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The Lack of Story in First-Person Shooters

Today’s video game fans seem to gravitate to what studios tend to be producing the most: first-person shooters.  There’s nothing wrong with a great FPS, and within the last few years we’ve seen quite a few great gameplay elements be introduced into the genre.  There’s just one big problem with almost all first-person shooters: the story.

Crafting a compelling story is something that shouldn’t be easy.  However, it’s not an excuse to tack on an afterthought of a story amidst a ton of random gun sections.  The traditional shooter format has given gamers a half-hearted story, and a ton of filler missions that involve shooting a ton of “bad guys” or “enemies”.

Our problem with this is that it’s just unacceptable to drop $60 on a game, plus downloadable content, to receive such a lack of creativity in the story.  Part of the allure of video games is the story that captivates you and helps you connect with the world.  To deliver a lackluster singleplayer campaign and an amazing multiplayer area has become too commonplace, and gamers should be elevating their standards.

Where’s the variety in missions?  How many shooters have you had something go “bad”, and you’re setup in a pre-confined area with a pre-set number of bad guys waiting to be shot?  The answer is a number far greater than most of us are willing to admit.

The beauty of playing a game such as BioShock is something that we need more of.  While there were missions that required an incredible amount of backtracking, you became immersed in the world and the game let you use your own creativity to make it through sections with enemies.  The first time you used electricity to shock the water an enemy was standing in, or fire fire onto a spot of oil, you couldn’t help but be impressed.

While there are other examples of games that go outside of the box in both story and gameplay, BioShock is one of the crowning examples.  While shooters are supposed to be about, well, shooting, developers have yet to tap into more non-traditional story telling aspects.  The success of certain popular shooters (Call of Duty, for example) have left developers mimicking their patterns in gameplay and story, as opposed to crafting their own ideas.  The saddest part about this trend? It’s actually working.


First-person shooters need to tap into the cooperative play genre as well, allowing a whole new realm of possibilities to be formed for gamers.  Online play has become a “must-have” for this generation of gamers, and the ability to play a unique campaign experience is something that gamers will cherish.

An example of a cooperative game that was headed in the right direction was the Army of Two series.  While the series had quite a bit of moments that involved “shoot ’em up” levels, the cooperative aspects made up for it.  Being able to split up and assist your teammate from other angles, gameplay elements that allowed each gamer to interact with another to be more of an indestructible force allowed the game to be an overlooked hit.

Look at what the Halo series has recently done, especially with Halo: Reach.  The ability to play through a story-driven campaign with multiple friends is challenging for developers, but rewarding for the gamers.  The experience was blended well, and still maintained the most important aspect that fans wanted out of the campaign: the story.

Simply adding a tacked-on cooperative experience isn’t the answer, however.  The experience needs to be built to support at least two players, and involve more than just shooting mindless waves of enemies.  Looking at Battlefield 3’s cooperative mode, you’ll find the perfect example of cooperative play done wrong.

The mode doesn’t offer any benefit other than continuing what the campaign offered, shoot enemies, reload, rinse, repeat.  While the mode is mixed up with a helicopter or vehicle here and there, it showcases what we don’t need to see.  If that same mode had offered a backstory of the singleplayer campaign, but given gamers the ability to play it cooperatively, it would have been much more well received.

Go back a few months to the release of Splinter Cell: Conviction, and you’ll find a step in the right direction for cooperative play.  The co-op in the title was divided up in three different modes, but it allowed gamers at least one mode that was story based.  The game became more about sneaking and using the environment to your advantage than killing a horde of enemies.

First-person shooters have been on the decline for some time now, but gamers are just as responsible for buying the games as developers are for making them.  Asking more for the story and not just focusing on the multiplayer aspects of the game.  What do you think about the story in first-person shooters for this generation?  Be sure to let us know what you think by leaving us a comment below, or sound off in our forums!

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