First-person shooters are thriving at the moment. From bestselling warfare sims like Call Of Duty: Black Ops and Medal Of Honor, to sci-fi epics Killzone 3 and Bulletstorm, the run-and-gun fest isn't about to run out of ammunition anytime soon. With so many of these titles flooding the market of late, we decided to explore the genre's roots and take a look back at some of the most influential efforts to which the genre has played host.
id Software has certainly done more than its fair share to help shape modern shooters, and the original Doom is perhaps its most significant contribution. Born of the 'shoot anything that moves' school of thought, Doom was all about raw adrenaline and instant gratification. It was among the first games to use the 3D perspective to its potential, and became widely used as a template by developers working across a range of genres.
The premise was simple, the weapons were satisfactory to harness and the demons were ripe for the slaughter. Doom is looking a little rusty these days, but its ballistic gameplay hits the spot if you're after a simple frag fest. The games industry will forever be in this one's debt due to the conventions it handed down, and its legacy will always burn strong as long as studios are churning out FPS offerings.
GoldenEye 007 (Nintendo 64)
Prior to the release of GoldenEye 007 on N64, quality first-person shooters were almost non-existent in the console market, but Rare showed developers how it was done. Not only did this stellar espionage affair prove that the genre could be perfected outside of the PC, it raised the bar for movie licences and set new standards in multiplayer gaming.
Based on the 1996 film of the same name, players guided Ian Fleming's seminal spy across a range of stages inspired by the game's cinematic counterpart. This one pioneered the use of scoped weapons, gadgets, varied mission objectives and stealth elements. The result was easily one of the best titles on the N64, and a mould-breaker in every sense. GoldenEye paved the way for a range of spiritual successors, including Perfect Dark and the TimeSplitters series, though to its legions of dedicated fans it may never be bettered.
Wolfenstein 3D (PC)
Doom is widely considered to be the spark that lit the FPS powder, but the genre's roots stretch back even further. Exploding onto the scene in 1991, id Software's Wolfenstein 3D is the grandfather of modern first-person shooters. The game introduced many of the mechanics we now take for granted, and handed down the archetype on which all subsequent titles of its kind would be based.
Planting players in the jackboots of Allied spy B.J. Blazkowicz, the game pitted the player against an alternate version of the Third Reich backed by supernatural forces. The graphics might look rough and blocky by today's standards, and its three-gun arsenal piffling, but it was a trailblazer in its day. Gunning down mutant dogs, uncovering secret passageways and going toe-to-toe with a robotic suit-wearing Hitler were just a few of the highlights on offer in this vintage gun fest.
As well being influential from a technological standpoint, Wolfenstein 3D helped popularise the shareware distribution model. id offered the first episode for free in the hope that players would go on to purchase the entire game. It proved a successful business strategy, influencing other studios to release similar games in this way.
Duke Nukem 3D (PC)
He may have become something of a laughing stock of late thanks to the ridiculous development cycle of his latest game, but we will always have a soft spot for the Duke. Before 3D Realms unleashed Duke Nukem 3D on an unsuspecting public in 1996, FPS protagonists were of little consequence. Although developers often threw together a contrived origin and backstory to give us some context, few of them were particularly memorable.
Embracing every cliché in the action hero's bible, Duke 3D singlehandedly changed all that with its wisecracking, womanising lead man. Attitude was the name of the game, but the core shooter mechanics came together well enough too. This tongue-in-cheek offering came loaded with charisma, and offered a welcome alternative to the bleak dungeon interiors and grim atmospheres that many of its mid-'90s counterparts opted for. We can only hope that Duke Nukem Forever captures the magic of its predecessor. Given that civilizations have risen and fallen since it entered development, we'll be disappointed if it doesn't.
As we've already mentioned, id Software's Doom was widely used as a template for the first-person shooter throughout the '90s. There were numerous attempts to go above and beyond its formula, although many fell flat. It wasn't until 1998 that a science fiction title from Valve Corporation blew the genre apart and changed the face of gaming forever. Put simply, Half-Life is one of the greatest games of all time. Powered by an upscaled version of the Quake Engine, Gordon Freeman's debut made the competition look a hardware generation behind, and became the yardstick by which all future FPS titles would be measured.
Favouring scripted sequences over cutscenes, this was one of the most immersive gaming experiences on offer at the time. Memorable character and level design by sci-fi author Mark Laidlaw spearheaded an engaging story with enough scope to rival its counterparts in cinema and literature. The creature design was inspired, the backdrops terrifying and the crowbar weapon remains one of the most satisfactory melee attacks ever wielded. We could happily spend half our lives playing this one.
This list certainly wouldn't be complete without the series that first played host to the graphics engine at the heart of so many modern classics. Released in 1998 as GT Interactive's answer to Quake, Unreal was a technological powerhouse that boasted impressive rendering, collision detection and AI. The game's release marked the arrival of the Unreal engine, which was in development for three years previous in creator Tim Sweeney's garage. As well as introducing the technology that would go on to become a staple of gaming for years to come, the developers launched the title with its own scripting language, facilitating the rise of a thriving mod community.
In 1999, the Unreal Tournament spinoff series revolutionised multiplayer gaming in the genre. With both on and offline modes available, this line of arena shooters helped make FPS deathmatches what they are today, and amassed a dedicated community. The latest addition to the franchise Unreal Tournament 3 wasn't quite as groundbreaking as its forebears, but still received generally positive reviews and shifted over one million copies inside its first year.
Following the release of Doom II in 1994, there was much speculation over what form id Software's next FPS undertaking would take. The studio faced the challenge of taking the Doom formula to the next level, and that was no mean feat. In 1996, John Carmack and co came up with Quake, a brooding mix of dark fantasy and science fiction. It made several gains on the Doom series, introducing jumping puzzles, bolder graphics and a chilling soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor. The game took networked deathmatches to the next level, and the engine at its core was licenced far and wide, becoming a pillar of the genre.
To date, there have been four core entries in the Quake series, the majority of which garnered critical acclaim and championed online death matches and the mod movement. According to Carmack, a new arena-based entry in the series is in the pipeline, and another core sequel based on the new id Tech 5 is in the planning stages.With id at the helm, we're confident that the series will continue to thrive and recapture its former glory in the future.
Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
Microsoft enjoyed a smooth transition from operating system proprietor to console giant thanks to the success of a single title. That title was Halo: Combat Evolved, a sci-fi epic that rewrote the book on console FPS games and introduced the world to the heroic supersoldier Master Chief. Combining in-depth lore and a captivating plot with breathtaking alien worlds and a jaw-dropping arsenal, Halo was, in many ways, a culmination of everything that preceded it and more.
From the lush forests to the mountainous plains, Halo was as pleasing to behold as it was to play. It was hardly surprising that this one became the fastest-selling game of sixth-generation consoles, moving over one million units in a matter of months. It later spawned multiple sequels, comic books, novels and a range of other merchandise, making it one of the most profitable gaming brands around.
Call Of Duty (series)
The military shooter has emerged as the most prominent sub-genres of the FPS category, and one of the most profitable themes in gaming. Created by Ben Chichoski, the Call Of Duty series debuted on the PC in 2003 and proved an instant hit. Early entries took place during World War II, providing the definitive frontline experience and pioneering squad-based gameplay. The series invaded consoles and handheld platforms in the ensuing years, maintaining its high standards with each instalment, but it really came into its own when it evolved into the Modern Warfare line in 2008.
In many ways, the Infinity Ward-developed Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the quintessential military sim. Whether engaging in exhilarating campaigns across Russia and the Middle East in single player mode or taking out friends in the ultra-addictive multiplayer, war is anything but hell in CoD. The near-future context really helped the series fulfil its potential, and the grand cinematics and the addition of a levelling up and XP system essentially reshaped online multiplayer in the FPS landscape. Subsequent releases CoD: Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops have helped the series go from strength to strength and cemented its position at market leader in the genre. Call Of Duty, we salute you.
What do you think are the most influential first-person shooters? Write a comment in the space below!