For almost a decade, Call Of Duty has reigned supreme as the First Person Shooter king of the hill. Ever since 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the series has dominated the marketplace with its explosive, fever-pitched campaigns and compelling cycles of multiplayer combat. Its success has shaped the industry beyond recognition, forced rivals to adhere to similar gameplay structures, and spawned multiple homogenized copycats which have never quite achieved the same rate of success.
As with anything in pop culture, once something gains a large amount of traction, the detractors flick out their switch blades and wait for the moment to strike. Call Of Duty has seen its fair share of hate over the years, but nothing quite on the scale as the general distaste directed at the announcement of Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare. At the time of writing, the Infinite Warfare trailer is the second-most disliked video on YouTube, just behind Justin Bieber’s single “Baby”. Whilst it’s a valid criticism that Call of Duty’s leap into space might be considered to be “jumping the shark”, as is the prevailing argument online, would players rather see another modern/near future game in the series? In terms of sales figures, while the series still sells very well, Call of Duty has been on a slow and steady decline since 2011. Meanwhile, the general apathy surrounding recent COD games in the gaming press and online since Call of Duty: Ghosts is difficult to ignore.
Given that large swathes of the gaming population seem to be less interested in the series at the moment, the time seems right for something else to step into the fold. The general buzz surrounding the Battlefield 1 announcement suggests that gamers are eager for something different, even if they are only reaching as far as Battlefield; a long-standing direct competitor to COD. The fact that Battlefield 1 is set during World War 1 seems to be a major point of interest, even though the announcement trailer is packed full of the in-your-face bombast and explosions we’ve to come to expect from a modern shooter, regardless of the time period.
Battlefield does not seem like a total solution for those sick of Call Of Duty, although EA and DICE would welcome that narrative. But if people are interested in a new experience, what else is out there that can capitalize on that hunger?
Doom is a good example of a FPS that caters to a different audience. While it is undoubtedly a violent thrill-ride, this reboot of the grand-daddy of shooters offers something much more unique in this day and age, and it achieves this by looking back at its predecessors. Doom harkens back to an era before loadouts, experience levels and regenerating health. The speed of the game is a step up from the military shooters we’ve been saturated with in recent years, making the single player a fast and furious thrill ride (although the multiplayer is unable to fully embrace this). The critical reception and enthusiasm surrounding the game suggests that people are ready for differently-paced experience; something that revels in slapstick violence and allows players to get stuck in. Speaking to Time Magazine, Doom’s co-director Marty Stretton states that the guiding principle behind the game’s design is to “make it fun”. As opposed to the swathes of shooters we’ve had that focus on realism, grounding their action in militaristic worlds, Doom embraces elements that don’t make a lot of sense in reality. Jump pads, health pick ups, and no reloads are decidedly old-school design choices, but re-purposed for a new generation.
With the release of Homefront: The Revolution, developers Dambuster Studios have created, by most accounts, a flavorless shooter that tries to emulate other established franchises in the genre such as Far Cry. However, Dambuster Studios (formed from Crytek’s buyout of Free Radical Design) have suggested that perhaps the market is ready for more old-school experiences again. In a recent interview, when questioned about the possibly of a return to the Timesplitters franchise, studio director Hasit Zala implied that the market might be on the verge of a major shift.
“I think what you start to see over time, is that many gamers get IP fatigue,” explains Zala.
“We’re starting to see people wanting different styles of gameplay [in shooters] and I think the great thing is, as time goes on, opinions change and the fashion changes within gaming culture.
“You look at a game like Overwatch, I think that’s a really good example of something that eight years ago, with that art style, within the shooter genre, could have run into the same problems TimeSplitters 3 faced.”
Perhaps the upcoming release of Overwatch is a sign of the times. E-sports are big business these days, and yet in recent years, the prize money has been centralized around RTS games like StarCraft and MOBAs such as League of Legends and DOTA2. Shooters have been left behind in this regard, despite professional gaming really starting to become a trend back in the late 90’s with the likes of Quake III and Unreal Tournament. Developers have recognized this and, this year alone, three new shooters are being released with this aspect in mind.
Battleborn and Paragon look set to try and bridge the gap between shooters and MOBAs, while Overwatch looks like a Team Fortress 2-style character shooter with team-based tendencies. All of these appear to be fresh takes on the shooter genre, emphasizing team work strategies and smart character selections, as opposed to the twitch-based feedback loops of COD and Battlefield. It’s no accident that these games are also much more vibrant in their colour schemes and character designs; moving away from the drab industrial housings of recent shooters, and moving towards more surreal, cartoony characters and environments more often seen in MOBAs. In Overwatch, playable characters are called “heroes” and feature larger-than-life designs such as ninjas, cowboys, grim reapers and DJs. The military colonels and crew cuts we’ve been used to are getting pushed to the side.
Nowhere is this design change more apparent than in Nintendo’s first and only foray into the FPS genre; Splatoon. Being a Nintendo game, Splatoon is a vivid cacophony of colour, where your sole objective is to paint the environment in the style of your chosen team. It’s a fun and family-friendly abstraction of the genre, and it proved to be the most successful new IP from Nintendo since Wii Sports.
The appetite is definitely there for new experiences within the FPS bracket. While there will no doubt continue to be a place in the market for military shooters, the signs are there that gamers want something different, and the industry is making moves to cater to that demand. In the years to come, we may start to see more Splatoons, Dooms and Overwatches; games that aren’t simply rehashes of realistic military shooters; games that aren’t afraid to deviate from the norms that have dominated the last console generation. Activision might have to give up some of its market share, but there’s a potentially bright future ahead.