Call of Duty. Battlefield. There are dozens of military shooters out there, set in conflicts real and fictional, past and future. The two mentioned above made their names portraying gritty and realistic combat from real life battles, or fictionalized conflicts meant to represent real ones (Call of Duty 4, Battlefield 3). And yet, both of them have taken a dramatic turn. Let's take a look at the most recent installments of each series.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
The Call of Duty series definitely led the way in making sweeping changes to the military shooter subgenre, and each installment has gotten progressively more ridiculous. Instead of following through the Normandy breakout campaign or fighting through various terror groups, the player spends nearly the entire campaign inside the mind of Elliot Stabler from Law and Order: SVU. I'd write his character's actual name here, but every time I saw him in game, I just thought of Law and Order. That's how little impact he, and every recent Call of Duty character, has. That's not to knock the acting abilities of Christopher Meloni or Kevin Spacey, as both did great jobs in their respective games. In fact, I feel bad for both of them --two of the best game performances by live action actors I've seen get drowned in a mix of explosions and recycled cliches that would make Michael Bay cringe.
Reznov. Price. Griggs. Roebuck. Memorable characters that actually made the player feel like part of a team, and actually made the player feel a pang of loss if they died. The games they were in focused on extremely serious conflicts that resonated because of their historical significance or relevance to current events. Black Ops 3 has you fighting nameless enemies and faceless drones with no real knowledge other than that they're the bad guys. They could be aliens for all we care. There's no human element to the campaign, and when characters get shot in the face or even gassed in front of us, there's just no attachment, especially when you spent a previous level in an arcade-style autopiloted jet, mowing down everything that moves.
I'll admit it: I was really excited for Battlefield: Hardline. I've always enjoyed cop shows, and the opening chapter was pretty cool. I got major End of Watch vibes, and even though it was a major departure from Battlefield's standard MO, I was extremely excited for an immersive game along those lines.
Boom. Action set piece. Boom. Action set piece. Boom. Your character's not even a cop anymore and is now a wanted criminal. Fan-freaking-tastic.
I get it. Explosions and betrayals and all that are great, and I'd have gone along with a couple here and there. I don't mind finding out my partner is dirty or something. But by the time I was assaulting an island mansion single-handedly in the "climax" of the film, I just didn't care. Hardline made S.W.A.T. look like a realistic movie. When Battlefield 3 came out in 2013, I was legitimately excited that a game series was taking a road separate from Call of Duty and delivering a gritty and relatively realistic campaign that made you feel immersed in the battle. I had high hopes that Hardline would immerse the player in the blue uniform. I don't know why I bothered.
We don't know much about the next installments in either franchise. Earlier today, the name Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare leaked thanks to Reddit. Meanwhile, it seems that Battlefield 5 is next for EA. It'll be hard to tell until we have details, but at this point, it seems more likely they'll start advertising energy drinks on loading screens than that they'll actually make more down to Earth and thought-provoking games.
I'm not saying that every game needs to be at the same level as Spec Ops: The Line, because God knows you can only handle a "white phosphorous" moment once every few decades, but in the age of mind-numbing, twitch-reaction, hyperactive shooters, having something gritty and realistic that makes you think about war and its effects in a more serious light would actually be a breath of fresh air.