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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.


Borderlands Has Over 200,000 Guns, and I Want to See Them All. March 16, 2010

Posted by maxfreund in General, PS3, Xbox 360.
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So Borderlands is last year’s darling. A game that most people didn’t expect much from since it was sandwiched between Halo 3: ODST and Uncharted 2. I hadn’t tried it out until a few weeks ago when my buddy Jeff let me borrow his copy. But I have poured about 15 hours into the game so far, and love it. For anyone who doesn’t know what the game is, watch the video below. Actually, everyone, watch the video below. IGN is a great site, and this video is just one example of the hilarity that spews from their San Fransisco office.

As Dave Claym, *cough*, excuse me, Randy Pitchford explained, Borderland is a shooter through and through. It does one thing and does it well. Drop gamers into an open world, give them thousands and thousands of pretty toys, and make things go boom when they get shot. It is simple, but addictive.

Modern day shooters can sometimes get bogged down in story, morality, and extra additions. When its done well, it can lead to a more well rounded game. But all too often it leads the game away from the central component that makes a shooter great, the combat.

Borderlands strips it all down, and built a shooter that just feels right. Each gun class, and believe me there are many, has its place. Snipers are crisp and clean, allowing for precise headshots from across a level. While shotguns provide players with a satisfyingly indiscriminate spray that wreaks havoc on surrounding enemies.

Your character is also customizable down to the color of their clothing. My level 20 Soldier, Black Thunder, is currently wielding a shotgun with incendiary rounds, while wearing a fashionable yellow chest plate and blue hat. The level of depth here is a wonderful break from the usual brown and gray linear shooters we are all used to.

While the shooting is the key focus, don’t get tricked into thinking there is no story at all. The central focus is around some place called The Vault, a supposed cache of alien technology on your planet. And while this may sound like a tired and cliche central point, the sarcastic, dry, gritty humor of the supporting cast makes the game an enjoyable romp.

I’m going to be honest, the story is just something used to string you from one firefight to another, but I am okay with that. If I wanted a great story, I’d read a book…or play Bioshock 1. I play Borderlands to shoot things.

Bioshock 2 Falls Short February 20, 2010

Posted by maxfreund in General, PS3, Xbox 360.
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Before I begin, I want to warn people there will be a few spoilers in this post, so if you want to enter Bioshock 2 without any knowledge, be warned that this post may ruin some things for you.

So I grabbed my new, shiny copy of Bioshock 2 on launch day, with hopes that it would build upon my favorite game of this generation, Bioshock. And while I thoroughly enjoyed returning to Rapture, and seeing the world through Subject Delta’s eyes, I couldn’t help but feel that the game was missing something.

While the chance to play as a Big Daddy may entice some, the return to Rapture simply lacks the thrill of the first game.

For those who do not know, Bioshock 2 is set roughly 10 years after the first game ended, and Rapture is under the rule of Sophia Lamb, a community oriented ruler who was a fierce rival of Andrew Ryan. The story circulates around Eleanor Lamb, Sophia’s daughter who was once your little sister (you play as the first Big Daddy). The game takes you on a wild goose chase through many environments, and culminates with you finding Eleanor and Dr. Lamb. I will leave the gritty details out for those who have not gotten that far.

As I sit here, I find it hard to write more, because I am conflicted. Bioshock 2 is by no means a bad game. The combat is very similar to the first game, but improves upon it by provides you with the ability to duel wield plasmids and weapons. The world is as beautifully creepy as ever, but is just stale.

Bioshock 1 was a complete story. It ended with the death of the two major villains, and with the rescuing of the little sisters. There was no opening for a direct sequel, and yet Bioshock 2 found a way to weasel in. They leaned heavily upon Augustus Sinclair, the one character mentioned in the first game but not shown, and that felt forced. I also kept asking myself through Bioshock 2, why wasn’t Lamb ever talked about in the first game if she was such an important figure during the fall of Rapture. The true answer is she was not conceived during the first game’s production, but when playing Bioshock 2, it just felt illogical that someone of her importance in the world would be completely missing from the first game.

I guess what I am saying is the second Bioshock tries to occupy a space that isn’t there. It is like when a child tries to fit his square peg into the circle hole. Bioshock 2, if it must be created, was a prequel peg, yet was forced into the sequel slot. The fall of Rapture would have made a compelling story. Getting to see the city before it crumbled, and experience the civil war from within, and not through left over audio logs would have been exhilarating, but instead 2K took the safe route of “more of the same”.

And alas that is what Bioshock 2 is. It is the same scrumptious birthday cake, just after it has sat out on the counter for a few days. It still tastes good, brings back good memories, but is a bit crusty around the edges. You keep eating it, but you know you have had better. If you played Bioshock 1 and loved it and thought it was the greatest piece of gaming in this console generation and want to keep that taste in your mouth, then I cannot blame you for skipping Bioshock 2. But if you want to return to the world of Rapture and get a little bit more, experience a few exciting encounters, and see more of the world you love, then by all means grab Bioshock 2.

Its not bad. I in fact would go as far as saying its a good shooter, it just isn’t the Bioshock 2 I wanted.

Trophies and Achievements are Pointless…but I like Trophies. January 17, 2010

Posted by maxfreund in General, PS3, Xbox 360.
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As a person who has owned both a 360 and a PS3, I have had plenty of experience with both the trophy and achievement rewards system.

For anyone who does not know what they are, they are a rewards system that developers can implement in their games. Any task in a game from beating the final boss on a certain difficulty, to collecting 100 doodads can net you any number of achievement points (if you are playing the 360) or a gold/silver/bronze trophy (for those who game on the PS3). This small measure of reward has no actual function beyond displaying your personal escapades within a game, but most people I have talked to agree that they are a useful way to entice multiple play throughs of games.

Recently, Greg Miller of the IGN Playstation Team, and Charles Onyett of the IGN Xbox Team posted dueling editorials outlining the positives and negatives of each system, and for those who are interested in learning about their full opinions, you can find them here and here.

While Mr. Miller is a self-proclaimed PS3 fanboy, you can expect that his preference lies with the Play Station system. While Mr. Onyett focused more on problems with achievements/trophies that required obnoxious replays, level grinding, or possibly sabotaging a multiplayer game for personal benefit.

I agree with much of what Charles says, their is nothing more frustrating then sitting down to complete a game, and realizing there is some small bronze trophy, or 5 point achievement that is going to take hours and hours of pointless grinding to obtain. That is obnoxious, and is discouraging to players who love a game and wish to complete it.

But for the main point of this piece, let us consider that all things being equal, every achievement or trophy is obtainable in a reasonable manner, and you set off on your quest to complete the game.

Look Ma! I got a Platinum Trophy! I truly belong now!

I recently did this for the first time on the PS3, as evident by my little portable ID on the right hand column of this site. I got a platinum trophy for completing Uncharted 2. And this, my friends, is the whole reason why the trophy system is better.

I had an Xbox 360 for 2 years, and reached 1000/1000 achievement points on both Bioshock and Gears of War. But when I reached that pinnacle of success within each game, i was rewarded with nothing, no extra point boost or emblem of success.

But when I got the last of the bronze/silver/ and gold trophies in Uncharted 2, I got the platinum trophy. Which not only provided me with a hefty point boost in the PS3 trophy leveling system, which is thoroughly detailed in Greg Miller’s piece, but gave me a nice shiny platinum emblem which shows my accomplishment to the gaming world.

It may be a small thing, but can make a big difference to someone who just spent hours and hours trying to complete a game. The Platinum trophy provides a cap to the game, a virtual pat on the back that says, “good job, you did something special here,” and to some gamers that can make all the difference.