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August 4, 2014

Introducing: The Cross-Up ShootStravaganza!

Not too long ago, I took to Reddit’s Truegaming section to pose a question: what kind of lasting effect have guns had on video games?  I think it’s a legitimate question, considering how you pretty much can’t have a game these days without guns.  Okay, maybe not every game has guns (Tokyo Jungle comes to mind, and is stronger because of it), but there are ENOUGH games full of guns to give pause.  It really doesn’t say good things about the state of the industry when I read a GameInformer article about Gearbox’s upcoming game Battleborn, and the first paragraph talks about how the dev established itself as a FPS ace with Halo: Combat Evolved.  And in that very paragraph, it goes on to say that Gearbox left its comfort zone by making Borderlands…another FPS, only with RPG elements, sort of.  And then their new game is -- hold on to something -- another FPS.  Only different!  Somehow.

I’ve gone on about this before, but it bears repeating: guns are a useful tool in-universe and out of it, but they can be limiting in the very same method.  Think about it; a character’s weapon of choice/fighting style says a lot about their personalities, and in a video game it can decide (and jazz up) the mechanics.  Or, to put it a different way, compare a handful of shooters to a handful of fighting games.  There are basic principles that carry over from, say, Street Fighter to BlazBlue, but the varying characters, styles, and mechanics make each fighting game a whole different beast.  Conversely, playing one shooter gives you nearly everything you need to succeed in another.  There are nuances that set them apart, yes, but there’s only so much you can do in terms of deviation.

So the question that’s been on my mind, now more than ever, is simple: what makes a good shooter?  And I intend to find out.

As fate would have it, I’ve had the fortune (or misfortune) of playing a number of different shooters recently.  It’s been…uh…an experience.  I can tell you that much right off the bat. 

It’s probably for the best.  There seems to be a misconception about me that I only like Japanese things -- and only JRPGs, to a similar extent.  I’d like to think that I’ve proven many times in the past that I like good things, regardless of their country of origin, but I don’t blame others for assuming the worst of me.  I haven’t gone out of my way to talk too much about things that are clearly outside my comfort zone -- and in this case, it’s shooters.  That’s a real problem, now that I think about it; after all, I can’t start screaming “SHOOTERS ARE DUMB AND ARE FOR DUMB PEOPLE!” if I don’t have the experience or concrete evidence to make such claims.

So I actually played some shooters.  You can thank a friend of mine for that; he’s a shooter fan, so he let me borrow one game, and then another one.  Couple that with me owning one (for a given definition of “shooter”) and my bro downloading a certain magical title -- along with long since owning a franchise staple -- and I’m not wanting for bullets.  I can tell you right now that, yes, some of them are actually pretty good.  Others?  Not so good.  Which ones?  Well, I’ll explain in the weeks to come.  But first, let’s set the ground rules, starting with this one.

I need a safe word.  And that safe word is HOVER.  

I can guarantee you that there are going to be points in this little miniseries where I get super-angry.  That’s usually how these things tend to play out.  So in order to put some kind of safeguard in place -- and to signal to you when a shooter makes a large enough faux pas -- I’m going to be spamming HOVER whenever I get the chance to cool off.  It’s the only way I’ll be able to keep Cross-Up a happy place…or at least pretend that it is.

I should probably use this post to make a couple of other things clear.  So here are a few qualifiers.

1) The posts for the ShootStravaganza aren’t going to be big whompin’ Let’s Discuss posts.  I know that the stuff I put up here tends to get a little dense, but I don’t anticipate any of the things that go up being more than a one-off.  If anything, they’ll probably read more like “first impressions” rather than full-on dissections.  And the reason for that is…

2) The posts to come are based on the minimum amount of sessions.  That is, I played each of the games not to completion, but to a point where I felt like I had enough information on it to come to a conclusion.  In a lot of ways, I’ll be judging each game based on its ability to grab me in its opening hours.  The question they (or any game) need to answer is: “Why should I play this game again?”  Some games managed to answer that sufficiently in the first session.  Others did not.  But whatever the case…

3) The cross-section of each game should try to prove the merit of the modern-day shooter -- not just me.  I don’t have any problems admitting when a shooter does something good, but it should offer that readily without me having to dig for an answer, OR trying to make excuses.  Remember, we live in a gaming climate where devs all over the world are trying to make their titles “appeal to a wider audience”.  Given that -- given the adaptability of shooter mechanics -- I don’t think there’s any real reason why a shooter CAN’T appeal to someone like me.  I can get past my biases and say without reservation when something is good.  If there’s quality, I’ll admit it.  If there’s a flub, I’ll admit that, too.  I don’t see why I can’t like a shooter just because I know what a hi-ougi is.

I want to find out what makes a shooter good, and what makes it bad -- precisely because I don’t know the answer.  Beyond that, shooters have (maybe justifiably) gotten a bad rap these days, and I’d like to think that the genre itself isn’t inherently evil.  So I want to investigate for myself, and come to my own conclusions, without the shackles of gamers’ stigma.  I’m hoping I can find some sort of answer -- and I hope that if nothing else, I can entertain you all with my antics.

And…that’s about all I have to say for now.  So go ahead and leave a comment if you’ve got a perspective to share.  What do you think of shooters?  Do you like them? Hate them?  Have experience?  Insight?  A glowing exemplar of a title you could name?  Then go ahead and tell me.  I could use some other opinions going into this thing.  I welcome the chance to have my mind opened.  Or better yet, blown.

Until next time, then.  Get ready, readers -- because the ShootStravaganza has officially begun.  Or will begin soon, at least.  Be excited, maybe!

Right then.  What’s on tap?


  1. The shooter situation in gaming reminds of the platform situation of the 1990s. During that time, platformers were EVERYWHERE, ruling the gaming scene. Things have definitely switched gears with the shooter genre being the order of the day.

    Unfortunately you have so many developers/publishers trying to be top dog in this genre that we gamers have to deal with far too many "me too" shooters so standing out becomes that much more difficult. But then, why stand out when you can just copy and past what developer A did and make just as much or nearly as much dough as said developer?

    Once upon a time, I was head over heels for the shooter genre with the likes of Perfect Dark, TimeSplitters and Unreal Tournament. But that was eons ago. There's a sea of shooters out there now and with all the Battlefields, Call of Duties and what not, it makes my head spin just thinking about diving back into a genre where guys are your best friend.

  2. "Why stand out when you can just copy and past what developer A did and make just as much or nearly as much dough as said developer?"

    That is sound reasoning...BUT from what I've heard, that's actually a LOSING strategy instead of a winning one. Setting aside the loss of dignity and integrity of the developer by jumping on (or tugging) certain bandwagons, there have been reports that say those who try to play copycat or slot into certain grooves end up falling or failing just as hard. Remember Insomniac Games' Fuse? (I don't blame you if you don't.) Debuted at the 37th-ranked game in the UK, IIRC. Likewise, has ANYONE been clamoring for -- or even care about -- EA's trigger-happy reboot of Syndicate? And isn't Dead Space's fate up in the air because despite all the fuss made to market it and the splicing of its DNA, Dead Space 3 didn't meet sales expectations?

    I know that devs are going to try and go with what they know, and/or what they think will sell. But when that's been proven wrong, and when the biggest names are the only ones making the biggest sales, then what does that mean for the industry at large?

    To quote Matt of the Best Friends Zaibatsu: "It's not great."

  3. Left 4 Dead 3 can't come out fast enough.

  4. Yep. Can't argue with you there -- though I guess that's to be expected from Good Guy Valve.

    Well, I think they're good guys. Those still waiting for Half-Life 3, on the other hand...