The modern war shooter was one of the defining genres of the seventh generation (2005-2013) of video games. After the success of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, hardly a month passed without the release of at least one shooter starring a soldier battling terrorists, Russians, or terroristic Russians in today’s world. This saturation, as well as the increeasingly derivative visual and gameplay mechanics the games employ, has led to a backlash among some gamers against the genre. This backlash closely mirrors the backlash against World War II shooters, such as Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and Call of Duty, during the transition from sixth generation to the seventh. What’s the connection between these backlashes, and what lies ahead for the venerable first person shooter genre?
The Great War
World War II has long been a popular setting in video games. id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D launched the WWII (with a touch of sci-fi) FPS genre all the way back in 1992. The WWII era saw a few other outings on the original PlayStation, most notably in the Medal of Honor games. However, it wasn’t until 2002 and the smash success of EA’s Medal of Honor: Allied Assault that World War II became a major setting in the genre. The huge scale, varied environments, fun weapons, and many iconic battles such as the D-Day and Iwo Jima invasions, as well as the Battle of Stalingrad provided excellent material for video games. The flood of World War II shooters followed in the wake of Allied Assault’s success included Battlefield 1942, Deadly Dozen: Pacific Theater, Call of Duty, Red Orchestra, Day of Defeat, and Call of Duty 2, among many others.
This flood led to the backlash against World War II shooters within the gaming community during the transition between generations. Players grew bored of storming the same beaches and infiltrating the same secret installations with the same cast of characters, including a mute protagonist, a gruff squad leader, a private named “Baker,” and a deep-fried Southern rifleman all teaming up to take down an insane and evil Nazi/Japanese scientist before he can unleash his superweapon that would win the war for the Axis powers. The video game community made their displeasure known on forums and blogs, decrying the sameness of entries into the WWII genre. They called for the introduction of a new era in shooters, whether it be Vietnam, modern war, sci-fi, or further-out eras like the American Revolution, Civil War, or Napoleonic Wars.
A New Era
In 2007, the prayers of first-person shooter fans everywhere were answered with the launch of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Infinity Ward’s new game was a revolutionary leap forward for the genre and shooter fans alike. The focus on modern villains and threats made the game hit home and feel more grounded than its WWII precedents, while the multiplayer blew its rival’s console multiplayer out of the water. Following this success, other developers began to join in on the modern war party. Over the next few years, the Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Medal of Honor franchises dominated the Holiday release windows with their modern facelifts. The modern war shooter genre has stood at the top of the heap for the last 6 years, much like the WWII shooter before it.
However, like the WWII shooter, the Internet has begun a backlash against the “follow the leader” approach of military shooters. This backlash takes on many of the same tones as the previously elaborated backlash against WWII shooters – “Every game feels the same. I use the same two weapons to kill the same set of terrorists to stop the same nuclear missile in the nick of time. We want something original!” A brief look at forums, Facebook, Twitter, or the gaming blogosphere will show a great demand for new ideas in the shooter market. This deepening unrest points to a collapse in demand for modern shooters in the near future. We’re already beginning to see it, with the 2013 entries into the Call of Duty and Battlefield series selling significantly fewer copies than their predecessors. While some of this decline can be attributed to the launch of a new console generation splitting the market and, creating misleading numbers until after the launch of the new systems and holiday season, but some of it is attributable to the public’s boredom with the genre. Once the market completely falls out for modern shooters, what lies ahead for the FPS genre?
While the market may decline for modern military shooters, the demand for good shooters will remain. What era will define the shooter in the eighth generation of video games? While we can’t know for sure, we can definitely make some educated guesses as to what the next generation of shooters will bring us.
Science fiction seems like the most likely candidate to define the next generation of shooters, with the PS4 and Xbox One being home to some high-profile upcoming titles that look to redefine the genre. Most notably, the mech-heavy Titanfall looks like it could launch an entire new genre of games. Coming from the creative minds behind Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Titanfall has been receiving high praise at gaming conventions and in previews. If Respawn can bring Titanfall to the mainstream like they did with Call of Duty, we might soon see a new wave of science fiction shooters blowing up across the board. Other big titles that may drive this trend are DICE’s Star Wars: Battlefront, bringing us the huge scale and awesome space battles of the Star Wars universe, and Bungie Entertainment bringing their experience from the Halo series to their new IP, Destiny. Science fiction first-person shooters would also complete the pattern of the past few generation. The past (WWII) was represented in generation six shooters, the present (modern warfare) in generation seven shooters, and the science-fiction future very well could be the next big thing in generation eight.
Cyberpunk is a branch of science fiction that focuses on the earth’s near future and the potential consequences of the Information Age. Games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the upcoming Watch Dogs present fascinating visions of what our future may hold. Cyberpunk first-person shooters hold exciting gameplay potential in their gadgets and computers. The proliferation of combat drones would make for interesting choices in multiplayer, requiring you to ask yourself if you want to play a lightly armored drone operator who needs to find safe spots on the map to deploy from or a more combat-oriented build that stays in “meatspace” you know, love, or loathe. Awesome gadgets could also make a huge impact. Who wouldn’t want to fight using some kick-ass gadgets that manipulate the environment, slamming doors closed to protect an objective or opening a trapdoor to get the drop on a hapless opponent? Gamers stuck in the past, that’s who!
Another setting with ample amounts of potential is the steampunk shooter. The success of Dishonored and Bioshock Infinite and the hype surrounding The Order: 1886 point to the potential surge of the Steampunk shooter. This is the possibility that excites me the most. Just imagine epic multiplayer matches across a fleet of airships with clockwork machine guns and tanks or maybe close-quarter battles in steam-powered factories with the dangerous machinery providing environmental hazards while lightning-powered Tesla cannons flash back and forth.
“What if things had gone just a little differently?” is one of the biggest questions people have been asking each other for years. While usually the domain of novels, alternate history games have some serious potential. What would the world look like if the American Revolution had never happened? If France had won the Napoleanic Wars? If the Soviet Union had never fallen? What kind of wars would have happened then? These kinds of premises would allow developers a great deal of creative freedom in settings, technology, and awesome gameplay mechanics not yet experienced. As much as it pains me to say, I don’t think alternate history first-person shooters will take off as a defining genre, but a man sure can dream.
What do you think?
Those are just some of my thoughts on what may lie ahead, but the possibilities are endless. Are you feeling modern shooter fatigue? What setting or era do you want to see more of in first-person shooters moving forward? Tell us all about it in the comments below!