I was over a friend’s house the other day, and he was showing off some new game on his flashy Xbox 360. Needless to say, the game was a first person shooter.“Look at how the water moves! It’s so realistic!”, my friend enthused.”Great” I replied, colourlessly.
The first FPS I remember buying was Castle Wolfenstein on a PC back in the early 90s. Later, I played (and enjoyed) Doom, Duke Nukem, then Quake, with the shuffling sprites of old replaced by proper 3D polygons. Very impressive, I thought. Later on I bought a Nintendo N64, and the first game I played on that console was Goldeneye, a (you guessed it) first person shooter – a very good one too, for its time.
Ten years later, and the format has barely changed; the graphics may be high definition, the sound may be more realistic, but the games are essentially the same. We’re still skulking around the same old maps, shooting whatever pops up in front of us and flicking the odd switch to open a door. Of course, the enemy AI is better and marketing types will say the gameplay is “more immersive”, but this is all just window dressing for what is basically the same product, sold back to us, the game-playing public, again and again.
The production values are huge, and the titles are similarly overblown; games these days all have names like ‘Tom Clancy’s Shadow Ops Ghost Recon 5: Rainbow Trout Saracen Force‘.
For every thoughtfully wrought, imaginatively produced gem like Ico, Ookami, Katamari or Shadow of the Colossus, we get a dozen offerings like Medal of Honor 16 or Call of Duty 12.
Of course, it’s not all the game developers’ fault – if we didn’t buy them, they wouldn’t produce them – but I can’t help wondering how many genuinely new and interesting game ideas get turned down in favour of yet another FPS, simply because that’s what the industry thinks we want to play.
It’s also worth noting that FPS games are quite unpopular in Japan – apparently they dislike the complicity of the violence when it’s presented in the first person – which at least partially explains the Xbox 360’s current lack of success on their shores, because a very large proportion of games for the console belong to that genre. As anyone who imports games will know, there is a wealth of fantastic games only officially available to the Japanese market that will never reach the west because they’re considered ‘too niche.’
There is at least, I think, a glimmer of hope in the shape of the Wii and DS. Rather than join in the Sony/Microsoft technological arms race, and obsessing over how many million polygons per second their consoles can shift, Nintendo has instead gone down a different route, and concentrated on creating a new type of game playing experience, one that relies on genuinely enjoyable gaming rather than flashy visuals.
Of course, many may simply scoff and accuse Nintendo of novelty and gimmickry – and the initial slew of (admittedly fun) shallow party games did little to dispel this – but Nintendo’s success does at least give an indication of the public’s opinion.
Maybe the public is tired of playing the same old games but with slightly smoother graphics, and the Wii could – given the right developer support – provide an alternative to the seemingly endless stream of tediously similar first person shooters?