The first person shooter genre is seemingly unique in gaming. It works in cycles: a developer comes up with a cool new setting which can add new gameplay possibilities, they make a successful game around this, rival developers then take note of the game’s success and use the same setting for their games, the setting and idea are then run into the ground and it’s not until a developer comes up with a new setting when the cycle starts again. The current popular FPS setting is the future. And a specific future at that. The kind of future where most people have robotic limbs that can make them punch really hard or jump long distances for some strange reason. There are currently a couple of exceptions to this cycle though. Everyone’s favourite company, EA, have slightly bucked the trend with DICE’s latest Battlefield game being set in the present with a cops and robbers theme and Star Wars: Battlefront is set a long time ago rather than the future. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some good futuristic shooters in the past few years but I’m bored with the setting. One of two things need to happen: either a new cycle needs to begin or a game needs to re-invent the futuristic shooter to keep me and millions of other gamers interested. And just such a game may be on its way.
I remember borrowing a copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution from a friend soon after its release and not enjoying it. Couldn’t get to grips with the gameplay and wasn’t a fan of the weird story featuring the Illuminati. However I recently went back, replayed it and absolutely loved it. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a little bit better at stealth games because I’d fallen in love with the early Splinter Cell games in between my playthroughs. Although my stealth skills are still lacking so I always ended up playing it as a FSP anyway. As you probably know the sequel, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, is due for release next year. The updated graphics and gameplay that the current generation of consoles can offer will hopefully propel the series to new heights and it’s got me interested in the futuristic shooter setting yet again.
Human Revolution was released early in the futuristic shooter cycle and with Mankind Divided to be released next year it will mean the Deus Ex series will bookend the cycle with two of its best games; although at time of writing we have no idea if Mankind Divided will be good let alone great but let’s just presume. One thing that encompasses my boredom and the general downwards turn of the futuristic shooter is the multiplayer. Dull military compounds and warehouses filled with 12 players with jetpacks and arms that turn into mini guns. It’s a tired concept. Mankind Divided is without multiplayer and instead gives us a shooter focused entirely on the single player experience. This means we can have a storyline that can fully explore the human augmentations and the reliance on technology from the eyes and mind of a sympathetic main character. Yes, I am aware Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 has a storyline but they’ve got progressively worse since the first Black Ops in 2010, have generic soldiers for protagonists and are not the most subtle in their subject matter.
What COD doesn’t have is the open worlds of Deus Ex. Detroit in Human Revolution was fantastic as a Blade Runner-esque, yellow tinted hub of the future. It gave us a few too many allusions to Robocop and so it’s for the best that Prague is a major location in Mankind Divided. Instead of the ‘tell’ approach of most games in which we have cutscenes to give us all the info on the locations and story, Deus Ex lets us explore the future how we want to. As we take a stroll around Prague we can experience the setting at our own pace and in unique ways, soaking in the visual and audio information and unleashing the potential the future setting has always had but never fully realised.
Conflict in Deus Ex will also take advantage of the future setting in ways other games haven’t. Many first person shooters are set in the future so they can include cool weapons and gadgets but they all are aimed towards killing opponents in the most bombastic ways possible. Many games say that you can play them two ways: quiet or loud. Deus Ex actually fulfils this promise and therefore the future tech that the setting offers can be properly realised. Yes, you can run-and-gun and toss grenades and just generally create a very loud room full of dead bodies. Or the future tech can be used to sneak past baddies in silence. Take the overused feature of the “invisibility cloak” (can’t think of anything else to call it). In Titanfall it’s a useless gimmick because other players can still kinda see you while in Deus Ex it makes you completely invisible. Mankind Divided will do cool features justice instead of just using them in the same old boring and useless ways.
Will Mankind Divided keep the futuristic setting for the FPS genre relevant? Probably not but the series will bookend this current setting cycle and in the future will be looked back on as some of the best and imaginative games that have used the setting. So what should be the next setting to be overused and inevitably destroyed by the FPS genre? Many say we should make some more WW2 games but I think we should do something completely different. Why not have the next COD use time travel and each mission and multiplayer map can take place in a different time period against unique enemies. Just food for thought.
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