There are many different avenues for design potential when it comes to video games, but few of these ever rise to the heights of popularity that can make them sustainable. In recent times, shooters have grown to dominate the market with their ilk seeming to make up half of all titles available on store shelves. There are sub-genres to be found beneath this banner, but the majority tend to stick to a linear design ethic, populated by setpiece moments to engage players in the experience in a visceral way. The success of this path cannot be doubted, given the commercial reception of titles of this type, but more than a few consumers are beginning to tire of the predictability of it all.
This is why some hold high the merits of the likes of Crysis and Far Cry, with their more open level design and range of gameplay mechanics. The upcoming PS3 exclusive Starhawk was always about giving players options in how they were going to tackle the objectives set before them via the Battle-and-Build system that is being implemented, but this caused problems when it came time for the team to create those missions, as director Dylan Jobe mentioned in a recent interview with Gamasutra:
“The challenge in developing [Starhawk’s single player] was that players can do things in so many different ways. You can try to recommend that players take a certain course of action, but as we saw in playtests, players won’t always do what you want them to do — they’ll go and do their own thing.
“We eventually got to a point where five people would sit down to do a playtest, and all five people would take different approaches to the missions. To me, I think that’s a very successful moment, especially now, given the shooter genre.
“Right now, so much of the shooter genre is just a linear consumption of blockbuster moments, but we wanted to make something that was open enough where two players could talk about their different approaches to the game.”
It’s an admirable goal; that of pulling a genre from a rut, but no one game is going to be able to succeed in that. We’ve already seen the announcements for Crysis 3 and Far Cry 3, both of which should build on their solid foundations of freedom, and Prey 2, if it is still alive, will deliver a similar experience. Of course, these are all still very focussed on the shooting, with none of them injecting quite the same level of diversity that Starhawk promises, but the beginnings of a new movement for the genre are very much in place for a shift in what is being delivered. Even with this, Jobe was willing to admit that this may not be the best direction for the genre:
“My instincts say that the shooter genre is at a very important fork in the road. It can continue to go down the same linear, blockbuster path or it can take a different approach. That’s not to say that Starhawk is taking the right approach, but I think the genre is due for a next step.”
I can’t say that I’ve ever been much of a fan of shooters, but those that offer something different from the norm have typically been more capable of drawing me in than the action-packed tedium of Battlefield and Call of Duty. There’s no denying that I may well enjoy Starhawk a great deal, but the multiplayer focus of the game means that I’m not likely to pick it up above a budget price, unless the campaign really does manage to live up to the promise of diversity and a stellar story, rather than simply acting as a tutorial for the meat of the game.
It is currently slated to release on the eighth of May.