By the broadest definition, action games are quite simply those which are action-packed. There’s a lot happening on screen and your awareness and reactions are constantly tested, with little pause for breath. Expect a lot of explosions, or a lot of blood – and quite possibly both. These are the games which draw the ire of clueless middle-class newspaper readers and misguided MPs everywhere. So read on, as IT Reviews explains just what the fuss is all about.
A good many 3D action games are shoot-’em-ups or ‘shooters’, which involve liberally spraying scores of enemies with lead and rockets, or plasma in sci-fi variants. In terms of 3D perspective, they can be first-person shooters (known as FPS) or third-person affairs. First-person means the game world is viewed directly through your character’s eyes, and third-person presents the view from behind the character (i.e. you can see yourself, rippling muscles and all).
Whatever the viewpoint, shooters traditionally require a fair degree of coordination, as players must utilise two analogue sticks simultaneously (or the mouse and keyboard on the PC). One stick controls your movement and the other the direction you’re looking. For the uninitiated, coordinating both can be a little like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time. Only harder.
However, after a few hours’ practice you’ll start to get the hang of it – and before too long, you’ll be rubbing the oppositions’ entrails off your combat boots while patting their heads with streams of well aimed sub-machine gun fire.
Alternatively, some shooters allow the use of motion controllers, such as Killzone 3 on the PS3 which supports a proper gun peripheral that the Move wand can slot into. This allows the player to aim a rifle at the screen for real, which is truly immersive.
Online play is widespread when it comes to shooters, and has evolved from the early days of simple ‘deathmatches’ where players run around a level just killing each other. Now many games offer sophisticated objective-based scenarios in which bases must be captured, and full simulations of warfare involving vehicles and planes players can control.
Currently, the most popular shooter is Black Ops, arguably the pinnacle of the massive-selling Call of Duty series with a host of multiplayer options (though novices may find online play daunting against an army of experts). The superbly atmospheric Crysis 2 scratches that sci-fi shooter itch, although if you’re a beginner, a good place to start might be Portal 2.
While not actually a shooter – it’s more of a 3D action-puzzler – it makes a great introduction to some key FPS skills, and is a fantastic game in its own right.
Other 3D action games
3D action also encompasses action-adventures which often involve tasks, puzzles and jumping skills, as well as bouts of gunfire. Enslaved is a great example of a compelling and well-rounded action-adventure.
Beat-’em-ups also fall into this category. These are fighting games where quick combinations of button presses deliver chained kicks and punches to your hapless opponent’s chin.
The Mortal Kombat reboot is a hugely addictive beat-’em-up, well paced and balanced, with multiple play modes and online opposition who’ll challenge the best. Marvel vs Capcom 3 is a slick and furious pummel-fest, but also a good proposition for newcomers to the genre, as it has a “simple mode” which is easy to pick up and play.