We might be seeing old school games through rose-tinted glasses. Photo taken from the Doom Wikia.
Yes, David Houghton has a point. Yes, I'm glad that modern games freed us from the yoke of the "find the red key to open the red door" gameplay mechanic from the days of yore. But for him to say that it's a convenient delusion for us to think that there's is a void between the past and the present; that clamoring that there is a huge gulf between old school and modern games is an exercise continually made by people who are oblivious that they've been wearing rose-tinted glasses is, in my opinion, the one that's delving into the realm of total fiction.
We do share the same sentiments in the sense that I wouldn’t touch many of the older games. Even the first Half-Life—with its multiple jumping puzzles—is largely unappealing to me now. However, to say that the lines have blurred between old school and modern games, well that’s something I’ve to disagree with. True, games have—needless to say—constantly built upon what their forebears have brought to the table and so share, in one way or another, features that can be attributed to the early forays of game developers into concocting the perfect gameplay experience. However, insofar as the trend that the Call of Duty series has started, this is where the great divide has sprung.
Now I may be a 90s gamer, having raved about the first X-COM and the Wing Commander games but what I refer to as “old school” now—what I’ve constantly made as a stark contrast to the lackluster gameplay mechanics of all the games that have squeezed and jostled into the Call of Duty bandwagon—are the games made in the years 2004 to early 2007. Remember Far Cry? (Yes the first game that Crytek made. That was way before they made the awesome Crysis and even way back when they deviated from their awesome design schemes and Call of Duty’d the Crysis sequels.) Remember how you were given the almost unlimited freedom on how to take out enemy outposts? Remember S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl? Do you remember that? Yes the inventory system was unwieldy; there were times I had to literally trudge back several kilometers to the traders just so I could sell a mountain of loot. But heck, it was fun; I was reveling in unparalleled levels of immersion the game plunged me into.
In S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, the game let you decide when and how to engage the bad guys. Sure there were times you were forced into an ambush but the game largely let you play as you would like to play it. Photo taken from the Imbacore Facebook page.
“But dude! Those are open world games! You can’t compare it with the installments in the CoD series!” Well do you remember F.E.A.R.? Up to now there are a few games that can compare to its AI. Yes it was a linear shooter. You SloMo’d and danced the dance of death with clone troopers in a John Woo-ish ambiance filled with shredded office documents, splintering doors, and flying body parts all awash with blood and gore. But it wasn’t an on-rails shooter: the level designs were, in my opinion, brilliant, allowing you to tackle a platoon of Armacham baddies multiple ways.
I just can’t feel that in any of the Call of Duty games (or the games that have followed the formula). They’ve effectively neutered the sense that YOU are the gamer; that this is YOUR story. Instead you’re prodded and pushed into one awesome cutscene after another, your mind bombarded with superfluous depictions of how war should feel like. Meanwhile, you’re participating in what is essentially a hyper-glorified corridor shooter, a turkey shoot that gets you from Point A to B without any opportunity to improvise on any of the situations presented to you.
One might argue that other corridor shooters shouldn't be scoffed at but some do have gameplay features that remain to this day innovative and unequaled. Mass Effect is one. It's basically a string of corridor shooter encounters BUT its depth of narrative, labyrinthine plot tree, and the degree of freedom it offers its players outside of combat are staggering. Photo taken from the Imbacore FB page.
Yes, Call of Duty games are in no way abysmal ones. I won’t deny that I’ve got the itch to play them again from time to time. But for someone to say it’s total fiction and that there’s no grand crevasse separating the games of yore from the games made after the first Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, well, that’s a stretch.
There’s a resurgence of a freeform gameplay mechanics in the hundreds of indie games that have popped up after Minecraft and the inception of Steam’s Greenlight project—hallelujah! for that—but that’s for another topic.