The sort of industry older brother of the System Shock series was the critically acclaimed title Doom. When people think back to the origins of the First Person Shooter, this is usually one of the first titles that come to mind. Simply put, a space marine (known by fans as the Doom Guy), is sent to Mars where it just so happens the gates of hell exist. The gates open expelling demons that kill everyone except for the Doom Guy and now it is left to him to deal with the situation with extreme prejudice. Oh yeah, and he doesn’t say anything.
The Doom Guy is silent because the only thing that is important is to shut up and destroy everything. Nothing really needs to be said because there is no one who is listening. Monstrous demons aren’t going to be interested in reasoning with anyone. There is no reason for the Doom Guy to do the same. The Doom Guy is hardly even a character. He’s more like a vessel you’d take to a bloodbath, an HMS Destruction if you will. He carries an absurd number of weapons, most of which are quite large, and he lets them do all the talking for him. The Doom Guy embodies everything people would consider to be wrong with silent protagonists in the present. With the Doom Guy’s silence, there is little room for a moving story (as seen in the poor reception of the film adaptation that came out awhile ago with Dwayne Johnson as a supporting character to the Doom Guy). It’s like being a mouse with every gun ever made and a chainsaw going through a maze full of devils.
Is this a bad formula for a game? Not particularly. I’m willing to admit a game doesn’t need a compelling story to be good. The little game pieces in Candy Land don’t have existential crises when they get stuck for more than three turns, but children who don’t know what video games are still play and enjoy Candy Land. Football existed before Friday Night Lights, and people thought it was fun. I don’t know what the plot of Tetris would be, but the game does fine without one. Doom, however, is a shooter and quite old by video game standards. While the formula worked in early days, shooters evolve more quickly than many other genres and what existed back then can’t exist today. The most recent title being Doom 3 didn’t make as much of a splash as intended when it came out and there hasn’t been a Doom title in many years.
In contrast, there continues to be a demand for Bioshock, The Legend of Zelda, and anything Gabe Newell makes. The three things I have just listed have often been praised for their storytelling, and they made these stories with silent protagonists. Only Bioshock has broken the silence with the character of Booker DeWitt, and I am very excited to see where the character type will go. If the success of the modern first person shooter says anything over the lack of recent Doom titles, it suggests that the exclusively single player FPS is in need of constant evolution to continue to thrive.