Maybe I’ve said it in previous posts before, but I think it’s about time we saw an increase in sandbox shooters. When I say “sandbox,” I don’t mean games that give you a huge open world with a bunch of junk to collect. I mean games that put you in the middle of map, give you some objectives, and say “go.”
The reason I bring this up is because Metal Gear Solid V just might be the initiator of trend that could resurrect this type of design in tactical games. Release date lists for the next 12 months or so contain a handful of games that could get the ball rolling.
If you go into the search function a the bottom of the home page of this site with keywords like “Ghost Recon,” “ArmA,” “Crysis,” or “Thief,” you might find some posts about how I miss “objective-based game design,” where games let you figure out ways to complete tasks without holding your hand or funneling you down linear paths. This used to be a fairly common thing for first person games back in the era of GoldenEye 007, Thief: The Dark Project, and the original Ghost Recon. The original Crysis in 2007 was the apex of this type of game, but Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which came out that same fall, became the blueprint for almost every shooter made in the nine years since. I wouldn’t mind at all if MGSV’s mission design became some kind of new blueprint.
Ideally of course, games should try to be their own things and not shamelessly follow the leader. I’d love it if we saw more overall creativity and diversity among games with decent budgets, but I’m gonna try to be slightly more realistic here. I know big companies are always going to chase the latest popular thing and eventually create a standard formula. If that’s going to keep happening, can’t I at least hope the formula to be based on something I want to see make a comeback?
MGSV is the closest thing we’ve had in years to a revival of the objective-based style of shooter, and after playing it I hoped other developers would take a hard look at it (especially Ubisoft). It looks like a few of them really are. Anyone who’s played MGSV should check out this gameplay footage of Sniper Elite IV.
I’ve never gotten involved with Sniper Elite games. I never really had the time, so I don’t know precisely how this is different from the previous three games. The video says the maps are much larger and more open-ended than the ones of the previous games. The way the character moves through and navigates the environment in that video looks a lot like MGSV mixed with a bit of Assassin’s Creed, but despite my fatigue with Creed, I actually think SEIV seems to be borrowing just enough of it and for the right reasons. I still don’t know if I’m going to find the time to play SEIV, but it’s at least on my radar now.
Another game I’ve only recently started to pay attention to for the same reason is the upcoming Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3. I just looked up a bit of a gameplay video of that and it seems to be going more in a Far Cry direction (the commenter on the video worked on Far Cry 4) but with the same important distinction MGSV makes: leaving the main mission objectives open for the player to figure out. The important part is making the environment feel like a bundle of interacting systems the player can mess around with, limited almost only by their imagination.
The really big one on the horizon is Ubisoft’s own Ghost Recon Wildlands. I already did a blog post about how cautiously optimistic I’ve been about that game since E3. It almost sounds too good to be true really, coming from Ubisoft. In developer videos they keep using the exact word I want to hear — “systemic.” They keep talking about how huge the game’s map is going to be and how everything will be up to the player. Basically every Ubisoft game I’ve played in recent years has stuck to one formula with occasional flashes of originality sticking out, but this looks a dev team was actually allowed to stretch out and do something different. I just don’t see how Ubisoft isn’t going to cram in some element about crafting and loot. It’s odd to see a game with that pure a vision coming from such a big developer focused so much on return of investment. Ubisoft really needs to make the next Splinter Cell like the games I’m mentioning right now.
I guess you can count the new Hitman too. I think I’m going to wait until the full release to try that out, but I like what I’m hearing about it going back to Blood Money’s formula of letting players plan their own hits. Everything about it looks great really.
It’s hard to tell if there’s going to be some tipping point where every big publisher feels like letting players plan their own missions is all the rage. Some have made big statements about how “players want to define their own experiences,” bit it hasn’t quite translated into game design in the way I want. Right now, Destiny and The Division seem to have started a trend of Diablo-like shooters instead.