Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 and Everything Wrong With The FPS
But while the multiplayer standards Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer and DICE are meeting are incredibly high, both MW3 and BF3 fall significantly short on their single-player campaigns, and in a way, they illustrate what’s wrong with the shooter genre as a whole.
Both games have single-player campaigns that are basically throw-away inclusions, with the barest of plots meant to facilitate the shooting of thousands of enemy soldiers. Both campaigns are minimal, both in length and depth. Both are meant merely to showcase set pieces like riding in a crashing helicopter or surviving a building collapse — which have nothing to do with things you do as a player. Both include weak AI enemies that fall by the thousands, sitting in their cover positions and waiting to pop their heads up so you can take them off.
It’s very easy to argue that Modern Warfare 3 is a very minor update of a series that hasn’t changed significantly in five years — that’s not only a fair assessment, it’s an essential one. Activision has found a formula that works, and like the Guitar Hero franchise, it seems content to beat that horse until it’s dead, and then continue to beat it until every drop of blood is spent, every dollar earned. Creatively, Modern Warfare 3 ain’t broke and certainly isn’t fixing anything, and we’re expected to pony up $60 for the same game and like it. And millions of people are — as long as we’re willing to pay, Activision is more than willing to sell us what is essentially the same game every year.
In the case of Battlefield 3, it’s clear that Electronic Arts wants a piece of Activision’s pie. Bad. And the influence of Call of Duty can be felt deeply within the latest iteration of EA’s shooter series. Yes, Battlefield has its mainstay elements that make it “unique,” but really, these games are incredibly similar, and there’s not necessarily a lot of newness in the Battlefield series with this latest iteration.
The single-player campaigns specifically, in both games, aren’t just mediocre, they really exist only because if EA and Activision were to release a wholly multiplayer entry into a major shooter franchise in the industry today, gamers would decry the products as being half-realized and lacking value. To not include a single-player version of the game is seen among developers and publishers as impossible, but it’s clear that they have no problem phoning in the offline aspects of their titles.
And it’s exactly the phone-it-in attitude that shows what’s wrong with today’s first-person shooter. The meteoric success of the genre as a whole and these franchises in particular has led us to a gaming climate in which players expect, and receive, a new Call of Duty every year with only minimal massaging, very little new creativity, and huge portions of the game that aren’t only forgettable, but completely unnecessary. Battlefield has it a little better, but obviously EA wishes it were in Activision’s shoes on this, and there are more than a few elements of Battlefield that ape the more successful CoD franchise. And while both games have polished their multiplayer modes so that even the turds shine, neither is bringing anything significant to the table. We’re treading water here, and have been for years.
Of course, it’s hard to argue with insane sales numbers and players who seem more than happy to line up out front of Game Stop or lay down Steam pre-orders for the same game repackaged once a year. And as long as we’re willing to do that — for whatever reason — there’s absolutely no reason for things to change. But I’m sure I’m not alone in saying the first-person shooter genre is quickly becoming (or long ago already became) quite boring. We’ve seen it all before, especially when it comes to these two huge franchises. Nobody at Activision or EA wants things to change. Expect to be right back here next year.
Follow Hornshaw on Twitter: @philhornshaw.