The Slow Heat Death of the Arena Shooter

A long time ago, in a basement far far away

It wasn’t that long ago that the likes of Quake and Unreal Tournament dominated the FPS genre, their frenetic and frantic gameplay requiring nerves of steel and almost inhuman reflexes. This was the era of Thresh and Fatal1ty. 

quake 3

The Quake and UT franchises continued dominating the FPS scene until the first Counter-Strike(a Half-Life 1 Mod) released in the late 90s, then CoD and Halo in the early 2000s. People slowly lost interest in the style of FPS offered by games like Quake. While UT2k3 and UT2k4 did keep that interest going for a while it was the beginning of the end as UT III was a flop. While there is still an interest in singleplayer offerings of this style of fast paced play with the likes of Serious Sam. There is some limited interest in the multiplayer aspect thanks to Quake: Champions and Quake Live(a port of Quake 3 compatible with modern systems), but they don’t full scratch that itch for a lot of us that are seeking something more than is offered by shooters like Halo and Call of Duty that have a completely different playstyle that’s more methodical and less reactive. If it wasn’t for Quake, we never would have had Team Fortress, Half-Life, or even the Quake-killer Counter-Strike. Just like we wouldn’t have had Quake or UT without Doom or Wolfenstein 3D.

quake gibs

These games were visceral, violent, full of gore, and we loved them for it.

There was nothing as quite as satisfying as watching an opponent explode in a shower of blood and gibs. Being harrowed by rockets as you strafe jumped away from your opponent, hoping not to run into another player.

The level design was something else too, some of the maps are so iconic that they saw iteration after iteration of the same map across versions of the game and sometimes even in other games. Take Facing Worlds from the original Unreal Tournament.
I’ve seen remakes/ports of it in every UT game and even in custom Team Fortress/Quake 3 Fortress maps.

Unreal tournament

When the Doom reimagining was first teased at E3 2014 I was extremely excited, more thrilled by the announcement of an FPS game than I had been in years. I was glued to monitor during Bethesda’s E3 2015 presentation where they showed some gameplay of the new Doom game. The hype train was leaving the station faster than a Japanese monorail and then I played the Multiplayer beta later that year and the hype train derailed. They took a proven formula, broke it, and then wondered why nobody was playing their shiny new FPS game’s multiplayer mode. I don’t want you misunderstanding me, Doom’s campaign is fantastic. I played it and beat it on Ultra-Violence on my first go through(you had to beat it on UV to unlock Nightmare/Ultra-Nightmare). 

quake champions

I’m not sure what id software or Bethesda are thinking when it comes to both the Doom and the Quake series. Like, I get artistic license and all that, but they keep messing with a proven formula and then blame the style for why their games flounder. Quake: Champions have so much potential but they tried to cash in on the Hero shooter style because of Overwatch. An arena shooter just doesn’t work when you try to reinvent the wheel, change up the movement? Sure. Change the kinds of weapons? Go nuts.
Add heroes to a skill-based shooter that isn’t primarily team focused? Pass.
On the horizon, we’ve got Doom: Eternal which is due out in a bit under 3 weeks as of this writing, and I am excited about it but it has extremely limited multiplayer which consists of Battlemode and Inventions for the single-player campaign,. the former of which does look kinda cool but a lot of people want a good old fashioned deathmatch without loadouts or heroes or gimmicks like “Demon runes”(uuuughhh).

doom guy face palm

Entitled Man Shakes Fist at Game Developers, News at 11 

I probably sound entitled, but I have to ask: Is it that hard to make an arena shooter that’s weapons on a map and a few power-ups? Halo does it, but you’re limited by the number of weapons and there are power weapons. Arena shooters don’t need power weapons, they just need to have all the weapons available on a first come first serve basis with health/armor pickups scattered throughout the map. I think it’s probably a demographic thing. Most gamers are fairly casual and arena shooters tend to have a really high skill ceiling which demands that you work at the game to be good at it. Some find that task to be daunting.

Maybe if we’re lucky some random developer out there will see this, and say “You know what, that guy’s right. There is a market for twitchy arena shooters, and we’re gonna make one that doesn’t sit in early access limbo for years”.

I’m not trying to say that there aren’t arena shooters, because there are, but they are the exception not the rule and they tend to sit in Early Access on Steam for years while the player base slowly dwindles or they get outright canceled as UT4 did due to the success of Fortnite necessitating Epic’s allocation of all available resources due to the “Seasonal” release schedule. It’s depressing, but I can’t really fault Epic for saying “We need to focus on the thing that’s making us lots of money right now” because the games industry is just that, an industry.

Now that John Carmack is heavily invested and focused on the Oculus Rift, I guess my only hope is that Cliffy B decides to dust off his game making gloves and grace us with another Arena reflex based shooter. Please Cliffy, I want to rocket jump haphazardly around a map before being insta-gibbed by a sniper or a railgun. 

Is that too much to ask?

-Will

 

2 thoughts on “The Slow Heat Death of the Arena Shooter

  1. Arena fps died because the game industry figured out how computer illiterate gamers were when they put the mmo sticker on PC rpg’s to undermine game ownership.

    It all began in 1997 with ultima online, once gamers bought games they didn’t own or control, why the fuck would they give you dedicated servers and level editors if you’re willing to literally bend over and give corporations control of the game?

    The fact that mmo’s and steam even exist is proof that the average gamer was unaware of the war on software ownership.

    If in doubt see here, the entire industry has conferences on dispossessing you of your right to own your own games:

    https://tifca.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ClienttoCloud_Vision_V2.pdf

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