Oh dear, everyone. Do make your mind up. About everything. And stick to what you believe.
Just a few months ago, roughly halfway between Black Ops coming out and the Battlefield 3/Modern Warfare 3 combo being announced, everyone had decided for the umpteenth time that they were, in fact, sick of games involving Soldiers With Guns. Originality was dying, we regularly heard, and commercialism was diluting the creativity of gaming down into a series of lowest-common denominator products designed purely to cater to the largest possible audience — seemingly, the beer-chugging dudebro. (Yes, I know some ladies play Call of Duty, too. But like it or not, gaming is still an overwhelmingly male-dominated pastime.)
Fast forward until now and suddenly everyone is happily spaffing in the faces ofBattlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 with looks of rapturous ecstasy on their faces. I’m sure they will both turn out to be competent games with pleasingly spectacular visuals, but nothing has changed — they’re still games set in war-torn cities featuring Soldiers With Guns. I still have precisely zero interest in them, so what has caused people to suddenly decide that actually, no, we don’t have quite enough games featuring Soldiers With Guns in them?
I’m not objecting to the fact that these games exist on anything other than a personal level — I’m quite aware that there are plenty of people out there who play, enjoy and even love them. The thing that is bugging me is the fickleness on display by the industry and the public. Popular opinion seems to ping-pong from one extreme to another — “I hate this!” to “This is the best thing ever!” overnight. And, seemingly, it’s taboo to speak out and say “Hang on a minute…” — largely because in these days of publisher dominance over review scores, we all know what the consequences of rating something slightly below what everyone else rates it is. You get a Cliffy B (or equivalent) ranting and raving and crying that his product has been treated unfairly.
I have played a bit of Modern Warfare 3. It was fun-ish. It didn’t make me want to rush out and buy it. I was playing the co-op Survival mode. We played, we shot men and dogs, we survived. It was nothing I hadn’t done before in many other shooters, and in many cases in much more fun situations. Killing Floor, for example, is very similar to Modern Warfare 3‘s Survival mode but is much more fun owing to its variety of enemies and settings that go beyond war-torn towns.
I have not, on the other hand, played Battlefield 3. My totally uninformed position gives me a sneaking suspicion that things might take on a similar turn there. While the FrostBite 2 engine is undoubtedly pretty and gorgeous and capable of lovely feats of graphical marvellousness, as we regularly heard in the early days of the CD-ROM revolution, graphics do not make a good game. Battlefield 3 is, as far as I can make out, also not doing anything hugely revolutionary that hasn’t been done elsewhere before. Military shooters are a dime-a-dozen, and military shooters with vehicles have been done before, too — and on larger-scale maps by titles such as ArmA.
I don’t dislike the genre per se — to sound like a Daily Mail reader desperately trying to prove he’s not a racist for a moment, some of my favourite experiences with past games have been in the shooter genre. Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, No-One Lives Forever, SiN, TimeSplitters — all are examples of an overcrowded genre, but all, too, are examples of games which go a step beyond just being a cookie-cutter game involving Soldiers With Guns.
And yet two almost identical-looking games featuring Soldiers With Guns are tipped to be the biggest-selling titles of the year, while other games fall by the wayside. Where’s the justice?
Live and let live, I guess. So long as there are people online for me to play Dungeon Defenders with — and there seem to be plenty at the moment, thankfully — I’ll happily leave the Soldiers With Guns fans to their business and get on with mine. But I still wish that for once, when everyone finally tires of Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 and the inevitable sequels to both get announced halfway through next year, people will actually stick to their guns (no pun intended) for once and say “No! Look, we’ve had enough. Do something different, for fuck’s sake.”
I don’t see it happening, however. Still, as I say, so long as the more creative underbelly of the industry continues to thrive as it does, I’ll happily go on supporting the games that no-one else is playing. It’s a much more exclusive club, and one that’s a pleasure to be a part of.