Mobility has always been an intriguing, bizarre, messy hodgepodge of controls, speed and agility, which has often been done brilliantly by games such as Kingdom Hearts 2, Mirrors’ Edge and even, surprisingly, Call of Duty bringing new strides within the agility-oriented scene of game design; other games, however, such as Brink, Killing Floor 2 (The PS4 movement speed anyway), and many others seem to fail in giving their players a form of movement that has any form of flow or tactical depth.
This article aims to investigate what makes good movement in various videogame genres, such as Action-Adventure and FPS games.
Movement within the constraints of an FPS
First Person Shooters, for the last 10 years, have almost all been locked to an archaic form of movement, being “Walk, run, sprint and jump”. Only with recent endeavours with games such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Titanfall has this age-old formula ever been shaken up – Whilst intimidating at first, I have to admit that personally, I can’t find myself to return to old-age FPS games that lack simple advancements such as wall-running and double jumping. As silly as it sounds, these unrealistic additions help to open up a much broader sense of agility and scale, especially when you chain together impressive acrobatical feats to obtain a winning kill or objective.
However, FPS games don’t necessarily require the addition of grappling hooks, double jumps and wall running in order to become noteworthy and impressive in this regard – Two similar examples I would usually pull out would be the infamous Halo franchise, and Team Fortress 2; both games have the standard, archaic format of “Run’n’Gun”, but both seem a lot more open and offer room for personal improvement (Agility-wise); this is due to a number of factors, from level design, to differing physics, to even glitches with certain items or weapons – One famous example being the “Rocket Jump” technique, which allows players of both games to fire a well-timed explosive at their feet that would increase their upwards momentum, allowing them to be launched into usually inaccessible areas or platforms – These techniques became so prevalent, however, that Bungie (Developers of Halo before 343 Industries) actually made a couple of hidden ‘Skull’ collectibles in Halo 3 require “Rocket Jumping” to obtain ‘legitimately’ – It could be seen as one of the dawning points of the FPS genre, where players started making their own tweaks to improve their agility like this, that set in motion the large reform in FPS games we see today.
With this innovation bursting into the genre, there are also consequences that come alongside it – For one, the level of entry for new players is drastically increased, creating less accessible gaming environments (At least to newer or less-attuned gamers); look to the launch of the (Admittedly) abysmal Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, where community backlash initially looked out to doom this specific form of innovation right out of the gate. Another detriment of this new form of control with FPS games lies with how they’re implemented, often being archaic, difficult to implement and ‘get right’. Brink is another infamous example of giving players far too much freedom at a cost of lesser gameplay, with the FPS elements of the game suffering due to the game being all about Free Running and Parkour. Mirrors’ Edge also suffered, with it’s rushed and forced FPS segments that controlled worse than a tortoise on a skateboard.
The evolution of movement within Action-Adventure games
Action-Adventure games have always had the better end of the stick when it comes to movement and acrobatic potential – Whilst not as hit-and-miss as the FPS genre, Action-Adventure games have been constantly trying to evolve upon their original controls and movement styles found in games like Banjo-Kazooie; Tomb Raider is often seen as one of the pinnacles of movement in videogame form, with it’s original debut on the Sony Playstation 1, where it allowed players to leap, vault, swing and hang onto various ledges, platforms, ropes and more, which lead to some truely difficult platforming segments; since then, Tomb Raider hasn’t shifted much in its’ way with movement, however other games in the franchise that took inspiration, such as Jak and Daxter, aimed to bring more unrealistic innovations to this new “Gymnastic” form of gameplay.
Jak and Daxter did bring a lot to the table, with the addition of entering leaps from rolls, spinning in mid-air to extend jumps, and of course, double jumping; this expanded the imaginations of developers and designers, and allowed them to create more interesting levels, puzzles and enemy types to deal with.
It sounds silly saying this, but Kingdom Hearts 2 is another game where agility and mobility not only presents itself in a way that allows for many different ways to tackle enemies, but also gradually improves alongside the player via levelling Drive Forms. Kingdom Hearts 2 has five main movement-based abilities that can be earned throughout the game – High Jump (Which allows players to extend the height of their jump), Quick Run (That lets players dash in a certain direction), Dodge Roll (Allows players to roll in a certain direction faster than Quick Run, albeit at a much lesser distance), Aerial Dodge (Lets the player torpedo into the air), and Glide (As it says on the tin); whilst it may seem that these abilities may only add a little bit extra onto the game, they’re essential to certain strategies and techniques – For example, trying to beat certain bosses without these abilities proves extremely difficult, disabling your ability to dodge usually dodgeable attacks or traps; platforming becomes more difficult, and some areas of the game remain inaccessible until you earn these powers. It feels rewarding and liberating, and gives you a purpose to expand your mobility not only to reach new areas, but to become more efficient and tactile at the game.
However, where some games succeed in this, others fail – Ratchet and Clank, despite being one of my favourite franchises of all time, admittedly has a rather slow way with movement; minor additions to the series, such as jetpacks, booster boots and grindboots do add some degree of agility to the game, however the limitations of where these items can be used hinder these features rather than promote them. One example of this would be the Jetpack areas in Ratchet and Clank 2, where players are tasked with using a Jetpack to, frustratingly, cross a bottomless pit on an incline with limited fuel – This area has been the bane of speedrunners, gamers and fans of the franchise for years, all because of the limited fuel; you would think that having the ability to fly anywhere would be amazing, imagining impressive dogfights and aerial battles alike…But R&C2 simply made me despise and fear these sections.
All in all, movement and agility within games is an interesting, yet difficult game of balancing and tweaking that is incredibly hard to get right – Games that offer too little movement in favour of better gameplay often run the risk of boring level design, lack of variety and stagnation, however games that offer too much movement run the risk of neglecting other aspects of their games, or becoming too difficult to control or get attuned to, barring entry to casual players – It’s interesting to take a deeper look into something we usually take for granted, and to see the progress that its’ made since the dawn of the 3D era, ever since the Z-Axis was born.
With that, take what you will, and I’ll see you next time!