Going back recently and digging up old[er] shooter games, in particular, Rainbox Six: Vegas 2 (never played Vegas 1, but I assume it uses the same cover system) made me think. The game plays as a first person shooter until you get into cover, in which it switches into a third person view so you can see over/around the cover.
I compared this to the system move like Gears of War and Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, in which the games use a similar cover system, however they are always in third person.
I couldn't find or think of any examples of first person games with cover mechanics that maintain first person views. The closest I could come up with is the lean mechanic in many first person games.
So the question comes up, with system do you prefer, and why? What are the benefits and problems of each one? How would a fully first person cover system work? Personally, I like the consistency provided by Gears of War and Ghost Recon: Advance Warfighter by sticking to one view point. Rainbow Six: Vegas switches views smoothly, however the aiming component changes between being in and out of cover.
Well, the purpose of "cover" is to protect your character's body from attack, generally line-of-sight attack. You have no body awareness in a videogame, and from first person you can't see your body, so you have a hard time getting information of how the cover in the game is working for you. In typical FPS environments with solid vertical walls and other clearly shaped obstacles, by looking around and moving you can often deduce the enemy can't see you, or that you'll see the enemy at least as early as they see you.
If a "cover system" squeezes/locks your character into an obstacle while retaining first-person perspective, you aren't going to see anything because your nose is against the obstacle. This makes no sense; in a FPS you could just as well huddle up to the obstacle manually and spin your view around without the complication of a "cover system".
The switch to third person not only informs you of the location of your body, but by showing the view past the obstacle, delivers visual information which would be trivial for us to gain in the real world by peeking, which makes the game a more natural simulation in many circumstances.
A head or upper body look system that allows a player to get a better sense of their character's self and surroundings (not turning the body when looking around) could maybe enable a game to retain its FP view in cover as well as make a lean system worth adding. To make this work the character's body would have to turn only when the player tapped forward, turning the body in the direction the head is looking.
In addition this system could enable a player to crouch, prone, stand and jump by simply looking up or down and hitting the W key again. Adding double tap (or Shift+)W key to toggle movement (along with the traditional press an hold W key) could free players to advance on a position while focusing on other gameplay aspects like running and shooting, simply looking around, tactical or strategic commands, item organization, customization, etc. The limitation is blind fire while in cover, although i have an idea of how to overcome this with a left and right hand control system. I can't think of a console control setup for this but honestly (not to change the topic but) does anyone care about console shooters anyways?
One of the few redeeming points of crysis 2 over the first one (IMO) was its cover system, not hyper advanced (primarily based on leaning still) but it worked nicely and effectively, although it did seem as though it was impossible to get hit while leaning over the top of cover, bug maybe, I haven't downloaded any patches, leaning left or right I could get hit.
Another data point might be Syndicate (the new one), wherein you stay in first-person, but the game's interpretation of the "aim down sights" button changes depending on your stance and position with regard to obstacles. If you're out in the open, you just assume the correct shooting posture, Boy Scout-style, but if you're hunched behind a conveniently placed chest-high wall or near a corner, the "raise weapon" button becomes a "peek out" button as well, and you can get some pretty satisfying results.
To answer your question, I loves me some Vegas 2, and I think that popping out of first person and into third for using cover is as useful and intuitive as it is for driving a vehicle in Halo. When you're running and gunning, you are your gun, and your game controls are basically just camera controls with a pointer in the center of the screen. When you shift gears and start using cover in a direct and meaningful way (as opposed to the more general way in which you use zone of cover and fields of fire in the course of normal play) you cease to be your gun and become your body, switching from an offensive entity with a vulnerability to bullets to a defensive entity with the ability to do harm. A bizarre semantic distinction, I know, but it's how it works in my mind, and I love it. It's why third-person stuff works so well in sneaky/scary games like Splinter Cell and Resident Evil and Dead Space 1, and feels a little hokey in the SOCOM games and Dead Space 2, where ammo is more plentiful and you feel stronger.
Ultimately, First-person is good when the character's eyes and a single focal point of interaction are the game piece, as in a shooting game or a flight simulation, and third-person is appropriate when the player's physical body is the game piece, as in an acrobatic fighter or a platformer. Obviously there is room for interpretation and experimentation, but when a player can see the character's entire body, they expect that body to be a factor, and if the body is a factor, they expect to be able to see it.
Recent shooters allow me to get shot in the ankle or the elbow or the very tippy-top of my head from positions where I can't see or understand where the damage is coming from, despite the vague directional damage indicator on-screen. This bothers me, to an extent, because my opponent can immediately know something about me that I myself could never know, because I cannot see my own foot sticking way out around the corner, and he can. On the other hand, since it is an arcade-style shootfest, all I really need to compete and triumph is the ability to center an object on my screen and press a button, and being able to directly effect the yaw and pitch of my camera while shifting it's center on two axes is just the right toolset for that task.