I understand that in most FPS games, players are not rewarded for providing cover fire. I wouldn’t be surprised if most players didn’t even know what cover fire was. Yet at some point after gestation and during subsequent media consumption, every American must have watched an action movie in which the invincible hero asks someone to “cover [me]” right before running headfirst into, behind, or over enemy lines.
And you know what his/her 2-dimensional allies did?
They provided cover fire.
Cover fire isn’t what happens when you and your significant other decide to incorporate Swedish firesteel into your intimate encounters. It’s when you shoot goddamn bullets in the general vascinity of enemies to prevent them from engaging your allies. And the more deadly/realistic the game is, the more important it is to incorporate into your strategy. Unless, of course, you enjoy seeing your teammates riddled with bullets.
As with everything FPS, it all goes back to Counter-Strike. While games like Quake and Unreal had you surviving plasma bolts and dozens of rounds of minigun wounds, Counter-Strike started the whole “bullets kill you relatively quickly” fad that has since been a staple of military-style shooters. While it’s more realisitc to be instantly killed by a shotgun slug to the noggin, this paradigm shift meant gunfire was no longer something that could just be shrugged off. Nowadays, if someone is emptying a virtual firearm at you, your options are (1) hide, (2) shoot more accurate return fire, or (3) die.
But just as your enemies’ attacks can instill fear and initiate pants-wetting, so too can your own weapons make targets think twice. As bullets become increasingly lethal in modern FPS gaming, their use in eliminating enemies is slowly being approached by their secondary use: scaring the shit out of them.
Back to Counter-Strike. The fan favorite map de_Dust2 features a long, open corridor between the plateau bomb site and the terrorist spawn location. This area is one of the most frequent for firefights drawing first blood, and grants a huge advantage to whichever team manages to hold it down first. The only problem is safely navigating a long, open area; after all, a single well-placed AK-47 round will leave you watching the respawn timer.
With the magic of Cover Fire®, your team can now safely advance toward the front of this area, putting you in the perfect position to get the drop on people wearing different clothing than you. By burst-firing 2-3 rounds of ammunition every 0.5 to 1.5 seconds, you can deter foes from popping out and taking pot shots at your vanguard squad. Nobody really wants to walk directly into an area in which someone is randomly emptying magazines of ammunition, so as long as you’re peppering the corner with sporadic bursts, your team can slowly advance. A smoke grenade can do wonders, supplementing your deterrence.
Fast forward to something like Battlefield Bad Company 2, and cover fire is even more effective, since the Frostbite engine allows your vaguely-aimed bullets to deform and destroy your enemies’ protective barricades. Since no shelter is permanent, players are less likely to even stand directly next to corners, let alone jump out from them. All the while, your squad is using your line of fire as a guide to safety… kind of like a seeing eye dog made out of lead.
Effective cover fire not only keeps cautious foes away from your team– it keeps reckless ones in the ground. If an enemy does happen to have the balls necessary to charge into your random spattering of gunfire, he’ll quickly be killed or injured, allowing for an even easier push by your allies. In other words, frequent use of cover fire is a win/win scenario.*
Just don’t run out of bullets, okay?
*For you. It’s lose/lose for enemies.