To say that the first-person shooter market has been oversaturated since about 2007 when Call of Duty 4 hit like an atomic bomb would be an understatement. Since then, developers have been in a perpetual pissing contest with each other to see who can add more unlockables to their multiplayer modes, more shock and awe moments to their campaigns, and prettier textures on the guns. The problem is that, for all of the FPSs to flood the market, the act of firing a gun has remained almost the same.
But can you really make shooting a gun while pressing buttons on a video game controller any more refined at this point? What more could possibly be done to add to the immersion in a shooter? Well, a little game called Mirror’s Edge gave us an idea in 2008, when, despite the fact that shooting wasn’t exactly a focus, players were able to move around their environments in a way that they never could before – with stylish, silky smooth parkour techniques. Fast forward to 2014: Titanfall is not only poised to change the game for shooters with its amalgamation of mechanized and on-foot combat. It also makes the simple act of navigating the environment so fun that it can be easy to forget you’re supposed to be killing people, building off of what Mirror’s Edge started in 2008.
It’s not just a gimmick, either. Running along walls, leaping huge gaps and wall jumping can earn you a significant tactical advantage if you time them correctly and have an eye for a good line across the rooftops. There were multiple times during the beta where, upon losing and having to retreat to the dropship, I made it only because I was able to move so swiftly – jumping off a wall onto a roof top and leaping through windows to take a shortcut through a building. Seeing how not only fun, but immersive and refreshing this approach to moving around the map was got me thinking: could free-running be the next big step forward for the first-person shooter?
Despite the countless FPS titles out there that tell us we are playing as highly trained warriors, their movements have always been awfully robotic. Take Halo, for example, where moving around the map is a pretty rudimentary act, save for the occasional rocket jump. If you’ve ever watched a cinematic Halo trailer, Halo Legends, or read any of the Halo novelizations, you will know that Spartans are much more agile than their video game counterparts would suggest.
Imagine being able to back flip out of the way of an oncoming warthog, land on top of it, and toss the driver out. How about a good ol’ combat roll or even being able to slide out of harm’s way? And that’s just Halo. There are plenty of other shooters out there that could benefit from adopting a more fluid feel to movement.
Granted, this isn’t something that can just be shoehorned into any game. Mirror’s Edge and Titanfall are able to make parkour an effective tactical (and highly enjoyable) option because the levels are designed around the mechanic, with plenty of conveniently placed walls to run across, ledges to mantle, and windows to dive through.
One game that got the overall free-running experience wrong was 2011’s Brink. While developer Splash Damage certainly nailed the free-running aspect, none of the levels were really designed to take advantage of it, being built like the levels in any other first-person shooter. All it really amounted to were a few great opportunities to slide around and do a few cool jumps. Brink showed us that in order to make parkour work, there needed to be levels designed entirely around the mechanic, all while appearing to be organic; something that both Titanfall and Mirror’s Edge managed to do.
The first-person shooter is a stubborn genre. It’s very hard to reinvent a premise that’s ultimately very simple, but after seeing the potential of free-running in Mirror’s Edge and how that applies to a multiplayer arena like Titanfall, I think that this could be the next big thing if more developers take notice and continue to refine the idea. Though Titanfall does it well, there are times when things get just a little glitchy, and I’m bouncing off walls like a maniac when I meant to do something a bit less acrobatic. Once again – this is a mechanic that can be improved if more developers try to give this a try.
What do you think? Could more free-running reinvigorate the stagnant first-person shooter genre? Do you think it even needs to be reinvigorated? Let us know in the comments below!