Are We Witnessing the Death of the Single-Player Shooter?
Shooters have been one of the most popular video game genres for decades, and much of that is due to the rise of multiplayer support, as well as the constant iteration of game modes and features that stem from the shooter "mold." Because of this, shooters have the ability to reach nearly any demographic of gamer, and can satisfy almost any range of gaming styles, from casual to intensely competitive. Despite the sustained success of shooters, it's starting to feel like they might be losing touch with their roots.
Current-generation shooters seem to be primarily defined and measured by the quality of their multiplayer modes. Don't get me wrong, this isn't an entirely bad thing to focus on, however, it seems to be coming at the cost of lacking any meaningful single-player experience. It seems as though the majority of consumers who buy shooters are going to be looking for a satisfying multiplayer feature to keep them invested over the long-term, which pushes developers to devote the majority of their resources to refining this aspect of the game. This ends up meaning that single-player experiences will feel more like a tacked on diversion than a full-fledged campaign. The biggest offender in these regards would have to be the Call of Duty series, once known for its extremely engaging, and at times groundbreaking single player features (who doesn’t remember All Ghillied Up from Modern Warfare?). But over time, focus shifted heavily to multiplayer and zombie horde modes, and now the games simply copy and paste the same uninspired levels filled with repetitive gameplay set amongst a bland story line. Players can realistically expect to burn through one in about 5-6 hours including cutscenes, after which they promptly forget about it and never play it again.
This sad trend appears to have come to its unfortunate conclusion when sources indicated that the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII will NOT feature a single player campaign. It’s not uncommon for shooters to eschew single player altogether, Overwatch is a popular current example, but this holds true going back as far as CounterStrike. Yet I can’t think of another instance of a franchise known for consistently including a single player story line suddenly deciding to omit it entirely. It’s a disturbing choice and one that I believe stems from the misguided belief that gamers simply don’t care about the single player experience anymore.
CoD is hardly the only culprit in this shift of focus. As painful as it is for me to admit, the Halo series has also been watered down considerably by its last two entries. The endlessly memorable story mode which encompassed hours of my childhood and later teen years has been replaced with something much more generic in Halo 4 and 5. Though they have all the trimmings of a Halo game they very much lack the feel of the earlier entries. It also doesn’t help that the "legendary" difficulty feels noticeably subdued compared to the almost cruelly difficult one found in Halo 2.
I also have to take into account the rise of popular PvE cooperative games such as the Destiny series, The Division, Ghost Recon Wildlands and Bioware’s upcoming Anthem. While all these can technically be played as single player games you are ultimately missing a tremendous chunk of what makes them enjoyable, specifically raids or other missions that require a group to complete.
It’s a real shame to see solid single player modes become so neglected, especially since shooters excelled in single-player experiences, before the advent of online multiplayer, or even splitscreen. Let me be clear: this isn't “Oh, the good old days are over and all we have to look forward to is battle royale and loot boxes.” I wanted to mention that while single player may be on a downturn, the spirit is still strong in the hearts of some gamers and developers. 2016’s Doom and last year's Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, both published by Bethesda, represented a return to form for both of the franchises. They took some hints from the past: great level design, frenetic gameplay, a fun over the top setting -- sprinkled it with gratuitous amounts of violence and ended up delivering some of best shooters in years. Also worthy of mentioning is 2016’s criminally underappreciated Titanfall 2, which surprised the hell out of me with how fresh the campaign felt. It managed to push the genre forward with its incredible emphasis on high mobility shooting combined with a plethora of incredibly enjoyable gadgets and abilities. As for the future, I am currently anticipating the release of Metro: Exodus the third entry in the masterful Metro series. Both prior games are incredible in their own right and feature phenomenal world building and atmosphere, but while they do adopt a number of RPG elements they are still very much shooters at their core.
Like most things involving entertainment, video games or otherwise, the trends that most releases tend to follow reflect the interests of the majority. Currently that interest is in multiplayer. While the market is saturated with team-based shooters, PvE open world adventures, and battle royale clones--you can still count on the truly dedicated teams to continue to innovate and bring you the quality experiences you deserve.