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With the release of DOOM: Eternal, one can conclude that FPS games are reverting to the old-school game design. It's not just DOOM: Eternal that did this, but a bunch of other games as well.
Ever since 2013/2014 FPS games have been slowly returning to their roots, with the release of Shadow Warrior and Rise of the Triad remakes. While their commercial success wasn't that big, it certainly showed that there was an audience for good old-school FPS games.
This trend was quickly picked up by small, usually indie, developers who looked up to old games in general. The question is what made them return to the old school FPS game design? The possible answer might be that they grew up on old FPS games and wanted to create something like the games that they played in their youth. Also, the FPS genre reached a sort of stagnation and creative drought in the first part of the 2010s.
There were at the time too many military shooters with almost no innovation or new features. The mechanics were also copied from previous successful games and both the devs and the publishers played it safe. Besides this, the modern FPS games opted for the "cinematic experience" and lost the focus on the actual gameplay. The bland level design eventually evolved into "shooting galleries", "corridor shooters", other stale FPS tropes. The worst part was the introduction of loot boxes and microtransactions. While this suited some gamers, my opinion is that the people who grew up playing up old FPS games got tired of new, modern FPS games.
In the previous two years, we got several excellent indie old-school FPS games. Games like Dusk, Amid Evil, Ion Fury, Devil Daggers, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, Nightmare Reaper, Wrack, and many others.If you played any of these games, you will immediately notice the distinct difference between these games and today's modern games. One of the first things one will notice is the level design. Modern FPS games are lacking in the terms of level design and opted for a more cinematic experience and the level design, especially good level design became almost like a lost art.
For instance, in Ion Fury there are huge levels that will take time to complete, full of interactivity and secrets. Yes, interactivity one of the things that were lost in modern FPS games and was sorely missed. Things like interacting with the characters and the environment added depth and charm to the games.
The other thing that was badly missing in FPS games is the secrets. The secrets were one of the best things in the old FPS games and I always wanted to get all of the secrets and Easter Eggs. Back in the day, people used to compete whom will finish the level faster, which was the first secret they found, etc. They also rewarded the player for exploring, and it was like the devs were thanking you for stopping to look for secrets.
The other possible reason for the return to the old school FPS game design was the absence of freedom. In any of the above-mentioned FPS games, the player has the option of destroying the enemies in several ways. You are no longer limited to the two-weapon limit and can choose with what methods you want to destroy the enemies and beat the levels. The introduction of the two weapon limit was probably one of the worst things that could have happened to the FPS genre. By having no weapon limit, the player has the option of experimenting and finding the tactic best suited to his playstyle. Also, this created some interesting challenges such as pistol start, only melee, pacifist run, etc.
Let's not forget the amazing music that the old FPS games had and not just the main theme like most of the modern FPS games. The music really tied the game together and added to the atmosphere. All of these made the presentation of the game more memorable. Just one look at the original DOOM soundtrack and how each track is tied to a different level and symbolized the progression that the player made.
However, we are forgetting one of the most important things in this article, and it's that how the fan communities helped preserve this type of game. With the countless mods for DOOM, Duke Nukem 3D, Half-Life, and various source ports that helped run old games on a modern system, this contribution is immeasurable. People in those communities actually cared about the games, some over 20 years old, and introduced new generations of gamers to these classics, that everyone should play.
Modders also showed what can be done in an old engine, such as idTech 1 & 2, Build Engine, and that despite the technical limitations great stuff can be achieved. In some cases, the mods were better than the newer games and also were available for free. In other cases, as with the developers of Ion Fury, these modders would go on to make some of the modern old-school games I mentioned.
The mods that you should try if you are remotely interested in old FPS games are Alien Armageddon (Duke Nukem 3D), Brutal DOOM/Hell on Earth Starter Pack (DOOM), Bloom (a DOOM mod, a mix between Blood and DOOM), AMC TC (Duke Nukem 3D), Ashes 2063 (DOOM), and many others.
These mods will show anyone what can be done when someone actually cares about the game, its design and that technical limitation are nothing to be afraid of. In a way, the technical limitations, made these games unique, as the developers had to be creative in their design, and there is plenty to learn.
With the new games such as Ion Fury, DUSK, Amid Evil, and now most recently DOOM Eternal (and its DLCs), one can easily say that the old school FPS games are coming back. More and more games are being made with the old-school mindset, which shows that there is a lot to be learned from the older games, and not just focus on them being games from that time period.
I'm happy that there are still people out there creating games, that have action, humor, and most importantly are fun. While I'm happy that they made the return, I'm also looking forward to the response from the AAA developers.
Lastly, if you are looking for good, old, or actually fun FPS games, give these games a try. Yes, they might not look like much and have the budgets of modern AAA games, but the intent and most importantly the passion is there.