I wrote this article to reflect how I feel about the current state of FPS games. I'd appreciate it if others would let me know if they agree with this because it's something I've been thinking about for a long time.
First Person-Shooters Offers the Worst that Game Design has to Offer
When you hear someone say they feel 'burnt-out on first-person shooters', it's not hard to see why. Simply put, the problem many of today's first person shooters face is their inability to engage the player in fun and satisfying gameplay. But it’s really much more complicated than fundamental mechanics. By looking at the modern military shooter, it will become more obvious. Games like Call of Duty, Metal of Honor, and Battlefield all have the same types of campaigns. They drive you through a linear experience without exploration, interesting worlds, or challenging the player's intellect. Instead they direct their focus on throwing you into constant firefights peppered with predictable fps tropes like turret sequences, while filling the gameplay gaps with loosely fitting narrative. After playing enough of them, you begin to realize how mindless and drab these games really are.
Imagine playing a Mario game with new backgrounds but the same level design on every level. This is almost exactly the same thing that these games do. They provide you with the same enemy type to kill over and over again in different environments that have little or no gameplay implications.
High-quality set pieces and in-game linear narrative can only break things up so much.
In order to get a better grasp at exactly what makes an interesting and fun first-person shooter, I'd like to point out a couple of games that do it ‘right’. The Half-Life franchise is one of the most critically acclaimed video game franchises amongst both fans and critics. It also plays almost nothing like any of its contemporaries. In roughly the first 30 minutes of Half-Life and Half-life 2 you don't fire a single bullet. Instead you explore your surroundings and interact with the characters in the world.
That's not so say that developers should add a bunch of written fiction in order to make their games more engaging. To say that is almost missing the idea altogether. The definition of game-fiction isn't solely based on listening to a character ramble on and on, while you sit there and read it. I don't care how good your fiction is. If you do that for too long, you will surely bore the player. The beauty of how Half-Life handles this is by the realization that: games are meant to be played. When you talk to someone it's usually something simple, interesting, and most importantly brief.
Half-Life doesn't restrict the fiction to being dialogue-centric. Instead it puts exploration and simple yet fun gameplay mechanics at the forefront. Rather than launching you into firefight after firefight, the Half-Life games focus on the ideas of tension, discovery, and build-up (much like a good movie would). Each confrontation with an enemy feels like it's purposeful and fits into the fiction in a way that makes sense. In other shooters it often feels like you're shooting enemies because it's a shooting game and that's what you do in a shooting game. Nothing about that is fun unless you like mindless repetition without variation.
While Half-Life has a bunch of interesting gameplay mechanics that are very good at keeping things fresh, I'd like to talk about a different game that arguably does it even better: the original Metroid Prime for the GameCube. Nintendo could have gone a number of ways when creating Metroid Prime. For one, they could have taken the easy way out and simply created a linear arcade-shooter using the Metroid franchise. Instead what they did was look at other games, most notably their own "Legend of Zelda" franchise in order to create something I had never experienced before in a first-person shooter.
By introducing "dungeon-like" areas and providing new gameplay elements upon their completion, the developers managed to create a more interesting game simply by looking at other genres. With these new gameplay elements like, 'the morph ball', you could travel through new areas and find hidden secrets or you could choose to progress further into the game and solve new puzzles built around this new mechanic. By the end of the game you feel truly empowered as a result of gaining all these new abilities. A journey has not only happened through the game’s world but also in your mind. As a result of slowly being introduced to these mechanics and using them in intelligent ways throughout the course of the adventure, you have become masterful at the game. It's quite frankly genius because it emulates how learning and mastering a craft happens in the real world.
Although they seem very different, Half-Life and Metroid Prime are actually very similar in game design; they focus on creating an interesting world full of exploration, problem-solving, and violence that is built on the games fiction (rather than for the sake of constantly giving the player something to shoot at). It shouldn't be a mystery why those games are held in such high-regard. First-Person Shooters deserve more than simply being constant firefights with prose that only leads to more firefights. A higher standard has been set and more games should be compared to that standard.