There might be more “tactical shooters” today than ever before. Throughout the 2000s we had Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, SWAT, Operation Flashpoint which later evolved into Arma, SOCOM, and not much else. Today we still have have Arma and some Ghost Recon as well as Squad, Insurgency and Day of Infamy, Rising Storm series and soon ’83, Tannenburg, Verdun, Ground Branch, Vanguard: Normandy 1944, Hell Let Loose, Post Scriptum, and more coming like Ready or Not.
Despite the presence of these “tactical shooters” it is unfortunate to see how just about all of them are very misguided in their attempts at being tactical shooters. SWAT and the first three Rainbow Six games are true masterpieces and real tactical shooters, as are the Arma games, but what about these others? And why are these few so good? In this article we will examine how the trending modern “tactical shooters” are misguided and not on a good trajectory. We will go over each main problem individually.
Steam Early Access is an interesting and controversial subject. Most of today’s tactical shooters release in Steam Early Access, usually for a reduced price. They are in alpha or beta stages, but it is misuse of Steam Early Access when it lasts for years at a time.
Squad, for example, will hit its 5 year Early Access anniversary in December. The game has come a long way in those 5 years, sure, but what ever happened to just releasing games in a version 1.0 state with a complete amount of content? Why can’t this be done anymore? Vanguard: Normandy 1944, Hell Let Loose, Post Scriptum, and Ground Branch are all also in early access stages for the long run, and Ready or Not will be releasing in Early Access too. Who knows how long they will last? And this is not about instant gratification, it is about releasing a complete, polished product, which is just asking for too much these days apparently.
Do you really believe for every single early access game, player feedback really ends up shaping it? Buying an early access game is such a gamble since you never know if it’ll just be abandoned or take forever. Look at DayZ, Interstellar Marines, and while it’s not Steam Early Access specifically it is the same concept – Star Citizen.
All these games sell you on promises, hopes, and dreams that they will one day have maybe almost as much content as 2000s games would have on day 1.
All of these modern PvP only “tactical shooters”, like most PvP shooters in general, revolve around doing the same objective (or same few objectives) over and over again on very similar maps. This is just inherently so much more repetitive (resulting in very repetitive tactics) than something like Arma, classic Rainbow Six (the first three games), and even SWAT, where objectives and terrain/maps vary far more, which results in different tactics and strategy all the time.
The most you can get out of a PvP shooter trying to be tactical and strategic is to have not only objective based game modes, but make the objectives somewhat sequential, forcing teamwork and cooperation, best shown in PvP shooters such as Crysis and Crysis Wars with its Power Struggle mode, Natural Selection 2, Unreal Tournament 2004 with its Assault and to a lesser extent Onslaught modes, Battlefield 2142 and its Titan mode, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (the original) with its Galactic Conquest mode.
But even if you have this, public PvP gameplay inevitably reduces tactical and strategic nature of the game (which is already usually diminished as explained above) because many players will just go on and do whatever they want. The only way to stop this is private servers with people you know won’t be like that. Sure, not every public facing server will be mostly entropic, but most of them will be.
Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield has a nice, refreshing solo stealth mission, to change up gameplay and tactics.
So PvP is just all around not a good approach if you want tactical gameplay. It is too chaotic and objectives are just too repetitive.
Unfortunately, most of today’s “tactical shooters” think that simply having somewhat realistic FPS mechanics, or copying the basic movement feel and visual aesthetic of other tactical shooters is enough to make their games brilliant tactical shooters themselves. That is not how it works.
Take Ground Branch for example. I cannot fathom how classic Rainbow Six fans are saying it is a worthy spiritual successor. That is flat out wrong. Ground Branch makes the peculiar decision to copy the basic keyboard movement feel (without copying the fluid stance mechanic) of Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, a 2003 game, it lets you choose an insertion point on missions like in Rainbow Six, and it has a Terrorist Hunt game mode. That’s what it copied from Raven Shield, but it doesn’t make the two games alike at all besides how their basic movement feels.
Now I understand that Ground Branch is a small scale passion project, so what I’m about to say is targeted at the misleading comments from gamers, I’m not even criticizing the game itself. So many gamers are out there saying Ground Branch is “just like” the first three Rainbow Six games, calling it a true spiritual successor. I’ve seen this from people who I know for a fact played Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield as well.
It’s not unlike people who play SWAT 4 and Rainbow Six 3 and can’t determine the differences between the two; most gamers just have no idea what they’re playing. That is the simple truth whether you’re talking about the rampant misuse of the term “RPG” or this. SWAT, classic Rainbow Six, and Ground Branch are all very different types of “tactical shooters.”
The first three Rainbow Six games are campaign driven games, while Ground Branch is not. Rainbow Six is primarily about planning a mission beforehand which takes several times as long as any individual mission attempt, and operating as multiple teams to take on campaign missions set on very complex, intricate levels with different goals on each one, and with a story behind it all. Ground Branch has none of that.
On the contrary, Ground Branch is about generic PvP like team deathmatch, or just co-op Terrorist Hunt (kill all terrorists on a map), and every map is extremely simplistic, basically training maps. Sure, Rainbow Six had Terrorist Hunt too, but that was not the focus of the game. People seemingly can’t recognize where a game’s focus is, even when it’s as obvious as this.
There is no comparison between those simple training maps versus the insane complexity and intricacies of classic Rainbow Six maps.
And level design can make or break a game as we’ve recently discussed, but again, we’re looking at classic campaign driven tactical shooters with intricate levels like Rainbow Six (the first three on PC only) and SWAT vs PvP shooters with oversimplified co-op on oversimplified training levels like Ground Branch or PvP only shooters like Squad, Vanguard: Normandy 1944, Hell Let Loose, Post Scriptum. The point being, there is no comparison, yet people love to falsely compare them.
Ground Branch copying just the basic movement feel of Rainbow Six, and having insertion points, does not make it Rainbow Six. It has no real pre-mission planning system, just the insertion point selection below. It has no red, green, yellow teams, setting waypoints for each team in the pre-mission planning, it has no campaign, it has no complex objective based gameplay at all.
This insertion point selection map is no replacement for Rainbow Six’s pre-mission planning system shown below.
In Rainbow Six 3, you will spend far more time planning missions than any individual attempt at a mission, and for good reason.
Squad is a spiritual successor to the Project Reality mods which existed for both Battlefield 2 and Arma 2, but it made the mistake of copying Arma 3’s outdated visual aesthetic and clunky movement. They have since improved movement so it no longer feels like a direct Arma 3 clone, but it was a really bizarre choice in the beginning.
The trend of copying basic tactical FPS mechanics and throwing that on top of a PvP only shooter has its place, but is overused and misguided if they think this is the solution to making the ultimate tactical shooter. There is only one tactical shooter right now that is truly excelling in game design, and it’s Arma 3.
Too many of today’s “tactical shooters” are PvP only which makes them very repetitive and inherently limits how tactical they really are due to the chaotic and repetitive nature of PvP. Even Arma in all its brilliance has a terrible public PvP scene, that is not the way to play Arma 3.
Arma 3 is the only modern tactical shooter that has truly diverse objective based gameplay, an extensive single player tactical gameplay experience giving the player the ability to go solo or command squads, platoons, or even play as a Colonel or General of sorts commanding massive units like an RTS game. It has co-op, and it has PvP that can amount to a lot more than other PvP shooters in private mil-sim rooms since it doesn’t revolve around nearly as much of a repetitive objective-based design. Arma 3’s only real issue is that it fails to reach its own potential due to broken AI (mods improve this but only so much) and a horrendous engine with multithreading comparable maybe to that of Quake III from 1999, so any real war scenario or even just putting 100 AI in a city will bog down to as low as 10-15 FPS on any PC, so Arma 3 mostly lends itself to small special forces operations of all kinds.
This is the main modern innovation in tactical shooters: weapon customization. This level of it was pioneered by Escape from Tarkov and I’ve only ever seen it in one other game shown above, Ground Branch. Another good trend today is “picture-in-picture” scopes as shown in the header image of this article.
The one good thing about “tactical shooters” today is that most of them are still moddable. You’ll be hard pressed to find a moddable multiplayer shooter that isn’t one of these “tactical shooters.” So as misguided as this genre is today, with Arma 3 being the only shining light in the darkness, it’s still better than most video game genres today!
Besides Arma, we have no hardcore tactical shooters that are campaign based, that provide more dynamic gameplay by not revolving around repetitive PvP objectives, with brilliant level design making every single decision a big one. We have no successor to the brilliant classic Rainbow Six games, no successor to SWAT either.
Ready or Not markets itself as a SWAT successor, but time will tell if it lives up to it. Modern video game AI is so horrendous compared to 2000s video game AI so that’s an immediate concern, as is level design since this has totally taken a backseat in game design as explained here. Not to mention it has PvP which is another immediate concern, so here’s hoping it doesn’t become a wannabe Rainbow Six: Siege.
SWAT 4 still has a small online community though, often playing the excellent Elite Force mod. If you haven’t played this classic, be sure to. It has aged very well especially with this mod.
Rainbow Six 3 still has an active multiplayer community, AllR6, and it’s actually a really good community so it is highly recommended to check this out. These modders have advanced Rainbow Six 3 shooting mechanics beyond that of a lot of modern shooters.
What are your thoughts on tactical shooters today? Let us know in the comments below.