I have always found that the quality of movement in a game is indicative of its quality in general – I’m sure everyone knows the feeling of picking up a controller, moving their character and immediately putting the controller back down. That’s not what I want to talk about today – I want to talk about two games that shine in this regard, in a first person perspective (movement in a 2D plane, or in third person is a whole other kettle of fish, and probably will be the source of a couple more articles). These two games are probably the strongest FPS titles of the last few years and your character’s movement is part of that strength.
Doom (2016) has been met with high praise from both players and critics alike, so it is no surprise to say that I also had an incredibly fun time with the game. Movement, however, may not be the first thing people think of when it comes to Doom – that would most likely be the excellent gun-play or the visceral satisfaction of ripping and tearing your way through all the demons in Hell. When I played however, the first thing I noticed was the Doomslayer’s movement – it is incredibly fast.
The default speed of your character is so much higher than anything else I was used to that I was taken aback by it. It took a little while to get used to, I came to really appreciate the high speed. There is no option to sprint in the game (unless you count the ‘Haste’ upgrade, which raises your velocity to almost irresponsible levels) you are always moving at that same high pace, which cleverly feeds into the intended feeling of the combat – frantic, frenetic and above all, fun. It also serves a narrative purpose as well – the Doomslayer is a superhuman killing machine, and your constant alacrity (not to mention your savage ripping and tearing) is a reminder of that. Whilst it stands on its own merits, it also plays into the feeling of nostalgia, as this kind of movement was a part of the original Doom.
Movement is nothing with context – a game could have the most amazing character control ever created, but it would all be for naught if all you had to move around in was a big empty space, or worse – a narrow, linear corridor (a la Clive Barker’s Jericho, or some of the more poorly designed Call of Duty or Battlefield games). Doom’s movement is complimented by excellent level design – each stage is a huge labyrinthine sprawl with secrets packed into every nook and cranny, requiring constant backtracking and exploration if you want to find all of them. The speed at which you move makes this much less of a chore than it sounds and the relative calm of exploring serves as a nice contrast to the fast-paced slaughter that typifies the rest of the game. The jump-boots you encounter relatively early-on only make moving around that much better, as the addition of a double jump gives you a lot more vertical freedom as well.
Ever since the release of Mirror’s Edge, I have wanted another game that has that level of parkour – wallrunning, mantles, all that good stuff. There are a few games that have tried to incorporate these mechanics, but often they feel clunky (like Wet) or just feel floaty and weightless (like Warframe). Unfortunately, for myself, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst didn’t quite scratch that itch – it didn’t really expand very much on that core gameplay and some additions, like the grappling hook, served only to trivialise the complex system of movement by letting you ignore portions of it entirely. While some other titles have had those movement elements, none have quite captivated me as much as Titanfall 2. While not as close a recreation of real-world free-running as Mirror’s Edge sets out to be, I feel that the first-person movement in Titanfall 2 is unparalleled in its freedom and design. The satisfaction of controlling the Doomslayer comes from many design aspects – while movement is an important one it is ultimately a relatively small part of what makes Doom fun to play. Titanfall 2 uses smooth and complex movement as one of the pillars of its design (the other being giant mecha combat). At a base level, Cooper (and every class in multiplayer) can wallrun, double jump, sprint, slide and mantle – all at an astounding pace (in fact, using a method known as slide-hopping players can more even faster, careening across the map without losing momentum). Use of this movement is incentivised heavily by the fact that using the wallrun increases your speed and that sliding conserves that momentum – these systems create a high skill ceiling and huge potential for players to explore. Movement also serves as your main survival tool – many titan weapons in the game, like Ion’s shoulder laser, will punish slow moving players by making them easy targets. Moving fast and using the tools at your disposal intelligently gives you the edge as a pilot and can allow you to outplay the powerful titans in play when you don’t have yours.
What is gratifying about the excellent system of movement that exists in Titanfall 2 is that the gunplay supports moving at high speeds – the general accuracy of hip-fire means that one can gun down opponents without even breaking their stride. This shows a clear developer intent for players to fully utilise every movement option available to them as they tear through a map at breakneck speeds (the complete lack of fall damage in the game only serves to compound this, allowing players to operate at dizzying heights without fear of killing themselves from one misstep).
Like Doom’s great level design, Titanfall 2 has another element that complements your movement as a pilot – your movement as a titan. The core gameplay loop of organically switching between moving with unparalleled freedom at high speed to comparatively (only in the feel and range of movement, rather than actual speed) slow but equally satisfying movement as a titan. Whether you pilot a heavy chassis that lumbers around the map, creaking as it walks, a light titan that uses quick dashes to close the gap between you and an opponent or escape from danger, or something in between, Respawn have nailed the feeling of piloting a giant robot (unlike one of the many Transformers games, where it just feels like you are a large ungainly metal man). The contrast between the two modes of play only serve to enhance the qualities of both.
I haven’t even touched on Stim or Grapple
As ever, this is an opinion piece, so take my words for what they are – an opinion. If you disagree with me, or you think I unfairly missed a paragon of first-person movement, please leave a comment, I’d love to read your views on the subject.