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I miss crap first-person shooters

Crap in a good way

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I don’t mean crap crap. I mean “merely adequate in the age of Half-Life 2” shooters. Unreconstructed action nonsense, perhaps with some kind of gimmick, definitely with too-big weapons, a plot you never care about, lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of men to shoot.

I’ve written before about the importance of the 7/10 action game, but Crap Noughties FPSes is a subtly different kettle of fish. It’s something you play when you know you could be playing something else far better, because all you really want to do is shoot some armoured people in the face, collect ammo and sprint around the place.

Something that is consciously low-maintenance, in terms of play. By contrast, many 7/10 action games require learning and honing particular skills, whereas the Crap Noughties FPS might delve sporadically into gimmick but is fundamentally always about the time-honoured tradition of reticule+face.

I’m talking Singularity. I’m talking Timeshift. I’m talking, as John less affectionately brought up yesterday, Prey. I’m talking Call of Juarez. I’m talking Clive Barker’s Undying. I’m talking XIII. I’m talking some Wolfenstein thing I can’t even remember the subtitle of. I’m talking about games I can’t remember any of the name of.

Please don’t let me be misunderstood – I don’t want to play any of these ever again. They are one-shot, shallow indulgences which could not possibly stand up to the ambient scrutiny of a second playthrough. What I want is more games like this. More true b-list shooters, rather than, as we tend to have now from our Call Of Duty and Battlefields, b-list shooters in A-list shooter clothes.

It’s impossible, isn’t it? The kind of budget that a 2017 shooter commands is way beyond what a Crap Shooter could ever drum up. Instead, it tends to go the other way – that the sheer amount of flash and gloss and chest-thumping around each year’s often fundamentally average major releases drags them far below Crap and into Odious. Every new shooter has to be a huge hit, and that means huge teams and huge hype and none of the safety net of being Just OK and making Some Cash.

Perhaps the ever-increasing possibilities Unreal and Unity offer to small studios means the Crap Shooter could yet resurge, but for the time being at least, it’s go big or go home. There is no room for the Crap Shooter. Duke Nukem Forever, the epitome of the crap crap shooter, was also its death knell.

The sole recent exception to that is Titanfall 2. It was in many ways too good to be a Crap Shooter, but so many of the same values were there – big action, silly setpieces, internal logic that couldn’t stand up to any examination, puddle-deep but inoffensive story and characterisation, and generally something that fades from memory as soon as it’s over but is a blast while it’s happening.

A spirit of fun more than a spirit of self-importance (although in this case that latter was there too). Not pretending it’s something more than it is, at least not too much. But, from afar, it seems as though it’s been an expensive mistake for its creators, though the blame likely lies primarily with marketing. That will not help the cause of the Crap Shooter.

Doom, though – that might set a few precedents for latter-day pulp. That’s an amazing game colliding with an so-so one (in terms of storytelling, characterisation and even aesthetic to some degree), which means it has a foot in the camps of both Sickeningly Expensive 2016/7 Shooter and Crap Noughties Shooter. Please, let there be more like it.

This article was originally published as part of the RPS Supporter Program.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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