Over the weekend I had the chance to play The Division on Xbox One. Since many articles online will explain to you the fine details of the beta, I will not do this. Rather, this post will highlight areas of contention I have with a portion of Paul Tassi’s review of the game where he gives little credit to the shooter mechanics. I hope the reader will find it fun to take part in this rant.
Paul Tassi writes an article detailing the reasons why the game Destiny shouldn’t be compared to The Division. I don’t disagree on this major point. I disagree with how little he commended The Division for their superb shooting mechanics. He writes:
One thing that doesn’t feel like it’s going to change all that much? The shooting mechanics. While I’ve said that The Division’s strengths lie in its weapon customization and its (potentially cool) skill trees, gameplay itself does not have that Destiny “hook,” where the mere act of shooting a gun and killing an enemy is a gratifying sensory experience.
Shooting in The Division is fine. It’s a competent cover-based third-person shooter, yet I certainly wouldn’t put gunplay as one of its strengths. Despite not being annoyed with bullet-sponge enemies as much as I thought I would be, the fact remains that the shooting just isn’t anything to write home about. Other games have iconic “feels” to them, Destiny, Halo, Call of Duty, Gears of War, and so on. The Division just…doesn’t. Maybe that will change after dozens of hours of gameplay, but for now, one of the main draws of Destiny, its impeccable gunplay, is not replicated here.
The first part of this statement defines his preference to the shooting mechanics of Destiny and the gratification received when making a kill. While I would never say the shooting mechanics in Destiny are bad, are they phenomenal or truly innovative? My opinion is they feel like the upgraded version of mixing id Tech 3 and Unreal Engine 3 (both gaming engines that are popular in shooters. In other words, Destiny’s shooter mechanics are an updated version of mixing Bungie’s Halo with Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty. Evolved? Yes. Truly innovative? No. Every game that Tassi listed as examples for the “iconic feel” were all based on these gaming engines save for Destiny (which built its own engine, even though it is most likely a similar rendition of either id tech or Unreal). As Wikipedia says:
All four installments of the Gears of War series used a modified version of the Unreal Engine 3 engine.
Even Black Ops 3, as Jasmine Henry explains, is a rendition of the core id Tech 3 engine:
It’s understandable, then, for fans to assume that all of this new gameplay would require a new game engine in order for it to run smoothly, but according to Black Ops 3‘s multiplayer director Dan Bunting, that isn’t the case. Speaking to GamesRadar, Bunting explained that the upcoming game is using a modified version of an old engine (Quake 3 Arena id Tech 3).
Comparing Third Person, Cover-based Shooters to First-person, non-cover based Shooters.
I don’t believe it is fair to compare cover-based and first-person shooters when discussing shooting mechanics. The difference in how players manipulate their character is enough of a dichotomy between the mechanics of one over the other without including any other aspect of the game. Tassi’s only example of fairly comparing gaming mechanics – “apples to apples” – is mentioning Gears of War. If he admits that he has a preference for first-person shooters that are not cover-based, there is no issue. My conjecture is that Tassi doesn’t enjoy cover-based shooters as much as traditional first-person shooters. Clarifying this for readers would be helpful.
Why Gaming Engines Matter
It is important to understand that innovation in first person shooters lies at the root of innovation within the gaming engine. If you are aware the game you’re playing has a brand new engine, it is important to be conscientious of the subtle differences in those shooting mechanics and to understand that your bias to the enjoyment of previous games played has everything to do with the pigeonholed perspective you’ve obtained from playing multiple scenarios with those engines. When you experience a shooting mechanic that is based upon a newly created gaming engine, your sensitivity to finding where those developers made forward strides is important. This means you must understand that your habit of playing on certain game engines will bias your opinion. Otherwise, and I believe this is what Tassi has done, you miss entirely the innovation that a developer brings to the shooting genre. Other than NPC’s who are shooting sponges, the shooting mechanics in The Division make it feel like you’re shooting at real people. The developers attempted to create something novel and many of us will agree they’ve succeeded; I’m here to give a voice to those who do.
First, let me say that my subjective measurement of value on what constitutes an “iconic feel” in first person-shooters is how “realistic” the game feels. I give Battlefield: Bad Company 2 a lot of credit because of this and I de-credit the COD games for the same reason. Namely, I believe that it is much easier for developers to create fantastical shooting mechanics than it is to create realistic ones. This is because whenever a developer cannot create a realistic mechanic, they can chalk it up to the fantasy based aspect of the game, making the argument that realism isn’t necessary to achieve. Since realism is known to every gamer, each is an authentic critic to almost every aspect of shooter mechanics. However, in developing fantastical shooting scenarios where, for example, the body of a human is able to move at exceptional speed (like in COD), the developers are not held to a standard that anyone can judge them by. Unrestrained by the barriers that realism would place upon them, developers can use their imagination to run wild on whatever gaming mechanics fit their notion. This is not a bad thing, except that gamers will often times give too much credit (or become too addicted) to this standard and lose a refined taste for realism. A game like The Division places emphasis on realism. I also predict that cover-based shooters are harder to design than those which are not. Taking cover behind an object requires a physical design whereby developers create a relationship with every such object. Cover-based shooters are also more realistic because in real life- you would take cover when being fired upon. This is probably why many first person shooters never had this innovation. Designing for realism is more difficult to do.
The Snowdrop Engine
The Division’s gaming mechanics come from the Snowdrop engine. Much like DICE’s Frostbite engine, it was built precisely to create a realistic shooter.
For developers of The Division, the challenge is not so much in bringing a realistic shooting mechanic to fruition (as many readers and players of the beta will agree they have), but rather in convincing certain gamers to appreciate this realism in comparison to the unrealistic shooters they’ve been ingrained with. I would ask Tassi to comment on which game he feels has the most realistic shooting mechanics.
Realism in a Shooter-RPG
In The Division, NPC’s are bullet sponges. This is unrealistic, but it is also a product of mixing RPGs with shooters. Fixing this may cause other parts of the game to be unbalanced. I am less concerned with NPC’s being bullet sponges than I am with how their bodies move realistically. Ubisoft has done a phenomenal job of creating NPCs that move like real people, (even if some of the NPCs are crazy enough to run after you with just a bat). The movements themselves seem very realistic.
Tassi may not be “hooked” by the The Division’s shooting mechanics. But for those of you who understand the perspective I’m making in this article, I hope you’ll be going out to purchase the game.
I predict it will be a hit.