It seems as if this year is the one for tactical shooters. Just a few weeks ago I spent some time with Insurgency, and before that it was Rising Storm. There was one game that came before all of that, and certainly one I thought I'd never see again and that's America's Army.
It's an interesting series best known perhaps for the in depth tutorials of the first game and spending time in a virtual classroom in order to pass tests for things such as playing a Medic. America's Army presented itself as a very specific type of game, one that wouldn't necessarily catch fire in terms of popularity as time went on. Don't get me wrong, there's a satisfaction to be had in the original, but an instant gratification approach is preferrable, especially to those that don't have the time and energy to learn the intricate ins and outs of any particular game. The next two America's Army games came and went, without much of a splash and I wouldn't be surprised if the general public even remembered there were two before the release of the new free to play iteration known as America's Army: Proving Grounds. Certainly the developers of Proving Grounds know the reputation of their shooter, and instead of accepting a predetermined fate of following in the footsteps of America's Army 2 and 3, went out of the way to make bold changes to the formula that makes the series tick.
You jump in, you play a multiplayer map. That's it, all that's needed to obtain everything you wanted in this game. Virtual classrooms are wiped away from the series completely and in it's stead is a more traditional tutorial, desgned to help explain the basics of movement and shooting. Everything is certainly faster paced than in previous installments, and I would absolutely understand if one would like to draw comparisons to Call of Duty.
With that said, there are the obvious exclusions of weapon modifications and killstreaks, that just wouldn't make any sense in an America's Army game. There's a stronger favor towards balance etched into the loadouts and mechanics. No weapon truly differ from each other, both sides having the ability to use the same exact weapons with each one filling a role. A shotgun for close range encounters, assault rifle as the all around weapon, heavy machine gun for supporting and a battle rifle as the long range damage dealer. Each gun has distinct advantages and disadvantages, and what certainly helps that is the lack of variation in weapons.
The issue with attempting to expand your audience means you risk alienating your previous fanbase. When looking at Counter-Strike's evolution in particular, things can turn messy with fans flat out refusing to move onto the newer version of a game. Previous fans are the first to cry foul on these sort of things, but with the multitude of shooters pouring out of Steam Greenlight or Kickstarter I can understand the urge to want to find a place in an ever-growing market, even if most of those other shooters may be looking less than stellar.
It's still in open beta, and it's free to play on Steam so the influx of new players is consistent. There was no real time where I, myself felt overwhelmed by veteran players and in turn was consistently killed with no real thought that winning was impossible, and perhaps that's because of the new players flowing in. America's Army: Proving Grounds feels fresh, with everyone attempting to learn their roles.
Maybe this is what the America's Army series needs.