I've stated a few times before that the shooter genre is repeating itself. (There are examples here and here.) This is something fans of the genre, when truly being honest with themselves, have to admit. Sure, there are variations on the formula; you can shoot aliens or you scan shoot Nazis or you can shoot zombies or you can shoot mutants or you can shoot enemy soldiers. You can shoot from first-person perspective or third-person perspective. Some games feature cover, and others don't. Some games let you take out an enemy with a single grenade (like the Call of Duty games) and others feel insta-kill grenades unbalance a game (like Brink). However, there is still a basic formula that all these games follow.
Still, there has been innovation in the shooter genre over the years, and there is innovation in the future of the genre as well. Most obviously, graphics keep getting better. People are drooling over Battlefield 3 and its Frostbite 2 engine's beautiful destructibility. But there are a few other interesting twists on the basic formula that we'll be seeing grace our consoles in the near future.
First of all, Starhawk brings RTS elements into the genre, allowing players to erect structures for more tactical gameplay. This makes for ever-changing battlefields, since players are constantly building and destroying walls and buildings. I actually imagine a future where this type of gameplay could be expanded upon a la Minecraft, where even shovelfuls of sand could be moved. You could dig trenches and build retaining walls or hills to provide vantage points.
Another interesting twist is Inversion, which does some almost Mario Galaxy-ish things with gravity. You can take cover behind an object, only to find your enemies are actually walking on the wall above you or even on the ceiling. In turn, you can mess with gravity to lift cars off the ground or leave enemies floating helplessly in the air.
So you can't really say shooters will always just be the same. But even so, there is an undeniable stagnation in the genre, where too many games simply try to copy and paste the Call of Duty formula. I love Black Ops, as I've said elsewhere, but in a sense, it holds back other games from trying to do anything unique. While I do admit that Modern Warfare 3 is taking a very healthy step in the right direction (making objectives matter again, at least in a small way) it's not enough to make the shooter genre feel fresh.
And I understand the problem has a lot to do with money. Video game companies need to make money, and if making Call of Duty clones is a way to make money, that's what these companies are going to do. It's just unfortunate that we don't get to see any truly innovative games coming out.
Wait. That's not true at all, is it?
As I pointed out in an earlier column, the indie game scene is thriving. Minecraft has sold over three-and-a-half million copies and is getting its own con. Indie dungeon crawler Torchlight has passed one million sales and is prepping an expansive sequel. This summer's Humble Indie Bundle raised over two million dollars, even though gamers were able to choose how much to pay for the bundle (and the average donation from cheap PC users was under $4.) In fact, it did so well that a new Humble Indie Bundle has just recently launched.
When gamers get tired of the same old shooter over and over, they look for something interesting and unique. I think the fact that the indie scene is doing so well is at least partially due to the fact that stale repetitive shooters are dominating the market. The oversaturation of the shooter market has sent many gamers into the loving arms of the indie game world.
And this is not a bad thing. Indie games need to exist, and they need to keep providing unique experiences. They're not outselling Call of Duty, but they're here to provide a Call of Duty alternative.
In fact, some indie developers have even pointed to this fact as inspiration for their own games. Cockroach Inc., the guys behind the claymation point-and-click masterpiece The Dream Machine, are fairly vocal in their ennui with the samey samey Call of Duty clones out there. They've claimed that one of their inspirations for taking their game in such a radically unique direction was that they wanted it to stand out from the thick crowd of far-too-similar shooters. Anders Gustafsson, Game Designer on the project, has said: "When I see screen shots of Call of Halo or Medal of Duty, I can't tell which game is which. They're getting more faceless and interchangeable." They've even released satirical screenshots of what The Dream Machine would look like as a shooter, just for fun.
If shooter stagnation is pushing indie developers to think outside the box, then it's not all bad, right?
My prediction: Shooters are fun, but they sometimes wear out their welcome. However, as one genre stagnates, others have the ability to push gaming ahead in new and innovative ways. The shooter will always be the shooter, but indie games will continue to be there for us when we get tired of endless repetition and thirst for something new and interesting.
Where stagnation abounds, creativity does much more abound.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*