After a few missions, I don't want to keep playing Warfighter's campaign at all. It isn't fun. It isn't lonely, either: along with Battlefield 3 and the last couple Call of Dutys, I don't think I like military FPS campaigns anymore. They've changed, but my taste hasn't changed with them.
So I went back to a classic. Ten years ago I loved Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MOHAA) so much that I saved both discs and the CD key for my future self to play. Thanks, past me! I still love it (no rose-tinted glasses), and comparing MOHAA's opening mission to Warfighter's opening vignettes convinces me that I'm not the one with the problem. Spielberg, the devs who went on to form Infinity Ward, and their old WWII shooter have some lessons for the modern crowd.
Missions vs. puppetry
I'm not squeamish about violence. I don't want to shoot this guy in the back of the head because I don't have a choice. My soldier is a puppet. I have one of the strings—I can pull the trigger—but Warfighter is gripping the rest and won't let me move on until I give in. Forcing the player to commit violence can be used for an unsettling effect, but in Warfighter it's just a tutorial. It callously teaches me that, yes, as in every other shooter, the left mouse button shoots people.
True, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault doesn't let me choose not to shoot Nazis. That's what I signed up for. It can't be played nonviolently, but it doesn't force my hand. It says, “Here are your objectives, and there are going to be a bunch of Nazis who'd really rather you didn't complete them. You're going to have to shoot them. Good luck.”
You've got to earn advancement in MOHAA. There's player-directed work to be done before you're rewarded with the next chapter. In Warfighter, the mission has been programmed into my soldier, and I'm just there to help him aim. When he needs to walk so that a set piece can crumble at the appropriate distance, he walks. When he doesn't feel like holding his gun anymore, he puts it away. Warfighter wrestles me for control because I can't tell its story competently.
Max Payne 3 also steals control when it needs to transition into a cut scene, but it's consistent. When I'm in control, I have full control and I'm responsible for finding the correct path and shooting the dudes in my way. If I slack off in Warfighter, the puppeteer will take care of the hard work for me, because the show must go on even if one of the marionettes isn't cooperating. I tried playing the first mission firing only when I absolutely had to. I fired twice, and the game took care of the rest.
The M1 Garand vs. the Heckler & Koch HK416
In MOHAA, it's shoot or be shot, but I have the advantage that it's completely unrealistic. No one could fire an M1 Garand as accurately as I am while standing still, never mind in mid-sprint. As I invade an occupied French village to rescue a captive SAS operative, I run, strafe, and fearlessly twirl around German riflemen, haunting them like a whimsical, armed specter.
I can still die, but I have time to line up good shots and each hit is a little victory. The pop of my gun and the sight of a Stahlhelm whizzing off a Nazi's head are great feedback. Clearing an area is a bigger victory, and once I'm sure everyone's on the ground I'm rewarded with a moment of calm to look around before I charge into the next section.
Warfighter isn't realistic either, but its modern approach is all about crouching behind chunks of concrete and watching out for falling set pieces. Any time I take to aim is time that I'm exposed, and as long as I'm exposed, I'm on the verge of death. It's not realistic, but it's a little closer to reality. It's also not very fun.
I'm not suggesting that all shooters be WWII shooters, but MOHAA's M1 Garand is a lot more fun than Warflighter's 850 rounds/min HK416. Spurting bullets in the direction of bad guys isn't as exhilarating as flipping a helmet with a single shot. And instead of natural feedback, Warfighter gives me a skull icon to let me know when I've scored a headshot, because I probably couldn't tell. It isn't nearly as satisfying.
Cover shooters aren't fundamentally bad. Red Orchestra 2, another WWII shooter, is more dedicated to realism than either MOHAA or Warfighter. It's a lot of creeping, crawling, and peeking, but at the end of all that, my perfect shot feels earned . Or I miss and it's a huge letdown, but I still feel something. I don't feel much in Warfighter. I just do what it tells me so I can advance to the next scene.
It seems that in an effort not to be called “unrealistic,” Warfighter fails to ask, “But is this any fun?”