Why Modern Warfare 3 Remains An Un-Game

By John Walker on November 28th, 2011 at 12:00 pm.

I sunk your battleship.

Last Wednesday Kotaku republished (with permission, of course) my review of Modern Warfare 3′s single player campaign. A review in which I described it as an “un-game with a core of nastiness”. This caught the attention of Kill Screen’s Brendan Keogh, who wrote a riposte to my piece on the Australian K, in which he called me, in the nicest possible way, an “un-player”, and detailed why he believed my article was incorrect. He perhaps slightly misunderstood, so here is my reply.

Dear Brendan,

Indeed, I don’t think we’ve talked, but I’m sure you’re super-lovely. High five! Also, I agree that I’m endlessly awesome! But let’s not get distracted. To the matter in hand. I’m not sure you really noticed what I wrote in my review, and thus have missed why I am criticising Modern Warfare 3. Let me explain again exactly what is wrong with the un-game.

The core of your response is to explain that I was wrong to demand more freedom from a game such as Call Of Duty, that I condemned linearity, refused to cooperate with it, and that I therefore played the game wrong(ly). The problem is, I didn’t say any such thing at any point. In fact, the words “freedom” and “linear” don’t appear in the entire two thousand words.

The nub of the core of my problems with Modern Warfare 3 have nothing to do with desiring open-world freedom nor railing (geddit) against linearity, hence my mentioning neither. They have to do with that it’s barely a game. It is, as you suggest, a rollercoaster. Except I would qualify this and say it is more like one of those water rides, where you sit in the slowly drifting boat as it wends its way past a series of animated dioramas, please keep your arms and legs inside the boat at all times. No standing. Apart from when you should.

Where you recognise the game’s successes, I do too. Repeatedly I celebrate the skill with which the sheer scale and volume are delivered. We do not seem to be in disagreement about the exceptionally high standards of the show we’re sat still, watching. I happened not to enjoy the show, which I found wearyingly bombastic and hollow, all style and a void of substance. Where I contend the game falls short is in actually being a game. I’m fascinated to learn what it might have been that you actually enjoyed doing.

If spectacle is what you wanted from MW3, then clearly you would have been delighted with the result. Spectacle, as the name suggests, being something you stare at in a non-participatory way. Which, I would suggest, is the very definition of my newly coined term (that I now fully expect to see appearing in one of those end-of-year Times articles that lists the new words in the parlance), un-game.

My issue here has nothing whatsoever to do with having my freedom restricted. In fact, in a narrative FPS the very last thing I want is abundant freedom. While I express my frustration in my review of not being able to choose where next to go (and I concede the word “where” is ambiguous), I do not mean choose from passage A, B or C, nor want to tramp off over the barren countryside, but merely wish to be able to choose to walk forward. Corridor shooters have been one of gaming’s greatest genres in all its lifetime, from the joy of realising it was a possibility in mazes like Wolf 3D, to the spectacular fixed-rail rollercoaster rides of the Half-Life Episodes. Not having a choice about which direction to go in is never a problem when there’s only one direction you want to go in.

You raise that I expect to be in a more significant position when playing a game. So it is that I make the point that MW3 not only doesn’t cast you as the hero in the game, but the lowliest of grunts, who is given the minimal amount to do after the NPCs have had the real fun. It is argued by many that not every game has to make you the hero, and that following orders is not necessarily an anathema to enjoyable gaming. I agree. But if you are not allowed to live out that fantasy of being the spectacular hero in spectacular circumstances, then there should be something else in place to ensure that you’re having an entertaining time. (Let me stress that “entertaining” does not mean “fun” or “happy” – it can just as easily be “heart-breaking” or “shocking”.) In Modern Warfare 3 there is not. You follow those who are actually playing, and sweep up after them. It’s the gaming equivalent of being a janitor, and while I’m in no doubt that an obscure German developer is currently working on Advanced Janitor Simulator, it’s not exactly what I seek when wanting to play something.

And here’s the thing. Here’s the massively overriding, all-destroying, critique-exploding thing: Modern Warfare 3 is a game that even stops your progression through the corridor. It is an un-game in which a closed door means you must stand still. An un-game in which it is not possible to head down the only available route until the rest of your squad has been through that tunnel first. It is a series of visible and invisible walls, that you incessantly bang your nose against, because you haven’t stood still and watched. I’m not arguing for the freedom to explore a procedurally generated expanse of Paris. I’m asking for the ability to walk in the straight line it’s pretending to offer. In this game, even this isn’t available.

Let alone that the un-game constantly contradicts itself. This is extremely serious, and I believe emblematic of the game’s poor design. There is a serious lack of consistency about the rules it wants you to obey, and as such if there was any contravention of the game’s rules on my part, it was only because I was trying to obey them. I made the point about “follow” because of its constant fixture on your screen. It so gallingly underlines just what a subservient role you’re in – and it’s not a subservience to the game’s plot or characters, but to the code of the game itself. Don’t play, just follow. Except for when it wants you to ignore the “follow”, and take a step forward so it can trigger the next event. I can think of no better example of that than here. Apologies, Brendan, that my voice is so quiet behind the game’s shouting.

(Yes, it says to follow the tanks, but it also says to stay close, and since in 90% of the game your wandering ahead means instant death, I was waiting for my team to take their usual lead. And clearly I meant Society, not Species.)

So rather than walk onto the foot-to-ball pitch with a cricket bat, I walked into an FPS expecting the basics of what the FPS offered for decades, and lamented that MW3 appears to have taken the degradation of player involvement that such games have experienced in recent years, and for majority of the game reduced it to the point where I’m not sure the word “game” is any longer appropriate. It’s the Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Show. Please turn your mouse for alternative views.

I at no point wished for “emergent gameplay” or whatever other terms one might suggest. I never believed that I should be able to wander to the left instead of the right, unless the left was presented to me as an open route. I never asked the game to offer me more than a corridor and a role to play, and it so frequently offered me neither. And that is why Modern Warfare 3 is an un-game, and why I absolutely did not play it incorrectly. I think we can agree that I certainly did not use “freedom as a metric for a game’s quality”, since I never mentioned freedom, nor argued for it. Instead, I did not find buildings repeatedly falling over a large enough distraction to disguise the fact that I was barely playing. I was not refusing to cooperate with it. It was refusing to let me play it. And I believe that noise and explosions are not a substitute for player involvement. You may keep your Professor Burp’s Bubbleworks games, but I would like to argue for better.

Yours sincerely,

John Walker

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267 Comments »

  1. jellydonut says:

    Bless this article.

    • starclaws says:

      Ya it’s great to see people are starting to realize that these aren’t games at all but more like interactive movies where if you don’t follow the script then the director yells CUT! and you are instantly killed. AND AGAIN FROM THE TOP!

      Then the multiplayer is the same as ever just with revamped ‘care packages’, killstreaks, and oooh gold plated guns. Yawn much?

      Hardly anything changes year after year. I’ve seen more game development progression in a yearly released sports game from EA Sports than I have in the Call of Duty series.

    • jezcentral says:

      Yeah, I just reached the bit mentioned in the BF3 campaign WIT, and I was just shooting infinite bad-guys, and trying to wander off-campus, being forced back by that wretched “5-secs-to-auto-death” counter.

      But this is the logical conclusion of expensive dev costs. You get to experience everything they coded, in the “correct” way, so they don’t have to code the alternatives.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      @starclaws: This is *exactly* what I understood from what John’s been writing. MW3 is a movie in which you are a second/third-rate actor, forced to obey the script to the letter.

    • Groove says:

      Bless indeed.

      When people want a non-interactive experience then that’s what cinema or television or a book, or pretty much everything else is for. Being able to point the gun in a film might be cool, but it doesn’t make it a game.

    • HermitUK says:

      BF3 was particularly awful for it, because it lacked the level of explosions required to even vaguely distract players from the scripting. At one point in BF3 you’re told to silently knife someone. You’re supposed to try and knife earlier, so it can play a 30 second fight scene where he blocks your attack. But if you get too close you instantly fall over dead. For no reason.

      It’s not like FPSs don’t sell well on consoles without keeping the player on a short leash; Halo certainly isn’t the best shooter in the world, but it pulls off decent firefights in fairly interesting locations (unless it’s an indoor level). And while it’s linear the games don’t try to pull you back on track every three seconds; they at least assume the player has the intelligence to follow the path themselves.

      The genre reminds me of the state of MMOs five years ago, where far too many companies just made WoW clones and expected the money to roll in. I don’t overly mind if people want to keep buying CoD. But I do mind if every other FPS developer decides they need to follow the Activision playbook to the letter.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      What about games like Dragon’s Lair, where the entire title is a series of quick time events. Call it the first “un-game” ? There isn’t a single element of player control, not even camera. It’s merely press this button sequence to proceed with the movie. MW3 is not breaking any ground here, but maybe we should just stop calling it an FPS.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      “MW3 is a movie in which you are a second/third-rate actor, forced to obey the script to the letter.”

      Sounds more like you’re an extra, watching the actors do their thing and not being allowed to do anything significant or fun yourself.

    • PopeJamal says:

      I find it interesting that, despite Mr. Walker’s disdain for “un-games”, he was much more forgiving of this “un-game”**. Maybe he just isn’t that fond of the exaggerated, American “SHOOT ALL THE THINGS!!!11one!!!!” sensibility?

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2008/03/20/preview-the-graveyard/

      ** (a “game” which, BTW, I bought on-sale for $1, primarily because of his write-up, and promptly discovered was a pretentious piece of crap. It’s the first time I googled about removing games from my Steam library. Well played con-men…well played…)

    • Ruffian says:

      Well said. and agreed.
      I love RPS.

    • Wulf says:

      @jez

      “But this is the logical conclusion of expensive dev costs. You get to experience everything they coded, in the “correct” way, so they don’t have to code the alternatives.”

      Then the solution is lower production values. Don’t spend so much money on creating things that have to be experienced a certain way, spend that amount of money on making multiple ways to do something, even if it doesn’t ‘look as good.’ But I’d argue that it can.

      Look at Guild Wars 2, it’ll have multiple routes to multiple bits of content in an open world. Now, can we honestly say that Guild Wars 2 is a bad looking game? That’s the route I want to see developers take in the future, to be honest. I know John didn’t say that freedom is a damned good metric for quality, but I’d be willing to say that it is. Or more specifically: Player choice defines the very nature of a game.

      Games go from being films, to interactive films, to time wasters, to games, and in the latter instance I think that player choice is held aloft as the most important thing. I see Uncharted as less of a game than, say, Saints Row: The Third. I put Uncharted in the Interactive Film category, and that’s that.

      But to be honest?

      I’m as tired as interactive films as I was with them back when they were interactive movies, back when the DVD was new. I don’t see this, or Uncharted, or any game like it being a hell of a lot different than Dragon’s Lair. And there’s the problem. These games are all just Dragon’s Lair, over and over and over and over and over and over. Just with prettier graphics.

      And me? I don’t want to play Dragon’s Lair. I never liked it in the first place.

    • jrodman says:

      @PopeJamal: While that experience, or game, whichever you prefer — is fairly limited in what you can do, you are at least being given the option to do what you want within the limits of the game. The game is infact specifically about you, yourself, on your own interacting with and experiencing those limits.

      It’s not the same thing at all, even if both experiences are a bit controlling.

      Also it doesn’t bill itself as a first person shooter.

    • ZephyrSB says:

      whee, replay fail, ignore me :p

    • IRKunert says:

      I agree, for the most part; with the stuff this guy says. Infinity ward and Activision spend no time trying to improve the experience for gamer’s, they pump out another essentially 5-year old piece of crap to make money. Even though i agree with this guy, he’s a little heavy on the over-descriptive words and sentences. They really water down his point and make him sound pretentious and asinine. Like he just sat down with a thesaurus and wrote this article. For future reference John Walker, just say whats on your mind. Don’t spend time making it sound like a freaking poem cause all it does is distract from your point. Which, even though i criticize your delivery; i believe is very solid. With that said you’re obviously very knowledgeable and well-versed in the world of gaming and i appreciate your reviews.

  2. oceanclub says:

    A very good response and a manifesto for those utterly baffled by the continued mega-success of these, as you say, un-games.

    P.

    • ZimbuTheMonkey says:

      To be fair, most people purchase it for the multiplayer.

      And I would be totally okay with that… IF it wasn’t a 60$ game since they reuse so many assets (textures, animations, buildings, etc.). It’s an expansion pack, it should be priced accordingly. But it doesn’t have to be, unfortunately, since it sells.

    • Bhazor says:

      More baffling is that the multiplayer is naff. This is a game series made in space year 2011 that still features spawn camping. Not to mention the low player counts, a lack of vehicles, slim map variety, broken physics (the tomahawk), grenade spam, game breaking perks, dull weapons (which don’t even posess the merit of realism), as well as an array of out of game hacks, aim bots and in game exploits like boosting.

      How BF3 can be losing out to it I have no idea. I’m no BF fan (haven’t played since that far future one) but BF3 is still a real step up.

    • Springy says:

      @ Bhazor: I think you’ve got some unfair criticisms mixed in with some valid ones, there. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having no vehicles and a low player count in a shooter. Why on earth does every shooter have to offer dozens of players and vehicles? Has Quake 3 aged badly because it’s got a small number of players and no vehicles? Would Quake 5 need to up the player count and add buggies, or else suck?

      Call of Duty multiplayer has a plethora of problems, but those two aren’t among them. It dilutes the argument to throw them in. I love Battlefield’s large-scale warfare, but I love small-scale arena type shooters, too. They both offer different, equally meritorious experiences.

    • MattM says:

      COD1 and 2 mixed in some more actual gameplay but by the time I got to COD 4 I felt like they had managed to eliminate the small tactical choices that any other FPS has. The only way to play was to rush forward with an smg and try and get across the line that shuts down the enemy spawning. Trying to engage at more than 30 feet was pointless as they would respawn before you could advance.

    • PoulWrist says:

      Pretty sure most people do not buy it for the multiplayer ;P

    • ZephyrSB says:

      @Springy “Why on earth does every shooter have to offer dozens of players and vehicles?”

      While there’s nothing wrong with the sentiment your expressing, after playing Planetside in it’s heyday, pretty much every FPS lost it’s multiplayer appeal to me…once you’ve experienced that kind of scale, it’s very difficult to go back.

    • Bhazor says:

      Having a small focused mp is fine (Quake 3 duels are teh awesome) having a hard coded player limit because your engine can’t cope with more is not. Also it lost any semblance of small scale balance when it let you use the helicopter gunship. It lets you do that but doesn’t let you drive a jeep? Horse pucky. They just can’t be bothered with modelling the vehicle physics.

      Note I didn’t even mention modding because I was primarily talking about consoles (look up MAG for an idea of its competition) which are its primary audience.

  3. Ian says:

    Fight!

    • Xercies says:

      I like what john walker says but i also like what Brendan says. Well therrs only one thing to do

      FIGHT!!!!!!!!!

    • qrter says:

      Nice one, Xercies.

    • Manburger says:

      I’m sure Brendan is a nice chap and all, but I did not like what he wrote*, seeing as he completely misunderstood the point John was making. If there was a fight, I’d say good ol’ Walker takes the price. He might not be a great healer, but he is a vicious brawler.
      (*Though I think I’ve read articles by him on Kill Screen or elsewhere that I enjoyed)

    • GeneralSalad says:

      But its far easier to ignore completely the points being made and make up your own, while claiming that is what the person meant.

  4. Drake Sigar says:

    Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy was arguably just a bunch of quicktime events, and it’s STILL more game than MW3.

    • Jonith says:

      Fahrenheit/ Indigo Prophecy (and also PS3 only Heavy Rain) are supposed to be like a movie, Quantic Dream basically made their own genre their. Now why do shooters like MW3 try to copy this, is it because they think we can’t comprehend playing a game ourselves?

      I’m calling it now, the most interactivity in the next Cod game will be pressing a button asking us if we want to play multiplayer yet when it pops up every 5 minutes over the background of the film, The Rock

    • Ultra Superior says:

      F/IP had a great story that had you at the edge of your seat. Thrilling. (at least until the rushed finale) QTE were the worst part. The game was basically like watching 24 and telling Jack Bauer what to do next. MAKING DECISIONS.

      It was great.

      In mw3, you’re not even Jack Bauer. You’re a redshirt, being told where to go, then you die.

    • Jonith says:

      I wouldn’t even call you the Redshirt, at least they got to open more doors than you. Behind the doors was more than likely something which killed them, but its the principle that counts.

  5. dangermouse76 says:

    BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Actually out of interest John, I am having this thought in my mind noodle what is a really good FPS campaign. Recently that is; the genre seems a little jaded.

    Plus I have £500 tax being returned ……….Spend spend spend.

    • Moni says:

      Bulletstorm?

    • Bremze says:

      Serious Sam 3. The first two levels are mediocre in comparison to the First and the Second encounter, but still are miles above any “modern” shooter, and after that the game just gets amazing.

    • Dominic White says:

      Definitely Serious Sam 3. Once you’re past the first couple of levels that just ease players in to fighting more than 5 enemies at once, you often get just thrown into an enormous battlefield scattered with guns, ammo and health pickups and are asked to do whatever you can to kill upwards of a hundred enemies.

      The final level has just shy of 1800 enemies on Hard mode, and has an 80 minute par completion time, and the only moment where any control is taken from the player are the 10-second cutscenes at the start and end of the level.

    • Mman says:

      While they can take weird side-steps or take dumb steps back along with steps forward, in general, I think implying that games in general aren’t mostly improving is nostalgic rubbish. (Singleplayer) FPS games are one genre I can make an exception for; as things are. It’s not even about whether they are enjoyable or not, it’s that, when you look at their design, it becomes obvious they are intentionally designed to be as disposable as possible, which is a really odd direction for things to go. There are thankfully exceptions… but, well, “exceptions” is the important word in that statement.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      Mman says: something

      Fair enough then my bad…..have a cold and full of lucozade.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      Serious Sam on sale, bought ! Cheers Mr White. I forgot how much I enjoyed the first one.

    • Mman says:

      “Implying ? I am not implying that. I am saying FPS’s seem a little boring at the mo can you sugest anygood ones.”

      That part wasn’t related to what you were saying at all (beyond agreeing with you).

    • theleif says:

      Good single player FPS experiences has been few for me as well over the last couple of years. Metro 2033 Crysis 2, Portal 2, Left 4 Dead 2 (in co op) and Deus Ex are notable exceptions. But it can be argued that only Metro and Crysis are true FPS’s, so…

    • dangermouse76 says:

      Yep Metro on the drive as well as Portal 2 and left for dead. Maybe I am just being greedy actually, dam steam sales.

      I think what I am starting to bore of is mediocre AI or may be I just prefer Battlefield multiplayer to FPS campaigns nowadays.

      Although me and a friend had lots of fun with the co-op of Operation Flashpoint Dragon Rising……god I dont know what I want.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      I agree with Bulletstorm… relentlessly linear, but still a game. It’s basically the game John is talking about when he speaks of linearity not making a shooter an un-game.

      Other recent pure shooter faves of mine: Crysis 2, Singularity, Darkest of Days, Metro 2033 and Rage. Rage was no masterpiece but it was a damn good corridor shooter. Singularity and Darkest of Days get bad raps for not being very innovative but they’re good shooter action and DoD is unique in a bunch of ways, which is pretty important to me. Hell, even FEAR 3 was a good time for a while for a low price.

    • Heisenberg says:

      I know you’re after a recent FPS, but CoD 2 was an excellent single player campaign (not been bettered IMO).
      As for a recent pure FPS, i actually havent found anything this year to particularly rave about. I didnt enjoy Rage, but ime hoping Serious Sam will be good.

      I Totally agree with John.
      Played thru MW3 once, and it felt like it was one HUUUUGE quick time event.

      From my CoD games i just want some extended periods of time where i can do some manshooting,and feel like my actions are always important and matter, and it didnt give me a decent time of that at all.

      It felt like any old sod could have been asked to do those doorway breaches, lay that C4 or man that turret etc etc, it didnt matter who it was but it just so happened that it was me, and the duck shoot bits were not long enough.

      I started another playthru just to make sure my feelings were warranted and about half way thru discovered i was definately correct.

      What it does achieve, as John has pointed out, is the spectacle, some nice gunporn (but crappy gun sounds) and……..err……..i cant think of anything else sorry.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      I had a great time with RAGE.

      It felt so good. BAM-BAM BLAM!

      It played buttersmooth. Best classic FPS in ages for me.

      Also, I liked Singularity, very well made and absolutely classic FPS. Nothing fancy, but thoroughly enjoyable.

    • Groove says:

      “I know you’re after a recent FPS, but CoD 2 was an excellent single player campaign (not been bettered IMO).”

      OMG yes. I’ve played that campaign around 5 times, not many games I can say that about.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      God COD 2 was fun fun fun. Gonna check out Singularity as well looks interesting from the interweb videos I saw.

    • Heisenberg says:

      …actually i totally forgot about Singularity.

      Dont think i finished it, it had a pretty bad texture pop in problem as far as i can remember that could never be properly fixed (but that may be sorted now?).

      The game itself was pretty damn good tho, with some excellent time machine game mechanics.

    • Dead Bones says:

      Get Crysis, the first one. Might as well get Warhead, too. Especially the first one is an excellent game if you can look beyond a spot of odd pacing later on and changing gameplay towards the end. Warhead is more solid all of the way through but it’s a bit less open and a bit less daring.

      Consider skipping Crysis 2, though, unless you’re really starved for another FPS afterwards. It’s a better game than Call of Duty, sure, but it still kind of ruins some of the things that worked so well and so satisfyingly in the first games… It’s mechanically simpler in annoying ways (the super-speed mode is gone; you can’t go prone; there is no way to bind leaning to keys; the stealth mode is now game-breakingly powerful and easy to use instead of just really good; etc.); the maps are more restrictive; the setting is less striking; it doesn’t take full advantage of the tech powering it, and, for better or worse, the aliens have virtually nothing in common with their old selves. It even gives you a mute protagonist instead of the admittedly fairly blank but still occasionally talkative Crysis 1 guy.

      Now Serious Sam is good fun, and I’ve heard that the new one is as well – it’s going up next on my FPS shopping list. The old ones were really cheap during the Steam sale, but that’s over now…

      I can’t really recommend Bulletstorm. It would have been a great game if not for their super-restrictive on-rails style of level design… Imagine your average modern corridor shooter but with neat guns and game mechanics and pretty environments that seem like they would work really well with at least wider rails… But the rails never seem to get any wider, and it feels like there’s very little room for experimentation. Once again, though, it’s a better game than Call of Duty.

  6. woodsey says:

    I’m instigating a round of applause for Mr Walker.

    Want to make a linear, first-person shooter? Fine. Brilliant even. But take your cues from stuff like Half-Life, not the cinema.

    • mouton says:

      And if you DO take cues from the cinema, do you really have to pick Michael Bay? There ARE other options.

    • Bluerps says:

      Yeah, like David Lynch. I want to play a game in which I say to me that Dick Laurent is dead, while Dick Laurent is alive, and I don’t know who that is.

    • Nemrod says:

      That, sir, would be considered an un-game to many….

      but definitely a game to me!

    • Bobby Oxygen says:

      But they have taken a lesson from the Half-Life series, namely the 2nd and the episodes.
      Valve introduced the world to the “directed FPS” with HL2, and other developers has just taken this concept to the absolute extreme. If it wasn’t for the success and almost unanimous critical acclaim of HL2, the industry might not have gone in that direction. You brought this on yourselves by elevating an above-average game like HL2 to superstar status. How did that game manage to bag near-perfect scores, when the weapon design was so terrible, the forced pacing so constricting, and the plot so messy and hacknied?

      You made your bed, now do as the game tells you to and go lie in it.

    • MultiVaC says:

      Yeah, Half-Life 2 ruined the shooter industry when it made developers design very linear shooters like the Call of Duty series, which began in 2003. That’s right, HL2 was so evil that its bad influence extends back in time!

    • GenBanks says:

      When you solved physics puzzles in HL2 you felt like it was your own cleverness that had allowed you to progress. You weren’t just following, waiting for the next scripted event. I don’t ever remember feeling frustrated by infinite respawning enemies in HL2 either. I felt much more important and connected to HL2.

      No, I don’t think HL2 is responsible for the Modern Warfare games.

      That being said, I loved the first CoD because it made me feel like an insignificant little man taking part in a titanic struggle. CoD has never tried to give you the experience of being the Gordon Freeman/Batman/Luke Skywalker saviour of the world.

    • Lemming says:

      I sort of love and blame Half-Life 2 though. How many of these big publishing giants saw the success of that great game and thought ‘yeah, we can do that’ and got it totally and utterly wrong?

  7. kregg says:

    Man, that lamp post needed to be taught a serious lesson. Good thing you showed ‘em, John.

    • P7uen says:

      “There’s still some life in him yet!”

      A lovely lol to end my tiresome day, great stuff.

    • sinister agent says:

      I fear the consequences of having this uploaded onto youtube, though. The telegraph poles won’t like it, I’ll tell you that for nothing.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      I was also amused by how the AI seemed determined to hump each other up against the sandbags once they ran out of lamp post to shoot.

  8. rapier17 says:

    What is it the AI of CoD games have against lamp posts? I once saw a video on youtube from Black Ops of two AI soldiers standing on opposite sides of a lamp post unloading their assault rifles into it.

    An excellent response sir, thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  9. Tams80 says:

    I do love a good bish, bash, bosh! Time to put on your Fighting Trousers.

    Not that you’d ink to such a despicable level.

    As for janitor simulators – we have Dustforce.

  10. asshibbitty says:

    Again I note that the quality of debate around games can be improved tenfold if everyone figured out once and for all what a videogame is exactly. When you say stuff like “the game falls short is in actually being a game” it’s pointless since no one know what you think a game is. And no, you haven’t explained that at all.

    Un-game, ugh.

    • John Walker says:

      A game is something in which I can meaningfully participate. I think that was fairly clear in the text.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_%28activity%29

      MW3 fulfills these ideas I would say………. Just not very well.

    • asshibbitty says:

      @John
      What’s that supposed to mean? A funeral, is it a game for you?

    • Tams80 says:

      I’d say a game has to have some sort of fiction. You can play games in real life, but there is a ‘fiction’ to them. You’re creating an environment in which to play and thus entertain yourself.

    • Faldrath says:

      That’s not how it works – that is, you don’t define something first, arrive at a consensus about that definition, and *then* have a debate about that something. Ask scientists what “science” means, or artists what “art” means, or sociologists what “society” means, and you’ll get plenty of different, even contradictory definitions. And yet that doesn’t keep scientists, artists and sociologists from doing meaningful work.

      Debates like this one actually contribute to our formulations, because it’s always an ongoing process, and you never actually “finish” the process.

    • fenriz says:

      guys, a videogame is interaction. It’s about problem solving in its diverse natures.

      When interaction withers, like in this case, it stops being a game. Easy, n’est-ce pas?

    • Shrike says:

      @asshibbitty think of it as a requirement, rather than the entire definition, if that helps. It doesn’t sound like an unreasonable requirement, and that much is sufficient for this article.

    • Donjo says:

      Yes asshibbitty, it’s called “Life: The Ultimate Game”

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Good point actually. If a game is “Anything in which you can meaningfully participate” then the question becomes, what isn’t a game? Even films and literature require some (in fact, a large) degree of participation. There are about 1 million ways to read the Bible, for example, it’s not in any way a static text (and the thousands of varieties of Christianity each with their own version of what the Bible “actually” says, all testify to this). It might seem a bit simple, but I actually think it would be interesting and rewarding to hear what video game critics actually think a “game” is–as I would guess many don’t even bother giving it much thought.

    • asshibbitty says:

      When you call a thing a non-thing, it is a good idea to define the critical thingy quality that it lacks. This is not science.

      That aside, it is actually a hairy topic, what makes a piece of software that simulates something a game? No answer here and no need for one, it’s usually obvious. In this way it actually makes sense to have weird requirements like “NPCs shouldn’t open doors for me”.

    • fenriz says:

      asshibbitty:

      the quality is: THOUGHT.

      It’s a basic syllogism, not science. Measure thought. When there’s none, you got an un-game.

      MW3 requires: none. You got an un-game.

    • Baboonanza says:

      The problem with trying the define exactly what makes game is that, like almost every other subject, having an argument about definitions simply detracts from the debate. You aren’t ever going to agree on something so nebulous and it isn’t even required to have a healthy discussion.

      It’s a pointless waste of time basically.

    • choconutjoe says:

      Faldrath hit the nail on the head. Thinking you have to define a thing before you can examine it is precisely backwards. It’s the act of examining things that influences our definitions, and no definition is ever ‘complete’.

      Debates like this assume that there is some minimum criteria that thing has to have in order for it to be called a ‘game’. The problem is that the definitions of words in natural languages simply don’t work like that. The human mind does not categorize things that way. Instead what we have are groupings of things which resemble one another in various different ways but don’t necessarily all possess a common feature.

      To demonstrate, suppose there are three games, A, B and C. The first, A, is a prototypical game. It’s the most gamey game you can think of. The others, B and C, both have things in common with A but nothing in common with each other. They are all called games because they centre around A, not because they all have something in common.

      To complicate things further, there are always Ds and Es which are somewhere in the fuzzy border region. They resemble B or C quite closely but they don’t really resemble A. There are always lots of examples of these in the real world (Is a fungus a vegetable? Are viruses alive? etc).

      There can never be a single definition of ‘game’ that covers all scenarios.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      I don’t wanna put words in his mouth but I think what John meant was that in a game he wants to participate in a meaningful manner, MW3 doesn’t allow this. Not that anything you can meaningfully participate in is a game. It’s pretty simple guys.

    • asshibbitty says:

      @fenriz
      CoD’s main mechanic that challenges the player is shooting. Everything else is fluff. Besides, games don’t have to require thought. Tetris for example, on higher levels you have to act faster than you can think.

      @everyone
      I didn’t ask for a definition, and I’ve already admitted it’s impossible to achieve, what I did ask for is people who write about videogames to have some basic understanding of this shit, so that their debates about it are more like debates and less like poetry.

    • Keirley says:

      @asshibbitty:

      I think it’s a necessary rather than a sufficient condition. So not everything in which one can meaningfully participate is a game, but if one can’t meaningfully participate in it then it isn’t a game.

      Though now we’re going to have to define ‘meaningful participation’.

      @Tams80:

      I don’t think all videogames (or games) involve fiction. Tetris isn’t fictional (nor is Jenga).

    • oxymelum says:

      What I feel like John is saying is he has the feeling he’s watching a movie and the enemies are cleverly designed play buttons.

    • chargen says:

      Yes, a funeral is more of a game than Modern Warfare 3.

    • fenriz says:

      @Asshibbitty
      “CoD’s main mechanic that challenges the player is shooting. Everything else is fluff. Besides, games don’t have to require thought. Tetris for example, on higher levels you have to act faster than you can think”.

      I trust you don’t really believe what you said and used this generic argument as a rebuke.

      Games are not just “shooting”, and the fact that CoD is reduced to it(nomore than nes’ duckhunt) without any trace of tactic or movement or ANYTHING is sad, and revealing. And that’s fluff in CoD but not in most games. unmixed shooting “challenge” seems to me very poor interactivity, not to mention very dangerous for the reputation of videogames and a terrible blow to their maturity. Also it’s terrible for their maturity that “games don’t require thought”. It’s a sad sad thing to say. If you had to promote a toy to a mother for his children to play with, would you tell her “buy it, ma’am! It doesn’t require thought, so it’s a perfect game, and perfect for your child”.

    • LimeWarrior says:

      @asshibbitty
      WOAH. Let me defend Tetris for a second. You don’t stop thinking when you are at the higher levels. One could argue that you are fully engaged at this point because your thought process has reached a lightning fast level. Tetris is actually changing your brain and increasing brain matter.

      http://www.1up.com/news/tetris-brain-study-shows

      Modern Warfare 3 does not provide the puzzle solving complexities of Tetris so comparing them is apples and oranges.

      I think everyone will agree that the single player of MW3 is a narrative driven game. Some narrative games allow the player to shape the narrative based on his/her actions. Heavy rain, Deus Ex, and open ended games like Skyrim rely on the player to shape the story. I find this very engrossing.

      However, there are many linear shooters that provide a fixed story and are still fun and interactive experiences. Look at half-life, bioshock and bulletstorm. The fun comes from a variety of guns that give the player options and choices on how to play the game. MW3 provides this but to a much lesser extent with less variety.

      So what makes MW3 an un-game? Taking away the player’s (illusion of) freedom. All the things John mentioned are saying “NO. You will play this game ONE WAY. Just sit back and enjoy the show”

    • gwathdring says:

      I would like to join in at the epistemology part of the debate. From which end must we start if we are to define something? I personally believe we are best to start from what we collectively call real and then begin defining concepts within that structure. As we define concepts in the interior we start to run into areas where language, intuition, tradition or logic dictate the existence of concepts exterior to our agreed reality–the birth of the abstract.

      Eventually we start getting hybrids. A nice example would be color. We have the real observation of dominant wavelength in a light sample, but also the abstraction of that observation into color groups. These groups are on the one hand much more practical in describing our world to one another but also imprecise and fuzzy at the edges–a region of fuzzy abstraction with a dominant real center. I like this example because the abstract idea comes from what at first seems a concrete idea being made fuzzy as we come to understand its imprecision.

      I’ve zoomed out pretty far, so let’s bring it in.

      In modern practice, I think we have to navigate previous definitions first. Looking at other related categories (such as the words Toy and the verb Play) and casually accepted members of the game category as it has evolved over time (Chess, DOOM, Diplomacy, Jenga, Shadows of the Colossus), we have to then decide what shape to make our fuzzy abstract bubble. Do we disregard certain accepted games in the name of inviting new games in, trim both new and old to keep things tidy, or expand everything? Part of this process, for me, is deciding approximately where the fuzzy abstract border is for “most people.” We can’t determine it exactly, but bounce enough ideas off enough people and we get a good idea of where the middle ground is.

      For what it’s worth, I’m leaning towards MW3 being a game because it looks a lot like everything else we call a “video game” even though is does seem to be at the border of “games” in general. Either way, perhaps we should take the heat off the poor bastard and look elsewhere for a moment.

      I feel you could make similarly damning arguments about point-and-click adventure games: inconsistent rules combined with tightly-scripted linearity creating stop-and-go scripted in which you patter about until you press the right buttons to make the next explosion or conversation happen. This, as far as I can tell, sums up Mr. Walker’s Un-game and applies both to MW3 and to many, many, many traditional adventure games. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed if anyone wants to suggest that the Crystal Key is an un-game ;D. But then again I’m pretty darn sure Monkey Island was a game : . The difference, as far as I can tell, between the two? I enjoyed one of them and was disappointed by the other. Perhaps it is that simple, then. Perhaps the key factor for things at the edge of “game” and “spectacle” is whether or not we, when approaching it as a game, feel fulfilled by it as a game.

      Of course, now that I think about it in those terms, the things I enjoyed about Monkey Island weren’t the game bits, but the writing and the spectacle. The game bits were usually perfectly pleasant, but are not at all what I remember loving about the Monkey Island. There are a few more interesting exceptions, such as Guybrush reaction to the player clicking on certain items and the various weird books in the library in MI2, the game’s often amusing response to player screw-ups, and the rewarding feeling of solving those rare puzzles that were both difficult and solvable logically as opposed to through trial and error. Hmm. Perhaps it is a game as my instinct suggests. Or perhaps I’m working with the wrong criterion.

      Running with this idea anyway, lots of people enjoy MW3 single-player, that much is clear. The question then becomes whether they enjoy it for its game-like qualities when they approach it seeking game-like qualities. That’s a bit harder to quantify without asking a fan. As I am not personally one of them I will have to defer this point to others.

      Now I’ll have to take another look at the Philosophy of Sports class my school offers … this discussion makes it sound like there’s a lot more content buried in the topic than hearing the name of the course made me suspect. Besides, how can I graduate from a liberal arts school without taking any philosophy classes?

    • CloakRaider says:

      I think that people are using “un-game” to be instead of “a game I don’t like”.
      It’s bad.

    • gwathdring says:

      @ CloakRaider

      I think that’s contributing to what’s going on, but I don’t think the people using the word are that intellectually dishonest. It does irk me a tad that the same harsh words were not had for BF3 which by the accounts of all the people I know who played it seems fairly similar. I also don’t think it sounds significantly worse than my personal experience with Half-Life 2–which if I recall properly included a teeter-totter as a “puzzle,” and included a wonderful but completely on-rails section at the end that by this line of thinking is very much Spectacle and not Game. I don’t think the issue is in drawing this line, then, but in treating MW3 with such discrimination. Using this to open up the broader issue with creating interesting linearity in games would be more productive I think then the name-calling of games.

      But … says Other-Gwathdring … epistemology is more fun!

  11. mentor07825 says:

    Gotta love the first paragraph.

  12. Random Guy says:

    “un-game”

    I LIKE IT!

    • Kdansky says:

      I’d go with “film”, but I’m old-fashioned like that.

      This is like a film on multiple discs, and you have to press W to insert the next one from time to time.

  13. Elltot says:

    Excellent reference to my all time fave Chessington ride.

    Wasn’t the same since they rebranded it.

    • John Walker says:

      I (genuinely) have a lifetime ban from that ride, from my teenage years. I believe because I was trying to interact with it too much.

      Sad to hear it’s no longer there to be banned from!

    • Inigo says:

      I used to live literally next door to it.
      They.
      Never.
      Turned.
      Off.
      The.
      Music.

    • psyk says:

      Professor Burp’s Bubbleworks??

      Ah memories

    • Tams80 says:

      @ Inigo I can see it still affects you to this day.

    • Inigo says:

      And they never shut off the sound effects for the Vampire ride next to that, so we got 24/7 screaming and organ music along with the
      DOO DOO DOO
      DOO DOO DOO
      DOO DOO DOO
      DOO-DOO DOO DOO DOO
      DOO DOO DOO
      DOO-DOO DOO DOO
      DOO-DOO DOO DOO DOO DOOOOOO

    • phlebas says:

      I went there with a friend who was hydrophobic. For him it was the most terrifying ride ever.

    • magnus says:

      I’m scared just listening to the Doo Doo Doo’s, they’re undoubtably the scariest Doo Doo Doo’s I’ve ever heard.

  14. The_QC says:

    I fully understand the idea behind the article and I agree very much in theory, but I have to say that in practice I did enjoy MW3 single player more than I expected. I ran forward, shot at dudes, watched the pretty sights and ended up having a good time for the most part.

    When I think the game in retrospect, I despise everything about it, but when I play it and I’m in the moment, I find it a pretty enjoyable experience.

    I definitely don’t agree with the “badly designed” part. The single player Black Ops and Battlefield 3 campaigns are examples of bad designs for me and if you play them close to MW3 you’ll see how much worse they are. Even though they are designed to be watched more than played, you can still fail a lot simply because they are so terrible at explaining properly what you’re supposed to do. On top of that, while MW3 can have the occasional glitch like the one you showed above, in my other two examples this kind of thing happens all the time, no matter how much you are trying too cooperate with the game.

  15. tigershuffle says:

    Nice riposte John

    I believe the young (g)uns would say you owned him or somefink ;)

    I love the Water Rapids analogy……..its the slow bits where you are bumping the walls on a bend….you want to get out ….you have a wet arse ..but you know youre gonna go over a large drop and have to grin for the £5.99 photo or else upset your kids when you all get out :s

  16. Rao Dao Zao says:

    They should settle this with a few rounds of Quake III.

    • Tinman says:

      Heh. This was actually my first thought as well – settle their differences in opinion with a Quake III match Mojang vs Bethesda style. I have a feeling I know who will win though …

      For what it’s worth though I actually agree with John. Games like MW3 are not doing the games industry any favours in their design and lack of … well … game …

    • Kdansky says:

      I’m not sure if Brendan would want to play Q3, as it might be too interactive for him. They should play some Dreamhack against each other. I recommend the Starcraft 2 finals, which were a great best of seven.

  17. Suva says:

    I guess people not really interesting in playing a game feel right at home with software like that.

  18. psyk says:

    My play through on veteran did seem to be mainly letting the NPCs do everything including killing most of the enemy.

  19. Anarki says:

    I played this through with a friend taking turns, and while we enjoyed the “spectacle” (explosions and shit), there were some game breaking mechanics. The best/most hilarious bit was the final cut scene I believe, we both sat back, hands behind our heads watching the final cut scene, when suddenly a large “F” appears on the screen. My friend jabbed at the keyboard but was too late, and died. After 5 hours of normal FPS gameplay with zero QTEs, it suddenly introduces a load of them in the very final scene, which frankly we did not expect.

    It’s much better if you treat it as an interactive movie rather than a game, but still not great.

  20. bigtoeohno says:

    Im not a huge fan of the ‘un-game” deal but agree with your points. All of which is meaningless because an article titled wot I think is inherently just that. Opinions are like… And all that

  21. Grimsterise says:

    Ungame: Weakly Interactive Cinematic Experience?

  22. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    I find it quite funny a defender of a game that verges on propaganda about “fightin’ for our freedoms” and such says we don’t really need that much freedom afterall.

    • theleif says:

      That would actually have been a very interesting critique of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, if it was intentional.

    • Hawkseraph says:

      Hurray for unintentional political references ;D

    • Ultra Superior says:

      hahahaha load your guns with democracy and shoot those extremists back to feudalism!

    • zapatapon says:

      MW3 is actually a secret remake of the Stanley parable.

  23. dangermouse76 says:

    I think part if the issue is the way we look at gaming. What we mean by that, a game is a structure but gaming….. well that doesnt really mean a game does it.

    To game in this sense means….to play. So an analysis would be how does it play and how does it succeed on that criteria . Not wether it is a game ( it is clearly a game ) but does it play.

    To which I would say yes, in a limited way. For me it is best analysed as a movie as it has more in common with one than PLAYING a computer game.

    As a movie it’s more Die Hard 4.0 than Die Hard.

  24. tomemozok says:

    I don’t get something..Why do everybody want to play a game that’s not rally a game,but an interactive film?
    Where’s the fun in that?

    • Mad Hamish says:

      Yeah I learned that on the Dragon’s Lair arcade machine when I was 10.

    • reggiep says:

      Because it’s a mindless kill simulator that also serves as gun porn. It shouldn’t be that hard to understand how such a thing appeals to the masses.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      The more paranoid/aware part of my brain also tells me it’s a method of indoctrination for kids to be fodder for whatever the next war is.

    • MajorManiac says:

      However the concept of films that are interactive sounds awesome.

    • tomemozok says:

      Hmm…Half-Life 2 anyone? :D

    • AndrewC says:

      I’d be waaaay more concerned about the guy who thinks of other people as ‘the masses’ than a kid that likes soldier games, just if we’re talking public safety here.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      “mindless” “masses”

      That guy plays Serious Sam way too much. Could be dangerous, yep.

  25. jp0249107 says:

    While MW is nice in its own right, it’s no longer the revolutionary game I played on the PC back in the day. I love (and still love) being one of the masses of soldiers running into battle, but the new ones no longer have the participatory feeling. One of the selling points for the original was that you never fight alone, and it delivered on that point. I just wish it would return to it.

  26. Commander Gun says:

    A look on the Metacritic scores tells the whole story; i have never seen such a huge difference in scores of ‘professional’ reviewers (8.1) and the general public (2.1). See http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/call-of-duty-modern-warfare-3

    For comparison, the professional reviewers gave it a 8.9 and the general public a 7.5.
    http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/battlefield-3

    The difference is VERY big, so maybe it is hacked or something, but still…

    • Mman says:

      “so maybe it is hacked or something”

      It’s not hacked, but it is overrun by legions of unmoderated fanboys and trolls. Hate on COD all you want but don’t use that to give validation to an inherently broken system.

    • theleif says:

      Yeah. The only thing the average user score tells you is the ratio of trolls to fans. Not that you sometimes can find a good insight from an individual user review once in a while.

  27. Unrein says:

    I imagine the developers’ coding and art departments were challenged by MW3. Design… not so much.

  28. Will Tomas says:

    Modern Warfare 3 is a log flume!

  29. Tyrone Slothrop. says:

    Whilst I agree on most points, I take issue with the arbitrary application of the term ‘un-game’ as if the game is so uniquely composed as to be antithetical to some universal concept of gaming and the only criteria is inconsistency in mechanics, expectations and playing ‘follow the leader’. These are absurdly common in games and the presence of both elements shouldn’t merit an accusation of something being an ‘un-game’. It just seems to be a form of special pleading due to a personal distaste rather than a cogent framework of gaming criticism.

    What of all the doors in Half-Life that Alyx must open with a burst of electricity? Because the sole distinction between that and the gate-keeping of CoD is one has a far better suspension of disbelief while mechanically and crucially serving the same function (to speak nothing of the times, a door is kicked open or exploded despite you having a gravity gun and rocket-propelled grenade launcher). To take umbrage over a difference of the 3D model, texture and accompanying animation is rather shallow.

    Further, you can’t deny freedom and its hideous absence from the CoD series isn’t a part of your critique when you critique the servile role of the player and state with obvious disdain “It’s the Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Show. Please turn your mouse for alternative views.“. Of course you aren’t asking for a sandbox, open-world shooter with immense choice, but you are asking for greater freedom than is provided. It’s an eminently reasonable and understandable request which I support, but to deny that is bizarre.

    • Thirith says:

      Good points. Thing is, so much of what John writes in this post can be applied to games that were praised recently, such as To the Moon. Is that one any more of a game, or less of an ‘un-game’? If so, why?

    • MasterBoo says:

      Ah! I was reading the article and comments and planned to ask the same question.

    • Apples says:

      I would also like to hear opinions about To the Moon, because I found that to be an ‘un-game’. If a game is something you can meaningfully interact with, I don’t find ‘walking forward and clicking on objects’ to be a very meaningful method of interaction.Yes, you can distill any game down to those, but there should be some thought or twitch reaction between each instance of those actions, e.g. puzzles in adventure games or dialogue options. TTM was a hidden object game without the objects being hidden and with a schmaltzy story on top. The fact that they shoehorned in a dodgy logic puzzle makes it clear that even the creator thought there wasn’t enough ‘game’ present – I couldn’t think of any reason why it could not be a film or book. So what makes To the Moon a good ‘un-game’ and CoD a bad one? If there’s a difference surely the issue that makes one bad is something separate from it being an ‘un-game’?

      edit: well maybe i should have put this on the thread below. or read it before i posted this because it says the same thing. bugger. damn you lambchop!

    • v21 says:

      The difference for me (not having played either game), is that To The Moon never offers the illusion of more. Your interaction is limited, but consistent. Mechanically, the level of interaction is also kept constant – - there’s never a follow sign that you have to ignore. As Aubrey Hesselgren likes to say “Don’t imply more affordances than you mean to cater for: an honest restriction is better than a false freedom.”

      And on a story-like level, you don’t play a person just mechanically following orders to progress through. You play an active character. So it fits on two levels.

  30. Lambchops says:

    May I suggest that being an un-game is not always a bad thing.

    I haven’t played MW3 so can’t do direct comparisons. However judging by the descriptions used something like, to pull a recent example, To The Moon, is an un-game. However it’s entirely aware of it’s un-gameness (and judging by the pointless action sequence at the end and the reduntant puzzzles in the first two thirds somewhat unwilling to embrace it) and doesn’t suffer for t; in fact it’s very un-gameness is part of what allows it to tell a wonderful story.

    Modern Warfare – bad un-game. To The Moon good un-game. Or have I got the wrong end of the stick here too?

    • fenriz says:

      the egoistical result may not be bad, egoistical in that it satisfies your senses.

      But it’s bad for the welbeing of videogaming, if a game has no real interaction. It means cinema “material”(story, emotions, dialogues etc) supplants it.

    • Will Tomas says:

      Nice point, but wrong end of the stick. To The Moon only works because it’s a game – yes, you have to have collected a set number of memory prompt items to continue, but you have to interact with the world to find the clues in the memory and the order of discovering them is up to you. You’re actively searching, participating, and always able to take the next step yourself. In MW3 that isn’t what happens.

    • Apples says:

      Wil Tomas: you really don’t interact with the world in TTM though. It’s explicitly entirely uninteractable – all past memories which cannot be altered. You’re not really actively searching because you never have to go out of your way to find anything; picking up each object is basically a “congrats for watching that non-interactive cutscene” reward which lets you move onto the next group of non-interactive cutscenes. You don’t control/effect anything beyond the level that pressing play on a DVD-player remote controls/affects a film.

    • Oozo says:

      I’d agree with Will Thomas: To The Moon might be an un-game, but it is aware of it, and makes good use of the medium to achieve what it is after. I argumented elsewhere that one of the reasons why it does work as a game, better maybe than it would as a movie, is that it makes good use of two fields games are traditionally pretty good at: Spatial narration, and repetition. It lets you visit the same rooms over and over and over again, and, uses the Hidden Objects-mechanics to make sure that you pay attention to, well… objects. Objects and rooms that are important for the story. Plus, it’s supposed to be slow-paced, it’s a slow moving story, which literary does not have much action going on.
      So, while it is still basically an un-game, and more of a narrative, it uses the medium in good ways – even though the interactivity is strictly limited.

      The difference is, as John pointed out, that MW (and Uncharted 3, for that part) is supposed to be an action game, a genre that is defined by, well… action. Constant movement. It was what once was, one could say, considered the iconic video game genre. In a scenario/genre like that, it’s doubly paradoxical if the player is not allowed to act. To interact. Being restricted to lean back and watch. Doubly so if the game is constantly trying to give the impression that you are moving ahead all of the time, if progress is what the whole story is about. (Something that is very much true for most action games.)

      I haven’t played MW3, to be honest. But I guess this might be why there is a difference between To The Moon and it: One of the games does not try to work against the medium it is set in. The other does.

  31. cavalier says:

    I want to marry this article, settle down in a nice suburb, have 2.5 children, a mortgage and make sweet love to it every Saturday night.

  32. mike5 says:

    Why make fun of the game whose main character is a janitor? I resent that. In one of the games I’ve enjoyed the most in my life, you play a janitor :p

    (I am old, though)

  33. Mordsung says:

    It was shortly before BF3 was released that I had an epiphany:

    Military shooter stories always suck.

    Team based FPS games are nothing but an exercise in frustration.

    So I skipped on BF3 and MW3. Now I’m trying to find a good FPS with a robust Free-For-All mode and community.

  34. MichaelPalin says:

    Personally, I think John’s article was too worried at times to find redeeming qualities of MW3. I don’t understand why is it so difficult to accept that CoD games are increasingly awful in every level and that they only keep selling because of huge promotional budgets and an apparently addictive and polished multiplayer. No more, no less.

    • Steven Hutton says:

      I’ve been playing the multiplayer for a couple of weeks now and it’s very polished (well, gameplay wise, it does occasionally fall down and die on the technical side). But having, played the previous two modern warfare titles I got bored fairly quickly. There’s still fun to be had, certainly but I found myself gravitating back to league of legends in fairly short order.

      There’s little denying that the game is essentially a £50 map-pack.

    • RedWurm says:

      Pretty much. And the maps are the worst ones so far in my experience.

  35. SurprisedMan says:

    This is getting off the PC a bit, but I’ve said similar things about Uncharted on the PS3, since 2. It’s not that the achievement isn’t impressive, it isn’t that it’s not exciting or fun. It’s that the game presents itself as an adventure, but is actually meticulously planned (which is just about the opposite of adventure.) The ride analogy is very apt – I likened it to the Jaws ride at Universal Studios. I -loved- the Jaws ride, because it was supposed to be a boat tour gone wrong, and there were explosions and boat rocking effects and a live actor taking you through it – all great stuff, but it’s supposed to convey the feeling of an adventure, rather than being an actual adventure. In an interactive medium, we have the chance to provide a world in which real, unpredictable, unplanned adventure can take place. That doesn’t mean it’s the only choice, but … well, let’s just say I’ve been playing Skyrim and thinking about what it actually means to have an adventure.

    • Oozo says:

      That’s kinda what I tried to say above RE: To The Moon vs. MW3. There’s a gap between the genre/story and the form, and that might rub you the wrong way. (It’s more complex than this, but let’s leave it at that.)

      I also liked what Michael Abbott (who liked the first two games of the series) wrote about Uncharted 3:
      http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2011/11/take-3-uncharted-the-director.html

      “So, if cinematic interactivity is Uncharted’s raison d’être, how does this affect the player’s experience? I believe an apt parallel can be found in the relationship between a lead actor and director on a film set, with the Uncharted player as actor and the Uncharted game as director. Playing Uncharted 3 is less about watching a film than shooting a film.”

    • Snidesworth says:

      I’ve played the first two Uncharted games and I’ll give them this; while the vast majority of the game is a ride you’re largely free to navigate that ride at your own pace. You’re occasionally pushed into sequences which are “follow the script or die,” but you’re largely left to do as you please within the game’s limits.

      Also, the combat is pretty decent for a cover based shooter, especially in #2. I remember several great fights set in large areas with plenty of scope for the exploitation of different weapon strengths, manoeuvring and, at times, even stealth. The mountain village in Uncharted 2 is a particularly strong example of this, the “flee from the tank” segment aside.

  36. InternetBatman says:

    This line annoyed me:

    And saying it is just “brainless fun” for “consumers” because it doesn’t let you feel special with some arbitrary amount of freedom is simply insulting.

    Actually, the whole piece annoyed me. I hate the fake sirs, I dislike the disclaimers at the beginning, and I hate the fact that he’s really talking through Walker to other reviewers for half the piece. But, it annoyed me that the freedom to move at your own pace and open doors that you are going through is considered arbitrary. That kind of thing should be unacceptable in a realtime game. It does make the game less of a game.

    The article is kind of emblematic of Kotaku though. They like stirring controversy for the sake of pageviews.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      Disclaimer: I don’t believe we’ve met, sir, but I tip my fake hat in approval of your brilliance, sir.

      Now that being off the table, I very much like your clear point of view. I like people who see things the way they are and are able to summarize that into a short and neat REALITY CHECK posts.

  37. abhishek says:

    I have never once had the desire to jump out of a rollercoaster/water slide and plunge to my death. I do not think that diminishes the entertainment to be had from a rollercoaster.

    Not every game is going to appeal to everyone. That doesn’t mean that every game you don’t like ‘is not a game’ anymore. Some people don’t think that Heavy Rain or the new Jurassic Park should be called games because of the quicktime events. Some people don’t understand why anyone would play an MMO when you have to keep grinding the same raids or whatever. Some might think that an ugly little thing like Minecraft where you have nothing specific to do is not a game. Some might not understand the entertainment to be had playing spreadsheets in space Eve Online. Does that suddenly mean all these are not games any more?

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      I don’t think you understood what John was trying to say at all. I suggest you re-read both his articles.

  38. stahlwerk says:

    Somehow I feel there’s an allegory or two in that last picture. “TO LET” and a metered bicycle parking (?), framing the well meaning mother, stooping to meet her daughter at eye level.

    The child clearly signifies…

    • Ultra Superior says:

      Last picture? Don’t you see it’s all about the lamp posts!

      THEY ARE ALL AROUND US!

      IN YOUR STREET TOO!

      EVEN THE INNOCENTS AND CHILDS ARE SAFE from them NO MORE!

  39. DeanLearner says:

    I was expecting to see another example of something in the last CoD game, where basically you can go through the whole level without shooting a single bullet. But I get it with this one too.

  40. misterT0AST says:

    wow, I sure wasn’t expecting such a pretentious response from RPS.
    “Opinion, away!” says the beautiful button to post comments on this site, and yet this whole article is entitled “it still IS AN UN-GAME”, FACT!
    Come on, maybe this game is still a game. Just not for you. You can’t call it an un-game and expect everyone to just roll with it.
    Counter-responding to an opinion is just too much.
    All is relative, and I thought John Walker would be the last person on Earth to need someone to remind him.

    • jRides says:

      So, what are you saying? John Walker is not allowed to argue his position when a reposte is published on Kokatu? He should just accept he is wrong because Keogh says so?

    • Mordsung says:

      Defending one’s opinion doesn’t mean you’re asserting it as fact.

      The man who wrote the rebuttal to John’s original article criticized John on points he did not make. Hence John was reasserting the points he actually did make.

      Not all opinions are created equally, some are backed up by evidence and logic more than others.

      Just because you have a differing opinion doesn’t mean your opinion is equally valuable.

      Just look at the evolution/creationism debate. Two sides, two opinions. One side happens to be demonstrably right, the other side is insane.

      So, again, not all opinions are equal.

    • JackShandy says:

      Yes yes, simply outrageous. I demand that John insert the words “In my opinion” before every sentence he writes from here on in.

    • John Walker says:

      Everything I say is pure fact.

    • Burning Man says:

      FACT

    • Lambchops says:

      SCIENCE FACT

      (always a winner in fact top trumps0

    • MajorManiac says:

      90% of what John says is fact. The other 10% is even more fact-ier.

    • AndrewC says:

      CAT FACT>GIRLFRIEND FACT>JESUS FACT>SCIENCE FACT>FACT

      FACT.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      John The Revelator hath spoken of Modern Whore 3

      BIBLE FACT !

  41. Hoaxfish says:

    Why is it, that Gawker’s universally reviled “web-design” seems to be missing from Kotaku Aus? I’ve noticed the same thing with Gizmodo UK.

    It’s still there on nomal Kotaku, and kotaku uk, etc

  42. Metonymy says:

    These games make my skin crawl. It’s as if I can feel hundreds of thousands of human souls wandering grey, imaginary corridors, minds stifled and shackled, unable to concentrate on anything but the endless battle around them, occasionally bumping uselessly into other lost souls, following muffled instructions, never able to escape, and always, always, the goal is just ahead. It’s so much like being a ghost that it’s as if I truly know what the hinterland between life and hell is like. It’s….nothing, and you become that nothing.

  43. paravrais says:

    The CoD campaigns have all be terrible since the original Modern Warfare and nobody seems to have realised the glaringly obvious reason why! It’s because they removed the element of stealth from their missions. I know I am not alone in getting the most enjoyment from the missions in Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare two where you had to sneakily pick enemies off with a silenced sniper rifle before eventually moving in close through the underbrush and taking out the stragglers with your pistol, but most people don’t seem to have realised that’s *why* they enjoyed those sections more. Modern Warfare’s great success was it’s pace, a pace that has been missing from the subsequent sequels (though there were some nice stealth missions in the MW2 Spec Ops).

    That said, MW3 is in my opinion a great game and the game I am enjoying playing the most at the moment. Not for the appallingly boring single player campaign but for the amazingly well balanced and intuitive multiplayer experience. Lots of people seemed to have criticised it for being a more well polished and fine tuned version of the other games in the series but this makes no sense to me. Surely that’s exactly what you want from a sequel? For the developers to take everything you like and make it better and remove the things you don’t whilst adding a few extra treats along the way. That’s exactly what they have done here and it works in a big way. If they release a side scrolling RPG it wouldn’t be CoD any more.

  44. min3mat says:

    Scroll down in his articles to see his ardent die hard supporters..oh wait..

  45. Radiant says:

    Nice. Another way to highlight how er… straightforward this game can be is to try and jump over any low level railings or climb over a wall [by hoping onto conveniently stacked boxes next to it] that is not scripted to allow you to jump over.

    I don’t even mean boundary walls; just ones in the way.

  46. RyuRanX says:

    Un-games are the plague of comtemporary big budget games. It’s sad to see the mainstream “gamer” and the gaming media glorifying interactive movies while turning down real games.

  47. JackShandy says:

    Parry – Riposte!

  48. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    I believe if this were a football match, John would have won 3-2. But only with a late winner in stoppage time. It is by no means a thrashing.

    • V. Profane says:

      2-0 surely.

    • John P says:

      More like 1-0. Keogh is a 0 because his position is utterly indefensible. John is a 1 because he still wasn’t hard enough on this pile of garbage.

      But it’s heartening to see this series finally copping the criticism it’s deserved since its inception.

      Un-game is a good term. Asset tour is another good one. Pathetic-wannabe-movie-designed-by-an-uncreative-development-factory-and-aimed-at-the-lowest-form-of-unthinking-dregs is another.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      LOL :-D

      Oh John P, if you wouldn’t be such a d***k against the games I like (Deus Ex etc.)

      I would love you for what you’ve written here.

    • Heisenberg says:

      But it’s heartening to see this series finally copping the criticism it’s deserved since its inception.”

      you are right but it wont make any difference.
      The next CoD will have just as many fans and just as many good reviews and sell just as well……..le sigh

  49. Bob_Bobson says:

    A fascinating follow up would be RPS asking a bunch of devs and games journalists to define the term “Computer Game”. Absolute definitions are a meaningless construct but a bunch of interesting people’s opinions would make for a good article.

  50. Gwynor says:

    Great article that spots on one of my greatest fears in gaming: the (so called by me) cinematics in disguise. As a Uncharted fan I begin to feel not only the real cinematics overwhelming, but also the short, linear “cinematics in disguise” like escaping from a collapsing bridge or firing infinite bullets from a jeep. Limited control, same events each respawn. A compromise I usually stick on recently is something in between a CoD type (un-game) and a Fallout New Vegas (fantastic but more of a job than a game): Bioshock, or the painfully underrated Singularity.