This industry is staunchly here-and-now: the biggest game reviews, the latest outcry, another looming console war. Rare is it that collectively we assume the future, where gaming will be in ten, twenty, even fifty years. The range is unimaginable, an unhinged medium that transcends entertainment into something practical. Innovating simple tasks and inventing entirely new ones — the breadth of our scope is drastically insufficient.
These claims are, maybe, too idealistic for us to understand. But to deny future possibilities by living from game to game is unacceptable. We forget video games are the next tier to explore both technologically and creatively. To reach that critical peak, however, we must shed our minimal understanding of what games are, and discover what games can be.
Military shooters staying the same
Change first lies in the heart of popularity — the FPS genre is de facto representative of this medium due to news coverage. Not everyday does one single game continually break records, but because Call of Duty is a major event, it receives most press from mainstream outlets. The gaga midnight crowds help also.
As lead, first-person military shooters have creatively stagnated. The modern-day settings replicate our attitudes toward each game, the here-and-now, instead of branching out. As with everything, though, the issue bears down to economics: modern combat provably sells well, with several prominent franchises adapting to suit audience desire. Battlefield and Medal of Honor, both under EA’s banner, satisfy shareholders instead of those who see a creatively affluent future.
But we’ve seen a changing of the tides: Black Ops 2 may have set a first-day record, however analysts forecast weaker sales. This follows a trend from Modern Warfare 3, where sales dropped five percent after the first Black Ops. Activision and vilified CEO Bobby Kotick are out purely for profit; they would run Call of Duty into the ground a la Guitar Hero instead of shifting to a more sustainable release timeline.
Anything hashed from the Call of Duty brand will get attention, thus its notoriety is opportunity enough to mix things up. Not another Modern Warfare which is likely the case — the premise of Black Ops 2 as near-future is farfetched, so why not pull a Battlefield 2142 or go to space? The fear is change will halt sales. However, without change Activision loses out on potential revenue, their main concern, because consumers tire of the same game every year.
Since the genre plays follow the leader, at least where EA is concerned, it will be on Activision to shift the dynamic to avoid future stagnation. Modern shooters are irredeemably safe territory these days, but should EA or Activision break the mold, it would make for great advertising. Like how Dark Souls‘ immense difficulty helped propel it to stardom.
Interestingly, a benefactor of Call of Duty‘s decline should be Ghost Recon, a franchise often outside the modern shooter dialogue. Ubisoft took the correct approach in keeping the near-future setting, the same used by Black Ops 2, though the games employ two drastically different styles. (Near-future was the next logical step for Call of Duty; I’m not suggesting Ubisoft did it because of Activision.) Ghost Recon is also the first series to have relative success with near-future tactics, with Advanced Warfighter listed among the top games of 2006.
Story? More like a ‘sorry’ excuse for explosions
It isn’t simply gameplay growing dull year after year; if players gleamed theoretical history from these games as confidently as Fox News watchers, the Russians are worst than the Nazis. Even in fictional histories set in the modern day, a Middle Eastern country is more believable as an adversary. It’s not the Cold War anymore.
Most modern shooters dogmatically follow one story (a term that should be applied lightly): Russian terrorist acquires nuclear arms and threatens the US; somehow a Middle Eastern nation is by proxy involved; and the player’s crew saves the day possibly after an invasion of American soil.
What is immediately confusing is often the Russian terrorist is that, a terrorist. Not the army nor a rogue general. The sensitive nature of the American struggle against terrorism is likely why Russia is scapegoated so much. Otherwise studios would gladly include Islamic extremists if there wasn’t a controversy. Both Medal of Honor and Six Days in Fallujah tried this with disastrous results.
Still, that’s no excuse. There’s no reason terrorism must provoke a crisis every single time. The opportunity exists for some deeply militaristic, realistic experiences if the studio demands it, but the issue lies with whether the game’s campaign is meaningful or tacked on. As an example, on Xbox 360, Battlefield 3′s “story” was relegated to the second disc.
One mission involved piloting a jet, an important part of multiplayer, except the player mans the gun. The full Battlefield experience comes with intimately understand every vehicle, and the only way to learn jet-flying is through multiplayer. One co-op mission taught helicopter skills, however it’s still nonsensical to include a campaign if not to prepare the player for a multiplayer component.
The Russians are so ubiquitous they are seemingly thematic of the genre. And embarrassingly too, because the United States has many countries suitable to take the role. Iran and North Korea come to mind. THQ’s most pre-ordered title, Homefront premiered the latter and won praise.
Is there hope for change?
Diversifying settings and storylines makes the genre more creatively competent, allowing for better games. Driven by economics, though, it means consumers must use their wallets to change things. Publishers won’t deviate from what makes money.
The ridiculous sales figures say otherwise, though as Call of Duty slowly decreases publishers won’t convey as much confidence in the modern-day setting. It is exactly what happened with World War II as a backdrop, where literally hundreds of games inundated the market before Call of Duty made its mark.
If consumer attitudes won’t change the market, the jolt is cyclical: another game that exponentially defies current standards. That radicalizes the consumer base to seek other titles, or more of that one title: another Call of Duty, so to speak. Should it come soon or even at all is impossible to predict, though inevitably another franchise (or genre) will dethrone and the chain repeats itself.
To the readers: Do you think there is hope for modern-day set FPS, or is the genre beyond saving? Could another franchise steamroll the genre like Call of Duty 4 did?
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