Thursday, November 10, 2011

...Let's Talk Shooters, Pt. 1


This was inevitable, so I'll make it as matter-of-fact and to-the-point as I possibly can. I'm going to list the things that made me praise Duke Nukem Forever so despite it being a universally panned, disappointing sequel to a true classic. There'll be something missing; something that should be second nature to a game like Duke Nukem Forever, but something not in the reasons I enjoyed the game enough to recommend it.

It was thoroughly varied - the levels where Duke is shrunk to foot tall going most of the way to making every level not only varied in location, but in scale, too. It was funny, with a biting satirical edge that mocked both other shooters and itself with equal glee. It was fun - though perhaps more importantly, had fun with itself, with a light-hearted tone that seemed to imply that, if nothing else, Forever was in it for the ride as much as the player was. And Duke Nukem himself, who was a hilarious and likable protagonist, for the simple reason that he was a cockhead, a egotistical motherfucker and a shit-throwing douchebag. Yes, somehow, that made me like his character more. His goddamn health was measured in "ego," it was too tongue-in-cheek not to love.

Did you see it? Did you catch what I didn't mention? Yeah, you know it. For all that Duke Nukem Forever did right by me, this first-person shooter had some utterly abysmal first-person shooting.


I've never thought I would have to justify my opinion on this game, guys. I always kind of thought that my review itself would cover that. It more or less does; unless you skip straight to the score, you'll see I basically cover the pros and cons while striving for as much objectivity as possible. Point of the matter is, I liked Forever because of its tone. Its writing. Its level design. It felt like a game out of the 90s in every single facet of its design except for the way the shooting handled. The shooting in Duke Nukem Forever barely rose above "functional," and at its worst times it was sluggish and plodding, barely holding up the game's thinly veiled narrative during the intermissions between the set-pieces and mini-games.

Why do I bring this up now? Because I'm going to have to start explaining to people, at one point or another, why I like Duke Nukem Forever more (on a numerical scale, anyway) than the two heavy-hitters of summer 2011 - Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. There are a bevy of reasons I'm avoiding these games, not the least of which being that their rabid fanbases will eat me alive if I dare speak my mind, but it would be a massive oversight if I didn't address this apparent double-standard I have. Yes, in the sordid little world that is my head, Duke Nukem Forever is better than Battlefield 3. Let that sink in for a moment. ...or don't, rather, lest you start seething with rage at the very concept.


Battlefield 3 is a faux-simulator. I can appreciate this. I've played Battlefield games before, I'm not a complete prude when it comes to this series. Battlefield 2 ranks as one of my favourite LAN games of all time, and I am rather fond of Bad Company 2's campaign, believe it or not. But as the years have gone by, I've not had time for Battlefield online. Doesn't mean I don't like the thing, of course. I have utmost respect for DICE, in their commitment to push gaming forward with innovative multiplayer features, a rendering engine that breaks mid-range PCs (not since Crysis' release in 2007 have I ever uttered those words, and that was four years ago), and a devotion to their craft that borders on artistic.

The singleplayer, I've heard, has to be treated as second-fiddle - or even third-fiddle - to the multiplayer. I don't accept that as an excuse for ignoring bad singleplayer. Frankly, if you sell a product that only does two-thirds of what you promise it will, your product was one-third a failure and I expect you to be called out on it. Lots of die-hard Battlefield fans have been proclaiming it doesn't matter that the singleplayer is balls, and while I can't attest to the quality personally, I will say that if it's true and the campiagn is a crock of shit, the game should be marked down for it. Regardless, I have no doubt that on the whole, Battlefield 3 is no doubt a wonderful, wonderful game, and if you like cutting-edge military hardware, helicopters, tanks, and jets, complex squad mechanics and games that, for the most part, push the envelope... I can definitely see how Battlefield 3 is the best game to come out this year for you. It's just that for me, Duke Nukem Forever is better.


When it comes to Modern Warfare 3, I have a lot of bile reserved. It's a copy-paste sequel to a game that was already a copy-paste sequel. It's in a position it frankly doesn't deserve to be in, possibly the most popular shooter to come out this year, selling like hotcakes despite putting in minimum to no effort on content. I applaud Activision for taking a risk. It's just, that risk was completely fucking over their goddamn customers. Let's get this straight - Modern Warfare 2 was worse than Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. It's okay though, Call of Duty 4 was a fucking masterpiece. However, Modern Warfare 3 is nothing but an derivative iteration of MW2, and so almost guarantees it will be worse. So far, the sources I trust (TotalBiscuit, Rock Paper Shotgun, Giant Bomb, etc.) have affirmed this.

Don't get me wrong, though. I loved Modern Warfare 2, within reason. I tended to avoid the multiplayer, but I spent ages in the singleplayer and co-op modes. It was a quick, casual shooter, where things you shot at tended to die without a whole lot of question and the presentation made up for a lot for its derivative debilitation. I enjoyed it an awful lot, but I (justifiably) didn't like its tone. Call of Duty 4 was more or less a Cold War thriller, full of meaningful statements about the devastation of nuclear war; packed with suspense and mystery surrounding its characters and settings. Jump forward two years and Modern Warfare 2 is basically directed by Michael Bay in comparison; it's full of pointless, pretty explosions, there's very exploitation-esque "look at this, it's edgy!!" scenes which were utterly tasteless, and still fell on deaf ears; oh, and unquestionably lame, try-hard James Bond-esque scenarios, like infiltrating mountainside snowbases, or busting out top priority prisoners with stupid callsigns from maximum-security gulags.


It basically got dumb. And I'm fine with "dumb". It's just that there's an audience out there who don't quite understand why they like the things they like. They know they liked Call of Duty 4, so they bought Modern Warfare 2. Fair enough, logical leap. By the time Black Ops came around, though, the singleplayer had fallen so far from grace it was nonsensical, and the multiplayer was the same shit as the last time around with an extra coat of paint. Fair trade, I suppose. But here's the clincher - that decline has continued. The singleplayer continues and expands upon the sheer, outlandish stupidity of Modern Warfare 2, and the multiplayer continues to be a shameless rehash of what came before! My real question isn't anything like "why is this popular," because I understand. I hate that it is popular, but that's because genuinely clever games get released all the time that deserve to be given the attention Call of Duty gets. It isn't about what Modern Warfare 3 deserves though, it's about what the returning customers deserve. And what they do not deserves is an overglorified, overpriced mappack that adds shit all and takes away everything that made the Modern Warfare brand so goddamn memorable.

I might sound vindictive or angry about this, and that's because I am. What Activision is attempting - and succeeding - to push down our throats is disgraceful, because they know it'll sell. You know why they charge $15 for Black Ops mappacks that add maybe two new maps? I'll tell you why. It's because they can. Their fanbase - who I don't hate, I just sort of... don't approve of - are enabling them to get away with this. They shouldn't be able to! The reasons I like Battlefield 3 for - that it pushes the envelope, that it's smart, that it treats its fans with respect and gives gaming as a whole a release it can be proud of - are the reasons I hate Modern Warfare 3. It pushes no envelopes. It's dumb. It treats its fans like cash-spewing, obsessed imbeciles, and frankly, I don't blame them. Call of Duty sits sour on my tongue, and combined with the fact that it still doesn't know what it wants to be - yeah. Yeah, I prefer Duke Nukem Forever, for sure! At least it demonstrated it was trying. At least it had an edge to it. At least it wasn't evil.


...so... that was a chore. It had to be said, though. They're my thoughts on the current, popular shooters. I won't be reviewing them. I won't be buying them. I probably won't even play them, unless I rent them for Xbox 360 or something, or someone gifts them to me. I guess the gist of my point is that Duke Nukem Forever is a light-hearted, fun game. It has horrible shooting mechanics, but that's not why I like shooters, for the most part. Their worlds, their stories... seeing things through a character's eyes; that's what it's all about. It's why I feel Portal 2 was so narratively compelling, that it was first-person, that your character was your character. That kind of has nothing to do with Duke Nukem Forever at all, but it is relatively apt - the shooting of first-person shooters is not why I'm in the market for them. It's the crusts, the fillings, the icing. Neither Battlefield 3 nor Modern Warfare 3 has the kind of baggage that appeals to me. Battlefield 3 is just too damn niche for its own damn good. It's an online military shooter. That's a fucking large niche, and niche that fits a million plus gamers, but it's still a niche. As for Modern Warfare 3... well, it just makes me more than a little bit furious.

So that's Duke Nukem Forever justified in the face of impending complaints. But alas, there is another contender to the throne Duke currently sits on, that for the fun, happy-time-yet-really-freaking-adult shooters. Duke currently sits atop because Bulletstorm fell at the first hurdle by being a sci-fi Gears of War-flavoured space marine shooter. It was aiming for the top, but it didn't make it. Wasn't jolly enough. Didn't make me laugh enough. Robot sidekick was neat, but "neat" doesn't shift opinions, Epic.


As I say, with all the ominous doom of some kind of lord of darkness, cloaked, wizard-sage-man: there is a challenger approaching. His name is Serious Sam. ...now, I can't talk for too long about Sam - I had planned to do Sam vs Duke in this little "ahhh first-person shooters today blahblahblah" opinion piece, but I took up the majority of this post by rambling about how I feel about Battlefield and Call of Duty. But I will say this - Sam knows how to fucking shoot properly.

I feel that there are so very few first-person shooters where the shooting itself adds to the atmosphere (not the sound effects, or the gun models, or the muzzle flare... I mean, like, the actual act of pulling the trigger and watching things go splat). Like I said, the atmosphere is often ancillary to the actual mechanics. They exist apart from each other; they complete each other, but they don't tend to meld, or even go as far as to justify each other's existences. Serious Sam 3: BFE is the long awaited next-installment in the phenomenally brilliant Serious Sam franchise. If Duke Nukem Forever's tone was lightly tongue-in-cheek, Serious Sam's tone is cranking up the heavy metal on the dodgy, garage sale-bought stereo, making sure everything has more than enough bullets, opening all the doors so the enemy can pour through, then pulling the trigger until everything has died/exploded/gibbed, or the gun goes click. Serious Sam 3 is currently my most anticipated FPS, and could possibly be my favourite pure shooter of all time, if it lives up to the massive pre-release hype. Believe me, oh believe me, I am betting on Sam. While most shooters I feel craft themselves around shooting, Serious Sam, well... is shooting. I can't fucking wait.

But... eurgh. At the end of the day, me on shooters? I'm not great with them. My opinions are ever-changing enigmas of cloud-like thoughts, even to myself. I can't say for certain that my disdain for military-flavoured shooters will be as prominent as it is now by the time the next Call of Duty arrives; I can't even say I'll buy another shooter again (except Half-Life 3, obviously). But nontheless, that's where I stand on the subject as of current. Duke Nukem Forever - I enjoy it for what it is, not for what it isn't, and I hope y'all can appreciate that. Battlefield 3, innovative and shiny. Modern Warfare 3, copy-pasted trite. And Serious Sam 3 will blow them all out of the water with its (unfortunately) unique brand of brain-off, bullets-on lead-flavoured justice. I'm crazy, that's for sure. But let it not be said that I can't put my braingoo into words with admirable gusto. Now get out of here, the lot of ya, I'm done for the night, and you can all just go away, and think about what I've just said. Lord. I need a drink.

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