ways that few games have managed, and with a fourth title in the works, we’ve clearly not heard the last of it.