The Real Issue With Shooters’ Campaigns

For whatever reason, modern FPS games get a bad rap these days when it comes to their single player campaigns. That partially due to the rise of console online multiplayer becoming more popular, which lets more people play that might not normally do that. Because more gamers are playing online now, developers are putting a lot more time into crafting a multiplayer mode that has longevity, depth, and a strong social element. In order to do accomplish that, that might mean that the single player has to take a back seat. It’s a pretty standard internet argument against Call of Duty – every game is the same thing, and the single player is an afterthought. I would argue that the Call of Duty campaigns are far from the worst experiences out there. Look at another FPS from the last few years – Bulletstorm – developed for a single player experience, I wouldn’t say that it is a better experience than any of the Call of Duty games.Call of Duty: Ghosts

That having been said, this past round of shooters – Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts committed one of the worst offenses that I think any campaign can. It amazes me, that in 2013, the two biggest shooters of the year would release campaigns with silent protagonists. That might have worked back in the Doom, Quake, and Unreal day, but as the general overall quality of games has gone up, the mute protagonist I don’t think really has a place in modern story-based gameplay. In some cases, notably in RPG’s you can get away with a silent protagonist, but the best examples of those games have some level of characterization through dialogue trees. In both Ghosts and Battlefield there are a number of moments, both in game and in cutscenes, where the other NPC’s directly ask questions to your character – who responds by staring back at them blankly. Now for some gamers, that might be fine; but I think that that course of action kills the immersion, taking me right out of the story. It’s especially frustrating in the Call of Duty games, where silent protagonists gain the ability to speak in between games – Soap from Modern Warfare 1 tois a major example. I think it was especially grating last year since BioShock Infinite showed that an FPS can have a fully characterized player protagonist, who voices his thoughts and answers questions asked of him, and still have a fantastic experience.

Battlefield 4

This coming year I think will be an interesting one when it comes to shooters. As of this writing, there hasn’t been a new Call of Duty announced, although we all know one is coming; and while Microsoft has said a Halo game is coming this year, I have a feeling it will be the Halo 2 Anniversary Edition that’s been rumored for a while, since it’s the ten year mark for it. Add in that Battlefield hasn’t really been a yearly series, and Medal of Honor is all but dead, I think that leaves the door open for the two new kids in school – Titanfall and Destiny. Both look like they are taking new, unique approaches to the genre, in terms of blending story and multiplayer. Titanfall has said that they won’t have a traditional campaign, instead telling the story through the online multiplayer. Destiny looks like it’s blending shooters, RPGs and the persistent world of MMOs to craft a truly unique and new experience. All that’s left now is to just wait for March and September.

Titanfall Alpha Makes Me More Excited For It

TitanfallOver this past weekend, Respawn Entertainment held a closed beta/alpha for Titanfall, and because the internet exists, some footage of course leaked online. While the quality for the footage isn’t the greatest, it does show off a bit more of the gameplay than we had seen previously. There also isn’t much from the Alpha in general, since players were made to sign an NDA before playing, to the point where most clips have already been pulled, but they did exist long enough to get me a bit more excited for the game than I already was.

First off, the game looks pretty good running on the Xbox One/PS4. I was a little skeptical when they announced that it would be 6V6, with a number of AI bots filling out the rest of the lobby, but seeing it in action, it works out pretty well. It reminded me of how the AI works in games like League of Legends, acting more like fodder and filler, but still filling a role in the context of a match. While the actual AI looked a little rough, there is still a little time before release to tighten up the AI.

To me, the real meat of the footage is the actual way the game plays. Based on the info that they had already shown, I saw Titanfall as sort of an amalgamation of Tribes and Call of Duty, with maybe a hint of Battlefield 2142. After seeing it in action, it certainly plays like a more agile version of CoD. The way that the pilots are able to move around the map allows Respawn to make maps that take advantage of the wall running abilities and include more verticallity than the typical Call of Duty map. The real kicker is the addition of the Titans. They really change the game to a more asymmetrical style, with the on foot pilots taking down the Titans, as the Titans cause some serious damage.

The other really cool thing about how Titanfall approaches the multiplayer is that from all accounts it looks like the story of the game will be taking place through the actual multiplayer. I like how it looks like it ties in through little gameplay mechanics like when a team loses, the players have to rush back to their dropship in order to escape, which I think is a neat little touch. All said, the little footage that leaked really got me more excited for March 11th.

Call of Duty: Ghosts Onslaught Thoughts

There are a few times during the year where as gamers, we have to deal with weeks, or months, of dead air essentially. The summer months are usually empty of major releases, instead letting digital titles take over, while the bigger studios make the convention circuit. The other dead zone tends to be the time between Thanksgiving and the end of February. There are tons of sales during then, sure, but no real new releases – the sales come from the holiday rush. January is usually the worst of the bunch. This year is a good example – there’s probably one title that is on gamers radar, and it’s actually an updated version of a game from last year: Tomb Raider for the XB1 and PS4. But January is also a time of DLC, which we will start to see some of next week.

I wasn’t going to devote this week to Call of Duty, but Infinity Ward went and released a new video that needs some discussion, so here we are. They released a trailer for the upcoming first DLC pack – Onslaught – today, showing off all four new MP maps, as well as the new guns and Extinction map/story. This is Infinity Ward’s first go with story/co-op content, so they’ve cut out one MP map from their usual five maps that they like to add in, replacing it with two new weapons and the new Extinction episode. The trailer does a good job of showing off enough of each new feature, without totally showing everything, giving the players a good chance to explore and discover the ins and outs of the maps. So I’ll go over my thoughts on it here.

First off, let’s talk about the new MP maps a bit. I thought that Ghosts initial maps were generally good, with some standouts of course; but I also thought that on the X360/PS3, since Ground War is only on XB1/PS4, that a lot of the maps were just a little too big. It looks like they felt that too, with all four new maps being more small-to-mid range maps. First, Fog – the atmospheric map: the titular fog on the map looks like it will make tracker/thermal sights way more useful than normal sights, plus the swamp setting I think will make the Ghillie suit a commonplace on this map. The cool little feature they added to this map is the new field order reward – complete it and you dress up like Michael Myers from Halloween and run around knifing. Honestly, it looks like it’s probably just a reskinned Juggernaut Maniac, but the idea is really neat. Next up – Bayview: my first thought was that it was a reimagining of Boardwalk from MW3, but it looks like it is a new map, just in a similar setting. I think that the trolley cars that move around the map will be a nice little dynamic feature, and the artillery strike field order reward looks like it could do some damage too; I think this map might be the most balanced in terms of size, it looks like it’s got a bit of every range on it, so it could be a really crazy map. Third, Containment: this map reminds me of Ambush from MW1, but on a more focused scale. The bridge/riverbed is the focus, and based around the trailer, snipers and long range weapons will do some serious damage, but a good flanker can change that quickly. I really like the new field order on this map – detonating that missile looks like it actually destroys the bridge as well, which could change the whole flow of the map. Finally, Ignition, which is a reimagining of Scrapyard – which you know I voted as one of the series best when I wrote about the best maps a few weeks ago. I mentioned it then, that I have some really good memories on that map, but this new version looks like they might be unrepeatable on it. Just based on what they showed, it looks like they’ve added a new path through the map, which really will change the way that map plays totally. The field order looks nice, but limited in its use – enemies will need to be near it to get kills.

Onslaught Teaser

As for the other new content added in Onslaught, I think it’s looking promising. The new weapons look kinda neat, the fact that it’s the same stock and receiver is unique. It looks like it should be a strong, accurate AR, probably with a slower RoF, and the Sniper looks like a middle-ground between the VKS and Lynx. Could be really cool to play with, we’ll see. Now Extinction’s new map Nightfall I think is where we see the new direction that Infinity Ward is taking with their DLC. By making Extinction a five-part episodic story, it lets them set things up for later content, while still providing a fun experience. The two new creatures look really cool, and the whole episode looks like a great next step. Extinction I think was a real pleasant surprise in Ghosts – I’ve enjoyed every game I play of it, which is new, since I never really played the Zombies mode in the Treyarch titles. Overall, I think this first DLC pack looks really strong, and will be a good opener to this DLC season.

Looking Ahead to 2014

It’s officially 2014, and with the first official post of the year, I thought it would be appropriate to look ahead to the rest of the year and what games I think will be the big ones coming up. I think 2013 was a little bit of a step back from the previous two, and that helps set up this year for a big surprise year.

Thief

First up is a game that I am really pumped for, and it comes out next month – Thief. I can remember playing Thief II back in the day on the computer, but the series has been dormant for a while now, which I think actually helps this game. Stealth games are making a little bit of comeback, thanks in no small part to games like the Assassins’ Creed series and Dishonored. The latest gameplay videos show a game that look a lot like Dishonored actually, which isn’t a bad thing, but still retains the series focus on stealth over combat. Plus the videos just look gorgeous, showing off the power of next-gen consoles. Can’t wait to see it in action on February 25, 2014.

Titanfall

Right after Thief drops in February, March brings us Titanfall, the first game from Vince Zampella’s Respawn Entertainment studio. Based around the Gamescom trailer from last year, the game looks like a really entertaining mix of Call of Duty, some Mechwarrior action and the chaos of the full scale battles of Battlefield. It’s going to be refreshing to play something that’s not CoD or Halo or Battlefield, and the actual gameplay looks pretty damn entertaining. It takes the standard shooter formula, adds in the awesome mobility of Tribes, and then tops it off with giant Mechs – it’s a no brainer. March 11 can’t get here fast enough.

Also in the first half of the year, Watch Dogs is supposed to be dropping, and it looks like it could be one of the first real examples of true “next-gen” gameplay and design. The design and story look fresh and intriguing, but we haven’t seen a ton of actual gameplay in a little while. I’m still excited for it, but I would like to see a bit more here this month.

The summer, usually a dead-zone for big games see a few nice little presents – the Destiny beta, and in June, Elder Scrolls Online drops for the consoles. ESO could be the MMO that finally gets me into them – I’ve avoided them for years, but I love the Elder Scrolls universe, so I might take the plunge. I just hope that Bethesda can launch a smooth game – not usually their M.O. as well as still working on Fallout 4.

Destiny

The last of the big releases I want to talk about is Destiny – Bungie’s first full game since leaving Microsoft. Based around everything that Bungie has been showing so far, the game is shaping up to be a bigger, better version of Mass Effect. I always trust Bungie to have a really well crafted universe and story, and a polished product, so I think as long as the persistent universe game world works as well as they want it to, Destiny could be the second half of the year winner.

There are a few other big names I expect to see this year – Halo, Call of Duty, Uncharted all come to mind right away, but I think the new IP’s will have a banner year, and really will set the pace for the first year of the next-gen consoles.