Friday, March 7, 2008

Three Of The Same

Permit me a recreational grumble. In the last week I've played three games that, to all intents and purposes are basically exactly the same thing. They're all set in the near-future, they all have some kind of "message" bubbling under the surface, but they all do it in a ham-fisted, clumsy way. They're all shooters, they all try and provide a sense of being part of a "team," they were all released within a couple of weeks of each other, and although they use different technologies, they all look basically the same. What are they? Frontlines: Fuel of War, Conflict: Denied Ops, and Army of Two.

In terms of technology, and bare-bones mechanics, each game certainly has problems, and they've been covered at great length in the press. Of the three, Conflict certainly has the most problems, and is certainly the clumsiest in this regard. While Frontlines and Army of Two appear to have "something to say" Conflict is just a big fat series of cliches that constantly fail to live up to their promises. The characters are straight out of a bad 80s action movie, and the thing was clearly rushed out as an attempt to spoil the Army of Two "buddy" thing. The story is preposterous, and the "destroy anything" claim is just a flat out lie. You can blow up buildings, but only the bits designed to break. You can knock over objects, and blow up a lots of different types of crate - but you can't drive over a small heap of pebbles in a fucking tank.

Frontlines, meanwhile, seems to want to convince you that you should buy a Prius, eat your granola, and watch Inconvenient Truth as many times as possible. Beneath the big dudes blowing the crap out of stuff veneer, it's got this whole "if we depend on oil we're all fucked" thing going on that, while admirable, is spoiled by the clumsy narrative in the (woefully short) single player campaign, and the fact that it feels like its online gameplay was re-prioritized as "the important bit" halfway through the project. The use of a sympathetic observer as a major character is certainly a noble attempt to try something new, but like so many other things in the game it seems underutilized and half-formed. Far from being the core of the story, the "reporter" ends up just being a bloke with a beard, no gun, and the word "Press" written on the back of his jacket and a tendency to blindly stumble into trouble.

Army of Two's message seems to be that war is bad, but if you have a buddy with you and a big fat paycheck everything will be OK. Like Conflict, it has the dysfunctional 80s buddy flick vibe thing going on, but at least it makes some attempt in the single-player campaign to have the two guys actually work together. However failed AoT's AI might be (and everyone seemed to complain about it, because it's inherently broken) at least the guys will actually operate independently. While Conflict's buddies tend to stand wherever you leave them, the Army of Two guys actively grab you and push you into the open to get shot.

Like I said, this is a recreational grumble - predominantly about the fact that we're seeing an awful lot of the same kind of thing lately, particularly on 360. With so many imaginative concepts starting to emerge in other areas, this whole dystopian near-future shooter thing is getting seriously old. All said though, I actually like Army of Two a lot, and Frontlines, while flawed, was a lot of fun online. Conflict, sadly, is one of those games that makes you wonder why it ever got a green light in the first place.
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