You know what’s a really good feeling? When you’re playing a shooter and you get caught off guard. Maybe you were trying to be stealthy. Maybe you just didn’t realize there were enemies there. Maybe you went running in guns blazing and the opposition turned out to be tougher than expected. Regardless of the reason why, you’re left in a tricky position. The enemy knows where you are. There’s no cover to be found. You didn’t bring nearly enough ammo. What’re you going to do?
You enter the zone, that’s what you do.
Somehow, every bullet finds the precise mark. You have three in the magazine, all three bullets kill someone. You drop the gun and sprint forward, gaining a brief bit of cover and slide into a melee takedown. Then you pick up your hapless victim’s gun and turn it on his allies. Wash, rinse, repeat. In the end, you’re left on top, bewildered by your own amazing skill.
Now admittedly, that’s a complex feeling to describe to someone. It’s not something I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about. In all my time gaming, however, I’m not sure anything comes close to how good that feels. I’m pretty sure a good number of people out there know exactly what I’m talking about. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a game that revolved around that?
Back in 2006 a small title got released. You may have heard of it, it was called Gears of War. It wasn’t the first game to use cover in a third-person shooter, but it was the game that made it great. A huge part of that was “magnetic cover” mechanic. Players could simply hit a button while standing next to cover to duck down behind it. Then other button prompts allowed to them interact with the cover. They could blind fire over it, for example, or stand up and aim.
Needless to say it was a huge success. Within years that same mechanic was repeated again and again in game after game. It got to the point where even first-person shooters were trying to implement the mechanic (looking at you, Deus Ex), though few actually did it well (still looking at you, Deus Ex).
It got to be, to put it lightly, a bit much. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. I love Gears and the cover system it brought to the proverbial gaming table. It changed the game and mostly for the better.
But cover systems are like World War II. It’s great to have them connected to a shooter. Too much of it, though, quickly gets stale. You want something new, something different. You don’t want to fight in some hundred year old war. You want to fight in space!
What’s that? People aren’t excited about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, shooter set in space? They ARE excited about Battlefield 1, shooter set in World War I? Yes, I know, and this only proves my point. After a solid decade of World War II shooters, we got a solid decade of modern shooters that slowly evolved into sci-fi shooters. Now we want something new.
But we’re getting far afield. Clearly people like to have new stuff. At the same time, cover systems are right on the verge of becoming a little stale. So what would be a good way to break that up? A game that revolves around constantly moving and executing your enemies with unexpected split-second maneuvers.
Savvy readers might be shouting at their computers right now, trying to tell me about Sunset Overdrive. Those readers should be chastised and reminded that I can’t hear them.
Yes, Sunset Overdrive arose from the same sort of cover-based-lethargy I’m talking about. The game revolves around constant, impossibly acrobatic movement. This charges up the character, making them harder to kill and more powerful at the same time.
The problem, for me, is that the game is extremely cartoony and gimmicky. It’s a fun game, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have the sort of tangible lethality I’m looking for. I want to dispatch my enemies with ruthless efficiency. I want to feel like I’m constantly on the edge of death, holding it at bay with my own careful precision.
The kind of game I’m proposing has three critical components to it: forced but effective movement, mechanical lethality, and ease of replayability.
First off the forced but effective movement. This is tricky at first but resolves itself after a fashion. The game has to force the player to move as often as possible, not just horizontally but vertically. We want the game to be as dynamic as possible, with constant acrobatic movement. At the same time, the tools for this movement need to be there. The character needs to be able to sprint, duck, jump, climb, slide, and vault. We don’t want to ever stop moving while we’re playing this game.
The problem at first is, “How can we force the player to use these tools and actually move?” The problem answers itself after a fashion. The enemies will have to abuse a character that tries to hide in a corner. They’ll use aggressive assaults and flanking tactics. Trying to stay bunkered will just get you pinned. You need to stay moving and constantly reevaluating the fight. Additionally, if the tools for movement are there, the player will want to move all on their own.
Second we have mechanical lethality. This is a little difficult to describe. What I’m talking about here is always having access to a solid, effective way of killing your target. It doesn’t mean you’ll actually HAVE the tool to kill them, just that you’re always able to get one. This might mean that you have to pick up a pipe as you rush to melee attack an enemy. It might mean you have to pick up a shotgun as you do a knee slide so you can fire it as you round a corner.
It also doesn’t mean easy. This shouldn’t be a game where every button press nets you a kill. At the same time though, enemies shouldn’t be bullet sponges. There needs to be a way to kill your targets in a concise manner. Maybe that means some enemies can only be killed with certain weapons, or from a certain angle. This’ll turn every fight into a puzzle as you try to figure out exactly what you need to do to kill your foes.
Lastly, the game needs to have ease of replayability. This is also a little confusing, but it’s important. We’re talking about a game where the player executes the perfect blitz through a line of enemies. Obviously this isn’t going to go well the first time. Or the first several times. So when players mess up, it can’t take long for them to jump right back in. The simple explanation is to optimize saving and loading. The Trials games are a good example of this.
I think it would be cool to take this a step further. What if the constant resetting were part of the games mechanics? Supposed that every time the character died, instead of respawning time would rewind. Maybe it goes back a set distance, or the player can go back as far as they want. Maybe a combination of the two. When a player messes up they don’t really “die”, they just go back to where their chain of lethal perfection messed up and continued from there. At the end of the level, the players could be shown an animation of their perfect runthrough.
Obviously this game would be more complicated than I’m describing. The mechanics don’t have any story attached to them. Some of the mechanics (particularly the rewind one) would need effort to make work in a story well. If it did all come together though? This game would be an absolute blast. You’d be the ultimate deadly warrior, constantly jumping from one kill to the next. It would just make you feel cool. And you know what?
I’d buy it.