FPS That Aren’t
First-person doesn't always mean shooting. Terrence Jarrad holsters his gun...
DUNGEON KEEPER Bullfrog Productions • 1997
Be the bad guy, build a dungeon, and defend it against goody-goody heroes this was Dungeon Keeper’s premise. But wait, you say, DK’s a real-time-strategy! And you are correct, however in addition to the top-down management of a den or ne’er do wells, DK also allowed the player to “possess” its minions. Possessed minions gained attack and defense bonuses, and allowed players to turn the tide battle by taking control of the right minion at the right time.
DARK MESSIAH OF MIGHT AND MAGIC Arkane Studios • 2006
Dark Messiah took first-person gaming into the realm of medieval high fantasy. Its shooting was arrows and fireballs, and sometimes instead of shooting, it was melee combat with a big sword. Or it was picking up and hurling an object into a support pillar to bring a roof down on your enemy. Or it was kicking them into spike trap. Or it was setting the oil under their feet alight. Or it was freezing the ground behind them, giving them the boot, and sending them slipping and sliding off a cliff. With levelling and skillunlocks, Dark Messiah was a game about options. Play stealthy, or play aggressive, but always be aware of your positioning and environment to maximise the systemic opportunities available. ZENO CLASH ACE Team • 2009
One of the problems the FPS doesn’t have to deal with in its combat is depth perception. Typically the player has a gun, points it at something, and that something explodes or otherwise dies. This is much more difficult in melee range. It’s harder to judge distance from the player viewpoint to the enemy, incorporate the length of the player’s arms, and position to strike accordingly. It was an issue that the exceptionally weird Zeno Clash faced. A first-person brawler, Zeno Clash had the player fighting in increasingly difficult arenas, chaining moves - dodges, blocks, and strikes - for high-damage combos, as well as throwing in the occasional melee and ranged weapon. It worked surprisingly well, but this game is worth experiencing for the art and story alone, if you haven’t already had the pleasure.
MIRROR’S EDGE EA DICE • 2008
EA’s futuristic parkour platformer proved that first-person action could be exciting without also having to be about blasting stuff. Its parkour implementation was for the most part, quite good, with clean lines and bold colour contrast giving players the information they needed to make quick decisions while running and leaping at a breakneck pace, allowing them to perpetuate the flow of movement. Consequently, battling it out online in Mirror’s Edge was not a test of twitch trigger skills, but rather a leaderboard of timed runs, where the fastest reigned supreme. The singleplayer campaign hosted multiple unavoidable encounters with enemies, in which the ability to disarm was handy, however these sections were the least interesting parts of the game and it would have been much neater if the parkour could have continued without devolving into shooting arenas that detracted from the game’s strengths. OUTLAST Red Barrels • 2013
Of all the FPSs that aren’t, Outlast is perhaps the most-not. It’s a survival horror game in the style made famous by Frictional Games’ Penumbra, and Amnesia. It removes the power a weapon grants the player, in order to terrify them utterly. To say there’s no shooting in Outlast wouldn’t be accurate however, because the player takes on the role of a journalist, using a video camera to document the questionable goings-on in an asylum. The camera is equipped with a night vision mode, and much of the asylum is dark (because of course it is), so naturally players spend a lot of time seeing the world with a greenish tinge through its viewfinder. That is, until the batteries run out and players are left alone in the dark. Wait… not alone. RUN! HIDE!
REALMS OF THE HAUNTING Gremlin Interactive • 1996
An odd mash of genres, at its core ROTH probably shared more with the classic point and click adventure than it did with FPS, but with large levels to explore, health pickups and ammo to consume, and a range of increasingly powerful weapons to find and use, one could easily mistake its intent. The firstperson perspective delivered Doomstyle 2.5D sprite-based enemies, but its shooting was… odd. Rather than a bottom-centre-screen weapon requiring player movement of the viewable area to target enemies, ROTH had players moving the floating mouse pointer across the screen to target enemies, with the weapon following across the screen. It even claimed location-damage, in that targeting certain parts of your foes did more damage (and saved ammunition), though in practice this was rarely noticeable. It also had some strange movement key bindings which certainly didn’t support players wanting to play it like an FPS. None of this dulled the incredibly creepy atmosphere of its otherworldly old English mansion setting however, and the FMV wasn’t all terrible either! HELLGATE: LONDON Flagship Studios • 2007
Action role-playing games are typically a genre one associates with a top down, isometric perspective a’la Diablo, but in 2007, some ex-Blizzard North devs under the banner of Flagship Studios released a post-apocalyptic ARPG MMO called Hellgate: London. Amongst the XP gain, loot drops, and skill trees, its combat was fast, frenetic, and more importantly, first-person for ranged classes (with third-person also an option). With myriad weapon types, damage modifiers, crafting, and special skills, it was a bit like Borderlands, only, fun to play. Unfortunately Flagship sunk, and the only remnant of the game these days is on mobile platforms.
THE FPS THAT NEARLY WASN’T id Software • 1992
Arguably the most iconic FPS ever released and grandfather of them all, Wolfenstein 3D, almost wasn’t the shooter we all played. It was going to be a first-person stealth game, inspired by the 1981 seminal stealth game, Castle Wolfenstein, on the Apple II. There were plans for features like sneaking around, dragging and hiding bodies, and disguising yourself with guard uniforms. With a little bit of imagination, you can see the roots of this gameplay in the persistent ability to run up behind unsuspecting enemies and knife them in the back. Of course, id Software decided that it was “much more fun” to just run around shooting things, and the rest is history. If you’re interested in more Wolfenstein trivia, check out this 20th anniversary commemorative play-through with commentary by John Carmack! https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=LV34y9p079g