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Three is a crowd
I speak as someone who grew up with games where the acquisition of a new gun was one of the big carrots. And once you got it, you didn’t throw away the old one - you carried the entire lot around like they were made out of foam. Face it, when you were fighting hellspawn on the moon, you didn’t really stop to question how you were carrying over a metric ton in weapons without collapsing into a puddle of jelly. Even games like Half-Life, praised for its ‘realistic presentation’ and ‘immersion’, had the player stockpiling an arsenal in his pockets, and I’m not talking spitballs. With this sort of background, the thought of restricting how much the player be allowed to carry seems like sacrilege. Except I find that it isn’t.
I’m not sure which shooter first gun-blocked me (I suspect it might have been Rainbow Six), but I’m pretty sure I didn’t take too kindly to the concept at first. But being the rugged spartan that I am, I soldiered on. And at some point, I realised that the end wasn’t nigh after all. I think that the best way to explain would be by way of example, so here are some of my experiences with games that limited my weapon loadout.
To start off, let’s take Rainbow Six. That game was a complete departure from all the other shooters I’d played before, so much so that I’m still not sure whether it’s a shooter, actually. But whatever it was, it felt great to start exercising tactical options that actually mattered. Should you be carrying suppressed SMGs or full-blown assault rifles into the field? In a hostage situation, a silent assault could gift you a few vital seconds extra, even if it was at the expense of stopping power. Decisions, decisions. R6 and its sequels (not counting the Vegas series) did have a whole lot more gravitas attached to it than its contemporaries. You felt responsible for the lives of all your team members, and a poorly thought out tactical plan would inevitably see you lead them to their demise. Taking the wrong weapon into the mission could easily cost you the game, and so, even though you could pretty much choose only one gun (and another sidearm), that choice felt pretty damn important. Plus, when they were making so many efforts to keep the rest of the game as realistic as possible, letting you carry a rocket launcher in your back pocket probably wouldn’t have helped the cause.
Next up, the Call of Duty series. In the ongoing battle between emergent and scripted gameplay, CoD has championed the latter variety with such panache that you don’t even notice the rails anymore because the scenery is so damn awesome. But the relevant point here is that they too bar you from carrying more than a couple of weapons. You can swap whatever you’re carrying with any weapon you come across during the mission, and since most everybody in the game is armed and quite a lot of them kick the bucket (and as such, have no further use for said weapon), you’ve got a pretty decent selection. Now, your stock weapon is usually pretty robust and you usually don’t have much need to replace the sucker. Till you run out of ammo, that is. Then it’s time to start scrounging.
While this may sound like a pain in the ass, it serves an important purpose. It almost always marks the time in the mission where your character crosses over into desperation measures. And it’s not scripted like the rest of the game, not a canned “Cap’n, we’re in the shitter now!”, but something that felt borderline emergent (Ha!) and personal for each player, or each playthrough even. Again, your choice of weapon becomes a pivotal decision – is there enough open space and enough vantage points to make a sniper viable, or would it be better to take an effective close-quarters shotty? Some article on game design said that most gameplay boils down to ‘a series of interesting choices’, so by that definition, they’re on the right track.
Now Gears of War is a little different from the other entries on this list because by definition it’s a third person shooter, but that distinction doesn’t disqualify it, considering that it handles almost exactly like an FPS, with that effective over-the-shoulder viewpoint they employ. However, the third person view does mean that you can see your character (duh!) and by limiting the number of weapons he can carry, they’ve made it possible for you to see all the weapons that he’s carrying at any point. You might not think it makes that much difference, but like all good innovations, once you get used to it, you’ll find it a chore to go back.
While the active weapon is carried around, the second one is strapped to his back. Switching weapons triggers an animation where he straps the current weapon to the back and takes out the other one. Selecting the pistol means he straps both big weapons to his back (you could make a joke about that, I think) and draws from the hip holster. After watching cool shit like that, seeing people pull guns out of thin air is going to be a buzzkill by way of comparison. You could try work around it by using concepts like the player’s gun being able to transform back and forth into any other weapon by way of an impressive (but quick) animation, and the more weapon designs he unlocks, the more weapon configs his gun has access to. You know, that’s really not a bad idea. Dibs! Anyhow, GoW gets that shit right, is what I mean.
And for the finale, Halo. PC gamers have got to feel some level of disdain for this title. I know I did. It’s not the one that got away, it’s the one that wowed us, promised itself to us and then finally gave itself to our worst enemy instead. If the game had a vagina, there’d be hell to pay. Now the debate about the game’s overall quality has been raging for years, and I’ve got no intention of sticking my nose in there *cough*halflifepwnsyourass*cough*, but their weapon wielding mechanics were pretty sweet. You can only carry two weapons and grenades. Some weapons allow reloading, others like the Plasma Sword and Plasma Pistol don’t – so when you run out of ammo, chucking them is your only alternative. You could chuck them in somebody’s face though; that never gets old.
Now here’s the restriction that bears mentioning - you have the option to dual wield some of the smaller weapons, but if you do so, both your hands are full and you can’t throw your grenades. Sounds frustrating, but it really makes the game that much more interesting. In a sticky situation, you could fling your left hand weapon at one enemy, toss a grenade with your newly released hand at another, all the while laying down fire with your right hand weapon. That’s the kind of badassery that gaming was all about in the first place. So yeah, kudos Halo … you overrated turncoat.
In summation, the fact that a lot of most big shooter titles today are only letting you carry a couple of weapons at a time isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Embrace this paucity and see whether this doesn’t come good for you in a little while.
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