It’s been kind of long time since I actually enjoyed a single-player campaign. Over the last few years I’ve become more and more of a Multiplayer guy, playing a select few games with friends or even strangers, but barely anything without a human element.
That’s not to say I don’t try. I have an ever-increasing pile of unfinished games that have been tossed aside after a couple of weeks of me trying to force myself to enjoy them. It’s always the same pattern too – I read/hear about a game, it’s the next big amazing thing so I buy it and start playing it, only to play less and less and eventually stop altogether, usually before the halfway point. My most recent disappointment was Bioshock Infinite, a game which is, by all accounts, a really great game. I gave it a real shot, but I never really felt drawn into the story and it wasn’t long before I began to find it boring, bland and repetitive.
I may just be a joyless cynic allergic to happiness, but I think it’s more than that. And if you hit the jump, I’ll tell you why.
No Risks, No Innovation
Think of the last game you played that truly blew your mind. A game that completely shattered your perceptions of a genre, it was not at all what you expected and it changed the way you would look at that type of game forever.
The last one I can remember truly having that kind of profound effect on me was the original Modern Warfare, released back in 2007.
Before, basically every successful military shooter gave you bayonets and rusty carbines with wooden stocks. Think of Battlefield, of the Call of Duty series – all the major players knew that what gamers really wanted was raw combat with iron sight rifles, rattling machine guns and muddy trenches.
Then came Infinity Ward, back when Infinity Ward was awesome. The original Modern Warfare took a major risk – they dropped the World War themes and moved the combat into current times. They didn’t go over-the-top either; no railguns and plasma rifles and head-mounted lasers, just modern weaponry with modern attachments. The story was adapted accordingly – it wasn’t Nazis and the Japanese anymore; it was Russian terrorists and nuclear warfare.
They didn’t just change the setting – perks and kill streaks were introduced, which today are commonplace. Every Call of Duty game since has had them, and several other shooters have adopted them as well.
I clearly remember being absolutely blown away. The gameplay was dynamic and exciting, the quick-time events really sucked you in and the story, shallow as it may be, was interwoven with the action beautifully. I would tell anyone who listened that they absolutely had to buy the game, and I was addicted to the Multiplayer long after I’d finished the campaign.
Of course, you all know what happened next. Modern shooters became the standard, and today every single new release follows that formula. Call of Duty tried to regress with their next title, World at War, but people wanted more contemporary action and Activision hasn’t made that mistake again. Black Ops 1 and 2, Modern Warfare 2 and 3 and even the Battlefield franchise all dumped their bolt-action snipers in favour of fully-automatic red-dot assault rifles, and you can bet Call of Duty: Ghosts will be more of the same.
Publishers today are so afraid of deviating from the current standard that they forget it was a deviation from the norm that made Modern Warfare such a success in the first place. Of course, in five years time we’ll probably have World War 2 make a comeback.
Game development moves in cycles, and the current flavour of the week is zombies. I think it all began with the zombie mode in World at War, which proved far more popular than the game itself. This was quickly followed by the Left 4 Dead series, and the rest is history. Sure, zombie games existed before. But now it seems like 50% of original IP over the last couple of years are more damned zombie games. The Dead Island series, the Walking Dead series, Day Z, War Z, ZombiU, The Last of Us, State of Decay, the list goes on. Hell, even Red Dead Redemption had a zombie DLC, and that’s a frikken Western.
This crop of new zombie games is even more depressing when you consider how little new IP is actually being created. The majority of the big releases of this year are all going to be sequels, just another instalment in whatever bankable franchise the publisher is willing to spend money on. Let’s look at what are/were arguably the most anticipated releases of this year: Dead Space 3, Crysis 3, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Tomb Raider, SimCity, God of War: Ascension, StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, Gears of War: Judgment, Bioshock Infinite, Metro: Last Light, Remember Me, The Last of Us, Company of Heroes 2, Saint’s Row IV, Splinter Cell Blacklist, GTA V, Batman: Arkham Origins, Call of Duty: Ghosts.
That’s a whopping 18 blockbuster titles for 2013, all of which would be tough to argue aren’t big releases. Of those, only 2 are not from a pre-existing IP, and one of them is a damned zombie game.
Do you see why I’m bored? I can’t possibly bring myself to play another zombie game, another modern military shooter, another sequel; none of it appeals to me. Why then, are we getting so much re-heated crap and so little truly innovative new IP? Why can’t we have nice things? It’s always the same reason, and you already know what I’m going to say.
Money, Money, Money
Games cost money. A lot of money. An absurd amount of money actually. The last Call of Duty title, Black Ops 2, made a preposterous $1 billion in just 15 days – 2 days faster than Avatar did.
Because of this, publishers don’t want to take chances. When development costs alone are in the tens of millions of dollars, you want something bankable, something reliable. If you write “Call of Duty” on a boxed turd it means bonuses all round. These high-profile games basically sell themselves, so why mess around with new IPs that may or may not make money.
To be honest, you can’t really blame them. This stuff sells, which means people like myself, people who are bored of franchise games and “safe” AAA titles are in the minority. Most of the target market is probably clamouring for a new Call of Duty game, buying it on day one and having a blast with it.
The thing is, these games aren’t even bad. There’s a lot of talented people and a lot of money behind these titles, so games like Bioshock Infinite and Call of Duty are going to turn out to be actual good games.
They’re also just, to me, really really boring as well.
We see the exact same thing in the movie industry. Comic book movies are the current flavour, and studios are just going to keep creating them until people stop going to watch them. There’re around 10 comic book movies in production right now that you probably don’t even know about. Don’t worry, the trailers will be along shortly.
There’s not a single game release this year that I’m actually excited for, and that’s a really sad confession to make. Is anyone else fed up with the status quo, or do you see old IP as something you can count on enjoying? Chat to me in the comments, I’d like to hear both sides.