Following on from my earlier list on what I think makes for a good RPG, here is what I think makes for a good First-Person Shooter (FPS) game. FPS games do vary from one another a fair bit, but these points I think are important for every FPS game out there.
Now first of all it is worthy to note something. The points mentioned here I mostly addressed towards the games which are pure FPS or at least put a major focus on the shooter aspect of the game. Games which are RPGs primarily but utilise first-person perspective (like Deus Ex and Fallout 3) do not apply here.
|Screenshot from Killing Floor|
1. Lock ‘n load - Variety in Content
Perhaps the most important feature that greatly prolongs the lifespan of an FPS game is the variety in content. It doesn’t matter how long the standard campaign mode goes for, whether it’s only 5 hours or 20, what each FPS game needs to have is variety. There are several aspects to it. The 2 most basic ones are:
a) Variety in enemies
b) Variety in weapons
Variety in enemies (point a) means that the challenge is never the same. If the challenge changes, it means the player is required to come up with new ways of overcoming it, and hence repetition is minimized. In addition to providing different levels of challenge, having different enemies is also pleasing to the eyes. It gets boring seeing the same monsters die all the time. In fact, having new enemies makes the player more interested to know that enemy’s ins and outs. For example, in Doom 3, I absolutely loved it every time I came across a scene that introduced a new monster. It sparks curiosity and also makes each new enemy type seem special.
On top of having great diversity in enemies, it is also a good idea to have diversity in means of killing them (point b). In majority FPS games those would be guns. It is not, however, the sheer number of guns that is important, but the functionality of said guns – there need to be different ways to kill. If a game only features bullet firearms for example, it can get tedious, unless these firearms are useful for different situations. Instead of, for example, having 20 different assault rifles, why not have a bit of each weapon type. It makes the game more interesting this way. Now guns are not the only way to dispatch enemies. It is well possible to have other ways. Like in the game BioShock, for example, we get to utilise all sorts of genetic powers, ranging from electric bolts, to freezing blasts, to swarms of bees, and so on.
|Screenshot from BioShock|
2. So what now? - Variety in Situations/Game styles
Now this is something by far not many FPS games contain. They might have a number of cool weapons and cool enemy types, but the game might still just involve you walking around from corridor to corridor, shooting down monsters or enemy soldiers and moving on. To take the FPS experience even further, we need to have a variety in types of gameplay. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, depending on the game.
One of the ways is to simply make the player face different situations as they go on about their single player campaign. This is one of the main features that makes Half Life 2 so different to most other FPS games. The player gets to attack, defend, and face pretty much every situation in between, including puzzle solving elements. This kind of continuous changing of pace and game style keeps the experience fresh and always keeps the player’s curiosity high as to what they’re going to be doing next.
Now another way to vary the game styles is to simply do them as separate features. A good example of this would be the TimeSplitters series. Apart from having standard story mode, there is also an arcade mode, map maker mode, and a huge plethora of challenges of various sorts, which involve all sorts of random gameplay elements. There is no doubt that had these games only had the story mode, they would not last anywhere near as long as they are in their present state.
|Screenshot from Half Life 2|
3. Boom! Headshot! - Satisfaction
This is another one of those highly essential features to an FPS game. It’s the satisfaction. Of course this is important for every game type, but to an FPS it is an absolute must. Most people play FPS games as means to de-stress and release anger or simply to improve their reactions and motor skills. No matter what the reason is, instant pleasure from killing an enemy is what each FPS player seeks. The weapons must be enjoyable to use, and enemies must be responsive to being hurt, and so on.
This is why having high levels of gore and good ragdoll physics make FPS games so popular – it gives people inner satisfaction of seeing that big bad monster explode into chunks of flesh and puddles of blood as opposed to falling down in a scripted manner. If this is achieved, then there don’t even need to be any in-game rewards. The instant gratification from a slaughtered enemy is enough of a reward already.
|Screenshot from Doom 3|
4. How do you move this thing? - Control
Perhaps one of the most frustrating things when playing an FPS is when the game isn’t responding in a manner that a player wants. Many multiplayer FPS gamers often complain about lag, and indeed lag does ruin the experience, but this is a story for another day. What I am going to discuss in this category can be similarly annoying if not executed right. It is the control of the in-game character.
Every little factor is important here – the sensitivity of the mouse, the walking speed, the height and distance of the jump, as well as easy, intuitive keyboard/joystick controls. Those things are the basics of the game, the basics of the experience, and hence a little flaw in one of them will be with the player for the rest of the game and therefore can easily get annoying, especially during the more difficult parts.
Of course each person is different, and hence different gamers will react differently to each control scheme. For this reason there has to be both: optimization and flexibility. Optimization is about being able to appeal to as many people as possible. Flexibility is about allowing customization, so that people can adjust the game’s controls to whatever they prefer the most.
|Screenshot from Aliens vs Predator (Classic 2000)|
5. My senses are tingling - Atmosphere
Perhaps the first thing to note about FPS games is that they are done in first-person perspective. The biggest reason for that is to make it easy to shoot the in-game weapons, but that is not the only reason. The whole idea of playing the game in first person is experiencing the in-game events from the eyes of the protagonist. It makes the player feel that they ARE the protagonist. So now that we are in the protagonist’s shoes, we need to become a part of the game’s world.
This is where the atmosphere comes in. It is important to set it correctly. The climax needs to build up at the right pace and reach its peak at the right time. Only that way the shocking scenes would cause us to gasp, or the scary moments would cause us to jump from our seats. On top of that, all the little details can either make or break the atmosphere, ranging from fitting background music, to the colour scheme, to even the type of enemies you encounter in a certain area.
|Screenshot from Prey|
6. Have we been here before? - Level Design
I thought I’d put this here too. Although a good level design is beneficial for any game, I think for FPS games it’s one of the most important things. Why? Well, simply because of the gameplay. An RPG, for example, might get away with slightly repetitive levels or occasional boring areas, because that’s not what the focus is on in an RPG. With FPS games, your environment is part of what makes the experience.
In FPS we want to be in action all the time and progressing forward. Spending too long trying to figure out which way to go can ruin the experience and even turn a player off the game. Levels should be easy to navigate through with some originality and intuitive solutions when it comes to puzzles (for example, making a door switch to look like the background environment is one of the easiest ways to annoy a player). The areas should not be too dull and boring, and any parts which force you to utilise way too much the clumsy jumping system that is native to at least 90% of FPS games should be avoided like a nasty disease.
Some of the most common annoyances related to environment include but certainly aren’t limited to:
Levels where each room/area looks almost the same.
Levels which are too dark to see anything without proper means.
Levels which are boring, dull, one-coloured, and do not inspire any emotion whatsoever.
Levels with too much jumping and not enough action.
Levels which look identical to a level before/earlier in the game.
And so on.
Basically, the levels should flow smoothly, they should show a variety of different environments and locations, and they should look different from one another.
|Screenshot from Borderlands (Zombie Island of Dr Ned expansion)|