The brilliance of the sun blinded us all as we emerged from the bombed-out subway system for the first time in days. It had been a hard trek to get to what had been supposed as a largely undefended strategic outpost, the capture of which would aid us immensely in our campaign. The base was exactly where, and in the condition, that we had expected, but it transpired that appearances were deceiving. An eagle-eyed guard spotted one of our scouts and the station was suddenly a hive of activity, and we were forced to take up our arms as enemy forces poured from the heavily fortified gate. Our infantry, including myself, took up our weapons, firing with reckless abandon in the belief that our information was correct and their numbers were few.
It seemed that for each of their number that fell beneath the hail of our bullets, another rushed out. The minutes drew out, our barrels growing hot and our ammunition supplies quickly dwindling, but we hooked in. Not a lot of time had passed before some us began to cry out in consternation as they discovered that they were completely out of bullets, and with no other options and no backup, those of us that still could pushed forward. As a single entity, we raced toward the gate that continued to spew out the twisted hateful faces of our enemies. It was a hectic, dangerous environment, but we reached the gate and, as we did, the flow of enemies seemed to stop almost as though someone had flicked a switch in the cosmos that saw them suddenly run out of reinforcements. Once within the walls, it was almost child’s play to take the compound, and it signalled the turning of the fortunes of our army.
The preceding anecdote is not drawn from any particular game that I’ve played, but the goal of it is to draw attention to what I perceive as a very serious flaw that permeates the campaign of just about every military-based shooter of recent times. That’s not to say that it is exclusive to that genre, but certainly most prevalent within it. What I’m referring to is a design shortcut that is used to ramp up the challenge in high-tension moments, but ultimately winds up doing little more than being a grand frustration for more cautious players like myself. It is the obscenely common idea of endless amounts of respawning enemies, the tide of which can only be shut off by advancing to a trigger point somewhere within the throng.
In its barest sense, the mechanic appears to be largely derived from the thrills of multiplayer, in which players are able to be constantly within the action, be they dealing or absorbing damage. It facilitates the competitiveness of the multiplayer scene by not excluding anyone and also by allowing the much sought after Kill/Death ratio to rise to phenomenal heights, provided the player is of a high enough skill level. In many ways, within this multiplayer area, it exemplifies the always-on/instant gratification mentality that seems to permeate gaming, and it is for this very reason that Deathmatch and related game modes are so immensely popular.
Unfortunately, this same high-octane, adrenaline-seeking type of gameplay isn’t the kind that is most often sought after by players that prefer to enjoy campaigns almost exclusively, such as myself. I daresay that such players enjoy their games in a similar manner to myself and move through the scripted levels cautiously, conserving ammunition and keeping damage incurred as minimal as possible as a result. For me, first person shooters are often treated with the mentality of a sniper, with the enemies being completely cleared out with carefully controlled bursts of fire before even daring to peek forward. Thankfully, this tactic often works and although it must raise the eyebrows of those that enjoy ploughing through their games like an ’80s action hero, there must be some readers that share my tendencies.
Bearing this in mind, it should become immediately obvious as to why I find the idea of a constant supply of enemies an appalling prospect. It forces players to adopt a brute force approach of diving gleefully into the fray. For all that it offers in pure exhilaration, it lacks in any finesse or sense of subtlety. It wrenches a degree of control away from players in an experience that should be entirely about facilitating their options. Arguably most heinous of all is the fact that it allows developers to put their brains on standby, forget about the importance of intricate level design and careful enemy placement. It requires no real inventiveness, leading to laziness and, often also, to cheapness. Enemies reappear too quickly and in too great numbers to allow the player to press forward, easily resulting in multiple frustrating deaths thanks to a sudden unbalancing.
Above all else is that it is a quick high and cheap thrill. You can argue that that is exactly what most modern shooters are designed for, thanks in large part to the popularity of the near-brainless Call of Duty, but that doesn’t mean that it should be applied to each and every shooter. Before long, it becomes a point of prominence and begins to reek of a complacency that really shouldn’t be present. Moreover, it detracts from the uniqueness of each title, acting as just another way for such experiences to bleed together into an indefinable orgy of blood and violence. I think that it’s time to stop, especially when some of the best shooters in recent history, including Battlefield 3, Resistance 3 and Bioshock, didn’t have to stoop to such levels. There are better ways to engage players and offer difficult situations than this tired idea.