The first-person shooter genre has grown exponentially since its inception and has been a dominant force in the gaming world for decades. There’s a rich history of evolution and innovation, and it’s all the subject of a meaty new documentary from experts of the genre. FPS: First Person Shooter Documentary is taking a deep look at the history of first-person shooter games, interviewing the people that made some of the most iconic titles and sharing how they changed the gaming landscape.
Constructing a genre
The FPS doc was written by David L. Craddock and Richard Moss, and directed by the former alongside Chris Stratton. It compiles interviews with industry legends like John Romero and Cliff Bleszinski, with them not only talking about their own games, but the ones that inspired them along the way.
Before the days of Apex Legends, Warzone, and Destiny, there was Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein. But even those iconic games were far from the genre’s first. FPS games can be traced all the way back to the early 1970s, with Maze War and Spasim typically cited as the original first-person shooters. The FPS doc starts here and works forward chronologically, touching on all of the major first-person shooter releases over the years and how they took inspiration from what came before while laying the groundwork for the future.
Perhaps beyond anything, I was consistently impressed with how visually pleasing the FPS doc is to watch. It’s competently shot, there’s a consistency across the various featured interviews, and the interpolation of in-game footage and the use of iconic themes and sound effects make it a marvel to watch and listen to.
Coming in at over four hours long, FPS is an incredibly dense documentary—one that’s absolutely stuffed with information and insight, and would probably be less of a product should you start significantly trimming it down. Still, I wondered if it’d be a more palatable viewing had it been broken into a three-parter. It’s a true testament to the documentary’s editing and pacing that I never felt bored watching it. Whenever I started to feel like I’d seen enough of a particular game or studio, it transitioned into the next one.
All out of bubblegum
What really stood out to me throughout the documentary was the fascinating anecdotes shared by so many of the interview subjects, whether it be Romero and Carmack retelling the humble beginnings of id Software, or learning that it was actually Marathon that first introduced the iconic Rocket Jump. There’s a passion that oozes out of each speaker, and it makes it abundantly clear why they were able to find such success in the FPS genre in the first place. I found David Oshrey’s interview clips to be particularly funny and insightful.
Anyone that’s worked on a video game will tell you that it's an incredibly hard thing to do, and not every project fully realizes the original vision. It’s awesome that FPS doc doesn’t shy away from that, pointedly referencing some of the less beloved entries in the genre. It was fascinating to hear ex-id Software developers look back on Quake 2, reflecting on the uneven response from hardcore fans of the first game. It was even more fascinating to learn that the project wasn’t even conceived as a Quake sequel, and was only given the name after a failed effort to come up with a suitable title for a new IP, hence its strong differences from the 1996 classic.
The FPS doc also feels like a series of mini documentaries for some of gaming’s most influential studios, chronicling the meteoric rise of studios like id Software and Bungie, detailing how the studios parlayed their success and grew into the juggernauts of entertainment that they are today. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it was just as intriguing to learn about the prosperous periods of time for companies that don’t even exist anymore.
I need a weapon
FPS: First Person Shooter Documentary is equal parts informative and entertaining. If I ever decided I wanted to start making shooters, I’d go back and watch this entire thing again before I started brainstorming. As someone who’s loved the genre since I was probably too young to be playing it, it was fascinating to see how some of my favorite games were the results of decades of innovation. It’s a gaming history lesson that feels like required viewing for any fans of the FPS genre.
This review is based on an early copy of FPS: First Person Shooter Documentary provided by the filmmakers. The documentary is available now for pre-order.
FPS: First Person Shooter Documentary
- Deeply informative study of the FPS genre
- Insightful interviews and anecdotes
- Crisp visual and audio editing
- Tells an overarching narrative from the 1970s to modern day
- Long run-time could be a put-off for some viewers
Donovan Erskine posted a new article, FPS: First Person Shooter Documentary review: hop, skip & rocket jump
I want to watch this. This looks amazing.
I'm one of the people who backed and I should be in the credits as an executive producer.