Are Shooters Stagnant?

Gamers like shooting things in the face. Army men, aliens, criminals, hell anything that breathes. It’s satisfying to vent your frustrations by emptying countless numbers of bullets into something that’s trying to kill you right back. There’s been changes from these games over the years. Even looking through the history of the grand-daddy of them all, Wolfenstein, you can see a vast difference. Not to mention over the shoulder camera angles, authentic shooters like Battlefield, realistic shooters like ArmA and even shooters with RPG elements like the recently released The Division. But what’s next? Is there any innovation left in something so simple as see man, shoot gun?

There have been many on-going trends in shooters. Some stand out examples being setting, such as the obsession with World War 2, transitioning into Modern Day and now seems to have shifted again into Near Future and Science Fiction. These trends tend to be lead by the big hitters coming out with something new trying to shake things up, trying to be innovating and trying to stay relevant.

Now, the biggest thing seems to be adding elements from the RPG genre into shooters. Whether it be a progression system where you earn experience and level up, or loot explodes from enemies like their pockets were lined with dynamite that is triggered upon death. Is this really innovation, helping the genre from getting stale?

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Innovation is a hard thing to crack. You can’t account for innovation, you can’t control it or even force it. Innovation purely happens by smarter people than I designing games and being allowed to try and fail to figure out something new that benefits the game. It’s also hard to define, as a lot of the time things are done before. It’s like Gears of War. It’s hard to think of a cover-based shooter that did it as well as Gears did when it came out, and so people think of it as the first. Before Gears of War was released however, Kill.Switch did the same thing, and is generally forgotten (mainly because it wasn’t good.)

So is innovation the key to keeping things from stagnating? Is switching up the setting enough to keep people interested? At this point, shooters have touch seemingly everything, so is there anything more they can do? There’s something out there for everyone. You wanna kill bad guys with style and be rewarded for it? Bulletstorm is there. If you want to pretend you’re an infantryman with your buddies, the ArmA series is perfect. Killing terrorists? Tom Clancy has everything ranging from the interior assault focused Rainbow Six series, to the open field combat of Ghost Recon to the stealthy approaching Splinter Cell. It doesn’t take long to realise that these games are many, and they are all different, even though the bare bones premise is take gun, shoot bad man, make sure bad men don’t shoot you.

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With this variety, it could take a lot for a game to stand out from the rest, especially if it tries something new, or attempts something that has been tried but hasn’t quite hit the mark. Rumours are abound that the newest entry to the Battlefield Franchise, (supposedly out in the holiday of this year) may be going to a World War 1 setting. This could be an interesting take on the franchise, with a focus on trench warfare and tense engagements, rather than the gigantic land, sea and air battles of the most recent games. If it pulls it off, it could usher in a new slew of games that try out this time period, or try to bring back World War 2 era shooters that have been forgotten over the past 5 years. There are multiple Kickstarters for these, and there seems to be some demand for it, with the last successful release being Red Orchestra 2.

There’s even a market for an old school style of arena shooter. The indie title Devil Daggers is a pretty great little waved based shooter that feels and looks like Quake had a child in it’s old age. It’s tough, it’s fast and it’s reminiscent of shooters of the 90’s and early 2000’s. Integrated with leaderboards, you play for a couple of minutes before you’re overwhelmed and you’re done. Is this the type of shooter that could innovate most? A small title that’s just trying something new? Like SuperHot, where time only moves when you do. A brand new way to play a shooting game where time is both on your side and against you, and you have time to make decisions about how to proceed next, knowing the next time you move you could be dead.

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These indie titles understand that shooters can seem a bit bland, boring and the same, as much as we can argue that Battlefield, Call of Duty and Halo all feel different, from the outside observer there’s not much that could be called unique in each of them. If you take one look at Devil Daggers, SuperHot and Call of Duty side by side however, and it’d be hard to call them the same.

There’s arguments both for and against this rut the shooter genre seems to be in. Whether it’s open world, RPG features or just a near-future setting, a lot of the big titles seem to follow a set pattern. The next leader of the new pattern has yet to rear it’s head, and it’s difficult to tell what that new thing might even be. Perhaps it’s time to break that pattern, and let these big companies try and innovate. If the indie can, why can’t the big guys? Let them free, let them innovate. More importantly, let them find new and exciting ways for me to shoot bad guys in the face.

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