Farewell Visceral: The Push Toward the Destiny Model Claims Another Victim

Single-player games are pivoting to Destiny clones or open-world games, but I miss the more refined, simpler days.

Opinion by Caty McCarthy, .

As writer Alex Perry bemoaned on Twitter, Destiny has definitely ruined video games. Not loot boxes alone. Not other microtransactions, but where those things find a home: in streams of endless "content." In the dreaded "games as a service" trend.

I say this as a fan of Destiny, and as a fan of some multiplayer games—namely Destiny, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Splatoon 2, Overwatch… wait, fuck, I'm part of the problem, aren't I?

While I am a bit guilty in that camp, I do relish in the rare single-player game that crosses my path. Games that have almost no multiplayer components. Experiences like The Witcher 3, Persona 5, or even in other games that show that it's possible to have the best of both worlds: multiplayer and single-player. We saw this with Titanfall 2 and its excellently concise campaign. We've seen this with recent Naughty Dog games, even in The Last of Us, which had a surprisingly solid multiplayer mode.

Destiny forever. Even BioWare got the memo.

And yet, games like Destiny are clouding single-player experiences. Destiny has shown triple-A publishers and developers that hey, what if your single-player wasn't really single-player at all? What if everything was multiplayer? What if this was a player's forever game, the only thing they buy all year, attached with a funnel (read: microtransactions) to pour more money into as time goes on? As I said on a recent episode of The USgamer Podcast, people are savvier with their game purchases now. They wait for a sale to buy a game for half-off or more. Microtransactions like loot boxes are a way to counteract that.

Today EA shuttered Visceral Games, a studio once known for their tight single-player experiences, most notably of the claustrophobic corridors of Dead Space. They later pivoted to multiplayer with the flawed Battlefield: Hardline. Yet with the hire of Uncharted writer Amy Hennig, Visceral seemed back on track to linear single-player goodness, with an unnamed Star Wars game in the works. We never saw much of it, honestly, but just with Hennig's name attached (the writer behind one of my favorite games ever, Uncharted 2), my interest was piqued. With the closing of the studio, that game's future seems troubled. Or at least, it sounds like nothing close to the game we desired in the first place.

A key word in that thread is "linear." Linear meaning not open world; something more curated, refined, something with heavy detail. Final Fantasy XIII, a JRPG from Square Enix, was bashed for its linearity. Other games, like BioShock and Uncharted, have been praised for it. They are experiences that feel carefully constructed with an artist's eye.

You probably don't remember The Last of Us' multiplayer mode.

Some folks online are lamenting that single-player experiences are dying as a whole, but they're not. In reality, they're just being padded out incessantly, whether that's Destiny-fying it with multiplayer hooplah, or being ushered into open world environments (or what I like to call "checklist games"). Some are financially successful—see this year's new IP Horizon Zero Dawn, or Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (the latter, by most accounts, busts the "checklist" trend and actually offers wondrous exploration). Breath of the Wild reinvigorated my interest in open world games, as did The Witcher 3. The rest, even in offering me the world as my oyster, end up actually offering so, so little.

The open-worldness plaguing single-player games is everywhere. Rise of the Tomb Raider had it. Nier: Automata, an excellent narrative driven action game, even had an open world that was incredibly lackluster. There were tedious side missions to do, mostly resulting in additional flavor text for its world. Other single-player-minded busts of the past year or so were also "open" to some degree: Dishonored 2, Prey,, and most recently—Middle-earth: Shadow of War and The Evil Within 2. Resident Evil 7, for the better, managed to skate around this trend.

Linearity in triple-A games as we once loved and knew might as well be dead at this point. Long live open worlds. Long live artificially long, needlessly padded out experiences. Long live the forever game.

Shooters, at least, are keeping single-player campaigns alive to some degree. Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus showboats its Nazi-killing frenzy in just a couple weeks time, with not a hint of multiplayer sprinkled in-between. Last year's DOOM, while it had multiplayer components, was praised highly for its intensely self-aware story mode. Even Star Wars: Battlefront 2, EA's other Star Wars game, is introducing a new single-player campaign as part of their way of winning back players who shied away from the first Battlefront. Big budget campaigns aren't dead-dead yet, they're just living on in shooters.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy even had its own mini open world, but it wasn't quite a checklist game, luckily.

Smaller developers, from the few-person studios to the ones a step below what we know as triple-A, have also put forth linear adventure games that are worth exploring. This year's Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice was among them, a tight six-or-so hour game about a woman's struggle with psychosis. (Nowadays, I love when games fall under the ten hour mark.) What some call "walking simulators," like What Remains of Edith Finch or Tacoma, may present things in an open-ish fashion, but have a linear, refined story to tell players. In a way, these feel closest to the single-player experiences I grew up playing. Just in some cases, I have to wade through waves of multiplayer this and that to get there.

So while the big budget, linear adventure games of the last console era may be fading out, developers from said big budget games—such as BioShock 2's DLC's writers going on to make Gone Home and Tacoma—are keeping their spirit alive in smaller scale games. But that doesn't mean I don't miss the time when Uncharted games didn't flirt with open worlds; when they instead relished only in lavish set pieces that made me feel like I was in an Indiana Jones movie. It doesn't mean I don't miss when single-player games were largely just that: single-player. Experiences of solitude. A story that let me have fun on my own for a bit.

But I guess I should just wake up to the times. The big guys in the industry largely just don't make games like Uncharted 2 anymore.

Edit: Minorly edited to reflect that RE7 was not quite as open as other major single-player releases recently.

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Comments 21

  • Avatar for jimgamer #1 jimgamer 5 months ago
    As a 47 year old with kids and a job with long hours, this doesn’t really bother me. My gaming has transitioned over the years to a very small number of lengthy, single player games (Last of Us, Uncharted, Resident Evil Revelaitons, and now Samus Returns. Zelda BotW is on hiatus for the moment). The rest of my time is revisiting retro experiences, mostly in short bursts on my handhelds (DS, Vita, 3DS), lots of indies, and occasionally carting out the CRT and the SNES/Megadrive. The Switch, like the Vita on steroids, is an amazing solution to my gaming problem - my lifestyle and attention span. I want everything on Switch now. If Konami’s Arcade Archives of Gradius etc moves to Switch, the PS4 would be going to Gamestop the next day. If this trend of AAA going to massive, multiplayer DLC driven tent pole releases, then maybe there are more developers around for what I want - quality AA releases, with risky ideas and indies that provide short cncentreated fun. Good luck to the people at Visceral. If only we had a Switch Version of Dead Space to remember them with.Edited October 2017 by jimgamer
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  • Avatar for Vodka-Tonic #2 Vodka-Tonic 5 months ago
    Things will only continue in this fashion, if Red Dead Redemption 2 includes the GaaS model in some form. I say that because the game is likely to be the best-selling game of 2018. It will merely reinforce the decision made by EA's executives.
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  • Avatar for chud666 #3 chud666 5 months ago
    Good article! And I agree! But RE7 is not very "open world" certainly not to the degree of the other games mentioned. It's as tight and focused game as one could hope.
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  • Avatar for swamped #4 swamped 5 months ago
    I remember "linear" was being thrown around as an insult as early as FFX, probably earlier. I think at the time we thought an open world would naturally result in more dynamic storytelling but I don't think that turned out to be the case. I enjoy a tightly crafted experience where the creators can tell a story without feeling like they need to give me control and input (like a ham handed morality system). What if every book was a choose your own adventure?

    And I've long lamented the trending of games toward multiplayer, although I no longer force myself to "just try" a game I suspect I won't like. I play games to relax and the forced social interaction in multiplayer experiences have almost always been stressful for my specific personality type.

    Well at least this trend gives me some time to catch up on my backlog.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #5 UnskippableCutscene 5 months ago
    I knew an article like this would likely be published once I saw all the fretting on Twitter, so keep in mind when I vent I'm not venting exclusively at Caty or this story but just the meme going around online today. All I can say is: Seriously? EVERYTHING is going multiplayer? The year where Horizon, Zelda, and Nier are likely to clean up the GOTY awards? When a Shadow of the Colossus remake was announced? Really?

    "The big guys in the industry largely just don't make games like Uncharted 2 anymore."
    Those 'big guys' are working on a Last of Us sequel, and promoting it on the back of it's story.

    First of all, the conclusion that the game was canned because "it wasn't Destiny" is a really hardcore example of jumping to conclusions and scapegoating.

    "Game as service" is kind of a flimsy term for something that's been around longer than most people realize, but I bought the first Quake and it was some of the best gaming money I ever spent in that I spent a lot of time playing free maps and online mods like TeamFortress, Headhunters, etc. That game was an original game-you-never-had-to-quit, and efforts by a then-unified FPS community to keep providing new stages, new rulesets, new ideas (someone even managed to hack in an arcade racer) was like nothing I'd ever seen before or since. I bought into Quake 2, 3, then Unreal Tournament for years afterward. But these games never really "got in the way" of enjoying a lot of great games on the PS2 and Dreamcast, where online support could be described accurately as 'niche'.

    The games largely being targeted here have a few trends in common: western developers, and PC/Steam support. I think one argument is, multiplayer authentication servers are the strongest DRM there is. The kerfluffle over Sonic Mania woke the mainstream press up to a small number of cracking groups who are breaking Denuvo Anti-Tamper, but going back to Valve's authentication servers for the first Half-Life, to Blizzard picking it up for StarCraft a short time later, gating multiplayer behind an anti-piracy check has usually been a pretty golden way of limiting the amount of fun pirates get to have. Making the multiplayer experience an increasingly crucial element that can't be ignored even when playing alone is simply the next step in that. If you're the kind of person who turns up your nose at piracy and proudly boasts that you support the industry, try talking to someone with hundreds of gigabytes of ISOs of the games you paid for sometime. They'll tell you that even when the copy-protection is cracked, multiplayer is inaccessible. There's a couple odd games where that hasn't been the case, but the biggest was probably Borderlands 2.

    I absolutely think single player campaigns with little to no multiplayer options will continue, but it's going to be very focused on console exclusives (where paid multiplayer demands an offline mode, and piracy is largely not an issue), and Japan focused titles (because consoles). As PC gaming becomes a bigger part of western AAA development, you're going to see a focus on two things that the console developers and Japan won't: graphical effects that will put a $500+ GPU to work,
    and multiplayer-based features that turn the online and offline players into have and have-nots, respectively.

    Fortunately, there are other ways. There is a game with a very compelling single player experience that is wholly improved by multiplayer that doesn't ruin the single player at all. Unfortunately, if I remind you what it is, a hundred eyes will roll. (It's Dark Souls.)Edited 3 times. Last edited October 2017 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for catymcc #6 catymcc 5 months ago
    @UnskippableCutscene Did you miss the part where I talked extensively about how the open world model that's plaguing a lot of single-player games right now is very similar to tacking on multiplayer because they serve the same purpose of making a game needlessly long/playable "forever" or....
    The three games you listed I mention all in this piece as well, and attribute as being guilty of the above. (Except BotW, which as I wrote doesn't feel obtusely long for checklist reasons; it has an end.)
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #7 UnskippableCutscene 5 months ago
    @swamped I'd say "linear" became an insult over time largely because people got tired of walking through what are obviously 3D rendered Disney rides. Some single player games managed to avoid this (how Shadow of the Colossus pulled it off is a miracle), but a lot of these campaigns are basically just going through the developers hallways and corridors, interacting with some set pieces and watching them do the thing they're coded to do, and then moving on to the next one. The feeling of being an active player stuck standing around, dancing back and forth, while NPCs go on their scripted walks and flap their lips to the sound of the voice lines played when they reach their directed points, it just felt so... robotic.

    The nail in this sort of thing really was Bioshock, since the plot eventually turned around to say, "gee, you really aren't allowed to give much input in this game, huh?" The sequel, though it did an amazing job of world-building, hit that same nerve with the force of a sledgehammer: a number of stages were literally based around the stagecraft and technique of Disney's dark rides, wandering between two-dimensional cut-out figures and leering at audio-animatronics in case they might make a move at you.

    Someone upthread commented on if RDR will include game-as-service, I fully expect it will have a successor to GTA Online because Rockstar has sold so much DLC for that thing that it probably generated as much money as a tentpole release while costing far less than one. But I do expect RDR will have a thorough single-player experience, because games like GTA don't feel as linear. They don't feel like theme parks. There are missions, and they are story driven, and your ability to veer off the rails and do something spontaneous are somewhat limited, but Rockstar litters an open world that feels alive and makes the player feel small with a number of missions, mandatory and optional, and it makes a more lasting impact than the next game trying to do the Half-Life thing of making you ride a scripted monorail ride for 3 minutes while the dialogue talks and the scripted vehicles and scripted people do their scripted routine.
    @catymcc I guess we have fundamental disagreements, then. I don't think "open world" is a problem, it's a solution the feeling of the "Disney ride as game" feeling I described above.Edited 2 times. Last edited October 2017 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for catymcc #8 catymcc 5 months ago
    @UnskippableCutscene To each their own! Honestly, I feel like I see the theme park comparison sliding more in with open world games. But whatever. I just want more of everything, at the end of the day, haha. It just bums me out to see some types of games overshadow others, like watching pure linear experiences fade to indie games and whatnot. After how U4 and Lost Legacy flirted with openness in both those games, I'm not as excited for TLoU2 as I may have been initially.
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #9 KaiserWarrior 5 months ago
    @swamped Linear in that sense was referring to OVERLY linear experiences.

    Specifically in the case of Final Fantasy, when you compare X with something like VI, the differences are pretty stark. Both are ultimately linear games, but VI allows you to go a little bit off the beaten path to do some exploring here and there, finding neat little secrets and side-quests. The old world map provided the illusion of open-ness, even though you could only really go to one to three places at any given moment (at least until you got the airship). But three places is more than one, and so X got some heat for being 'linear', which is to say that it dropped even the minor exploration elements of the earlier games.

    This, of course, came to a head in XIII, which was just one long, straight hallway for however many dozens of hours until nearly the end of the game.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #10 riderkicker 5 months ago
    Maybe for once big Western companies will actually make software that's more restrained or streamlined than something that's just huged and bloated. It's shocking that the want to maintain the current style of development is sustained by exploiting the consumer desire for trading cards, always some opportunity for these publishers. Argh
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  • Avatar for Thetick #11 Thetick 5 months ago
    The last of us multiplayer is really good. Southpark has just been released. No lootboxes or MP.

    Edit: when single player AAA games like the order get bad reviews and little sales cause it’s so short, it’s no wonder we don’t get to see many. We created the demand.Edited 2 times. Last edited October 2017 by Thetick
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  • Avatar for mobichan #12 mobichan 5 months ago
    I think developers fail to remember that certain gameplay mechanics can only remain compelling for a limited time. Knowing when to end your game before you reach that point, while often hard to come to terms with, is the best way to leave your players wanting more. I find open world games sidestep this pitfall by padding their games with collecting, checklists and other psychological draws that tickle peoples’ OCD. You basically stop when the novelty wears off but I never get the same satisfaction from that sort of experience as I do from single player, linear games. I also appreciate the shorter overall playtimes these games have because I can ultimately play more of them. If AAA is going away from single player games, my wallet will be heavier and I will be happier.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #13 NiceGuyNeon 5 months ago
    I have almost always preferred the linear games, so I'm kind of bummed by this. I have a tougher time maintaining interest in open world games. They're usually way too bloated for their own good. I loved Assassin's Creed IV for instance, until I got bored of just collecting random crap. I don't play multiplayer for very long either. Even Splatoon, which I really dug, I stopped after a short bit and basically started like Gravity Rush or Metroid.

    The good news is, there's some insanely good stuff keeping my interest. Despite my general apathy towards open-world games there have been a few exceptions like Breath of the Wild and Fallout: New Vegas, Platinum still make killer experiences, Arkane are basically speaking to me directly, and turn-based stuff like XCOM are still rocking pretty hard. And indie games in general have the coolest ideas out of everyone. So I've still got stuff I can go for while I ignore things like PUBG, Overwatch, LotR: Shadow of War, and whatever this new Star Wars game is going to turn into now.
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  • Avatar for matt-b #14 matt-b 5 months ago
    @jimgamer i feel almost exactly the same way.

    my advice to everyone? speak with your wallet. the companies making aaa games don't care what we say on a comments board, or their twitter account, or their official feedback channels; they care about our money. ultimately that is the problem because we are a shrinking minority and far many more people will buy these games/loot boxes than those of us who don't. until that stops gaas will simply continue to expand like a star undergoing a supernova, burning and destroying all in its path until the eventual explosion destroys the star itself, leaving nothing but blackness in its place.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #15 SargeSmash 5 months ago
    Great article. I have to admit, this move where everything is going open-world has gotten old. I know that you didn't enjoy Horizon: Zero Dawn, and even though I did, I thought the criticisms were fair. I basically followed the critical path after a certain point because of all the "checklist" gaming. And while it's a great version of the open-world ethos, it's still just that: open-world. I couldn't escape the sense of sameness from having played many other franchises that do the exact same thing.

    There should absolutely still be room for linear single-player experiences, but at the same time, we've brought this problem on ourselves. So long as players keep snapping these games up, so long as we give into all the little microtransactions, publishers are going to go where the money is.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #16 UnskippableCutscene 5 months ago
    I think you guys that want "follow the arrow" mission-to-mission gameplay without a hub world are going to be left in the cold, unfortunately.

    An open world sandbox is probably just how we're going to do games now, going forward. Games ten years ago often opened with a cutscene and then a brief tutorial and then gave you a series of objectives to follow, sometimes numbered with a chapter number or something, but that's quickly becoming over and done with. It was done that way first because of the limitations of early systems, but also as a consequence of every game expecting you to add a story.

    At some point after the 16 bit era, the emerging success of JRPGs among other factors led to an expectation for many developers for an in-game story to be communicated to the player somehow, and a lot more games began adopting the RPG trope of yanking control from you and babbling about their fiction. Some games, obviously, don't need much of a story. Mario games will probably rarely have them. But even Mario 64 has the Peach's Castle hub world, and in games like BOTW etc these large 'open world' sandboxes effectively do the same thing, it's just less blatantly visible. And, for whatever it's worth, people loved the N64's early hub world mission design.

    The "linear" design is largely mimicking the feel of motion pictures. A story is already in motion as soon as you push start and you're just a starring actor going through set pieces and playing your part. Call of Duty, FF10-13, the God of War and Resident Evil series are all big name games that followed this example. Considering how much people seem to enjoy exploring a world and finding their feet, as well as the generation that is growing up enthralled with sandbox gaming (the Minecraft players, essentially), I expect a large sandbox world that acts like a mission hub to basically be a thing from now on, at least in real time mission/objective-based genres. Similar to how smartphones stopped using skeumorphic UIs a few years after most consumers figured out how to interact with a touchscreen, this is just how gaming works now, and it will be the defining feature of gaming as a medium just as the cinematic storytelling of the previous era was defined by movies.Edited 2 times. Last edited October 2017 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for AstroDemon #17 AstroDemon 5 months ago
    I sometimes dabble in a shooter, like Destiny or The Division, and sometimes Battlefield, but I like my single-player experiences mostly. Prey is currently one of my favorites this year because its immersion is incredible. Arkane created an amazing atmosphere being alone on a space station, and the mystery of everything keeps me going. I still have to finish it because I can only play on the weekends because it will keep me up at night.

    I think calling any of the AAA open world games a checklist game is a little overly reductive, but I understand what is meant by the notion. BotW is also definitely one of these games, but the exploration is decent, and while I have my problems with the game, I think the immersive experience is very good. For me, the exploration in the Assassin's Creed games is really fun, and like BotW, there are required quests, but most of it is optional.

    My quick comment on loot boxes and microtransactions is that if you don't like the idea of them, don't engage in them, or don't buy a game that contains them. By engaging in it, you're just telling the publisher that you enjoy this aspect of the game. There are plenty of great games that are great and don't have loot boxes and microtransactions, but rather have awesomely crafted atmospheres and well-written stories. Try Prey, Torment: Tides of Numenera, or Divinity Original Sin 2.
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  • Avatar for Masyarakat-Komunal #18 Masyarakat-Komunal 5 months ago
    Has it sunk in yet, that Teen Wolf is gone? For several Hypable staff writers, we’re not ready to let go just yet so here are our favorite scenes from the series. model kebaya modern Sometimes the easiest way forward is to go back. Saying goodbye to Teen Wolf is certainly a monumental and difficult task, so what better way to celebrate everything it means to us than to remember the best Teen Wolf scenes
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  • Avatar for Peter-Wood #19 Peter-Wood 4 months ago
    I knew little about Visceral’s take on Star Wars,focused and linear,and its proposed style of gameplay.The story-focused and linear, at a time when open-world multiplayer campaigns with varied gameplay are the games du jour.Online knowing UK Dissertation consignment about the occasionally carting out the CRT and the SNES/Megadrive.
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  • Avatar for dryukk922 #21 dryukk922 A month ago
    Really great article. Couldn't agreed anymore. But still nice. Kebaya Modern
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