As the credits rolled on ‘The Last of Us’, a sudden feeling of dread came over me. Then I pinpointed what it was that was causing me to feel this way. The realisation that I will never be able to play this game for the first time again! THAT is the exact emotion that I want to feel every time I finish a video game! It was a similar feeling when I completed the Mass Effect trilogy. Bioware had done such a fantastic job over the course of three games that when I had finally arrived at the climax of the third game, I was literally sat on my bed for half an hour agonizing over which ending I should choose and screaming at my Xbox “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME!?”. But alas every coin has two sides and the other side, in my opinion, isn’t a pretty one.
Yes, you guessed it, I am referring to Activision’s cash cow the Call of Duty franchise. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy playing these games and I can see why they are immensely popular to most people who have even the slightest interest in video games, but they greatly lack the emotional depth that games like The Last of Us, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and Mass Effect have. Time and time again I found myself sat on my bed upon completion of Call of Duty (you could also argue a case for Battlefield and a few others being in this category!) thinking to myself “….is that it?…Guess I’ll start playing something else now…..” Every year they don’t add very much to mix up the formula to make the series new and refreshing like it was when it first arrived on the scene. When the Call of Duty franchise first appeared, I was instantly drawn to it through my huge interest in World War two era. The amount of stories, myths and urban legends that they could draw upon is limitless! For the first time you weren’t just placed into the boots of some unstoppable super soldier, but were placed into the boots of Russian soldier leading the charge at the Battle of Stalingrad, a British soldier taking part in Operation Market Garden and an American Paratrooper jumping into occupied France as part of Operation Overlord. If you were popped in the head, that’s it ‘Game Over!’ just as it would be in reality. When you were moving from cover to cover you were acutely aware of just how exposed you were, frantically urging your boot-clad feet to “MOVE FASTER!”, which I can imaging how many a soldier would feel when being under fire, trying to desperately find that bullet hole ridden wall that may just grant you an extra few minutes of life! There are even historical accuracies such as the American Paratrooper John Steele hanging from the church spire of the French town Sainte-Mere-Eglise (Which is actually a fascinating story, if you don’t know anything about it I suggest you have a quick blast through Wikipedia!). Unfortunately, the times of tense fire fights and historical accuracy have given way to sub standard graphics and plot detail compared to other top games out there, absolutely atrocious A.I and an army of 8-15 year old’s claiming to have slept with your mum (But not quite put as nicely as I have written it.). If you asked most people that buy any Call of Duty game most would say they only buy it for the Multi-player, which lends weight to the opinion that Activision would rather sacrifice great story telling and emotional depth for the sake of that extra few zeros at the end of their profits! Even the Season Passes that they release for each annual instalment doesn’t add any extra hours game play to the single player campaign and just concentrates on added map packs and weapons for the Multi-player and ‘Zombies/Extinction’ modes.
There was a game released by 2K Games in June 2012 that was overshadowed by some arguable bigger games that came around the same time, such as Rockstar’s Max Payne 3, Telltale Games The Walking Dead and the Xbox 360 version of Minecraft on XBLA. The game I’m referring to is Spec Op’s: The Line. If you are unfamiliar with this game, the plot goes something like this…
“In Spec Ops: The Line, you assume the role of Captain Martin Walker, who is sent into a Dubai ravaged by a natural disaster with an elite Delta Force team on a reconnaissance mission, where they find several dead American soldiers. Upon the finding, Walker declares that the team’s mission has changed, and that they will search for any survivors that remain in Dubai and send for evacuation“
Now upon reading that plot summary you may think “How does that differ from most shooting games out there?” and you might be right. But its only until you delve further into the single player mode that some of the choices you make actively have you asking yourself “I really hope I’ve done the right thing….”. Without giving too much away, there was a section of a game involving a phosphorus Mortar cannon and I remember thinking to myself afterwards “…….SHIT! WHAT HAVE I DONE!?” That’s how much of an emotional impact it had on me! Whenever anybody in the store asks me for a game recommendation I always go out of my way to recommend this with the line “Its’s like Apocalypse Now, but in game form!”. This isn’t intended to be fun experience for the player, but goes more down the road of seeing what the player is willing to put their character through in order to achieve their goal. Throughout the game we see Walkers loss of sanity through subtle changes in the scenery, auditory hallucinations and his issuing of orders becoming more and more fiery and ragged. Even his kill confirmations border on the psychotic further on in the game.
It’s sad that this is one of only a few games on a list that have had some sort of emotional impact on me, the others being The Walking Dead Season 1, Mass Effect, The Last of Us and Heavy Rain. God dammit, even Guitar Hero/Rock Band have shaped my life in some form or another, getting me into Bands and Artist I wouldn’t have necessarily have heard of otherwise. So on the off chance that EA or Activision ever see this (and I hope they do, they should be paying attention to the little guys!) I urge you to think more about what goes into your single player campaigns instead of just dismissing it as an after thought. Challenge the players perceptions of morality and make us emotional invest in all of your characters, maybe even love them. Make people turn around re-think their attitude towards you and say “You know what, maybe I was wrong about EA and Activision!”. I promise you that if they can do that, this current generation of gamers will be a lot better off for it and have stories to tell their friends and families about for years to come!
ASTON LEWIS SHAW