For the entirety of the last console generation, first person shooters were the most popular and most prominent genre within gaming. Shooters on consoles had been steadily gaining popularity ever since Halo: Combat Evolved first came out back in 2001, but it wasn’t until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007 that shooters became the clear-cut most popular genre in the gaming mainstream. Call of Duty 4 didn’t only launch the series and shooters in general to a new level of unprecedented success, it also ushered in the dominance of the modern military shooter, which would last for the entirety of generation seven.
During generation six, first person shooters were typically based either in science fiction or World War II settings. Games like Call of Duty, various Medal of Honor games, Battlefield 1942, Brothers in Arms and its sequel, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein were some of the more notable WWII shooters of the time. Halo, Halo 2, and Half Life 2 were the real heavy hitters of sci-fi shooters, but other games like Killzone, Timesplitters and its sequels, and the Red Faction games were some other fairly successful sci-fi shooters of the time. While there were some military shooters during this time, most prominently games in the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon lines of Tom Clancy games as well as Socom, World War II and science fiction made up the bulk of the most popular shooters.
As I said earlier, the rise of modern military settings in the Xbox 360 and PS3 era can be traced directly back to the massive success of Call of Duty 4. After the tepidly received Call of Duty 3, which was the fifth WWII COD game in the span of three years (including Call of Duty: Finest Hour and Call of Duty 2: Big Red One), the series was beginning to stagnate. Call of Duty 4 was not only the best game in the series without question, it was also an entirely fresh experience. Due to an incredibly well designed multiplayer progression system, an action packed and gut wrenching campaign that explored the threats of our modern world, and the series tried and true gameplay, Call of Duty 4 was a huge hit.
Call of Duty had always been a popular series that sold well, but Call of Duty 4 took things to a level no one could have expected. Dwarfing the sales number of Halo 3, a game that was expected to continue the series’ dominance in the console FPS market, Call of Duty became the big dog of first person shooters. Instead of chasing Halo, everyone was now chasing Call of Duty, and as one might expect the tactic many chose was to simply follow in the COD’s footsteps. From that point forward seemingly every first person shooter was set in a modern middle eastern setting with a story that revolved around terrorism.
After a brief stint back in World War II with World at War, the series moved pretty much exclusively to modern day after, and the majority of other shooters did as well. Battlefield had actually shifted to the modern day before Call of Duty with Battlefield 2, but it had also jumped around a bit with things like Battlefield 2142. However, since COD 4 Battlefield hasn’t been set anywhere other than modern day (at least in terms of full fledged installments) with two Bad Company games followed by Battlefield 3 and 4. Many more games, like Homefront, MAG, the Medal of Honor reboot, several Socom and Tom Clancy games, Frontline: Fuel of War, Bodycount, and too many others to name would contribute to the over-saturation of the modern military shooter genre.
Fans of shooters that didn’t care for the modern military variety certainly had options, but not nearly as many as in the past. If you specifically wanted competitive multiplayer shooters that weren’t modern military, the Gears of War and Halo series were among a select few that would maintain consistent populations of players, though they were still dwarfed by Call of Duty and Battlefield. Single player fans had more options, like the excellent Bioshock games and things FEAR, The Darkness, and the Far Cry and Crysis series’, but shooters will still dominated by military games even with these exceptions. If you’re like me and have been completely sick of modern military shooters for years, things may be looking up.
The mixed response to Call of Duty: Ghosts and the disaster that was Battlefield 4 game stability sort of opened the door for something else to step in, and Titanfall was first in line. Obviously coming from many of the individuals responsible for rise of modern military shooters, Titanfall takes many of the popular aspects of the genre and brings them into a unique science fiction setting. Looking ahead, Destiny is set to be one of the biggest games of the year, which is also a science fiction shooter. Beyond Destiny, the next Call of Duty, titled Advanced Warfare, seems to be taking a tiny step towards science fiction and is also focused on mercenaries rather than the military. Even the next Tom Clancy game, The Division, appears much more post apocalypse than modern military from what we’ve seen of thus far. Finally, the recently revealed Battlefield Hardline is taking the series out of the middle east and out of the military and bringing the focus to the domestic war on crime. Even if it’s not as much of a departure from the modern military setting as some of these others, it may be unique enough to feel fresh.
With these five games set to to be big shooters of the near future, this may be the first year in a very long time where a modern military shooter isn’t one of the biggest games of the year. As a big fan of first person shooters that has long since grown tired of modern military shooters, I couldn’t be happier that the genre may finally be transitioning into new territory. Granted, I and many others were thrilled to shift away from World War II back in 2007 as well, but I don’t foresee the same stagnation taking place again. Even if sci-fi simply replaces modern military as the go-to setting for the major multiplayer based AAA shooters, science fiction offers incredibly more opportunities for interesting settings and engaging stories than modern military ever has, and I for one am glad to see modern military shooters on the way out.