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Would you Like Your Shooter with a Side of First or Third Person? June 11, 2010

Posted by maxfreund in General, PS3, Xbox 360.
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The shooter is the most pervasive genre in gaming today.  Each year’s fall schedule is highlighted by great games like Gears of War, Halo, Call of Duty, and Uncharted.

But within this one genre, there are two competing formats, the first person, and third person shooter. With two distinct styles competing for the spotlight in a crowded field, it is inevitable to ask which style of shooter is better, the first or third person?

I suppose there is no definitive answer to this question. Both have tremendous entries in their libraries. Halo is considered by many to be the greatest shooter of all time, and is a first person shooter. While critically acclaimed titles like Gears of War, and last year’s game of the year Uncharted 2 are third person affairs.

Thus the choice comes down to personal preference, and for me, the choice is clear.

It is third person all the way.

Now before I dive into my analysis, I must absolve myself on any bias. I have played and loved, Halo 1, 2, 3, Gears 1, 2, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 1, 2, Uncharted 1, 2, Borderlands, and many more. Games on the PS3 and Xbox 360, both first person and third person games alike. One of my favorite genres in all of gaming is the shooter, and I feel I am able to make a rather informed decision on this matter.

So what makes the third person shooter the clear choice in my eyes?

Well there are three reasons why I prefer third person shooter to the first person.

First, third person shooters provide the player with a better sense of self. This might sound strange, but let me explain. The third person view is a view that is used in multiple genres of games. Most platformers, adventure games, sports game, and even racing games use the third person view. This means that gamers are comfortable with this angle, and intrinsically know how to move within the space of a level.

When a game is in the first person view, seeing your surroundings and moving is a much more difficult task. Mirror’s Edge, a platforming game released in 2008 was set in the first person view. While this game was met with relatively mixed reviews, it was universally agreed upon that it was a tremendous undertaking to create a functioning platformer in the first person. Simple actions like seeing a ladder to the left of you, or gauging a jump were extremely difficult in the first person view.

The better sense of self leads into the second reason why the third person view is better for shooters. The third person view allows for more creative level design.

I love the Halo and Modern Warfare series, but often times the level design can be a bit too linear or flat. The perfect counterpoint to this is the third person shooter Uncharted 2. Uncharted 2 has maps that are three, sometimes four levels tall, and since the game is in the third person view, it allows for complex platforming. You are capable of scaling the sides of walls, shimming along ledges, and jump from platform to platform, allowing players to find creative paths to escape a gunfight or sneak up on an unsuspecting opponent.

First person shooter levels are handcuffed by the player’s ability to move in space. Most multi-tiered levels use stairwells or ramps to let players move, and while this is perfectly functional, it does not promote the creativity in movement that a third person shooter like Uncharted 2 does.

The third, and final reason why I prefer third person shooters is the cover system.

Gears revolutionized the cover system. By allowing the player to attach to walls, they made it possible to covertly move through levels, as well as hole up and play defensively. (image courtesy of IGN)

Gears of War revolutionized the way third person shooters use cover, and this change has made them significantly more enjoyable than their first person counterparts. When a player is in a third person view, they can easily attach their character to cover, keeping their character and their surroundings in view.

First person shooters cannot use this cover system efficiently. If a player was allowed to attach their character to cover, their view would be whipped around 180 degrees; this would obstruct the player’s view as well be disorienting. So to combat this difficulty, the majority of first person shooters have decided to forgo any form of cover system. Players can stand behind walls, but there is no guarantee that their leg or shoulder isn’t sticking out in the open, welcoming enemy bullets.

With most first person shooters, you have no cover system. So you might as well lay down and pray you don't get shot. (image courtesy of IGN)

The lack of a comprehensive cover system in first person shooters causes many matches to deteriorate into giant mosh-pits of bullets and melee attacks. Too many Halo 3 games resulted with everyone running into the middle of the arena, wildly spraying bullets at the nearest person, just to be shot in the back of the head by the next guy to enter.

Without a way for players to hide effectively, a shooter looses an important layer of strategy. In fact, Rainbow Six Vegas, which is a first person shooter in the popular Rainbow Six series, actually allowed for a Gears of War style cover system, taking the player from a first to third person view when they went into cover.

While I have made my case for the third person view, there are definitely points in favor of the first person perspective.

Seeing the world directly through your character’s eyes, if done properly, can lead to a more immersive experience. Also, since the aiming ridicule is more zoomed in with the first person view, it can make for a more responsive and accurate shooting experience.

Modern Warfare 2 sold roughly 300 million in sales in its first week, so it is rather safe to guess that shooters are here to stay. And whether you enjoy the immersive, tunnel vision of first person shooters, or the more fluid and complex qualities of a third person shooter, it all boils down to personal preference.

But for me, give me the third person view.

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