The Bro Shooter

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jul 31, 2012

Filed under: Game Reviews 131 comments


I am not a fan of the “bro-shooter” genre. I mean, obviously. I’m sure I’ve belabored this idea in the past. Rather than just raging against each game as it comes out, I generally ignore them, unless I hear that a title is trying something different or unexpected.

I’m using the broad version of the genre, one that includes games like Call of Duty, Gears of War, Killzone, Kane & Lynch, Homefront, and Far Cry 2. Some are cover-based, some aren’t. Some are real-world, some aren’t. Some are third-person, some are first-person. The term “bro shooter” isn’t a hard-and-fast category, but a sort of generic pejorative we throw at a game once it accumulates too many symptoms of the genre. We can argue about edge cases like Mass Effect or haggle over why Half-Life doesn’t wind up in this category, but let’s just set that aside for right now and agree that some games meet these criteria and that I don’t enjoy them.

Spec Ops: The Line is a cover-based modern military shooter starring a white thirty-something American man with brown hair. For bonus points, he’s even voiced by Nolan North1. You’ve got a “ripped from the headlines as skimmed on Reddit” backdrop for the conflict. You’ve got characters that are pickled in their own machismo. You’ve got the obligatory selection of real-world weapons. You’ve got your mandatory vehicle section, turret section, and sniping section. It’s the very embodiment of the genre.

Bad Company 2

And yet. I liked it.

But before I review the game I need to make it clear what I dislike about the genre and why. There is a possibility that some will see this as “trolling”. I mean, I don’t like cooking games, or find-the-item games. Or shmups. So I ignore them. It’s pretty hard to review a genre without the whole thing coming off like, “This genre is invalid and shouldn’t exist and the people who like it are bad!”

But in order to talk about why I like Spec Ops: The line, I have to talk about why I would normally hate Spec Ops: The Line.

For the record, the screenshots in this post are from OTHER bro shooters. None of these are from Spec Ops.

Modern Warfare 2

Games set in the modern military world generally leave me cold. It’s always the same bunch of hyper-masculine man-ape archetypes, hooting and grunting as they fight their way to the top of the corpse pile.

Cover-based gameplay is monotonous to me. I like moving around in a fight. I feel like I need something more than just spraying bullets at the brown-colored foes. Give me a gravity gun. Or Space magic. Invisibility. Some laser-type guns. The ability to bash through walls. Super jumping. Mind-controlling your foes. Cybernetic implants. Stealth gameplay. Bullet time. Whatever.

People dismiss this kind of thing as a “gimmick”, but that’s like saying barbecue is “just a condiment”. Okay, fine. But when the alternative is eating a piece of meat that tastes exactly like every other piece of meat, condiments start sounding pretty good. Particularly since the “meat” of these games tastes like tofu already.

Also, sorry for that previous paragraph. That metaphor kind of got away from me.

Modern Warfare 3

I don’t like how bossy and verbose the games are, to the point where there’s always someone shouting at you or shooting at you.

I don’t like how so much of the gameplay is mandated. You don’t have a jump button, you have a button that will let you vault over something if you’re in one of the designated vault-over-things zones. You don’t have a set of general tools for stealth for when you’re in the mood to be sneaky, you have stealth sections where the game allows (or forces!) you to sneak. Battlefields aren’t dynamic, branching environments where you can flank, seek the high ground, ambush, or go frontal-assault. No, battlefields are a chain of chest-high walls where sometimes you can choose if you want to hide behind the wall on the right or the wall on the left. You flank when you’re told to flank and go frontal-assault in most other cases. There’s no reward for being clever because you’re never given the choice of being dumb.

This “mandated gameplay” ends up being tyrannical and one-dimensional. It’s like going to the playground with a drill sergeant.


Get up on those swings and give me two minutes! Higher! That’s enough. Now go down the slide five times! Come on, it’s time for hopscotch, and then I want you doing 50 revolutions on the merry-go-round. Come on kid, I can’t hear you giggle! I want frolicing. I want merriment. I want to hear some goddamn youthful exuberance! Go go go!

I think the hyper-realistic setting gets in the way of the gameplay. Okay, we’re supposedly Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, CIA Operatives, or some other breed of rarefied hardass. We’re supposedly in the real world, fighting in real locations, using real weapons, but at the end of the game you’ve somehow killed a thousand people single-handed and absorbed ten thousand bullets. That sort of thing is a little easier to swallow once the world has a few units of science fiction or fantasy in its bloodstream. There’s this odd disconnect between the backdrop and the action taking place in front of it. Some games mask this by surrounding you with mortal allies, just so you can feel like you’re part of a larger force. But in other games you and your NPC buddy can clear out an entire battalion of entrenched foes without either one of you saying, “This was the most statistically unlikely victory in the history of our species. Was anyone recording that?”

Call of Duty: Black Ops

I dislike the ALL MAN gameplay. It’s just… it’s boring. The white middle-class all-American patriot who is tough and fearless and honorable and smart and good-looking. There’s nothing wrong with the character per se. But we’ve met him. A long time ago. I’m sick of him. Give me someone else. And no, giving him a tortured past to overcome or a dead wife does not make him “someone else”. Please.

I don’t like the weapons. One lump of black gunmetal at the bottom of the screen looks like any other, and one machine gun sounds pretty much like another. Sure, some sound deeper or faster or louder, but overall we’re talking about the sound of grenades, mortars, machine guns, tanks and helicopters, all singing together in a grand chorus of white noise.

Obviously I’m not suggesting that Modern Warfare games should have the Half-Life 2 Tau Cannon and Quake III railgun. I’m just saying that this is why I don’t play these games. My ears get tired and I get bored.

So that’s why I don’t like the genre. And this is to say nothing of these games in their online form.

So… how is it I just played an entire game cut from this template, got to the end, and began a new game?

I’ll tell you. Next time.

1 Nolan North isn’t a bad guy or anything, he’s just a really common “everyman” voice. Assuming every man is white and thirty. The Prince of Person. Nathan Drab. Desmond Mild.


From The Archives:

131 thoughts on “The Bro Shooter

  1. Dave Anderson says:

    I'll tell you. Next time.

    I refreshed my page. Does that count as “Next time”? ;-)

  2. ToastyVirus says:

    Yup. While I’m not totally adverse to broshooters, Spec Ops: The Line was really something else.

  3. Pteroid says:

    What I liked about The Line was that it’s pretty much an indictment of many of the conceits of the modern shooter, where the heroes can get away with loads of bullshit just for the fact that they are the protagonist and therefore have the moral high ground.

  4. newdarkcloud says:

    That’s what turned me off from most of the shooter genre. It all feels far too same and suspension of disbelief shattering to go through over and over. It’s far too monotonous for me.

    That (and the fact that several other games are coming out) was why I didn’t pick up Spec Ops. It looked like another generic FPS. Though I hear than I’ve been missing out. Oh well, wouldn’t be the first time.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its not too late for you to change your mind.Really,its worth it.

      1. newdarkcloud says:

        I probably will some time down the road, but right now I need to prepare for the Holiday Pinch. It’s gonna be a bitch this year.

        1. SougoXIII says:

          I watched the entire walkthrough of the game on Youtube and from what I can tell, the gameplay is just as tedious and monotonous as any other ‘bro shooters,’ the only highlight is the story and the twist was very well done. I would recommend just watching the whole thing on Youtube and save yourself some money.

          1. newdarkcloud says:

            Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done that.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              No,dont do that.If you really dislike the genre,put it on easy and walk through the story.The gameplay does seem tedious,but like Ive mentioned below,it is kind of the point.It is meant to be this same old boring bro shooter,that slowly breaks into something different.Its subtle,but its there.You really should experience this as a game,and not just as a movie.

    2. SleepingDragon says:

      Yeah, I pretty much got the news that “something is coming out”, saw the soldiery, brown box art and stopped caring. Still not ready to buy it, and definitely not while it’s new and pricey, but I’m starting to consider learning what all the fuss is about.

  5. Jock says:

    I am sort of curious how Half Life 2 avoids being a bro-shooter, since it has a lot of the qualities that you so abhor (Boring 30-something White Male Captain America protagonist? Check. Illusion of choice level design? Check.) It doesn’t have a ‘cover button’, sure, but neither does Call of Duty or really most FPSes I can think of. Really the only thing it has that Modern Warfare and its relatives don’t is the dash of sci-fi to liven up the weapons selection and toys you get to play with. So I guess 3 boxes=Bro-shooter, 2 boxes=fine by you?

    1. HK says:

      Half-Life 2 does get close to the territory but it does have a lot of ways that it avoids bro shooterness.
      Sure it has a silent white male 30 something protagonist but also all your other support characters aren’t. Your most helpful allies are scientist, Alyx, and a robotic dog not your equally hard ass unit buddies.

      Their really isn’t a choice to the level design but the seams are just hidden better

      It does have a jump button, most other shooters don’t have that.

      The real reason it avoids the bro shooterhood, is that all of your weapons visual unique, they found away to actually make you the underdog in the fight, and that if you really wanted to you could kill most of your enemies with a toilet

      1. swenson says:

        HL’s jump button alone would be enough to save it for me. It just drives me up the wall when I can’t jump in other games. It kinda makes sense in third-person games, I guess, because it might look weird or be hard to control, but… come on! Just let me jump! But no, in most games, you can be trapped by a six inch barrier.

        Also, games that let you jump are much more likely to allow you to jump places you’re not supposed to jump to, and I appreciate a game that lets me jump off a balcony a thousand feet from the ground if I so desire.

        Actually, that last point is probably a bit part of what Shamus was talking about: games don’t let you actually do anything on your own. There is one way to play, and if you don’t want to play that way, too bad, it’s the only way to play. Let me be an idiot, game! Let me try stupid stuff for the sake of trying stupid stuff! Let me kill myself like a moron because I feel like it!

        1. Jabrwock says:

          I used to beta test for WWIIOnline, and there was a HUGE fight about jumping. People didn’t like bunny hopping, but they still wanted to be able to clear obstacles without having designated “vaulting” areas (you still did, but it was more the height of the wall rather than anything else that limited you)

          In the end, they adopted what I feel was the best solution. A stamina bar. Sprinting and jumping used up stamina, and low stamina severely impacted your aim. Stamina recharged over time, but like sprinting in DEx it had limited duration and recharge was slow.

          Cut the bunny hopping to nil (you could only jump once or twice in a row before you had to wait for it to recharge), and sprinting from cover to cover had a point (hiding behind cover to recoup your stamina for the next sprint, or to fire off a shot or two while still being able to hit the broad side of a barn).

    2. Sagretti says:

      I feel like you’re ignoring a lot of his points to try and shove Half Life 2 into that category. Half-Life 2 has a variety of different weapons, only a couple of which are assault rifle style. It has the gravity gun gameplay which gives things a twist. There are prominent female characters. Gordon Freeman is a thirty something male, but he’s a nerdy looking scientist, not an ultra-handsome marine shouting neanderthal catchphrases. For vast stretches of the gameplay, things are completely silent, and nobody is shouting commands and warnings to you. The setting is unmistakably Science Fiction.

      I could go on and on, but there are a lot more elements to Shamus’s definition of “Bro Game” than just 3 things, and Half Life 2 subverts the majority.

      1. Raygereio says:

        The setting is unmistakably Science Fiction.
        I dunno about that one.
        Yeah, the overall HL-setting is dystopian SF. But the majority of the levels in HL2 don’t exhibit any SF elements, just dystopian ones.

        1. Sagretti says:

          I guess you could argue its not science fiction enough, but the main antagonists and some allies are aliens, much of the weaponry is alien technology, there’s teleportation, creatures from another dimension, etc. The game is set in a dystopian society that takes bits from a lot of classics. I’m not saying being science fiction necessarily disqualifies you from being a bro shooter, as Shamus includes Gears of War under the heading, but I think it’s another example of how it doesn’t fit the definition given in the article.

    3. Shamus says:

      If you click on the Crysis 2 link in the post you can see a really great comparison of the two in terms of supposed player volition.

      * Sci-fi setting.
      * Not full of shouty man-apes.
      * Jump button and use button, as opposed to a context sensitive omni-button.
      * As HK said, the seams on the linear levels are hidden better. Also, many fights can be quite dynamic.
      * Gravity gun, while kind of played out now, was an awesome gimmick in its time.
      * Game lets you set you own pace, not screaming at you to hurry up every five seconds or spelling everything out for you.
      * Not all brown. Lots of decent contrast. (Could be better, I’ll give you. Episodes did a better job of keeping it fresh.)
      * Variety of weapons. AR2 doesn’t feel like Just Another Machine Gun. Guided missiles were fun. Rebar crossbow was different.
      * Antagonist is interesting and not a generic Madman with an army.

    4. James says:

      Its a bit more than that. Mostly for me it is the disconnect between you character and the world around it, they want to have a “realistic” feel to their game with the most unrealistic of tactics.

      In your example yes Gorden is a 30 something white male but he is definitely not a fist pumping macho military man, he is a theoretical physicist. His power and the reason he can take so many bullets? HEV suit, which is vaguely defined in its use and function for a reason, and even with that suit he is still vulnerable he can only take so many bullets before falling and must recharge its shield energy and restore his health.

      In every other shooter bullets are a minor inconvenience that you can shrug off because your manly I guess, really their is no explanation. Yes medkits aren’t fully “realistic” but it’s better than the whole regenerating health. I let halo get away with it cause at least they give a reasonable excuse with the shield but the rest nothing. Just laziness in design.

      Now for weapons he bring that up, most modern shooters boast to have a dozens of guns, but again so many are similar in make and design in “real” life that in a game they all feel the same. In games like half life, resistance (1 and 3 the good ones), hell even halo (which I wouldent even call a very good game) all the guns are unique with their own properties, rate of fire, power, and most importantly they all FEEL different.

      Now on to design in all of the examples above most games like half life 2, yes their is allot of corder shooting but so to is their a vertical open design in some levels (like Ravenholm), or actually forces you to thing and use you environment (ant lion levels).

      So in closing no its not just 2 out of 3 boxes checked their are allot more in those boxes once you open them up.

    5. Chris says:

      I’ve always taken the “Bro Shooter” to be more of an aesthetic direction than a standalone genre made up of individual elements. I mean, if we say that “Bro Shooters” are any linear games with a white combat-aged protagonist and militaristic themes we’d have to include stuff like Metal Slug or Rainbow Six – stuff that is clearly outside the realm of what we’re criticizing when discussing games like Call of Duty or Battlefield. There are a few things that seem to set the modern “DudeBro” shooter apart from, say, Rainbow Six, and they’re mostly thematic and tonal more than mechanical or genre-based.

      There’s the visual aesthetic. It’s quote-unquote realistic, and heavily influenced by the Michael “Helicopters at Sunset” Bay. Muted blue-greys and brown-orange color schemes are everywhere. Also, a preoccupation with military hardware rather than the people using it – it isn’t about what Price is saying, it’s about how he’s using that silenced sniper rifle while hiding in his digital camo that’s got the game’s attention.

      There’s a lot of moral absolutism (Spec Ops goes out of its way to condemn this). Your actions – however violent and destructive – are always a force for progress and good. The only example that really runs counter to this is the infamous No Russian scene in Modern Warfare 2, and even then you’re ostensibly killing these people to infiltrate a terrorist organization that wants to kill MILLIONS of people, so hey – morally justified! And if you dare to posit more complicated realities – stopping the slaughter by shooting the terrorists before they can open fire or gunning down civilians in a level when you’re on foot as a regular soldier, the game instantly fails you for provoking. I mean, Modern Warfare has serious warcrimes committed in all three games – Price shoots an unarmed prisoner of war tied to a chair in the head at point blank range because he’s “done with him.” And no one comments on it! It’s a total violation of law, ethics, and simple human decency, and the game presents it as badass and without other comment! It’s okay because Price is the good guy and he shot a bad guy. That’s the level of morality and ethical value these games have.

      There are the Good Guys (you) who usually number five or six total, and they’re responsible for killing the Bad Guys (countless hordes of faceless people, almost always from other countries). This is actually a big deal – these games try to prey upon cultural bias and xenophobia to make the violent actions you commit feel validated. I don’t really care for the “Captain America” comparison – it implies we’re turning to Soap or Price as pinnacles of American values, when really the goal is the exact opposite – to other and alienate the people you’re mowing down. I mean, Soap and Price are part of SAS! They’re British! We’re not supposed to look at them and think “There go our brave soldiers,” we’re supposed to look at them and think “I can certainly identify with these members of Western culture, but not those Arabs/Russians/Koreans/Villain Country of the Week!” While these games have gotten slightly better about this – Modern Warfare 3 lets you play as no less than two Russians, and Battlefield 3 makes at least a passing point to say that the citizens of Iraq aren’t your enemy but the Al Quieda stand-ins are – you’re still shooting “othered” peoples who stand apart from western society, and that’s intentional.

      Above everything else, though, is the glorification of violent combat for its own sake – not in a stylized Tarantino sense like Quake 3 or Mortal Kombat, but in a way that paints actual war and actual weapons as fun/awesome. This is masked with a veneer of “honoring the troops” by displaying a pithy phrase about the horrors of war after you die, or by playing “serious” violin quartet music on the menu screens, or having “emotional” scenes of characters dying around you. But it’s so disingenuous next to the spectacle of killing a thousand dudes and unlocking the badass chrome paint job for your AK-47 or having to kill enough people to earn that silencer for your pistol. There’s a serious cognitive disconnect there – simultaneously rewarding the player for killing and trying to sell these weapons of death as the most fun things to play with in the world, but then quietly mumbling to itself about how awful war is when you’re not actually playing.

      And that is, I think, the heart of the dudebro shooter. It takes the Michael Bay aesthetic one step further, and instead of promoting cool guns in the abstract or how awesome the archetype of the honorable soldier is, it goes on to celebrate the act of shooting people and using those weapons on people without taking any real responsibility for that message.

      Most of Half-Life takes place in self defense, in almost a Star Wars style of “I have to shoot them because they’re going to shoot me, but I don’t necesarily want to shoot them, I just want to get to the MacGuffin Portal/Research Lab/Citadel.” Luke doesn’t gun down Storm Troopers because he’s a bloodthirsty warrior who needs to glorify his blaster, he’s a kid who wants to blow up the bad guy’s toys. In a way, Star Wars/Half-Life are very anti-war tech. In contrast, the entirety of Modern Warfare and Battlefield delights in combat. You’re shooting these guys because these guys are assholes from other countries and we’re going to win this thing! Kill as many as you can before you reach the giant setpiece of awesomeness where you get even better military hardware and can kill even more! It might be a minigun on a helicopter, it might be a Johnny 5 death bot, it might be an airstrike laptop, it might be a fighter jet! Who knows what awesome way we’re going to get you to kill dudes next?!

      Edit: And these winding, verbose, poorly constructed sentences that amount to very little in the way of a cohesive whole are why I do crappy internet videos and not written posts. :/

      1. Jabrwock says:

        I wonder how Halo stacks up in the dudebro comparison. There’s no moral quandries (except on the Covenant side with the discovery that the leaders are corrupt, GOSH!), the protagonist isn’t a “renegade”, etc.

        I haven’t played R6 in a long time, but I remember in that game that while you had a LOT of weapons to choose from, the choices actually mattered. Gun A might have a bigger mag, but was less accurate at range than Gun B. Gun C had a low rate of fire but was better for close range. Gun D could be silenced. Etc.

        I would count R6 as the exception to military shooters. It was more along the lines of the tabletop squad games (you ran as a FPS, but you controlled squads who followed pre-programmed plans). You cared what happened to your squad mates because of the loss of skills and special weapons.

      2. Paul Spooner says:

        “Let me explain… No, there is too much, let me sum up…”

        The “Bro Shooter” is a game where the player character is a vehicle solely employed to operate military hardware. It generally encourages the player to revel in violent conflict, and gives justifications for why violence is the only solution to the problems the game presents. It is usually set in a bland location with bland visuals so as to not distract the player with any form of beauty, as such would necessarily contrast with the needless slaughter which is the game’s primary selling point.
        The plot of a “Bro Shooter” usually emphasizes how terrible, needless, and violent war is. This meshes perfectly with the game’s mechanics, as terror and pointless slaughter is the core emotion elicited by the game play. As the player character has no abilities beside the operation of military equipment, this equipment forms the focus for the game’s visuals and mechanics.

        Did I hit it?

        1. Zombie says:

          I personally would add that the narrative, or what little there is, is used only to be a convenient way to move from place to place, it tries to provoke an overwhelming sense of Patriotism, and finally has to provide for the lowest common denominator, meaning that there is very little high level thinking. Other then that, spot on.

          1. Jabrwock says:

            Token high-level thinking. Stuff clearly brought in just to try to give the illusion of high-level thinking, without any follow-through at all.

            “War is hell, now get out there and continue the slaughter.”

            1. JPH says:

              Yeah, it’s about on par with forced scenes of sentimentality in Adam Sandler movies. It doesn’t really fit with the rest of the narrative, it’s just crowbarred in to make the audience think it has a heart/brain. It fools some, but not all.

      3. Shamus says:

        Damnit Chris! Stop being obviously more incisive than me on my own site!

        More seriously: You’re right. I was caught up on mechanics and presentation, but it’s more about tone and aesthetic direction than about whether or not you use cover.

      4. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        I’ll speak the heresy – I am bored by Halflife 2 and I like Call of Duty. Nonetheless, I’ll agree with most of this. The Realistic Shooter is a thematic genre trying to straddle both sides of “it is good war is so terrible, else we would grow too fond of it.” The realism is an attempt to get this dichotomy in the same way that Lee’s comment was provoked by watching wave after wave of Union soldiers assault Mary’s Heights. All the pagentry and excitement, punctuated by a piles of bodies and mass death.

        But you are short selling how the games go about it. Moder Warfare: the game starts with training and a light, fun, exciting hop to capture a freighter with a stolen nuke, and the first thing that happens is two people are shot in their sleep right in front of you – and everyone keeps going. And after this exciting little romp is The Coup, where you get to watch a civil war unfold where the loosers are being executed in the streets. And then the Americans are going to swoop in to save the day -only to be anhilated by a nuclear blast. In the middle section of the game, you explore what motivated Zakhaev. He’s willing to destroy the world -basically for revenge, but with a little bit of lost-honor-and-dignity thrown in. Which leads into the second game, which is even less subtle.

        In the first real firefight you drive an armored car through an Afghan city, watching civilians run away from you. In the mid-game, you are the civilians running away from armored cars. The level is even called “Wolverines” except this time, the Russians invading Virginia are compared to the Americans invading Afganistan. And the motivations are the same: some people who are nominally connected to the government attacked the super power, and the super power is going to lash back. Revenge, a bit of lost-honor-and-dignity.

        In the latter portion of the game, you destroy Washington, D.C. in an attempt to save it. Every shot that misses, every grenade thrown damages something you recognize. You have to destroy the WWII memorial from the air in order to stop SAMs from shooting down your helicopters.

        And Price – Price is clearly not well from the years of doing what he does. He destroys the world and calls it heroism.

        I remain astonished that this is apparently too subtle for most of the world.

        Similar things can be said for Gears of War. I can’t speak to the other games.

        MW3 went totally off the rails, though.

        But I’ve not yet read anything that makes me think Spec Ops: The Line is a proper corrective, rather than a massive ham-handed over-correction. So I look forward to Shamus’s review.

        And on a side-bar, I’m not convinced that we can rope Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down into the same category as anything Michael Bay made -especially not post Transformers.

        1. Zombie says:

          Price is like 100 years old. He was part of your Squad on D-Day in the original CoD, and is MIA at the end of the Tirpitz mission. Of course hes not well!
          All joking aside, I think most of us feel the first game was very good. The second and third were meh. And I played the second one. I didn’t recognize a single thing like the WW2 memorial, and I didn’t even realize I was in the White House until someone told me. This is bad for a game when someone from the Washington D.C. area can not honestly tell that the game is in D.C.

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          But thats the thing,you go on to describe modern warfare 1,which was the only one with some originality in it.2 and 3 are simply meh*.And even 1 wasnt as good as the original call of duty(the only one I completely liked).

          *Yes even the airport scene,which was just an attempt to recreate the impact of the nuke scene in 1.Not as poor attempt as the tourist scene in 3 though.

        3. Jabrwock says:

          Imagine Michael Bay taking the action scenes from BHD, throwing away any sense of narrative & tone, and making it into a video game.

        4. Chris says:

          The opening of Modern Warfare involves people being shot in their sleep. No one notes how messed up this is, it’s not revisted later, it’s not a thematic bookend that ends with your characters getting shot in their sleep, there are no environmental touches that remind you that these guys had wives and kids and dogs, there’s not a gameplay beat to give you reflection on what you’ve done. The only reaction you get from the game is a snarky “Sleep tight” from Price – the sort of crass one liner you’d expect to see in a Schwarzenegger movie.

          Alternately you could look at Price’s warcrimes of the torture and execution of Al-Asad. Price never goes to jail for this, he’s never even scolded by his superiors (he seems to be operating without any supervision at all, really), he never expresses remorse, his squadmates don’t freak out when the execution takes place, he receives no dissent from his subordinates, the player isn’t offered the opportunity to have anything to say, the gameplay mechanics don’t change… like the people who are shot in their sleep, the event just sort of happens.

          Both of these are presented without comment – ludic, soundtrack, cinematography, narrative, or otherwise. That’s not subtlety, that’s simply not having anything to say about the horrific things in the game. At best it’s simple disinterest in the deaths of these people, and at worst when put in context and juxtaposed against the happyfuntime gameplay it tries to paint these things as badass or business as usual. There are ways you can communicate ideas in videogames, and both of these scenes use none of them.

          Compare that, to, say, the nuclear bomb scene. Here a death isn’t just something that happens without comment. The mechanics change up – there’s no shooting; just an injured man crawling on the floor. The cinematography is different – bloom bleeds in and out, emphasizing your pain and fading consciousness. You see him animate his hand, reaching out in desperation for a salvation that will never come. The death of this American soldier is supposed to resonate and carry weight with the player. The game pauses to ruminate on what it means – that these evil Russians have succeeded in their goal of triggering nuclear arms in Unnamed Middle East Country, and it has resulted in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of American soldiers(and doubtless thousands of Unnamed Middle East Countrymen, too, but the game doesn’t show/focus on/care about them). The game *clearly* has something to say about this death. The torture and execution of Al-Asad wasn’t a subtle commentary on the horrors of war, it was just a cool cutscene to make people think Price is awesome.

          You can do subtle commentary in games, but you have to do subtle things to get that commentary. Letting things pass without comment isn’t discourse.

          1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            I don’t agree. If we have to screach the game to a halt to have someone say “wow, that was messed up,” then we have bigger problems on the audience end. The first two people killed are in their sleep and never had a chance.

            Strictly speaking, given the target and mission, both of them were fair targets (had they not been killed then, they could have awoken and blocked the extraction). Yes, they could have been captured, but commandoes aren’t under an obligation to capture everyone they can. These kills were good. But it’s fairly disconcerting and is the first bit of light gray in the story. That it’s not remarked upon is the point. The player is civilian, but the military people -led by Price, who is gradually revealed to be not well -don’t mind. And players should notice this disconnect.

            The disconnect is ramped up as the game goes forward. Price assaults an ally (who you have many reasons to like -especially on replays given he saves your life at the end). This is merely awkward, but it seems to work. Meanwhile, the Americans are being gung-ho heroes, and it’s a comedy of errors. They miss Al-Assad in the intial assault, then wander into one ambush after another, culminating in the nuclear blast.

            And this sends Price over the edge, though we won’t notice it for a while. By the time he is punching Al-Assad (torture is overstated -that’s reserved for Soap in the second game with Rojas), we’re partially anestathised to it, and Al-Assad does mostly have it coming, but still, we’re no longer in gung-ho hero white knight land.

            The next level puts us in the hands of Price and requires us to be slow, calm, and deliberate (ie: completely out of character) which is a big indicator that Price wasn’t always the rambo figure he is in the main plot (noting in passing that Rambo wasn’t rambo in First Blood). McMillan is calm and professional the whole time and not given to outbursts or pithiness, but is rather a stern taskmaster for Price. “Good shot.” “He’s down.” His one moment of awesomeness criples him for life.

            When we come back to the present, we get to see Price in a different light – he’s not calm, he’s not collected. McMillan never would have responded to the message that the LZ had to move with “you gotta be takin’ the piss.” But Price (well, Gaz -who isn’t corrected) will. And we’re further down into gray.

            It gets worse. In the second game, he’s dragged Soap and Nicolai down with him. Soap hooks Rojas up to a car battery. When they free Price, despite Soap being the head of the mission he hands command over to Price -who promptly hijacks the entire operation to launch a nuclear missile at the East Coast, at great cost. The only thing saving this from being black is that it works, and that’s debatable. By the end of the game, Price’s mind is snapped (his monologue at the end is not a healthy mindset), and he’s basically got a clique: him and Soap against the world. Maybe Nicolai gets to be an honorary member. Everyone else can burn. Nuke the East Coast, trade information with Makarov, murder Shepherd rather than turn him in (though as grays go, this is the lighter one of the ending).

            Speaking of Shepherd, he’s another one who follows the same path: seemingly white, but getting grayer as the game progresses until ultimately he’s black and an out villain.

            This is one of the things that made the third game a debacle. They seemed to forget that Price isn’t awesome. He’s disturbed, and he’s dragging you along with him. There’s flashes of this: his reaction to Soap’s death, for example.

            Let me make a film comparison: not to Black Hawk Down, but to Full Metal Jacket. There are people -possibly a lot of them, maybe even most of them -who watch that movie and think that war is awesome and can’t wait to walk through a blasted village that they were supposed to be saving so that they can sing the Mickey Mouse Club Song and it’ll be cool. Some of them might think they’re being ironic. This does not make the movie stupid or pro war. And the people missing the point have no excuse, because half way through the movie Joker tells us the moral: “I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.” And here’s MW2:
            “The healthy human mind doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking this is it’s last day on Earth. But I think that’s a luxury, not a curse. To know you’re close to the end is a kind of freedom. Good time to take… inventory. Outgunned. Outnumbered. Out of our minds on a suicide mission, but the sands and rocks here stained with thousands of years of warfare… they will remember us for this. Because out of all our vast array of nightmares, this is the one we choose for ourselves. We go forward like a breath exhaled from the Earth. With vigor in our hearts and one goal in sight: We will kill him.”

            This is why all the death screens have quotes and figures of the expense and futility of war. To remind the player “you have a healthy mind -and yet you are doing this.”

            Plenty of people miss the point -just like the ones who watch Full Metal Jacket did. Like the people who think James Bond is a healthy and well balanced civil servant, or the Phantom of the Opera a misunderstood artist who would be a great lover to Christine. What I hear about SO:TL is that they turned all this to 11 – Yahtzee says it made him ill. If this were God or War we’d pummel it for being gorn (which is more or less the reason I can’t watch Appocalypse Now either). It pounds your face into the moral and then rubs your nose in it. If MW is too subtle, this sounds not enough.

            I should note -none of this should be taken as a full spectrum defense of Call of Duty. I actually think CoD3 is the best game in the series for storytelling and I have numerous complaints with the MW spinoff -for example, I think you make a good point about the use of other storytelling mechanics to make these points clearer. I’m stating the strong case for ease of argument. I await your next.

            1. Paul Spooner says:

              Both of you have good things to say. Both of you need a good comment editor. I’ve written long comments before but good gravy!

              Chris, I agree with you. Sabrdance, sorry, not convinced. If you want other people to debate with you, greater brevity is called for.

              1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

                Modern Warfare YAY!
                Halflife BOO!
                (end esoteric philosophy references)
                I don’t think brevity is an option given the point of contention is fairly large. We’re running headlong into the Truffaut Effect, and so we’re likely having a debate about that, merely in the guise of discussing videogames. I tend not to be worried about it because audiences should be able to suss the adrenaline rush from the actual consequences without being hit over the head with them. I consider it more a failing in the audience than the developer -that it’s a widespread failing is only partial mitigation. There are other issues as well.

                1. Paul Spooner says:

                  Agreed. The developers are only giving people what they ask for. This isn’t High Art that is challenging anyone’s assumptions. But I think that’s Chris’s point exactly. Maybe we’re all saying the same thing here.

                  Bro Shooters appeal to the masses by being pedestrian. This is a shame, but it also sells lots of video games. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

            2. Zombie says:

              See, I feel we’re reading to much into CoD. All I ever got out of MW2 was “Gurrrrr plotplotplot KillKillKill plotplotplot gurrrrrr”. Nowhere did I ever get that Price is messed up in the head, or there was subtle stuff in the game. The twist with the General in MW2 was weird, but I feel it was just bad story telling on Infinity Wards part, as it really just comes out of the blue.

            3. zob says:

              MW never admits that killing people is bad. And when everything is said and done killing those who stand before you was ok because you get to kill the bad guy. I know war is horrible, I know killing people is bad. MW doesn’t make those points except some cherry picked quotes scattered across loading screens.

              both of them were fair targets

              That is the problem of MW. You should feel bad after killing people, not justified. Especially after killing defenseless people.

              1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

                “Killing People Is Bad” isn’t the point. As Mordin points out in ME2, sometimes killing people is good. The game expects you to already be mostly anti-killing – which is why it can pass by shooting to people in bed without comment. We obviously caught the shocking nature of it. We also caught that this is how it’s done. And in reflection finally that it was justified, but not heroic.

                That suggests something about the duality of man. Which is the point. However badly made.

                1. Kdansky says:

                  >As Mordin points out in ME2, sometimes killing people is good.

                  No, that’s completely incorrect. Killing people is always and without exception a bad thing. Sometimes it is completely reasonable, unavoidable or possibly even justifiable, but never good. Sometimes you have to do bad things do prevent worse things, but that doesn’t make them good.

                  BroShooters never get that far. Murder is openly celebrated, and never questioned, not even in passing. How come any story with Batman in it is more realistic in its depiction of murder than MW3? That’s the biggest problem: You can make a game that doesn’t care about ethics. You can make a realistic game. But don’t make a realistic game that doesn’t care about ethics. That’s not how the world works.

                  TLDR: Batman disagrees.

                  1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

                    We’ll have to agree to disagree so as not to completely derail the thread. At the very least, I subscribe to Augustine: it is morally acceptable to kill in a just way, to further a just cause, under a just authority. And I go potentially futher (since I’m not going to review Just War Theory right now) if all three are are met, then soldiers have an obligation and duty to kill, and should be praised for doing so. This is the context in which violence in Call of Duty should be evaluated.

                    1. Kdansky says:

                      You miss my point. I completely agree that soldiers have obligation and duty to kill. I agree that sometimes murder is the best option.

                      But that doesn’t make it moral. You are still harming another human being, and that is always a bad thing.

                      It doesn’t hurt the victim any less because you can justify it.

                      Imagine that Jack Bauer had to kill you (yes, you), or else the world would go down in nuclear apocalypse. It’s still shitty for you, and amoral to do it, yet someone would have the duty of saving mankind at the cost of your life.

                  2. Cineris says:

                    I’m really curious where the moral certainty that “killing people is always bad” comes from. Can you explain why you think that?

                    1. Kdansky says:

                      Because there is a victim who suffers death.

                      Isn’t that enough?

                  3. Simon Buchan says:

                    First off: please keep the kill / murder distinction clear: murder is illegal killing, therefore soldiers acting under correct legal authority (to the point that such a thing exists in a war of course!) are not murderers. Note that this does not say killing is therefore necessarily morally better than murder, that of course depends on the morality of the law! But the distinction remains important, because there is a predisposition to ‘murder’ being clearly bad, that ‘kill’ has less of, and I hold that it’s a reasonable one.

                    But to your point, it sounds like you are making an axiomatic statement, that the actual act of killing itself is always bad, since you talk about how, regardless, it can be justified, making a distinction between the morality and the justness of an act, presumably in that justness is the sum of the morality of the flow-on effects of an act (this gets tricky, do accidental effects, rather than deliberate actions have morality, or just desirability?).

                    To frame this a little, there is an old thought experiment: You see a train about to hit and kill two people, for some reason the only way to prevent this is for you to push a third person into the way of the train, killing him. Should you push him or not? Now the inverse: The train is about to kill a person, and you can push him out of the way, but the first two people would then be killed. Again, should you push him or not? Apparently, most people feel that pushing the first time is less moral than not pushing the second time, despite that leading to identical outcomes: one person dies, in favor of two; which matches pretty well to your argument that killing itself is always wrong.

                    One obvious problem I have with this sort of thinking, is that I don’t care whether someone kills me, or fails to prevent my killing, or even if there’s nobody around to notice that I’m killed by some accident, what I care about is if I’m dead! The same arguments apply for the people close to those who are killed, even given the confounding aspect of if you can get revenge or closure (note that if there was some sort of representative of, say, cancer (think Olympian god style), he would probably be watching his back very hard, even if he had nothing to do with causing it in the first place). But the real problem I have with this position, is that this means morality has to be pretty much arbitrarily assigned to acts! Killing is wrong! So is not saving a life! So is not preventing a person from killing! So is preventing a person from not preventing a person from saving a life! It’s far simpler and more self-consistent a system to simply say death is the bad thing, and from there to judge an act (or, importantly, an inact) on how much death it causes in sum (though we do come back to all those problems of whether it’s intended or actual death, and if intended, how much how good you can predict the actual outcome affects the morality, and so on…)

                    In sum: I don’t believe there is anything at all wrong with killing. But you still shouldn’t do it (except when you should).

                    PS: Whew, this big comment editor is a life-saver! <rim-shot>

                    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

                      Killing Letting Die and the Trolley Problem by Judith Thomson is a classic, though I subscribe to a more Aristotelian view than either Thomson’s more categorical or your more utilitarian views. Killing, like all other actions, is amoral. It is context and practical wisdom which give it moral value. I’m not even willing to call death -in the abstract -a bad thing. There are things worse than death -which is the whole reason for the doctrine of dual effect (for example). The context matters. (This is even one of Aristotle’s examples: death-seeking and death-fearing are both vices -courage comes from having the proper indifference to death to do the right thing at the right time such as to neither recklessly precipitate death, nor cowardishly avoid it.)

                      And obviously I don’t mind long comments. But I enjoy this type of discussion and don’t get to do it much.

                2. zob says:

                  “The game expects you to already be mostly anti-killing”
                  Do you have any proof of that? In game example, promotional material, interview with devs, etc? Cause frankly speaking, I think you are making a very selective read on the subject material and filling the blanks yourself.

                  1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

                    No, I don’t. I am arguing an interpretation of the events on the screen – that the position of the two kills, as the first in the game, is meant to be a shock precisely because they are not the traditional clearly self-defense kill-or-be-killed white knight shootings. If they are meant to be shocking, it stands to reason that killing enemies or at least random people who may be enemies in their sleep is something the player is expected to be against. Since most people are against killing (as evidence by the work Gunny Hartman up there puts into getting marine recruits to kill) it seems reasonable that this is the expectation of the game -that the player is not in favor of killing per se, and as such the first 2 (actually 3, there’s an unarmed sailor in the corridor) should shock the senses. In the same way, if players were gung-ho for murder, No Russian would have no impact whatsoever (I consider it a personal challenge to get through the entire level without firing a shot).

                    As I said above, I am making a strong case for the sake of argument, my actual belief is that the game is flawed, that many of these themes may be accidental, and that they certainly are not fully developed. My purpose in making this case is -as LB says below -to argue that the games are not shallow and effortless games to be dismissed out of hand.

                    Though I don’t even think Shamus is doing so -he simply dislikes the genre, and I can accept divergent tastes.

                    1. zob says:

                      “Since most people are against killing (as evidence by the work Gunny Hartman up there puts into getting marine recruits to kill) it seems reasonable that this is the expectation of the game”

                      It’s an assumption then. And I think it’s wrong. Considering we have games like Carmageddon, GTA or first Soldier of Fortune game. People does not approach video game killing with the same severity as it’s real life counterpart. You can’t expect people to create a narrative on the moral principle “killing is bad” without making them feel the weight of their kills in the game.

                      Killing those two sleeping soldiers is important for setting the tone of the game. What you are omitting is “sleep tight” line. If it were a professional “clear” or understanding “poor bastards” you would have a case. But a cheeky one liner transforms series to a cheap Delta Force movie starring Chuck Norris. With that line your opponents degrade into random mook number X instead of human beings. And game does nothing to change that perspective. With that said MW games are nothing more than pretentious action movies when it comes to storyline.

            4. Daemian Lucifer says:

              I think youre reading too much into it.Admittedly I didnt pay that much attention to modern warfares story,but I didnt notice that down spiral in price.

              And no,you dont need to put the game to a halt in order to point out that the protagonist is not all there.Spec ops weaves that into its gameplay slowly and subtly,but never stops in order to give you that.Your henchmen start distrusting you slowly,the player starts to doubt the protagonist slowly,its never a sudden “Lets kill this guy in his sleep.Clean kill.” scene with no repercussions.

      5. LB says:

        quoth the Chris:
        “Price shoots an unarmed prisoner of war tied to a chair in the head at point blank range because he's “done with him.” And no one comments on it! It's a total violation of law, ethics, and simple human decency, and the game presents it as badass and without other comment!”

        I completely disagree with this. Price’s shady actions are presented as morally questionable, not meant to be badass. The “hoo-rah” badass generic soldiers presented as pure good guys are the ones that get nuked because they were moral enough not to leave a (wo)man behind.
        The SAS guys are in enemy territory, they’re not there to take prisoners and obey international laws. I mean, the game literally ends with everything they did being covered up.

        I read in a book (I think “War” by Sebastien Junger) that a while back, there was some US special forces in Afghanistan who got spotted in an secret observation post by a passing shepherd or two. They almost killed these innocent civilians because they might tell the Taliban where they are. That’s the moral line these guys are working on.
        Fun fact: they didn’t shoot the civilians and then most of the team were killed in an ambush because the enemy were in fact informed of their location by those guys. It’s difficult to make a moral judgement on that.

        I’ve nothing good to say about any of the other games in the series. But Modern Warfare 1 and 2 while not great stories or deep explorations of the nature or cost of war, or resembling reality in any way…Are not the shallow, effortless “bro shooter” they get labelled as.

        1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I’m a bit slow on the uptake:

          Chris commented on it. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I commented on it when it happened (probably something like “what in the hell?!!”). Following the rest of my arguments above: that no one else (in game) says anything is part of the point as well. Everyone defers to Price -either because they think he’s right, or at least not wrong, and so the war pushes them all a little further out of civilized life.

      6. zob says:

        I never had any illusion about our “heroes” in Modern Warfare series. The thing most hurt me was destruction of ISS. That thing is the pinnacle of human achievement. You just can’t make a greater good argument against that.

      7. Ryan says:

        A lot of the problems in tone stem from the bro shooter’s parentage, the WWII shooter. Popular culture finds that conflict much easier to romanticize- Nazis tend to be overwhelmingly viewed as acceptable targets (though I’d argue that conflating the entire Werhmacht with the Nazi party, or even the entire Nazi party with its leaders, is dangerous oversimplification), so the traditional thematic curve was set on a more lenient backdrop. What we’re seeing now is WWII heroics in a world where the bad guys have undeniable humanity.

      8. Cineris says:

        What I gather from this description is the “Bro Shooter” genre is one that Chris doesn’t like. (To be fair: I have about zilch interest in playing military fantasy shooters myself).

        Unfortunately there’s about a thousand other words here which don’t do a very good job of elucidating why that is. Much of the criticisms leveled against this imaginary genre are equally valid applied to the vast majority of videogames (at least those featuring sentient creatures).

        It’s pretty obvious the reason why you’re not interested in “Bro Shooters” is you’re not a “Bro.” You’re not an adolescent boy looking to play the videogame equivalent of cops and robbers.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          But can you be a brolina and like bro shooters?Lets ask Rutskarn.

        2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I grew up on military bases, so this is the kind of sauce I marinated in. The genre is really just a high tech (and marginally more acceptable -let me say, grown men are less likely to provoke calls to the cops when they play Modern Warfare than when they play guns in public) version of “guns” or “soldier.”

          I like Gears of War, but the profanity always bugged me for two reasons: 1.) when I played guns as a kid, we didn’t lace our play with curses.
          2.) We modeled ourselves after the soldiers we saw, and they didn’t either (of course we were at European Command, living in Officer Country, so I’m happy to believe the soldiers -even enlisted -I saw were atypical).

          So I’d imagine some of the love for the genre comes from love of the underlying kids games (for whatever reason).

  6. “Battlefields aren't dynamic, branching environments where you can flank, seek the high ground, ambush, or go frontal-assault. No, battlefields are a chain of chest-high walls where sometimes you can choose if you want to hide behind the wall on the right or the wall on the left.”

    What is interesting is that the “linear corridor shooter” mentality often falls away in multiplayer. One of my favorite multiplayer Call of Duty maps is “Crash.” There are multiple paths around and through the map, different spots to hole up, and lots of verticality. It’s a dynamic environment that changes over the course of the map. Sadly, there is isn’t much like that in the singleplayer game. The best example I can think of is Modern Warfare 2’s “Loose Ends,” where you have to defend a computer from multiple angles. Not surprisingly, this is basically the multiplayer map “Estate.”

    1. Bubble181 says:

      Game designers still feel far too strong a need to tell THEIR story. Illusion of choice is often enough to avoid this. Actual (limited) choice is better. Deus Ex HR is in many ways a scifi bro shooter, really – but you get options to go through them.
      Bro shooters tend to have the single player campaign be a reenactment of a story already written, instead of a story dynamically unfolding.
      Of course, it all depends on the type of game, and who you want as an audience. Nothing wroing with Skyrim having open world freedom and Mass Effect being much more on rails or whatever.

    2. Jabrwock says:

      “What is interesting is that the “linear corridor shooter” mentality often falls away in multiplayer. One of my favorite multiplayer Call of Duty maps is “Crash.” There are multiple paths around and through the map, different spots to hole up, and lots of verticality.”

      These kinds of maps are usually the exception though. The most popular maps are generally the ones with exactly 2 routes through. Easy to memorize and defend/attack the same way over and over and over. It almost becomes a ritual. “Run here. Throw grenade into that loft. Duck under this pipe. Wait for covering fire. Run forward. Pop smoke. Run down corridor. Win. Rinse and repeat.”

      1. swenson says:

        That right there is why 2Fort is the most boring TF2 map ever. There might be a variety of interesting ways to get into your enemy’s base, but when it comes down to it, you always have to either go through the courtyard or the bit outside the main spawn. Choke points are great for defense… but they make games so boring. Unless you’re trying to rack up a lot of engineer kills.

        1. Kdansky says:

          TF2-2fort is a map based on TFC-2fort, which in turn is based on TF-2fort, which then finally is original, and about 20 years old. It’s shoddy map design by someone who didn’t know better, and could not really ask anyone else either (because nobody really knew yet how to design multiplayer-maps).

          It’s by far the worst map in TF2, and I leave the server whenever it loads.

          Note also that CTF is not very popular any more, because it’s really boring and static compared to capture points or payload maps. Valve really improved upon ages old maps.

          As for MW3 maps: I found (when I spent 6 hours in two days over the free week-end recently) that most of their maps come down to a big circle with obstacles randomly distributed in it. That wasn’t very interesting either, and a pain to learn, because there were very little patterns. You just have to memorize every single stair case and every single window.

    3. psivamp says:

      The problem likely lies partly with the AI. If you’re going to be coming from a single direction, the AI doesn’t have to figure out where ‘good’ cover is, it just goes to it’s assigned spot and shoots.

      Large sprawling maps with changes in elevation and such require more robust AI. You could put the same dumb bots in the same spots but they would be acting jarringly stupid by standing completely in the open from your unexpected vantage.

      AI Game Dev on Bulletstorm’s AI. I read this a while back and was surprised at how much effort was put into the AI for Bulletstorm. The enemies aren’t brilliant by any stretch, but if you’ve played the game you may have noticed that the AI fits the game. The enemies move fluidly, they find places to take cover — but not too aggressively that you’re playing peek-a-boo-shoot-him-in-the-head — they promote the mobility and varied combat of the game.

    4. Paul Spooner says:

      Replacing one long linear corridor with three short ones isn’t really an improvement. Even when it’s a wide open map, there is really only one objective.
      [sarcasm]I guess there are “multiple endings” as well if you count “those guys win” and “us guys win” as distinctive. Throw in leveling up your character, your gun, your beret, your boots, and your bush knife and it may as well be an RPG right?[/sarcasm]
      There is something to be said for multiplay freedom, but you’re sacrificing the size of the world and branching outcomes for freedom in accomplishing a set goal. Neither is an obviously interesting play experience, which I think is Shamus’ point.

  7. Ben says:

    When you talked about “we’ve met him before” my first thought for generic-awesome-man was actually “either Odysseus or Beowulf”…

    1. Beowulf fits there, I must admit even though I am fond of Beowulf. But Odysseus? Achilles maybe. Odysseus is a very different guy. He’s the guy who faked insanity in an attempt to stay home with his wife instead of going to the war. He’s the guy who, after unenthusiastically helping everyone beat each other up for ten years, finally said enough already and came up with a trick to actually win the dang war. He’s the guy who thought of calling himself “nobody” so that when the Cyclops’ neighbour cyclops asked what was wrong he’d howl “Nobody is killing me!!!” and they’d be all “So shut up then!” Odysseus is a trickster, a sneaky bastard, not a bro. None of the other Greek heroes understood him.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Beowulf is a fun old-time story to be sure. Either way, yes, we have heard this one before.

        Really Odysseus is the Mediterranean equivalent of Loki. Which means that the vikings were the equivalent of Bros back in the day. Kind of puts things in perspective.

        For a different view of the vikings and other “wild northmen” and a non-bro vision of warfare, I highly recommend “Ballad of the White Horse” by G. K. Chesterton. Good times.

  8. Eric says:

    I agree with pretty much your entire list as far as “why I don’t like these games” goes, but I have to wonder if Spec-Ops really does anything different. I’ve seen a good deal of gameplay footage and, moment to moment, it basically looks exactly like all these games you claim not to like. The only real hook at all are the “moral dilemmas”, but as I understand it this is just about the game’s only differentiating feature beyond its story.

    Now, there’s nothing wrong about praising a game for its story, and maybe I haven’t seen enough of the game to truly judge it, but… Spec-Ops doesn’t seem like anything special or different save for the Heart of Darkness parallels (and we’ve never seen that in any war game or film before, right?). I guess I’ll have to wait for the next entry to find out.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Gameplaywise spec ops doesnt seem that special.But it does two really important things:It weaves its narrative into the gameplay and it puts the few choices there are into the gameplay as well.For example you get the road in front of you blocked by a bunch of civilians,and your angry companion wants to mow them down.If you shoot them,he merrily joins in,and they flee in terror.But if you point the gun in the air and shoot,he too will shoot in the air,and the civilians will disperse.And,depending on what you choose here,the (remaining) civilians will also act differently when you meet them later.A small detail,but very important one.

      1. Eric says:

        I actually appreciate games that give choices outside of dialogue trees. That said, though, storytelling through gameplay is hardly an accomplishment – just about every single game does it, including those “bro” shooters.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Actually they dont.Rarely does a game tell you a story through its gameplay.Mostly they are doing it through cutscenes,completely devoid of your actions once you get the control back.And while spec ops does tell you its story through cutscenes as well,it doesnt pause when you get the control,it still keeps telling it.

  9. Jabrwock says:

    I have to agree. There’s only so many ways you can reexperience Black Hawk Down before it gets repetitive. WWII shmups had that problem last decade too. There was only so many ways you could redo Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers before it all blended in together. At least Wolfenstein had the decency to throw in magic and the undead to mix things up. ;)

    I’m playing Rage right now (Summer Sale!), and while it has railroaded me so far (you can explore, but some areas aren’t populated with bad guys until you take the quest, so I’ve been to a lot of places twice…), it doesn’t FEEL as railroaded as “bro shooters” do.

    You know what bro shooters remind me of? That arcade game “Time Crisis 2”.

    You shoot a bunch of bad guys who pop up out of the woodwork. Then the camera moves forward slowly to settle behind a new piece of cover, and then the cycle continues.

    1. Sagretti says:

      Maybe you haven’t gotten far enough in the game, but Rage’s world is railroading of the highest order. The “open world” quickly becomes just a time sink between corridors, and those corridors become maddeningly obvious at times. There are hills you come across that a grandmother with a walker could climb, and yet you can’t go up them to explore. Not to mention a giant, obliterated city that you see a one-way path through a fraction of it.

      At one point you start the level facing a door that is just a few rooms from your objective. Unfortunately, there is a 4 foot wall in the way that for some reason you can’t climb or jump up to it. Cue having to run through the entire city fighting mutants in hallways just to get to the same point.

      1. Jabrwock says:

        Oh I’m already seeing that. The 2nd quest had me running back and forth past this one point where the only thing stopping me from taking a shortcut was a bent sheet of aluminum that was almost bent enough for me to squeeze through, and I kept saying “why can’t I just go this way?”

        The path is obviously railroaded, and the combat can be very pressure-plate triggered (pass point A, enemy A jumps out, pass point B, enemy B jumps out), but so far the illusion that I’m able to explore a bit (even if it’s just to places I’m about to get a quest for) makes it just the tiniest bit more open than the bro-shooter, where the ONLY way to go is from point A to point B, and the whole time you are going, your “commander” or “sidekicks” are yelling at you to keep moving forward.

        In Rage so far, I’m alone, and nobody is nagging me. Quests and advice only come when I talk to people, and I’m free to ignore the side-quests and advice at my leisure. They don’t chase me down (or nag me over the radio). They make a comment in passing as I walk by. No major highlighting. No markers (beyond the current quest), no highlighting or having them drop everything to just stand there and stare at me. They appear to be interested in talking to me, but if I ignore them they go back to what they were doing. Illusion of freedom, because I “choose” to talk to them, their life doesn’t pause because I’m in the area. But it a subtle difference.

        1. lethal_guitar says:

          I have to agree here. Rage is pretty linear, but it is still soo much better than most “modern” shooters. It has some stupid invisible walls, but it could be worse. And until you start the final mission, you can always hang around in the cities, play mini-games, do some races, look for side quests.. I mean, you can even go back to Wellspring anytime after entering the “dark” Wasteland. You can return to all the places where the missions took place if you whish.

          I’ve played Singularity shortly before getting Rage, and I have to say: In comparison, the latter one feels like a RPG.

          Besides all that: Rage lets you carry more than 2 weapons at a time, you have consumable medkits in addition to regenerating health, and above all: Wingsticks!!! :D

          1. Jabrwock says:

            above all: Wingsticks!!! :D

            I just really wish you could pick up the pieces (even just the metal bits) to reuse. I’ve gone through 10-15 of them now, with most smashing on the way back due to the narrow corridors.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Youll be able to make so much of them later that it wont matter.In fact,youll be able to make so much of everything,that youll stop using regular ammo.

  10. Mephane says:

    Playground drill sergeant made my day.

    Also, I completely agree on the sentiment. I did not know the term “bro shooter”, I must have been avoiding them so much that I even missed the coining of a genre, heh.

  11. Dragomok says:

    I just wanted to say that I ABSOLUTELY love that you added title attributes (mouseover text) to the links. Thank you.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Spec ops the line if one of those really surprising gems you get once in a while.I first encountered it when angry joe did a lets play of the demo,and wasnt that impressed by it.But I gave it a try anyway.At first I was just “Oh goody,another one*sigh*.Lets get it over with.”.But then,I started collecting the intel,and was “Ok,there is at least some effort in here,it may be worth going through to the end.”.Then Ive encountered the first refugee camp and the first white phosphorus scene,and saw that there is much more meat beneath the drudge of the classic bro shooter.And then,there was that scene where you do THE thing.It was really something,and it really made me want to see what this game has to offer.And when Ive reached the end,I was just stumped by how excellent everything was executed.Then I had to play through every ending,and every one was just so good.

    And I dont think the experience wouldve been so fulfilling if the game wasnt in such a boring genre.It starts you off in this thing that youve seen a brazillion times before in order to make you feel relaxed before it punches you with its big guns.

    Btw,on the subject of endings:Which one did you choose?I mean,the first one you picked.For me,it was the shortest one,the one without the epilogue level.

  13. burningdragoon says:

    “This was the most statistically unlikely victory in the history of our species. Was anyone recording that?”

    I would love to see a line like that in a game.

    1. Jabrwock says:

      That reminds me of Live Free or Die Hard. The bit with the car v. helicopter.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      There is something like that in prototype 2.On one mission the npcs are chit chatting when one of them says he killed a guy looking like a famous person(sorry,forgot which one).The other one responds “Show me the picture,or it didnt happen”.

  14. Jokerman says:

    I dont know how you can throw Far Cry into that either…

    1. Book says:

      I take issue with that too. Far Cry came out at a time when WW2 shooters were king, and had none of the things Shamus listed in his post. It had all kinds of crazy elements that made sure its tone and aesthetic had nothing in common with a modern military shooter. The focus isn’t about the guns, but the environment.

      Granted, I haven’t played Far Cry 2 and that’s probably what he’s talking about.

      1. Shamus says:

        Yes, my bad. I was talking about the second one.

        1. Eljacko says:

          But Far Cry 2 doesn’t fit very well either. There’s nothing military about it, the main characters you can choose include a variety of races and nationalities, there are no ultra-macho man-apes, and the world is huge and open, encouraging stealth and strategic gameplay without really mandating either.

        2. Robyrt says:

          Huh? Far Cry 2 is pretty much the precursor of Spec Ops. The game goes out of its way to avoid railroading the player, the glorification of NATO military might is explicitly subverted, you are not forced to be a thirty-something white male (I played as a Chinese teenager, assisted by a 50-something Russian expat), and the gameplay focuses on emergent situations (although it is much more scripted than it looks). Both games are even heavily indebted to Heart of Darkness.

          Although, now that I think about it, there is a semi-random chance that the first mercenary you take missions from is the bro-tastic American that everyone hates. (It gets better!) And the weapons are deliberately un-fun, bargain-basement versions of the same guns you’ve been firing since Call of Duty 1 – which is exactly how the game wants it to work. The first rocket launcher you get is hard-coded to jam the first time you pull the trigger. High five, bro!

          1. Shamus says:

            Your second paragraph sums up why I didn’t like the game. Lots of brown. All dudes. Machine gun noises. I understand the game was trying to say something, but I got bored before I got hooked.

  15. bloodsquirrel says:

    “I don't like how so much of the gameplay is mandated. You don't have a jump button, you have a button that will let you vault over something if you're in one of the designated vault-over-things zones. You don't have a set of general tools for stealth for when you're in the mood to be sneaky, you have stealth sections where the game allows (or forces!) you to sneak. Battlefields aren't dynamic, branching environments where you can flank, seek the high ground, ambush, or go frontal-assault. No, battlefields are a chain of chest-high walls where sometimes you can choose if you want to hide behind the wall on the right or the wall on the left. You flank when you're told to flank and go frontal-assault in most other cases. There's no reward for being clever because you're never given the choice of being dumb.”

    Good god, I hate that about the Modern Warfare games. If there’s one word that sums up what I want out of games nowadays, it’s agency. Give me a problem and give me tools to solve it. Modern Warfare is just one barely-interactive set piece after another.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I think this is probably the identifying characteristic of the “Bro shooter”. The player character’s only agency in-world is through the use of military hardware. Everything else arises naturally out of this axiom. Could be wrong of course, but it’s simple and it fits.
      If you are looking for non-military-equipment agency, you’re going to have to take your dirty money somewhere else.

      1. bloodsquirrel says:

        No, that’s not true at all. You could say the same thing- only interacting through the world through military hardware- about Halo, but Halo gives you a lot of wide-open areas with tons of options on how to tackle it. Even in the corridor areas the degree of difference in how the guns work gives you tactical flexibility. Bungie actually put effort into the enemy AI that could react to what you did instead of relying on “We’ll just make sure we know what the player is going to be doing at all times and pre-plan for that.”

        The difference is between “this is a game to be played” and “this is a nominally interactive ride to be experience”.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Well, I would put Halo in the “bro shooter” category. It’s an excellent execution of the formula, and one of the first. In fact, Halo’s popularity is probably the primary reason we have so many bro shooters. That’s high praise, but it doesn’t change what Halo is at its core.

          But, at this point we’re debating terminology. If you say Halo isn’t a bro shooter, fine. I’m just trying to come up with simple robust terms that we can use for discussion. What is your definition?

  16. LunaticFringe says:

    Would anyone here argue that The Line’s status is shifted simply because of its source material? Heart of Darkness (or at least the themes and tone) heavily questions moral justification via violence and the ultimately destructive nature of said violence. When applied to a medium that reinforces these concepts, it naturally stands out. I mean, you could show several scenes of Apocalypse Now and one could assume they were watching a ‘Dude Bro’ movie in the same way that seeing gameplay scenes of Spec Ops makes it seem like a typical shooter.

    Bear in mind I have yet to play Spec Ops: The Line but from what I’ve seen it seems like its source material is both its greatest source of identity and the thing that directly contradicts the typical tone of Western shooters.

    EDIT: After reading Chris’ post, I’d love to play some non-Western ‘bro’ shooters to see how other cultures construct their war fantasies. I know that there’s a Vietnamese studio making a game about Dien Bien Phu (major battle between French and Vietnamese troops during independence) and there’s an Iranian one about fighting off piracy, might be interesting.

    Also, Chris gets bonus points for not using the term ‘neo-colonialism’ in describing ‘bro’ shooters.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      But if it were executed in another way it wouldnt be as good.Execution is also very important.For example,the endings wouldnt be as good if they were done by a dialogue wheel with 4 options that gave you just the end narration.

      1. Ringwraith says:

        Don’t be silly, no-one would ever be stupid enough to make an ending like that!

        1. Jakey says:

          I like how this still gets brought up all the goddamn time despite it being really obvious that they ran out of money and had to massively cut corners in the whole last section of that game.

          Really, I’d be grateful the endings turned out as well as they did.

          1. Ringwraith says:

            I was making a silly statement, and there’s multiple examples of it, some done better than others and some rather shackled by their surrounding circumstances making it a little more understandable.

            1. Ryan says:

              For example, I assume we’re talking about Mass Effect 3, though there’s absolutely no reason we couldn’t also be talking about Deus Ex Human Revolution.

  17. Taellosse says:

    To be fair to the guy, Nolan North doing the voice doesn’t necessarily indicate the game features a generic protagonist. His ubiquity in the medium itself partially proves that: while his voice is very recognizable in the examples you mention, he’s also responsible for Deadpool (and his many variations of insane internal dialogue, each featuring a distinct voice) and Penguin in Arkham City, who hardly sounds like his “typical” characters.

    If many of the roles Nolan North does sound the same, that is more the fault of the artistic direction of the games he works on than North himself – he’s demonstrably got a much wider range than most who hire him are utilizing.

    1. Eljacko says:

      I thought his voices in Portal 2 were pretty good. He was responsible for the defective turrets, but perhaps more importantly he voiced all of those terrifically meme-worthy cores.

    2. Grudgeal says:

      Is it bad that the first thing I thought of when they said Nolan North was that enthusiast lunatic spy in Alpha Protocol who tortured people by threatening to pour dry cleaning solution down their throats?

      Oh, and he was the game’s comedy relief sidekick. It was that sort of story.

      1. Ringwraith says:

        Just don’t call him Steve.

    3. GiantRaven says:

      Yeah, I really wish that we got this Nolan North more often, rather than Blandy McProtagonist.

      1. Ringwraith says:

        He’s a typical case of a pigeon-holed voice actor, despite being very capable of acting outside of the niche which everyone has arbitrarily assigned to him.

    4. Klay F. says:

      I would actually cite Spec Ops as proof of Nolan North’s voice acting ability. Just the way he becomes slowly unhinged over the course of the game… I don’t think any other voice actor in the business could have achieved it with the same subtlety as North did. He is THAT good.

  18. Eljacko says:

    At this point, what I would like to see is a game with this kind of theme, but attached to a roleplaying game with a created character, dialogue trees, RPG advancement and a branching plot.

    Of course I think every kind of game could be improved with the addition of these things, but never mind that.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “Of course I think every kind of game could be improved with the addition of these things, but never mind that.”

      I dont think so.In fact,some games get harmed by this.Telling a tight and good story sometimes require harsh rails.You can offer the player an illusion of choice and trick them into picking the path you want them to pick,and that can work wonders,if you execute it correctly.

  19. Dwip says:

    Some things.

    – I tend to suspect that we’d get radically different SP mechanics in shooters if they stopped treating them like 6-hour adjuncts to the multiplayer, and started treating them like their wide open multiplayer maps. Medal of Honor: Airborne leaps immediately to mind as an example of what I mean here.

    Which is to say nothing of the storytelling, but I suppose something like Call of Duty, like, say, Fight Club, is either morally ambiguous for any given person, or it isn’t. Too, being the 6-hour adjunct kind of is what it is.

    – As far as the “holy crap, guys, we just killed 800 people!” thing goes, I dunno. On the one hand, if you’re playing as some kind of special forces badass, and you usually are, well, there’s a fairly lengthy history of special forces badasses doing similar if less outlandish things. On the other hand, if you go for super-realism and go with how many real life military guys actually go so far as to fire a weapon, you wind up this, which may or may not be less fun.

    All that having been said, I don’t care if I’m a Grey Warden or not, that was a really implausible number of dudes I killed in DA:O. Fantasy only goes so far in that direction, IMHO. Milage varies.

    – The guns discussion is funny, and I’m thinking of you all heaping praise upon the guns in HL2 a couple Spoiler Warnings back. Love me some HL2. The gravity gun ends up being the best gun, because all the other guns are terrible. Give me an M1 Garand and a basic load of ammo, and I could probably stop the Combine threat single-handedly by, you know, aiming and using an accurate gun, but oh well.

    Which I guess is a different thing than being bored by machine gun noises, but.

    Which is all to say that tastes in how to mercilessly slaughter mooks vary, but let us all unite in our dislike of cooking games.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “On the one hand, if you're playing as some kind of special forces badass, and you usually are, well, there's a fairly lengthy history of special forces badasses doing similar if less outlandish things.”

      Ive read about people that killed a plethora of others,and usually its something they did in a matter of month,or even years.In games,you usually do it in a single day.Its stretching it,and sometimes that stretch just snaps.Which is,mostly,why I praise original call of duty:If you put it on the hardest difficulty,there are no health packs,and you get killed by 2-3 bullets.So if you beat the game on that difficulty,you really did it without soaking up brazillian bullets,which is a great feat.

      “Give me an M1 Garand and a basic load of ammo, and I could probably stop the Combine threat single-handedly by, you know, aiming and using an accurate gun, but oh well.”

      There are guns that do that in half life:The magnum in both games,and the ar2 in the second game.But people avoid them usually because they have low bullet count and you have to make every shot count.Once you do,however,they become irreplaceable.

      1. Dwip says:

        “Ive read about people that killed a plethora of others,and usually its something they did in a matter of month,or even years.In games,you usually do it in a single day.Its stretching it,and sometimes that stretch just snaps.”

        Sure, and of course this varies by game. I’ve played way more Call of Duty than anything else, so that’s sort of my frame of reference. That said:

        – You kind of have to show up and mow down implausible numbers of dudes, or you don’t really have a game, which isn’t just true of military shooters but as I tried to point out, any given RPG, etc.

        – In that same vein, you are, barring the beginning of Modern Warfare, a video game hero, which puts you on the same plane as a guy like Audie Murphy or John Basilone than PFC Schmoe who may have seen a German once, from a distance. The fact that you do these sorts of things one after the other is the thing that strikes me as implausible, though it depends on the game and the war.

        – To belabor the point, it is also a true thing that soldiers of great skill, which you are being depicted as, are, barring luck and the vagaries of bullet trajectories, exponentially better than your average soldiers, represented by your average less than amazing AI. On the low end of this scale, you get the Battle of 73 Easting. On the high end, and I don’t have my sources handy for this, but numerous MACV-SOG missions ended up approximately like the latter parts of Modern Warfare, with the farm and all that, or with small bands of extremely skilled guys successfully exploiting surprise and confusion to rout much larger forces.

        Usually not day in and day out, though, unless you’re on Tarawa or something.

        Health packs are a different thing, though I’d argue that shooters have come a long way in striking a balance between one shot you die and Superman vs. the Axis.

        “There are guns that do that in half life:The magnum in both games,and the ar2 in the second game.But people avoid them usually because they have low bullet count and you have to make every shot count.Once you do,however,they become irreplaceable.”

        I don’t think I made my point very well, so allow me to briefly elaborate.

        0. It should be noted that I’m that guy that rolls with the hunting/sniper rifle all the time in L4D2, so I have that kind of perspective.

        1. As a collection of weapons in a shooter, HL2’s guns are quite well balanced, with each weapon filling a distinct and generally useful roll.

        2. Your use of these weapons is severely degraded because of HL2’s lack of reasonable shooter mechanics, like aiming, which in any other shooter would make the SMG actually better than the crowbar.

        3. Your use of the more accurate and useful guns (that aren’t the shotgun) is severely hampered by the fact that there are like 10 rounds of ammo for guns like the magnum in the entire game.

        All of which makes HL2 effective as a survival/horror/exploration/whatever game, but a particularly frustrating shooter, if that makes any sense. Great game about physics puzzles and going “EEEK RUN AWAY!”, bad game about shooting dudes in the face (because I usually can’t hit them in the face).

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          “You kind of have to show up and mow down implausible numbers of dudes, or you don't really have a game, which isn't just true of military shooters but as I tried to point out, any given RPG, etc.”

          You can have a game thats not like that.Thief proved that a long time ago.

          As for half life 2 being not a very good shooter,yes that is true.After all you are supposed to be a scientist,not a soldier.Though you still can do exceptionally well with magnum/shotgun/ar2 combo.But the late stage of the game(fight through the city hall and the roofs)are the weak point of the game because they focus solely on this,unlike previous combat encounters where you had plenty of rest periods.

          1. Dwip says:

            Stealth games would be the exception, I agree. Though personally I killed an awful lot of guys in Thief 3, because I could.

            Harder for games outside a certain subset, though, I think.

            I do actually really like the return to City 17 sections, but that was very much because of where we were in the story arc, and not the mechanics. That business with the striders was…annoying, to say the least.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Yeah,thief 3 was…disappointing.But I forgive it,because of the cradle.

  20. Mark says:

    I wonder where Serious Sam would fit on this spectrum. It’s clearly a parody of the bro-shooter (while a few of the third game’s cutscenes forget to include jokes, it’s still obviously not meant to be taken seriously), but it’s the kind of parody that still in many ways embodies the thing it’s mocking, in that it is a gimmick-free shooter that pits an improbably resilient one-liner-spouting badass who’s bad at jumping against a morally unambiguous enemy and revels in the glory of the ensuing destruction.

    On the other hand, you’re constantly outnumbered a hundred to one, the enemies are painted in day-glo colors, your most powerful weapon is a cast-iron cannon, the multiplayer avatars include the Village People and Doomguy knockoffs, and the level design is actual level design rather than a series of Hollywood-wannabe set pieces. Core gameplay mechanics include dodging, aiming, and managing health and ammunition, so to extend the meat analogy, it is a lightly-seasoned steak cooked to perfection.

    The point is, play it in co-op with as many people as you can find.

  21. Astor says:

    Whoa. I thought I would agree with you here (well, I largely do), but the “realistic” shooter, I do enjoy! Give me real weapons and a real setting (modern or not so modern, since I love WWI era weapons) and I’ll play that! Of course, the corridors, the macho silliness, the lack of options, the onedimensional cutouts… I agree with you on those fronts.

    Anyways, I’m enjoying SPECOPS. Though I found that all in all, you still are the good guy, and you are killing the bad guys, I was led to belive things would be a bit more murky (except for the few occassions the game may force you to actually kill an “innocent”).

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Buy you arent the good guy killing the bad guys.You are one kind of bad guy killing other kinds of bad guys.Just because you are controlling the protagonist of the story,doesnt mean you are doing anything that is good.

      1. Astor says:

        Yeah, it may be so. I just didn’t feel like the bad guy, I was just fighting *back* against aggressors who had clear bad motives. As you advance, you learn their motives are laced with several threads that murk things up yeah, but their actions and motives remain bad.

        Still, the game is leagues more morally ambiguous than games that have been hailed as “morally ambiguous”, it’s very good on its own, and excellent in contrast to most others. So, I’m not complaining. Not to mention it looks very good, and plays even better, its… *very* “kinesthetically” pleasing.

  22. Deadyawn says:

    You know, it would seem most of the problems you have with these games is the fact that they tend to be extremely similar. Which is true, the market is oversaturated with people trying to muscle in on the COD market.

    The thing is that anyone of these games standing on its own would likely receive a great deal less ire than it does while alongside all its clones. I mean, you still might not like the game itself but the reasons for that are limited strictly to issues with the game itself.

    Lots of the elements, when isolated can be pretty good. The realistic aestheitc while overdone and lacking in contrast can also be a good tool for facilitating immersion and emphasising a bleak atmosphere. Guns that look and sound like their real world counterparts can also help with the idea that this is “real” and could hypothetically happen, especially if you’re an enthusiast.
    The linearity that you take objection to is seen in many different types of games and is simply a design choice. Some games have a lot of freedom while others have next to none and some people enjoy being to make those choices while others enjoy not having to make them and simply concentrate on playing. That is a valid complaint and is more due to personal preferences than anything else.
    Hell, even the gameplay isn’t necessarily bad. Yeah, its the same thing over and over again but if we had a different type of game that everyone ceaselesly copied then the whole cover based shooter thing would take significantly less flak.

    Ultimately, the reason that these games are disliked by such a large group is that they are popular and done to death. Hating them is not usually due not liking the game but just because we’ve seen it before. And also, to an extent the culture that they foster.

    I geuss what I’m trying to say is that it isn’t the mechanics themselves at fault here. It’s the people reusing them all the time.

  23. X2Eliah says:

    I’m sure Chris mentioned this in his super-reply, but at any rate, imo the most important aspect of a ‘bro-shooter’ is the attitude. Is it a celebration of jingoism? If yes and it’s a shooter, then it’s a bro-shooter. That’s why games like Half-Life 2 and Deus Ex are *not* bro-shooters, and MW/CoD are.

    1. rrgg says:

      What are you talking about, half-life 2 is extremely jingoistic. The combine are never shown in any sort of sympathetic light and all you ever do is fight them. Meanwhile the only evil humans you encounter are those who have been “infected” with alien DNA and even Dr Breen is shown as trying to do the right thing. That’s nothing the game ever shows about the combine (clearly a stand-in for gay minorities).

      And don’t even get me started on Deus Ex’s “At least one CEO doesn’t turn out to be pure evil” agenda. Ugh, makes me sick.

  24. thebigJ_A says:

    I don’t quite think Far Cry 2 fits in with the Bro Shooter category (a category I also despise).

    I actually didn’t like the game all that much, so I’m not trying to defend it. However, I think it wasn’t great because it failed at the unique things it was trying to do, not because it was similar to Codblops or whatever.

    It hasn’t got that gross dude-bro douchebag mentality, for one thing. Actually, come to think of it, that’s the main thing. I could write about how it’s a semi open world, the way it isn’t glorifying the military or violence, or various other points. I could list the many things in the game that don’t match up with Shamus’s description of the genre above, and I was about to, but the main thing is that it just doesn’t have that same attitude the other bro shooters do.

  25. Adam Jensen says:

    This also sums up pretty much how I feel on the “dude bro” shooter genre, good stuff.

  26. rrgg says:

    A lot of good discussion, a lot of good ideas, Shamus needs a longer background image, but just to add my two cents here is a list of issues brought up which are NOT the problem with “bro shooters.”

    -“They are too jingoistic/militaristic/pro-war/etc.”: all these are political arguments, ’nuff said.

    -“Just another power trip.”: So? This is the basis for a lot of entertainment. Shamus seems to have had a lot of fun with Saint’s Row 3, does that mean he loves the idea of killing policemen? I highly doubt it.

    -“Bland, brown-haired white male American protagonists.”: Really, you met him all the way back in the days of Captain America? How old are you? More seriously though, I think that the argument is that the writer who decides whether a character is interesting in the setting, not whatever wacky background they have. Or push comes to shove in the case of the character creation screen or the mute protagonist the player fulfills that role.

    -“Realism bad.”: At best this is a matter of preference, at worst one could argue that in fact the game which tries to copy the mechanics of real life is taking a more noble route then one which makes up the entire setting to fit its writers’ plot-magic.

    -“Cover-based shooting is boring.”: Not necessarily, and it’s definitely not at a dead end. I would agree that cover-based shooting tends to be poorly implemented but the root cause has more to do with the fact that most designers apparently still don’t understand what cover-based fighting is actually supposed to do.

    -“Too much sameness”: Ooh, that’s a tricky one, and it’s certainly not doing these types of games any favors. But it still goes back to the old sameness conundrum: two works are created, the one that comes out second is nearly identical to the one before it but improves the formula in a couple of minor ways. Which is better? If someone had never played another bro-shooter before and picked up any one on the market would they enjoy it?


    So what is the problem with all these Micheal Bay-esque monstrosities?

    Well, for all the reviewers out there who called the Transformer movies a love letter to the US army. In the very first movie didn’t Bay kill off an entire American base just to show off how cool his Transformers were?

    So he can’t even do that right and that is exactly what’s wrong with these sorts of things. There is no real thought and no direction put into making a bro shooter, there is no believable universe bound by rules for the viewer to participate in. It’s just a bunch of the director’s massive set-piece explosions strung together until whatever ending you reach is completely obscured by the fact that half the world has been blown up in the process.

    1. Jabrwock says:

      So what is the problem with all these Micheal Bay-esque monstrosities?

      Well, for all the reviewers out there who called the Transformer movies a love letter to the US army. In the very first movie didn't Bay kill off an entire American base just to show off how cool his Transformers were?

      Bay storylines follow the same B-movie hero plot pattern:

      1) Hero beaten down.
      2) Montage of getting back up.
      3) Hero hands bad guy his ass.

      1) US military gets it’s ass handed to it. Epic scenes of brave sacrifice and loss. Cue many many explosions, slo-mo, and “epic tragic” music.

      2) Inspiring speech. Cue recruitment commercial and many many shots of varied vehicles and personnel (don’t forget helicopters at sunset/dawn), because montages are SO 1980’s.

      3) US military beats the piss out of whatever it was that defeated it (with the assistance of the protagonist). Cue world-wide cheering and fist pumping. Include dancing natives in Central Africa if possible, because we need the audience to know that EVERYONE in the world now knows how awesome this victory was.

  27. Dreadjaws says:

    I hear ya, Shamus. I was also mentally gathering all those games in the same quasi-genre despite some of them playing very differently. Now I finally have a name for them.

    I have to say I also dislike them. They get monotonous almost instantly. I rarely play them for more than a couple of levels without abandoning them forever, even though I will play again and again games with the same gameplay but different aesthetic choices. My games library is half-full of games I paid for and never played for more than a couple of levels.

    Though, to be fair, most of those games are not even bro shooters. I have a serious problem buying games I never play.

  28. decius says:

    Gun porn does appeal to a particular audience. For example, in one of the many Jagged Alliance fan mods out there, there are three variants of the MP5 submachine gun. All three are based on actual variants of the MP5, and the mod author felt the need to justify his decision to add something less popular than yet another MP5. For reference, Wikipedia lists almost 30 variants of the MP5, most of which involve changes to non-modular components.

  29. Jason says:

    I like Hello Kitty Island Adventure better than this stuff.

  30. Adam Rhodes says:

    To be fair to Nolan North, he can do other voices. He’s just always asked to do “Nathan Drake voice”. Por ejemplo, he voiced Italian magician/wizard Zatara (as well as Superman and Superboy) on Cartoon Network’s “Young Justice,” which is vastly different from most of his well known roles.

  31. Lunok says:

    I feel like homefront had a chance with a rather unique (at the time) story that was creative and rather different from games at the time. It also after the third act started having a rather large color pallet starting when you reach a run down survivalist farm where there are reds and greens and blues. The story was unique and had a few moments that hit home about the horrors of war, such as when you raid the fuel depot and your buddy accidentally white phosphorus’ your men a seen that repeated rather similarly in Spec Ops the Line. It was rather generic in the shooter department but the publisher was really pushing them to deliver a COD clone. The final act of the game where you are assaulting the golden gate bridge was fun and unique and gave you a real reason as to Why the fuck is this battlefield a straight and narrow god damn line? If they had expanded that fight to include fighting inside of San Fransisco I think the game could have had an extremely strong ending that salvaged the rest of the game. Also another act before trying to evac Montros would have been nice to help pad out the length of the game and help with the story cohesion

  32. Vect says:

    Can’t say I count Kane & Lynch as a Bro-Shooter. It was just a game trying to be dark and edgy but instead being really flawed and infamous for supposedly causing a reviewer to lose his job after giving it a mediocre review. Not so much Bros as it was just two jerks that you could care less for going around shooting things and generally making things worse for themselves. Hell, Dog Days ends with them hijacking a plane outta China.

  33. SG says:

    To make it worse, people are playing these with gamepad. The only natural way of playing FPS is kb+m.

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