Editorial / Is 2012 the year of the third-person shooter?

It’s been a long time since we had a line-up this good in the third person shooter genre. With quality titles such as Max Payne 3, Hitman: Absolution and Ghost Recon: Future Solider all dropping sometime this year it looks like 2012 could be shaping up into the best year for third person shooters this generation.

Looking through my collection I realised it was roughly 3:1 quality first person to third person shooters, and whilst the former genre did extremely well in 2011 with titles such as Crysis 2, RAGE, Battlefield 3, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the latter was extremely limited for choice with enjoyable but lacklustre titles such as Red Faction: Armageddon and Warhammer 40K: Space Marine filling the roster.

This year sees the return of the third person genre in a big way, with many of the titles hoping to modernise, revitalise and revolutionise the way we play third person shooters, but when there’s just as many quality first person shooter titles on the way is it possible for third person shooters to reign supreme this year? This article takes a look at the more innovative and exciting titles coming this year in an attempt to find out!

Bullet time remains at the heart of Max Payne 3.

To me Max Payne 3 is the very definition of what a third person shooter aims to be, giving the player complete 360 degree control of the character with a focus on refined, balanced combat. The animation in Max Payne 3 is outstanding, offering absolute control in a completely believable way. You can really feel the action as continued physicality takes a visual toll on Max. Bullet Time makes its triumphant return, finding both aggressive and defensive applications; allowing for stylish, brutal kills whilst helping Max even the odds against countless hordes of enemies. Its meter replenishes based on the risks you take, and how skilful and precise your shots are, inviting the player into a high risk/reward mechanic. Dispatching the final enemy rewards the player with complete control over a stylised and unique kill cam, with players able to slow down and pan around the bullets as they make their way towards, through and out of the last enemy in the room. Series fans will be glad to know Max Payne’s signature film noir influences are present in gameplay and cut scene alike, with an in house comic panel generator powering the cut scenes between and during missions as exploring the environment rewards players with additional scenes. Rockstar Games promise notable differences in the competence of AI enemies, with street gangs and militia showing notable differences in tactics to professionally trained military.

Multiplayer offers the same 360 degree gameplay as single player in a competitive environment, and may be the first game to fully implement Bullet Time in a competent way. Activating Bullet Time traps all enemies in that player’s line of sight, and is a brilliant implementation of core single player gameplay mechanics in a way that doesn’t compromise the artistic vision. This results in much more than the throwaway vanilla experiences seen in countless previous shooters that are unable to properly implement their core mechanics into multiplayer.

Taking a guard out whilst remaining undetected in Hitman: Absolution.

We already know that Square Enix can make competent third person shooters; Just Cause 2 was one of my favourite titles of 2010, offering players a ridiculously huge sandbox environment with almost countless solutions. Square Enix is set to include some of that freedom into Hitman: Absolution. With very limited gameplay footage it seems that Agent 47 looks, and feels better than ever. Using a limited pool of energy, players will be able to use abilities such as Instinct, which tracks enemies through surfaces, allowing the player to take advantage of enemies predicted paths. Whilst this seeks to reduce a lot of the trial and error frustration found in the previous titles, those gunning for the coveted Silent Assassin rank on higher difficulties will realise their pool of energy is less abundant, scaling in an attempt to force the player to predict movement patterns on their own. Whilst the core stealth mechanics remain a priority, it’s clear Square Enix have implemented decent shooting mechanics for those less stealthy in their approach, or for those who favour the 9mm over the garrotte wire. Depending on the situation, some enemies will attempt to arrest Agent 47 over outright killing him, and the player can use this situation to turn a potential game over to their advantage, possibly grabbing a hostage and weapon in the process. If you do manage to take a hostage, enemies approach you with caution, showing real consideration for their human life that you’ve put between you and them. It’s great to see a game finally adopt realistic reactions to hostage taking, instead of automatically emptying everything they have into their so called colleague or friend.

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier takes a leaf out of Dead Space’s HUD.

There’s a clear focus on co-operative gameplay for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (a preview of which can be found here). You can play the entire campaign with 4 human players, taking full advantage of the Tag and Execute system which encourages players to personally tag an enemy, allowing for simultaneous takedown of up to 4 enemies at one time. Different classes and load outs encourages supportive gameplay. You might have one player providing sniper support, another piloting a UAV providing over watch, relaying enemy positions, with the final two players engaging enemies in close quarters. Ubisoft claim to have been working closely with undisclosed military factions, and claim that most, if not all, of the military hardware is in development for future use somewhere in the world. This provides a grounded anchor for the futuristic gameplay elements such as Optical Camo, (a suit of tiny cameras which project what they see on the opposite side of the body, making the player appear close to invisible), and elements of Exo-Skeleton (allowing players additional speed, carry weight and strength).

Multiplayer brings the same squad based co-operative gameplay to horde mode through Guerrilla Mode, Ghost Recon’s answer to the ever present horde mode. Players face off against waves of enemies, defending an unfixed position (headquarters) for 9 rounds with bonuses providing assistance, such as full intel on enemies, carpet bombs, UAV missile drones and deployable mounted turrets. Surviving 9 waves rewards players with a stealth wave wherein enemies will be oblivious to the players, with each stealth kill providing mounting bonuses until the enemies are alerted to your presence. The set of 10 waves repeats until the players are killed or the successful number of rounds is met. Difficulty scales according to number of players, with more enemies in Guerrilla Mode and more lethality in the campaign. There’s a clear emphasis on stealthy, co-operative gameplay here, and for someone who’s beginning to tire of the run and gun mentality found in Call of Duty hopefully it will offer a deep and robust alternative.

The Ghost Recon Network (Ubisoft’s answer to Call of Duty Elite) allows players to customise weapons in the same expansive Gunsmith found on the disc and receive challenges on the move through tablet and smartphone iOS applications. Players can also publish load outs, allowing other players to download and synchronise with their account so the load out will instantly playable when they load up the game when they get home, which is a nice touch for community gameplay. All the usual stats and hit maps are present, providing a service on par or arguably more in-depth than COD Elite for free.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Although we can expect yet another Call of Duty title this fall, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s even more multiplayer focused than prior titles. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was arguably one long massive adrenaline fuelled corridor after the next with very little juxtaposition. Between crawling through the rubble of a nuclear attack, gunning down innocents in airports and witnessing the death of families in bio-terrorist attacks I really can’t see what shock and awe the next Call of Duty game can rely on. EA have also announced Medal of Honor: Warfighter, but nothing of what has already been shown leads me to believe that anything from that title will be particularly innovative so although I’ll likely still pick them both up, I won’t be covering those titles here.

Elizabeth in front of BioShock Infinite’s skyrail systems.

BioShock Infinite offers one of the few shooter experiences that focuses just as much on an expansive story as it does on competent shooter mechanics. The childlike, naivety of Elizabeth plays off Bookers weathered experience in an engaging way only Drake and Elena from Uncharted 3 or Monkey and Trip from Enslaved: Odyssey to the West can hope to rival, and their relationship drives the story of the game. The residents of Columbia see Elizabeth as the solution to their problems but she wants out, and Booker is there to make sure she does. Elizabeth is able to use tears to bring in a multitude of gameplay options; weapons, cover, turrets, allies and access to unobtainable geometry, which offer a multitude of gameplay options in each unique situation. You could play the same encounter five times, but if you’re low on health in one encounter you might tear in cover, if you’re out of ammo you might tear in some additional firepower, but if you’ve lined up a number of enemies you might tear in a cable car to smash into them and take them all out. Using the skyhook to get around gives the player complete control of timings and jumps. In one instance, a zeppelin is called in as reinforcement and Booker is given the option of attacking from range, getting Elizabeth to tear in a rocket turret or use the skylines to take it out from the inside. Between the skyhook and tears, players are provided with a complete arsenal of almost limitless possibilities. Staple  themes from the BioShock series remain, with Elizabeth and Songbird’s relationship reminiscent of the prior games Little Sisters and Big Daddies, whereas choice plays a larger role as  the player is given mere seconds to make critical story driven decisions. The game looks great too, utilising sun shafts, fog effects and colour grading from the 2010 Unreal Dev Kit.

The Gunzerker’s skill tree from Borderlands 2.

The story of Borderlands wasn’t the most impressive, but the MMORPG elements and countless weapons more than made up for it. Borderlands 2 continues the staple cell shaded look, whilst focusing more on a more impressive story, tying in the original Vault Hunters and NPCs from the first game. The new playable classes offer a multitude of customisation options that result in player classes more commonly found in the MMORPG genre such as tank, DPS, healer and support. Gearbox Software have promised increased variety in skills and enemies, and a greater role for grenades and shields. The now rare ability to play split screen shows an overall emphasis on co-op, and whilst you can easily play the game alone, a complete team of 4 different classes and abilities offers the most complete experience, and ensures the party can deal with all variety of encounters. Enemy AI has also seen significant improvement, with enemies limping when hurt, allowing players to refocus on more pressing threats. Each manufacturer now offers general characteristics for their weapons; Jakobs are generally more powerful whereas Vladof have the highest firing rate. Setting the game five years in the future allows Gearbox to create a completely new plot and include new areas such as forested and tundra. The bullet sponge arcade feel to Borderlands is a welcome title in comparison to the multitude of realistic one shot one kill games on the market.

Taking advantage of warring factions in Far Cry 3.

Far Cry 3’s open world sandbox gameplay is not regularly seen in first person shooters. In direct juxtaposition to the corridor gameplay of the Call of Duty franchise, Far Cry 3 allows the player to take full advantage of the expansive environment. Players who focus on stealth can opt for a sniper rifle and silenced pistol, picking off targets from a distance, or sneaking in and taking them out silently whereas aggressive players can drive a mounted 50.cal straight into the fray, lighting up enemies with a flamethrower and throwing grenades and molotovs in all directions. Players also have a number of takedowns at their disposal; players can approach an enemy from behind and steal his knife, silently killing him and throwing the knife into another for a second, and silent kill or charge an enemy from the front, rip the pin from a grenade and kick him into a group of enemies. Taking on the role of Jason Brody on his gap year gone wrong adventure is much easier for the demographic of young male gamers to relate to than taking on the persona of a professional soldier, and will hopefully aid those who like to role-play.

With quality titles on both side of the shooter genre, it’s difficult to claim that third person shooters will reign supreme over first person shooters in 2012. However with the upcoming quality and innovation shown in the above titles, as a gamer I’m simply excited to jump right in. I doubt any of the titles explored above will outsell Call of Duty this year, but critically speaking the six titles above will definitely give them a run for their money in any shooter awards category.