One of the biggest questions I pose to various friends of mine comes down to “Why is that game fun?” I’ll look at a title and not be able to clearly identify what makes the game and similar games in the genre fun to a variety of gamers. But I don’t want to live in this narrow-minded little world that lacks clarity. That’s why not long ago I borrowed Modern Warfare 2 from my in-laws and played the single-player campaign, some co-op missions online, and dove into the online multiplayer in an attempt to understand what makes the series and First-Person Shooters so addicting. The result is the first of a new feature I’m starting called I Get Your Genre, so join me as I Finally Get First-Person Shooters.
My experience with the First-Person Shooter (and to some extent the 3rd Person Shooter as well) dates back to GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64. I played the single-player mode for hours and hours, loving the fun of running through levels with invincibility, every gun, and infinite ammo, mowing down enemies just for the heck of it. But I was never what you’d call “good” at the game. When playing against friends in multiplayer matches I’d typically show up in last place, but it was never about the multiplayer experience for me.
Flash forward to the recent years and I’ve played a handful of shooters including both Modern Warfare titles, Halo 1 & 2, Gears of War, Portal, and Bioshock, dwelling last week exclusively on Modern Warfare 2 in order to soak up as much of it as possible before my Xbox Live Gold Account expired (may it rest in peace). Having done so, a new understanding began to emerge. I was finally able to grasp much of the enjoyment, or at least addiction, that surrounds the title and like-titles.
A lot of this desire to get better at the FPS genre stems from two things. The first is my preference to platformers as a genre, of which the FPS may just be the total opposite. I’m good at platforming in games, but awful with a gun in my virtual hands, so I wanted to balance myself out.
The second and larger desire is a need to fit in with my extended family. Multiple members of my wife’s family and family friends play Call of Duty on a basis more regular than the tides swelling and receding. It’s painful to find myself the odd-man-out in a conversation about video games, blindly stumbling around the outsides of the group as they talk clear strategies and CoD jargon while I ask if anyone else has 242 stars in Super Mario Galaxy 2.
To begin, I needed to go through the single-player campaign, of which I was already fairly familiar with thanks to rampant spoilers and the fact that I’m playing it a year after it’s fashionable to do so. Playing through just the story left me a little confused, not just because the story itself was so all over the place and…well bad, but because the game itself wasn’t overly difficult. Then again, I was playing it on the default difficulty, so after one solid playthrough I ramped things up to Veteran despite the game advising me not to and spent a few days ripping through the game once more at high speeds.
What I’m still not sure of is whether Modern Warfare 2’s Veteran difficult stacks up accurately to other highest difficulty levels in different First-Person Shooters. For all I know, MW2 is considered easy, and while I won’t say it was a walk through the park, it wasn’t a walk through the minefield either. It had some moderate challenge, but nothing overly complicated. Rather, it felt that I was getting killed by seemingly nothing more than by actual enemies when playing on Veteran.
Regardless, the lesson I learned was that the story wasn’t important to a FPS game of this style (I’m aware that Bioshock and Portal both have awesome central stories). The war-type FPS seems to use the campaign mode more as a means of training you up to learn the basics before tossing you into the online multiplayer matches. That’s where the real game tends to be as the enjoyment you’ll skim from the experience is much richer in playing with other people, either via co-op modes or just head-to-head in ridiculous multiplayer matches.
Before deciding to get myself killed over and over again by players 70-levels my superior, I managed to hop online with just my good friend Kyle Martinak and try out the Special Ops missions, essentially sections of the campaign mode repurposed as challenge-based objectives such as survive five waves of enemies or run to the target market before time runs out. Trying to play these missions solo just wasn’t much fun, mostly because they were clearly designed to be played with more than one person. However, when co-oping the missions, the enjoyment grew quite a lot. I found that failure wasn’t as frustrating when there was another player attached and that every time we failed we’d do slightly better the next time, as if two players learning simultaneously will double the speed at which a challenge can be figured out.
After some time spent with Special Ops, it was finally time to man up and play against other players in the ultra-competitive format online via Xbox Live. This was where I would have to discover everything there is to like about the FPS genre, and initially it isn’t easy to find that enjoyment. The reason behind this is the way the ranking system works. Modern Warfare revolutionized the online FPS experience, giving players points for every action they perform, leveling them up at a steady progression that unlocks new weapons and perks and such. The big downside is that you start as the biggest scrub possible with the lamest weapons and perks, whereas the other players have leveled up to a point where they have access to pretty much every gun, plus they know the best places of a map to hide, attack from, or throw grenades at. It sucks to be the new guy.
The addiction sets in right around the time you unlock your first thing, and it happens quickly. You discover that you can unlock accessories for your guns, such as scopes or silencers, just by killing enough people with said gun. Completing challenges such as shooting 30 guys while crouched will reward you with a ton of experience points which will lead you to the next level which may just unlock newer guns and better perks, ultimately leading to you saying after every round, “Hmm, well I’m just about to unlock a new perk, so I need to play one more match.” This repeats indefinitely as the steady trickle of unlocking and rewarding never, ever ends.
The other half of the addiction kicks in as a result of the social aspect that partners with playing against other humans around the globe. As humans, we constantly want to impress others with our abilities, so when you play a match and get destroyed, you seek to never repeat that instance. You’ll play more and more matches in hopes of learning the layout, figuring out a better combination of guns and perks, or simply just waiting for the perfect streak of luck to provide you with a set of amazing kills.
After all that, I hardly got my feet wet with the game, but I understood it at last. I could see why the genre is so popular at this very moment, especially after Modern Warfare reinvented the leveling progression. Is it my favorite genre now? No, but I don’t downright hate it anymore. Now I Get Your Genre. I Get First-Person Shooters.
But what about you? Do you get the FPS genre? Or are you still blissfully unaware? Leave a comment and discuss. And suggest what genre you’d like to have me try and get next. I’m always eager to learn and try new game-related challenges. C’mon, help me out man, I’m just one or two articles away from unlocking my next perk.
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