It’s still early in the new generation of video game consoles – I know that – but let’s face it: outside of prettier graphics, there isn’t much going on in these games on a mechanical level that we haven’t seen before. Last-gen consoles rocked the video game industry with innovations that brought unique experiences and new ways to play. We haven’t quite seen that with next-gen just yet.
Luckily, E3 2014 showed us some new things we haven’t seen before, such as the procedurally-created galaxy in the upcoming No Man’s Sky. Sunset Overdrive brings a skater feel we haven’t seen since Jet Set Radio Future to the shooter genre. Meanwhile, Dying Light is using parkour to create a survival horror game that is as much about killing zombies as it is dynamically moving through the environment. Battle Cry takes Team Fortress and makes it all about melee weapons. And I reckon the 4v1 competitive multiplayer in Evolve will shake things up for shooters, as well. These are all — although the mechanics might be old — ways that companies are bringing new experiences to next-gen consoles. For all the new, we’d love to see some of these older gameplay mechanics make it into next-gen:
Infighting – Doom
This is something you really had to pay attention to see while wading through hordes of demon spawn, but if you ever saw an imp inadvertently send a fireball into the back of an undead marine, you would notice that the marine would promptly turn around and start unloading on the inaccurate imp. Not only am I uncertain if enemies are capable of shooting each other in modern shooters on accident, but I am also certain that I have never seen infighting that wasn’t scripted by the plot.
Scaling Objectives – Perfect Dark, Ghost Recon, GoldenEye 007
Increasing the difficulty nowadays means that otherwise idiotic enemies all of a sudden become sharpshooters and you’re the weakest one-man army on the face of your video game’s digital earth (or whichever planet, fictional or otherwise, it might take place on). Ghost Recon, Perfect Dark, and GoldenEye 007 made increasing the difficulty worth it, however, by offering more objectives and access to different parts of the levels, in addition to tougher enemies and less health.
Stress Meter – Metal Gear Solid
One thing that is hard to convey to gamers is just how genuinely taxing being in a battlefield can be on the human psyche. Even when you aren’t engaged in combat, the threat of death is everywhere, and that takes a toll. Metal Gear Solid 3 and 4 used a stress system that affected Snake’s performance in combat if his stress was too high, causing lower accuracy and, if the meter got too high, could even make him pass out. Considering just how intense shooters are today, how is this not an everyday gameplay mechanic? It would add a lot more tension to larger shootouts, where, for example, if you started missing your targets and began to be overwhelmed, your character would succumb to battle fatigue. Seeing mental stress bleed into gameplay forces players to think about what they’re doing in shooters just a little more.
Planning Phase – Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon
Remember when tactical shooters were a thing? Do you weep silently for them every day? No? That’s just me? Okay. Anyhow, vintage Tom Clancy games, such as Rainbow Six, had intricate planning phases before each mission, where you could give your fireteams set paths to follow and waypoints at which to carry out specific actions, such as breaching doors, tossing flashbangs, and raining a hellfire of bullets on terrorist scum. Outside of RTS games, there isn’t really anything like this in the modern shooter climate. It looks like Rainbox Six: Siege will bring back tactical shooters in a big way in 2015. Finally.
Counter-Operative – Perfect Dark
I’ve oozed endlessly about the merits of Perfect Dark, but this is one of the most novel ideas the game had. While Titanfall may have a campaign where humans are pitted against humans, it’s not quite the same as Counter-Operative. Rather than being an equally-powerful adversary, one person would take on the role of Joanna Dark, while the other would take on the role of the henchmen throughout the level, adopting their low health and inferior weaponry. After being killed by Joanna, the player would simply be moved to the next henchmen. It was a very unique challenge.
Persistent Wars – Chromehounds
Chromehounds had a lot of promise, coupled with pretty solid delivery, that unfortunately didn’t click with consumers. The robot combat was slow and complicated, and customizing your robot was a daunting undertaking. Though the accessibility was poor, the creativity of the online suite wasn’t. Taking place between three factions was a persistent war whose winner was determined after one faction took over the most territories, the map resetting afterwards. Each time the war was reset, you had the opportunity to select a new faction to side with. No, you can’t play it anymore, and it sucks. Bethesda’s new online competitive multiplayer game Battle Cry will use this kind of mechanic to make their battles feel more epic.
Elite Squad Members – Ghost Recon
Minus the average idiotic friendly A.I. grunts that get mowed down like blades of grass and the equally idiotic story-related A.I. compatriots that can’t die, there really isn’t much of a division between any of the soldiers you fight alongside in terms of talent and ability. Ten years ago, though, Ghost Recon was incorporating elite operatives into its ranks, whom you could select pre-mission. These soldiers were better shots, both when you took control of them and when you switched away from them, had better equipment, and were usually specialized in some area or another, such as stealth or demolitions. These guys felt like genuine VIPs not just because of their skills, but because if they died out in the field, they stayed dead. When was the last time a shooter had stakes like that? Also, with the way many shooters moving in an RPG direction (See Borderlands and Destiny), it wouldn’t be so outrageous to see hero characters like this pop up.
Less is More – Tactical Shooters
This isn’t so much a mechanic as it is a design choice. Whereas many developers today seem to be fellating every ounce of Michael Bay’s cinematic bombast and turning their games into shooting galleries with hundreds of dumb enemies, shooters back in the day were much more understated…and made more sense. Rather than mowing down 100 enemies in a level with little resistance put up on their part, there were probably around 15 to 20 enemies a mission, each of which was capable of putting you down in one or two shots, which spiked the tension. Also, and this is directed at modern shooters, how the fuck do these mercenaries operating on the fringes of government awareness amass these huge armies and purchase tens of multi-million-dollar attack helicopters? Can anyone answer me this?
Camo – Metal Gear Solid
I often wonder why shooters even dress their characters up in camouflage. Sure, they’re shooting for realism (that’s what’s called a pun. Don’t ever use them), but it’s so deceitful. Here I am thinking that my fatigues actually offer some sort of protection from enemy sights, but after seeing the “Game Over” screen for the fifth time, I realize that this is not at all the case. Metal Gear Solid 3 had an incredibly in-depth camouflage system that had players switch their uniforms to best suit the environment. Even if we aren’t switching our uniforms around all of the time, couldn’t we at least see our camoflage have some effect on how the game is played? This is especially true for games in the stealth genre.
Active Reload – Gears of War
Okay, we know that a next-gen Gears of War is all but inevitable, but the point still stands that no shooters have tried to offer up their interpretation of that game’s active reload system. Anyone who’s reloaded a gun in real life knows that it’s not as easy as the slick animations in your favorite shooter would have you believe, especially while on the move. Even if a game didn’t directly rip off the active reload, what if certain shooters forced players to stand still while reloading? There are plenty of shooters out there that have the average joe picking up a gun (see: Homefront and Half-Life) and taking a stand against evil, and I know there’s no way they have enough experience to reload a gun on the move. Long story short, Gears of War showed us how reloading can become a bigger part of gameplay, and I would be plenty interested in seeing other developers try to reinvent an age-old mechanic in the shooter genre.
Obviously, I couldn’t possibly think of every unique feature that every old game ever had, but I’m sure you guys can! Let them be heard in the comments!