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The end of Autonomy in the first person shooter

A follow up to my post on Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose on being the keys to a great game.

The experience of playing the Duke Nukem Forever demo made me ponder the idea that Autonomy is more or less dead in the first person shooter genre. Every modern FPS I have played (with the possible exception of Crysis) seems to have replaced the idea of leaving the player to solve the game their own way with the idea of holding their hand all of the way through it.


Let's look at the ways it has done this:



Level design


(Note: I have no idea who originally authored this map. It's pretty good though. I think the map is one of the later levels from Doom 1's shareware episode.)


Back in the "good old days", the player was simply dropped into a map that resembled a place - a maze-like Castle floor in Wolfenstein, a Sci-Fi or Fantasy environment in Doom, or a city block in Duke Nukem 3D - and left to explore it their own way.


Granted, this wasn't always fantastic. Exploring mazes became monotomous, especally when backpeddling and finding keys was involved. But at least levels with multiple paths give replay value. The first level of Duke 3D springs to mind, although it isn't the most open level in the game you could siege the movie theater from either side, and there were numerous optional side rooms that could be explored.



Recharging health

In most modern First Person Shooters, you can be fully healed after taking damage by just stepping out of the way of gunfire for a few seconds.


I admit that it was sometimes frustrating to hunt down health kits. But the flip side of it was an intense experience, where you had to be extremely careful with your health, especially as it was running out. It was also very satisfying to find health after holding on at 10% for awhile.


I'll be fair and say that I actually like the concept of recharging health in multiplayer modes - to a degree. The first time I played Goldeneye multiplayer, I couldn't score a single kill as the game's owner knew exactly where the armour was. Recharging health removes the requirement for players to learn where the health kits are in order to play competitively. By the same token though, finding and jealously protecting health kits did add another layer of skill and strategy.



Restricting the number of weapons


Most modern first person shooters only allow you to carry two guns at a time. By contrast, all of the classic ones allowed you to carry every gun in the game simutaneously.


Sure, this was far from realistic, but it was great to use any gun in the game at any time. Asides from being fantastic for replay value, it added a layer of strategy as often you'd have to weigh up using the BFG-9000 ammo to get out of your current situation, or saving it for a more heated battle later.



Quick time events


I don't think I need to elaborate on this point. No body seems to enjoy these.



The end result of all of this is:


When I get a first person shooter these days, I play through the single player mode in around eight hours. I have a great time, but that's the game over and done with, because there's almost no replay value. Eight hours doesn't even come close to the amount of hours I've spent playing and replaying Duke 3D, Shadow Warrior, Doom, Goldeneye, Blood, ROTT et al. I think even the free Shareware versions of these games had comparable play value to their modern counterparts.



Joined: 05/05/2009

I find the likelyhood of me playing a game increases dramatically when my friends give it rave reviews. :P It took me 40 but I don't really play for time. I explore a lot, and someitmes repeat parts until I complete it to my satisfaction.

hydra9's picture
Joined: 05/24/2009

Hehe, Erik. I had the same experience when I started Deus Ex. I played the first couple of levels and it really didn't grab me. I gave up, shelved it, came back some time later... and *still* had the same experience. This time, though, I decided to push on. I finished the second level and suddenly the game leapt up in brilliance. From then until the end, it was one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had.

Strangely enough, the same thing happened with another title from that (legendary) group of developers - Thief. It was only on my third attempt that I stuck with it and played past the third level or so. And wow, what a game. Stunning.

I even left the original System Shock sitting there for months, part-way through an early level, before picking it up again. Though I can put that purely down to fear, I think :)

Joined: 05/05/2009

Hah. I gave up on Dues Ex several times before I tried to finish it because the bloody stealth system sucked and the training room was too hard. Thief (taken note.)

Earok's picture
Joined: 02/06/2009

Ah, there have been a few games that I gave up on before coming back to and becoming totally addicted (Particularly Spelunky). I'll definitely need to give Deus Ex another chance.

Joined: 05/05/2009

Yeah. 2 against 0 couldn't possibly be wrong. :P