I believe it started in 2006 with the release of Gears of War. Action games up until that point had involved a bit of exploration and, for the most part, tried to make the experience fun and tended to take themselves rather lightly. Suddenly Gears of War came out and it took itself extremely seriously, the problem was that I couldn't. I found it to be a rather boring repetition of cover-shoot-cover-shoot which made you lazily plod through the grey levels, every now and then being made to look at some animated set-piece. Whilst these were well rendered, the general grey-brown colour palette used made them all rather dull. I know many enjoy it and it was one of the first to have the cover system that games seem to love these days, but it just seemed like the developers got lazy with the story and the design, the game just got too repetitive for me.
It got worse with the first-person shooters
In 2007, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was released. Now I'll give you the single player campaign was fun and I did spend a lot of time on multiplayer private servers shooting others but I feel it started a trend that should never have existed. The success of Modern Warfare sparked a massive rise in first-person multiplayer shooters where not a lot of skill is required, it was just who can shoot the other guy more. There was also the sudden increase in single-player campaigns having scenes where amazing stuff happens but you have no control whatsoever. At least in the first Modern Warfare there was the scene involving the sinking boat, and you actually had to get out of there. In the sequel there was the mountain climbing scene where you just had to alternate between left and right click (Yes I am a PC gamer) then your AI ally is the one who can take an ice pick to the enemies’ faces... I wanted to do that but apparently I wasn't allowed. The rest then just plays like the multiplayer, but a bit easier.
Now we've got Modern Warfare 2/Black Ops and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 being the most played multiplayer shooters. They both just have teams shoot at each other for about 10 minutes, and then tally the deaths. The skill level for such shooters has dropped due to the addition of 'perks' and weapon modifications such as 'rapid fire'. Now if you have a character in Modern Warfare 2 or Black Ops who has a sub-machine gun with the rapid fire attachment and the perks made for a sprinter then you can sprint around dodging shots and the rapid fire attachment means even if your opponent is more accurate, you can get more shots in. It completely removes any need for skill. For me this destroys any idea of fun I had with these games, they basically play the single-player for you and the multiplayer is based on pure luck more than anything else. A game journalist who goes by the name Total Biscuit had the greatest description I have ever heard for these games, “It’s Angry Birds in FPS form”, referring to the simplistic repetitive nature of them as well as their massive marketing.
Developers are realising the a good chunk of gamers want something with a bit more substance, something more than just point and shoot and hope for the best.
All is not lost
As indie game sales have raised to almost the same level as these high-budget shooters, developers have realised that people don't necessarily want simple, mindless action. Limbo is a great example of this; it sold so well that the company bought itself back from the investors. Within a year it had generated supposedly around $7.5 million in revenue. Now for a small downloadable title that is amazing and it has shown the even the most basic of games can sell and also be an artistic masterpiece. For those who aren't aware, Limbo is a small independently developed platforming game, you simply jump your way to the end. There are some brilliant puzzles though, such as one involving a giant spider and a bear trap which I won't spoil but the whole experience is challenging yet simple and that makes it so much fun.
Why we should support the indie developer
Then of course there was Narbacular Drop, released by a very small team of developers in 2005. Few know it as the precursor to Portal and the fact that the people at valve loved it so much they actually hired them to make Portal and Portal 2. Now, all three of those games are just pure genius, they are both innovative and well designed. The fact that this originally came from indie developers further proves that these indie developers make games for the game, not the revenue. Slowly though, more and more developers are realising the a good chunk of gamers want something with a bit more substance, something more than just point and shoot and hope for the best, something with a little more thought involved.
The light at the end of the tunnel
There are more games coming out which do try to actually have good gameplay and not just become these self-playing CoD and Gears clones. Of course there are still those who do become such close like the atrocity that was Call of Juarez: The Cartel, which actually tells you where to take cover in a fire fight as though the player was too stupid to figure it out themselves. Hopefully the upcoming release of Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 will make people realise that they're getting sold the same game over and over with only slight changes. Games like Limbo and Portal do well because they have had great critical acclaim and thus appear on magazines and such. There are more though, I've been enjoying Minecraft over the past year and the very recently released Rock of Ages is a genius combination of tower defence and bowling with a Monty Python-esque visual design. More and more of these are cropping up and getting the attention they deserve. I just hope that more gamers aren't sucked into the marketing machine that is the first-person shooter.
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