Tag Archives: FPS

The Best Tutorial I Ever Played

Tutorials are the worst.

“Use the right stick to look around.”

“Hold left trigger to aim down the sights.”

“Press A to jump.”

Yeah, we get it. Most of us have played a video game before, we know what to do. Even if we hadn’t, I think we are probably intelligent enough to figure it out. Pressing a button to see what it does isn’t exactly rocket science.

Nevertheless, almost every modern AAA title has a tutorial, and almost without exception they are incredibly dull. Most developers seem to treat game tutorials like a chore; a mandatory but creatively unsatisfying feature that is simply a requirement in shipping a modern video game.

But they don’t have to be. They can be a creative an integral part of the game if done thoughtfully. A good or even great tutorial is supposed to be an introduction, a starting point. Most games take this a little too literally. They don’t even start players on the ground floor of game literacy, they take players to the sub-basement, telling them how to do every one of the game’s basic functions over the course of the first few minutes and then shooing them along so the “real” game can begin.

Maybe if we just rebranded tutorials into introductions they would collectively improve. A great “tutorial” isn’t only about familiarizing players with the game’s controls, but also introducing them to the world and characters they are about to explore and meet. Like I said, an introduction. Some games do this better than others, but there is one tutorial that I can say without a doubt does it better than nearly any other game I’ve played: Bioshock Infinite.

Say what you want about the game’s over-the-top violence (which annoyed some) or it’s linearity (which annoyed others) but Bioshock Infinite boasts the only tutorial in recent memory I could describe as being perfect (Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon comes in at a close second.)

What is so great about it? Everything.

(Spoilers for the first 30 minutes of Bioshock Infinite below)

Players before reaching the tutorial have already wandered about the floating city of Columbia and taken in some of the sights. Everything seems normal; kids play in the street, paperboys hawk papers, couples chat on street side benches. Despite appearances, there is a lingering sense of discomfort that something about Columbia just feels “wrong.” Before long you arrive at a fairground, with posters and signs promoting some kind of special raffle. You see, Columbia is celebrating it’s Independence today, and you’ve arrived just in time for the festivities.

Upon first arriving at the fair you are given your first vital piece of information about playing the game: the seemingly magical potions called Vigors, serving as the Plasmids of Bioshock Infinite. What are they, and what all can they do? Well step up on up and learn for yourself, the game invites, as a professional salesman standing atop the stage begins to promote his products. “One swig, and feats of wonderment are at the tips of your fingers!” The game shows, not tells, as two men dressed as devils use Vigors on one another in front of the stage to demonstrate the different abilities available to the player. Over the course of the presentation the salesman drops several names which will continue to appear throughout the game, specifically the character of Jeremiah Fink.

After watching the demonstration the player moves further into the fairgrounds and discovers a small area to freely explore, filled with a variety of games and activities. Almost immediately a salesman directs your attention to “Cast The Devil Out,”  a game whose name and objective, like nearly everything else in the city of Columbia, draws upon religious symbolism. It’s here players get the chance to familiarize themselves with using Vigors for themselves, an essential part of combat in the game. Using the “Bucking Bronco” Vigor players are tasked with knocking “devils” hiding behind furniture into the air. Even before using it themselves the game salesman gives players his sales pitch about Bucking Bronco, explaining its potential uses and power with his enthusiastic flair.

Around the corner is another opportunity to learn more about Bioshock Infinite’s combat in the form of a shooting game called “Bring Down The Skyline Vox.” Once again the game in name and purpose continues to expose players to important concepts, in this case the skylines players will be using later in the game to zip around the city and the introduction of the “evil” rebels called the Vox Populi. Players are tasked with grabbing a shotgun and blasting a certain number of cardboard Vox Populi targets off the rails, letting players familiarize themselves with Bioshock Infinite’s gunplay.

Often times concepts important to understanding the world of Columbia can be found in the fair multiple times, just in case a player misses out on one activity. In addition to the skyline featured in the shooting gallery, a non-interactive exhibit discussing Columbia’s skylines and their use in transporting goods is also on display. An additional shooting game continues to reinforce the idea of the Vox Populi as villains, even including the important side character and Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy as a special target that can be shot for extra points.

Better yet, doing well in these “tutorials” cleverly disguised as carnival games grants you rewards like additional money. This gives players an incentive to actually explore everything the fair has to offer.

Even after playing all the carnival games there is still plenty left to see. An exhibit with mechanical horses show the technical capabilities of Columbian inventors, paving the way for the game to introduce the heavily armed motorized “Patriots” that players fight later in the game without having to overly explain why. The game’s audio logs, Voxophones, are introduced and explained in a humorous way with player character Booker recording a Voxophone of his own and then spouting the line to the salesman, “Just so we’re clear, I’m not paying for this.” The colossal Handyman, one of the game’s most challenging enemies, is also on display for players to witness and learn more about before having to face one in combat a few hours later.

Minutes after leaving the fair comes the controversial “raffle scene.” It serves as the conclusion to Bioshock Infinite’s introduction. Picking a numbered baseball from a basket as your raffle ticket, you wait as Jeremiah Fink (the same character responsible for inventing Vigors and introduced just minutes before) announces the raffle winner. Lo’ and behold it is number 77 — your number. All the while the player is curious, “What did I win?” The reveal comes as a shock, quickly followed by a sense of discomfort and revulsion — your prize is the “honor” of giving first throw at the public stoning of an interracial couple. It’s in this moment that the uneasy sensation creeping just below the surface of Columbia comes to light. This is the real Columbia. After Fink and guards catch a glimpse of the “A.D.” tattooed on the back of your hand as you attempt to either throw the baseball at the couple or at Fink,  the game begins in earnest. Players grab a skyhook and melee their way out of the area before truly starting their adventure in the dystopia of Columbia.

All the information in the game’s fair “tutorial” is presented to you, not forced upon you. That is the key here. While the game does give players a quick cartoon demonstration of how to use new Vigors upon acquiring them, several of the Vigors have already been explained and demonstrated in a non-intrusive and interactive way long before players even get their hands on them. Important characters, game concepts, ideologies, and the true nature of Columbia itself have been revealed naturally as the game went along, not as walls of text appearing in the middle of your screen or journal entries. By the time Bioshock Infinite really begins, it’s likely you didn’t even realize you had played a tutorial. You were simply absorbed in the world Irrational created and ready to explore it further.

Bioshock Infinite proves that tutorials can be an integral part of the game experience and don’t have to be a mandatory afterthought. In fact, the fair, raffle,and scenes leading up to both are my favorite parts of Bioshock Infinite, even taking into account how much I enjoyed the game’s combat and dimension hopping storyline. Video games need more tutorials like this. Gamers are (generally) a smart crowd. We know how to shoot and jump. We know how to crouch. Developers, tell us something we don’t know. Tell us about the world you’ve created, the characters you’ve populated it with. If you do have to tell us how to play, make it part of the game, not separate from it. That’s all I’m asking. If you follow Bioshock Infinite’s lead, modern games will be all the better for it.

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Destiny’s Optimism Is Desperately Needed

If the majority of science-fiction is to be believed, the future isn’t all that great. While the circumstances are always different — evil mega corporations, alien invasions, depressing dystopias, war and pollution — science fiction has a history of making the future out to be mighty bleak. Authors, filmmakers, and game developers always count on humans to never learn from their mistakes. We will continue to kill our planet. We will continue to wage war against our fellow man. We will continue to fail.

Destiny, then, is a breathe of fresh air, but not necessarily from a gameplay perspective. It’s a shooter with RPG elements, a fun and addictive combination of gameplay that will no doubt keep players hooked for a long time. But that isn’t what has me excited for the game. What makes me excited and what I find so refreshing about Destiny can be described in one word — optimism.

It can be found everywhere in Destiny: from the game’s fictional past to the purpose of the Guardians, to the sun filled environments and the NPC dialogue. Humanity once lived in a golden age, where they expanded to the cosmos and unlocked the secrets of the universe thanks to help from the Traveler. Human life span tripled.  It was a time of miracles. This was a future where humanity lived up to it’s utmost potential and shined.

When players start their journey in Destiny that future is no longer the case. Humanity has been pinned down into one city, protected by the power of the traveler, and their cosmic civilization has crumbled. Darkness encroaches on all sides and it is unclear for how much longer the Traveler will be able to protect humanity.

Rather than wallow in the bleakness of the situation, Bungie takes a different approach to their new universe. The darkness can be fought back they say. Hope is not yet lost, and humanity can once again reach their potential and reclaim the civilization that was at once lost. Fight back the darkness. Unite.

That optimism is a far cry from the majority of other sci-fi shooters. The future presented by popular third person shooter Gears of War is about as bleak a future as you can get, with humans waging endless wars over limited resources only to be decimated by the monster like Locusts from deep beneath the earth. The world of Gears of War is brown and gray, filled with despair, hardship and a never ending sense of doom and pointlessness. None of the characters feel like there is much reason to continue fighting, other than to simply survive and keep their friends alive. Bungie’s own Halo series is a constant uphill struggle, with humanity at the brink and the Master Chief really being the only force strong enough to fight back against the seemingly unstoppable Covenant and the horrific Flood.

All three franchises — Halo, Gears of War, and Destiny — have a similar core theme of humanity being on the edge of destruction, but the way they go about presenting them are wildly different. Destiny is bright, vibrant, and filled with the hope that Earth’s heroes, the Guardians, can fight back the darkness and lift up humanity once again. That isn’t present in Halo, Gears of War, or most science fiction for that matter.

That’s because Destiny embraces an older idea of science fiction, one that isn’t about predicting one of humanity’s potential dark futures but about capturing that special kind of wonder that can only come from gazing up at the stars and wondering “What’s up there?” This kind of sci-fi is about exploring colorful alien worlds and discovering the mysteries of the universe. It’s about a humanity that isn’t grounded on Earth where it is destined to stagnate, but about a humanity finding it’s place in a wide universe filled with mystery, danger, and adventure.

It’s refreshing. In an industry where dark, gritty and hyper violent Mature rated games are far too often the norm, Destiny is a Teen rated game that can be played and enjoyed by nearly anybody. Destiny embraces optimism, the idea that humanity’s best days are not behind them but ahead, the idea that maybe we can overcome our faults and our challenges and rise to the occasion. Maybe, just maybe, we can take to the stars and carve out a new destiny for the human race rather than suffer the bleak one that so often is presented as our future. I don’t know about you, but I think the game industry could use a little more optimism.

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Battlefield Hardline Is A Nice Chance Of Pace

I have never enjoyed Battlefield as much as other shooters like Call of Duty or Halo. Whereas the action in those titles is near constant, Battlefield as a franchise to me features way too much down time running from point to point, only to be sniped by a sniper’s bullet from afar before I start my trek across the map all over again.

Why the heck did I sign up for the Battlefield: Hardline closed beta then, you ask? The game’s E3 showing impressed me, so when they announced a beta going live right that minute, I signed up, got in, and started playing this new take on classic cops and robbers.

Hardline is definitely still a Battlefield title. There are big teams sizes, vehicles galore, weapons, gadgets, and accessories to unlock, and large maps with destructible environments. Any player who played Battlefield 3 or 4 will instantly be at home here. The game map featured in the beta, High Tension, is set in the middle of a downtown city center, complete with skyscrapers, cranes, and overpasses. While the map is big, it isn’t near the size of many Battlefield maps, lending the game a generally quicker pace than some earlier titles.

Rather than the tanks and machines of war seen in Battlefield 4, Hardline features more civilian grade vehicles, though occasionally supped up to meet the needs of the would be bandits. Armored sedans and muscle cars can be used by the gangsters, while police have access to armored SWAT vans, squad cars, and helicopters.

What really sets Hardline apart from the rest of the Battlefield franchise are the two game modes featured in the beta, Heist and Blood Money. In Heist, robbers attempt to break into a vault and make out with the cash, with the police of course doing everything in their power to stop them. Blood Money puts a stash of cash in the center of the map and tasks each team with collecting as much as possible and bringing it back to their teams respective vaults. Classic Battlefield capture point wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but I would be surprised if it didn’t make it’s way into the final Hardline product.

Of the two modes, I found I preferred Blood Money, despite Heist being the game type that is clearly trying to be Hardline’s main attraction. The pace of Blood Money is frantic. You can be killed while carrying your wad of cash, allowing the enemy to pick up your hard earned money off your corpse. Your team’s vault can also be raided by the enemy if not defended diligently, requiring some members of your team to play defense while others make cash runs.

New equipable gadgets like the zipline and grappling hook shine in these modes. Because of the verticality of the maps, the grappling hook makes reaching sniping positions much easier, while the zipline is invaluable as a tool to quickly escape to your teams vault with a money stuffed dufflebag. Other gadgets like trip mines and the taser are fun additions as well, but the utility of the zipline and grappling hook work well with the fast paced nature of the game types.

Cops and robbers seems like a strange idea to fit into the Battlefield mold, and it is. If you actually think about it, why are the police causing billions of dollars in collateral damage by blowing up buildings, cars, and overpasses just to catch some thieves who are making away with a few million bucks? While the concept isn’t perfect, the game manages to breathe creative life into a franchise that has more or less been the same since Battlefield 1942. Will the full game be worth playing? Who knows, but after spending some time with the beta I can safely say this is the first time I’ve been interested in a Battlefield game since Battlefield 1943.

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My Favorite Shooter Isn’t What You Might Expect

I’ve played more shooters over the years than probably any other genre. I distinctly remember Medal of Honor being my first. I remember Halo enthralling me, Half-Life scaring me, and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare addicting me with its progression system. Along the way I’ve played just about every shooter in between.

None of the games listed above rank as my favorite shooter though. No, my favorite shooter is a game I’ve continued to come back to for more than five years, playing an hour here, an hour there. Every match is still just as fun as the first. It doesn’t have a progression system or perks. It doesn’t have crazy power-ups. It doesn’t have regenerative health. It’s simple, easy to understand, a throwback to a different time.

That game is Day of Defeat: Source. If you aren’t familiar with it I’m not terribly surprised. Day of Defeat is the red-headed step child of Valve shooters. It has never been as popular as Counter-Strike, no matter what version you are referring too. It hasn’t undergone a dramatic transformation like Team Fortress 2, which went free-to-play and added a huge number of new weapons and cosmetic items. It’s not the intense cooperative survival experience of the Left 4 Dead series. It’s not an immersive single-player experience like Half-Life.

Compared to all the titles listed above, Day of Defeat: Source is incredibly basic. It’s a simple class-based multiplayer shooter, where players play as either the Allies or Axis in the European theater of WWII. There is no deathmatch to be found. The entire game is essentially capture point, in most cases resulting in a never-ending tug-o-war between two teams. That’s all there is to it really.

Every so often when I’m looking at the hundred plus games in my Steam Library or the stack of Xbox 360 titles next to my desk, wanting to play something but not knowing what, I boot up Day of Defeat. I find one of my favorite maps (Avalanche, Argentan, or Donner). I pick random to be a good sport, even though I prefer the German weaponry to the arsenal of the Allies. I play for an hour or two, most of the time one match on one map the entire time. The two teams more often than not become quickly entrenched. One team will grab the capture point in the middle of the map and set up defensive machine guns, the other team will throw their bodies at it in an attempt to capture it. Sometimes they eventually will, and they will hold the middle for a span before the cycle repeats itself. Very rarely does anybody actually win or go on to capture the two points deep behind enemy lines. It’s quite an accomplishment when it does manage to happen.

Part of what I find appealing about Day of Defeat is the WWII theme. The second World War has always fascinated me, in part because of it’s simplicity. I know the reality is far different, but WWII always seems so cut and dry, so simple. Good guys versus bad guys who want to take over the world. America good, Nazis bad. The world isn’t really like that now. It probably wasn’t like that back in 1942 either, but that’s always what we’ve been taught in school and how it’s portrayed in the media, back then things weren’t so complicated, and now after wars like Vietnam and Iraq they are.

Day of Defeat is a lot like WWII actually. In a time where insane levels of customization and RPG like elements are becoming commonplace in shooters, Day of Defeat: Source is a rapidly aging relic, a throwback to the old days when things were more simple. You won’t find microtransactions here, like in Team Fortress. No weapon skins. No hats. No unlockables. Just shoot the enemy. Do your duty for your team.

Playing Day of Defeat: Source is sort of what I imagine the Norse afterlife of Valhalla being like. Log on. Fight. Die. Fight. Die. Log off. It’s a never ending war, where everybody regardless of team respects one another and collectively reminisces about past battles from the good ol’ days. It’s a small community of game veterans who, for whatever reason, log on every night to play a nine-year-old game most people have never even heard of. More often than not I play with a friend or two, and instead of focusing on reaching level 50 or getting that new skin for a virtual AK-47, we just talk about life instead. It’s nice.

What’s most surprising is that I’m not even particularly good at the game. I do decent enough, but I’ve never been great at PC shooters. I mostly just throw my body at the capture points, try to kill anybody who gets in my way, die, and then try again. My KD ratio is not even approaching positive. I don’t mind. I still have fun.

Team Fortress 2 is a completely different game from when it first released. Counter Strike has been reimagined with Global Offensive. Left 4 Dead has gotten a sequel to further expand upon it’s core idea, with a third game likely on the way. But in Valve’s pantheon of shooters, Day of Defeat stands alone and most likely always will. I will be surprised if the game ever receives a sequel or any kind of substantial update. It’s not the kind of shooter people care about anymore, and that’s okay. As long as the servers are still up and running, I will keep logging on long after Half-Life 3 and Halo 5 are released. Sometimes there is just something refreshing about simplicity, something refreshing about not having any bells and whistles. There isn’t an end goal of prestige mode or end game content to reach. It’s just a game, meant to be played, enjoyed, and then turned off. Sometimes that’s all I want.

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