The shooter is dead. Long live the shooter.
At first glance, new Microsoft-exclusive release Titanfall may appear quite familiar. Oh, a multiplayer, first-person military shooter in a sci-Fi setting. Where have I seen that one before?
And sure, mech game Titanfall does fall into that category - noisy, shoot-shoot-bang-bang games - but when you play it, you get the feeling that it's actually a little bit different to things you've played before. I really, truly believe that Titanfall will be one of the main influencers of new games for the newest generation of consoles.
It got me thinking. While shooters certainly have their tropes, they have really evolved and been refined since Goldeneye on the N64. New shooters are introducing, or at least popularising, new mechanics all the time.
There's Counter-Strike, which brought multiplayer shooters to the masses in Internet cafes everywhere. Halo, which can be credited for popularising regenerating health. Call of Duty, while incredibly formulaic, influenced a huge number of games to offer players unlockables, customisations and (of course) kill streaks.
And now there's Titanfall - at once incredibly familiar and strangely different. There are a couple of things that make this newcomer unlike the others, but the first one you notice is the way you move.
If you play shooters, you're probably used to playing at ground level. If you want to survive playing Titanfall, you're going to have to get over that. Quick.
But once you do, you're rewarded. As a 'pilot' in Titanfall you sprint around the map, double-jumping to high ledges and running along walls to avoid detection. You climb up to the highest vantage point you can, lightning-fast, just like that. Because you can, and it's fun, and it makes you feel powerful.
The movement and rhythm of Titanfall feels more like the parkour of Mirror's Edge than the slow stumbling of your characters in Gears of War. It speeds up everything about the gameplay. And after experiencing it, I'm sure that more game developers are going to adopt the style. It's actually often more fun to run around the map on foot than it is to hop in your big, slow mech.
Then there's the burn card system - one-use items that give you a boost for just one life. The idea of boosts isn't exactly uncommon, but the execution in Titanfall is novel. You can only take three with you into any one battle, and they vary wildly in terms of their usefulness. They are essentially a more fair kill streak system - you're rewarded with burn cards if you do well, but if you're not so great you'll still pick up a few. And no matter whether you're good or bad, you'll be able to use your burn cards to gain the advantage at any point.
All this is not to say that Titanfall doesn't borrow a lot from its predecessors. All shooters essentially do, and the company that made it, Respawn Entertainment, was bound to take plenty of inspiration from Call of Duty. The developers who make up Respawn started as a slighted group of employees who had once worked for Call of Duty's creator, Infinity Ward. As a result, the way you feel while playing can be quite similar. The similarities are all in the way a gun feels to fire, or the sounds that are being made around you. Gun and sound design is more critical in shooters than most gamers take the time to think about.
It's still early days in this new generation of consoles, and there are undoubtedly a lot of great games to come that will be influenced by and continue to influence other games. But Titanfall has a big head start - it's the only game I've played on this generation of consoles that feels truly modern in terms of look, feel, and ideas.
The game might only hold that crown for so long - the new game from the creators of Halo, Destiny, is coming later this year - but for now it's the only game I know of that's selling systems in bulk. That makes it incredibly valuable, and developers will be trying to replicate that success.
* Do you think shooter games have changed? Post your comment below.