Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Death of Stealth Gaming

A quick look at what is pretty much the general consentaneous list of what the top 20 most anticipated video games of E3 2011 are and you'll see a fairly obvious trend...

1. Mass Effect 3 (Electronic Arts)
2. Battlefield 3 (Electronic Arts)
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda)
4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Activision Blizzard)
5. Assassin's Creed Revelations (Ubisoft)
6. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (Sony Computer Entertainment)
7. Batman: Arkham City (Warner Bros. Interactive)
8. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo)
9. Halo 4 (Microsoft)
10. Infamous 2 (Sony Computer Entertainment)
11. Duke Nukem Forever (Take-Two)
12. Star Wars: The Old Republic (Electronic Arts)
13. Tomb Raider (Square Enix)
14. Gears of War 3 (Microsoft)
15. Rage (Bethesda)
16. BioShock Infinite (Take-Two)
17. Super Mario 3D (Nintendo)
18. Resistance 3 (Sony Computer Entertainment)
19. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (Microsoft)
20. Street Fighter X Tekken (Capcom)

Give up? Nearly half of the games listed above are First Person Shooters. This is the modern trend in gaming today... fucking shooters. 

The Call of Duty franchise outsells every other video game franchise in existence despite the fact that there is hardly any difference between the annually released titles Activision keeps pumping out every year like they're the Duggar family of video games. Seriously... show me some footage of Modern Warfare 2 or the upcoming Modern Warfare 3 and I honestly wouldn't be able to tell them apart. 

Mixing art and business is evil. The end result is profits become more important than brand loyalty. It's the ultimate video game sellout as game companies try to appeal to a larger gaming audience by abandoning what their game was originally meant to be in favor of more action and more casual gamer-friendly features. 

A good example of this is the Splinter Cell series developed and published by Ubisoft. This series was once upon a time my favorite game series. It was a tense game that required patience and planning to get thru... studying guard patrol patterns and waiting for the right moment to move thru either by avoiding confrontation at all or sneaking up on an unsuspecting enemy and dispatching them either with lethal or non-lethal force. Once the enemy was down you had to risk further exposure by picking up the body and hiding it. The ultimate object of the game was get thru each mission undetected... to get in and out without anyone ever knowing you were there. In fact on the hardest difficulty level in some of the earlier titles you weren't even given any ammo for your weapons and had to get thru the game with your knife and gadgets. Engaging in firefights with the enemy was likely to get you dead or seriously wounded quick in only a few shots with no regenerating health. 

This wasn't a game for everyone. Not every gamer has the patience to sit still in one place for several minutes waiting for a guard to move away in order to move thru the area the guard patrols unnoticed. Most gamers want to just shoot every guard in the area then move on and shoot everyone in the next area. And as you can see from the list of games above there's no shortage of such games available. 

Enter Splinter Cell Conviction that came out last spring. The game's protagonist, Sam Fisher has gone rogue and now he's running and gunning thru every mission leaving a large trail of bodies in his wake. He no longer gives a shit if bodies he drops are found by other enemies cuz he'll just kill them too. There is actually no longer any non-lethal option for dispatching enemies and no longer is it possible to get thru a level without engaging with any enemies. A large percentage of Sam's arsenal isn't even suppressed. I don't know about you but I really don't see the point of being stealthy when you're carrying a shotgun. 

Pretty much the only thing that Conviction has in common is the words "Splinter Cell" in the title and the protagonist's name... Sam Fisher other than that it's nearly entirely unrecognizable as a Splinter Cell game. 

The game's stealth mechanics have been toned down so much that the game is more of a 3rd person cover shooter than a stealth action game, and once again looking at there is no shortage of action games available... while nearly half are 1st person nearly the other half is 3rd person. How many of the games listed above are stealth games? 

TWO... Batman: Arkham City and Assassin's Creed: Revelations But even Batman isn't the type of stealth that Splinter Cell used to be, it's more like the kind of stealth in Splinter Cell Conviction. And Assassin's Creed is a social stealth game... hiding in plain sight rather than in the shadows.

I'll admit that Splinter Cell Conviction is indeed a fun game and I would love to play another game similar to it with similar gameplay mechanics... but not at the expense of my love for the type of stealth game that Splinter Cell was originally known for. By all means Ubisoft could do a spin-off using Conviction's gameplay mechanics but bring Sam Fisher back to his roots. 

There are already a relatively few decent stealth games/franchises in the industry and there is class of gamer that truly loves this kind of gameplay including fiercely loyal fans to their franchises. These are the fans that stick by thru thick and thin, but every fan has a limit to how much they will tolerate before they become disillusioned and move on. Having a game developer tweak their games to appeal to a wider audience alienates the fans that grew to love the game for what it was and what it was meant to be. If developers and publishers want to flirt with a larger audience then by all means make other games that will appeal to a larger audience... but stay true to the roots of what your franchises  were from the beginning otherwise it just feels like having a relationship with a partner that enjoys flirting with everyone else more than returning the attention and affection you give them.

Bottom line is there are plenty of games that appeal to a wide variety of gamers without needing to sellout the artistic vision of what the more obscure franchises were originally intended to be.

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