It's not very often I actually get to sit down and play games for fun. What with testing hardware and organising content, the most I can usually grab is a few extra minutes when I'm benchmarking F.E.A.R. However, the other night I decided to sit down and give myself a break, have some fun. And, not having played it yet, I downloaded the demo of Quake 4 and fired it up.
Playing through the single-player was cool - it was linear, but far more interesting than Doom 3. It felt a lot more like Quake 2, and the additional people to interact with were a big bonus. However, I was in for a big shock when I fired up multiplayer.
I had an inkling something was up when I saw the loading screen. Those icons across the bottom... are very Quake 3, I thought. And wham! I'm in the game, I'm on jump pads, speed ramps, I've got a railgun in my hand and by God, I'm playing Quake 3 in the new Doom engine.
I spent the next two hours on the same server, playing over and over and over again.
I spent a great deal of my youth playing Quake 3 - it arrived at a time when I'd gotten into computers and LAN parties, and it was a favourite of my friends, a couple of whom would go on to compete professionally. Indeed, I spent so many hours on Q3Test, I wasn't so bad myself, capable of beating down the majority of players on a couple of my chosen maps. But, games get old, the multiplay gets old, and with the arrival of the later betas of Counter-Strike, Quake 3 lost its sheen for many people, including me.
It is with relish, then, that I find myself back in another killer multiplayer experience. It made me think - how have our favourite multiplayer FPS experiences evolved, what problems do they face now, and how are they going to progress in the future? Over the next few pages, I'm going to investigate the progression of the 'arcade shooter' and 'tactical shooter' to see if we can spot any trends.
To start with, let's run over a brief chronology of key FPS multiplayer experiences.
A History of FPS MP1993 - Doom.
The groundbreaking FPS was the first to introduce multiplayer, with machines connected over wired LAN causing a stir. For many, this was the office / school introduction to multiplayer.
1996 - Duke Nukem 3D.
Although perhaps not as important to the genre in terms of technical progression, it's popularity brought a lot of publicity and fans to the genre.
1996 - Quake.
The first FPS to be created in 'true' 3D (although some will argue about Descent), its online multiplay function brought gamers online in droves. Although the lag was horrendous on 56k, the sheer awesomness of the experience got a lot of people going anyway. Popular add-ons, including QuakeWorld and TeamFortress, spawned the movement for community-created mods - a trend that would later lead to Counter-Strike.
1997 - GoldenEye.
The one game that brought multiplayer FPS to the masses, due to the fact it was based on the N64. How many of you squinted for hours at a quarter of a 20" television in a bid to total your mates?
1997 - Quake 2.
The update to the first FPS classic brought in new game modes and created the first professional games players. Thresh and Sujoy became legendary gaming names and the first professional gaming leagues were created around the game. Weapons were exceptionally well balanced and this created a multiplayer game with subtlety never really appreciated by most. Truly a landmark.
1999 - Quake 3.
Perhaps the pinnacle of 'arcade-style' FPS MP games, the entire game was a multiplayer experience, with no single player to speak of - save botmatches. Its makers went out of their way to create innovative and interesting new maps and weapons, with The Longest Yard - the most famous of the maps set in low-gravity space - becoming a benchmark for map design.
1999 - Unreal Tournament.
Arriving close to Quake, this offered awesome arcade action with a twist - objectives. If Quake 3 became the game of choice for pure deathmatchers, this offered a little extra for those looking for something a little more interesting. The Assault mode created an objective-based game that was far more fun to play online, and can be considered the precursor to Battlefield, I think. The original version sported possibly the greatest multiplayer weapon ever - the sniper rifle - which, combined with the incredible Facing Worlds map, made for hours and hours of genius sniping gameplay.
1999 - Counter-Strike.
The most popular team-based frag-a-thon of all time, it's still the most popular online game played today. Originally nothing more than a cobbled-together mod for Half Life, it revolutionised team-based online gaming. Early betas sported maps that were later to become classics, and some (like Mansion) that were killed in favour of better ones.
2001 - Halo.
The second console FPS to truly win over hardcore players, Halo and its sequel have become enormously popular shooters, with Halo 2 being perhaps the most accomplished online console game created.
2002 - Battlefield 1942.
With multiplayer becoming ubiquitous and net connections getting faster, the time was ripe for a massively multiplayer FPS experience, and BF1942 delivered the payload with bells on. The game was, oddly for the genre, entirely an outdoors experience, and the addition of vehicles and planes completely changed the standard FPS gameplay.
2004 - Counter-Strike Source.
The update to the classic split players, with some refusing to move over, citing irreconcilable differences. The biggest commercial release of an ex-mod ever?
2004 - Unreal Tournament 2004.
This was rather what the 03 version should have been. Taking a nod from Halo, it introduced vehicle combat and went back to emphasising Assault-mode gameplay over the deathmatching twist that the series took in the 2003 version.
2005 - Quake 4.
Picking up the Quake 3 mantle, and casting aside the much-maligned Doom 3 multiplayer, will this be the new tournament game of choice?