God of War takes place on an epic scale. Kratos' chain-linked blades fill the screen glowing arcs and luminescent explosions, cutting a wide swatch through his enemies freely and readily. It's fluid and easy to control, but God of War is an oddity in that the right stick is not used to control the game's camera. Instead, it causes Kratos to dramatically roll in whatever direction it's tilted. Yet the God of War games have fast combat and some degree of platforming. With care and foresight, a "locked" camera can actually be used to provide both clarity and cinematic scope.
The developers get to choose how the player experiences their game, not just with regard to the sequence in which they experience events, but every single moment can be carefully framed, both for maximum impact and, just as importantly, to provide the player with the point of view that greatest services the action and facilitates their success. This can be cinematic, as in God of War, by zooming out or panning over sweeping vistas and grand temples, while classic survival horror titles, such as the earlier Resident Evil games (even if it was a caveat of pre-rendered backgrounds) would use their camera to lock the player in, limit how much they could see, and take away some of their security.
The clearest example of the distinction between "fixed" and "locked" camera, however, comes from a game that possesses both. Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence modified Snake Eater with a player-controlled camera. This tremendous addition better allows players to control a given battlefield, taking away one of the enemy's advantages in a stealth situation (a lack of complete player awareness of their surroundings). That said, the locked camera often serves to provide better direction on where to go, keeping the player from becoming disoriented without forcing them to constantly pause the game to check the map and see where they stand versus where they need to be. In fact, a "locked" camera can be a tremendous boon if an environment itself looks fairly uniform, since the angle at which each "screen" of it is viewed allows the player to distinguish between them and better determine their location.
By and large, the preference in games today is for "free" cameras, in the player's control. It simply gives them the most direct line into the action and allows for easier back-tracking and more complex platforming. I believe, however, that there is still a place for "locked" cameras in modern games, when a developer has an idea for a truly specific and carefully crafted experience.
Date: September 7, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*