Sunday, May 29, 2022

Do FPS games even need a single player campaign these days?

In the past few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time looking through scopes. Red dots and ACOGs and telescopes. From one FPS to another, I hold my eye to a lens and press the shutter button. Sometimes I’m a sniper dropping Nazis down to protect my father, sometimes I’m a soldier surrounded by 127 other players. I’ve been a chunky Spartan lately in crunchy crayon armor.

All along with the three big FPS of the year, each packaged in their own way, made me wonder what’s important these days. Do they need campaigns or is just multiplayer the way to go? How about if you introduce one a little later than the other?

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4. Do you remember that? No, probably not. But this fourth edition of the Blopsverse was the first to ship without a story mode. The developers decided to cut off the campaign component as player data showed we spent less time on the story and more on the all-out online war. Corresponding the payment, we all giggled between cartridges in a state of multiplayer euphoria, so it made sense to balance that equation. Generate more multiplayer content and other digits would multiply exponentially.

The developers of Blops 4 replaced the traditional COD campaign with quick story missions for the game’s various characters, but reviews suggest these were disjointed and far from the usual corridor dash. I can’t say I’ve ever really played Blops 4 so I can’t confirm the dismay of the players who missed the campaign, but I think if I went back in time I would be upset.

Campaigns are important to me, at least. This may seem a little hypocritical when it comes to someone who said that Call Of Duty: Vanguard’s story was an unpretentious filler, but that’s because it comes from the heart. I really care, mate, and I half barbecued COD this year for a similar reason. I know the developers could come up with a better story: the original from Modern Warfare had the great All Ghillied Up with its heartbreaking crash course in sniper; Modern Warfare 2 featured James Bond-inspired snowmobile chases; Black Ops got you to question the NUMBERS MASON; even Infinite Warfare was a deeply underrated space opera. They’ve been flat since then, but those stories were once an integral part of the package.

A view of a space battle from the cockpit of a ship in Call Of Duty Infinite Warfare
These missions are important because they act as curated practice runs. All Ghillied Up will allow you to hone your sniping skills while other missions will constantly introduce you to new weapons in an environment that won’t judge you for slip ups. Vanguard is especially good at this, as it scatters many different weapons across its levels as a constant encouragement.

Battlefield 2042 does not have a story mode. A lot of Battlefield games haven’t bothered and the only thing that sticks in my memory is Bad Company 2. That’s funny because I think BC2 is the best Battlefield I’ve ever played. There’s a scene where a missile pulverizes an enemy settlement with a huge bang and one of your squads turns around and exclaims, “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” Not only is the story full of really fun moments like this one, but it brings you closer to your teammates than any other Battlefield game. And that makes a huge difference as it is blowing the universe you are blowing up to pieces.

Whenever I dive into Battlefield 2042 – or most other Battlefields without a campaign – I struggle to connect with the soldiers I embody. There’s Paik, a Korean specialist with cool technology that allows her to see enemies through walls. She appears alive and brave, with the capacity for great destruction. But that’s a personality I constructed as I have nothing but looks and a voice or two to continue. Every battlefield I enter, no matter how big or grand, has no weight either. I have not seen any significant wars waged on these green hills. No emotional moments. Only 128 bodies melt into one another like a tasteless soup.

But I suppose you create your own memories. Games like Battlefield rely on constructing their own legendary stories, like when you shot down the Apache helicopter with a bundle of C4 and a dream. As you play, you could argue that instead of having that pre-made story in the menus and overwriting everything you create, you’re tweaking your own narrative.

Viper and Cypher protect Raze while she disarms the spike on Valorant's new Breeze map.
While not an FPS, Riot Games digs deeper into the League Of Legends universe and has plenty of spin-off games in the works. If Valorant proves popular enough, we may see a similar strategy. Anyone for a Valorant Auto-Battler?

The same feeling applies to games like Valorant and CS: GO with their sporty emphasis. They don’t have campaigns and still I enjoy them a lot. In fact, I’d say they don’t need a story mode to level up. I think that’s because they were built with competition in mind. These are hugely popular games, but they have no qualms about alienating a certain crowd. If you are not here to enjoy mastering maps, goals, and strategy, then perhaps your best option is to locate your business elsewhere.

In competitive games, the story comes later anyway. You will receive comics and animated short films of your favorite characters during some after-school activities. A campaign is not absolutely necessary here. If you’re hungry for more, the developers can feed you chunks of backstory in-game or off-game. Story is an extension here, not a necessity I guess.

Speaking of expansions, let’s address Halo: Infinite which launched – technically it’s still in beta, but now it’s coming – with a bunch of multiplayer modes but no campaign, which is a separate, paid thing. How am I doing with that? Yeah well If anything, it feels like a symptom of the Covid pandemic with its delays and forced restructuring of the company, as a calculated decision. Sure, there is definitely an element of “let’s trick them into buying the campaign and making big bucks through microtransactions,” but it also seems like some kind of peace offer.

Halo Infinite’s multiplayer beta certainly seems like a great tool for getting people to buy the campaign when it lands. I mean, I probably will.

I know Infinite’s campaign and its other features (co-op and forge) are on the way, so this multiplayer beta, floating without its story component, feels good to me. And that may be because it doesn’t just fall back on years of history, but because we respond positively to the present. This time we’re fine without the story component as Halo feels like Halo again. Unlike the last couple of Halo games, Infinite has an ancestry. Even just jumping into its early multiplayer modes, it feels like it’s reconnected to its past despite its fragmented present.

But I couldn’t imagine Halo ever adopting a model without a campaign. Oh no, that doesn’t seem right. This is a ringed universe that has too much to offer, and the story of Chief doesn’t end there! And if we zoom out all the way and look at the bigger picture for a second, campaigns are often a lot easier to matter. They suit people who just don’t care about the competitive side of things. Not everyone gets the urge to hop into lobbies full of the likes of ObiWanBigBoaby and TommyHilTrigger. A lot of people just want to soak up a few hours of spectacle, then leave it at that.

I’m a little bit of both. Often times I devour the campaign and then move on to multiplayer when I’ve checked it off and set my eye. But how about you What do you think of FPS and campaigns? Yay, no or wahey?

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is currently suing Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard for discrimination, harassment and retaliation, alleging women are poorly paid and badly treated in “an ubiquitous ‘frat boy’ workplace culture.” Over 2,600 current and former employees signed an open letter condemning the company’s initial response. J. Allen Brack, president of Blizzard Entertainment, has since left the company and several others have reportedly been laid off. A new report now claims that Activision CEO Bobby Kotick was aware of the allegations but did nothing about it. The company recently set up a new committee to prevent harassment and discrimination, but Kotick remains in power. Employees and shareholder groups continue to call for Kotick to be dismissed.

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