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Ditching the Dog Tags: Call of Duty and Diversifying the FPS

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare's departure from the gritty military shooter is a small part of a larger phenomenon. 


Mere years ago, video games’ favorite color was brown. It covered character’s clothes and the Earth’s terrain. Varied earth tones of green, blue, and grey mixed with brown to color the sky, the air, the water, and the buildings, like some dystopic version of Eiffel 65’s 1999 hit “Blue”.

In order for a first-person shooter to be taken seriously by the “hardcore crowd,” it had to combine this brown obsession with the military. Call of Duty reigned supreme, and every other shooter attempted to ape some part of it in order to capture even a fraction of its audience.

This meant that many of the triple-A blockbuster FPS games included huge set pieces, a massive arsenal of modern weaponry, and all manner of gruff soldiers screaming in the player’s face as they ran to every new mission. All in a veil of many different mixtures of brown.

Several years later, things have taken a turn. We’re no longer obsessed with making sure every game is essentially a military action movie filled with generous, building collapse set pieces or squads of hardened marines discussing life in between firefights. Now, we’re seeing a renaissance take place, a redefinition of what a modern-day First Person Shooter is and what it looks like. It’s a big departure from the industry’s decade-long standard, and we’re better off for it.


Call of Duty has long ruled the console first-person shooter, and rightfully so. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare redefined the franchise, bringing it to the modern day and retooling its mechanics to make it the first-person industry standard. What’s more, it managed to establish a dedicated multiplayer base that remains massive today. Of course, games like Counter Strike had been doing something similar before that, but Call of Duty brought the military shooter to the masses and has continued to do so for years.

So, it’s not shocking that at this time, nearly every new FPS had some aspect of brown, the military, and characters wearing any variation of fatigues. The market speaks, and it had spoken largely in favor for more games of this type.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this. Many military first-person shooters have had fun, interesting single-player campaigns and gracious multiplayer support. The problem is with the repetition and its diminishing returns. The more everyone focused on making sure their games were a playable army recruiter pamphlet, the less we toyed with where the FPS could go in a mass-market context.

Why So Serious?

This year marks a surprising inverse of the trend. Rather than military shooters outnumbering practically anything else, we see many high-profile studios releasing much more colorful, lighter-hearted games, many of which focus heavily on team-based multiplayer. This year, it seems the military fatigue has officially set in, and people are leaning more toward fantastical premises than bleak, gritty shooters.

Look at the Pretty Colors

Brown isn’t our collective favorite color anymore. Now, we’ve ventured outside of the over-used and tired earth tones and are instead turning toward the rest of the color wheel. Games like Battleborn and Overwatch don’t shy away from it, applying a generous use of any and all colors to decorate their worlds and hero characters. Shadow Warrior 2 utilizes multiple settings and scenery to make for a more visually diverse shooter. Even the RPG/shooter hybrid Fallout 4 ditched its pallor gray/brown tones in Fallout 3 in favor of a much more bright and color-filled world.

It’s refreshing to see. Especially considering the tech we have at our disposal, there’s no reason why games should limit themselves to being the drab imaginings produced by the unused section of the crayon box.

You Got Your Moba in my Shooter

Many of the new games from high-profile studios combine elements of a variety of game types, leading to new opportunities and ideas. Battleborn is a less complex take on a Moba with shooter elements, and Paladins: Champions of the Realm is made by the same studio behind the God-driven Moba Smite. They both use variations on selectable heroes with different strengths and advantages, much like players might in a Moba.

Others are borrowing from the pages of classic games, adding in team-focused multiplayer featuring different characters and carefully crafted arena combat. Blizzard’s Overwatch borrows ideas from team-based games like Team Fortress 2 with its multiple objectives and tactical character selection, while Boss Key’s Lawbreakers focuses on team-based combat with verticality built into the arenas to encourage new strategies to dominate.

It’s important to note the return of many key franchises that previously helped define the first-person shooter in the early years. These include the excellent reboot of Wolfenstein: The New Order, the less-than-perfect- but-enjoyable Shadow Warrior, and the upcoming release of an all-new reboot of Doom. They may be rehashes of old relics, but their presence and commercial success have arguably driven the FPS away from the gritty brown corner and into a more accessible, flexible area.

What’s the Future?

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is the latest in a long, long lineup of Call of Duty games set to release later this year, and it appears to be preparing to take the series to a new frontier – the final frontier, I’d even say.

Call of Duty in space seems goofy, but I’m encouraged by the move. It suggests publishers and developers have noticed the trend of moving away from drab shooters of old and gives them new room to breathe and take this new installment where no man (or woman) has gone before, even if that is into the very place so many joke about sequels going after a long chain of iteration.  Whether or not it works remains to be seen, but it’s a new move toward new ideas.

Our favorite color may have once been brown. But, like a child whose opinions on color becomes more complex with age, we’re growing more interested in what other things the FPS can do. Today, our shooters run the gamut from ‘90s reboot to cartoony team-based shooters, and this increasing diversification is leading toward our testing the limits and perceptions of the first-person shooter, which is a good thing. After all, new challenges yield innovation, and the boundaries of an FPS have yet to be reached. 

Contributing Editor
From The Chatty
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