Is it dead?
©2012 Nicholas Laborde
We live in a day and age where the past is continually being dwelled upon (see: the influx of HD re-releases), and we’re about to jump into the next cycle of video game technology with the imminent next generation of consoles and engines.
Something that constantly irks me, though, is of how one particular type of game seems to be breathing its last weak sighs; the arena shooter.
The modern mentality coupled with “everyone else is doing it” has led the Call of Duty franchise to momentous heights, and in my opinion, it’s hammering the final nail into the coffin of one of gaming’s most cherished pastimes.
What “is” an arena shooter?
The definition of “arena shooter” is clear yet hazy. My personal definition is that of any multiplayer shooter which does not allow the player to choose any type of pre-game attributes (perks and weapons) that give you an advantage over other players.
Quake and Unreal Tournament are perfect examples and are true arena shooters. The last two modern arena shooters that have somewhat conformed to modern standards but still stay true to their roots are Halo and Gears of War.
You may think this article is drenched in nostalgia and is the ranting rave of a man who does not want to accept that the games he played years ago aren’t still prevalent. While that may be true to a small degree (we’re only human), let me ask you one simple question.
What is more objective, fair, and skill-reliant: entering a game session at level 70 with perks that give you super health and speed, spawning with the best weapons and dominating everyone who isn’t at your state?
Or, everyone spawning with a default weapon, having no inherent advantages over each other, and the weapons must be acquired on the map?
I think many will agree the latter is the most logical way to approach a shooter (but that doesn’t mean we always have to), especially in a competitive environment.
The modern mentality of instant gratification has allowed approaches similar to that of Call of Duty to easily take hold and become ubiquitous, slowly killing off the “old world” of arena-based shooters and the subsequent level of tact that goes with them.
And quite frankly, it’s depressing.
Why dwell on them?
What’s more satisfying: killing someone with a sniper rifle, which you had to run for your life to obtain? Or, killing someone with your overpowered assault rifle from across the map because you’re max level?
The fact that even Halo is going to be adopting Call of Duty-esque traits in its next adaptation is a major red flag for the arena shooter, and a perfect cause to be alarmed.
The arena shooter grew out of the 90s mentality of fast-paced action and skill. Try playing DOOM, and then start up a match in Battlefield 3. The sheer difference in something as simple as the player speed is baffling, and shows how shooters have evolved from their humble beginnings.
I feel that while embodying the best of gaming’s beginnings, arena shooters give us the perfect playground in which to settle our scores.
Over the past few years, I’ve found myself playing each Call of Duty release less and less, with the only true reason to justify each purchase being the fact that most of my friends play it.
If I join a matchmaking game with them, they’ll instantly dominate because of their extensive unlocks, thanks to their subsequent playtime. Even in a private match, I couldn’t best them even if it came down to a “pure” display of skill.
On the complete contrary, I can boot up any Halo title – whether it be Halo 2 or Halo: Reach – and instantly dominate them. Halo maintains its signature feel, and stays true to its arena roots throughout the entire franchise.
The only disadvantage is not knowing where the non-default weapons spawn on each individual map, but even then, your enemies do not have any inherent advantage over you thanks to the lack of inclusion of stat-boosting perks.
Arena shooters also showcase higher quality level design, as having weapons spawn on a map – versus having a player loadout – both encourages exploration, and draws attention to specific points on the map.
In many games like Call of Duty, you don’t even memorize the layout for posterity… you memorize it to find the best camping spots.
On the contrary, knowing the map in an arena shooter allows players to converge on multiple points and take full use of the map itself, rather than just running past random bits of static meshes and geometry.
My convoluted point is this: modern gaming is taking the skill out of competitive multiplayer.
Bleak or bright future?
Titles such as Gears of War 3 and Halo: Reach represent the last stand of arena shooters on a AAA scale.
What do you think?
Am I just staring vividly into the past, and bleakly into the future? Or is a genre about to become extinct?
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