Bringing Knives to the Gunfight
In this line of work you don’t have to look far to see someone sticking the knife in, berating another for daring to like console shooters. So what? Games like Battlefield and Call of Duty are great for just kicking back and enjoying the sight of men and women shooting each other with big guns after a long, hard day at work.
It’s raw escapist nonsense at its best, and sometimes you want to be funnelled down a corridor to engage predictable AI in a relatively mindless skirmish, while other times you want to be more alert and earn the satisfaction that comes with winning a Battlefield match through sheer teamwork and communication.
”If you’re a shooter fan in general terms – never mind a staunch Call of Duty or Battlefield follower – then you’re a winner as far as I’m concerned. You really are spoilt for choice, and you were most certainly not a loser for publicly admitting you preferred one series over the other.”
What’s incredible is how both of these franchises together have helped popularise the notion of online multiplayer. Infinity Ward’s progression mechanic in Call of Duty 4 really did start a trend of experience gain and well-paced unlocks in online shooters that has endured to this day. It wasn’t the first to offer unlocks and XP of course, but you’d be kidding yourself if you said that it wasn’t a format that was copied within an inch of its life by other companies since 2007. Oh and Prestige mode is everywhere now. Just saying.
I had never really played online shooters before Call of Duty 4 came out on Xbox 360, and from that point I was on the bloody thing ever night after work for about a year solid. I was hooked on just how insane the action would become during the height of battle, the satisfaction that came with slotting an enemy with a sweet shot and the social experience of playing with friends. It was new and exciting as I was never much of a PC gamer before that, having missed out on the Quake 3: Arena and Unreal Tournament craze.
In DICE-land, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is up there with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 as one of my favourite online shooters because of that social online element. Before I started working on VG247 I was living down south working at my first job in the gaming press. It was a pretty daunting time, having moved for a pay-cut and never really knowing if I’d ever make it back to Scotland or not. But I knew that every Friday night at around 8pm, I’d jump on Bad Company 2 to play with my friends back home.
We’d fire up our Xbox 360s, form a squad and catch up with each other as we shot our opponents to bits while levelling entire maps to the ground. We laughed, got mad at each other’s ineptitude and played game after game until we noticed it had turned 4am. Oops.
The idea that Call of Duty and Battlefield games are full of puerile kids being homophobic, sexist little shits is valid to a point, but that’s not the experience I take away from these games. These have always been social sessions that bring fun and hilarious banter in droves.
”This regular production line of annual shooters can get tiring, especially when all of the games start to look too similar. It’s all about franchised nature of the triple-a sector, with its rotating releases, big spends and lowered capacity for radical financial risk.”
Away from those personal memories, it’s incredible just how influential this form of multiplayer has become. You often see other shooters pinching mechanics or little ideas from Battlefield or Call of Duty, and they both routinely inform each other on a yearly basis.
DICE’s destruction mechanic – like Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer component – is another big deal that saw many studios trying to ramp up the dynamic mayhem in their games. It was utterly game-changing in the first Bad Company, and simply exploded from there.
While I felt Battlefield 4’s destruction didn’t result in the same level of carnage that I enjoyed in Bad Company 2, you can’t honestly say it doesn’t look even a shade impressive. It all goes back to that dynamic experience, and the idea that we’re no longer passive consumers of on-screen action. We’re now the orchestrator, the person that makes those buildings topple, or those vehicles explode, rather than having our scripted protagonist do it for us.
That’s empowering and it comes not from a sheer plan to one-up the efforts of Activision and the Call of Duty franchise, but from the collective pooling of influences, ideas and talent that both franchises have brought to the industry over the last ten years. Like I said at the start; there are no winners or losers in this race, because we’re all benefiting from those innovations and that desire to make the best shooter possible.
Sure, this regular production line of annual shooters can get tiring, especially when all of the games start to look too similar. I get and respect that, I really do. It’s all about franchised nature of the triple-a sector, with its rotating releases, big spends and lowered capacity for radical financial risk. It’s not entirely bad when you view it as a way for DICE and Activision’s teams to refine and hone their craft to the point where we’re guaranteed a solid, dense and competent shooter year-in, year-out. These aren’t terrible games, even if they sometimes feel over-familiar.
But who knows, perhaps both of these brands will inspire the next two big shooters destined to lock horns over the next ten years? Maybe it’ll be Halo 6 versus Titanfall 2, or something we’ve not even seen or considered yet? It’s a cyclical genre that goes through trends, so I’m sure World War 2 shooters will return to style once the near-future settings have dried up, but as an FPS fan you can always depend on the constant; that there will always be new, quality shooters out there to look forward to.
I firmly believe we owe a lot to Call of Duty and Battlefield in that regard, like or loathe them. They may not be around forever, but you can be sure their legacy will be felt throughout gaming for decades to come.