Last May, I lauded Brink for its attempts at throwing off some of the longstanding pitfalls of the shooter genre in an article titled "Brink and the Evolution of the Shooter." While the game was admittedly broken at launch, I admired the fact that it worked so hard to pull gamers away from their coveted KDRs (kill/death ratios) and focus on actual teamwork. I understood that Brink wasn't going to singlehandedly break the KDR habit, but felt it was merely a sign in the road to a more team-based shooter community. Well, it looks like soon we'll be seeing some more signs on that very same road.
First of all, and the most influential of these, is a major change announced for Modern Warfare 3: the removal of Killstreaks.
Killstreaks have been featured in every CoD game since the original Modern Warfare. These reward players for scoring multiple kills without dying. For example, in Black Ops, after three consecutive kills you can call in a spy plane, which exposes enemy players on the radars of everyone in your team. However, Modern Warfare 3 is getting rid of the Killstreak system in favor of something they're calling Strike Packages.
While customizing a loadout, players will have the option to select a "package." This determines how that player's points are tallied. The "Assault" package functions much like the old Killstreaks, granting special rewards for those with consecutive kills, and the "Specialist" package allows you to unlock perks by scoring kills.
However, it's the "Support" package that has the most drastic impact on the focus of CoD gameplay as a whole. Unlike the Killstreak system (and the Assault package), this one doesn't reset a player's score upon death. In objective-based game modes, this actually encourages players to take risks and accomplish objectives that help the team rather than just hiding in a corner to preserve that precious Killstreak.
For far too long, the heavy emphasis on Killstreaks (a feature that has been copied by several shooters since its introduction in Modern Warfare) has lead to a lone wolf style of gameplay. Instead of helping teammates, a player is far better off going at it alone, popping off opponents before teammates ever get the chance. It de-emphasizes the "Team" in "Team Deathmatch." But Modern Warfare 3's Support Strike Package attempts to bring that "Team" back—on a small scale, at least.
Brink tried as a brand new IP to bring some major shifts to the FPS landscape, but without the support of a rabidly loyal longtime fan base, it simply wasn't able to change too many minds. (And I'm sure the fact that the original trailer made it seem like a TDM game didn't help.) However, the Call of Duty franchise has the clout to bring these types of changes to the genre, and to even be heralded as a pioneer for doing so.
Another major title is coming this November that has also slightly tweaked its formula to encourage team play. Uncharted 3's multiplayer introduces the idea of "partners." At the beginning of a match, you get partnered up with another member of your team, and through the course of the match, you can help each other out. For example, opponents sometimes drop treasures that help you unlock various cosmetic options for your character, and your partner can pick up these treasures for you. Also, you and your partner can team up for two-person taunts over a fallen opponent, giving points to both players. Probably the most helpful benefit is that whenever you die, you have the option to respawn on top of your partner—even if you get separated, getting back together is easy.
Over the course of Uncharted 3's open beta, many players learned that sticking close to your partner is actually a very good strategy. Running off on your own isn't always the best choice, especially if your opponents are sticking close to their own partners. When you get yourself into these two-against-one situations, you can easily be overwhelmed and will most likely be killed.
Uncharted 3's partner feature has a tendency to encourage team play in a way that's far more organic and natural than Brink's refusal to show players their KDRs. If there's an intentional evolution in gameplay styles, it needs to be done this way. Players don't want to be forced to play a game in a way they're not comfortable with; instead, they need to be encouraged and rewarded for doing so.
And then there's the release of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. CS:GO is hitting PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 next year, and is even boasting cross-platform multiplayer. (My guess is that this cross-platform gameplay will remain exclusive to PCs and PS3s, similar to the way Portal 2 functions.) The Counter-Strike games have always had a heavier focus on teamwork, with objective game types being the main event. If console players embrace CS:GO, it could be a huge step in the move toward more team-centric playstyles.
My prediction: We're seeing several signs that the shooter genre is moving toward something a bit more teamwork-friendly. This change isn't going to happen overnight, but very subtly, and over a long period of time.
In a genre that constantly gets harped on about never bringing anything fresh to the table, signs of evolution are a huge breath of fresh air. Personally, I look forward to a day when I can hop online and be a part of a real team again.
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.*