Shots are fired overhead. An explosion to the left, to the right. The ceiling begins to crumble. My squad yells unintelligible things as we all run out of the building. A truck pulls up to rescue us, but just as we are about to make it to the doors, a wayward rocket blows it up, knocking us back. I black out for what apparently is about three seconds and wake up to a friendly pulling me up, half joking that I shouldn’t be laying down on the job. Then we run off to the next place where I’ll get knocked down again.
This is basically the shot list for many of our high profile first person shooters of this generation, and I wish I didn’t yawn through them.
In an effort to get through my backlog of games, I have recently been playing through Battlefield 3‘s campaign, and the scenario above is one that is all too familiar. In fact, if you have played pretty much any military shooter this generation, you could probably find that scenario in the first level of the game, possibly the second if the developers were feeling extra suave. It, along with a handful of other tropes, are starting to turn me off of the first person, cookie cutter genre we have found ourselves in.
“Cinematic” are what these moments are described as. The “cinematic experience,” as displayed in action games now, means that more explosions means a better game, and if you can turn the dial to 11 and keep it there for five to ten hours, you will have a hit on your hands. Oh, and the Russians are up to something nefarious. That too.
I think back to the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. This was the title that was to redefine shooters on consoles for our current generation, and to a large part, it did. It certainly was the first to meld together most of the current clichés: levels that were just large corridors where you went from point A to point B, unending enemies until to slog your way to a checkpoint, the explosion then blackout then wake up thing. When the game came out it was really exciting. It was exciting because none of these things were so played out that they were very noticed.
Now, however, what was innovation back then is mostly annoyance, and no one has really pushed the medium (FPS specifically) forward in any meaningful way. With each successive FPS, more things can be exploded and you get shot from seemingly invisible enemies more often, but that’s just a refinement on the mold. In nearly every level I have played of Battlefield 3 I have hoped it would end in just a couple of minutes. Only the occasional vehicle level breaks up the monotony, until those sometimes turn into on foot missions. One mission has you start out in tanks, and it is pretty cool with a huge desert area to battle enemy vehicles in. Then you get out of the tank because, you know, it’s safer out of it? I audibly “Ughhh”ed as I had to run into a firefight and retrieve a detonator for another soldier who was too scared to. “You should get his paycheck, Miller! You did his job for you!” I sure did. Luckily, after this I was able to get back in the tank, but only as a gunner. The level then was just another shooting gallery, but with a bigger gun!
The odd thing is that I tolerate sameness in other genres easily enough. I have saved the princess more times than I can count, but for some reason that doesn’t bother me. 3rd person action titles are increasingly copying the excellent Uncharted pacing, but they don’t feel as tired as “Modern Military FPS” does. How many times can a young teenage band end up in a position to save world? Quite a few times, if you ask Japanese RPGs, yet they still hold my attention fairly well. So why is it just this one niche?
I suppose it goes back to what has already been said: turning the knob to max and then gluing it there wears me down. When each new “hallway” – whether it be a street, alley, or actual hallway – is nothing more than “crouch, shoot, crouch, wait for the blood to drain from your eyes, shoot, crouch, repeat,” my interest dies.
And so we finally touch on the title of this post: here is to hoping that this next generation of consoles gives us something more with this genre. Use the extra power to give me something better than a humvee ride through a narrow alleyway, is all I am saying. I know that the explosions will be prettier, and maybe there will be ten times the amount of grass sprites to convince us that we are totally walking through some high-def, varied grass. But maybe after all of that, change up the gameplay a bit. You know what would actually be interesting? Show me what my character is going through when he’s not shooting people. Let me walk around the aircraft carrier a bit and have a couple of discussions with other soldiers every once in a while. Make me care about them if one happens to fall while we are on a mission. Turn the knob down every so often, even for a couple of missions at a time so that when explosions do happen I am not so numb to them that they actually register.
Maybe I have just been playing the worst FPSes, but currently it is hard to determine what is special about each new shooter as far as campaigns go. Maybe I am asking too much because we mostly buy these titles for their online experience. Who knows? In any case, I hope that something interesting happens between now and the PS4 that makes titles in the genre worth adding to my collection again.