BioShock Infinite

Brilliant as it undeniably is, there’s a moment in BioShock Infinite where you realise that it’s turned a corner. Booker DeWitt’s exciting excursion to Columbia opens with very little action at all; the game’s perfectly content to let you explore the skyward archipelago at your own pace. But as you sprint towards the adventure’s mind-bending conclusion, it’s hard to think without being forced to pull out your guns. It’s an issue that’s not necessarily limited to Irrational Games’ latest endeavour, but intrinsic to the industry as a whole. The question is: why?

Wisecrack your way out of this one

One of the biggest criticisms pointed at the Uncharted franchise is the discrepancy between Nathan Drake’s personality and the series’ actual gameplay. Solid writing and impressive performances from voice actor Nolan North help to give the character an air of believability, but all of developer Naughty Dog’s hard work is undone when you’re suddenly forced to mow down hundreds of troops in a single encounter. The studio tries to work around this problem by plunging the protagonist into increasingly desperate scenarios, but it doesn’t get a pass because of this.

Crystal Dynamics’ ambitious Tomb Raider reboot suffers from a similar problem. The studio makes a big deal out of Lara Croft’s first execution at the start of the game, but the poignant moment is shrugged aside hours later as the character takes it upon herself to scoop up a grenade launcher and start incinerating everyone in her path. Much like Uncharted, the title places the protagonist in an extremely dire situation, but the character’s transition from innocent and naive teenager to homicidal manic doesn’t make sense. In each of the previous two cited examples – of which this issue is absolutely not limited to – the complete disregard for natural narrative development is made at the expense of squeezing in traditional gameplay mechanics. But why must our activities almost always be limited to pulling a trigger?

Eager for a Strongbow

Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead recently proved that there are other options for interactive adventures: talking, exploring, and making decisions all take a precedent in the aforementioned games. In fact, when you actually do opt to fire a gun in either of the above titles, it’s an agonising moment that underscores the brutality of the act in itself. It’s not that games need to do away with gunplay entirely, but it would be nice if fire fights were made to feel like they matter if that’s what the plot actually warrants.

Frustratingly, BioShock Infinite proves in its opening hours that this is feasible. While Booker DeWitt’s actions never feel inappropriate in the first-person adventure, the game is far and away at its best when you’re quietly exploring Columbia in the opening moments of the campaign. You’ll spend the majority of the title’s first couple of hours merely soaking up the scenery, eavesdropping on conversations, and aimlessly wandering around – but the final third devolves into a series of shoot outs that, while enjoyable, never quite come close to recapturing the same sense of wide-eyed wonder that’s so brilliantly realised at the start of the game. And it’s such a shame.

It’s almost as though developers start with grand narrative ambitions, and then realise that they need to expand their ideas with some form of interactivity in order to make them more appealing. But why does the industry rely so heavily on gunfights to augment that additional layer? And why must supposedly mature games almost always culminate in death tolls beyond what’s actually plausible? If the medium is ever going to evolve, then perhaps it’s time that gaming’s greatest minds started exploring mechanics that don’t ultimately rely on you having a submachine gun in your hand.

Do you agree that titles such as Uncharted and Tomb Raider rely far too heavily on gunplay? How would you feel if combat was stripped back to allow a greater emphasis on exploration or other mechanics? Let us know in the comments section and poll below.

Do you feel that gunplay is far too prevalent in gaming? (29 votes)

  1. Yes, developers need to find a better balance45%
  2. It very much depends on the title52%
  3. No, I love shooting mechanics3%

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