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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 shooters
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 if watching a film. In contrast, a first-person perspective provides the player with greater immersion into the game universe.
This difference in perspective also has an impact on 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".
Some of the earliest shooters with a third-person behind-the-back perspective were space shoot 'em ups, including the Nintendo's single-screen shooter Radar Scope (1979), Sega's forward-scrolling rail shooters Tac/Scan (1982) and Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom (1982), the forward-scrolling laserdisc video games Astron Belt (1983) by Sega and Inter Stellar (1983) by Funai, Konami's Juno First (1983), Nippon's Ambush (1983), and Nichibutsu's Tube Panic (1983). Some of the earliest third-person shooters featuring characters on foot were also rail shooters, including Space Harrier (1985) by Sega, Shootout (1985) by Nihon Bussan, and the early 3D stereoscopic games 3-D WorldRunner (1987) and JJ (1987) by Square (now Square Enix). Silpheed (1986), a forward-scrolling third-person space combat game by Game Arts, was an early example of a fully 3D polygonal shooter. WiBArm (1986), released by Arsys Software for the NEC PC-8801 and ported to MS-DOS by Brøderbund, was an on-foot shooter that featured a fully 3D polygonal third-person perspective for exploring indoor areas, though bosses were fought in an arena-style 2D battle.
Konami's run and gun shooter Contra (1987) featured several third-person shooter levels where the player trudges through indoor enemy bases, advancing screen by screen. Konami continued to evolve the concept in Devastators (1988), a fully 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). Also in 1988, Sega's Last Survivor, released for arcades and then ported to the FM Towns and FM Towns Marty, was a more free-roaming third-person shooter. Several polygonal 3D third-person vehicle shooters were released in 1993, including Namco's two-player competitive third-person shooter vehicle combat game Cyber Sled that required cooling fans because of the large number of polygons used, and Nintendo's third-person flight shooter Star Fox which was responsible for popularizing 3D action games. Fade to Black (1995) was a 3D third-person action-adventure game similar to Tomb Raider.
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), and Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.² (2000). Still others do not classify Tomb Raider as a shooter, but rather as a platform game that is "also a three-dimensional block-moving puzzle game with added combat elements." 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.
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. While in Tomb Raider and Syphon Filter the protagonists automatically aimed at antagonists, later games such as Oni (2001), Max Payne (2001) and SOCOM (2002) forced players to control aiming themselves by means of two control sticks or a keyboard and mouse. Max Payne (2002) 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. An early cover system was introduced to the 3D third-person shooter genre by Koei's WinBack (1999), and was further developed in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001). Namco's Kill Switch (2003) was later the earliest third-person shooter to feature 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 of Japan, particularly in North America.
Vanquish (2010) by Platinum Games introduced to the genre a gameplay style reminiscent of bullet hell shooters, with bullets and missiles coming from all directions. Its most important innovation, however, is the rocket-sliding mechanic that acts as both a defensive escape and an offensive setup, opening up new gameplay possibilities for shooter games. According to director Shinji Mikami, the sliding boost mechanic was influenced by the 1970s anime series Casshern. Vanquish has since set a new trend that can be seen in several shooters released afterward, which have incorporated similar sliding mechanics, including Bulletstorm, Crysis 2, and Killzone 3.
A recent unique take on the genre is Second Person Shooter Zato, an experimental 'second-person shooter' released by Japanese indie developer Himo in 2011. It uses a 'second-person' perspective to display the game from the viewpoint of the enemies looking at the player, rather than the other way around, and makes use of a split screen to show the perspectives of multiple enemies. The game's perspective was inspired by surveillance cameras, while the title takes its name from Zatoichi due to the player character's inability to see.
The squad-based third-person shooter Binary Domain features a Consequence System, where trust plays a part in how the squad views the player, shaping their opinion on their leader based on how the player performs and treats fellow team members. This affects both the storyline and the gameplay, where the characters behave differently depending on trust levels. The player can also talk to the characters using a headset, with the game's AI being able to recognize six different languages, including English and Japanese.
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