Is this a bad time to be an FPS fan? If you take the recent merciless public Metacritic mauling of Modern Warfare 3 as any kind of reliable barometer of the current public feeling, then the answer would appear to be a resounding yes.
The natives are restless. They're bored of more the same formula being wheeled out year after year. They've had enough of over-hyped blockbuster games with iterative multiplayer, a by-the-numbers campaign mode, and eye-rolling Michael Bay-esque storylines. The tech looks tired, they've seen it all before, and yet the review scores remain high, and the sales are even higher. What the hell's going on? Is the FPS scene really stuck in an interminable rut right now, or is it just a case of over-familiarity?
In fairness, it's a bit of both, but the thing that's increasingly obvious is how much the single player offering has become something of a lost art, and a sideshow to the main multiplayer event. Many times recently, friends have dismissed my concerns with a curt 'who cares about single player anyway?' Well, I do, and I'm fairly sure an awful lot of people agree with that point of view.
The strange thing is, it used to be the other way around. Go back a few years to the PS2 and Xbox era, and multiplayer was barely worth wasting time on - with Halo being the rare exception. For most shooter fans schooled in the classics, the campaign modes in the likes of Half-Life, GoldenEye, Unreal, Quake II and Duke Nukem 3D were something to savour.
This 'anything goes' approach lead to some outstanding and varied single player experiences, with System Shock 2, Deus Ex, No-One Lives Forever, TimeSplitters, Rainbow Six and Halo just the tip of the iceberg in a creatively fertile period around the turn of the century.
All of these titles brought something new, distinctive and intelligent to the scene, and they weren't afraid to test players in ways that would bloody the noses of modern audiences. It's a trend that continued long after the console multiplayer gained traction, and you only have to look at landmark games like Metroid Prime, Half-Life 2, Doom III, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, F.E.A.R., Bioshock, and the unforgettable Call of Duty: Modern Warfare for further evidence of the scene's former creative zenith.
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But numerous recent FPS blockbusters have largely been remarkable for how reluctant developers appear to be to stray outside of their (and perhaps the mass audience's) comfort zone. In the last few months alone, Battlefield 3 provided perhaps the single most vapid, vacuous example of a single player campaign in recent memory.
After Bad Company 2, the expectation was that DICE would do something special. But rather than prepare you for its expansive multiplayer, it was content to funnel players along, and reduce your role to that of a wide-eyed spectator for significant chunks of the experience. It might have given players an opportunity to admire the wonderful Frostbite 2 engine, but also rather too much time to reflect on how little meaningful interaction you have with the game.
It's this continual insistence on removing almost all responsibility from players from many modern shooters that feels most irritating. Nothing is ever left to chance. There's rarely any opportunity to explore, or approach via another route, and therefore absolutely no means to experiment with different strategies in the way that you routinely have to in multiplayer. Just walk towards the objective marker, kill everything in your way, and remember to get behind cover to recharge your health.
Everything from recharging health to constant checkpointing, predictable AI and linear level design comes from an unhealthy obsession to remove anything that may be considered frustrating. But in doing so, much of the sense of satisfaction of actually conquering a level goes with it, and you end up racing through the game at such speed that you may barely recall what actually happened.
Part of the blame also goes to some lamentable attempts at storytelling. More often than not you're thrown into situations without a shred of context, alongside characters who you have no attachment to, and tasked with shooting a procession of bad guys right in the face for no other reason than "they're bad, mmmkay?"
And even then, it wouldn't be so bad if the moment-to-moment combat encounters had any credibility or substance at all. More often than not, the AI routines in FPS games still default to the tired whack-a-mole system that most of us were sick of a decade ago, where enemies run to a prescribed spot, and periodically pop their heads up obligingly for us to pick off at our leisure. Imagine my delight upon discovering that Modern Warfare 3 not only continues to employ this utterly pathetic system, but also respawns enemies unless you move beyond invisible checkpoints.
What am I supposed to do here? Oh, follow him.
Would it really be too much to ask to have more proactive and reactive enemies in games? Bungie managed it a decade ago in Halo, and it's now six years since F.E.A.R. appeared. Such ambition to push the FPS in a bolder, more expansive direction has largely stalled, as most developers focus on bombastic cinematics and impressive set pieces at the expense of anything of true substance. As much as I admired the immersive jet plane sequence in Battlefield 3, and the sub sabotage level in Modern Warfare 3, they may as well have been non-interactive cut scenes for the actual input required on the part of the player. And what's with the continuing obsession with Quick Time Events in shooters? Did we not realise this was a blind alley about seven years ago?
Assuming you don't care about the poorly acted, nonsensical storylines, predictable AI, done-to-death use of military scenarios, corridor focused levels, and complete absence of challenge and ambition that infects the campaign modes of most of the current crop of blockbusters, then yeah - it's a great time to be an FPS fan. Just make sure that you only care about multiplayer, and you'll be fine.
The rest of us, though, should continue to make our feelings known. Maybe someone will sit up and take notice.
This article brings up several points that I agree with and like the first comment says, "I've been saying this for YEARS now, the focus on Multiplayer has utterly killed games." I feel like games have lost a lot of substance when developers start focusing on Multi while ignoring the single player aspects of a game. So what are your thoughts? Do you think that FPS' of today are hurting the industry?
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"In video game terms, RPGs are games that involve a form of separate battles taking place with a specialized battle system and the use of a system that increases your power through a form of points.
Sure, what you say is the definition, but the connotation of RPGs is what they are in video games." - dtewi