I love stories… So I play games…
I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, or even cares, but in recent years the storylines of games within the FPS genre has become… Well, how do I put it nicely…? Fucking shite. The stories are either really far-fetched, over the top, completely rubbish or really short… But before we get to all that. It’s time for a history lesson in the world of FPS titles.
Don’t worry, we’re not going to go back to the beginning of time for this; we just need to look at the time when these types of games started to become popular and more mainstream – This was around the year 1992 when Wolfenstein 3D, created by id Software, hit the global market – Now the game doesn’t really have anything that makes it incredible within the story department, but as the first popular ‘mainstream’ FPS game, it’s worth a mention, especially as it helped popularise a technology that is used in every single modern 3D game and is the basic idea behind functions that new graphics cards from NVIDIA and AMD are pushing.
In the next year though, a game was released that is considered “the most important first-person shooter ever made” was released; DOOM. This was especially notable because of the way that the game popularised a feature that is now arguably more important than the rest of modern shooters – Multiplayer. While at first it was limited to 2-4 players on LAN setups, it was later expanded to run online through the DWANGO service. The game itself, just like Wolfenstein, wasn’t particularly groundbreaking in the sense of the story but does offer a very important step towards where we are today.
From then on until around the year 2000, the FPS genre stayed very much the same, other than the general advancements within graphical improvements, multiplayer improvements (Such as Quake and Unreal Tournament), and of course, increased realism. It was at this point a game came out that I would claim to be the first proper, full-featured FPS story-driven title – Halo. While it did have multiplayer, the game was largely based around a story that involved combating an alien race amongst lush scenarios and a fresh new world. I would say that from here until around 2015, we had the some of the greatest story arcs within the FPS genre.
Some great franchises to mention that had some amazing stories include the Far Cry series with its’ open world, Deus Ex and its’ upgrade tree similar to an RPG, and the F.E.A.R. and Half Life games for popularising horror elements within FPS titles. Finally, I want to mention a game that pushed sound to the limits when it was released. The game was called “Black” and featured a heavy focus on what each weapon sounded like when fired. This was done by sampling the sounds of guns being fired in films, for example, one used was the sound of an MP5 used by Bruce Willis in the original Die Hard.
“Come on Ben, you’ve written over 450 words and haven’t gotten to your point yet, get on with it”, I hear you cry – Okay, Okay, don’t worry, we’re almost there now. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about two major FPS franchises that both have a major stakes in both story (At least one did until now…) and multiplayer, mainly due to the console market primarily. Call of Duty and Battlefield. Both of these games have multiple instalments being released around the early 2000’s – While Call of Duty may be some people’s first thought when the words “First Person Shooter” are said, Battlefield is arguably just as important, even if the stories within aren’t as fleshed out as Call of Duty’s campaigns of old.
The most notable entries in the Call of Duty franchise, in my opinion, however, has to be the Modern Warfare series – Following a squad that eventually ends the third world war, all three of these games are incredible pieces of story telling and game development – So how did we get to where we are now? Both the Battlefield and CoD games are abandoning the traditional story mode in favour of a Battle Royale style game mode; there are a few reasons why this is happening, and part of it is your, and my, fault (Sucks to say).
The first issue is placed on the developers of the games, specifically the writers of these games – They’re the people that we can blame for the story of CoD: Ghosts and onwards being utter shite; because the story of these games were going downhill, a player’s interest in these stories became limited and just made fewer and fewer people want to play the games for the stories within. This then leads to lower play time in these modes, along with higher production costs… Leading to them being inevitably axed. The second issue is caused by the publishers of the games. In this case, I’ll use Battlefield as an example – They can see that the online multiplayer portions of their games are only becoming more and more popular; it’s where the money is… So what should they do?
The answer is to direct more resources to the multiplayer portions of the game over the story parts; the effect of this is that the story of the games is cut short. A good example of this is with Battlefield 4 – The story is only 7 missions long, meaning that I was able to complete my first run through of the game’s campaign on hard in around 6-7 hours. Around one mission per hour, in which I spent a lot of time dying and replaying a section – Looking at the speedruns of the game though, people have completed the game in around 3 hours. It’s not a long time – There is a third issue that I will not delve into due to it involving political reasoning, but the basis of the idea is that games won’t give an accurate portrayal of a period of time, for example, WWII, because of the significance that a flag had and has towards certain groups of people, or out of fear of retreading the horrors of past events, despite their potential as windows into the past.
The final issue was caused by you, the reader, me, the writer, and us, the players of FPS titles. We’ve played too much Fortnite and PUBG. The game developers and publishers in this industry have seen an exploding trend of people playing Battle Royale games where there is no story, there is plenty of ways to make money, and is easy to make. This trend just gives off the opinion that Battle Royale is what the players want. Something stupid that doesn’t really have a specific goal other than to be first, and enough servers which mean that after death, you can be playing another game within a few minutes.
All of the issues together mean that these developers and publishers can save costs by not pushing resources to areas that don’t need it, like a storyline within the game’s universe. They can reduce the chance that a controversy may arise due to the content of a game since everyone is playing on bigger maps that don’t change and don’t make any references to real world events or locations. Finally while saving all that money, they can maximise the profits to be made through the sale of micro-transactions that don’t change the way that the games play, but sell skins for characters and weapons, and in some cases, emotes and dances. All of which are pointless as you’re not getting anything advantageous or interesting out of it, not that the Pay To Win model is a good alternative either.
So what am I trying to say? First of all, stop playing Fortnite, PUBG and Blackout; for a short fix, I can understand that it’s great because it can be a distraction for long enough to stop you from being bored… But because it’s largely the only thing that many gamers play, it’s giving off an impression of what the audience wants, even if it’s not what everyone wants. Second, be more open to the idea of guided stories through games. Most of my favourite gaming experiences have been caused by a story driven game. Most recently the emotions felt by being betrayed by a character I liked in BF4, only to find that they were just playing the other side and had to distance themselves tugged at me emotionally, and really did make me miss these wartime interactions. Finally, maybe try your hand at making your own piece of intellectual property through writing or coding; you never know if a game that you make or write could be the next big FPS with a great story.
Edit (15 November 2018)
The above piece was an opinion piece that I had written before the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Since then I have played both Black Ops 4 and Battlefield V – I didn’t want to change anything that I had written because it was an opinion that I believed in, so instead I wanted to add something about the latest instalments to the end of this. Black Ops 4 has produced the best Battle Royal game to date; it’s biggest advantage is that it has the feel of a Call Of Duty game behind it, and looks and feels well polished. The map has great variances in terrain which mean that you feel that you’re moving around the map rather being stuck in one place. It also features locations from other Black Ops that people may remember like Asylum (Otherwise known as Verruckt) from CoD World at War’s Zombies mode. The problem is, I can only play so much Battle Royale before it washes into the same grey sludge. Despite it being good, I still wish we had a story mode instead.
Second, Battlefield has once again offered up an amazing story experience in the form of short stories about different people performing tasks that were important for the war to succeed – The story that I played was very thought provoking as I came to like the character I was playing. The other thing is that it looks incredible, it’s not in 4K on PS4 Pro, but if you have a HDR monitor or TV, then you’re still getting the benefit. While I do like each of the short stories, I wish I had more time with each of them. The older campaigns of previous games were what I enjoyed the most, a longer story with one character meant that we could see some character development, get to know them, what makes them who they are… I know we do have progression within the short story, I just want more of it.