Aug 10, 2011

What Happened Shooters? You Used To Be Cool. Part 2.

So, in last week's post I started to talk about how modern shooters tend to fail tragically as single-player experiences as a result of a regression of the genre away from puzzle solving and tactical gameplay and back towards dumb corridor shooters, going so far in fact that there are no longer present even the basic exploration elements of Doom. But of course, modern shooters are often much more focused on the multi-player experience. And it's maybe unfair to judge the whole package too harshly based on a part of it that is, realistically (and whether or not we like this fact) meant to be a secondary, throwaway experience, with the multi-player instead hoping to offer hundreds of hours of exciting, varied gameplay.

It's just too bad that the multi-player portion of these games is also so dumbed-down, diluted and derivative that it's getting pretty hard to give a shit, as the critcally-minded gamer.

I'm not just talking about Call of Duty here, although a lot of the blame rests on the shoulders of that franchise, along with Halo. But the other big shooter series, Battlefield, is prey to the same problems. So are Brink and Homefront, two more recent shooters that I thought might bring something a little more exciting to the table but which both, ultimately, fell flat. The blame for my dissatisfaction as a hardcore gamers lies solely on the demands of the mainstream market, and developer's desires to pander to the lowest common denominator to make the highest profits – and hey, AAA development houses are first and foremost companies, not producers of art. To have the big budget to blow on the next title they need to shift a whole lot of units, and to shift that many units they need to meet the demands of the widest audience possible.

This is all a bit high-level. A little too vague maybe. It covers why all these games end up a little too same-y, which is part of the problem. The other part is the elements they share in common. Things considered just part of how modern shooters play. And some of these things are really, really problematic if you're looking for the kind of multi-player experience I'm after.

What is that experience? I want a competitive, skill-based game. I want a game that could be taken seriously as an eSport. I want something where there is a huge, huge difference between a new players and a master, as you see in a game like StarCraft. We used to have shooters like this, but not so much anymore. A game like Call of Duty is so simple to master for members of the hardcore crowd that it's laughable. It has all the tactical and strategic depth of a fishbowl. The Battlefield series tends to do a little better in this regard, but only a little.

The biggest issue is that modern games have removed the need for that gamer instinct that I spent so many years training. There are far too many assistances offered to players, far too much information being readily made available without any particular care or attention given on the part of the player. We used to not have hitmarkers to let us know if our bullets were going through a wall or a smoke grenade and hitting somebody on the other side or not. We used to not have a radar telling us exactly where that last gunshot came from, so we hunted with sound. We didn't used to have the ability to throw a grenade with out switching out our gun first, so you had to plan and carefully time that throw. We didn't used to reload our guns in a split second. There wasn't an instant-kill melee panic attack if somebody was up in your face. You still had to shoot better, not just hit a key faster. We didn't used to have a situation where every weapon had a time to kill of under a second. You had to aim better for longer, or have really truly better positioning. You weren't instantly screwed if somebody got behind you (just probably), because you still had a chance to get to cover, to turn things around, to show them that your game-fu was best.

The modern gaming environment emphasises nearly thoughtless, fast-paced, twitch gaming. It provides the same addictive adrenaline rush experience as I spoke about last week in the single-player component. And similarly, it provides an actual depth that in no way compares to the old way of doing things.

And I suppose these kinds of games will always be around. There's a strong demand for them. People like the addictive, time-sink-y nature of these pick up and play titles. But damnit, where's my hardcore shooter? Well, there's hope for the future. The gaming market is exploding, becoming more and more mainstream, and a lot of that is thanks to the appeal of these kinds of games. Soon there'll be room in the market again for the kinds of games we used to like. Games like Counter-Strike, that actually focus on real skill, that can be taken seriously as team-competitive games. And I hope somebody will be making them, and I hope the fledgling eSports community will sit up and take notice and make those games their own, even if they aren't the ones that are selling the most units.

But right now? ...What happened, shooters? You used to be cool.

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