Published: 22 June 2012
I think I'm done with shooters. Not games where you specifically shoot guns and kill things, I’m pretty sure I could still play Point Blank all day, but rather the certain first and third person sub-genre ubiquitously identified by the masses as "shooters." I came to this realization after playing Max Payne 3 for an hour and found myself struggling to give a shit about its wealth of features. Before my eyes was one of the prettiest, most well produced shooters of the generation - one that was both critically acclaimed and from a developer with a penchant for style and substance - and I couldn't manage to go ten minutes without pausing to check my Twitter feed or finding any other excuse to not play the game. (Having a borrowed Max Payne 3 from a friend, I also wasn't under any self induced pressure to justify my purchase with play time, but this is a separate argument).
I would play the occasional shooter of the first or third person variety every now and then, but I really didn't begin to rampantly consume their kind until a couple of years ago when we started Flap Jaw Space: The Digital Chumps Podcast. While Steve, Chris, and I spend plenty of time discussing obscure titles both old and new, I felt it would be entertaining and more relevant if one of us managed to play entries from the genre that's currently dominating the mind space and wallets of both casual and hardcore consumers. Over the last two years this led me to play and finish Back Ops, The Darkness II, Resistance 3, Crysis and Crysis 2, Red Faction: Armageddon, Gears of War 3, Rage, and Modern Warfare 3. I rarely engaged any of the included multiplayer options and I'm well aware that the popularity of Call of Duty titles in particular is mostly tied to its audience's Madden-like obedience to annually re-upping, but I wanted to indulge in their respective campaigns as a way checking the collective temperature popular game design. If shooters are the most widely popular genre, the one that represents a statement to the masses, surely there has been plenty of room for innovation and variation amongst their campaigns.
After all of that my general sentiment is that it's over and done and obliterated by that aggressively insane shark gun from Armed and Dangerous. While I did legitimately enjoy shooters like Minerva's Den (BioShock 2's wonderful DLC), Bulletstorm, and Borderlands that took identifiable risks by employing new ideas, the truth of the matter is that as time goes on it seems like most of these titles are feeling less like games and more like dopamine injection tool kits designed to provide the sensation of a reward without the struggle to actually obtain it. It's like those weird diets where you can somehow eat nothing but those vitamin cookies and expect any feeling of satisfaction afterward. This sentiment is exemplified primarily by my stroll through the last five Call of Duty campaigns, each of which seems to feel even less creative with every installment.
It's fine to craft a directed experience - certainly not everyone yearns Far Cry 2 - but to do it in a manner that makes marked turret sequences and traditional shooting/exploration feel exactly the same is to minimize any sort of risk a new idea may have introduced into the game's design. As the ancient proverb goes, “In Soviet Russia, game plays you.” Call of Duty 4, for example, introduced a handful of brilliant concepts for its mechanics and narrative, including a couple that were married to both, but every iteration since has been felt comparatively routine and occasionally brain dead. In this regard an unimaginably stupid narrative and dull mechanics are concealed by ultra violence and/or watching precious landmarks fall over. To make matters worse any attempt to venture off the intended path is met with punishment by death. Everyone is going to have the same experience whether they like it or not. I struggle to accept that this is what qualifies as the representative of where gaming is "at" like when ambitious titles like Super Mario 64, Wii Sports, Super Metroid, Grand Theft Auto III, or Final Fantasy VII stood for gaming's collective consciousness in decades past.
And it's not like shooters outside the Call of Duty franchise have fared much better. The Darkness II had a cool aesthetic and interesting narrative premise but married it to worn mechanics and typical enemy encounters. Rage was gorgeous and featured fantastic AI routines but was content-light and maintained an active interest in pointless sub-genres. Gears of War 3 was a ton of fun cooperatively but didn't feel all that different from previous installments. Crysis was awesome until the back end flatlined, and all Crysis 2 managed was to make me wish I was still playing the first half of Crysis again. And what do you even say about a game like Resistance 3? The box art was neat and I applaud Insomniac's effort into making me care about Joe, but I literally don't remember anything else, at least in regard to gameplay, about it.
Presumably this is why Max Payne 3 isn't doing anything for me. The game's visual style, which as of now is defined by its wildly distorted cut scenes, is sort of interesting. I like the way Max actually holds onto his extra weapons and I suppose his hatred of himself and/or everyone else is thematically different, but when I'm actually playing the game all I seem to be doing is shooting dudes, and you know what? I've already shot all of the dudes, usually in the face, and after having killed more bad guys per second than John Matrix for like ten games I think maybe all of the important ones are dead. We won. We've killed a genre. Please do something else.