The coming weeks are sure to be flooded with list upon list of everyone’s favorite titles from the abomination that was the past year. It may have been a tumultuous ride in many areas, but looking back it seems like a decent year to be a fan of video games. On a personal level it was a year of once more trying a perspective I was (and still pretty much am) less than enthused about.
Back in my high school days I had a friend who was very fond of James Bond titles, usually for the PlayStation 2. Every time I stepped foot in his basement we fired up a new game of 007: Night Fire and went to war. Only I was so terrible at any game that featured first-person perspective that gun battles were more of a one-sided massacre. I would spin and shoot wildly while my friends flew by via grappling hooks, bombarding me with missiles and bullets from nearby rooftops. Getting taken out by me was the ultimate insult to your abilities. It was enjoyable to play the fool, but even when I attempted to do well I still fell short in comparison.
The issue I’ve always had with games in the first person perspective is that they usually feels claustrophobic. With no real peripherals the view made me uneasy. I’m too focused on what I can’t see. Stack this on top of my general dislike for gritty military and sci-fi themes and you’ve got a genre I just couldn’t seem to wrap my head around.
I’ve tried plenty of times to get into the first-person world. I’ve played my fair share of Call of Duty, Portal, Destiny and more at the request of friends. None of them seemed to stick though. Enter Overwatch, a game that caught my eye due to its colorful characters and arsenal of unconventional weapons. Blasting folks with sound waves or coordinating a shield-powered laser cannon seemed like the kind of combat I could get behind.
Seeing my intrigue, and to train me in the ways of silly shooters, a friend gifted me Borderlands 2: The Handsome Jack Collection for Christmas. I didn’t find time to boot it up until mid-January of 2016, scheduling nightly play sessions with a group of pals. Borderlands is, of course, known for its humor and weapon selection. Despite the first person view, I found myself coming back for new guns, missions, and upgrades. And to hear Claptrap’s incoherent ramblings, of course. I’m not much for inventory management (RPGs are a nightmare for me), and I got bewildered more than once at all the options at my disposal. But I stuck with it! Well, for a few months...
By the time Overwatch launched in late May my excitement was far beyond any other game on the horizon. I dove in head first. Like most players I came in with expectations of preferring and ignoring certain characters based on what I had seen before hand. They were, as usual, far off from the roster I tend to gravitate towards today. Regardless, I was dedicated to not letting the first-person view aspect put me off of learning everything I could about my favorite characters and modes.
In all honesty, there hasn’t been a first person title so engrossing that I could get past the locked view. Overwatch seemed to be the perfect mix of vibrant visuals, unique heroes and quick-paced strategy to gloss over it’s first person shortcomings (in my mind). I still find I’m not the best at aiming and keeping my barring about me, but over the last 150 hours I’ve put into Blizzard’s critically acclaimed shooter I’ve certainly gotten better and found my niche.
As fall rolled around I finally picked up Firewatch, the first-person park ranger sim set in 1980's Wyoming. I had heard great things, but it was really my wife’s love of nature that finally forced my hand. I did not play Firewatch in the traditional sense. Instead I just shouted things at my wife as she played. I tend to hustle through games, collecting what I need to advance the story, but my wife’s is very methodical. She wants to inspect very corner, peer over every cliff, and interact with ever possible part of the world.
It’s a good thing I put her in control, because I probably would have missed many of the striking views and small details that make Firewatch worth playing. It’s a short but beautiful adventure. With no guns and a rotating inventory of unconventional items, it’s definitely not the usual first person outing. One that players need to take their time with if possible.
As the year that was 2016 wraps, it dawns on me that it’s not the first person perspective I dislike, but more over the content associated with it. Any game can win a player over if it can manage to pull them in and keep them entertained. There haven’t been many games in the past that have hit the high notes I experienced this year with titles like Borderlands 2, Overwatch and Firewatch. Here’s hoping 2017 keeps pushing what a first person game can be, and manages to pull me back in.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to Overwatch.