Let’s be real here – there’s been a severe overkill with guns in action games for a long time now, and it needs to stop.
I’m going to set the record straight off the bat – I love a good shooter. BioShock, Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead, the list goes on. First- and third-person shooters can be loads of fun. However, as I was playing Uncharted 3 the other day, I got this horrible sinking feeling in my stomach when I saw a series of waist-level crates and partitions on the ground, readying me for a shooting sequence. Why do I have to shoot people in every game I play?
Going through the entire Uncharted series, the shooting segments have always been the only parts that don’t leave me with a stupid looking grin on my face. The game is full of these gorgeous set-piece moments, with thrilling chase sequences, adrenaline-pumping battles with nature, and action sequences that make the last ten years of Hollywood action films feel like a couple of teens on YouTube. With all that excitement, why on Earth does Nathan Drake still have to shoot hundreds of men in the face?
Uncharted is, for all intents and purposes, an Indiana Jones knockoff, albeit a very good one. A charming man with a lovely lady and a sassy sidekick explore old ruins, solve elaborate puzzles left by ancient civilizations, and generally get into mischief. Sure Dr. Jones gets into a scuffle here and there, and may even fire off a round or two, but did he shoot literally hundreds of people per adventure? Did he commit murder on a mass scale? Nathan Drake did; on three separate occasions. And he probably shouldn’t have.
For some games, shooting an insane amount of people as the main gameplay mechanic is perfectly fine. Call of Duty would be pretty dumb without guns. Shooters definitely have their place in the industry. My argument is that not every single action game needs to have shooting of some kind. I use Uncharted as my primary example because EVERYTHING ELSE in those games is perfect, unique, and exciting. Once I start taking cover and shooting guys, I’m bored since I know Uncharted offers a lot more.
In Uncharted 2, the game opens with you climbing a train while it falls off a cliff. That is incredible. Uncharted 3 features an exhilarating chase sequence through the streets of Yemen, with rooftop jumping and civilian shoving, and not a gun in sight. These things are so good – why would I want to go back to the mundane and just shoot dudes? It kills the mood. The game offers plenty of challenge in the action sequences and puzzle solving proving that it wouldn’t just be some cakewalk without shooting. Uncharted could certainly pull it off. Not including shooting sequences would be a huge risk, but it could result in brilliance. Naughty Dog are an incredibly smart development team who are certainly good enough to work their way around it.
Moving away from Uncharted, there are plenty of other games that just don’t need guns in them to be exciting. One of my most anticipated games in 2008 ended up as one of my biggest disappointments – Mirror’s Edge. I had followed the game for a long time leading up to its release, thrilled with the idea of first-person platforming on rooftops in a sterile future plagued by severe information control. Parkour jumping with the occasional enemy skirmish? I was all signed up.
I knew going into it that you’d have the ability to steal an enemy’s gun and unload it into an enemy or two here and there, and I was perfectly fine with that because it seemed like a rare occurrence. But, once I got to about the last quarter of the game, it might as well have been Halo. I found firefights around nearly every corner towards the end, which completely ruined an otherwise fresh experience.
It almost feels cheap or lazy in a way. The entire game was designed around first-person free running, with minimal shooting here and there. Since the challenge of the game, and its entire point, was based around the platforming, shouldn’t the final challenges be absurdly difficult jumping sections? Instead of challenging the player by having them use everything they had learned in this unique experience up to that point, it felt as if they were challenging the audience by using stuff they learned in other games. Where is the payoff?
I feel like a lot of developers might just feel that without shooting a game has no real challenge or, unfortunately, mainstream appeal. Obviously that isn’t true, with games like Super Mario Galaxy, Portal 2 and Skyrim being such massive hits; it seems like shooting is the go-to mechanic for developers short on ideas. Take the upcoming I Am Alive, which I named one of my most anticipated games of 2012 despite some less-than-favorable recent developments. In more recent discussions with the game’s developers, it looks like the post-apocalyptic survival horror joint from Ubisoft is going to have some conflicts that aren’t with the already horrifying threat of mother nature.
It’s crazy that a game can’t have action and excitement without someone firing a gun. If you watch the above trailer to I Am Alive, you’ll see a distinctly chilling atmosphere. A city in ruins, desolate, with only traces of humanity. A man approaches a group of seemingly hostile survivors. He climbs buildings, avoids obstacles, and battles earthquakes.
And then he shoots a bunch of guys.
I like to think I’m not alone here when my heart sinks as the shooting picks up towards the end of the above trailer. The theme of man vs. nature has been central to storytelling for centuries. With games evolving more and more as a narrative medium, why can’t simply that be explored? This game would be absolutely perfect for it. But instead, we’ll just have to shoot people. It’s disheartening to say the least.
Good game development, like any good art, comes from passion. If a game like Mirror’s Edge starts off unlike anything else and ends up exactly like everything else, doesn’t that say the developers simply stopped caring and lost faith? Or maybe it’s the fear of risk-taking. Naughty Dog obviously knows how to create a killer game, but sometimes I wonder if the shooting in Uncharted was thrown in to appease one of the largest markets out there, the shooter fans.
There’s almost this level of forced conformity to it. To be an action game and fit in with today’s climate of games, you’ve got to shoot stuff. Uncharted doesn’t need the gunplay, but if it didn’t have it, there would probably be a big chunk of the gaming community that would ignore it entirely. They’d miss out on some of the best visuals, writing, acting, and pure action in any medium today because it’s slightly less familiar to them without guns. People have such specific expectations of certain genres of games that something different could scare them away regardless of quality.
Clearly there’s a bigger argument to be had here, as far as developers taking risks, business vs. art, or something new vs. the same old stuff, and maybe I’ll discuss it all another time. But, as far as shooting goes, we just don’t need it all the time. I’m not calling for an end to shooters, I’m not calling for the genre to disappear. I just believe that not every action game needs guns to be good or challenging.
And sometimes, you just want to kill something with your bare hands.