Is it just me, or is anyone else already getting tired of cover-based shooters? You snap into some cover position, line your crosshair up, pop up and unload a clip into a guy, then duck back into the magical protection of your crate. Occasionally someone will lob a grenade and you have to find another spot. They’re like whack-a-mole shooting galleries, with the only real challenge coming from trying to aim precisely without a crosshair (while ducked). I’m sorry, but I can only take a few short hours of this before I really don’t want to see the mechanic for another year. And yet, more otherwise interesting games come to us every year designed around cover-based shooting. What to do?
Let’s try to fix it. Let’s concept design an alternative version of a cover-based shooter—something to stand out from the crowd for its gameplay.
I like verisimilitude in my games. I feel pretty cool when I am stalking through crowds in renaissance Italy, trying to stab a guy in secret and flee the scene before it gets hairy. What I don’t like is pumping some bastard full of bullets only to have him stumble, then start firing back at me as if nothing happened. I don’t want hundreds of bullets to bounce harmlessly off the top of the car behind which I’m hiding until I pop out, absorb a few bullets, kill one guy, and duck back until the red leaves my screen. I want smaller battles, with more finite enemies. I want a more methodical pace to the battles, with moments of silence and heavy breathing pierced by powerful, weighty blasts. Think shootouts from good westerns instead of John Woo films. How shall we accomplish this, then?
Animations are going to be key.
First thing: no more enemies that can absorb tons of bullets. The guys in this game are going to go down pretty fast. I want more realistic damage modeling. Maybe you don’t even have to kill a guy to take him out of the fight. Maybe he’s shot in the shoulder and he’s a wuss so he’s given up and is trying to stay out of it. Maybe another guy takes a shoulder shot, and does try to keep fighting but with different animations. Maybe he then takes one in the stomach and just lays on the floor screaming for 15 minutes. We need to have a huge number of sort of random possibilities, so it doesn’t feel like you’re mowing down wave after wave of the same coked out guy.
The next thing we need to fix is the aiming system. In a modern cover-based shooter, you generally pop out of cover, line up your shot to where the other guy’s head is when he pops out of cover, duck back down, and wait for him to pop up again so you can also pop and put one in his brain socket. Rinse and repeat till they’re all dead. This is where the challenge is supposed to come from, but I’m sorry, it’s just not interesting. It’s boring. Just give the player a sizable circle in the middle of the screen instead. Your character will auto-aim at any enemy caught within that circle. Oh, you want to get this guy next? Ok, no need to fidget with the controller lining it up perfectly while other guys empty clips at you. Just show us the one you want to hit and we’ll help you. You really just want to see guys die and sh*t fly around anyway, so why put aiming in the way of that enjoyment? Instead, the game should have a LOT of animations. Many multiple animations for every action, so that every time you do an action, there are a multitude of subtle to easily noticeably different ways it can play out. Coupled with the ability to take guys down quickly, it becomes less of a pixel-perfect aim game, and more of a spectative action movie. You can get your entertainment from simply watching the fights play out.
Does it sound too easy now? Let’s add challenge then. Cover is interesting, but I’ve always wondered why you can take careful aim, and shoot an enemy in the foot that’s sticking out a bit from behind his cover to kill him, yet you have a magical 180 degrees in three dimensions shield when you are ducked down. Take that away from the player. If you see an enemy pop out from cover and take a little time lining up his shot before firing, that’s your cue that he’s aiming at some small part of you sticking out that he can see from his position. This is where blindfire becomes important. You were busy getting ready to aim at a different guy, but then you see this asshole lining up a deadly shot from across the way. Just press your blindfire button and you stick your arm up and pop off a few at whoever is not behind cover. You will not be accurate, but the enemy AI will be cautious enough to duck back down into cover. They’ll never just stand there letting you take potshots. Crisis averted.
Finally, with all this realistic violence, varied animations, and cautious enemies, we need everything to have heft. The weapons, the characters, and the physics should feel weighty and part of the world. Also, beefy gun sounds.
So, with cautious, smart AI, different levels of cover protection from different types of objects, more realistic casualties, a large aiming zone, and lots and lots of varied animations, our little cover-based shooter becomes a slower-paced game of position and suppression management while watching all the cool stuff happen. Throw in grenades, destructible cover, and other regulars if you want. I’m curious as to the number of enemies that would balance the challenge and fun with this style.
Well, sorry for the longwinded post, but I’d love to hear thoughts.