First person shooters have been with us since the release of id’soffering a pile of weaponry so vast it could rival a dodgy BAE Systems arms deal. From humble pistols to guns that can rip open the fabric of time and launch a black hole at people just for a lark, the FPS genre has given us a boomstick of almost every colour and style.
But I don’t really care for any of them.
Oh sure, it’s fine to let rip with a shotgun or desert eagle every now and then, but my favourite method of dishing out first person violence lies elsewhere. For me, BFG is less Big Friendly Gun and more Big Fearsome Galoshes. I’m talking, of course, about the mighty boot. Deadly sneakers. Those vicious size 12s.
Swords are for dandies and guns, frankly, are for cowards. True first person heroes need nothing more than a pair of well-heeled Doc Martins and an urge to introduce them to the face of evil. Repeatedly. Orwell famously ended 1984 with the view that “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” I’m hoping he was talking about videogames, because there just aren’t enough First Person Booters (FPBs) out there.
Plenty of games have utilised kicks and fancy footwork (usually in the third person so you can watch the action,) but there’s something so much more personal, so much more engaging about being able to boot foes in the first person perspective. Duke Nukem was perhaps the trailblazer, offering Duke’s trusty boot as a last resort melee weapon and method for smashing windows and the like. It was a fine way to introduce footwear into the world of the FPS, but as an instrument of destruction it was rather inferior to Duke’s collection of firearms. It took Dark Messiah of Might and Magic to perfect the formula fifteen years later.
Dark Messiah turned first person melee-kicking into an art form (there’s a reason it’s dubbed The Adventures of Boot McKicksalot in some quarters.) Almost everything in the game is set up to aid your bootiful attacks. Spikes, fires, cliff faces; absolutely everything is handily placed and ready for enemies to be skewered on, burned in and tumbled to their deaths over. Contrived? You bet. Fun? Oh yes.
Sure, it’s possible to equip your character with swords, bows and other clichéd magical items too, but if you’re playing the ‘right’ way these tend to play subservient roles to your fine leather booties. It’s entertaining to freeze enemies with the ice spell, but it’s even better to then smash the hapless statues into pieces with a well-aimed kick. Stunned someone with your shield? Kick him out the window, then.
Some might say this made Dark Messiah a one-trick pony. But if a pony’s trick is single-hoofedly playing every rock and roll hits of the 60s and making cupcakes appear from thin air, then it’s a trick worth repeating. Put simply; one of the universal laws of gaming is that punting an orc off a high place will always bring the player joy. It doesn’t matter how often you do it.
There aren’t too many other games with as much dedication to the First Person Booter genre as Dark Messiah, but the industry has allowed us FPB devotees to get our kicks, as it were, every now and then.
had its faults, but a lack of zombies to punt around the room wasn’t one of them. The utterly barmy vampires-in-WW1 shooter/booter took the Dark Messiah approach and added points for style, offering Painkiller-style ‘awards’ for elegant boot-based combos like “football hooligan” and, more confusingly, “angry farmer.” Essentially, it was like a proto- – except with more cameos by JRR Tolkien (no, seriously.) But while booting featured quite heavily in Necrovision, its heart truly lay elsewhere, with an ancient vampire glove that talked to you and spat fireballs.
It took a game as visionary asto return to the melee route; relegating miserable firearms to the place where they belong, at the bottom of the weapons food chain. Developers ACE Team realised the absurd pleasure of grabbing a freakish, squawking bird-man by the shoulders and kneeing him across the floor into an equally freakish rat-man. So much so that this was pretty much the entire game. When ACE did include guns, they made sure to shape them like fish or put them in scenes where a blind assassin is hurling squirrels tied to explosive barrels at you from atop a creature who’s one part dinosaur, one part camel and all parts Jim Henson. In order to master the game, it was vital to perfect the move which followed up a quick block with a powerful foot-swipe to the face. As with Dark Messiah, the melee antics of Zeno Clash had just enough of a feeling of ‘weight’ behind them to be incredibly satisfying.
The proof of the humble shoe’s melee genius is how much you miss it when it’s gone. After playing Dark Messiah for a while and going back to say, Fallout 3, you realize how impotent first person characters can seem in close-quarters combat. Without a dedicated melee weapon, all players can do is bump weakly into things like a sad Roomba. Hell, in Left 4 Dead 2 you can’t even SEE your own legs. Though at least in that game every weapon has a melee swipe, and the chainsaw is always welcome. This is all well and good, but it’s no substitute for some good old fashion leg-flailing which, let’s face it, is what most of us would probably have to resort to if the menagerie of horrors from an FPS was crawling, flying and skittering dangerously close to us. After soiling ourselves, that is.
Other than People Can Fly’s Bulletstorm, which I really must get around to playing as it looks as though it mixes the Dark Messiah approach with Necrovision’s style awards, the First Person Booter has felt shamefully underrepresented of late. It seems unbelievable that a kick button wasn’t adopted as a guaranteed industry staple in FPS titles after the release of Dark Messiah, but somehow it just didn’t take off. Instead we got cover systems and regenerating health. Thanks, industry. Now go and stand in the corner and contemplate your footwear for a while.
No, I mean REALLY contemplate it.