It isn’t that I mind cutscenes or scripted events. Far from it: I regularly sing the praises of Hideo Kojima, after all. But this is something different: at no point when playing Metal Gear have I ever felt like the game didn’t want my input. Even in the longest, talkiest cutscenes of the longest, talkiest game in that series, MGS4, there is CONSTANTLY shit you can do to fuck around and take the piss out of it, features the DESIGNERS put there because they knew that not everybody would be into their story. Hell, fucking around in the cutscenes often gets you in-game rewards, like scooping up batteries and items on the plane while messing around as Metal Gear Mk. II, or being able to change the channel on Colonel Campbell while he’s plotdumping, or even, in the climactic end sequence, letting you switch between multiple DIFFERENT scenes, going split-screen with gameplay, or just following the gameplay alone. At no point in Metal Gear do I ever feel like I, personally, have no ability to affect what is going on, even if that is as simple as poking the NPCs to remind them they’re in a game.
Or how about, say, Uncharted? Uncharted is all about the cinematic experience, even including tons of non-interactive cutscene, and forced linear railroading… but does anyone EVER accuse of it being too linear? No. Because Uncharted gets you involved by making you a dashing, roguish hero, who constantly lampshades the ridiculousness of his own adventures; the linearity allows you to go off to the sides often, letting you do little puzzles for shiny treasure which let you buy fun stuff for yourself in the in-game store. The setpieces don’t take away your control, but rather let you gleefully direct your very own blockbuster action sequence(the train sequence in Uncharted 2 comes rather strongly to mind). It’s not just an action movie, it is an action movie where you are EXPLICITLY the starring role.
But with Call of Duty… there is, quite simply, no actual game in these games, just an endless parade of scripted events the engine will bop you about the head for trying to affect, bypass, or become involved in. And this isn’t just MW3, either: I played COD4 and MW2 and they were both afflicted by the same resentment of player input. These games blithely shove you forward at a breakneck clip(except when they don’t, forcing you to make an effort to progress, only to be slapped back into place by more significant NPCs), jumping from protagonist to protagonist to fully ensure you never actually become even remotely attached to your faceless cipher of an avatar, stopping only to make you witness ham-handed attempts at moralizing via the vehicle of casually slaughtering the defenseless, usually people you could save if the game didn’t take away your ability to act. They reduce you, not just in terms of narrative role but also your ability to affect events, to a non-entity, a faceless, brainless, meaningless extra in a Michael Bay-esque orgy of inane, knuckledragging violence fetishism.
These games are, in the bluntest terms possible, mean-spirited, pointless, idiotic schlock, and yet somehow, THIS experience is what gamers at large seem to be clamoring for. I feel for the first time as though gaming itself is some sort of alien culture, as though the community I have been part of for most of my life was spontaneously replaced by pod people when I turned my back to go make lunch one day.