The Search For Alternative Multiplayer Shooters

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Last time while going over how I felt about Titanfall I noted how it’s probably not gonna be my thing while also saying it has a good chance to be popular. I wasn’t being down on popular shooters so much as indicating how the multiplayer shooter industry seems to focus most of its energy on providing one type of game.

That type being the fast-paced deathmatch, domination, and sometimes round-based first person shooter. It’s probably the most popular type, but if it’s not the kind of game you want, you have few options. Only relatively recently have I begun to realize the kind of multiplayer game I really want is something more slowly paced, thoughtful, and tactical. Games like that exist, but they are few, distinct, and in many cases have small player bases.

It might be the reason I camp so much in multiplayer shooters. We’ve reached a point where shooter designers have tried to end camping because they think the only legit way to get kills is constantly running around and being better at pulling the trigger than the other guy. In my opinion it’s a perfectly legitimate strategy to find a strategic position at which to sit down and get the drop on your opponent, then switch to another position to stay a step ahead of the enemy. I like shooters that are more about getting the drop on your opponent than just running, jumping, and out-twitching them. The latter is almost certainly what Titanfall is about. Titanfall certainly has a strategic element to it, but it’s more of a second-to-second style of strategy, which is what you’re gonna get out of a game that’s about quick gratification. Maybe it’s like comparing chess to football. Both are pretty strategic but one is slower and more cerebral than the other.

One extremely niche shooter that’s found its way onto my main roster is the Source engine mod NeoTokyo. Basically it’s Counter-Strike rules but in a cyberpunk setting with three classes and optical camouflage. What I like about it is how the high lethality and absence of respawn forces everyone to really think about where the enemy might be and how to act accordingly. Being round-based makes each individual match feel like a self-contained tactical game between two teams instead of just a bunch of people running around. Maybe I just described CS, but I happened to get into NT first and haven’t had a lot of time to break into CS. I’m thinking about reinstalling Counter-Strike Global Offensive and taking advantage of its recent spectator feature which is supposed to act sort of like watching regular matches on TV. I think NT’s cyberpunk theme adds a little something to the experience though, and I really hope the listing for that game shows up on Steam one day so it can maybe get some exposure. I may need to move to CS anyway if NT’s player base disappears.

The last console multiplayer shooter I really got into was probably Metal Gear Online. Being an online Metal Gear game makes it different enough from the norm, but I think the biggest difference is its tactical pacing compared to most FPSs. MGO isn’t really slow, but it’s just slow enough to make you think for a second about where your opponent is and how to get the drop on them. Back when I played it real teamwork was quite common, even on the PS2 version. Making stealth a viable strategy resulted in a lot of players getting knocked out and gutted from behind corners. A lot of the time dominating a mach was much more about actually dominating the map than being the fastest guy on it. The return of MGO is probably my top reason for being interested in Metal Gear Solid V.

Another somewhat similar game that’s been at the corner of my attention is Red Orchestra 2. At first I heard all the things people usually say about it — that it’s extremely hardcore with realistic weapon mechanics, suppressive fire simulation, and other things that effectively make players feel like fragile humans. Upon trying it out on a free weekend though I started to think it might be more the kind of shooter I’ve been looking for. From what I could tell, everyone playing it was taking cover all the time, taking their shots carefully, and overall trying to keep abreast of what was happening around them. At the very least it’s a game I’d like to have the time to investigate further for being something out o f the ordinary.

A more obvious option for me though might be Splinter Cell Blacklist. I got a free copy with my graphics card late last year, and upon a rental I’d already checked out its resurrection of Spies vs Mercs. SvM took up a surprising amount of my time the summer after Splinter Cell Chaos Theory came out in 2005 and remains a unique game to this day. The asymmetrical play style, two versus two limit, and focus on objectives instead of kills really made it stick out as a game about defeating your opponent more mentally than physically.

Sure Blacklist has that new three-on-three mode with the perks and other things to make it more action-oriented, but sticking to the classic-style mode is in my opinion close enough to the old school game for a mainstream game released in 2013. It still displays pretty much the same virtues as its predecessors and is willing to maintain the asymmetric style, even if the maps aren’t quite as complex as Chaos Theory’s. And if it doesn’t work out in the long run there’s always Project Stealth.

The most popular multiplayer game I’m even remotely into right now is probably Team Fortress 2 ironically. I think what sets that game apart for me is that it manages to be extremely tactical despite how blazing fast it sometimes is because of how each class absolutely forces a distinct style of play. For some reason that’s the one shooter I play where a lot of people actually do use voice chat to coordinate. Why do Valve games have that effect? TF2 has also managed to remain a centrally important game to the Steam community for seven years, which no console game has been able to do, probably because of all the sequels. To be honest though I’m thinking of switching completely over to Mann vs Machine mode.

Horde modes have been one of my favorite additions to shooters, primarily because it’s a multiplayer mode in dynamic arenas where I don’t have to worry about competing against humans. Ever since I let my Live Gold run out though I’ve been looking for a replacement for Gears of War 3’s Horde 2.0 and may or may not have found it in MvM. MvM is fast and frantic, yet every class still has a specific role.

Recently I tried out the Co-Op Bot Destruction mode in Hawken (a free-to-play mech shooter if you don’t know) and was shocked by its intensity. It forces you to constantly maintain awareness of where your team and the enemy are. One slip-up is often enough to end your game or at the very least put your team in jeopardy. Another option I’ve been told to investigate is Mass Effect 3 multiplayer.

Whatever happens, it’s likely I won’t be focusing much on the multiplayer shooters everyone else is playing, much less the games trying to imitate what everyone is playing. Multiplayer games with different rules, objectives, and play styles are out there, you just have to spend a bit more time finding them, as well as other people willing to play them.

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