Written by Brock Monday, 28 February 2011 06:00
The war being waged between 3rd person and 1st person shooters is a relatively recent one, but it is no less hard-fought. Here are some advantages the 3rd person has over the ubiquitous 1st person perspective.
Take Cover! The first and clearest advantage to playing a 3rd person shooter is evident with the presence of cover - whether or not a dedicated cover system is present. Your character can duck behind a wall or barrier to avoid enemy fire, either by simply moving behind a barrier, or entering into an "official" cover mechanic in the game. In a 3rd person game, this means a chance to plan out your strategy, and a protected view of the battlefield. In a 1st person game, however, this usually means a clear view of the wall or barrier.
A 3rd-person character can fire blindly from behind cover, sacrificing accuracy for safety, or pop/lean out of cover to deliver more accurate shots, while slightly exposing the player to enemy fire. From a 1st-person perspective, the player must expose his/her head and torso to fire their weapon, usually without any blind-fire or peeking-over-cover option. Peeking from cover and being able to manipulate the camera from a protected spot has been allowing sneaky gamers to get the jump on the bad guys since games like Tenchu: Stealth Assassins.
Get to the Chopper! Movement is a very basic part of games, and nobody does it better than the 3rd-person action hero (this section is mostly inspired by the likes of UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves. If all game characters moved like Nathan Drake we'd all be better off). If you were to ask members of law enforcement or the military what they do when they're being shot at, you can assume "strafe" would not be at the top of their lists. Yet this is what we're given in terms of evasive techniques in 1st person games. As a crafty 3rd-person hero, one can run for cover while simultaneously looking in a different direction, at their attacker. You can even fire a few shots of your own while running the opposite way, and the 3rd person perspective is perfectly suited for these types of agile movements during firefights.
These pictures pretty well sum up the point about movement (source):
It's All In Your Mind: This initially may seem backwards, but a 3rd-person perspective allows for a more powerful emotional and sensory connection than a 1st-person experience. In your real-life human body, your mind processes and interprets visual and non-visual cues that you don't even notice; you perceive limb position, balance, any slope in terrain, and a myriad of other details to help you navigate your world. 3rd-person perspective allows a better depiction of the "big-picture" stuff your brain does automatically, significantly also including a better sense of peripheral vision.
In terms of emotional response, seeing how your character reacts to events can provide a powerful connection. Uncharted 2 has a section that depicts Nathan Drake supporting an injured character while escaping down an crumbling alleyway. This limits the player to only his pistol, and slows your movement considerably to compensate for the added weight of the injured character. It's a powerful emotional scene, made more so because we can see the characters react. Drake is a great example in other ways; the character guides his movements, but Drake reacts to his environments with surprising realism; shielding himself from gunfire or explosions, and crouching when undetected by enemies.
None of this is to say that 1st-person games can't immerse the player; just that 3rd-person games provide more versatile gameplay, giving the player a better and more enjoyable "human experience" by incorporating peripheral vision and spatial awareness more effectively than a 1st-person game.