Gaming: Shaun Prescott
A new breed of shooters is injecting life into a genre we thought had declined into stagnation long ago...
For the last eight years, the way we shoot at other players from a first-person perspective has not changed dramatically. Usually we do so in grim apocalyptic settings, and with few special abilities beyond the power to run and kill. The template set by Call of Duty has determined the way many of its pretenders and competitors have addressed multiplayer shooting, and no amount of marketing guff can hide the fact that, during the last generation, bigger maps and vehicles (Battlefield) and space sci-fi pretensions (Killzone, Resistance) aren’t enough to challenge the status quo.
Could that be changing now? A genre as successful as the first-person shooter can only dare change glacially, but recent iterative changes seen in games like Titanfall and Evolve are starting to dull some of the lustre of the ‘ol trusty genre hallmarks.
Look at the shooters we have confirmed for 2014, and few of them rest on the format’s laurels. Titanfall introduced parkour so successfully that it’s often more fun to move than to shoot, and Turtle Rock’s Evolve, due later this year, reconfigures the cooperative shooter into an ongoing series of 4v1 boss battles.
What do these shooters share in common? Their innovative approach to movement. During a hands-on session with Evolve in February, I was astonished by the freedom and fun that the game’s jetpacks provided. It was fun to just move around. Meanwhile, as a player traditionally averse to multiplayer shooters I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into Titanfall because again, merely moving around is fun.
On paper it’s not a dramatic change, but already the thought of booting up a shooter which allows comparatively slow movement, squat jump abilities and the need to actually walk around waistheight walls is a special kind of hell. Returning to Battlefield, or Call of Duty, or Halo after long sessions with Titanfall’s beautifully agile pilots is like forsaking three-dimensions. I think, if you were to show a gaming newcomer Titanfall next to Call of Duty, they’d easily reach for the former, because even if you suck at it it’s fun.
Of course, as a Microsoft exclusive and new IP, Titanfall does not and cannot have the install base and influence that Activision’s shooter boasts, nor can it, at this stage, claim to be a cultural phenomenon. Likewise, the odds of the 2k published Evolve dismantling Call of Duty’s reign are very low, because new IPs rarely have that power: it took the fourth installment in the CoD series for it to properly hit mass market.
But the seed has been planted. For so long we’ve believed that first-person shooting had reached its apex (or dead end) but its most exciting change was hiding in one of its most mundane ingredients. Hopefully we see this new focus on breathtaking traversal become the norm in five years - enough so that we’ll begin to complain that it’s a cliche.