Remember when Nintendo games had the gameplay demo reel that started if you didn't hit a button for a certain amount of time? Ever watched a very young child play with the controller as if he was playing the game during these demo reels, when actually he was controlling nothing?
That's what this video reminds me of: http://www.gametrailers.com/video/wa...ter-cell/63413
Now, we have already had games that do not allow you to die or really penalize you for it (Prey, BioShock, Fable 2, Prince of Persia 2008) and we already have games that are much more streamlined and simplified than their prequels (Oblivion, Rainbow Six Vegas, Dawn of War 2) but now we are seeing GAMES THAT PLAY THEMSELVES.
As you will see in that video, the new Splinter Cell game has a much talked about "mark and execute feature." As soon as this was seen some gamers like myself we worried it would basically amount to the game playing itself, but Ubisoft said it was not like that and urged us to wait and see. Well... the demo is out, and if you cannot play it you can at least watch it, and HEY LOOK, you just hit a button to kill everything on the screen.
Now, no doubt someone will mention that you have to get a "stealth kill" first, which is true, but if you examine the level design in the demo you can see the levels are clearly made with constant use of mark and execute in mind. One lone bad guy, then two in the distance, or what-have-you. This makes the game a tunnel basically through which the player walks, hitting a button to take out the lonely guard who isn't looking, then hitting a button to instantly kill the others. Later levels might make this more challenging, we can only guess, but the fundamental idea that the game is designed around constant auto-shooting is quite clear.
Now, remember in the older Splinter Cell games, 1-3 specifically, how you had to be quick on your feet to stay hidden, or if caught to quickly take out the opposition? Getting two quick headshots was part of the skill of the game. If caught, you had to be quick and accurate, otherwise your lone spy in a complex filled with bad guys was going to eat it. Now though, now you don't need to worry about that... as shown in the gameplay video, even in a situation where you are caught you can just run up to one guy and auto kill him with the close up kill button, then turn and auto-kill every other person with the far away kill button. This is LITERALLY win-button gaming, it's already here, press Y to win. The skill of having to line up those quick headshots to escape is gone... the skill of needing to be stealthy when taking out one guy is gone, as you can instantly kill everyone else after so who cares if they notice you?
Now, reading previews even from journalists I respect like Anthony Burch of Destructoid, this whole thing seems to be no big deal because "it's the only way to look that cool." Now, here are my two problems with this: first off, if you master aiming, especially on a mouse but also on analog sticks, you can get two headshots in a row quickly... it's a skill, it's a talent and it takes time to master and it takes some luck, but you can do it. Making it automatic to make it look cool just says "if you're a bad gamer, if you suck at aiming, we will make you good at it anyway." This removed a fundamental aspect of what a GAME is, which is to say it takes skill to win, skill to master, skill to look and feel awesome about what you are doing. Secondly my problem is that THIS IS A VIDEOGAME, NOT A MOVIE. The emphasis should not be on looking cool, the emphasis should be on playing cool, on feeling cool, on being Sam Fisher not watching Sam Fisher. If I want to see a spy do two quick headshots with no effort from myself I will watch the Bourne movies, which this game is obviously and desperately trying to emulate, not play a game. A lot of game designers today seem obsessed with making movies to the point you wonder why they did not get into that industry, rather than this one. In short I want to FEEL like I got two headshots, not WATCH me get two headshots.
Lastly I am sure people will bring up that the mark and execute thing is optional, as far as we know. This is true, but it's still a terrible omen for several reasons. First off, the game is designed to use it. On PC the compass arrows in Oblivion that tell you where to go at all times are optional, you can remove them with a mod, but it's extremely hard to play missions you never did before with those arrows off because the game is designed to use them. Quest givers did not tell you exactly where to go, people do not tell you a contact's hangouts, because the game knows the arrows will lead you there. When a game is designed around a mechanic it tends to be needed, even if optional. In Splinter Cell Conviction I foresee scenarios where the only way to effectively save the hostage or stop the machine in time is to use the mark and execute feature, for example. Secondly, and most simply, it's only optional for now. As games continue down this simplified interactive movie path these things will become more and more standard practice and less and less optional.
As we remove the penalties of losing, the need for reasoning and thought and now the actual gameplay itself, one wonders how long we can call video games "games." Peter Molyneux recently said that Heavy Rain, and interactive movie from Sony, was the "future of videogaming." Scarily enough, he's probably right. I predict only multiplayer will really be able to be called a "game" soon enough, at least from AAA big publisher titles. The future of singleplayer is "interactive movies" and indie or small developer titles that actually still can be called GAMES.