Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
At the risk of being too dismissive of my own tastes, I would say that there are only two kinds of video games I like: The kind where doing any one thing takes forever (like Death Stranding and modern Assassin’s Creed games) and what I like to think of as “big, dumb shooters.” Not all shooter games are big and dumb, and I don’t mean “dumb” as an insult or a mark of quality. I just mean that they’re games where you don’t have to pay attention to every piece of dialogue or conveniently discarded note to figure out what’s happening.
I usually end up playing a lot of the big, dumb shooters in a given year, often because I write about them here at The A.V. Club, and I thought now would be a good time to run down the big, dumb shooters of 2021 and see which ones were the biggest and dumbest.
Possibly the biggest and dumbest shooter ever made, Far Cry 6 drops you onto a big Cuba-like island that is largely identical from one coast to the other and has you team up with a band of guerrillas trying to take down evil dictator Giancarlo Esposito. There are some funky guerrilla weapons you can use and a gear system that lets you spec your character around your preferred play-style (the two options, as always, are “sneak around and kill everyone” or “just kill everyone”), but if you’ve played any recent Far Cry game then you’ve played this one.
I found it enormously boring, but also I bet I put 100 hours into it because it’s a nice way to do something with your hands while listening to a podcast. I’ll say this about Far Cry 6: I listened to some good podcasts this year.
I am an enormous sucker for Call Of Duty, a series that puts out a new game every year even if the new game isn’t actually good or isn’t ready to come out. This year’s COD, a World War II-set game called Vanguard, is largely identical to 2019’s Modern Warfare—a game that started off a little shaky but was gradually improved over the course of a few months.
Vanguard is like eating the leftovers of a really good meal, but also it’s been two years and maybe you were expecting… you know, not leftovers. You’re not going to get sick, and it’s still going to fill you up, but is it too much to ask for something that’s actually fresh? Probably yes, but that’s the life of a big, dumb shooter aficionado.
This is the game I was banking on, since its predecessor, the World War II-set Battlefield V (WWII is very well-trod ground in video games), had somehow become one of my go-to quarantine games in 2020. In that game, you would pick a role (soldier, engineer, medic, or sniper), jump into enormous online multiplayer battles, and just do the thing that your role was best at. As an engineer, you could follow your team’s tanks and fix them up during battle, or as a medic you could revive injured players and get points basically just by hanging around.
2042’s biggest issue, aside from the many bugs that it had at launch and still has now, is that it replaced the old character archetypes with actual characters that you play as, making each role less well-defined and removing the incentive to hang back and support the more aggro players. Now everyone has to be one of the aggro players, which is often a difficult way to play (some people are very good at online shooters, and they are not nice to anyone who is not). In a way, the game is now bigger but less dumb, throwing it off balance
I was impressed with Halo Infinite’s single-player campaign, something I can’t say about any of these other big, dumb shooters, but the game dropped the oddball (that’s a Halo reference) in the one way I was hoping it wouldn’t: Back in October, when I played in one of the game’s pre-release previews, I argued that the way to make Halo relevant again after 20 years was to embrace the opportunity for individual expression offered by games like Fortnite and give players endless ways to make their character look different from everyone else’s character.
Infinite has a good amount of customization options for your space marine armor already, but getting most of them—especially the cool or unique ones—is often actively antagonistic toward players. The best helmets or whatever are available for real money in the game’s store (which is hardly a surprise), but even the Fortnite-style premium Battle Pass (where you level up and get rewards at each level) initially required players to complete arbitrarily difficult challenges or dedicate so much time to the game that it might as well be a job.
I don’t want a job, I have a job. I’m doing it right now. I want to jump into a Halo game, have people immediately recognize my Halo guy because of my awesome selection of armor pieces, and then get absolutely obliterated because I’m a trash gamer. And I don’t want to have to spend 100 hours to make that happen! I need that time to miserably trudge through another goddamn Far Cry game that I hate!
In conclusion, there were a lot of big, dumb shooters this year, and they were all big and dumb. I remain optimistic that next year’s crop of big, dumb shooters will also be big and dumb.