Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Call of Battlefield: Modern Bore

With the release of Battlefield 3 already upon us and having time to settle, I am not filled with feelings of excitement, nor hatred. I cant really identify with any kind of feeling in particular aside from exasperation. Not at the fact that I've gotten military shooter this year as a part of this 2011 FPS gauntlet we've been running but at the fact that man, does it look a lot like Call of Duty campaign wise.

I'm not the only one who thinks so.

In fact, it's such a strange shift in focus for a game that has stuck to its guns as long as Battlefield, the reactions are almost unanimous: in stark contrast to the multiplayer portion, it doesn't feel or play anything like a Battlefield game.

Eurogamer reports that "EA has constructed a package that echoes its rival in so many ways it's downright eerie."

IGN describes the gulf in quality between the single and multiplayer modes as the game suffering an "identity crisis"

Destructoid says "If you're a fan of single-player games, there's nothing for you here."

I hope it's starting to sink in. The race for every military shooter to capture that Call of Duty "magic" is a fruitless one that continues to ensure that all our military FPS stories will have the same interchangeable, hollow campaigns lacking in substance.

Call of Duty hasn't been an action packed history lesson for years, but they wisely ditched the format when WW2 was thoroughly mined. Changing the scope of the series from that to one more loosely based in our current events was a wise move on a creative and gameplay front, and gave them legs for something new. That something new worked in the original Modern Warfare But their success has literally become a blueprint for the modern FPS. If they are the trailblazers, people will start following their cues for a taste of their success, and oh are they.

(If you can't tell which game this is at first glance, something's wrong)

Wait for NPC B to kick in door A, terrorists pop up like cardboard cutouts, shoot, repeat until set-piece activates. While I appreciate EA going for Infinity Ward's throat, they may have gone about it the wrong way by following what has become the lowest common denominator blueprint of FPS design. Since Modern Warfare 2, short, linear military rollercoaster rides with a heavy focus on multiplayer has been the consensus. The difference however between every other game adopting these bullet points and Call of Duty embracing them, is the fact that their multiplayer is so popular and nuanced that they can AFFORD to let the campaign deteriorate into this.

EVERYONE ELSE DOES NOT HAVE THAT CUSHION. While I don't mind CoD jumping a multiplayer shark, everyone is attempting similar leaps now, and unsuccessfully at that. This means we have a bevy of failed attempts at this same slanted, rigid campaign/multiplayer focus instead of memorable, lasting experiences from franchises old and new. It means new creative ideas are being ditched, or compromised, or outright rejected for what works, like their method. It means a loss of identity. It means becoming a statistic.

It also means being forgotten while the major players who did get it right burn the genre to shreds by trying to reproduce their apex until they no longer can. The ones getting it wrong drive the nails further into the coffin.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make is, I'd rather watch Call of Duty topple under its own weight, with it's own flaws, without dragging an entire genre down with it.

There's still an opportunity to craft a story in a military shooter that can resonate viscerally because unlike shooting candy colored aliens, the threat of what's presented here is more personally identifiable, if not always completely plausible. There's a chance to create an exciting, tactical gauntlet that can test more than a player's ability to aim down the sights. Elements like visuals, score, and an intensity of events that simply can't be matched anywhere but in first-person because without an avatar to view constantly, immersion increases exponentially. Imagine all of this paced with intent, having a clear start and finish. Having the ability to stir and evoke emotions in players, and knowing they have been challenged by development team clever enough to do so is a power they are forgetting they have. Regardless of the success of their individual approaches, at least that's exactly what they are, individual, and not yet another attempt to recreate another badass soldiering montage.

More Saving Private Ryan, less Pearl Harbor, moving forward please.

I'm speaking not just to DICE, but the rest of the developers on that one. If CoD has given up on campaign, that's the competition's space to make it better, and innovate. Not follow them mercilessly into the increasingly bleak and derivative popcorn hot-dog-on-a-string campaigns awash in brown hues, foreign countries and explosions. The time for distinction is now, while Battlefield 3 paints a by-the-numbers approach to this as a noticeable problem. I understand the nature of business first, but this is how you beat the competition.

Otherwise, soon you all won't have a genre to compete in.

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