2016 Was the Best Year Ever for First-Person Shooters
First-person shooters have been a cornerstone of gaming ever since Wolfenstein 3D released in 1992. Since then the genre has seen some of the most influential and best-selling releases in all of gaming from Half-Life to Halo. Both Microsoft and Sony have tried to sell systems by using the allure of exclusive shooter franchises, so its importance really can’t be understated.
That’s why it’s been disappointing that such a key part of gaming has been in a bit of a rut lately. It’s not that shooters have been bad per se, as the yearly releases in Call of Duty and Battlefield have never been outright bad, but they lacked the ability to surprise gamers. Almost every shooter, no matter how technically sound, started to feel all too familiar. Thankfully, that has changed, as 2016 was filled with so many surprises and was the best year ever for first-person shooters.
Shooters for Everyone
One of the most exciting parts of 2016 was getting to see my friends that don’t regularly play multiplayer shooters fall in love with the genre. This was largely due to the wide appeal of Overwatch, whose wide range of characters offered up a fun time for seemingly everybody. From Soldier 76’s traditional shooter layout to more unique characters like the mech-riding D.Va, my friends were able to find colorful characters that they enjoyed using.
Perhaps Overwatch‘s greatest accomplishment was getting rid of the gritty feel that most first-person shooters have. While I absolutely love the over-the-top gore in a game like DOOM, not everyone will. That’s why it’s important to have alternatives, and Blizzard showed that a shooter could find success while spreading cheer. There’s a reason that half of my Twitter timeline is still shipping Overwatch characters while nobody is talking about who the DOOM Marine is shacking up with on Mars (although I personally think he’d make a cute couple with a Revenant if they could stop trying to kill each other for a moment).
The great thing is that Overwatch‘s global appeal doesn’t mean that there are less offerings for hardcore fans of the genre. More traditional shooters such as Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 both found their usual fans, and ended up exceeding already high expectations. There is enough room for a wide variety of first-person shooters, and 2016 showed that. From the fast-paced sci-fi action of Infinite Warfare to the historical accuracy of Verdun, there really was a shooter for every type of gamer this year.
Campaigns Matter Again
First-person shooter campaigns have not been in a good spot recently. A brief look back at major titles will see disappointing campaigns in Black Ops III and Battlefield 4, Star Wars Battlefront‘s total lack of a proper campaign, and the original Titanfall lacking any sort of single-player at all (although it thankfully had some of the best multiplayer ever to make up for it). This completely changed in 2016, as FPS campaigns came back in a major way.
The campaign that stood out the most was id Software’s stellar DOOM reboot. The shooter immediately sets its tone with an incredible start where the game’s protagonist emerges from a sarcophagus to fight a demon invasion. The action never lets up, and the game is filled with one memorable combat encounter after another. It also features some amazing maps, that feel like a total blast from the genre’s past as they aren’t linear like most current campaigns are.
Beyond DOOM, the year was also filled with surprisingly good offerings from both Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. They are the most ambitious campaigns in their respective series in quite some time, and are a major step up from previous titles (especially for Battlefield, which has largely regressed since Bad Company). The biggest surprise though was Titanfall 2. Respawn Entertainment really showed how much of an omission it was for the first game to not have single-player because they delivered an amazing campaign filled with memorable moments. It also has some of the coolest missions I’ve ever seen in a shooter (such as Effect and Cause), but I won’t spoil the surprise for those that haven’t played it yet.
2016 also showed that the FPS genre still had plenty of rad tricks up its sleeve. Indie sensation SUPERHOT (which was my favorite shooter released last year, and is highly recommended on either PC or Xbox One) made waves by making it so that action only occurred whenever the player moved. This allowed for the developers to make intense levels that played out almost more like a puzzle game than a traditional shooter, and it lets players fulfill all of their action hero fantasies.
While indie games were able to bring brave new spins on the genre to light, AAA titles further refined top-notch gunplay. I’m not sure that there has ever been a better playing shooter than Titanfall 2, which built upon the foundation of the fantastic 2014 original. The mixture of precision shooting and a truly freeing sense of movement (one that wasn’t filled with invisible walls all over maps) made it a pure joy to play multiplayer.
Innovation just didn’t come from the gameplay side. Both Blizzard and Respawn Entertainment are trying to change how multiplayer shooters are supported on consoles. They both share a vision where the multiplayer community isn’t fractured over time due to paid map packs, and new content is added over time for free. I truly believe this is the future of multiplayer games, and some major steps were made towards reaching it this year.
This idea is obviously ideal from a consumer standpoint (after all, who wants to spend more money than they have to?), but it does raise an important question: how can the developers manage to support their game without additional income? Thankfully, both developers have figured that part out and it comes in the form of optional cosmetic DLC. Each title does it in a slightly different way, with Overwatch selling additional loot boxes and Titanfall 2 selling individual pieces (such as a Titan chassis), but both manage to fund development while not hurting the in-game balance.
As exciting a year as 2016 was for first-person shooters, I feel like the best is still to come. The genre has finally escaped the stagnation that occurred after Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare changed the entire gaming industry, and great things are still to come. I’m not sure if 2017 will top it (although shooters like Prey, Farpoint and Star Wars Battlefront 2 will be looking to prove me wrong), but I’m filled with a renewed sense of optimism towards one of my favorite genres.