I think it's fair to say that, in the unlikely event of me being interviewed by Fox News, my appearance would probably be edited to put me in as negative light as possible. I don't greatly understand the concept of patriotism, even for the countries I have called home. Seems like no-one is in a position to declare their country the best until they've had a chance to live in them all. And I don't expect games like Battlefield 3 to be aimed at me.
It's entirely possible that I have an automatic grudge against realistic war games along Battlefield's lines purely because of my wishy-washy liberal European sensibilities and distaste for the American military-industrial complex. That closing moment from Call of Duty: Black Ops where all the ships and planes pose together in the frame like Luke and Han at the end of the first Star Wars movie actually made me a little bit scared. It's easy to forget how frightening it is that so much of gaming involves glorifying the murder of one's fellow man. It's an image outsiders to gaming tend to latch onto, and for good reason. It's like the pudding called "Spotted Dick". As an Englishman, I've gotten desensitized to the name, but it'd be difficult to explain to a foreigner why I expect him to consume my diseased penis.
But I digress. Am I not giving these games a fair assessment purely because of knee-jerk political disagreement? Well, there's an easy way to figure this out: let's pretend for a moment that the enemies in Battlefield 3 were all monsters from space. Like that Solomon dude had a Cthulhu mouth that went BLIBBLEBLIBBLEBLIBBLE whenever he tried to talk. This does nothing to improve the gameplay. It's still another triple-A shooter that succumbs to what I'm starting to call "sightseeing tour syndrome" - where every slightest movement on the part of the player is rigidly predetermined in order to show off the spectacular set pieces. Where every now and again an attempt is made to break up the monotony by locking you into a vehicle or turret section which you are permitted to enjoy for an allotted fun period before being kicked out for the next predetermined point. I'd prefer a game to just set up its physics and let awesome set pieces occur naturally, but then I guess I'm not the one who has to cut together the teaser trailer.
So that's gameplay. But come to think of it, even my problems with the story can't fully be removed by replacing the terrorists with aliens and the American soldiers with, say, teddy bears. Because to create exactly the same context the teddy bears would have to vastly outnumber the tentacle-faced aliens and have several trillion teddy dollars behind their armed forces and military hug-technology. And the teddy bears would need to have had a history of backing the overthrow of South American democratic governments for the benefit of wealthy fruit corporations.
You see, it's not just characters being American soldiers that stops me from engaging with their struggles. I liked Joseph Capelli from Resistance 3 and Alcatraz from Crysis 2. And that one bloke from Modern Warfare got real fucking sympathetic around the time he was crawling alone through irradiated wasteland. Why? Because at that point, they're the underdogs. Dramatically the characters have to be in a lonely, desperate, losing position or it gets harder to sympathize. And I guess the problem I have with the story campaigns of modern military shooters is that when my characters are fully backed by an entity as massive as the American military, conveniently equipped at every necessary moment with the highest-tech vehicles and weaponry available, then I cannot buy for a second that the goodies have any claim to underdog status. Nathan Drake's an underdog. He still pisses me off, but for unrelated reasons.