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First Person Shooter: The Definitive FPS Documentary Review

FPS Documentary

First Person Shooter: The Definitive FPS Documentary is a fascinating four hours of FPS history, with more insights than you can shake a shotgun at.

We were going to start by saying that First Person Shooter: The Definitive FPS Documentary is more than you ever wanted to know to know about first person shooters. But that wouldn’t be fair to the team behind this lengthy documentary.

Yes, there’s an awful lot of history here, but we were never bored by the insights on offer. It features a wealth of interviewees including Warren Spector, John Romero, Halo designer Jaime Greisemer and many many more.

It’s not just that these industry figures are talking about their own games, either; you get their take on other titles, particularly those that have influenced them. And there are interviews with non-developers, talking about the sometimes heartwarming impact these games had on them.

You might think you know about these games but you won’t have heard at least half of these anecdotes. And, aside from tackling various landmark games, they serve as a real insight into how games development works.

One of our favourite stories was hearing how, the day before Halo shipped, one of the dev team decided to triple the damage that the pistol did. The result was that multiplayer was a little unbalanced.

The documentary also delves into the very birth of the first person shooter. We’re not talking Wolfenstein 3D or Ultima Underworld here, even though both those titles get a look in. The genre really began with a 70s multiplayer FPS called Maze War. And if it wasn’t for this documentary, we may have remained blissfully unaware of it.

The documentary gives less coverage to more recent titles, though there are some post 2010 games that get a mention. That’s understandable – if we’d been on set we’d have never stopped asking questions. It’s impressive that, with this many interviewees, editor Chris Stratton edited it all down to four hours.

We couldn’t list every game that’s explored, but all the greats are there – Doom, Goldeneye, Halo and so on. The tail end of the documentary explores the renaissance of the FPS, moving on from what were typically known as corridors shooters.

The tone is, on the whole, positive, so don’t expect to see John Romero defending Daikatana for an hour. But it still doesn’t gloss over the trials and tribulations involved in building and selling a first person shooter. And, speaking of selling, we were happy to see Steam get a mention, not just because of Half-Life 2 but because of its importance as a marketplace.

The production quality is top notch – this is a thoroughly professional-looking documentary. Executive producer Robin Block has put out three horror documentaries, available on Shudder, which delve into 80s/90s horror and you can bet we’re going to check those out next.

FPS Documentary

Our one grumble is the way its presented in one four hour chunk. We’ve drifted in and out of some three hour YouTube videos, but here we were paying rapt attention. We certainly didn’t want to miss a single tidbit of information. But, around the two hour mark, we definitely found ourselves flagging.

The digital and Blu-Ray versions will have chapters so you can jump to the topic of your choice. But, still, we’d have liked to have seen this chopped up into three or four parts, perhaps organised by year.

That’s the worst thing we can say about First Person Shooter. It’s a fascinating, well put together watch and is essential viewing if you’re a fan of the genre. Though even if you’re not, chances are you’ll come away with a new appreciation for it.

First Person Shooter: The Definitive FPS Documentary is available to order, both digitally and physically, here. It’s on the pricey side ($49.99 for digital and $99.99 for Blu-Ray) but there’s so much crammed in here that you should feel like you got your money’s worth.

Weekend Editor // Chris has been gaming since the days of the Acorn Electron, which was allegedly purchased to 'help him with his homework'. You can probably guess how well that went. He’ll tackle most genres – football titles aside – though he has a taste for games that that are post-apocalyptic, horror-oriented or thought provoking in nature.