Tag Archives: shooter

How DOOM Makes The Shooter Feel Like A Game Again

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All I can really talk about right now that I’ve been playing is DOOM, which I’m most of the way through as of this writing. I’m not sure I can say anything about it that reviews didn’t already cover though.

The most succinct thing I can say about id Software’s 2016 DOOM is that it makes the first person shooter feel like a game again. Followers of this blog may have seen my previous posts about older FPSs, and I certainly think this one fits right in with the qualities of those games, but still concedes to modernity in its own way. Continue reading

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Third Party N64 Games That Didn’t Suck Volume 2: Winback

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Man y’know what? Forget PlayStation today.

The 20th anniversary of PlayStation has everyone going through their memories with the original console and I’m pretty much “whatever” on the whole thing because I never actually owned the original PlayStation. I begrudgingly got my first piece of Sony hardware — a PS2, towards the end of 2005, after the Xbox 360 had launched.

My old PlayStation memories are pretty much of just being on the outside looking in as people played Wipeout, Final Fantasy, and Metal Gear while I stuck with my N64, the typical Nintendo classics, and the third party games I talk about in this series. The next one up is Winback: Covert Operations. Once again, this is a re-edit of a post from 1up way back in 2009. Continue reading

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Indie Game Radar: Starshock

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This latest indie alpha I stumbled across has actually been in the wild for around 18 months. PC Gamer did a blurb about it in March last year, but there hasn’t been much word on the game since. After finishing the alpha and reading up about the developer’s intentions with the finished product, Starshock could be right up my alley. Continue reading

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Incoming: What Call of Duty Could Learn From Arcade Games

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Call of Duty could really stand to learn something from games like Rage Software’s 1998 Incoming. Playing it again made me realize how long it’s been since I played an arcade shooter, and how they accomplish a lot of what blockbuster shooters attempt. Continue reading

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The Appeal Of Tactical Shooters

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Even though I said I shut the book on the original Ghost Recon on Monday, afterwards I decided to at least try out the expansion packs Desert Siege and Island Thunder. As of this writing I’m most of the way through Siege as I finally commit to a long-planned sincere attempt at tactical shooters. I think there are two main elements that differentiate hardcore military simulators from most other shooters, including modern games that call themselves tactical shooters.

The most intimidating element of them is of course the high lethality — in most cases one or two bullets will kill a character in these games. That one thing drastically changes almost the entire experience. When you’re being shot at in most shooters it doesn’t matter at all, but in games like ArmA and Ghost Recon it’s seriously intense. To that end, those games have distinct sound effects for bullets hitting near you. As opposed to the hundreds of dudes you mow down in Call of Duty, winning a Ghost Recon or ArmA gunfight with just four or five enemies feels like an achievement. Most importantly though, the high lethality rule turns a shooter into a less visceral and more cerebral game, which is what really goes counter to mainstream shooters.

For instance, in Ghost Recon if an enemy knows your location and you both get behind cover, if you peek out from the same place where the enemy last saw you, he’ll probably take you out almost instantly. Also, when you shoot at enemies they immediately hit the deck and find cover. In games like these flanking tactics are far more important, and you can pretty much never rush into situations. The main thing that turns people away from true tactical shooters is that they quickly punish you for any mistake, but it’s a distinct taste that offers its own fun if you’re willing to find it.

Other than some interface issues, the only thing about Ghost Recon I’ll say feels outdated is how it handles indoor combat. The 2001 game takes a broad approach to combat that works for its massive, open-ended maps. You spend most of your time shooting at guys in open fields 150 yards away, but that same apparatus becomes clumsy once you have to clear a building. I can almost never order units to enter buildings without them getting shot, and when doing it myself enemies often aim and shoot faster than I can react. In a game about shooting at enemies before they see you, it’s tough to do that when you’re breaking into their houses unless your sniper perched somewhere can see them through windows.

I think the most fundamental difference from normal shooters brought on by things like high lethality and more tactical AI is the loss of player empowerment. Most mainstream games today are about making players feel cool and powerful. Assassin’s Creed wants to make you feel like the baddest guy in the room. Halo wants you to feel like a supersoldier. Call of Duty wants to make you feel like the badass protagonist of a military thriller. Ghost Recon, ArmA, and other military simulators make you feel like an ordinary soldier, or at most a Special Forces guy who despite being geared up is far from invincible. You feel vulnerable, or at least as if you’re on the same playing field as the enemy, and you have to actually use your brain to win.

The feeling reminds me of the classic Thief games — how Garrett never feels like a badass but rather a guy who’s just slightly more skilled than those around him and can die from just one mistake. That seems to be a common trait of older immersive simulators. System Shock 2 makes the player feel perpetually at-risk and Ultima Underworld starts players off in a notably weak state.

The older Resident Evil games are what I would compare this feeling to on consoles — that sense of having to really think about every decision you make, and every enemy feeling like a real threat. The modern Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II are similar to these kinds of games as well due to how even common enemies in them actually use defensive tactics and need to be outmaneuvered. The most recent and relevant example though is probably Dark Souls — a game that never lets players feel invincible.

The other main element that sets tactical shooters apart is how open-ended they are. I touched on this in Monday’s post, but I really think it’s arguably the most important thing about these games. It’s definitely the most appealing thing for me and the element I’d like to see make a return in mainstream shooters.

I can understand Ubisoft making the modern Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six games more forgiving, but I think they threw the baby out with the bathwater when they also made the games more linear. A big reason these games were called “tactical” shooters is because players could actually plan their own tactics. Each mission in OG Ghost Recon is an open map where you decide what path to take and in what order to complete objectives, including optional objectives. I don’t see how that makes a game more difficult or intimidating.

The main reason I started playing these games now is because playing through Assassin’s Creed III’s (ironically an open-world game) linear main missions gave me a taste for something with a greater sense of freedom. I don’t think that has to be mutually exclusive to the “one hit and you’re dead” system. Why can’t there be military shooters that still offer player empowerment while also offering the level of player choice displayed in hardcore tactical shooters? Far Cry 2 almost got there but is too shallow an experience, and Far Cry 3 made all its main missions linear again. I think Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is the closest modern game to what I’m asking for.

Basically, one of my dream games would be a tactical shooter that isn’t so punishing but still gives the player total control over the mission plan.

BULLETS:

  • I’d forgotten about that American remake of District 13. Didn’t know Paul Walker and David Belle were in it either. Looks promising. https://t.co/6aZNycwDCW
  • Wired has a pretty glowing write-up of that Nintendo F2P game. wrd.cm/1jwh5Lj
  • First screenshots of that Daisuke Jigen movie. http://t.co/PYSFN2izSW
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A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda

One of the games that’ll be on sale on Steam until Monday is A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda. I think an enhanced version also just got released on Xbox Live. I’d basically never heard of it until the sale, and after trying the demo I wanted to get it out in the open a little bit.

Basically, this game attempts to be the love child of Mega Man and Contra. The demo feels a bit more the latter than the former, but nonetheless it looks like a completely solid sidescrolling shooter.

Even the presentation evokes Super NES games but with today’s graphics, or at least GBA games but at a higher resolution. The opening explanation of the story plays out by scrolling across still images while subtitles fill in for dialogue. It all works the same way the cut scenes in Mega Man X might, and is basically just as effective. The music hits the same spot too.

From there, you immediately end up in corridors jumping over and shooting at robots in six directions. It’s pretty tough for me to think of another indie game that captures the spirit of the aforementioned shooters this well.

The demo only covers the beginning of the game so I didn’t get the see much evidence of the kind of platforming you might find in classic Mega Man, but the bosses are pretty much Contra bosses. They’re massive, and beating them depends on rote pattern memorization while never letting go of the trigger. Though because you don’t die instantly they’re a lot more forgiving here.

A.R.E.S.’s own mechanics come into play when you collect scrap from defeated enemies to build pretty much everything, from health items to new weapons. The dynamic is a pretty smart one if you ask me: if you don’t take as much damage you won’t have to waste scrap healing yourself that you’d otherwise spend on new weapons. Though, enemies seem to respawn so it probably is possible to grind for scrap. There are also some unique tools and abilities you get throughout the game.

After trying it out I went ahead and bought A.R.E.S. on Steam and hope to eventually get to it. When asking around for more handheld 2D action games like the classics in a previous post someone actually suggested me A.R.E.S. It may not be handheld, but it seems to otherwise fit the bill.

BULLETS:

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The Potential of Call of Duty’s Singleplayer

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Last time I talked about the Battlefield franchise trying to find its way in regard to singleplayer, but I honestly always thought there was some potential left on the floor with Call of Duty as well. That franchise already has a formula that works, but that doesn’t mean they can’t add something new.

At this point the main reason a lot of people buy COD is to rank up and unlock stuff in multiplayer. Infinity Ward designed a pretty addictive feedback loop that’s been so successful the entire industry is ripping off of it. Why can’t they bring some of that into the campaign, or make a new singleplayer mode with that feedback loop?

Maybe that’s basically what the Zombies mode in Treyarch’s games is, I’ve never actually touched that mode so I don’t know. From what I do know it’s mainly a co-op game. One of my favorite modes in Modern Warfare 3 however is Spec Ops Survival. Spec Ops also happens to be an affair balanced for co-op — you can’t get very far playing it solo.

I personally find survival mode to be more comfortable without having to deal with human competition, and it has the same feedback loop that makes multiplayer so successful. I just wish there was a version of it balanced for solo play. I think Activision could go further if it tried though.

COD’s unlock system basically works like an RPG. Your weapon loadouts are essentially equipment upgrades not unlike those of, say, a dungeon-crawler.

If Activision could somehow work in some long form level design for players to fight through while earning XP and loot I think it could be a unique take on both first person shooters and RPGs. The closest thing we have to this right now is probably Borderlands 2.

It’s perfectly sensible why Activision would stick to its current singleplayer formula though. It’s successful and is technically the core of the franchise.

COD didn’t even become especially known for multiplayer until the first Modern Warfare game — the earlier entries mostly being acclaimed for their superior singleplayer campaign design — that rollercoaster formula that everyone else has tried to copy. I still think Infinity Ward is one of only a handful of studios actually able to properly design shooter campaigns that way. It should still be a part of COD, but that doesn’t mean they can’t put new modes on the top. I remember the first Modern Warfare game having an “arcade” version of the campaign. Do later COD games still have that?

COD has become known for the ridiculous amount of content packed into each disc — the campaign alongside many multiplayer and co-op modes, almost like three complete games really. Some kind of singleplayer mode that leverages Activision’s patented multiplayer and co-op upgrade systems in my opinion could be an excellent addition to modes like spec ops and zombies.

BULLETS:

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Frame Rate And The Future Of The Console Shooter Crown

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With the unveiling of next-generation console games at E3 2013, one trend some gaming tech heads noticed simmering in the background is the emergence of shooters that run at 60 frames per second. This could be the most legitimate competition Call of Duty has ever faced.

A game’s frame rate is the main factor in the feel of its controls. The higher a game’s frame rate, the quicker its controls respond to the player and the tighter and more tactile they feel. It’s why most fighting games, racing games, and music games run at 60fps as opposed to most other games which usually run at 30 in order to get better-looking graphics.

The Call of Duty games are almost the only shooters that run at 60fps on the PS3 and Xbox 360, with the standard being 30. Infinity Ward and Treyarch have almost acted like it’s their trademark in interviews. This is looking to change: Battlefield 4 will run at 60 on the PS4 and Xbox One, so will Titanfall. 343 Industries thought it was a big enough deal to come on stage and make an announcement out of the next Halo game being the series’ first entry to run at 60 on a console.

If any of those games, or any other shooter does one day manage to have an affect on COD going into next-gen, I don’t think it will be Battlefield. It’s just too different from COD.

People who choose COD typically say that other games just don’t “feel like COD.” The controls and frame rate are definitely a big part of it (even if most players don’t realize it), but it’s also about the design of COD’s multiplayer. The maps are small, the guns have low recoil, everything’s tailored for players to spawn, get kills, die, and respawn as rapidly as possible. Battlefield on the other hand requires players to take things slower and work with teams across larger maps with higher palyer counts. Just look at how the central mode of COD is Deathmatch while Battlefield’s central mode is Conquest.

Probably none of these games will dethrone COD in the near term. Infinity Ward has already said they aren’t fazed by a 60fps Battlefield. Furthermore, Battlefield 4 and Titanfall are still probably going to run at 30 on the current-gen consoles, and at first most people are probably still gonna buy the current-gen versions of those games.

If a change does come though, it might start around fall 2014 when we see Treyarch’s next game, Halo, EA’s next shooter, and maybe some other competition (DOOM 4?). By then games will have fully transitioned to next-gen hardware and we might see a full reshuffling of the deck similar to what happened around 2007.

I’m just saying: every console generation there seems to be a shift in what the most popular franchises are. COD took the console shooter crown from Halo which you could argue got the crown from GoldenEye.

BULLETS:

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Square Enix’s Misfortune

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Tomb Raider came out a full two moths ago, but after finishing my $25 Steam copy I still want to throw up not really a review, but more of a lamentation at what the game ended up becoming. Generally, I just don’t like how they turned Tomb Raider into another daggum shooter.

I’ll admit right here that I didn’t start playing Tomb Raider games until the 2006 Tomb Raider: Legend, which itself was sort of a half-reboot. Maybe the classic games were something else, but for me Tomb Raider had been a reliable source of honest console adventure gaming — actual environmental puzzle-solving that required me to explore and use my brain, in a time when that sort of thing was getting too rare. Today those kinds of games have gotten even rarer, and the first few hours of the 2013 Tomb Raider only compounded the situation in my eyes by evoking pretty much every freaking popular trope in shooter game design today.

I get the reasoning behind the reboot. The character Lara Croft was still stuck with her 90’s bombastic persona and needed something more believable (that’s the one thing I can appreciate they did here), and people complained about how terrible the shooting controls were in recent games. I just think the gameplay in the end result almost completely fails to stand out in any way.

Chest-high walls? Check. Quick-Time Events? Check. Experience points for killing enemies? Check. Crafting system? Check. The game even has “challenges.” Okay so they actually figured out how to write a lot of those mechanics into the story. That still doesn’t help make the game feel any less typical. Tomb Raider is an attempt at an open-world Uncharted game.

And really, the “open-world” aspect of what I describe here is pretty much optional. The main game is mostly running from shootout to shootout. The fact that the tomb raiding — the titular activity of the game, is pushed off to the periphery, is the most troubling thing for me. Each new optional puzzle I discovered became a breath of fresh air, and I finished the game with 100 percent completion just to try to squeeze every bit of what Tomb Raider used to be out of the reboot.

Even the puzzles I did find were pretty easy. Anything else you have the option to find scattered about the game pretty much just amounts to a checklist to fill a percentage counter and earn some extra crafting components. Most everything just felt strewn about on a map.

Now this is probably just my own fantasy land thinking, but when I first heard of the prospect of an open-world Tomb Raider game, my initial thought was of some kid of mature-themed Zelda clone, or at least a good Metroidvania. I was hoping for a game that asked me to explore a mysterious world, slowly discovering obstacles and eventually discovering ways over those obstacles — an intricate world woven together by level design that asked you to investigate it the way an archeologist like Lara would a tomb. What I feel like I got was a bunch of waypoints on a map with a lot of shooting. Oh you get different tools that allow you to access more of the game world, but you’re still just waypointed to all of those, never encouraged to really explore for yourself outside of extra collectibles.

I had similar complaints against the original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune back in 2007. I expected an action adventure game with a good mix of platforming, puzzles, and shooting, but what I got was a shooter with trace amounts of the other two elements. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of my top PS3 games partly because it brought back some good adventure game design but also because of impeccable shooting set pieces. The latter is another area where I feel Tomb Raider just reaches for something out of its grasp.

Firstly when it comes to set pieces I guess I should talk about the quick-time events which litter the game. People have their own opinions about QTEs. I generally don’t like them because they don’t feel like real gameplay. I would really prefer not to have any sequences that restrict my control over the character.

Maybe most people have gotten used to games where your character frequently has to walk slowly because they’re in a corridor of chest-deep water, or receiving a call, or being forced to look at something off in the distance. I for one feel taken out of the game whenever QTEs or things like this occur. I understand the attempt to create interactive events that feel intense, but I think the majority of games today that do this are evoking each other’s mistakes.

If you look at the best games that build themselves on scripted set pieces, they rarely if ever actually try to limit, change, or control what buttons the player can press. Games like Call of Duty 4, Half-Life 2, Portal 2, and Uncharted 2 pretty much always allow players full range of control, even during each game’s elaborate, incredibly scripted set pieces. They mostly try to control the environment around players and not the players themselves. That may ultimately limit what you can display, but it’s working within the boundaries of the medium of games, which I think is ultimately more effective than trying to emulate cinema.

Tomb Raider actually does have a handful of moments that follow this advice, like the airplane crash sequence or the fortress bridge collapse. They stuck out because I experienced those scenes with the exact same controls I used to play the rest of the game. If scenes like those replaced all the QTEs and forced-slow-movement sections, I feel like Tomb Raider’s scripted set pieces would’ve hit a lot harder. I guess that’s all just preference though, since I’ve heard almost no one else complain about this sort of thing (except QTEs).

As I noted above, the one thing I can appreciate about this game is what it did with Lara Croft’s character. Yes there’s still the “ludonarrative dissonance” of seeing her kill men by the dozens practically moments after freaking out about being forced to shoot one guy. Despite though, I honestly do think Tomb Raider managed some actual good character development through its cut scenes and journal entries. It’s really all too rare that game storylines, especially those of today’s mainstream games, display one of the most basic components of storytelling — a character who by the end is different from what they were at the beginning. The fact that Tomb Raider even does this already makes it above average, which is pretty sad for the AAA action game market.

Having that core component to rebooting Lara Croft however didn’t require the game to basically be a poor man’s Uncharted with collectible extras thrown all over a sandbox. When I see the inclusion of virtually every popular game design element that get’s thrown into every shooter these days (not to mention the multiplayer, which I didn’t touch), I see desperate compromises to get the game to sell copies.

Did that attempt to sell copies actually work? Not really. Tomb Raider sold something like three and a half million copies in a month, which should be excellent for that franchise, but still wasn’t enough. They had to turn Tomb Raider into another cover-based shooter in order to get it to sell more copies, and that still didn’t make it profitable. The worst part is that I don’t think game publishers are learning any lessons from this at all.

BULLETS:

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Bioshock Infinite, Ludonarrative Dissonance, and “Next-Gen Game Design”

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I only finished Bioshock Infinite just recently, but ever since the game came out I’ve seen articles sort of criticizing its levels of violence and how that clashes with its story. Alongside this we’re seeing an increasing amount of observations about “ludonarrative dissonance” that exists when you try to mix a deep storyline with a shooter. The ultimate question about that though is… what do you do about it?

I went over this a little bit in a previous post examining games like the most recent Tomb Raider as well as the Uncharted games. Why does a guy as likeable as Nathan Drake kill hundreds of people over the course of a game? How does Lara Croft so quickly go from scared young woman to practically being a machine of genocide? I reasoned, and still reason, that for those games’ storylines to make sense in context with their gameplay, they probably shouldn’t have been designed shooters.

Bioshock Infinite probably suffers from the same problem, as do a lot of shooters and other action games. Infinite is a really good shooter in my opinion. It’s well-designed, beautiful, and ultimately fun with a storyline that stands above most of what you see in this industry. That storyline also suffers from what Splinter Cell and Far Cry 2 designer Clint Hocking calls “ludonarrative dissonance” — the disconnect between the tone of a serious story and the act of killing hundreds of people.

Like I said in my previous post, all the killing is really only required for a game to be fun if what you’re making is a shooter or other action game, and those genres weren’t really made for deep storylines. Most of the games that popularized the first person shooter genre: DOOM, Quake, or Halo, were about shooting up demons or aliens without regard for deep, character-driven stories — very similar to Super Mario games really.

Meanwhile, some people have started bringing up terms like “next-generation game design” — the assertion that as graphics get more realistic, the act of killing all those people will look more and more silly, and that customers will eventually cry out for better ways of designing games around the dissonance. I don’t think the emergence of new hardware will all of a sudden cause the appearance of games that do a better job of dealing with violence while telling respectable tales. I think there’s a chance, even if a slim one, that market forces could do the job.

I don’t think someone is going to make a shooter where you don’t kill hundreds of enemies, because that defeats what shooters were designed for. What probably needs to happen is for other genres to become popular. Usually that happens towards the beginning of a console generation.

Shooters and RPGs are popular now because the Xbox 360’s first killer apps were games like Call of Duty, Gears of War, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Mass Effect. Games like those defined what sold on current generation consoles early on. It happens every generation really. Grand Theft Auto III in the first year of the PS2’s lifespan inspired a whole generation of open-world games.

I think there’s a good possibility that in the next couple years as the PS4 and next Xbox start out their lives, one or more games of a different genre will make it big and inspire a new trend. Big publishers like Ubisoft and EA have already admitted that new IPs tend to do better earlier in a console generation. At this point there’s no telling what that will be.

Many have suggested that adventure games are probably a better choice for the kinds of stories that Tomb Raider, Uncharted, and Bioshock Infinite try to tell. The problem of course is that adventure games don’t sell five-plus million copies in today’s market. In my last post about this I used The Walking Dead as an example because it’s probably the most famous adventure game right now. It’s probably a poor choice from a gameplay perspective since it doesn’t focus a whole lot on puzzles. Others have said that essentially, we need a new game that repeats the affect Myst had the industry back in the 90’s.

Really though, there’s no telling what that unique next-generation hit will be until sometime next year. Hopefully it’ll be the kind of game that allows for deeper storytelling without forcing the player to kill hundreds of people in order for the gameplay to be compelling.

BULLETS:

  • Pizza reduces cancer risk: study http://flip.it/k7tjp 
  • Didn’t realize the Patlabor OVA was out on Blu-Ray: http://t.co/fLTaOl54IY  Man, I could do a whole post about why you should check it out.
  • Baldur’s Gate games & expansions + Icewind Dale games & expansions + Planescape: Torment + Temple of Elemental Evil, all for $5.99. DRM-free. http://t.co/OY9FLv0dwO
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