Excellent games that don't exist: WAR
In a genre that’s so often criticized for being boring, it’s interesting to see how the two big multiplayer shooters that are going to absolutely dominate the sales charts this winter are trying to convince gamers that the whole experience is going to be new this time, and not just another rehashing of the same tired old formula. Call of Duty: Black Ops II is touting the new features of its multiplayer mode as the freshest thing that’s happened since they moved the series into modern day, and Halo 4, by changing up a lot of the weapons and enemy types is showing that the franchise didn’t die with the loss of Bungie. To me, though, this is just delaying the inevitable. These games are getting boring and we can all feel it. To reinvigorate the shooter, something drastic must be done. The FPS should become unrecognizable again, and full of surprises. We shouldn’t already know how to play when we pick up the controller. It should be...interesting.
Luckily for us, over at Gamezone’s Imaginary Game Factory, nothing we do ever gets made, and costs us no real money. We can try whatever we want, and you can love it or you can hate it, but at the very least, what I’ve arrived at will feel new, and so as far as I’m concerned, mission accomplished. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get busy, everybody. Introducing the next installment of “Excellent Games That Don’t Exist”: WAR.
As is our tradition, and because it’s pretty damn hard to explain a new idea without any context, let’s just say for our purposes that this new game is something like a mix between Star Wars: Battlefront, Timesplitters, and Age of Empires. However, this only applies to gameplay. Philosophically, it’s an idea that to my knowledge no one has ever really tried at this scale.
Basically the single-player campaign is ten levels, each of which depicts an important battle from a totally different period in history, starting with Vikings, and hitting everything from Ancient Rome to Imperial China before arriving in the modern day. At beginning of the battle, you get to choose what type of unit you want to be, and you’re given a list of how many soldiers are left on your side, and how many have to die for you to lose. This number changes constantly, in response to the tactical advantage your troops have at any given time and their morale after having seen so many people die, etc. You then proceed to perform the duties of your chosen unit as best you can until you are killed.
Pretty cut and dry up to this point, to be sure, but this next bit is the crazy stuff. After you die, you wake up as another unit who’s already on the battlefield, and you continue to do this until you win or lose the war. Battles last for hours, and you can save at any time. There’s no interface onscreen during battle unless you hit a button that pulls up the two lists I already mentioned, and it’s just you, doing your best to turn the tide of battle in your favor, however you feel you can. You can issue orders to those within shouting distance, but they’ll only listen if they think they should, and because there’s so many soldiers to be resurrected into, each individual unit can be weaker, and as a result, appear so much more mortal and relatable.
It’s silly that in most games, the entire war is won by the actions of one individual. It damages the immersive quality of the game for something so unbelievable to be such a central truth to the world you’re playing in, and it largely removes one of the most universally appealing aspects of games in general, which is that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. In this new type of game, you the player still feel like you’re making a difference, but the anonymity of the characters you play coupled with the fact that there’s no storyline tying the battles together will really deliver a much more personalized experience for you. Playing as a single near-invincible champion, especially in a game where the enemy is also human, can almost feel cruel, at least unconsciously, because of how much easier it is for you to kill hundreds of people than it is for them to kill you. In this game, every kill is a struggle, and no matter how long you live, you’ll never really stop feeling human. You do just your one job, use the weapon you’re given, and try your best to survive. Reality is less blurred, that is, until you hear what’s in store for the multiplayer.
Along one line of thinking, the multiplayer for this would be almost indistinguishable from the single-player experience, except that you could see the other people on your team, the battles would have less soldiers in them so they’d be shorter, and you’d always resurrect near a teammate, with voice chat limited to natural earshot. Along another, it gets crazy, and does its best to spit in the face of Ron Perlman’s famous and often-quoted line from Fallout 3: “War. War never changes”: Each team can choose what time period and nation their army is from for some seriously insane anachronistic time-traveling warfare. Obviously, some time periods will be stronger than others, and so the size of each fighting force would be scaled in observance of these differences, but the idea of German Stormtroopers rushing into battle against an army of Samurai is just too wonderful. The strategies required for all the different possible match-ups would be deep and rewarding, and the scaling system would be done live, based on the results of various online matches, so that it’s always as fair as possible, even as the game ages and gamers get better and better at playing it.
The possibilities would be endless. The number of weapons in the game alone would be staggering, not to mention all the different unit types and environments, and of course, there would also be the logical option of additional armies and time periods as DLC, which for multiplayer could go far beyond the realm of reality with things like Future Earth vs. Aliens on colonial Mars, or Cavemen vs. Dinosaurs in the fake Prehistoric Age. Obviously, this game would be too large for a current-gen system, and would probably have to wait until at least the next one, but if you also figure in the added map-based functionality something like Xbox SmartGlass or the Wii U Gamepad could offer, the horizons for new and exciting FPS-based gaming expands even further.
The point is, as usual, simply that the ideas are out there if we keep thinking about them, and even though the Call of Duty’s and the Halo’s and the Battlefield’s of the world are great games and huge sellers, there’s always something to be said for innovation, whether or not you’re totally in love with the final product. In fact, we’d love to hear what you think about this game we invented, be it positive or negative or just things you’d like to add, down below in the comments. At least you’re entertaining the idea by reading this far, and really, that’s all we ever wanted in the first place. Thanks for giving us a chance, and keep playing and thinking about games.