A Retrospective of the Revitalization of Gaming’s Greatest Genre
Here’s a look at what happened in the past year for FPS fans:
A beloved company releases their first IP in over a decade and it happens to be its first FPS. A blast to the past makes an old franchise feel new again. A sequel brings fans everything they loved from the original and all the things they felt were missing. An industry giant falls from grace, only to dominate sales for yet another year. And those are only the major multiplayer releases.
I’ll start by saying this: at the start of last year, I was done with shooters. Last April, I posted what felt to me like a break-up letter to Call of Duty on my personal blog. I was about as burned out as I could be on not only the franchise, but also an online community that seemed to refuse to grow up with me. After having played every CoD from Modern Warfare 2 to Black Ops 3 (excluding Ghosts, of course), I was finally ready to admit that maybe I had invested too much into the franchise and perhaps first-person shooters on the whole.
I bought my Xbox One on Black Friday in 2015. With it came a digital download of Gears of War: The Ultimate Edition. I also bought BO3, so Gears was on the rear-most burner possible. It wasn’t until months later when I finally gave Gears of War a try that I realized I had a serious problem: I, a self-proclaimed avid gamer, was terrible at every non-Call of Duty game. It was then that I reevaluated everything I held dear about CoD. Don’t get me wrong, the games are great fun, but I felt like I was no longer getting the same buzz that I got in the first few weeks after a new title released. It got stale to me and I never felt like I got anything back from the time- and more importantly, money- I invested in it. As hard as it was to accept this reality, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Searching for different kinds of games to play is what brought me to the XONEBROS community in the first place.
The Industry Darling
Then, May rolled up. I was watching a Couch Cast from the Bros and they were playing a game I had heard about, but never caught my attention: Overwatch. After watching just a couple of rounds, my only thought was “I need this game.” Sure, I said to myself, I’m avoiding getting hooked on shooters, but this isn’t like that kind of shooter. They’re not military prototypes, per say (except that one guy). They are a cast of unbelievably unique, interesting and diverse characters with abilities that don’t just focus on youthful twitch skillz (yes, with a “z”).
Being an exclusively console player, I’d never played a Blizzard game before. I was unaware of their claim to fame: taking a popular game type and making it accessible to all. That’s exactly what Overwatch is. You have the characters meant for the typical FPS players, but you also have ones with mechanics that will appeal to players of MOBAs, RPGs, any type of game really. There’s also the benefit of Blizzard treating games like a service that are maintained for long periods of time. The idea that I can work on building my skills, unlocking cool skins and diving deep into the lore without it all being meaningless in a year is the kind of comfort I’ve been missing from online shooters in a while. Add to that the promise that all game content (new maps and characters) will be available free of cost for the foreseeable future and you have an instant diehard fangirl here.
The Plucky Sophomore
As an example of a breath of fresh air in the FPS market, Overwatch is clearly my shining star, but that’s not all 2016 offered. A futuristic, military, space shooter, you say? It seems to be the new norm, but for some reason Titanfall 2 makes it so darned interesting. I was a little late to the next gen party, so I never played the original. From what I’ve heard, it suffered from too little to keep the interest of enough players to populate the servers. Despite it’s questionable release schedule though, the sequel continues to offer fun new ways to battle it out with other pilots and Titans, and it will continue to do so with (and I can’t stress this enough) free DLC in the future. In addition, the single-player campaign is more than just another thing to check off on the gameplay box. As someone who would habitually load directly into the multiplayer and avoid any sort of story mode, I was surprised how well done it was and the length to which it improved my mechanics in multiplayer. It’s a stark contrast to games that introduce new gameplay elements you will never see or use again every level just to mix it up a bit.
Just in case it seems like I’m talking down on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, I’d like to point out that last year’s CoD was also incredibly successful. Part of the reason I turned away from Call of Duty was the community. I spent years listening to everyone complaining about every game being a re-skin of the last. Finally, Infinity Ward takes the cue and does something different and… You know what? Lots of people still bought it and it got pretty decent reviews. The negativity that surrounded this game pre-release says more about mob mentality than it does the product itself. That, along with weariness about how much I’ve spent on countless season passes, is why I turned away from CoD. However, the developers have proven that they can still innovate even with pressure from publishers and the screaming masses to keep the status quo.
I would be remiss to leave out games that broke the FPS mold this year that I haven’t gotten nearly as much hands-on time with. My husband is enamoured with Battlefield 1 and I can easily see why even though I know the game is not for me. I’ve never been a big Battlefield-er because I skipped the tactics portion of my gaming education. I’ve watched quite a bit and it’s hard not to notice how beautiful it is. It’s got something for the history fans, the hardcore Battlefield fans and everyone in between who can appreciate the scale of it. The last title that immediately comes to mind was on the top of many Game of the Year lists: Doom. If anyone would like to study how to bring back a beloved title in a way that pays homage to its history while benefiting from progression toward the future, look no further than Doom. Could it be any more fitting that a game that helped define the First-Person Shooter genre comes back in such wonderful glory in a year like 2016?
I wouldn’t go as far to say that before last year FPS’s were barely hanging on, but my personal relationship with them has definitely seen an upward trend. Owing in part to the standout games of previous years, the multiplayer shooters of 2016 show that the gaming industry is actually listening to its fans. It was a huge surprise to learn that DLC would be free for Halo 5, but now we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s beneficial to the players and the game when the playerbase isn’t split on either side of a paywall. Rainbow Six Siege taught us that a game focused on team-based tactics can actually work with random groups of people across the internet. And even though it came out in late 2015, that game really picked up steam last year as a result of (again) devs listening to the fans.
Where to now?
The first-person shooter genre has come a long way over the past three decades and, as with most things, it’s experienced its fair share of growing pains. I’m excited to see where it goes from here and I’m not ashamed to admit that I got roped back in after such a short break. I’m curious to hear what others may think about the state of FPS’s right now. Did I miss any other examples of the genre’s recent growth?
Aquila is a long-time lover of all things Xbox from Boston, Massachusetts. A musician and teacher, when she’s not gaming she likes to take in all things pop culture. You can read more of her writing on movies, television and music on her blog.
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