A Change In Setting Isn’t Enough To Reinvigorate Military Shooters

Battlefield1_Reveal_07.0

I’ve read very little about the newly announced Battlefield 1. Everyone seems to be interested in the switch in setting to World War I, but honestly, nothing has convinced me yet that it’s going to be anything other than the same standard military first person shooter we’ve been getting for years and years now. Actually, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has a chance to be the more mechanically interesting game. This isn’t an endorsement or criticism of either game, I don’t think I’m going to play either of them this year. I just want to say I don’t think swapping settings will automatically make a military shooter more interesting.

For the last few years we seem to have gotten tired of modern military shooters and drifted away from them. Publishers have probably been wondering “where do we go next?” The stories I have looked at for Battlefield 1 almost act like the switch to WWI is a panacea, but I actually don’t think relying too much on modern warfare was the problem, nor do I think an overuse of World War II before it was a problem in itself.

The problem is these mainstream military shooters are too stuck on the same gameplay mechanics.

We’ve been doing the “guy firing automatic weapons and throwing grenades from behind cover” thing for probably well over a decade now, in various settings. The reason many people probably didn’t do WWI before was because everyone saw it as a war before the age of fully automatic weapons. I think Battlefield 1 is largely going to have the same gameplay template EA and DICE have been doing since Battlefield 1942. Weapons and vehicles will be different, but you’ll still be doing conquest mode along with a campaign where you shoot at guys and throw grenades from behind cover.

The big publishers making shooters have always been contorting whatever storylines and settings they use to a very formulaic set of gameplay systems. I think this problem is behind not only the staleness of military shooters but really any shooter that tries to act like it takes place in the real world. It’s the reason the setting and events depicted in Tom Clancy’s: The Division look so disturbing to many — the rioters and looters you shoot in New York are functionally no different from the skeletons you click on in Diablo III. Its taking tried and true mechanical tropes into a setting where they might not fit as well. Nathan Drake shoots hundreds of people in each Uncharted game because Uncharted has to be a standard third person shooter to get the budget it does. Publishers want to look like they’re pushing new things but with every new story or setting they seem to still be making almost the same game.

Way back on 1up and BitMob I did a fairly long post about how I thought WWII shooters were spending too much time on the same parts of the war and missing a lot of interesting stories that might not fit into the typical military shooter formula. Publishers and developers just need to be willing to stretch out from typical military shooter gameplay.

I’ve probably said it before on this blog (maybe it’s been a while), but I prefer to take a look back to the games that popularized first person shooters. DOOM is a game where you shoot literal demons in the future, and in Duke Nukem 3D it’s aliens. Same with Halo. And look at how dynamically those games are designed compared to military shooters or any “modern world” shooter like Rise of the Tomb Raider for instance. They have huge varies of enemies to fight and interesting weapons to shoot them with. They can do all that without looking completely ridiculous because they aren’t held back by so-called “real world” settings. The first person shooter originally wasn’t designed to handle “real world” settings, at least not the gamified mainstream type publishers are trying to push these days.

This is why I like Gears of War for literally creating a fantasy setting. People don’t think of Gears as fantasy because it doesn’t have magic or elves but that’s pretty much what it is. Epic Games invented its own setting from scratch to fit whatever kind of gameplay it wanted, and because that gameplay was so new to a lot of people, it became a hit. That’s why I don’t think a setting change by itself is going to make a shooter The Next Big Thing. The multiplayer that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare introduced is probably the main reason its popularity exploded. World at War outsold COD4 despite going back to WWII.

If anything, I think going straight-up futuristic will allow Infinity Ward to stretch further out with what kinds of gameplay it can design into Infinite Warfare. The only limit to what kinds of weapons or vehicles or robots you’ll see in the game is IW’s imagination. The exoskeleton suit gameplay in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Call of Duty: Black Ops III might be proof of that.

I could be completely wrong about Battlefield 1 of course. DICE could have all sorts of WWI-era things for players to utilize that we don’t usually see in military shooters. I think they said something about cavalry charges with horses and possibly even swords. If that altered gameplay is indeed the reason DICE went to WWI then it’s the right reason. The point is that what settings are played out or fresh isn’t what makes a shooter feel fresh, it depends more on how the game is actually designed.

For right now my most anticipated first person action games for 2016 are probably the new DOOM (still not 100 percent on it), Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and Dishonored 2.

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