Essential First-Person Shooters | Games, Gamers & Gaming

For the next two columns, I’d like to look at the first-person shooter (FPS) titles essential to a strong video game collection. FPSs are defined by two things: a first-person camera perspective and a game play that relies in large part on physical conflict between the player/character (the protagonist role the gamer assumes) and large numbers of opposing characters. When I was younger, I thought that FPSs were so cool because I felt like I was the star of my own action movie. Now, I appreciate them for the unique set of challenges and game play opportunities they present, be it highly competitive multiplayer action or physics-based puzzles.

Zombies, demons, aliens, oh, my!

Video games with a first-person camera perspective‚ where the action is seen from the player/character’s perspective‚ date back to the early 1970s, but Wolfenstein 3D, developed by id Software and released in 1992 by Apogee Software, is generally credited with solidifying the concept of an FPS and, therefore, is considered by many to be the first true FPS game. Players assume the role of an Allied spy fighting his way out of Castle Wolfenstein, taking on what could be one of the most memorable bosses in video game history‚ Adolf Hitler‚ along the way. Nazi imagery and the use of the actual Nazi Party anthem as the title music generated quite a bit of controversy, but its basic game mechanics served as the template for nearly every FPS to follow.

Equally influential and controversial is DOOM, published in 1993 by developer id Software. With a cranked-up level of violence, satanic imagery, and fear-inducing game-play scenarios, DOOM is perhaps most infamous for being the video game of choice for Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. It’s easy to forget that this game broke serious design ground‚ secret areas rewarded gamers for exploring and levels were multistory buildings.

Enter Bond

The FPS genre changed again with the 1997 release of Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64, developed by Rare and published by Nintendo. Forgoing the run-and-gun style of play where gamers just blasted through level after level, this game took advantage of its source material‚ the James Bond film of the same name‚ and integrated stealth and tactical firefighting. Each level was framed as an espionage mission with objectives and parameters to be followed, and gamers were given the ability to fire from behind cover and use a sniper rifle, allowing for highly strategic game play.

Goldeneye 007 was played on a gaming console and employed a controller, whereas previously the FPS was the PC gamer’s playground, requiring a mouse and keyboard for the precision that the genre required. What’s more, with the built-in support for four players on the Nintendo 64 and the excellent maps that were included, a true multiplayer that didn’t require a LAN (local area network) became a reality.

Goldeneye 007 proved something of an anomaly, however, as no console FPS would truly shine until Halo: Combat Evolved came around in 2001 for the Xbox, developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft. In the meantime, Half-Life (developed by Valve and released by Sierra), released in 1998 for the PC, would truly become the genre’s cornerstone. With no in-game cinematics or even a break among levels (previous games used maps to track progress or offered short movies to advance the narrative), it truly immersed the gamer in the setting and the story.

It also added physics-based puzzles and aggressive enemy AI, creating a truly action-packed and varied game-play experience. It’s definitely one of the greatest games ever made. A sequel released in 2004 would bring us more of the same great play in a totally new setting with an expanded story, and two expansions (called episodes) continued the adventure; fans are still awaiting the third episode.

Console FPS

Halo: Combat Evolved is also a classic and helped to define the identity of the console FPS. With a streamlined set of controls and faster-paced action, it was easier to play with a controller. The addition of vehicles was revolutionary, the multiplayer mode was intense and easy to get into (and when Xbox Live came around, it simply exploded), and the story has become one of the most exciting epics in video games, spawning two sequels and three spin-offs.

It’s still possible to find many of these FPS games through the Internet, but you probably will have to buy them secondhand. Also, there’s the concern over whether gamers are still using the consoles for which they are available, as well as the issue of DRM for the PC titles. What you will mostly be buying for your collection are new games. While developing a collection with PC games can be difficult, it would be a good idea to add some classics to any public access gaming machines you have.

Next month, check out some of today’s big titles for your circulating collection.

M. Brandon Robbins About M. Brandon Robbins

M. Brandon Robbins ( is the Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, NC. He's a member of the 2011 class of ALA Emerging Leaders.