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First-Person Shooters for the Genre-Impaired (Now with 60% more enjoyment!)

For the past three years, I've witnessed first-person shooters from a third-person perspective: watching The Boy play them. I'm keen on just about any other genre out there--whether the focus is killing, traipsing, growing, whacking, wheeling, dealing--the problem arises when shooting takes center stage. My depth perception...I guess the phrase I'm looking for is "eye-gougingly horrid." Quite literally: I'm pretty sure the legally blind have a better sense of geometric space than I do.

Aside from proving I would never win a fight against Triangle Man, other aspects of shooters never really appealed to me, either. Having to keep track of ammo, trying not to shoot your teammates in the face, the squishy splatters which highlight my enemies' much better aim. Not really my thing. It was only in the past year and a half, (much to The Boy's delight), that my mind began to think of shooters differently. That certain titles showed up, guns blazing, and offered not only a reason to play, but also presented an easier transition than "There are eight guys with rocket launchers shooting at you and now you're dead." Three titles in particular stand out against my inept bloodshed as key games for FPS beginners. These games are not just excellent training wheels for FPS newbies: they're also must-plays for any gamer, shooter fan or not. It's a lot easier to enter a genre when it boasts some of the decade's most amazing titles.

FPS Skill Level: Newborn Kitten
FPS Skills Learned: Aim, General acclimation to first-person view, Environment interaction

If Portal was not considered one of the greatest gaming experiences ever created, I'd think it was made strictly as a shooter trainer. It's the ideal starter for those who are uncomfortable diving straight into the bloodbath firefight of series like Halo or Call of Duty. As Portal's primary obstacles are puzzles and room maneuverability, very little threat or stress accompanies the learning process. Players can take all the time they need to look, aim, and fire--and if you miss, there are zero repercussions (outside of the 'challenge' modes, which beginners will obviously not be taking part in yet). Your 'ammo,' the portals themselves, are unlimited. You are free to test out a variety of actions just to witness the results. And when you do begin working towards the actual solution to a room, your actions offer immediate yet nonthreatening rewards. If you've never played a FPS game, you'd be silly to start with anything but Portal.

Portal is only terrifying to those who hate the Florida Gators.

My personal experience: Portal was my very first shooter, besides the hour of Halo 3 I was forced into by persons much too optimistic about my shooting capabilities. I wanted to start with a game that would acclimate me to the first-person view without overwhelming me with options and generally understood rules: I don't know that X is reload in most games. I have no idea if I prefer the inverted axis or not. Portal didn't expect me to know any of these things, or even bother with them. It just wanted me to find my way through the lab, learn a bit about GLaDOS, and develop an unquenchable lust for fake cake. It was a stress-free introduction to the genre, and gave me the confidence to immediately dive into the next title...

FPS Skill Level: Dennis the Menace
FPS Skills Learned: Aiming while under attack, Melee weaponry, Weapon progression, Ammo acquisition and rationing, Exploration incentives, Cautionary exploration

Unlike Portal, which lies in some comfortable between-state of FPS slash Puzzle game, BioShock is a full-on shooter. It just also happens to contain some RPG elements, one of the most engaging storylines of any genre, and an atmosphere that is as enveloping as it is haunting. These traits only reinforce what is already an excellent introduction to the FPS genre. The game's gentle slope from melee weapon to small pistols to heavy ammunition gives it an almost tutorial vibe, without feeling overly controlled. Those who are still mostly uncomfortable with pulling that trigger will find the wrench a worthy substitute, holding its own against most enemies (offered the proper Plasmid assistance). Fighting via the wrench retains the general feel and direction of the genre while shrinking the targeting range significantly. There is also plenty of ammo to find, purchase, or create along the way, allowing for trial and error with ranged weapons once you are prepared. It's also necessary in certain cases, like when fighting the Big Daddies.

BioShock offers the tension and danger not experienced in Portal, thanks to splicers jumping out from behind corners and life being measured via the typical health meter. Its story, atmosphere, and lower difficulty level open it up to players of every genre, and specifically those looking to get their trigger finger dirty.

The whole theme of "splicing" was dangerously close to the mark. Yes, I will inject another 36 hours of BioShock directly into my system, thank you very much.

My personal experience: I started a game in BioShock to get The Boy off my case. That was the only hope I had for it: to make him stop telling me to play it. I had Portal under my belt and could at least look around while walking and not run into walls over and over. After staring at the TV for 8 hours straight that first day, I realized it might be worth a bit more than that. I loved almost every thing about BioShock--the only fault it can be assigned on this list is the utter dominance of the wrench on lower difficulties. I really missed out on some hardcore shooter lessons by whacking everyone in the head with that thing. There are way too many plasmids that encourage such behavior. I needed more "Hey, use an actual gun!" plasmids. Oh well. Whack, whack.

Fallout 3

FPS Skill Level: Revolver Ocelot (after his Ninja run-in, but before MGS2)
FPS Skills Learned: Weapon specialization, Item / apparel deterioration, Ammo collection, Head and limb-specific shots, Sneak attacks, Sniping, Enemy radar, Environment awareness, Selecting the right weapon for each situation

Like its list predecessors, Fallout 3 is not a straight-up shooter. It's a FPS RPG, which makes it an excellent transition game. RPG and sandbox fans will be drawn in by its enormous world and impressive population; by the time they find out there are guns (lots of guns), it's too late. They're hooked. The slightly raised difficulty comes from Bethesda's D&D method of leveling, where players essentially have to choose a style of combat as their forte and go from there. Unlike BioShock, where switching from a melee fighter to an explosives expert is just one Gene Bank away, Fallout's skill points and perks are not reconfigurable. Sure, you could choose to be mediocre at everything, just in case--but how are a half-assed shotgun and meh-grenades going to help you when you're fighting a Behemoth? They're not. Opting to be a melee fighter in this game is also not the best option for a beginner, so you're pretty much stuck with the ol' shooter standby--gasp--guns!

However, my choice of one-armed Revolver Ocelot stands. You're going to have to use guns, and try to use them well--the Wasteland is teeming with people and creatures who hate (or crave) your guts. But the arm that got chopped off is gleefully replaced by V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System). V.A.T.S. will do most of the dirty work for you. Bring up the menu while targeting your opponent, and V.A.T.S. offers body part differentiation and percentage estimates of likelihood you'll hit said part. Then, select your method of kill, and watch as V.A.T.S. guides you through the motions, asking only for Action Points in return.

It does not, however, tell you the percent chance that the sledge will crack your skull open and that Super Mutant will be licking up your brain juices in the next ten seconds.

Yes, V.A.T.S. essentially replaces the friend who made you play shooters in the first place. Instead of hitting pause and whining "Get me out of this mess," just let V.A.T.S. do it for you. What saves Fallout 3 from being an utter n00bathon with a system like this in place is
1. You are limited by your Action Points, which take a few seconds to recharge after being used. So if you don't kill off an enemy while in V.A.T.S. (happens pretty frequently), you're going to have to finish him off yourself, with guns and human fingers. When facing multiple enemies, you might even have to fight someone without the use of V.A.T.S. entirely.
2. You never have to use V.A.T.S., and can play the entire game without it if you so choose (you don't get anything for doing this except a surprisingly brusque pat on the back from the hardcore committee).

Either way, the game is still a step up on the shooter scale while offering an excellent introduction to the genre. And if you choose to be a melee or unarmed fighter, you're probably more experienced in FPS games than anyone I'd ever address with this entry.

My personal experience: I was wooed by Fallout 3's BioShock costume. Post-apocalyptia with a 1950s' kitsch? Yes, please. I've already killed everything in Rapture; I need another mutated freakshow world to frolic about. Oh, the game is more addictive than coffee served in chocolate bubble wrap cups? By turning on my 360 and inserting this disc I'm just signing off 100 hours of my life for the next two weeks? But it's...fun, right? Okay, well, I'll see you in February.

Next up...
There are a number of titles that fit the above requirements (a shooter for beginners with an excellent game attached) I have yet to play, and so they'll receive just a brief mention here.

Mass Effect

Mass Effect should probably be slotted in just before Fallout 3---it's an RPG with shooting mechanics and plays from the third-person perspective much more fluidly. Word on the street is this BioWare company makes pretty decent games, like that mostly un-terrible KOTOR. I can't speak from experience, but game of the century-type nominations tend to speak for themselves.

Half-Life series
Valve seems to understand that not everyone diving into the FPS fray is a weapons expert. Portal is a unique gift that will allow players to enjoy their other, deeper titles, such as Half-Life and Half-Life 2. Though Half-Life is the oldest entry on this list, it has remained a necessary classic in any gamer's FPS arsenal and will open a direct door to more competitive shooters via Counter-Strike. Like BioShock, Half-Life offers a melee weapon (crowbar) to start, easing the player into its world and offering a smooth transition from bashing to blitzing.

You guys / are my best friends / through thick and thin / we've always been together.

Left 4 Dead

The newest title on the list and another offering from Valve. Left 4 Dead could easily snatch the number 2 most accessible spot, but I have yet to agree to play it and thus can't rate it accurately enough. I've watched zombie horde run-throughs again and again, though, and am sure that its ultra-collaborative style and regular "Shoot wildly until everything is dead" combat make it an ideal entrance into competitive shooting games. Having three friends right next to you at all times, knocking zombies off you or offering remedial advice will make even the most inept (see: the author of this article) FPS players feel at ease. When The Boy does convince me to play some form of competitive first-person shooter, it will likely be this one.

Runners-Up for Life: Wolfenstein 3D and Doom

These were actually the first first-person shooters I ever played, when I was all of 9 years old and trying to emulate my older brother's gaming habits. These are beyond classics at this point, and are about as basic as the genre can get. If you just want to experience shooters the way they used to be, and get a very beginner introduction to the viewpoint and combat style, check either of these out (I prefer Wolfenstein to Doom, personally). I wouldn't expect a lot of useful lessons to present themselves, but it never hurts to have more Nazi- or alien-killing experience under your belt. Especially considering we're overdue for an alien Nazi invasion.


  1. Blogger Unknown | May 30, 2015 at 9:29 AM |  

    First time reader (of this or any blog). You had me at witty, refreshingly honest (about being FPS-challenged) game blogger with great takes but did you just go bring a BFG to a knife fight to win my heart by referencing They Might Be Giants?

    I can't help but feel you're the reason I've been training my skills not only in the peahen-attracting feather in my gamer cap 1st & 3rd person genres, but also Animal Crossing & platformers to fortify our emotional connection.

    I think I just fell in love and had my heart broken in the same paragraph. Regarding "The Boy" you 3rd person as he FPS's (witty), sure your capitalization of "Boy" could be bestowed because of his headshot ratio... but when you capitalized "The" in "The Boy", either he's a pro gamer or you're in love (likely in no small way due to his headshot ratio). So which is it? And why is there no limit to comment length?