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Genre Blender

I may be PC Gamer’s “first-person shooter guy,” but I actually love playing all kinds of PC (and yes, even console) games. And in reality, the definition of “shooters” is rapidly evolving. When making gaming recommendations to friends, I find it increasingly difficult to pigeonhole games into clear-cut genres. Readers looking to embrace the genre commonly ask me which shooter to try out...but that’s a loaded question (no pun intended) with only one practical answer: It depends. Gamers can look to the kinds of games they enjoy playing, and find an FPS that includes those elements. In the same way, non-shooter games that an FPS-lover will enjoy often include shooter elements not featured in other games of that genre. For example…

Most RPGs are played from a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective, but I’ve found that those portraying the action from the first-person perspective have much more exciting combat. Two games that have done this really well are Deus Ex and Mass Effect, both of which demand that you manually aim when firing weapons, so you’re not completely dependent upon character statistics when trying to survive a firefight. You’re simultaneously juggling RPG character abilities and feats with accurate sharpshooting, and it makes for more engaging combat.

Above: Dice rolls and character feats will only get you so far; what kind of soldier would you be if you couldn’t point and shoot your gun?

Similarly, BioShock and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. are first-person shooters that benefit from RPG elements. Running and gunning gets more interesting when you have to worry about character advancement, weapon customization, and inventory management, too.

Real-time Strategy
Integrating FPSes and strategy games isn’t especially natural, but a few brave developers have tried making the union work. Battlezone and Uprising (both released about 10 years ago) let you command epic battles from the perspective of a unit on the ground. But the difficulty of micromanaging an army when you can’t see the entire battlefield turned gamers off to this approach (deploying buildings was especially tricky when you couldn’t see over hills). Recently, only the Savage series, which uses both first-person and “god-view” perspectives, has reattempted real-time strategy from an FPS perspective, though most of the players in that game fill the role of ground troops instead of
the commander.

Above: Battling beasts in Savage 2 takes place both on the ground and from higher up, where a commander surveys the war

Instead, the best first-person shooter/strategy amalgams are actually tactical shooters like the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series. Leading a squad of three or four NPCs is much more manageable than laying out attack routes for an entire battalion, while retaining some (albeit dumbed-down) strategic elements that RTS fans can enjoy. Personally, I’m still waiting for the dream game that will successfully streamline strategic control of large-scale first-person skirmishes.

Massively Multiplayer
Online persistence is a very attractive proposition for statistic-obsessed first-
person-shooter players, and quite a few action games have launched with the
ongoing stat-tracking and performance-based unlockables that would normally be associated with MMOs. Battlefield 2, Rainbow Six Vegas, and Call of Duty 4 are all shooters that accent addictive gameplay by rewarding players for continuing to play.

MMO junkies that want to be eased into the first-person-gaming environment should keep an eye out for The Agency, the upcoming spy-themed MMO that’ll make use of twitch-based gunfights (i.e., a headshot will count as an instant kill).

Eventually, the lines differentiating genres will blur enough that great shooters will stand on their unique merits and innovative feature sets without worry about being compared to other games sharing the same market space. It might make recommending games even more complicated, but that’s one challenge I look forward to.

July 3, 2008