My damning of Wolfenstein as generic brought on a bit of introspection for me. What do I mean by a generic action game? Well, obvious factors first: A game in which you shoot guys in various civic structures and industrial areas. Where that guy you thought was good turns out to be bad. Where there's precisely one friendly, female NPC whose throat is destined for your tongue and whose kidnapping will no doubt motivate you later on. Where you confront the main bad guy at the end, just as they're enacting some evil plan and your stupid cutscene-paralyzed arse sits there like a lemon while they unleash / transform into the thing you're expected to fight before the credits can roll.
And as the years go by, more and more gimmicks are piled on the generic action game template. Bullet time. Cover systems. Collectible documents left behind by NPCs who don't get how the postal system works. Brief asides where you take up a mounted gun turret with infinite ammo, (but a tendency to overheat) while platoons of extremely poorly-briefed, enemy soldiers pour into your line of fire. And, of course, RPG-style elements and some token attempt at a free roaming sandbox, resulting in more and more genres piling together into the big, wobbly, grey blob that is videogames homogenized singularity.
But it's amazing how far the concept of generic has come. As early as five years ago, Wolfenstein might have blown minds. Ten years ago, a generic action game would be something like, say, pulling a title completely out of the air, Chasm: The Rift: Shooting very thick monsters while holding more guns than any human being could reasonably carry, in boxy arenas with no comprehensible purpose. And, ironically, that's exactly the sort of thing shooters need more of now.
The process is always the same. A popular new shooter comes along and defines the next few years of action gaming: Doom. Quake. Halo. Gears of War. For a while, developers will make games by taking that model and adding at least one major new mechanic, lest their opus be described as "generic." Doom with jumping, Gears of War with a grappling hook, Quake, but not shit, etc. Eventually, someone comes up with an addition that proves popular; their game becomes next year's model of generic action games and the cycle commences anew. More and more standard features get slapped onto the basic concept of action shooter and no-one wants to take a step back because they're afraid of getting left behind.
Once you're locked in the cycle, it's easy to lose sight of how action games began: Because shooting things is fun. I'm bored of health regeneration and broody gravel-voiced space marines harboring dark secrets. I'm tired of vehicle sections, RPG elements and crouching behind a fucking wall taking pot-shots at something I can't quite make out because it's crouched behind another wall fifty yards away.
What was the last mainstream FPS that didn't have pretensions to be anything more than shooty fun? With just you, guns and a million slimy dudes to mop up? You know, the old Doom - Serious Sam - Painkiller model. We've been so preoccupied with the third person shooters and the sandbox-shooters and the RPG-shooters that we've neglected the just-plain-shooters.
Is it possible that a genre could die out just because it's too easy to make? That developers would want to make use of all the money and advanced rendering technology at their disposal and classic-style shooters just don't excite the designer's imagination anymore? It's possible. It's certainly what seems to have happened with space-sims. There hasn't been a mainstream, space-based, flight sim in ages, because you only have to render some ships, some floating rocks and a fuckload of empty void. Just about the only thing covering that niche right now is EVE Online, which is a little inaccessible to anyone with a boredom threshold shorter than sixteen years.