December is always good for a fight. As gamers – and as gaming journalists – we use this time each year to argue over everything, from the “best new shooter” and “greatest graphics” to the “worst voice acting” or “biggest disappointment.” We award our favorites, mock our least favorites and shout at anybody whose opinion differs from our own. It’s a wonderful holiday tradition.
The one thing we can usually all agree on, however, is that gaming has progressed. Gaming has evolved. Gaming has, over the past 12 months, grown at least a little more advanced than it was over the previous 12 months. Right?
Not this year. 2008 was, in my opinion, an overall step backwards for our hobby. Games were less original, less groundbreaking, less surprising, less exciting and – in many cases – simply less good when compared to the games of 2007. Here are five examples why.
Share your own, or tell me why I’m wrong, in the comments below.
Unexpectedly lost in a deranged and deteriorated environment, you must adapt to survive your new, self-contained surroundings. You must creep down shadowy hallways plastered with suspiciously cheerful and retro propaganda. You must collect audio logs and diaries, slowly piecing together the tragic story of a failed society and the unorthodox philosophy behind it.
You must battle the remaining population - murderous mutants who were formerly normal human citizens. To do so, you must improve your weapons and armor by purchasing upgrades from vending machines. You must take orders from conflicting personalities who may or may not have your best interest at heart. And, near the end, you must face a major and shocking revelation about yourself.
So, which of the above shooters am I describing?
Both, of course. In essence, 2008’s
Dead Space and 2007’s BioShock are the same game - simply replace a bunch of water with a bunch of space. The difference is that BioShock came first. Its heady narrative and groundbreaking departures from genre convention were a surprising and refreshing change of pace to players who had come to expect more of the same from their shooters. The developer’s System Shock formula had finally enlightened the mainstream.
Dead Space, while a good product and while hitting most of the same notes, feels like a copycat cashing in on last year’s phenomenon. The “refreshing change of pace” is suddenly just “more of the same.”
I could waste this space complaining about the franchises that insist on rushing out a new entry every year, thereby diluting their own brand and their games’ overall quality. Our hobby is a business as well, though, and demand is strong. Customers seem more than happy to buy a new Call of Duty every November.
Still, we should expect - and we deserve - at least a small bit of evolution in these annual releases. 12 months is enough time for some progress, isn’t it?
Apparently not. If anything, Call of Duty: World at War pulls the franchise back. Back to World War II, obviously, but also back to generic characters, forgettable weapons, clichéd missions and almost nonexistent story. Modern Warfare took real risks last year, tackling the topic of worldwide terrorism and occasionally placing you inside the perspective of a dying soldier. World at War plays it safe, asking you to storm beaches and chase Nazis for what feels like the gazillionth time.
Many parts of the sequel are satisfying, but usually only because they were xeroxed from the truly revolutionary Modern Warfare. Earning perks and unleashing air strikes in the multiplayer? Studying the art of sniping from an older, grizzled and temporarily injured mentor? A surprise, slow-motion ambush at the very end of the game? All cool. All reruns.
Perhaps if Call of Duty 4 hadn’t pushed the boundaries of the series so far last year, I wouldn’t be so critical of redundancy from Call of Duty “5” this year. It did, however, so I am.
I do appreciate the addition of co-op, though the scoring and skulls - er, Death Cards - feel awfully inspired by Halo 3. I also realize that the two Call of Duty games had two different developers. You think maybe that’s part of the problem?