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A 3D game type that has grown to prominence in recent years, especially on consoles. It combines the shooting elements of the first-person shooter with the jumping and climbing puzzles of a 3D platformer and a simple melee fighting system from a brawler. Third-person shooter games almost always incorporate an aim-assist feature, since aiming from a third-person camera is difficult. Most also have a first-person view, which allows precise shooting and looking around at environment features that are otherwise hidden from the default camera. In most cases, the player must stand still to use first-person view, but newer titles allow the player to play like a FPS; indeed, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath requires the player to shoot from first person, only allowing melee attacks in the chase camera views.
Relationship to first-person shootersEdit
These games are closely related to first-person shooters, which also tie the perspective of the player to an avatar, but the two genres are distinct. While the first-person perspective allows players to aim and shoot without their avatar blocking their view, the third-person shooter shows the protagonist from an "over the shoulder shot" or "behind the back" perspective. Thus, the third-person perspective allows the game designer to create a more strongly characterized avatar and directs the player's attention as in watching a film. In contrast, a first-person perspective provides the player with greater immersion into the game universe.
This difference in perspective also affects gameplay. Third-person shooters allow players to see the area surrounding the avatar more clearly. This viewpoint facilitates more interaction between the character and their surrounding environment, such as the use of tactical cover in Gears of War, or navigating tight quarters. As such, the third-person perspective is better for interacting with objects in the game world, such as jumping on platforms, engaging in close combat, or driving a vehicle. However, the third-person perspective can interfere with tasks that require fine aiming.
Third-person shooters sometimes compensate for their distinct perspective by designing larger, more spacious environments than first-person shooters.
The boundaries between third-person and first-person shooters are not always clear. For example, many third-person shooters allow the player to use a first-person viewpoint for challenges that require precise aiming. The first-person shooter Halo: Combat Evolved was actually designed as a third-person shooter, but added a first-person perspective to improve the interface for aiming and shooting. The game switches to a third-person viewpoint when the avatar is piloting a vehicle, and this combination of first-person for aiming and third-person for driving has since been used in other games. Metroid Prime is another first-person shooter that switches to a third-person perspective when rolling around the environment using the morph ball. Alexander R. Galloway writes that the "real-time, over-the-shoulder tracking shots of Gus Van Sant's Elephant evoke third-person shooter games like Max Payne, a close cousin of the FPS".
2D third-person shooters have existed since the earliest days of video games, dating back to Spacewar! (1962); third-person perspective shooting is also featured in its clones clones, Galaxy Game (1971) and Computer Space (1971). Arcade shooters with a 3D third-person perspective include Nintendo's Radar Scope (1979), Atari's Tempest (1981), Nihon Bussan's Tube Panic (1983), Sega's Space Harrier (1985), Atari's Xybots (1987), and Square's 3-D WorldRunner (1987). and JJ (1987) Third-person shooters for home computers include Dan Gorlin's Airheart (1986) and Paul Norman's Beyond Forbidden Forest (1986).
Konami's run & gun shooter Contra (1987) featured several third-person shooter levels where the player trudges through indoor enemy bases. Konami's Devastators (1988) is a third-person shooter where, rather than moving forward automatically, the player walks forward by holding the Up direction, as the background slowly scales toward the screen. Devastators also featured various obstacles that could be used to take cover from enemy fire, as well as two-player cooperative gameplay. A similar shooter released that same year was Cabal (1988), which inspired many of its own "Cabal clones," such as NAM-1975 (1990) and Wild Guns (1994). Kurt Kalata of Hardcore Gaming 101 cites Sega's Last Survivor (1988), released for arcades and then ported to the FM Towns and FM Towns Marty, featuring eight-player deathmatch. He notes that it has a perspective and split-screen similar to Xybots, but with entirely different gameplay and controls. In 1993, Namco released a two-player competitive 3D third-person shooter vehicle combat game, Cyber Sled. Fade to Black (1995) was also a fully 3D third-person shooter.
Tomb Raider (1996) by Eidos Interactive (now Square Enix Europe) is claimed by some commentators as a third-person shooter, and Jonathan S. Harbour of the University of Advancing Technology argues that it's "largely responsible for the popularity of this genre". Other commentators have considered it influential on later third person shooters such as BloodRayne (2002), The Contra Adventure (1998), MDK (1997), Duke Nukem: Time To Kill (1998), Burning Rangers (1998), and Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.² (2000). The game eschewed the popular first person perspective of games such as Doom, instead making use of "third person" viewpoints, wide 3D environments and a control system inspired by Prince of Persia. Mega Man Legends (1997) by Capcom is another early 3D third person shooter which took a different approach to the genre, mixing this with a role-playing game influence. Around the same time, Deathtrap Dungeon (1998) by Eidos Interactive and MediEvil (1998) by SCE Cambridge Studio (then Millennium Interactive) were some of the first 3D games in the genre to include third person shooter influences in a fantasy setting, with fictional or alternative weapons achieving the same effect as a gun for the player. Die Hard Trilogy (1998) by Fox Interactive was met with critical acclaim at the time of its release, and the section of the game based around the first Die Hard film in the trilogy was another early take on a 3D third person shooter.
Syphon Filter (1999) by Eidetic (now SCE Bend Studio) combined the perspective of Tomb Raider with action elements of games such as GoldenEye 007 (1997) and Metal Gear Solid (1998). Richard Rouse III wrote in GamaSutra that the game was the most popular third person shooter for the PlayStation. The Nintendo 64 version of Army Men: Sarge's Heroes by The 3DO Company was released the same year as Syphon Filter, and is an early example of a popular third person shooter which introduced the player being allowed to control aiming of their weapon themselves by means of two control sticks. In Tomb Raider and Syphon Filter, on the other hand, the protagonists automatically aimed at antagonists. Forcing or allowing the player to control aiming themselves, either using control sticks or a mouse, would go on to become commonplace in later games in the genre, such as Oni (2001), Max Payne (2001) and SOCOM (2002). Max Payne (2001) was acclaimed as a superlative third person shooter, inspired by Hong Kong action cinema. Resident Evil 4 (2005) was influential in helping to redefine the third-person shooter genre, with its use of "over the shoulder" offset camera angles, where the camera is placed directly over the right shoulder and therefore doesn't obscure the action.
An important gameplay mechanic that helped revolutionize third-person shooters in the past decade was the cover system. Koei's WinBack (1999) has a cover system. Kill Switch (2003) features the cover system as its core game mechanic, along with a blind fire mechanic. Gears of War (2006) employed tactical elements such as taking cover, influenced by Kill Switch, using off-center viewpoints inspired by Resident Evil 4. The game also employed grittier themes than other titles and used a unique feature which rewarded the player for correctly reloading weapons. Gears of War, as well as games such as Army of Two (2008), place a greater emphasis on two player cooperative play, as does Resident Evil 5 (2009). As of 2009, the third-person shooter genre has a large audience outside Japan, particularly in North America.
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