Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Crossing the Shooter Divide

I have wrapped the campaign for Gears 3, killing my final locust grub and triumphantly yelling “shit yea!” at the top of my lungs while gyrating in front my apartment window, fist raised to the sky. As a personal reward (it’s important to enjoy the little things), I hopped onto my computer to try out the Battlefield 3 multiplayer. Now I have played Battlefield games before, most of which I enjoyed immensely. I can comfortably say no one comes close to creating the sensation of fighting in a large scale battle than Dice. That being said, I had no idea what I was getting into. I quickly abandoned the illusion that these two games belonged in the same genre. Far from it. Gears is to Battlefield 3 as Woody from Toy Story is to Clint Eastwood from Unforgiven.

Like stepping out of darkness into the bright outdoors, I was blinded by the visual fidelity of Battlefield 3. I had grown accustomed to the browns and greys of locust hordes, so much so that I became overwhelmed and quite confused by the landscape before me. One of the maps in the beta takes place out doors in a park, with sunlight shining on the bushes, rocks, and assorted park accessories. In an environment awash with light, picking out enemies can actually be quite hard. Crouched in a bush leagues away, or even standing next to a tree, other players can seem like just a part of their environment. With all the detail, you have got to train your eyes to spot subtle movement or the glint of light off an enemy’s scope. In multiple instances, after I had been shot out from an unknown location, I frantically scanned my surroundings, looking for signs of life, wondering if perhaps my assailant had fled, only to be shot down from who knows where. Trying to read Battlefield 3’s landscape can be like staring at a magic eye puzzle you just cannot see.

Even in the subterranean subway, light plays a crucial role in combat. Well lit expanses become dead zones where players are easily taken out from a distance, their movement visible from anywhere. Localized fires create smoke and distracting flares that obscure enemies hiding behind them. Unlike Gears your enemies will not make loud grunting sounds or telegraph their presence with a battle cry. More often than not, I died quickly and efficiently by the hands of players I could not see. The flashlight, an unlockable piece of equipment, made matters worse by disorienting and blinding me when confronting players armed with a mag light. Not knowing if the source was friend or foe, I found myself shooting the air haphazardly like an inept villain.

Speaking of shooting, the weaponry in Battlefield 3 leaves me baffled. I thought I had grown familiar with guns - scoped ones kill people from far away, rifles take out mid-range one, and shotgungs blow close things to shreds. Regardless of what you wield, everything bullet is fatal in Battlefield 3. Whereas each weapon in Gears has some clever gimmick to it, making it unique, the differences between weapons seem minuscule. Of course I have yet to unlock the cornucopia of attachments to increase for murderous efficiency. After collapsing to the ground, for the fourth time, from what seemed like a bee sting, I began to miss the heavy-set impermeable of Marcus Fenix and a gun with a freaking chainsaw on it.

Sometime in between racking up kills by laying prone next to some boxes, waiting for enemies to walk into my sights, and running like a madman into battle hoping to drop a radio beacon to gain points without having to shoot anything, I realized the genre term “shooter” is damn near meaningless. There is enjoyment to be had in Gears of War 3 and Battlefield 3, but moving from one to the other can be shocking. From hence forth, I will move gradually across my genre divides, lest I panic, run for cover, and hide in bushes for twenty minutes... again.

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