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FPS Fatigue: Are There Too Many Shooters?

Matt Gardner
Are There too Many Shooters?, First person shooter, FPS games, Opinion, Shooter fatigue, Shooters

FPS Fatigue: Are There Too Many Shooters?

This weekend we had a good old natter about the nature of shooters in the modern day, the seeming prevalence of the FPS in current times, and whether in fact there was such a thing as "shooter fatigue" going around. (You can listen to PWNCAST: Episode 11 - Shooting Gallery here.) We came to a number of rather emphatic conclusions.

The first is simple: there aren't "too many shooters" at all. As Jon pointed out in the podcast, the only people able to say that sentence with a straight face would be those too lazy to look anywhere other than the bestseller lists, particularly if you own a PC. Aside from the swathe of bullet-ridden reviews that pile up over the November period, an FPS has barely touched the disc drive of this writer. Skyrim, The Witcher 2, FIFA 12, FEZ, Bastion, Devil May Cry, Binary Domain, Terraria, Puzzle Quest, Football Manager 12, Total War, Red Alert 2, Civ V, Mario Kart 7, Rayman Origins, I could go on and on.

FPS Fatigue: Are There Too Many Shooters?

If anything, Skyrim actually hammered home how much I miss first-person shooters. The perspective is the most immersive you can get in gaming. You are rooted in the game. There are no obstacles to your view, no avatar to remind you that there's an entire other character between you and the unfolding action. Whether coupled with the freedom of exploration, or when coaxed further into tense, claustrophobic environment, when empowered with the ability to assess and react, to find and do things on your own, that first-person perspective cannot help but provide the greatest feedback available to the interactive medium.

The exhilaration of the original Halo is built upon the this, as is the impact of the phenomenal world-building seen in the likes of Half-Life and Bioshock. Doom 3 and the first two F.E.A.R. titles brought atmosphere in spades. Prey took the rules set out by the genre and (literally, in some cases) flipped them upside-down. So how come it seems so wasted today? How did it come to this?

FPS Fatigue: Are There Too Many Shooters?

Since the early Nineties, shooters have always been, and will continue to be, a large part of the games industry. But do we really have more shooters than yesteryear? Probably not. The irony is that as we've advanced technologically in the last few years, there's an argument to be made that we've stalled, or maybe even taken one or two steps back in terms of design. As the desire to make sharper, shinier games grows, as the pressures of trying to keep up with PC hardware that advances at an increasingly accelerated rate take their toll on the wallets of everyone in the games industry, risk-taking becomes unfeasible.

To that end, the publishers behind big budget games will stick with what helped make them big budget in the first place, and right now that's all about modern warfare and space marines. It's about trying to emulate COD's multiplayer template, and sadly singleplayer concerns appear to be increasingly marginalised in this genre. Longevity is key in these uncertain, double-dipping times. If there's a way to extend a game's long tail by cribbing Activision's guide To Multiplayer Violence then so be it.

FPS Fatigue: Are There Too Many Shooters?

The thing is, it's not like there aren't alternatives within the genre itself. Condemned and its sequel gave us a terrifying take on a first-person shooter (something that Amnesia ran with by not letting you have any weapons at all). Metro 2033 proved that exceptional, atmospheric world-building was still alive and well, and a sequel - Metro: Last Light is well underway. Deus Ex: Human Revolution got the jump on the winter release gridlock, dropped in August, and reminded everyone that it was still possible to have an FPS with wide gameplay options, a game that embraces player choice.

That begs the question why we needed reminding in the first place, and therein lies the rub. The FPS genre has become an icon of security - a genre that can prevail in all weathers as it appeals to our simple, primal aggression, is relatively straightforward, and needs little introduction, but it's done so in the last couple of years by removing the risk and cutting costs. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 is canned, the ambitious Prey 2 drifts in a sea of uncertainty; thank god, frankly, that Dishonored is still alive and kicking.

FPS Fatigue: Are There Too Many Shooters?

On one level, railing against the FPS genre is proving popular as a counterpoint to the genre's own popularity. But let's narrow that down...it's not the FPS genre really, is it? It's Call of Duty, and the pretenders that it helps to encourage. There's a certain sense of jealousy there too. The feeling that there are far more games that might warrant even a part of the attention lavished on this yearly event, and it is an event now, that doesn't deliver sequels, or evolutions, as much as stacked iterations.

There's the frustration of knowing that good games don't always sell, that the most interesting titles maybe won't get the marketing push they need without a big name behind them. And here, of course, we run into a new grievance as well: the appropriation of classics from other genres, to sell an FPS. Would Syndicate have sold even half as many copies as it did (a total that was apparently still a bit under par) had it not caused a storm of controversy when it was revealed? Would a strategic reboot have sold more? We won't know in this case, but intriguingly we might when it comes to XCOM.

FPS Fatigue: Are There Too Many Shooters?

But you look back at the likes of TimeSplitters, No One Lives Forever, Hexen and you wonder how they'd ever pass the first pitch today.

  1. "So we'd like to make a game with a unique, hyper-realistic, exaggerated art style that has you jumping around famous global locations, travelling through time to stop an alien race from demolishing history. Oh, and there are monkeys...wait..."quirky" can be good..."
  2. "Right, so we'd like to make a 60's spy spoof FPS with a female protagonist with open-ended gameplay, plenty of stealth elements, cool gadgets like an exploding robotic poodle, a rocket launcher disguised as a briefcase, and a cigarette lighter mini-blowtorch...yes she has to be a female protagonist...why is that dealbreaker?...wait..."
  3. "Ok, so we'd like to present an FPS in which you choose from one of three arcane classes, with lots of variations on melee and ranged combat. We'll have hub levels for large-scale puzzles, and witches, lots of witches...oh...you'd like us to leave...um..."

Ironically, my most anticipated game for this year is actually an FPS - set in a giant,flying, steampunk city, that's home to an enormous avian menace called the Songbird, features large amounts of political infighting, revolutionary chaos, dimension tearing, psychokinetic powers. Of course, Irrational have a big name (and some nice sales figures) to fall back on now. But would Bioshock have been greenlit in 2012?

FPS Fatigue: Are There Too Many Shooters?

Then again, I looked around following the presentation of Brothers in Arms: Furious 4, a game that appeared to put Borderlands, Bulletstorm, and Inglourious Basterds into a blender, and people were complaining of this apparent "travesty", lamenting this new direction. I saw a fresh take on the WWII shooter and left with a massive grin on my face, but this vehemence confused me.

Maybe we deserve everything we get. Maybe we're just not allowed nice things.

Add a comment10 comments
GetsugaTenshoS  May. 1, 2012 at 14:27

I think part of the reason many seem to think there are far too many shooters out there (I don't think this is the case) is there's simply not enough high quality games of other genres out there that have originality, accessibility and appeal that the FPS genre has lots of. There's a lot of untapped potential in other genres which is shown whenever a good game that has those features comes along and sells many copies.

GTAIV, Saints Row the Third and Crackdown all had original takes on the sandbox action genre along with having that accessibility and appeal to core and casual gamers alike which resulted in a lot of sales and attention. Now obviously that's just one genre but I'm not listing more for the sake of space and it demonstrates what I'm saying fairly well.

I think more attention needs to be focussed on other genres and finding games with different and fun takes on things rather than just looking at what's announced by big publishers and the odd indie game that happens to do really well. Rather than there being too many FPS games out, too much of the spotlight goes to the FPS genre leaving others in the dark.

For more original takes on FPS games, there's actually a fair few out there that just don't get noticed. Many of them being mods that get some attention from a small community and then fade away again. The really sad thing is many of these mods would be great standalone games with the potential to be very popular if only they'd get a chance.

One of my favourites that seems to have sadly died is Fistful of Frags (still being updated, just not many players at all). It's a western multiplayer shooter that has modes for team vs team or co-op vs ai, each with their own objectives. It's similar to counter strike source in ways with the item buying menus and it's most likely a CS:S mod but it had such a great takes on things. I played it with some friends back when it had a decent number of players and it was such a fun games. One of my favourite maps is the one where there is a train with one team having to escort it to a point with the train stopping at stations along the way and the other team having to stop it. It'd be great to see more mods like this given the right attention.

dicksteel18  May. 1, 2012 at 14:44

Shooters are great but it's important to have a story behind them. There are far too many games that are focused solely on being a shooter because 12 year old's think its cool and so there's a massive market for it. However 12 year old's are only interested in mindless online multiplayer and so the single player campaign suffers - leading to poor quality games. I'd like to see multiplayer banned so the game companies actually focus on making the single player campaign interesting and deep in the same way that fps games of old such as halo: combat evolved etc. were

DivideByZero  May. 1, 2012 at 15:00

Shooters are great but it's important to have a story behind them.

Sorry but I totally dont agree with that. For me, the best thing about the FPS genre is online multiplayer and there is no need for story. Just give me free for all and team death match, a great game engine and responsive servers and you have a winner.

Single player for me is like a bonus. I have not played the single player of MW3 or BF3, despite having spent hours on both.

DivideByZero  May. 1, 2012 at 15:04

In fact, taking this a bit further, I would say it MUST be a big selling point for the FPS games. When I hear people talk about CoD or BF, it's always about what happened on a multiplayer game... never about "that bit in the story"... with the exception of "No Russian".

Games that have a lame multi player do not do as well.

CoD is great for its arcade run and gun and BF is great for its tactical team work. Either way, multi player is a really big point to a good FPS.

hurrakan  May. 1, 2012 at 15:27

Too many crap ones, not enough good ones.

FPS used to be my main genre but I've hardly played any in recent years.

I have quite a few in my Steam account that I have no desire to play - Red Faction, Homefront, Metro 2033, etc.

The only recent FPS that comes to mind is Rage. It worked for me and the combat was very fun, but it seemed like only 10% of the game that it was meant to be.

Call of Duty has stagnated too long - I didn't even bother to get Modern Warfare 3. And to be honest, I never played past level 3 of Modern Warfare 2 because I was too eager to start the multiplayer. But there were too many glitches and I never went back to that game.

We need the continuation/conclusion of Half Life. And a proper Max Payne game (not a sunshine and rainbows version).

Last edited by hurrakan, May. 1, 2012 at 15:38
Anarchist  May. 1, 2012 at 15:43

FPS Fatigue: Are There Too Many Shooters?



Anarchist  May. 1, 2012 at 15:46

never about "that bit in the story"... with the exception of "No Russian".

When I was in Tesco queuing for MW3 (I apologise, I'll never do it again!), I couldn't help but shout out "Remember, no Russian!"...

I'm glad there were lots of people that got that one, or it could have been a bit embarrassing... :|

MattGardner  May. 1, 2012 at 17:42


multi player is a really big point to a good FPS

Multiplayer is a really big point for a certain type of FPS. But it shouldn't be the be-all and end-all for the genre. Would Bioshock really have been made better with multiplayer? How about Deus Ex? Half-Life?

I'd like to see developers recognise that there's a dearth of excellent modern singleplayer experiences and look to plug that gap. You're right that story doesn't necessarily make a game, but it would be sad to see developers falter and fail to keep exploring the first-person from narrative perspectives. Using the SPs for BF3 and MW3 as examples is a bit redundant too, as neither are exactly premier examples in that department.

But even in the multiplayer sphere we've not seen a huge amount of progression. The things that make Battlefield great are the same as they were nearly a decade ago. Call of Duty got the formula right a while back. These services are heading towards subscription models, which hopefully might prove cheaper in the long run. But when it comes to self-contained crafted content, the genre can and should be doing so much better.

DivideByZero  May. 2, 2012 at 12:53

The trouble is Single player is clocked in a few hours and so is a small part of a games life.

Take MW2, for all it's faults I completed the single player in about 10 hours or so from memory and it was very good... loved it, but racked up 400 hours on multi player.

It's probably a bit like Stockholm syndrome... spend that long with something and you start to love it.

Personally, I often find single player FPS games very dull now. Half Life series was good... but ask anyone who was in to both Counter Strike and Half life which they prefer and most would go for counter strike.

Once a single player is done, it's done. You can play it again but it's the same, the story is the same. With Multi player there is no story but a new challenge with new people every time. It is so rewarding beating 63 other people to get the top score in a round, which lasts 20 minutes... the same level of reward at least as clocking a single player game.

I found Bioshock really dull and boring and dont consider Deus Ex to be a FPS as it just came off as Spliter Cell, which I loved but would class as a Stealth game and not a FPS.

I think that I, like you, agree that the genre is lacking and perhaps I have just totally discredited it. But it wont just be me, you only have to look at sales figures of MW3 and BF3 and compare them to games with better single player but no/worse multi player to see that it is a huge selling point.

I would welcome an FPS that was single player focused and delivered such a long running rewarding experince... but I just don't see it happening.

Maybe Halo 4.

(but again, Multi made Halo 3 what it was for me.)

MattGardner  May. 3, 2012 at 14:32

You're right...multiplayer offers far greater replayability than singleplayer. I'm not suggesting that one is better than the other, nor that we should somehow get rid of MW or BF. I'm a big fan of Battlefield and Halo. I love those multiplayer experiences. I've enjoyed some cracking games of COD.

But with the budgets that those franchises have, not to mention the social networking aspects that have grown this year, they are the staple titles for the genre. If you can't match those budgets, why bother competing with them in the first place? EA threw money at Battlefield trying to beat Activision at their own game, and still the things that made BF3 great by comparison were the things that were inherently Battlefield.

I don't see the sense in mimicking COD. Surely it would make more sense for developers to create something compelling that you can't get from COD or BF...a cracking singleplayer campaign.

The games that we hold up as true classics, the games that we look back upon as cultural checkpoints for this industry...most of them have been SP experiences. COD and BF and Halo (and FIFA) will give me something to plug gaps, they have been my bread-and-butter, reliable (or stagnant, depending on your viewpoint) franchises that give me what I know and do it very well. They fill time between games I really want to play, they are the titles that I go back to time and time again for leisure.

But there's a gap in the market for something exceptional. The games above never drop my jaw, never really make me think, never challenge or amaze, surprise or astound. And that's ok...they don't need to do that. But it would be nice to have a few games that did.

Last edited by MattGardner, May. 3, 2012 at 14:43

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