This is the second part of Asidcast’s Then VS Now series, if you haven’t read the first half, click here.
Previously, we talked about the gaming’s greatest shooters like Wolfenstein, Metroid and Half Life. I’ll be writing about the golden decade of gaming in this article, on how gaming evolved, with better technology and spawned the most innovative games.
The new millennium started off with Microsoft’s first blockbuster FPS title HALO: Combat Evolved which launched on the Xbox late 2001, and stayed a timed exclusive on the console for 2 years until it arrived on PC in 2003. It was a good game having a man in a suit fight off aliens in a weird planet. It had big maps and an almost open, free world,it was a great feature at the time, while it’s pretty common now. Halo’s cool alien guns were also fun to play with. The pink Needler is my favorite. This gave Xbox a great exclusive to compete against the then champion, Sony.
Meanwhile EA was catching up on the FPS movement with its Battlefield and Medal Of Honor series. Which became famous for recreating the great ol’ World War setting along with rival Activision’s Call of Duty at the start of the decade
Valve ended the 90’s with Half Life/Counter Strike, 5 years later, Valve knew fans needed a Half Life sequel that had to be better than the previous, technologically, that was an easy thing to do, but rekindling the same magic that started with the original would be a difficult task. Basically Valve felt the pressure as Halo, Call of Duty and Battlefield were tough acts to follow. But they succeeded in making one of the most iconic game of the decade, with great characters and a simple story, timeless graphics + amazing physics for its time with the still amazing source engine. Plus CS gamers were treated with the wonderful graphics of Counter Strike: Source the same year, this time made entirely by Valve.
The source engine was since then used again for another FPS, one of the most innovative puzzle games, Portal. Portal was a great game where you used your ‘ripping a hole in the fabric of space’ gun to escape from a testing facility as an orphan named Chell. GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) was one of the best antagonists I’ve ever seen in all media. She had well written dialogue, and sang a really funny song about how we’re ‘Still alive’ at the end of the game. Portal’s a timeless classic that can be played again anytime. The same Source engine was used in the GOTY winning Portal 2 at the end of the decade and it showed no signs of aging. That’s how well made Source was. Speaking of reusing game engines, Activision made the best World War game, aptly named Call of Duty: World at War (Kind of a prequel to Black Ops, actually) in 2008, after starting one of their most cherished series in 2007, none other than MODERN WARFARE.
While I hate Call Of Duty, I’ll have to say that Modern Warfare 2 was the pinnacle of the series that made it as popular as it is now. World At War had 2 stories that showed us the perils WW2 veterans had to face at the time of war, while Modern Warfare 2 even let you be the radical who shot down innocent people in an airport. (It was one of the most touching scenes that always will stay in my memory, as the game launched almost exactly a year after the 26/11 shootings that happened in my city) It had amazing , over the top scenes that would make a hollywood film-maker cry, it had explosion set pieces that made Michael Bay look like a wimp. It redefined what the FPS genre could be, and I do thank Activision for it.
But you know a game is great when the whole PC master race has only one question for the next few years of hardware, “Can it run Crysis?” Yes, how could I write an article about FPS games and not have my favorite game in it? Crysis was a PS4 game made before the PS3 was launched, and it wreaked havoc on our gaming systems, obviously. I was lucky enough to have played it on medium/high WTF FPS on my 9800GT + mildly powerful Intel CPU. And the experience was incredible. The first time the light of dawn struck my eyes, as I glanced at the faraway mountains lined up with trees detailed with leaves, fruits and flowers, with all the grass and shrubbery besides me, I felt like I held the future of gaming. My PC didn’t render a game at that moment, it turned into a God that created a world very much like my own.
It was the most intense graphical experience one could have in 2006. Hell, very few could touch the power of the original Cryengine even in next-gen. If satisfying the Graphics Whores wasn’t enough, it had unique gameplay with the invention of Crytek’s Nanosuit, and maps as large as a small island country. It threw away the linearity of the casual FPS game and let us be the masters of our own destiny. It was a perfect game. Period.
Speaking of graphics, in 2009, Gearbox Software did the opposite of trying to be realistic, and created the wonderful looking, and hilariously badass game, Borderlands. The setting was a lot like Mad Max meets Mad magazine, with its gore and uncountable number of Bullets. And it was a treasure hunt game that gave us more guns than the stars in the sky. (A Guinness World Record holding 17.75 million guns at the time) The greed for better loot and fun co-op made borderlands the coolest game in the FPS-RPG segment.
Ah, yes the FPS-RPG segment, made popular by none other than Bethesda’s Fallout 3, which many termed as an Elder Scrolls game with guns, there were better looking shooters out there, but few FPS games were as long as an RPG. Campaigns of FPS games rarely went over 20 hours at the time (It’s actually even shorter now as devs focus on MP). This game could easily clock in 50+ Hours of playtime. Fallout 3 mixed the dynamics of the slow-paced, mission driven, freedom of choice generating RPG genre with the fast paced, shoot everything in sight, and special suits of the FPS genre. Fallout 3 is a great game even today, and looks pretty good with mods, so you should start there if you haven’t played the series yet.
I’d like to do a shout-out to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series as it’s one of the most atmospheric games I’ve played, and it looks amazing with mods even today. This game is basically a lot like Fallout without the RPG elements of leveling up and easy targeting. The wastelands of Russia were cold and brutal, and the soldiers against you create a fair fight, unlike most other easy games. I’m referring to you, CoD. You can’t go against 4-5 soldiers in this game and not expect to die like a fool. You will have to devise strategies to outgun your enemies. (A lot like Crysis, but you don’t have the advantage of a self-healing superpower suit) You can’t afford to make mistakes and lose health. Ammo scarcity, food, water, radiation management, and equipment repairs are all part of the complete nameless Russian soldier experience that is S.T.A.L.K.E.R. This series is well underrated and a must play.
It was in this era that the First Person Shooters became less of a definite genre, as other genres got mixed into it. Puzzle and RPG games had become better experiences thanks to the First Person View. But such a view-point had its own struggles back then. Mainly with respect to textures, model geometry and shadows, as FPS games allowed us to have a close view with the virtual world. Being close to an object resulted in us being able to literally count polygons and see the little pixel blocks on the walls. As the newer consoles (PS3 and XBOX) had only 256MB of VRAM, we knew things weren’t gonna look better for a few years.
Texture quality was inconsistent, only main characters and objects could afford precious GPU resources. Developers had to make smarter textures as a way to get out of making high poly models of objects. Game development was much more efficient as having a laggy game resulted in major losses cause updates weren’t possible thanks to terrible internet connectivity and the fact the older consoles (PS2 and Gamecube) had no HDD space to install patches at all. But soon the GPUs started jamming more VRAM than before and got infinitely better at handling polygons and object physics. My kinda puny little 9800GT pwned all games at 60 FPS Ultra till 2010 very easily, that’s how dedicated developers were at sending out a good product. All I can say is now very few devs actually care about their customers while AAA devs rake in the money no matter what shit they throw at us. With the terrible reception of the new COD trailer, maybe times are changing, but I’ll still be sure Activision will earn more than CD Projekt Red for a shitty series that no one actually needs but everyone still ends up playing.