The current console generation bids farewell in a hail of gunfire
Once Pong happened, and video games actually became a thing, the race was on — if someone made a game with a gun in it, chances were it would make a lot of money. So games then had guns — the uninformed would (correctly) associate one with the other for the next several decades (even if the 80s and 90s were more about Mario and his kin).
Video game guns, however, were never intended to breed killing machines, they were intended to be cathartic, and I would argue that they have largely succeeded, only occasionally brought to disrepute by poorly researched press articles about the harmful effects they have on children (which just happen to coincide with some unpleasantness involving guns and a high school, often in the United States). But the intention of this article isn’t to debate the idea of virtual weaponry or their harmful impact — it is to look at the large scale invasion of core shooter mechanics into the triple-A space, or in other words, as a gamer, you’re probably shooting more virtual rounds of ammunition today than ever before.
Let’s ignore the usual suspects, such as this year’s Call of Duty and Battlefield instalments, and the entire PC market (where indie games seem to have really come into their own and gamers prefer the swords and spells of a good MOBA — multiplatform games are the exception, of course), and simply look at this year’s top-rated console games. GTA V might not be the best example, and yet, I don’t recall such a heavy emphasis on gunplay in previous iterations. But then again, as a great twist, the game did give the player the option of adopting a stealthy, quieter approach for its missions. Exercising restraint in a Grand Theft Auto game, as any fan will tell you, is the hardest thing in the world, and yet GTA V made it work.
A couple of PS3 exclusives stood out in their eagerness to take up arms — Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us. David Cage’s game might have been an emotional rollercoaster ride, but that didn’t make it immune to the gun bug. There’s not a lot of gunplay, but a particular section is shameless in its adoption of third-person shooter staples such as a rudimentary cover system and partly-interactive shooting. Most importantly, it felt completely out of place — almost as if market research governed its inclusion in the final product. On the other hand, The Last of Us did “shooter” really well. Of course, it felt more like a shooter than a survival/horror game a lot of the time, and ammo scarcity only meant you had to be more accurate with your shots, or had to resort to more primitive methods of dispatching foes.
Bioshock Infinite is another puzzling victim of the gun syndrome (or is it?). I, for one, enjoyed the sheer volume of gunplay the game involved, and yet, the game refused to acknowledge the gratuitous violence in the slightest when protagonist Booker DeWitt holstered his arsenal of steampunk weaponry. While the action sequences didn’t interfere with the atmosphere or the plot, one could argue that there was an unnecessary amount of shooting involved. In fact, if you took out guns entirely from Bioshock Infinite, my memory of the game would remain unchanged.
This year’s Tomb Raider is another game that almost entirely transformed into a blockbuster third-person shooter. It’s not that there were no puzzles at all; it’s just that you had to go looking for them (you were most certainly rewarded if you were). With shooter mechanics becoming so mainstream, there are only a handful of genres that have not been completely overrun by it. Let’s hope it stays that way.