When I consider the online multiplayer of a first person shooter (FPS) title there are many aspects to assess before making a judgement on its quality. The feeling, the balance, the fun factor and the depth are all integral parts of a good FPS game.
Being a console gamer I have grown up playing Call of Duty; a game which increasingly is exciting, fluid and well balanced. I do think however that it is a simple game, where a single person can define the outcome of the match just by being good. A game of search and destroy is best played with a team on their mics, making call-outs and thinking through their plan of attack/defense. Here communication may give an advantage, but it isn’t essential: a skillful player can still eradicate a whole team on occasion. Whilst I pine for games where that communication is vital, I do ask myself whether it would actually work on consoles.
Console Gamers – an Umbrella Stereotype?
Are console gamers more casual than PC gamers? As a general rule, I think so. In order to play high end PC games you need a good PC, which can cost ~£400+; and with games getting more and more graphically advanced the higher end models are soon out of date. The higher monetary outputs of gaming PCs don’t equate to the wealth of PC gamers, but they highlight gamers commitment to gaming. Also a lot of PC gamers build their own computers with custom parts so that they can switch them out when needed. This requires an element of know-how which isn’t required of console gamers.
PC game specs are constantly being raised so PC gamers are often forced to replace parts, however with console gaming everything is specifically designed for the machine which you buy. The console generations are long, so once you’re initial purchase is made you can sit back for a bit at least. These are attractive prospects which draw in hundreds of thousands of gamers. The games are mainstream and often get huge advertising campaigns, but does this mean console game developers are too safe with their games?
Headset Troubles and Communication
As we get older and attain more life commitments we have less time to game with our friends. Playing an FPS game with your headset in a private party is great fun, and you can actually coordinate your team. Sitting on your mic without a party of friends on the other hand is… interesting. As a rule, no one uses their mic publicly, and those who do are usually shunned, or just muted. This greatly stunts teamwork in FPS games as it is incredibly difficult to communicate your plans and intentions.
On PC I found a different reception, to my surprise. I played some ‘Killing Floor’ the other day, which is a team-based zombie survival game, and the amount of actual team work was astounding. Alternative methods of communication like typing messages or picking generic lines meant that the team was able to work together without even using their mics! On my Xbox I play Battlefield quite a lot which also uses generic lines such as, “I Need A Medic” or “Get out” [the helicopter]. They’re not used a LOT, but in a number of cases people have actually put “Thanks” after I’ve revived them. Whilst this isn’t a direct example of team work, it encourages me personally to keep supporting my team. Also the implementation of class specific team enhancing aspects (like reviving) with a points reward system for doing so lets people be selfish as well as helping out their fellow man.
Overwatch – Will It ‘Work’ On Consoles?
Overwatch is an upcoming team-based FPS arena shooter from Blizzard, the company who made World of Warcraft, Heros of the Storm and Hearthstone (all very tactical games). Being ‘online only’ and focusing on ‘just’ the multiplayer experience is a contentious move among console gamers, but a lot of PC games (eg. counterstrike) thrive using this method. Overwatch is different to anything we currently have on our consoles. It is a shooter which requires people to compromise. Each overwatch hero has a different strength, and not all of them are designed to be one-man-killing-machines. There are tanks who absorb damage on objectives, support heroes who help out aggressive players, attacking heroes, and defensive heroes. A team of heroes filling the same role is a doomed team. I can’t pretend I know much about Overwatch since the Beta tests have been on PC, but it looks to me like Blizzard have leapt to the cutting edge of the FPS genre.
Will Overwatch be a hit on consoles though? A good game of Battlefield Hardline suggests this is a possibility, but most console gamers may have to change their perspectives. Where a lot of competitive FPS gamers keep a strong leash on their kill/death ratio, the fact that they will have to play as field medics instead of a lithe assassins may go against their ethos. Conversely players who would normally be the fodder of a standard CoD team deathmatch may prefer to act as supportive, or objective pushing heroes to make an impact on the game. Two things are for certain; each role has to be perfectly balanced, and each hero must be FUN to play with, because without the fun, what is the point in playing?
Conclusion – Is this a Fling or a Trend?
Is Blizzard leading a change in the way we play games on consoles? Will there be further bridges between the console and PC platforms? Or will this team orientated style of FPS be wasted on the console community, left starving in the shadow of simpler, less tactical AAA FPS juggernauts?
My personal view is that Overwatch will do itself justice, at least for a new IP (intellectual property). Blizzard shouldn’t expect any hype to last long on consoles purely because (as a general rule) us console gamers like to move on to the next game relatively quickly. So Blizzard’s usual release method of making one incredible game every 10ish years won’t sit with the console crowd. Keeping prices high (like with Diablo 3) would probably be a smart long term business strategy to retain the value of the game.
As for bridging the gap between PC and consoles, I think the difference in hardware really does impact the type of games and the way you play. Also PC gamers, in my view, are more committed and show a different attitude to team-based and strategic games which the large majority of console gamers just don’t have the time and patience for.
Bit of a contentious article, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. What do you think about Overwatch and other upcoming PC releases (Lawbreakers)? Am I right to analyse the different crowds as ‘others’? Or should everyone be put under the same banner, and is console and PC hardware the limiting factor in how communicative and strategic one can be?