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Why Halo Works

As a games writer and critic I realize that I’m supposed to dismiss Halo, that most mainstream of mainstream games, out of hand with a condescending smirk, referencing the thousands of potty-mouthed kids and teabagging d-bags that clog up its fascistically reliable matchmaking service by thousands, day in day out. I’m supposed to sneer and snort about how every game in the decade-old franchise is essentially the same and how it’s not made any progress at all and how it’s hurting the industry and engendering hundreds and hundreds of me-too clone titles. I’m expected to lambast it for its lack of innovation and suggest that people play terrible (but different) games like Enslaved or Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom instead, and then blame Halo fans for those games’ failure at retail.

But I’m not going to do that, because I like Halo and I’ve come to realize what makes the series great, and why it’s remained a constant with gamers over the past ten years and will likely continue to do so into the future. I’ve also figured out where I fit into the game and what’s in it for me. What I’ve found is that Halo is this incredibly malleable, amorphis experience that lets you decide what it is and isn’t, and with Reach I think Bungie’s years of subtle tweaks coupled with a die-hard adherence to not fixing what ain’t broke really paid off- and they never once made me or anyone else play it a particular way.

But I’d be lying if I said that I’ve always loved Halo. The first title, which I can’t believe is now ten years old, was the first disc I ever put into my Xbox and I distinctly recall being categorically underwhelmed by it. Granted, I was coming to the game from devastatingly great PC shooters and first-person adventure games like System Shock 2, No One Lives Forever, and Thief. I failed to see anything particularly interesting about it in light of years spent playing multiplayer Quake with friends. I thought it had a strange, weightless feeling and the arena-based level design and goofy enemies just reminded me of an updated edition of MDK. I thought Perfect Dark was much more interesting in terms of console shooters.

As the years went on, other Halo games continued to fail to impress me beyond their obvious technical quality and distinct visual style that remains hardly “vanilla” at all. It’s much more of a “lime popsicle with a grape soda chaser” taste. Halo 2 bored me. Apart from that great set piece where Master Chief has to take down the two Scarab walkers, the third was a horrendous blur of incredibly bad dialogue about swords and sins and something about a Gravemind. I ran through the last couple of levels without stopping to shoot anything, just trying to end the game. I hated ODST. Halo and noir don’t mix. Saxophones? Really?

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Multiplayer never really appealed to me in any of the above. My friends all loved running the co-op campaigns and split-screen Slayer, but I just sort of shrugged. My old timey Xbox was never even hooked up to an internet connection, so that was sort of a non-issue and I did any and all multiplayer gaming on the PC anyway. So the Halo franchise, largely, passed me by. Or I passed by it, as the case may be. At least until last year when I bought Halo: Reach on launch day.

I dutifully played through the campaign, which was just as terribly written as all of the others, but once again I marveled at the actual gameplay, level design, and art direction. There’s no doubt, Reach is as AAA as it gets- virtually gleaming with polish and ripe with the stink of piles and piles of money. I enjoyed it overall and felt that it was easily the best single-player Halo experience to date, but the game still didn’t have its hooks in me.

After the credits rolled, I started going through the remainder of the content and the options available and it struck me- that Halo is whatever you want it to be and at a level that goes far beyond the cosmetic changes you can purchase for your Spartan armor or the extensive Forge World level design tools. It can be a single-player only experience, and you can adjust the difficulty with Skulls to your liking. You can go back and replay any section you want. The multiplayer modes offer a tremendous variety of experiences ranging from hardcore, sensors-off DMR matches to vehicle-heavy Big Team Battles. Firefight mode lets you tweak all kinds of settings to create a custom “horde mode”, seasoned to taste. You can adjust almost any parameter in the game, and then apply them to any gameplay type or map available. You can even make “machinma” movies or just record game events hoping to capture that one really awesome turn of events that could never be repeated. It’s kind of crazy how much agency Bungie gives you to play with their toys.

But more significantly than the things you can pick off of their buffet, at a metagame level the player has an amazing degree of free will to do whatever they want with the game, within the loose bounds of the Halo rules set and mechanics. It can be as competitive and serious as you want it to be, or it can be completely cavalier and silly. There’s room for both. It can be a completely solitary experience or it can be a central touchpoint for a social community. It’s amazing how flexible it is like that, and how Bungie accommodates such a wide range of preferences.

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I’ve found that for me, Halo falls more into the cavalier and silly column and I’ve come to really love the multiplayer options. Whether it’s the objective-driven Invasion gametypes or a crazy game taking place in a giant Skee-Ball machine, iIt’s such a light, effortless game to play and that’ ease of play and accessibility has been what has drawn me back into the multiplayer game over the past couple of weeks. In contrast to games like Killzone 3 or Bad Company 2 where teamwork is paramount and rigid goals impart an air of seriousness and commitment, Halo is so much easier to simply sit down and enjoy. The mechanics of Halo are much simpler as well, and I find that it’s a game that I can throw on and have a good time, even if I’m getting clobbered repeatedly or griefed by some guy on your team that thinks it’s funny to grenade you before you drop off a flag so that he can do it.

Sure, there’s tons of jerks, assholes, and miscreants that play the game- just like any other. I’ve also found that many of the most egregious complaints levied against Halo really have more to do with the people who play it than the game itself. Here’s a tip- turn the headset off. You’d be surprised at how many of the grievances lobbied against the game vanish. Reach also allows the player to set certain preferences so that if you want to play a game with quiet, polite, objective-focused players you can do so. I don’t really need to talk to my team to know I should be picking guys up in the Warthog to make a drive for a flag. I also don’t need to have my ears blasted with locker room talk and jibber-jabber. But if that’s what you like, it’s all yours. It’s a one size fits all game.

There’s a certain universality to Halo that I find extremely appealing. It’s science fiction, but it’s almost completely at a facile level. Yet if you really want to dig into the juvenile story and find out all about the Covenant or whatever in all of those school book fair novels, that’s there for you as well. In terms of gameplay, I love that many of the modes are not these highfalutin sci-fi mini-narratives with complex objectives and the fantasy element keeps it far removed from the us-versus-brown people and/or evil Russians of the military shooters. Instead, Halo offers versions of schoolyard games played out with alien bazookas and laser swords. The zombie mode is really a game of Tag. There’s also King of the Hill, variations of Hot Potato, and of course Capture the Flag. Even Slayer feels closer to playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians than other multiplayer shooters. The loose, jumpy physics also provide levity and the game never feels as violent or aggressive as other shooters, which makes it feel more accessible in general.

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Yet generality doesn’t necessarily translate to genericism. Halo remains Halo, and although other games might imitate it, none capture its finer qualities. Section 8: Prejudice is a good example. It borrows wholesale from the Halo playbook, yet it emerges as a surprisingly complicated game without any of its forebear’s accessibility and ease of play. It jumbles game modes, upgrades, weapon types, ammo, and tons of mechanical bells and whistles into slurry. And it turns out to be a much more generic, flavorless shooter because it misses those lime and grape flavors that uniquely taste like Halo.

A not-so-secret ingredient in the formula is that Halo, and Reach in particular, is an incredible piece of video game design- top to bottom. Regardless of the terrible storylines and writing (if you even play single player), what you think about the community (if that even exists in your experience with the game), its marketing (exploitation, if you prefer), or its effects on 21st century FPS design (for better or worse) the game’s mechanics and design remain amazingly solid. It’s no wonder that Reach, apart from some armor abilities and a couple of minor changes, isn’t all that much different than the first Halo. You don’t start putting Shittake mushrooms on the Big Mac when it’s selling in the billions year in, year out.

The bottom line is this is that Halo works, Halo is universal, and if you find your place in it then there’s an incredible amount of fun that can be yours. The trick is to find what aspect of the game is fun to you, and play that Halo. Not the Halo that xXx420JuggaloxXx or the above-it-all sneering critic is playing. Make it yours. This is why Halo is great, because you can own the experience. Hopefully, as the keys to the franchise change hands, its new minders won’t forget these elements that made it great over the past ten years.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

42 thoughts to “Why Halo Works”

  1. I really liked the ODST campaign and its Firefight mode was fun as well. Reach’s campaign was probably my second favorite (after ODST) and its Firefight mode is the first of this style to really hook me (I played ODST’s after getting tired of the Reach maps and it was quite a change to get used to). Not a big fan of the traditional multiplayer in any of these game exception the first one and that was more about the magic of LAN play with a house full of friends than anything else. The first one also had a fun campaign and I don’t see how you can level the “arena-based level design” compliant against it. This compliant is totally valid against Halo 2 though which IMHO had the weakest level design of any Halo game to date. Halo 3 didn’t really scratch my itch either and it came out at such a bad time for me with The Orange Box and Mass Effect and tons of other fantastic games coming out. Plus my Xbox red ringed four days after it came out and by the time I had a fully functional Xbox again (which took months due to fuck up at both the call centers and the service centers) I had tons of other stuff I was way more interested in.

  2. See, there you go- it’s your Halo.

    I didn’t think the ODST campaign worked at all. I appreciated the different approach but the noir-influenced narrative really kind of took Halo out of its universality. It was like this overlay of dark, smoky tones and more specific characters. Reach did some of this too with the characters, but it worked better for some reason.

    It’s interesting to look at the more arena-based design (big, open areas seperated by linear pathways) of the first game in retrospect…it was likely a technical consideration, but like I said it reminded me of MDK. But you know, really, that kind of level design is present in all of the games up to Reach.

    For me though, interestingly, the multiplayer never appealed to me until Reach. I played Halo 3 MP maybe five times, ODST less than that.

  3. I JUST got Reach two days ago. My God was that campaign miserable. I wonder whether these levels were actually “designed.” Nearly every mission is like “here is a large open environment littered with doodads. Here’s 40 enemies. Go.” That being said, Reach multiplayer is VERY MUCH my cup of tea. Team Swat especially.

    I literally agree with everything you wrote here. Halo’s mechanics just work. It’s one of those games where if you took out all the scenery and visual design, and didn’t call it Halo but rather “Shoot Some Guys: Online” it would still hold up. I don’t think too many games can say that.

  4. You’re right. This game really is what you want it to be. I became horribly addicted to Halo 2. That addiction carried over to Halo 3 before I moved on, and for the most part, away from video games as a whole. To me nothing could approach Halo’s multiplayer. I tried Call of Duty and a few of the others but nothing beat the adrenalin rush of multiplayer Halo for me. So unlike you, I was strictly a multiplayer guy. I’ve never finished a campaign in Halo.

    I was all about the solo Slayer mode. I could turn off the chatter and incessant racial comments from the prepubescent teens playing against me and just run and gun all over the place and be in my own world. When you were playing good and ruling on a map it was a great feeling of being “in the zone.” It really was just a lot of fun then to have a few adult beverages and get caught up in the Slayer matchmaking playlists for a few hours.

    I never bothered with ODST or Halo Reach, but reading this makes me want to dust off the old 360 (if the thing will even boot up), and check out Halo Reach to see if I can get that old sense of enjoyment again.

  5. I’ve seen the diversity of play in Halo for a long time, but only because I play it differently than 99% of Halo players. I’ve never gone on-line with it as I just don’t like the competitiveness that arises in most of those games. I’ve played co-op with my FPS loving wife and PVP with my brother just the two of us. In the first incidence it’s gives my wife and I small goals to accomplish that don’t have anything else to do with the rest of our lives. My brother and I are transported back to the late-70s and Combat on the 2600. 30 years of sibling rivalry brought forth with cackling laughter at each kill.

    I’ve only played 1,2, and 3, but each I’ve finished multiple times. I usually play kill everything first, then run through everything, then sniper and sword, etc. I’m the rare person who thinks the 2 weapon limit is great. It makes you think about what weapon you’re going to use and the play style associated with it. One of my favorite video game moments is the first time I played through Halo 1 and going through The Library.

    Mostly though I thought it was the first game that I played that felt epic. Some of the vistas and areas you were in didn’t really feel like hallways and the actual hallways were claustrophobic. Mostly though that feeling came from the music, few if any game before had the great orchestral development Halo did. The music did what great music should do, become more than just background.

    I could nitpick the things I don’t like about the game, but none of those things are actually bad. The poorer aspects of the game were still better than most of the other FPSes out there at the time. It’s not the greatest game ever, but I can totally understand why it gets the praise it does.

  6. Enslaved was not a terrible game. The worst thing you can say about it is that the platformer gameplay was rather simplistic and that the ending was a bit out of the blue, but I’m going on record saying that it was a solid game. The fighting didn’t vary too much, but it built on itself and the user’s increasing skill very nicely. Plus, it was well-acted and the writing and overall story were really good as well. Furthermore, the game itself was easily the prettiest thing that the Unreal 3 engine has ever produced, so that’s worth a lot too.

    Oh, yeah, Halo. I played the first two and liked them, but I’m not really into first person shooters, so I kind of stopped caring (and I really only played them in the first place for the Marathon references).

  7. And yet, it is still a hitscan+grenade fps on a console. It’s the gaming equivalent of a Michael Bay movie.

    My intention is not to perpetuate PC elitism, but only to remind that you can’t turn water into wine just by wishing it were true. Halo is, and will always be, a dumbed down (and console) FPS. It’s like playing a fighting game against the computer. You’re diverting yourself, nothing more. There’s no truth to the experience. You’re not getting better at anything.

  8. well yeah it’s not counterstrike, but you can’t really do counterstrike on a console can you? I think that’s what’s great about halo is that it attempts and mostly succeeds at translating the genre for the console. The devil’s in the details because since you can’t point and shoot as reliably on consoles Halo puts up a bunch of other metagames like knowing locations of and fighting for weapon pickups. There are nuances like zoning: you can create pressure by using the right weapons to force the person into a position you want.

    Console can’t ever do CS because the playstyle is niche: kids want respawns and shit. CS has it’s own nuances that you can’t translate to the console audience. But for these reasons, Halo is a better console FPS than its competitors.

  9. Every time a new one comes out, I crank the difficulty to Legendary, and play through with a friend. I actually decided to start a fundraiser later this year called Skulls For Tots for the Child’s Play Charity, with a structure similar to Desert Bus For Hope but instead of adding hours at financial goals, we add skulls.

    People may have their complaints about the series, and they’re entitled to them, but I’ll always remember it being the first FPS I played through on co-op, and how much more I enjoyed that then playing through alone.

  10. Can I just say that I have a lot of problems with this comment. You say that you do not intend to perpetuate PC elitism, but you sure seem to want to perpetuate PC elitism.

    So, because you consider it “dumbed down” it isn’t worth playing? To me that’s like saying, because I can’t afford the best components on the market, it isn’t worth me building my own PC. Or, because the talent level is not as high as the NFL, it isn’t worth following college football. Simply because it’s not your preference doesn’t mean that it doesn’t offer something worthwhile to someone else.

    I don’t even know how to respond to your “truth” comment. What does that even mean? The “truth to the experience” is all in the perception and reality of the gamer. Halo 2 was the last iteration I played much of, but believe me, those giant 12-16 person LAN battles at my college dorm sure seemed to be pretty true experiences to me.

    And obviously, if you’re not getting better at something (particularly a leisure activity), it’s not worth doing. *eyeroll*

  11. My friends and I decided during an oddball match that we will see who could get the most assassinations. It eventually became the main goal of every game except for the invasion mode. We didn’t care if we won we just wanted to assassinate people. It of course pissed some people off, but it was the most fun i had with Halo since the original and we were playing 4 player split screen.

  12. That you had fun playing your video game is a foregone conclusion. Facing the truth is what’s at issue.

    You don’t begin playing against your buddies with the intention to lose, do you? Each player intends to win, unless they are far more subtle and manipulative than their peers. Each player is trying to learn what is required to beat their peers. This is almost a definition of ‘getting better.’

    And yet it doesn’t matter how much better you get, an 11 year old using a mouse will raise one eyebrow at your controller, and then body you. You won’t even touch him.

    So what, you say? You’re living in the grip of a delusion, a delusion that there is some correlation between the choices you’re making, and the success you’re experiencing. There isn’t. The lie that the game creates is that you can win against truly good players, and you can’t. No good players even appear in a Halo game. Even if they have the potential to excel, it doesn’t matter, because everyone is using the gamepad.

    Fun may be a matter of perception, but the strive toward victory, which is the form that competitive fun takes, is not subjective. Victory consists of who you are able to defeat. (or nearly defeat) I can’t imagine feeling satisfaction upon defeating someone at babby’s first turn+shoot.

    And feel free to argue that losing is fun.

  13. With all the shooter sequels on the horizon and the anticipation that leads up to them, my friend and I have been having this same discussion.

    We agreed that the one shooter that we feel we can go back to will be Halo: Reach. Not because we’re huge fans of Halo, neither of us really played Halo 3 until right before reach came out and we weren’t terribly impressed. It is the pliability that we love. The ability to mold the experience you are looking for. The fact that whatever we may be in the mood for, Reach can provide with only a few tweaks.

    In some ways, CoD:Black Ops provides a similar experience with their engine if you want to do private games, but I can barely get people to play the zombie mode with me since they won’t be earning XP for their next prestige. Bungie was wise when they allowed you to uselessly level up your one character evenly across all game modes. I also must say that Black Ops camera controls, patched after release, in their Cinema Mode is the best I’ve seen yet.

    As a side note, with the recent release of survival spec-ops mode for MW3, I hope developers take a cue from Bungie’s design and allow more malleable game experiences. When it comes to a horde/wave-based game mode, I want to know that it is possible to win with enough skill. Endless waves of anything and everyone eventually loses. How many times will I really want to play a game that I will consistently lose? Bragging right mean little to me so the feeling of accomplishment when a Firefight is over makes me feel like I’ve done something. The laugh at the end of a Zombies game makes me feel like playing something else.

  14. I liked Halo: Reach’s story/campaign.

    If you weren’t moved by:
    – Jorge’s pointless sacrifice
    – Kat’s random death
    – Carter’s and Emile’s epic sacrifices
    – the despair of watching a city/world burned by an implacable enemy
    – Noble 6′s last stand (in the trailer and the game)

    Then I think you may have effectively resigned from the human race.

    But maybe I’m exaggerating?

    Then again, I love stories of insurmountable odds and noble last stands.

    I have something to say! It’s better to burn out than to fade away!

  15. Not sure I really understand your argument. Halo sucks because it’s a console game and not a PC game? Yeah, sorry, that’s the PC elitism raising its head that you were hoping to avoid. That’s all your ‘truth’ is in this case.

    Frankly, it has nothing to do with PC gamers. If I’m the best console FPS player on the planet (and I’m not), and I can’t beat anyone on PC, that doesn’t matter. Because I’m not playing against PC players. You’re trying to draw conclusions in a minor league < major league format (or NCAA versus NFL if you prefer), when in reality console-v-PC is more akin to NASCAR-v-F1. Just different types o’ racing, even if I find NASCAR ridiculous.

  16. “Dumbed down”? Are you serious? Just because it’s not PC doesn’t mean it’s not a brilliant, VERY SMART design. There’s nothing “dumbed down” about it. Could identify some ways that PC shooters are more intelligent or indicative of more evolved, sophisitcated design?

    “Dumbed down” is a false statement. When people say that, what they usually mean is that something is streamlined or otherwise reduced in complexity or inaccessibility. But here’s the rub- in almost ALL things, as they evolve, they get SMALLER. Reduction is more progressive than addition.

    Of course, I totally expected comments like this…they tend to follow Halo discussion around.

  17. Ha! Maybe so, friend. Maybe so.

    I’m really amazed you remembered their names. Which one was the bubble helmet dude?

  18. Yes- with Reach I’m finding that it is a game I can always go back to- it’s that playability you reference. It provides so few barriers to the player to just get in and have fun, the ability to play a sports-themed game, a zombie-themed one, firefight, co-op, pure Deathmatch. The choice is yours.

    On the levelling up…at first, I was really disappointed that all the armor items did nothing, I thought it was a wasted opportunity. BUt then I thought about how that kind of thing isn’t Halo, and how it would upset the ultra-refined balance of the game. The levelling up is another “optional” feature. You can play the game for ranks or to collect the armor. More options for you.

    I don’t think Black Ops (or other CoD titles) have the kind of pure playability that Halo does. Plus, whereas Halo has a fairly universal tone, CoD is VERY specifically male, macho, militaristic, and competitive. There are great things about it, sure, but they’re different things than what makes Halo great.

  19. I think I’ve run into you guys!

    I bet that is fun with three on the couch, I can totally see how that waould be a blast.

  20. Wow. I really don’t know how to respond to that. But it’s clear that you and I are into gaming for an entirely different set of reasons.

  21. Your comment is spot on. Being able to beat the best PC players while using a PC doesn’t mean you are better than, and thus capable of beating, the best console gamers using a console. It’s a different format.

    As far as PC vs Console goes, the major problems with console FPS gaming are endemic of the platform, and I can understand saying Halo is garbage on those grounds. First, analog sticks are not a precision input device. Second, P2P hosting is awful. Even the handful of dedicated hosting options pale in comparison to a proper server browser on the PC.

    It’s a conflict I’ve struggled with in the last few years that I’ve played exclusively console. When I play competitive multiplayer FPS titles on a console, all of the little things add up to a frustrating experience that feels largely out of my hands. When I played on PC, I found it easier to chalk up a loss to a difference in skill.

  22. Good points- and it gets at something I think is a myth about Halo. Halo isn’t _trying_ to be one of these mythical PC shooters, which what people really mean when they say that is a late 1990s PC shooter. It’s a _console game_. You aren’t missing out on keyboard and mouse controls and suffering with subpar control pad input _because the game is designed for a control pad_. Accuracy isn’t the same, but the game is tuned and tooled for a control pad.

  23. I’ll reserve comment on Enslaved for a future column.

    In short though, I thought the writing was horrible (only three incredibly cliched characters and a sloppy, showboat ending), the gameplay worse, and the main reason folks liked it was because of the character design and voice acting.

    I love different, quirky, and even unpolished games (as much or more than Halo, at that), but there’s no excuse for some of the poor design and sloppy concepts in that game.

    But that’s for my “Overrated games” feature.

  24. “Epic”…yes, I thnk that was one of the chief differentiators and attractors. I wasn’t impressed by the first game at the time, but yes, in retrospect that sense of HUGENESS was quite novel. It’s hard to not be impressed the first time you look up in the sky and see the interior surface of the Halo stretching off into the distance and you get that sensation of “I wonder what’s over there”- even if there’s actually nothing because it’s outside the bounds of the game’s areas.

    The music definitely helps. It’s impossible to not get pumped by that “duhn duhn duhn DUHN DUHN!” bit. The choral parts create this huge atmosphere that you’re right, Halo kind of pinoneered.

    Interestingly, you don’t really get this from the mulitplayer but it doesn’t seem to matter. That part of the game exists in its own compartment.

    That really is the key takeaway here from you post- the nitpick things are minor- and even in aggregate, Halo still turns out to be better than most FPS games because that design is so freaking refined and it’s tailored for _fun_ first and foremost.

  25. You know, what’s funny is that I’m mostly a story guy but Halo is where I’m a mulitplayer guy. I still do the campaigns, but my Halo spot is in the matchmaking

    You should definitely take a look at Reach. I think what you’ll get out of it is that it really is the Halo you remember from 2 and 3, with all of the “institutions” carried over. Dude still says “SSSlayer”. Sounds are the same. Looks the same. Handles the same. But there are refinements, like those armor abilities. At first, I thought they were mostly useless apart from the jetpack. But they had SO MUCH depth to the game- that again, is completely optional. Even if you just choose the sprinting power (which is effectively just a run), it’s balanced with everything else. Some match types don’t have them anyway. Their effects are subtle, but each creates an entirely different set of strategic and tactical possibilities. I love taking the Jetpack, grabbing a sniper rifle, and finding perchces in the level that can’t be reached otherwise. Or using the Decoy to set up ambushes.

    Like I said, Reach is definitely an “if ain’t broke” product, but there _are_ meaningful (if minor) changes to the formula.

    The maps are freaking _great_ too. Especially the DLC ones.

  26. I’d disagree slightly with your last statement to some degree. ON the one hand, I think that’s right, it could be “Shoot Some Guys Online” with those mechanics and gameplay concepts and be successful, sure. But the Halo brand- the way it looks, sounds, and feels- are really important. It has such a distinct character. Also, for folks that are really into the lore (which I almost despise) or the characters (such as they are) come to Halo for those things. So it needs to be Halo, I think…I think Black Ops, for example, has much less character and feels more like a “Shoot Some Guys Online” game.

    But yeah, campaign, miserable. There were some really great _parts_ (I really liked the part in the city, flying the Hornet or whatever it is) around to the landings, the opening ‘investigation’ of the colony leading up to the first encounter was really well done, and the space mission was neat) but as a whole it was just terribly written. Still not as bad as Halo 3, however. I can do without ever hearing Cortana spout off bullshit teenage poetry again.

  27. But listen to what you’re saying here- “it’s a different format”. That extends to control methods and hosting.

    As I stated above, Halo (and other console shooters) are _designed_ to be played with dual analog. I understand that greivance more when you’re talking about mulitplatform shooters, but even then the console ports are tuned to accomodate dual analog.

    I grew up playing WASD+Mouse shooters and I had a similar resistance to using a controller…I remember playing Goldeneye on the N64 and CONSTANTLY bitching to my friends that it needed a keyboard and mouse. But that was over ten years ago. At this point, I don’t even notice any kind of control deficiency or lack of accuracy because I’m accustomed to the format.

    As for P2P hosting issues, that’s touching on stuff that I literally never consider in any way while playing. All I know is that I don’t think I’ve ever encountered any kind of lag in Reach matchmaking and it’s fairly rare to get a dropped connection.

  28. I actually prefer playing multiplayer FPS games on consoles. Everybody is on an even footing hardware wise and using the same equipment. If I were going for a competeitive advantage playing a PC FPS, I would probably turn the graphics settings as low as I could get away with without losing situational awareness. Also it sounds crazy, but somone with a high quality precision mouse and mousepad can have a huge advantage over someone who does not. On a console everybody has the same 360 and the same gamepad. It just comes down to skill. I’ve seen people play Halo with a gamepad as well or better than many people play an FPS with a mouse.

  29. That’s a very good point- the egalitarian, level playing field does mmatter. Far fewer technical issues or limitations, that’s for sure.

  30. “Tuned to accommodate” generally means that there’s some amount of slop (auto-aim) allowed and I don’t like it. Similar to how ADS in CoD snaps to targets. I don’t enjoy it, though I do appreciate the need.

    I’ve tried since the launch of the 360 to love dual analog. There are moments when I want the crosshair to move a smidgen but it insists on going twice as far. It seems as though I’ve hit my limit with dual analogs and I’m not content. That said, Halo is the most successful console shooter (I can think of) at minimizing the limitations of dual analog. It deserves more of a shot from me.

    I didn’t consider P2P networking issues until after I had the opportunity to play games where I knew I was host. Halo does a solid job of making a connection less important than other games, but I found it noticeable when I played in tournaments and watched replays. Likely, that’s because I’m in the central US and most games end up hosted on either coast.

    Just because Halo is designed to be played with a set of constraints does not mean it completely alleviates them. I agree that Halo delivers as solid an experience as I can imagine within the console’s limits, but those limits are still present and still occasionally frustrating. Unlike CoD, Halo doesn’t slap you across the face with the limits, though.

  31. Tuned to accommodate generally means that there’s some amount of slop (auto-aim) allowed and I don’t like it. Similar to how ADS in CoD snaps to targets. I don’t enjoy it, though I do appreciate the need.

    I’ve tried since the launch of the 360 to love dual analog. There are moments when I want the crosshair to move a smidgen but it insists on going twice as far. It seems as though I’ve hit my limit with dual analogs and I’m not content. That said, Halo is the most successful console shooter I can think of at minimizing the limitations of dual analog. It deserves more of a shot from me before I write off the entire platform.

    I didn’t consider P2P networking issues until after I played games where I knew I was host in other games. Halo does a solid job of making a connection less important than other games, but I found it noticeable when I played in tournaments and watched replays. Likely, that’s because I’m in the central US and most games end up hosted on either coast.

    I agree that Halo delivers as solid an experience as I can imagine within the console’s limits, but those limits are still present and still occasionally frustrating.

  32. You’re arguing about whether the game is competitive or not: which doesn’t make sense because that’s not what the post was about.

    Even then, Halo is competitive since a good Halo player will always and consistently win against scrubs. There are no comeback mechanics in this game. It’s not bloody Mario Kart. What the fuck are you talking about?

  33. I don’t even know what that means…I’ll just say I found life was more enjoyable when I learned to relax and get into Halo; I pretty much let the franchise replace Star Wars for me, which had in turn gotten a bit too…something. Anyway, I just wanted to say I’ve enjoyed most of the Halo novels; Eric S. Nylund is a great author (Deitz is usually just dialling it in, though). And I have enjoyed the storylines in the games….a lot more the second time around, because the first time out for every single Halo game I was playing it because so was everyone else; this time around I’m playing them for fun, methodically finishing each game on Legendary, and playing multiplayer in casual mode with the headset permanently off (at age 40 I cannot abide the nonsense that goes on over voice chat in any of these games).

    Other than that, pretty much in agreement; the game (and franchise) is malleable, and you get exactly as much or as little as you choose to put into it.

  34. I agree – equal footing is appealing. Though, with the variety of gamepads out there and healthy modding community, it’s no certainty.

    Ignoring analog precision is easier than the mystical interwebs. Halo and Brink do a great job of making latency less obvious than military shooters. That’s the number one thing I miss from PC: being presented with a list of servers and detailed information (latency, players, map, etc). Instead, I’m left sacrificing goats next to my 360.

    I spent years hating Halo after perceiving it as a PC FPS wannabe, but Barnes is 100% right. It’s never tried to be that and it excels at it’s actual goal of being a great console FPS.

  35. It’s almost a generation gap issue, Beast. I think folks like us that grew up with PC shooters and in fact encountered this kind of game when console gamers were still largely 2D platformers, JRPGs, and other older genres took Halo to be something of an imposter. Hell, I did that when I played the first game- immediately comparing it to PC shooters.

    But one of the things that makes Halo most signficant is that along with GoldenEye and Perfect Dark it made FPS a viable genre for consoles.

  36. I’m being ugly. I don’t like transmedia tie-in novels written by hired gun “authors” (Bill Deitz, for example). I’m of the very strong opinion that rather than read books based on Halo, you’d be better served reading the books that _inspired_ Halo- Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Haldeman’s THe Forever War, John Steakley’s Armor, and so forth. I’m just not particularly interested in the stories of _any_ game beyond what’s in the original media itself, and those books remind me of the stuff I used to see when the school would have a book fair.

    Headset permanently off. Yes, the best advice you can give a Halo player!

  37. Well, I won’t argue there; Niven’s Known Space and Man-Kzin Wars, Rowley’s Vang novels (which iirc Bungie indicated was the inspiration for the Flood)…Halo’s borrowed from many sources. As a rule tie-in novels tend to be trashy or marginal, but I was pretty impressed with Nylund’s writing, so I have to give credit where it’s due. And look at it this way: kids who start with Halo tie-in novels may move on to “real” SF; old coots like myself who’d finished Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, Simak and all the rest before we were out of High School need something new and interesting to read, too. Can’t just keep reading all the good stuff! When you’ve plowed through McDevitt, Asher, Hamilton, Williamson, etc. then sometimes Halo’s what’s left on the shelf =)

  38. Nobody’s going to give a shout-out to Larry Niven’s Ringworld? The book that explains how the idea for the eponymous Halo even exists in the first place?

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