Rockstar finally let the cat out of the bag and it’s been announced that, as an extra carrot to dangle in front of current GTA V owners, the new current gen console edition will have a first person view mode added. This is just a bit more icing to add to the higher resolution, more crowded streets, new animals and additional songs for the radio stations that have already been teased in the weeks leading up to its release. But this latest announcement, while not a game changer, changes a lot of things for the GTA franchise. For years now, players have experienced Liberty City, Vice City and Los Santos at a remove, viewing it from a distance, behind the back of the game’s protagonist. With the addition of the first person mode, they can finally wander around the streets and feel what it’s like to “be there.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time that any game—even a GTA game—has included a first person view mode. Even in the PS2 days, driving a car had the option to put players in a “ghost” first person mode where they could see the streets, but not any dashboard, steering wheel, or anything else to indicate position. It was similar to the interface-free driving views afforded by games like Gran Turismo for people that wanted a clear view of the road. But even franchises like the Metal Gear Solid series have experimented with first person view. From Metal Gear Solid onwards, the game always switched to first person view when crawling through ventilation ducts, and in MGS4, the series finally allowed players to switch to first person view for shooting or just looking around, although it restricted Snake’s movement compared to his more agile moves while in third.
The interesting aspect this new first person mode brings to light is just how different it feels for people playing the game. In the same way that the three-dimensional/you-are-there feeling of virtual reality is different from a traditional first person view, adding a first person view to a third person game changes the feel of the experience. Most gamers don’t give it much thought, but the point of a view a game provides informs many things about the way people think and play through a game. Just look at the difference between the old top-down camera view from the original MGS games contrasted with how Kojima changed that to a more contemporary “behind the back” view in MGS 3, then MGS 4. Players went from a “god’s eye” view of the world to feeling much closer to the action. Taking that one step, with first person, allows players to see the world as if they were inhabiting it. It’s perhaps one of the reasons why of all the RPGs currently available, it is Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series that has resonated most with even mainstream gamers, as the first person mode puts them in the thick of things in a way normally associated with Call of Duty games.
So should more games be doing this? Even melee combat-heavy games like the new Batman games from Rocksteady occasionally allow players to jump into first person mode to solve puzzles or find collectibles. On the other hand, BioWare with Dragon Age and Mass Effect steadfastly avoid letting players use a mode like this, letting players soak up the atmosphere, rather than get in a close look. Obviously games like Arkham Asylum and even Sleeping Dogs benefit from a third person point of view because of the melee/brawling component that makes it easier to fight when a player can see all the enemies in the immediate area. But there’s something to be said for looking up at a skyscraper, or even the Notre Dame Cathedral, with your “own” eyes, rather than from behind someone’s shoulder. There’s no denying that the first person point of view brings a sense of immediacy to the environment, but does every game using polygons need that?