The return of The King has got us talking about the changing face of the FPS, and boy is it changing.
Saying that Doom is trying too hard to be like Call of Duty or Halo is like suggesting that Metallica are trying too hard to sound like a thrash metal band lately. Honestly, what does the godfather of FPS gotta do to be taken seriously around here!? With Doom, id Software wrote the book that taught the world how to make the complete FPS package: immersive story, incredible multiplayer, and map editing tools that made it easy for the community to infinitely riff on the core gameplay. Tell me that it has all of that, and I'm in like Flynn and maybe faster. This isn't 1993, however.
2016 is fast becoming the year that FPS fans will find hard to forget, while freshmen could find the genre even harder to figure out. Ever since Doom, AAA shooters have been vying for attention with new-fangled ideas, such as Valve with Half-Life and its bizarre alien weaponry, then later with incredible Team Fortress class-oriented PvP. We've had all of the fantasy, and we've gotten all serious with realism; Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare being the guiding light in that respect. Approaching 25 years since the dawn of FPS, you'd think we really could have shot at everything in every conceivable way.
And yet here we are awaiting Battleborn (Gearbox-2K) and Overwatch (Blizzard-Activision), two pioneering experiences that prove how much the FPS concept continues to evolve. The latter is especially intriguing owing to the developer having scant past experience with the genre, indeed looking to publishing stable-mates Treyarch to hone the all-important gunplay.
New and unique, team-oriented experiences Battleborn and Overwatch would be even more intriguing were they not hot on the heels of Bungie-Activision's Destiny, and Massive-Ubisoft's The Division. Almost two years after its arrival, audiences only now understand how Destiny is not an MMO, but a shared world looter-shooter. Some players are still moaning about the feel of The Division, even though Massive was clear from the beginning that it is primarily an RPG. Of course that's going to sound odd if your understanding of RPG is something like Skyrim.
If we're shooting at stuff, it's a 'shooter' right!? Clearly, not anymore. We no longer talk of load-outs but character builds. We don't shoot at the enemies, but take out the adds. Missions have become Raids. It's not a Deathmatch, but the Dark Zone. In many respects, just about everything involving a networked competition characterised by firearms and/or magic spells could be described as a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. Only that's where Paragon (Epic) takes its cue, brilliantly capturing the 'what if' scenario of something like League of Legends and DOTA played up close and personal.
This is all hugely exciting for the players, but puts enormous pressure on the traditional shooters to move with the times. Call of Duty arguably did a better job of capturing the Saving Private Ryan experience than the game that pioneered in-your-face World War II, EA's stunning Medal of Honor. We seemed to be stuck in WWII forever, until Infinity Ward thought it would be awesome to drop an FGM-148 Javelin on a T-72 tank, and Modern Warfare became the new way forward. Which led to Battlefield reinventing the multiplayer concept to allow for colossal multiplayer maps, pushing the realism aspect to test the limits of the highest-end PCs, kind of forcing COD to re-establish itself via crazy Zombies that accompanied the premise of Cold War agents field-testing prototype gear.
Now, as Call of Duty pushes further into the future to stand tall alongside Respawn's Titanfall, there's talk of Battlefield 5 winding the clock all the way back to World War I. We'll have the choice of rocking Space Magic in Destiny, or quite possibly machine guns requiring six people to operate. And since just about every game nowadays wants (needs) to have your attention 24/7, coasting from one DLC to the next with Double XP weekends in between and MMO-like festivities for the holidays, the question of which one you're genuinely going to like boils down to one thing only: the purity of the experience, the basic minute-to-minute enjoyment.
It was fascinating to hear The Coalition's Rod Ferguson talk about "Lead, don't chase" with regards to Gears of War 4. When the game best known for its cover-based mechanics wandered dangerously into the sights of the best run-and-gun shooters out there, the series took a hit, thankfully not fatal. We'd argue that Destiny has weathered so much critical abuse of its story-telling structure simply because what players care about most is solid gunplay and a remarkably good-natured community.
For a shooter to survive as anything in this age, it can't do so by simply chasing everything, it's got to basically have something that's instantly recognisable. Gears of War 4 has locked this down, and by the looks of things we'd say the same thing about Doom too. We'll need to wait for the review to pull it all to pieces like a furious Baron of Hell, but already it's obvious that id Software understands what Doom was always about. How much you're going to hate on id Software for embellishing the 'gore' experience by embracing present-day customisation trends and related EXP gains is your call. What we'll be looking for is that original spark; the hair-raising essence of Doom, the thrill of it all.
Secure that chinstrap, buckle everything down for the ride. May is going to be one hell of a month.