Shooter Special Part 2: My Violent (Virtual) Past
As long as I’ve been playing videogames I have enjoyed shooting stuff, but in recent months the squeeze of the virtual trigger has lost some of its allure, with even personal mainstays like Battlefield 3 failing to draw my attention, and other big shooter releases leaving me cold.
This isn’t the first time this has happened – my enjoyment and engagement with this most pervasive of gaming past-times has been cyclical, swinging wildly from rabid, all consuming obsession to utter indifference in a pattern that, curiously, doesn’t always seem to be related to the quality (apparent or otherwise) of the games I was playing at any given time. With this in mind, I decided to take a look back at my own history of (virtual) gun-based ultraviolence, picking out defining titles to see if any conclusions can drawn or answers found.
There was a game I adored on the ZX Spectrum called Zig Zag in which you attempted to corner a spindly-legged, spherical creature in roughly hewn 3D maze. Following a crazed pursuit you inevitably trapped ‘it’ in a dead-end, at which point the poor thing would gawp out of the screen at you , fear-filled eyes locked on the muzzle of the laser cannon jutting from the bottom of the screen, first person shooter-style. At this point your choices were severely limited – you could squeeze trigger and blast him square in the chops or you could wait for a while…then blast him squarely in the chops. This was my first introduction to the world gun-based ultraviolence in video games.
For a long time after this, my enjoyment of videogame-gunplay followed a steady upwards curve, with each evolutionary step and each new generation of consoles supplying titles that further cemented my love of the genre. The first game that really delivered the type of first-person thrills that are now so prevalent in modern-gaming was Doom (note: Wolfenstein passed me by). Shotgun in hand, ID Software’s classic brought brutal and bloody combat to life as you skulked around futuristic corridors with your index-finger hovering over your mouse waiting to unleash a a head-exploding blast from your shotgun. It was immersive, gripping, dripping with tension and gloriously violent.
The next revelation came in the form of Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64. Shooting Russian soldiers in the limbs and witnessing their varying reactions was hugely entertaining in and of itself – couple this with a swathe of meaty, interesting and powerful weapons and some excellent stealth mechanics and the results was a shooting spree that revelled in the thrill provided of squeezing a virtual trigger while placing you squarely in the shoes of Bond…James Bond. The multiplayer was also a mouth-frothing celebration of ballistics, with each player inevitably having their favourite armament, and each and every kill coming with a giddy sense of empowerment.
Skip forward a generation, and I arrived at Halo – which (just as suggested by the title) delivered an evolution in combat. With it’s sprawling maps, an eclectic mix of vehicles, cunning enemy AI and a selection of weapons to make even the most dour of space-marines salivate, Halo expanded the possibilities of gun based-ultraviolence even further, becoming the thinking mans shooter and a template for the future of the genre.
The final significant evolution of my love of shooting stuff came in the form of the DICE’s Battlefield series, which I have adored ever since Battlefield 2. Possibly more so than any other, this series that has devoured a frightening large amount of my time, instilling obsession in its wonderfully nuanced gameplay and the near endless of variety in the ways in which to kill your foes.
At the core of all of the above is the most simple of premises, that can be neatly summarised in four words: Bang! Bang! Shoot! Shoot!. Though they all have their own takes on this and they all expand upon it in a variety of ways, the visceral thrill of firing a gun is what makes you pick up the joypad; the rest is garnish on top of the ultraviolent salad.
And yet, despite the simple directness of this theme and the hours (no, days! weeks! months! years!) of enjoyment that virtual guns have supplied me, its interesting that running and gunning is a formula that doesn’t always succeed in keeping me entertained, often inspiring little more than indifference. This seemed to peak in 2012. I found E3 2012’s pre-occupation with guns and gunplay (and generic ultraviolence) all very tiresome, and found myself remarking to a colleague that ‘if I have to see one more video of someone being shot in the face I’ll scream’. Even the mighty Battlefield has lost its sheen -and I don’t mean this as any sort of criticism of the game itself (Battlefield 3 is a magnificent game accomplishment) – but the fact is that I’ve just got a little bit bored of it. The same rings true with the Call of Duty series – each instalment might be more shocking, more violent, better looking, more fully featured that the last, but…whatever.
The lack of enthusiasm I was experiencing for Battlefield made me think that I’d reached a turning point in my appreciation of games; that I’d outgrown Bang! Bang! Shoot! Shoot! That my gaming brain had had it’s fill. This theory that was backed up by Gears of War 3 and Max Payne 3 – both heavy hitters in the gun-play stakes, both of which left me cold.
Despite the above, it turns out I’m not bored of shooting in games, as my time with Warhammer 40, 000: Space Marine revealed. Somehow, this mostly utterly generic title managed to stir up that old passion again and had me shouting ‘Have some!’ at the screen as bullet-rounds ripped through on-screen targets, even though it does little to differentiate itself from the rest or the best of the genre. Mechanically it is essentially a linear series of shooting galleries and thematically it’s the usual testosterone-overdosed lunk-heads with big-ass machine guns. In short, from a gameplay perspective there is no readily apparent reason why I should find this so entertaining and Marcus Fenix’s latest adventure so dull.
No reason, that is, except that I have a long standing love for the Warhammer universe having been an avid fan table-top wargamer as a teen, a fact that imbued the whole experience with an added level of engagement. The game itself might be technically run-of-the-mill, but being able to stomp about as ultramarine taking on hordes of orks, Demon’s of Khorne and Chaos Marines was all the motivation I needed to keep on firing for the game’s entire eight-to-ten hour run time.
This leads me to the conclusion that the degree of indifference I experienced when playing (amongst others) Max Payne 3, the Halo sequels, Gears of War 3 and, more recently Battlefield 3, is in a large part due to my over-familiarity with/waning interest in their settings. Though in each case the act of firing a gun was perfectly well realised, I found it hard to invest in their worlds which in turn diminished my enjoyment of the core gameplay.
So, it would seem that – for me – when it comes to shooters context is every bit as important as the machinations and/or production values of any given game. Maybe this is an inevitability when building interactive entertainment around a template as simple as Bang! Bang! Shoot! Shoot!?
This feature appears courtesy of www.gametaroo.com
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