The video game industry is a shooter fan’s world. Shooters are the most visible, profitable and popular of all the genres video games have to offer. For intellectually-minded critics, shooters can be a guilty pleasure. For socially-minded pundits, shooters are dangerous symbols of how violent video games can be. For the core gamers of the PC and console audiences, shooters represent the best that the industry has to offer.
Shooters are often tied to or spawn the hottest, most powerful graphics engines. They form the nucleus of professional gaming circuits. They hosted some of the earliest social networks (Clans) back in the day when “deathmatch” was still a new word. Shooters are an important part of the history of video games, and an integral part of video game culture.
Last year, G4 listed sixteen games in our “Future of Shooters” piece for Epictober. This year, we have even more games to discuss. The future of shooters is bright, and we’re going to give you twenty-one reasons to believe it.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Release date: Nov 8, 2011
It seems ridiculous to tell you about Modern Warfare 3 as if you’ve never heard of the game before. Or don’t know that it’s very likely going to set sales records for the video game industry like the last two Call of Duty games. Or that the campaign is like a Tom Clancy movie on steroids. Or that the multiplayer has absolutely defined competitive gaming on the Xbox 360, to the point where publisher Activision has launched an entire social network called Elite to serve this community, and threw a huge two-day event in Los Angeles last month to celebrate them.
Battlefield 3 is out. One contestant has stepped into the ring. Now we’re waiting for Modern Warfare 3 to strap on its gloves and come out swinging. There’s little doubt that MW3 will walk away with the economic crown, as it’s an absolute juggernaut of profits for Activision, but will it hold up critically against Electronic Arts’s contender? That’s the question we all want answered, and in just a few weeks, we’ll find out.
Defining feature: A multiplayer community that dominates Xbox Live. This is the game that all other shooters call “Daddy.” The reigning champion that everyone else wishes they could even have a shot at taking down. Love it or not, Call of Duty is king.
Serious Sam 3
Release date: November 22, 2011
Serious Sam 3 is old school. Health packs, armor shards, and more enemies than you can possibly keep track of, so you just blast away until you’ve stemmed the alien tide. What’s funny is that an IP which back in the day mostly blended in with the other FPS titles on offer, outside of the always-insane number of enemies, is nowadays a breath of fresh air considering how many FPS games take themselves so seriously!
Defining feature: Complete and utter insanity in the old-school style.
The Darkness 2
Release date: Feb 7, 2012
The first Darkness developed a rep for storytelling and some interesting mechanics, but failed to impress many critics as it lacked polish. The Darkness 2 has been handed off to a new developer, Digital Extremes, and it’s looking much better than the first game.
The Darkness 2 has brought two improvements to the table so far. The art is all hand-drawn and very colorful, versus the bland palate of the first game, and instead of having to choose between Darkness powers and weapons, main character and mafia Don Jackie Estacado can now use them all at the same time. Digital Extremes coined it “Quad Wielding,” and in the E3 demo, used this new ability to devastating effect.
Defining feature: No mercy. Between stealth kills, devastating magic, Darkling demons and dual-wielding automatic weapons, Jackie-boy will cut through his enemies like a hot knife through butter. And eat their hearts.
Release date: Feb 21, 2012
The original Syndicate was an isometric, cyberpunk real-time tactical game. Players controlled Agents who infiltrated, assassinated, kidnapped and persuaded in order to put the player’s corporation on top. Territories were conquered and taxed. Research led to upgrades and more powerful agents. Two sequels followed the original game, and together they hold a special place in the hearts of many gamers.
Rumors of a follow-up by Swedish developer Starbreeze and publisher Electronic Arts began in earnest in January, 2010, and in July of this year rumors leaked that the new Syndicate title was going to be a first person shooter. When those rumors were revealed to be true by EA in September, the news produced dubious reactions from series fans, to put it kindly.
Starbreeze swears that the new Syndicate will be true to series roots, but it’s not surprising that they developed an FPS rather than an RTS game if they want to sell on consoles.
Defining feature: At the moment, controversy. Syndicate devotees aren’t pleased, and some developers have questioned whether the IP is broad enough to support moving into a different genre of game altogether, but we have to ask ourselves whether the current FPS audience even played the original Syndicate games such that they care about the change of genre.
Ghost Recon Future Soldier
Release date: March 6, 2012
The Ghost Recon third-person shooter series has always been more about tactics and less about twitch. Positioning your squadmates and using cover effectively were as or more important than being a pinpoint shot. Ghost Recon Future Soldier will continue that tradition by making intel-gathering pivotal to the gameplay, especially in the multiplayer where drones can mark enemy positions, informing teams which routes will get them into flanking positions the fastest and most effectively.
Future Soldier introduces a bunch of new tricks up the Ghosts’ sleeves including optical camouflage (think Predator) and combat drones. The game will also feature Kinect functionality in its Gunsmith mode, which allows players to modify weapons and gauge their potential effectiveness in a test environment.
Interestingly enough, the only core title at E3 this year to take a stab at the new Wii U system was a very experimental Ghost Recon build. Maybe publisher Ubisoft is trying to make sure that we tie high-tech to this series in our minds as much as possible.
Defining feature: Tactics before trigger fingers. You still need a steady aim, but more than that, you need a plan, and four player co-op will make it easier to concoct and carry out some really nasty ideas for taking down your enemies before they know what hit them.
Release date: March 6, 2012
The newest X-COM title is a marked departure from other games in the series. It’s the first FPS offering in the franchise, and while that had series fans nervous when the news was announced, what we were shown at E3 this year looked promising. X-COM is mixing RPG elements, squad mechanics, and FPS play together into a single package.
Set in the 1950’s, X-COM places us in the role of an agent in the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit, which is all that stands between the United States and alien invasion. Players will train agents, research technology, select the appropriate team members and head into the field. Once they’ve engaged the enemy, players will have what looks like a robust set of commands to position their squadmates and activate their abilities, and alien technology can be captured and reverse-engineered back at base, or turned against the aliens on the spot.
Defining feature: Genre-bending. The success or failure of X-COM may depend on how well developer 2K Marin manages to weave all these disparate elements together. X-COM could either be a deep, tactical shooter, or a game that doesn’t know what it wants to be.
Release date: March 2012
The first Prey placed gamers in the role of a human captured by aliens, and offered portals that could be shot and traveled through, variable gravity, and a “spirit form” mode that made for a degree of free movement. In Prey 2, we’re the ones doing the capturing, and while our movement options may be a little less weird, they’re looking more robust.
The hero of Prey 2 is a bounty hunter in a huge, alien city that looks like something out of Blade Runner. He has advanced technology like DNA trackers, portable energy shields, rocket boots and miniature missile launchers that, at least in the E3 demo, all make him look like an absolute nightmare for the bounties he’s hunting down.
Defining feature: Open world free movement. Prey 2 promises to open up our mobility both vertically and horizontally, but the same abilities apply to the bounties we’ll be tracking down. If it’s done right, Prey 2 could offer us exciting and chaotic chases through a crowded, noisy environment, which sounds hectic, but also all sorts of fun.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
Release date: Spring 2012
Colonial Marines felt like vaporware for a while, but at PAX Prime 2010, Gearbox Software showed up with some gameplay footage, and at E3 2011 had a full-on presentation that was excitedly narrated by Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford.
Colonial Marines is being touted as “the true sequel to Aliens.” Players will step into the combat armor of part of a battalion of Marines sent back to LV-426 to investigate the missing-in-action status of the Marine squad that we saw in the film. That means a return to the colony of Hadley’s Hope for starters, which was the focus of the E3 demo. Players will be able to tackle the campaign in two-player split-screen or four-player online co-op.
Defining feature: Right now, it’s the strength of the franchise. That might give Colonial Marines enough cache to carve itself a spot in the crowded FPS market, but if faithfulness to the movie is more attractive than the actual mechanics, this might get lost in the shuffle for everyone but diehard Aliens fans. We have been killing these specific aliens in FPS games for a while, now, after all.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Release date: Early 2012
Before there was Modern Warfare, there was Counter-Strike. Valve’s classic military shooter is one of the most popular online PC games ever. Global Offensive is Valve’s effort to bring the franchise up to date. It will incorporate skill-based matchmaking, leaderboards, and a new Casual Mode to make it easier for new players to jump into what has historically been one of the most hardcore shooters out there, with a healthy professional, competitive circuit.
Defining feature: A cross-platform military shooter. Mac, PC, and PlayStation 3 gamers will all be able to go head-to-head with each other. We’ll finally get some data to answer the age-old question of which setup is better for FPS: mouse and keyboard, or control pad? Time to see who owns who!
Release date: Early 2012
The Tribes franchise has done a lot for multiplayer FPS gaming, and the free-to-play, multiplayer-only Tribes: Ascend is going to have a lot of eyes on it as a result. We don’t have a release date, but a beta test is beginning this November, with several ways for gamers to gain entry. Ascend is going to be a PC and Xbox Live title.
Defining feature: Freedom of movement on very large battlefields. Besides vehicles, infantry can utilize jetpacks, and even use skis to get to grips with the enemy.
Release date: Summer 2012
Dust 514 is a PlayStation 3 exclusive which will take console FPS gamers and transport them into the science fiction world of EVE Online, where corporations fight for control of space, one planet at a time. Planetary conquest has actually been, at best, an abstraction in the EVE universe, and really more about controlling the space around planets rather than fighting on them.
Dust 514 changes all that. Players will serve as the ground forces supporting these space fleets, and fight for planetary control on behalf of the corporations which hire them. Players will use land and air vehicles, command centers, and even real-time interaction with supporting spacecraft to fight huge, objective-based battles. EVE Online has played host to insane real world politics among its player base, and the soldiers of Dust 514 will become part of one of the most immersive and intriguing game universes ever created.
Defining feature: Dust 514 is crossing into important, innovative territory for the FPS genre: A persistent world. Persistence is the opposite of what most FPS titles offer, especially in the competitive modes which are usually broken down into hyper-frenetic, short run-and-gun matches, or tactical, team exercises that stand alone from one another.
Metro: Last Light
Release date: Summer 2012
Metro 2033 was overlooked and underappreciated in the eyes of many games critics. Based on a popular series of Russian novels, Metro 2033 was the story of the survivors of a nuclear war who took shelter in the Metro system of Moscow. In the world of Metro ammunition is currency, so players had to pick their fights with mutant creatures and hostile humans carefully, and make sure they scavenged everywhere they could.
Metro: Last Light takes place in 2034, and according to publisher THQ, will address all the weaknesses of the first game like stealth mechanics, enemy AI, and making sure the weapons “feel right.” Metro 2033 has been described as a flawed masterpiece. The goal with this sequel is to polish that diamond in the rough.
Defining feature: Grit. Metro 2033 depicted a post-apocalyptic world which felt more desperate than any other depiction of a ruined future we’ve seen in video games. Developer 4A Games is going to take a minimalist approach to the HUD in this sequel, removing a barrier between the player and this engaging and dangerous world.
Release date: Q4 2012
The last we saw of Master Chief, in the final cinematic if you beat Halo 3 on Legendary difficulty, the ship wreckage in which he and A.I. partner Cortana were stranded entered the orbit of a dark world whose surface lit up with dots of light. Clearly the planet was inhabited, or was it? Fan speculation wandered from this being the homeworld of the Forerunners, the ancient race that built the Halo rings to defeat the parasitic Flood, to it being a tie-in somehow with Bungie’s Marathon series.
The Halo Fest celebration which took place before PAX Prime this year gave us our first concerted look at Halo 4, which will finally answer all of our questions. Master Chief and Cortana are back and developer 343 Industries, a studio created by Microsoft specifically to manage the Halo franchise once creators Bungie left it behind, have promised to be truthful to the spirit of Halo, and to serve its diverse and vocal community of fans.
Defining feature: Halo 4 will determine just how pivotal Bungie was to the success of the Halo IP. This new chapter in the saga of Master Chief will either be the exciting return of a hero, or go down as the first in a derivative series of iterations that run the franchise into the ground.
Release date: TBA 2012
The ARMA series are open-world, tactical modern warfare simulators. These PC games are the hardest of the hardcore military shooters. You don’t run and gun. You plan, maneuver and execute in an unforgiving, brutal sim that rewards planning and punishes anything else. Take top-ranked Modern Warfare or Halo players, pop them into ARMA, and watch them cry.
ARMA III is going to feature photorealistic graphics, a campaign that starts players off as a lone infantryman but grows them to commanders of land, sea, and air assets, and takes place on the huge Mediterranean island of Limnos, which will be modeled based on real-life satellite maps. It will feature co-op and competitive gameplay, and a robust mission editor.
Defining feature: A recent BBC news report mistook ARMA 2 gameplay footage for real-life video of the Irish Republican Army shooting down a British helicopter. Need we say any more if ARMA 3 is going to look even better?
Release date: TBD 2012
The first Bioshock became a rallying cry for the argument that video games could be art. It had a world that captured gamers’ imaginations, and a story that raised serious, human issues for us to consider, all wrapped around shooting mechanics that offered a lot of player choice (even if that shotgun and Electro-Bolt combo did the job so nicely that many of us stuck with it throughout the game).
Bioshock Infinite takes place in an entirely different world, in an entirely different time period, and offers us an entirely different experience. No more silent protagonist. This time, we play the role of Booker DeWitt, and we’re going to have a relationship with a woman named Elizabeth, who we’re trying to save from the airborne city of Columbia.
We’ll still have a suite of conventional weapons and different powers to use against the xenophobic citizens of Columbia who are trying to kill us, but we’ll also have Elizabeth’s powers and a Skyline system that provides rapid repositioning the likes of which we’ve never seen before in an FPS.
Defining feature: Creative ambition. Bioshock Infinite is one of the most ambitious shooters we’ve seen in a long time, and it’s not about any one thing in particular. Infinite offers us character, theme, adrenaline-pumping combat and emotional resonance all at the same time. Mark our words: when a release date is finally announced for Infinite, watch and see how many publishers shift game releases as far away from that date as they can.
Release date: TBA 2012
Blacklight: Tango Down received a mixed reaction critically. Its main feature was the ability to see through walls (think the Auger in the Resistance series) but otherwise this downloadable FPS was pretty uninspiring, and didn’t offer gamers anything that other games in the genre already had. The cheap price tag might have been the most attractive part of the package.
Blacklight: Retribution will not be on consoles like the first game. It will be a PC-only, free-to-play title, and throws vehicles and piloted mech units into the mix.
Defining feature: The Hyper Reality Visor. In Retribution, the HRV will not only allow players to see through walls, but will also elucidate weak points in mech units.
Brothers in Arms: Furious 4
Release date: TBA 2012
The Brothers in Arms series has historically been composed of cover-and-move, tactical World War II shooters. Gearbox Software has thrown all that out the window with Furious 4.
The Furious 4 themselves are a band of eccentric soldiers, who may just very well be insane from the clothes they wear and some of the weapons they carry, who are on a mission to assassinate Der Fuhrer himself. The Germans we’ve seen them up against so far have wielded some Weird War II technology to take on our band of heroic lunatics. What we’ve seen of Furious 4 so far is loaded with a very distinct personality.
Defining feature: Insane co-op. Take all the fun of Borderlands, and mix in even more over-the-top, breaking-the-fourth-wall hilarity, and that sounds a lot like what Gearbox showed us at E3 this year with Furious 4.
Far Cry 3
Release date: TBA 2012
The Far Cry series places us in open worlds set in remote environments, and allows us to tackle the game however we want. Charging in guns blazing may not always be smart but it’s an option. Stealthy takedowns around the perimeter before taking apart everyone who’s left usually works, and sniping the enemy to whittle down their numbers is a safe move. Far Cry goes out of its way to give you options.
In Far Cry 3 players will take the role of a poor sap who winds up stranded on a lush tropical island filled with crazy people armed with guns. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Defining feature: EVERYONE is out to kill you. Safe haven and other human beings rarely mix in Far Cry games. The environment in Far Cry 3 may look beautiful, but it’s going to be all sorts of dangerous.
Release date: TBA 2012
“Stalker” is a term borrowed from Russian literature and film, and was also the name given in real life to the men who first investigated the sarcophagus meant to contain the ruined core of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the Ukraine.
The first S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was a sandbox FPS that took place in the area known as “The Zone” around Chernobyl, which in this fictional, future history was populated by mutants and areas of altered physics called “anomalies.” S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was followed up with two expansions, and in Fall 2010, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 was announced.
Defining features: We don’t have many details about this sequel, but there’s no reason not to expect that the terrifying, well-realized environment of the first game won’t be returning. Developer GSC Game World has promised that the popular survival mechanics of the first game, where players manage radiation exposure, stave off hunger and treat their bleeding, will be even more important in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2.
Spec Ops: The Line
Release date: Q3 2013
Take-Two’s financial statement in May indicated that Spec Ops: The Line had suffered yet another delay since its announcement at the end of 2009. This latest offering in the Spec Ops franchise is a third-person shooter set in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and inspired by the novella Heart of Darkness (which also inspired the film Apocalypse Now).
In The Line, the once-opulent corporate oasis of Dubai has been destroyed by apocalyptic sandstorms, and players take the role of Captain Martin Walker, whose mission is to rescue an American Army Colonel with the help of a Delta Force squad. Developer Yager Entertainment has also promised a dark and gripping story in line with the game’s inspiration.
Defining features: So far, the use of terrain to defeat enemies has caught the attention of the games press. In the E3 2010 demo, sand avalanches were used to bury bad guys.
Release date: TBD
We have no release date, but id Software says that Doom 4 will be “even more awesome than Rage,” If Doom 4 is going to top the extremely challenging shooter mechanics of Rage, then even without a release date we’d be remiss not to add the game to this list. John Carmack did say at QuakeCon this year that once Rage shipped, the team was moving straight onto Doom 4, and numerous voices at id have told us they don’t intend to take nearly as long working on Doom 4 as they did on Rage.
Doom 4 has been described by id as neither a sequel, nor a reboot. Rumor has it that it will take place on Earth. Maybe this Doom will no longer pit us against hordes of demons from Hell, but this wouldn’t be the first time that id changed it up radically within an IP. Quake II was a big departure from the original Quake, for example.
Defining feature: We can only speculate, heck we don’t even have a screenshot to show you, but the hope is that Doom 4 will be a pure shooter from the masters of the genre. Where Rage incorporated a bunch of disparate elements around the shooter mechanics, perhaps Doom 4 will go back to more standard id territory, which would not be a bad thing for shooter fans. Not at all.
Dennis Scimeca is a freelancer from Boston, MA. His weekly video game opinion column, First Person, is published by Village Voice Media. He occasionally blogs at punchingsnakes.com, and can be followed on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.