During the big Steam sale I picked up Max Payne 1 and 2 and sat down for some quality 3rd person shooting. Unfortunately I left my rose colored specs in my other pair of pants, I could throw in some long rant filled with euphemisms but I digress. Considering my background as a hardcore gamer I’m going to say something that may be shocking to some, I’m not a huge fan of the shooter genre, first or third. Sure I’ve played them throughout the years: Doom, Quake, Serious Sam, Max Payne and so on but I’ve never been completely entranced by them compared to other genres. When I think back the first one I really enjoyed was Half-Life and that was it for a very long time, I did not get into competitive FPS titles so the Quake and Unreal series never drew me in. Also I have to admit, I never played No one Lives Forever, and yes I know I screwed up badly there. Team fortress 2 was a great game but a bit too twitchy for me to completely love. In fact there are few games in the shooter genre that I really enjoyed which brings me to the point of this entry: What I would like to see in the shooter genre. Let me begin with my picks:
Left 4 Dead 1 and 2: Interesting enough I barely paid any attention to the first one for the longest time, I read a few preview blurbs here and there and that was it. Then I watched the opening cinematic and played the demo and preordered the game for a day one purchase. What I love about L4d1 and 2 which I don’t find in other shooters is that the game is not based on twitch skills but more on priority targeting. Now granted I can headshot a hunter in mid pounce with the sniper rifle like the best of them but my real skill is assessing the situation. I know if I have one teammate pounced one boomed and one smoked that I need to help the pounced one first, then smoked and so on. Then there is the co-op factor which I love playing a shooter with people and not trying to kill them. Granted you could say something similar about TF2 with team vs team play but the smaller team of L4D makes it a more personal affair.
Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl: For single player shooters, Stalker SoC is one of my favorites. What I loved about SoC above all else was the fact that combat didn’t take place in set pieces like in other shooters. In most shooters enemies are set up before hand, you know that there will be 4 enemies upstairs, 2 on patrol and one in the bathroom every time. Sure they may have the most realistic AI in the world but you are fighting them in the same place not so in Stalker. You basically create the set pieces for your fights, whether it is hunkering down in a destroyed farm or sniping from afar. Not only could you affect the fight, but the enemies are never in the same place twice making fire fights interesting. Another aspect of SoC I liked was how different every gun was. Wielding a pistol and a shotgun are two different challenges and it gives the game a sort of role playing feel. Starting out with just a pistol you are not much of a threat, but things change the second you grab your first automatic weapon and of course have the ammo to use it.
Metroid Prime series: While not a traditional shooter compared to the first two, the series properly translated the 2d action/adventure style of the Metroid series into 3d. Also it has a lot more plat forming elements built into it compared to other shooters (no doubt as it is a Metroid game after all). Now I do agree with critics that MP3 has some uneven difficulty curves but the series as a whole does something special. It allowed us to not only be connected to the character but also to the world, a topic that I’ll go into detail about this concept in another entry.
To be fair to the list of shooters I like I have not played Borderlands yet, waiting on a sale hopefully on Steam, Moving on here are some design elements that I would like to see more of with the genre.
No more rails: Probably why my 2nd trip to the world of Max Payne wasn’t a good one, is that I just don’t like rail based shooters anymore. When you have to go through the same corridors fighting the enemies in the same place it just feels repetitive to me. One of the reasons why I loved Stalker so much was for the open world and placement of enemies. Unlike other shooters set piece battles were really not set piece, yes they took place in unique environments but I could approach them in any way I wanted. The only way I could play a rail shooter is if enemy placement is randomized, no more sniper town levels (If you played Medal of Honor you know what I’m talking about).
Onward and upward: This part of the topic applies more to third person shooters but it is possible with FPSs, just a bit harder. One element of recent action/adventure titles on the consoles that I like is using the environment to get above your enemies. Height differences are not used in a lot of shooters in the past due to the control scheme making it hard to track enemies. Recently I’ve seen third person shooters have been getting this treatment, like the Uncharted series. This made going back to a slow moving wall of muscle in Gears of War very hard. This also gives the player an extra element of surprise when setting up for an assault. Another game I recently started playing was Assassin’s Creed 2 and someone needs to use that engine for a third person shooter.
Once more with feeling: Switching back to FPSs, I’ve felt that there was always a lack of feeling with guns in these titles. Yes you can have a triple barreled shotgun and a laser gun that melts through walls, but when they each fire the same way what’s the difference. A minor detail that I loved in Stalker was how each gun felt different; there was a noticeable difference between firing an automatic weapon vs firing a shotgun. I remember in Stalker when a mutant was closing in and all I had left was my double barrel shotgun, I waited until it got within close range and fired the gun, the screen lurched back from the recoil and when it settled the creature was dead. In many shooters I’ve played shooting something with the shotgun has the same feel as with a rocket launcher or lightning gun and so on. Another aspect of this is the reaction of the gun, yes I know it sounds twisted but I like games that have affects for having the AI being hit by different weapons. Another series that goes with this concept is the Ratchet and Clank series.
In RandC each game has a completely different assortment of guns, from a creature that belches sonic waves to a buzz saw launcher. Each weapon has its own way of handling the enemies you face and gives the game personality. I also want more games that allow certain weapons to break through the objects in a level.
I guess the point of this entry is that I want someone to make a shooter that is one part Stalker, one part Assassin’s Creed 2 and a pinch of Ratchet and Clank thrown in. So designers chop-chop, don’t make me design this game myself 🙂
In a sort of part 2 to this, I’ll break down the differences in third and first person cameras and their affects on game play.
Last week I picked up No More Heroes 2 for the Wii, I found the first one to be an interesting, flawed and mature experience for the Wii. Playing NMH2 however I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with the game. Michael Abbott over at The Brainy Gamer has already talked about NMH2. My thoughts on the game mirror his and for this entry I’m going to expand on his look at the game.
Going down a checklist for what NMH2 does compared to NMH1, it is a better game than the first one. A lot of the “fat” in NMH1 has been trimmed down leaving the player with the two main game mechanics: side jobs and killing. The game has also gotten higher reviews compared to the first one so why do some of us feel disappointed by it? One trait of Suda 51’s games is a unique style, Killer 7 had gallons of it and so did NMH 1. For NMH 2 it feels that his style was included in the fat that was trimmed.
In NMH 1 there was always a buildup before the ranked fights, first you get the title introduction at the start, then run through a level and finally the meet and greet with the assassin. What this did was show how different each boss was both in stage and in fight. In NMH 2 I don’t get the same feel, I show up run through about 2 rooms then fight the person. Yes, while each assassin is completely different in terms of attacking ability, however when the same tactics work for every fight then that first point is moot. There are a few exceptions to this which I won’t say for spoiler’s sake however, but the bosses in NMH 1 seemed to have more to go with them. Improving Travis has also been cut down, in NMH 1 you could buy new clothes, buy upgrades to Travis stats and weapons as well as finding upgrade balls that can be traded for upgrades. In NMH 2 you have clothes, 2 beam sabers to buy and 2 stat mini games and you’re done. This makes NMH 2 seem dumb downed compared to the first one and in my opinion fails to live up as a sequel. Last night I rented Assassin’s Creed 2 which is not only a great game but also does what a sequel should do.
I bought AS 1 a few months ago and played it for about 5 hours and then shelved it. I thought it was a good idea but very unrefined which is why I rented AS 2. After spending 5 hours with it I’ve decided even if I finish it to buy the game once it goes on sale to at least show some support to the developers, it’s just that good. I find it interesting to compare both NMH 2 and AS 2, both are sequels to games that in my opinion were not all that refined. What AS 2 did was that it took what worked (exploration, agile character and killing) and refined it while removing what didn’t work (repetitive missions, useless item hunts). Not only that but it added in new features as well (villa, codex, glyphs). Now if we look at NMH 2, all it did was refine the game and removed what didn’t work (although you could say that was up to your interpretation of the game). Nothing new was added to enhance the experience which left us with a better game, but a worse sequel.
Both games show the different paths a sequel can take from the original and its funny how my views of each series have been reverse from the start. At this point I can’t wait for AS 3, but I’m now leery of NMH 3.