In the run-up to Destiny‘s much-hyped release, I remember at one point dismissively saying that it looked like just another brown corridor shooter set in seemingly endless successions of ruined buildings. I have to backtrack on those remarks a little bit. Brown, yes. Shooter, yes. Ruined buildings, yes. Just another, yes. But corridor? Not really.
Oh sure, there are parts of it that involve linearly moving from place to place, often by the medium of elongated rooms, or ‘corridors’ if you will, but the game is hardly based around them. It’s a game of wide open spaces and free roam. But I’m hesitant to call it a ‘sandbox’ because it still has the trappings of a linear shooter, moving from cover-spackled arena fight to cover-spackled arena fight. I think it’s time I coined a new genre term. That’s always worked out well in the past. Steam now has a whole 10 games with the ‘Spectacle Fighter’ tag and ‘Spunkgargleweewee’ remains on the lips of the world.
Specifically I think we need a name for this more recent concept of corridor shooters without the corridors, as seen in such games as Destiny, Borderlands and Rage to a lesser extent. Games that do the open world thing, and often seem to put a lot of work into making the scenery look good, but then it ends up being just that: scenery. Little more than a backdrop for bland, repetitive combat. It’s like everything has been vacuum packed with transparent plastic. You and all the enemies are free to run around and jump on top of it having a scrap, but you can’t go any deeper.
I’m starting to like the name ‘Meadow Shooter’, in contrast to ‘corridor shooter’. Because that’s what it reminds me of. A big open space dotted with huddled clusters of sheep and cows that stand around like they’re dopily waiting to be fed until you gun them down. Or maybe we are the sheep and cows, being charged for the privilege of getting to roam about grazing on the ten billion identical blades of grass that is the combat.
The meadow shooter feels utterly lifeless, but for the sprinklings of baddies that have been scattered about like seeds upon barren rock. It’s not like a sandbox game that also populates its world with visual storytelling and NPCs, so that when you encounter a living thing you have to take a moment’s reflection before opening fire. And the benefits awarded for exploring the world’s hidden nooks and crannies all come straight back to the combat as well – ammunition and health pickups and marginally better guns. The meadow fighter is the illusion of a large and varied world that in truth contains nothing but mind-numbingly repetitive combat. It contains, generously speaking, about seven or eight fights in total, each one multiplied ten million times.
And that’s fine as a multiplayer model. It’s practically tradition at this point. For multiplayer, all that’s necessary is a steady stream of baddies in a suitably fitting open-ended environment so that everyone can concentrate on grinding up their individual number until it’s higher than the numbers of all their friends. That’s what they want. Destiny reflects a recent trend in having the single and the multiplayer live in the same place. And I don’t think it’s wise to try to force them to share an apartment. They appeal to different kinds of people, who want different things from a game experience. Single player likes to keep the ketchup in the cupboard, multiplayer likes to keep it in the fridge.
As is well-documented, I myself keep the ketchup in the cupboard, but I understand that there are incredible weirdos in the world who for some reason want chilled ketchup that makes their hot chips lukewarm, and they should be catered for. But merging the two just creates a shittier experience for both. The multiplayers have to put up with a load of plot and world building and exploration they might have no interest in, while the single players get a dull combat grind and the sense that the game is standing over their shoulder the whole way constantly asking if they’re really really sure they don’t want to socialize and hang out with all the normal people.
I find it hard to believe that such a system is implemented for the benefit of either kind of player. It’s put in because multiplayer is where the money is, and games just aren’t content to have two separate options on the title menu and let the two halves of the player base figure it out for themselves. Multiplayer has to be pushed hard at the people who wouldn’t normally consider it. Previously, multiplayer was where the money lay only in more abstract ways – players who play multiplayer would log in more hours of play time, which made them more likely to blossom into loyal little fanboys who’ll buy every subsequent installment. More recently, logging in more hours makes you more likely to shell out micropayments for additional content.
Destiny represents a bold new step in blatant shilling for cash, at least on the next-gen consoles, because here we have a game that absolutely surrounded me in meadow shooter combat arenas, let me point and wave and dance at other players, piled objectives onto my mission log that required playing PVP or dedicated co-op missions, and lest we forget wouldn’t fucking start if I didn’t have an online connection. And then, having waved the carrot, turned around and refused to let me into any PVP or co-op missions until I signed up for a PS Plus subscription on top of the seventy bucks I’d already fucking paid.
Of course, we’ve known for quite a while that triple-A development has become so expensive that it’s getting harder to turn a profit. And I hoped for a while that maybe triple-A would start to realize the error of its ways, or at least roll over and quietly go to sleep forever, but I knew even then that this was a naïve hope. The wounded beast becomes all the more savage as it fights to go on living. Its ears are closed to unhelpful suggestions like ‘make good quality games with a bit of heart and make them reasonably priced and convenient to play’. Or at least roll back the average triple-A game development budget to a conservative ten billion squillion dollars.