Friday, 26 September 2008

Are online deathmatches dying?

The age old pursuit of putting people in enclosed spaces and getting them to pound each other to death with rocks, is strangely absent from our modern day lifestyles. Instead, such contests of strength, bravado and extreme violence amongst your fellow persons are now limited to vast online arenas. It can be in a space station, a castle, on horseback or within the steel belly of a tank, but for a long time, the underlying objective has been to obliterate competitors with no remorse and plenty of smack talk.

Admittedly, such a goal sounds far more interesting than ‘make sure everyone is having a nice time by offering ice cream and complementary hand jobs’ but it is becoming the same old story. The quality of online deathmatch definitely varies from game to game, but they all still have the familiar pains and stale odours. After a while it gets tiring, and the interest fades with each frag. A game needs to offer more these days.

When I played Unreal Tournament 2004, the only mode that kept me entertained long enough for a hamster to complete a revolution of its wheel, was dubbed assault. This was a mission based mode where certain objectives had to be completed by the attacking team in sequence, whilst the defending team made sure that did not happen. The objectives varied from pulling a switch to open a door, planting explosive to blast it open, or fly a spaceship into a hanger to trigger an on foot invasion. This mode was perfect because to win, kill counts actually took a secondary seat to team work and completing goals. There was still more guts on the floor than an abattoir waste bin, but the guy at the top of the leader board, was not there because he was playing solely for himself.

Fast forward three years to Unreal Tournament 3, where the mode was removed, and it just feels like an old dog with no new tricks and Alzheimer's. It has switched to a minimal team-goal orientated gameplay experience, and run of the mill online deathmatch. It was a real shame because this instalment does introduce some nice new gimmicks, but not enough to increase the interest in it beyond a few play sessions. It offers nothing in the way of immersive, goal driven based killing that had worked so well previously in the series.

Deathmatch may not be dead yet, but interest in it is definitely short lived if the experience offers nothing new. Valve has lead a good example in the past with Counter-strike and more recently with Team Fortress 2, delivering a steady stream of updates over the life of the game. This keeps it fresh, and adds to the boring recipe that the deathmatch formula is becoming. If a game is not to be constantly nurtured by a dev team, then it must offer something radical and different, possibly like the upcoming zombie killer, Left 4 Dead. This pits you and three friends up against hordes of AI and human controlled zombies in a cooperative showdown to the end.

Edit – Sorry for the delay, but I have been experiencing a few technical problems.

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