At some point in our single-player gaming, we’ve all played at least one modern combat shooter- be it the gargantuan franchises of Call of Duty, Battlefield and Medal of Honour, or the comparatively lesser ones such as Conflict and Rainbow Six. While these games usually focus on the multiplayer audience, they do provide some content for single-players in a campaign mode and sometimes a few horde modes. Traditionally, the plots of these games’ campaigns has been very wooden and generic, closely following a basic formula:
Terrorist wants to attack a Western country, unique team of bro shooters dispatched to stop terrorist, bro shooters succeed.
These stories are generally very rinse-and-repeat, basic in most respects. Call of Duty: Black Ops is one of the few modern combat shooters that has a clever, unexpected twist. With a clear focus on action, however, story-telling is often limited to suit the adrenaline junkie audience. This is obvious in instances that are supposed to be emotional but often come out very course and uncaring, awkwardly trying to skip past too much in-depth story to arrive at the next explosive scene, chock-full of QTEs. For example, there is a moment in Battlefield 3 in which a few squad members are killed by a Russian jet attack. The surviving characters show visual upset, but as a player, we’ve had very little ‘bonding time’, as it were, with the deceased soldiers, thrown out in favour of extra combat scenarios. I, personally, didn’t even know the names of the dead characters, showing how the game made me unattached to their fate.
But now, with the next generation dawning, perhaps single-players who favour story might like to pick up these titles once again. Infinity Ward and DICE spokespeople have both reported that their next respective entries to the popular franchises will have more emotional connection. Patrick Bach, Battlefield’s executive producer, feels that they are “more confident with the multiplayer than the single-player”, while expressing “we wanted to make single-player more ‘Battlefield'”. To do this, he suggests the development team merged multiplayer elements with the single-player, “the feeling of choice, teamplay and variety”. Lars Gustavsson, director of Battlefield 4 says that their new Frostbite 3 engine will allow “better interactivity” with characters. The game hopes to improve “everything from how they react to you, to how we build our characters, how we build our dialogue”. An upgrade on writing and character quality in Battlefield 4 sounds refreshing. Even from the reveal gameplay, in which a character is freed from rubble by having his limb amputated, we can see clearly that DICE is wanting the player to feel responsibility for the ills and achievements of their comrades.
Furthermore, with Call of Duty: Ghosts, writer Steven Gaghan (known for his work on Traffic and Syrannia) too desires to present an emotionally connected experience. He says Infinity Ward wanted “emotional reality” where “characters feel real”. Daniel Suarez, vice president of production, confirms this by saying “the characters in [the] squad all have a different way to interact with you as the player”. The game’s trailer shows slower paced scenes and features a more grim, eerie outlook on the world of Call of Duty. The technology certainly betters the immersion of the environment, which will heighten the believability of the storyline. While the franchise has attempted to do the same thing, story-wise, time and time again (showing off the involvement of the Black Ops 2 writer in The Dark Knight Rises in many trailers proves this), it seems this installment might have hit the nail on the head, regardless of jokes surrounding the four-legged friend.
So, will modern combat shooters have a more original, connected story now? Hopefully. Will they still be bursting with action? Probably. Perhaps the best of both worlds will meet in the latest FPS games, or perhaps story will still be neglected and overshadowed by action-based gameplay. One thing is certain- the developers go where the money lies. And, right now, the Hollywood action fans and multiplayer gamers are coughing up the most in sales reports. Hopefully, this will be challenged.