Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Problems With Shooters

     A common complaint I hear about detractors of the FPS genre is that "they're all the same", or "they are all gray and brown", or "the only way I get hurt is when jelly gets splattered on my screen!" In my opinion, these aren't necessarily valid arguments, but I believe that they are indicative of the general fatigue that surrounds this genre.

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     Unfortunately, there are plenty of shooters that break these stereotypes that just get buried underneath the dross that we have come to expect from the annual Call of Duty releases. These are games that do something absolutely new and different with the genre, but will never be as successful as a Halo or Gears of War. I thought I'd outline a few examples of some older games that break the mold of the generic shooter, and I hope that in the future we will see more games that are as pleasantly surprising as these titles are. So please, game developers, steal some ideas from these games.

Borderlands: Loot

     Certainly one of the more original titles to emerge from 2009's holiday rush, Borderlands expertly blended a Diablo-esque loot system normally found in action RPGs with a solid foundation in shooter action. Headshotting a midget and watching his skeleton dissolve in acid while blue and green shiny guns fly out of his torso is an endlessly entertainingly experience.
     Although the randomly-generated weapons the game rewards as loot can affect a character's stats in a variety of ways, it never removes the player's skill as a factor. When you shoot an enemy in Borderlands, there are no secret dice rolls behind the game's screen. If you have the skill to headshot an enemy, you will deal more damage. It's this blend of skill-based gameplay and RPG elements that puts Borderlands in a special place in my heart.
     Combined with a killer co-op experience and an over-the-top, dark sense of humor, (and the promise of a sequel), Borderlands created a new hybrid of game genres that has yet to be exceeded.

Shattered Horizon: Three-Dimensional Combat

     Another indie game that was lost in the dump truck of releases in fall 2009, Shattered Horizon took the tired concept of a sci-fi first-person shooter and turned it on its head.
     A PC-exclusive shooter, Shattered Horizon's main selling point was its zero-gravity combat. Armed with only a rifle and a thruster pack, all of the battles are fought in the vacuum of outer space where an enemy could be coming from the left, right, or even above or beneath you at any time. Taking cover means that you have to ensure your safety from three dimensions. I have played many a match where I thought I was safe in my hidey hole, only to realize there was a bad guy approaching me upside-down from a hallway that I perceived as a ceiling.
     The only problem that the game has is its learning curve. It takes a few matches to get used to controlling yourself in three dimensions as you learn to strafe and yaw yourself onto target, but the reward is well worth it. This is a concept that I really wish a major developer would invest in. Shattered Horizon is multiplayer-only game, unfortunately, but if a triple-A developer or publisher could throw some money at this inventive idea, very good things could come out of it.

Mirror's Edge: Color and Movement

     At first glance, Mirror's Edge is a visually stunning game. The art aspect of this game is nuanced enough that I could write entire articles about it, but I'll keep it short for now. The game uses bright, hyper-realistic primary colors to draw interest to certain objects and areas, something that most artists know how to do instinctively.
     The unique high-contrast color scheme allows the developers to naturally draw the player's eye to certain areas of the busy industrially-themed environment in a way that seems intuitive. You can make your way through the environments without even thinking about where you are going, just how you are going to get there.
     Getting to your destination in Mirror's Edge is the core of the game experience. Vaulting, rolling, leaping, and wall-running from point A to point B are some of the most fulfilling experiences I've had in a game this generation. The fluidity of motion and the gut-wrenching acrobatic feats that Faith performs make sprinting from one kill to another in Call of Duty pale in comparison.
Loogie time

     So there you go. Before you complain about the dearth of original content in first-person shooters, take a bit of time and go and explore some games that everybody forgot about. There is room for new ideas in the shooter space, and just because these games aren't on the best sellers list doesn't mean that they don't exist. So check these games out if you get the time or money, because they are sure to offer you experiences you can't find anywhere else.

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