Experienced Points: Before There Was Halo

By Shamus
on Sep 3, 2010
Filed under:
Column

The challenge: Say something nice about a game you don’t like.

Done.

I am really eager to see what Bungie does next. Although given the way the industry is moving these days, bets should be on “make Marathon again”.

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  1. Ramsus says:

    Personally I was never any good at the old kind of shooters so Halo for me was a good thing. Not that I’m great at Halo either….

    I think even back then I was a little skeptical of the chances of Duke Nukem Forever going as planned.

  2. Irridium says:

    Well they’re making a new IP with Activision.

    So chances are it’ll be a new and interesting game, then there will be sequels. Many, many sequels. With overpriced DLC.

    I really hope Activision doesn’t run them into the ground… I’ve met a few Bungie debs at a couple conventions, and they’re pretty cool guys. Would just hate to see spiral down due to Activision…

  3. Heron says:

    And we were pretty sure Duke Nukem Forever was just around the corner.

    Ironically, Gearbox is supposedly finishing it. For real this time.

    • Irridium says:

      Yep. Said that in the PAX thread.

      They should probably let those people from 2000 know. You know, back when this game was still relevant. Not to say it will suck, but honestly, either it’ll be a great throwback to shooters of old, or it’ll be an outdated pile of crap.

      It’ll be interesting to see how things turn out.

  4. FatPope says:

    Ah Marathon, now that was a god-like series!

    I can’t say my adoration extends to the Halo games however. To me they did one good thing: making melee and grenade attacks a single button affair rather than scrolling thorugh weapons. That was sorely needed but wasn’t exactly revolutionary: the lack of such a feature had been bemoaned long beofre Halo.

    As for the rest of the game, it seemed to be a triumph of “Look, we can make a console FPS that’s not entirely diabolical” over any real improvements. In my mind there’s nothing new or innovative about the series, it’s just an average shooter that’s for once actually playable on consoles. The sad fact is that for many this was their first experience of FPSs therefore they feel that every advance made up until that point was Halo’s and Halo’s alone.

    It’s to the chagrin of PC gamers everywhere that Halo is put forth as the pinnacle of the genre when in fact it’s viewed as highly linear, uninspiring and cliched by many FPS veterans

    • Irridium says:

      Plus since then devs have felt the need to make PC fps’s like Halo as well. Although that could be due to shoddy ports, but still. The PC is not the same as consoles, and I wish more Developers would realize this.

      • Froody says:

        I think they do realize this. But they also realize that nowadays, console games simply sell better. So they make their game either completely console-exclusive, or they make them multiplatform, but use the console as the base and then port their games.

        I’m not saying I approve of this – as a fan of complex RTS of RPGs, I certainly don’t. But I can’t really can’t fault developers for giving the market what it wants. Rents have to be paid, after all.

    • nathan says:

      “nothing new or innovative”

      What Halo did, for me, was that it emphasized *beauty*. The dooms and quakes that came before are all about corruption and squalor- Halo was the first FPS that made me catch my breath when I rounded a corner and saw the landscape.

      • Caffiene says:

        Doom and Quake, yes… But the other major series mentioned is Unreal. The original Unreal was jaw-droppingly scenic when it came out, and made a point of emphasizing it through its gameplay and pacing.

        • WoodenTable says:

          Unreal was scenic, yes, but still very dark and gritty. Halo was the first shooter I’d seen that was unafraid to throw some blue skies and green vistas out there. Halo’s terrain wasn’t just impressive, it was beautiful (most of the time, at least). That was quite a difference from what came before. It felt almost like stepping into a Mario game at times, where the wealth of colours would just leap out at you.

          Half-life, Unreal, Deus-ex… none of them had rich colours, despite having lots of impressively designed scenery. They were all good looking in their own ways, but still very dark games.

    • ccesarano says:

      I think one of the things that a lot of people overlook, especially PC gamers that are used to a very different sort of shooter, is how weapons were designed for specific situations and are effective in a Pokemon-esque manner to the enemies.

      Halo wasn’t the first game to use two-weapons before, but it certainly made choosing which weapons a big deal. Weapons like the assault rifle were nice back-ups if you had power-house weapons, but also lacked a proper punch. The pistol made quick work of Grunts, Jackals and Hunters but ate up too much on Elites, even if you did manage all headshots. The Needler was perfect for taking out Elites, but ran out of ammo quickly, was a waste on Grunts and completely ineffective against Jackals and Hunters. The Plasma Pistol is probably the most well-rounded weapon, as its charge can drain away the shields of an Elite or Jackal, but if you simply pull off the single-shot then the battery depletes very, very slowly and can be useful against Grunts. So on and so forth as certain weapons have other advantages and then The Flood changes everything.

      Note that I’m talking about the first Halo here, as the sequels started to screw some of this up all for the sake of balancing the multiplayer (which I’ve always found to be absolutely horrible in the first game, just as I thought Goldeneye was a God awful game, and I’m a predominantly console gamer). Also, Halo 3 lost track of what made the Elites in Halo awesome (they are super powerful and threatening, but a smart player with a sticky-grenade, plasma charge or Needler can still make quick work of them if they’re resourceful) when creating The Brutes (who over time get more powerful weapons and more health, meaning they just become more tedious instead of more challenging, whereas Swordsmen Elites had just as much health but were awesome at dodging plasma grenades, meaning you better have a good back-up plan…again, need to be resourceful).

      I find it is these aspects that are always left out of the discussion both for and against Halo, and I don’t know why. It doesn’t surprise me that PC gamers would gloss over them, either. Shamus said as much himself when bringing up how Halo was designed for console players (though I feel like such a bold claim requires a citation. He’s not exactly wrong that the style of design does cater to such a group (even though I prefer to aim while moving myself, but I guess his observation is no different than my noticing most PC gamers are always full-on or full-off when it comes to joystick sensitivity), but I don’t know if Bungie had that in mind from the get-go). Designing foes and weapons in the manner that Halo did it was not common at the time, and I think due to the sorts of games that were prominent on consoles it was bound to be a bigger splash with console gamers than PC gamers that were so used to games being about reflexes and precision. Halo is more about assessment and resourcefulness to me, and while the same could be said about Half-Life, that’s only really in level design, which is what Half-Life’s strength was. When it comes to the gunplay it’s right back to reflexes and precision like any other shooter.

      Before Halo the only shooter I really liked a lot was Aliens vs. Predator 2 since it catered to my fanboy fancies. Other shooters just didn’t do it for me because, sure, you had to fight bigger enemies, but you got bigger guns as well. The earlier guns became useless and instead you cleared out the room with newer and better weaponry, with those big guys that were tough with a sub-machine gun now being easy against a mini-gun. Halo came around and I found myself assessing a battlefield, planning out how I was going to take out a squad of foes before jumping in and shooting. I sat there looking at weapons on the ground wondering if I really wanted X or if Y would be a better option. I was fighting like a soldier rather than an action hero, and that appealed to me.

      Plus, it was the first time my brother and I could really co-op since Ninja Turtles on the SNES since two-player co-op play seemed to die off at some point.

      In the end, I think Halo brought a lot to the table, much of which a lot of people never really notice. It just brought something different than what a lot of PC gamers were used to, expected or even wanted. Does that mean Halo is the greatest series ever? Hell no, but I find the first game was still valuable, and to this day I enjoy going back to it.

      Part of me hopes Halo: Reach can recapture some of what made the first game great. The other part of me expects it to be as disappointing as the writing will inevitably be (the story wasn’t a masterwork in 1 or 2, but it was at least fun pulp sci-fi whereas Halo 3 and on just plummeted).

      • Gndwyn says:

        There’s certainly something to be said for the strategic challenge of having to choose only 2 weapons at a time.

        But I find it much more fun to have a whole arsenal to choose from so you can have a variety of options and tactics as you approach each encounter, as well as the ability to fall back on

        It’s true that some games don’t use the arsenal well. Instead of giving each weapon strengths, the game just gives you upgrades, so you’re usually only using the one or two most powerful weapons that you’ve found so far. But better games like Half-Life 2 give you a wide variety of weapons with strengths and weaknesses so you continue to use most or all of the weapons. Good games can also do fun things with limited ammo, so you have to save your more powerful weapons for when they’re really needed.

        Conversely, Halo did a pretty good job of giving you frequent opportunities to switch the weapons you were carrying for different ones, but a lot of other shooters don’t do it so well. You end up using one or two mediocre weapons for most of the game because they are versatile — there’s not enough situations to use a rocket launcher or flame thrower to make them worth taking up one of your slots, so you play the whole game with a boring rifle and a shotgun.

        • ccesarano says:

          I feel it pertinent to note that Halo 2, 3 and ODST have thus far not been able to come to a weapon balance like the first has. In some ways they took old weapons and nerfed them. The Plasma Pistol is unable to fire single shots as fast and the primary charge has been slowed down. Even so, it was at least useful when you dual-wielded with the magnum (plasma charge + two or three quick pops to the face = done dead). Unfortunately the more enemies you faced the more worthless this combination became.

          Halo 3 just has too many weapons. I don’t even touch the plasma pistol in that, nor a good number of other weapons. They just started putting weapons in for the sake of putting them in.

          However, I think Halo’s biggest curse has been the success. Halo 1 may not have had the best story, but I still enjoyed the setting. The idea of a mysterious collective of aliens gathered under a single religion was intriguing, and when you discovered via the Flood that the foundation of that religion was false, there’s a deeper mystery that tickles the mind. Then Halo 2 opened up with the Covenant even further, which is one of the reasons I still loved the game (let’s face it, Marines vs. Aliens is boring, and is why a lot of people think the story is lame. I never paid much attention to that. I viewed the human fight for survival as a vehicle to the discovery of the real story).

          Yet Halo 3 pumped the machismo to the max and the story just fell flat on its face. Now Halo Reach looks to be taking itself so seriously as a forced tragedy. Just watching the trailer I already could care less about the characters (at least ODST had the voices of beloved FireFly characters to fall back on) so why should I care if they die? Plus, is it really so tragic if you know the ending? Already I can’t be invested in what happens.

          I think the Halo universe has a great setting to tell some really good and even sad stories. The full ODST Live Action commercial does a fantastic job showcasing that. Unfortunately, Bungie doesn’t even seem to understand how to really use their own universe. At least, not since Halo 2.

  5. Froody says:

    Bungie is actually one of my favorite developers, but solely due to that aforementioned ‘dabbling’ in the RTS genre of theirs. Myth was one of my first games, and I still regard it as one of the best RTS I’ve played. Say what you will about Bungie, they do know how to break the mold. Of course, it’s more noticeable with Myth, since that one didn’t have dozens of imitators.

  6. Macil says:

    Where is my Oni 2? Curse you, Bungie!

  7. SolkaTruesilver says:

    If I liked Republic Commando, would I like Halo?

    • Ramsus says:

      That really…really depends on what you liked about Republic Commando. For me RC is still one of my favorite FPSs and ranks pretty high up there on my gaming list in general.

      If you like controlling a squad…Halo doesn’t provide that. I mean there are dudes around who in general follow a path you’re possibly ahead of them on and may sometimes wait for you to lead the way but there’s no way to tell them not to run straight at that ambush before you snipe their tough guys first and not end up being slaughtered.

      RC has no vehicle component (which is funny for a game that can be abbreviated to RC) so if you don’t like that kinda stuff….

      On average the enemies in RC were a lot harder to take down. I think the battles in general were also a fair bit harder. That’s probably why there was a mechanic for people to revive each other in the field as opposed to respawning…because you would have respawned over and over again. That being said I think the enemy AI in Halo is more intelligent.

  8. WILL says:

    I don’t care what anyone says, I like Bungie.Ever since I’ve watched their ‘making of’ in Halo 2 they’ve just seemed like likeable people who know what they’re doing. I don’t know how you can *not* like Bungie. Not liking their games though is fairly normal, though, I haven’t been exactly thrilled with Halo since the third one.

  9. Meredith says:

    I just can’t imagine aiming with thumb sticks, even if it isn’t meant to work like a mouse would.

  10. Gnagn says:

    I personally wouldn’t mind “make Marathon again”. I absolutely love the game, it had the best story of any shooter for a very long time. But it’s so creaky now that it’s annoying to play. A new Marathon with a modern engine would be a wonderful thing.

  11. Aldowyn says:

    Halo is still unlike any other shooter I’ve played. Ironically, considering your points, it’s more possible to go out and just shoot then it is in many other FPSes, because you have so much more health.

    Plus the multiplayer is so, so addictive and fun, in quite a different way from CoD, BF, or MoH.

    I’ll be very interested in whatever Bungie’s making with Activision- and hope they have the intelligence to not let them drive it into the ground. I think they hit the sweet spot with Halo- 3 games in the main trilogy, and just a few spin offs, even if some are of dubious quality.

  12. Another Scott says:

    “Say something nice about a game you don’t like” eh?

    Alright…

    I found the platforming in Mirror’s Edge to be effectively exciting and immersive. :)

    I also REALLY liked that the cutscenes were skippable :P

  13. Hal says:

    My only problem with Halo (having only played it in multiplayer) is that I simply can’t escape console-bashing. Every time (E.V.E.R.Y. time) I sit down and play a Halo game, I inevitably end up saying something akin to, “Man, if only I had a keyboard and mouse. I’d be blasting you so hard.” And then my friends, who only game on the XBox, respond with something akin to pity.

  14. Heh. Kinda amusing talking about the features of Halo. Yeah Bungie took great advantage of the new hardware. (and probably saved some time due to not having to have to cater to unknown PC configurations).

    But how many here remember NOLF? No One Live Forever
    Look it up on wikipedia. (it also had a sequel).
    And her are the technical features of NOLF http://www.noonelivesforever.com/technology/

    And the funny thing…it was released a year before Halo was.
    Monolith has always been underrated. (Aliens vs Predator 2 (2001) is still the best AvP based game yet IMO).

    Here’s a list of Monolith’s stuff http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monolith_Productions

    Oh and if you haven’t played Tron 2.0 yet. do it before you see the new Tron movie as it seems that the new movie is taking several ideas/concepts from the game. It will also be interesting to see if the game adaption of the movie will be any better than the old Tron 2.0 game. (not so sure really)

    Hey Shamus, here’s a article series idea for you. Taking a look at various developers, one article per developer, covering their years since they started until they either went belly up or their latest efforts. (or whom merged with whom if that is the case)

    Lots of cool easter eggs in Tron 2.0 as well.
    “It cheerfully uses and abuses computing conventions; players will find themselves in the flaming red environment of a firewall and the minimalistic white one of a PDA, battle viruses while fleeing a format, and wield a sniper rifle known as the LOL, additionally amplifying the damage with a skill called Megahurtz.
    Programs in the systems also bear various names – ordinary programs have ordinary first names such as Frank_381 or Brian.exe, ICP programs have names resemblant to system tools such as servwatch.exe or sssys.dll, viruses have garbled names such as HA-HA-HA-0X0->??? or 0XFFOOXXOR (one of them is called Durandal, while another is (Ra*mpa^ncy), two obvious references to Marathon)”

    • somebodys_kid says:

      No One Lives Forever and its sequel are the best games ever made ever in my humble estimation. I keep hoping there will be a third game (forget Contract J.A.C.K.) made in the same vein as the first two.
      A man can dream…a man can dream…

      • Heh. Contract J.A.C.K. The game was “meh”, I initially bought it for the SDK/Engine. Never got around to truly fool around with it.

        Now I’m pondering possibly Cryengine 3 (Crysis 2 right?),
        but Epic is working on a new Unreal as well, and iD is working on Tech5,
        and I got no idea what Monolith are up to with FEAR 3.
        So that’s:
        Cryengine
        Unreal
        iD Tech
        Lithtech

        There may be others, I’m just looking for engine with mod tools that can let me fool around and make something “almost” from scratch if I really wanted. (using the mechanics of the game obviously)
        Cryengine seems like a strong contender (don’t they provide a separate engine SDK for folks at home to fool around with? minus the engine source obviously)
        And I believe Unreal is partly doing something similar (a sort of light version without the engine source?)

        Anyway, exciting times indeed.

        • eri says:

          CryEngine 2 ships with Crysis for free so it’s reasonable to assume that Crysis 2 will ship with CryEngine 3. It’s literally the same thing the developers used to make the game, barring probably a few of its extended features and supplementary programs that might make doing a few things easier. Of course, it’s all closed source, but you can still do some very cool stuff with it.

          I’d have to give my vote to CryEngine 3 over Unreal. I don’t know if Unreal Engine has improved a lot in the last year or two, but in my experience it’s fairly clunky and awkward to work with, plus slow and crash-prone. I never had any random glitches that resulted in my work being destroyed or whatever when using CryEngine 2, and found it both approachable and powerful after reading a few tutorials. YOu have no idea how much easier and more fun a WYSIWYG editor is than one that has to spend hours compiling for every minor change you make. Its flow graph scripting is also extremely easy to use as well, which is a major bonus for someone who’s looking to do more than just make multiplayer maps.

          However, I do know that Unreal Engine 3 received a big update to its UI lately, so it might well be worth using. And, if you want to get a job as a level designer, Unreal probably looks better on a resume.

    • Irridium says:

      Monolith also made the first F.E.A.R., which in my opinion is the best “next gen” horror FPS ever made.

      Plus the AI is just phenomenal.

      • eri says:

        Phenomenal? I’m not so sure. The AI in FEAR is heavily scripted and tends to do the same thing over and over, plus everything it does is designed to look cool, but isn’t necessarily very smart. Jumping over railings and taking cover behind couches is all well and good, but only if the player isn’t shooting you in the back while you do it. It’s not bad by any means, but I think that a lot of its pre-scripted stuff makes it seem a lot more cinematic and impressive than it really is.

        Also, FEAR, as a game, is pretty dreary. Once I realised it followed a cycle of combat -> creepy shit -> combat -> really creepy shit -> psycho trip sequence -> plot point, I lost all real will to continue playing. Not quite as snore-inducing as Doom 3, but even the scares become pretty snore-inducing when you learn to see them coming a mile away.

        • acronix says:

          The AI in FEAR was very dependant on level design. Basically, it´s just a bunch of “go from cover to cover in this direction” in levels specifically designed to make that AI efficient.

          Still good, though, and it gave the “we are smart AIs!” impression if you didn´t payed much attention to map layout and their cover movements.

    • Hal says:

      That’s funny, Roger. Despite neglecting my blog for long periods of time, I JUST wrote about playing TRON 2.0 again.

      http://mrhalbert.blogspot.com/2010/08/tron.html

      Short version: Graphically, it holds up well to time, but it doesn’t push the envelope much in terms of FPS innovation and the gameplay itself is rather monotonous.

    • Someone says:

      Yeah, NOLF was awesome. Possibly the most humorous shooter ever made. “You look like you need a monkey” hehehe.

      Of cource it wasnt perfect, shooting was a bit bland, stealth was rubbish and I still cant bind shooting to left mouse button in the first one, but at least it was original. Though I bet if they make a sequel they will drop the cold war and send agent Archer to the middle east, to fight a mysterious organisation only known as J.I.H.A.D.

  15. Bret says:

    Well, would be fun to see Durandal again. One of the more fun fictional AIs.

  16. Low-Level DM says:

    So, my part in Shamus’ challenge: Fable II occasionally has humor that is tasteful, well-written, and actually funny. Furthermore, its combat can be, on occasion, engaging, fun, and rewarding.

    It can also be a terrible, horrible, boring, hopelessly confused, terribly executed RPG that is entirely unworthy of being played, at all, ever, when such things as Oblivion, NWN, and Mass Effect exist.

  17. eri says:

    Halo is a really interesting game to look at because of how poorly it has aged. I decided to play through it a few months ago, actually, and it was not at all the game I remembered. It’s simply underwhelming in every way. More than half of it is spent corridor shooting, replaying the same levels over and over, and the vast majority of plot development comes in two or three segments. Doubtlessly this has improved in the later games, but it goes to show just how much games have advanced in terms of pacing and design since Halo burst onto the gaming scene and wowed everyone. The gameplay is still fun, but the pacing just drags it down and it never has enough ideas to sustain itself for more than half its length.

    What’s worse, the mechanics really don’t translate too well to the PC, precisely because the controls allow for far more accuracy than what was intended. When held next to older games like those mentioned above, its bland universe and characters really don’t do much to make up for the fact that the game runs out of ideas halfway through. Meanwhile, Unreal and Quake, though even more simplistic, are able to remain fun both on the core strength of their gameplay and their creative level design; they have strong ambiance and a sense of a greater universe that makes up for the lack of explicit story.

    I feel like to really understand Halo, you have to have played it when it first came out. These days it’s just totally underwhelming, and hard to imagine that it’s the game that changed the industry and game design in such fundamental ways. I’m sure we could say the same of other games, including a lot of old CRPGs, but Halo’s problems don’t come in dated visuals or interface; I think it just never really was quite as good as people thought it was in the first place.

  18. Sanguine says:

    “Before There Was Halo”

    There was Half-life. And all was better.

    • eri says:

      I’ve said it dozens of times, but it still disturbs me greatly that an entire generation of gamers have centred their entire frame of reference for interpreting games around Halo instead of Half-Life.

      • SolkaTruesilver says:

        Do not be disturbed. It simply means that Gamers, like Humanity, are not a single monolithic entity.

        • eri says:

          The problem is that the ideas being taught in Halo (and more recently, Call of Duty) are those of being led rather than leading and exploring, of competition versus cooperation, that the only story worth telling is one which is takes itself too seriously, that killing is preferable to communicating, etc. Half-Life is still a shooter, of course, but it at least tries to justify its violence in a plausible manner. I think that, growing up, playing games like Half-Life made me interrogate the reasons for my violence, rather than merely accepting it as “the way you do things in a game”.

          • Ian says:

            Halo justifies why you’re using violence. You’re dealing with hostile aliens that want to kill you and every human that they come across.

            The Call of Duty games also justify why you’re killing your foes. You’re at war with them to some degree and they want you dead.

            Even the older games are the same way. In Wolfenstein 3D, you’re killing Nazi soldiers that imprisoned you and won’t hesitate to blow you away.

            In Doom, you’re killing hellspawn. ’nuff said.

            Half-Life’s justification is no better or worse than any of the aforementioned games. Face it, you kill just about everything — barring scientists, blues, and, in HL2, vortigaunts — that you see. And, like the other games, you kill them in either self-defense or to protect others.

            • eri says:

              Maybe it’s because I haven’t delved into the greater fiction of Halo, but at least in the first game you are never really given any other justification than “these are bad dudes and you should kill them because they hate you”. The Flood are an even more simplistic enemy in this respect (they don’t have technology, culture etc. to speak of).

              • Bret says:

                The manual mentions that the Covvies glassed a human colony world on first contact for religious reasons.

                In other words, their god told them you had to die. Gets more complicated later, but that’s the basics.

                The Flood are basically The Thing. John Carpenter’s, not ever loving blue eyed.

                (Of course, ruining your point entirely, humanity only survives by making an alliance with some of the Covvies in the later games, extensive communication and research is key to figuring out how to stop the Flood, ect.

                Also, while I love Half Life 2 dearly, prefer it to vastly Halo and all, not a single screen of it turns you half as loose as Silent Cartographer does. Good level, that.)

              • Weirdly enough, these comments about the lack of justification for the fighting are almost exactly the reason why I never got into the story of Half Life 2. The characters are all well-written, well-acted and likable people, but I could never bring myself to care about them because Freeman essentially joins up with the first faction he meets and starts mindlessly following orders without bothering to ask such things as “Who exactly are we fighting?”, “Why?”, or “Do you guys have any kind of plan?”. I never got the sense that the Combine were anything more than the standard evil empire who must be shot because they’re the bad guys, or that the various missions were about something deeper than “shoot up this place because there are bad people here”.

                With Halo on the other hand (and maybe this is in part because I did look into the greater fiction) I actually cared about the various factions and sub-factions within the universe. Master Chief himself may be a fairly generic badass action hero (Bungie at least deserve credit for making someone I don’t actively dislike, something that so many developers fail at), but for every level there was a clear reason for what you’re supposed to be doing and why. The missions then lead to a bigger story about things such as the purpose of the Forerunner installations, the Covenant civil war, and the link between humans and the other races.

      • Ian says:

        The reason that most people do that is more than likely because they didn’t start playing FPS titles until Halo. That would be like me saying that I’m disturbed that an entire generation of gamers center their frame of reference on Half-Life instead of Catacomb 3D. I’m not going to fault someone for not knowing of an earlier title. You can’t exactly compare something to a thing that you know nothing about.

        Now, the one thing that annoys me, however, are people whose minds are so firmly embedded in the present that they cannot tolerate the past. I was playing some multiplayer Quake against a friend of mine at a gaming cafe and a bunch of Halo-heads started taunting us for playing a game with “such crappy graphics.” Kids these days.

      • ccesarano says:

        It disturbs me that people always compare Halo and Half-Life even though they are two very different games with very few similarities (being guns, aliens and a first person perspective).

        Then again, I find the absolute love for Valve to be just as foolish and closed-minded as the love for Halo. Half-Life was definitely a great game that did a lot for the genre, and one of my favorite aspects of it was how the bosses weren’t actual boss fights. They became entire levels/puzzles that you had to confront indirectly. More of this was why I anticipated Half-Life 2.

        Only Half-Life 2 completely lacked that. Instead, Half-Life 2 was all about physics. And you know what? Yeah, the physics technology was fantastic and mind-blowing at the time, but you still had bosses like any other shooter and only one type of enemy that shot guns at you. Sure, the guns changed, but the enemies all behaved the same.

        That’s not to say I disliked the game. But Half-Life 2 didn’t advance game design like Half-Life 1 did, merely pushed technology forward.

        Yet it is still silly to compare it with Halo, especially since most of the people you think are idiots only really care about Halo for the multiplayer. Now you’re REALLY comparing two different games.

    • Viktor says:

      Except the controls. I don’t know about the original Half-Life, but I’ve played HL2, and I honestly can’t figure out how people play without usable grenades/melee. Switching weapons is enough of a chore that I basically never do it during combat. The vehicle sections are forced and jarring, and the vehicles control horribly. Halo may have poor story and issues with the shields in later installments, but at least the gameplay is there.

      • Drexer says:

        Wait what? I get the feeling that you played it on a console. Much like Halo feels limited and clunky in its PC version, HL2’s miriad of weapons might feel weird when not having available such various means of selection such as the mouse wheel or the top numeric keys.

        Grenades and melee are typically used in a much more parallel weapon terms in PC FPS’s; while in Halo they serve as complementary to the weapons, in HL2 they’re weapons designed for when someone has to cover strange angles or height differences, or when you need a reasonable DPS to finish of an enemy, disregarding the disanvantage to your health.

        The vehicle sections suffer a near-perfect integration to divide the different gameplay areas into manegeable chunks that are not too intrusive, and each of those is unique in their own way. Heck, many people I’ve met consider the muscle car in Episode 2 as the most fun and tense experience they ever had driving a vehicle in an FPS. Also, the car in Halo mouse-turns which is possible a sin punishable by capital offense or something; or it should be.

        I could write much more here, and perhaps other people will as well(I’m kinda surprised no one has already); but considering HL2’s gameplay worse than Halo’s? That’s daft.

  19. Nixorbo says:

    If it was GoldenEye that explored the frontier, but it was Halo that built the first city, what does that make Perfect Dark?

  20. Atle says:

    This is what Halo fans are talking about when they say the game is “more tactical.”
    ——-
    Haha! Loved that comment!

  21. Kdansky says:

    I played the first Halo in Coop mode when it was released at a friend, all the way through. It is firmly in my mental “meh, it was okay” box, due to horrible library levels and dualstick controls. It’s not that I can’t hit a thing. I am pretty bad at hitting stuff in Red Steel 2, but it’s still fun. It feels natural. By the way, that is a recommendation :P

  22. winter says:

    Okay this is nice and all but i really have to take issue with two paragraphs here:

    Those old PC shooters were all about aiming…

    This is not true, and by “this” i mean “this, provided ‘old PC shooters’ equates to ‘Quake and nothing but Quake'”.

    Sure, at a low level of play it might be that aim was the dominant skill. However, once people got better the difference in aim (although still real) became much smaller and the game really became more about movement and the like. The “aim shooters” are largely bad games, like Counterstrike. (Which is ironic, because Counterstrike players tend to be intimidated by the aiming ability of Quake players…)

    Anyway, the point is that these games (by which i, again, mean Quake) are about movement, positioning, timing, and psychology (alternatively: tactics and strategy) more than aim.

    But if you watch someone play a console shooter you’ll see the game is less about precision aiming and more about precision timing.

    This is basically because of Halo. Halo created this sub-genre of “tactical shooter” where you had to manage aggro, avoid committing too much, and that sort of thing. This is, again, so ubiquitous now that it’s hard to see how it could be any other way… but… really it’s only that way because of Halo. They very carefully designed the game around these features–hence the “Combat Evolved” sub-title. (You thought that was just a marketing line, didn’t you? It was really a reference to their very intentional attempt to create an FPS that was “not Quake”.)

    Halo really was revolutionary and it’s hard to see that now in retrospect, weirdly. Possibly because most of the people who copied it didn’t understand the game to begin with–it wasn’t just about having regenerating health and cover, it was also about (for instance) AI. The AI behaved in very specific ways that rewarded this sort of gameplay. It could have been more or less focused on doing that, thus making Halo (or Game X) more or less about that sort of gameplay. (Borderlands is a good example of a game where, because of the AI–and weapon design–it really plays much more like Quake than like Halo despite having the “cover, regenerating health, etc” features.)

    A good sign of success is when everyone is doing the same thing you did without any real understanding of why you did those things. Why does Halo only let you have two weapons? Nobody in the gaming industry seems to know, but they’re all going to restrict their weapon loadouts in some way (Borderlands only allows four weapons, for instance). Maybe they think it’s just because it makes the game “more realistic”?

    I could go on and on, really.

    Now, let me be clear. In terms of FPSes, Quake is still the alpha and omega. Halo, however, is one of the best designed FPSes in history. (It falls short in some other ways–Marathon’s story is vastly superior, for instance–but it’s still better than 90% of modern FPSes.)

    Nobody understand why Quake is any good, either. People think, wrongly, that it’s just twitch aim or something and (subsequently) design their game to this or that expectation. A Bioshock developer wrote a good post about this, actually.

    You can see the “robotron” top-down stuff in Marathon’s maps, too.

    So basically, Bungie understands FPSes more than probably any other developer. Quake was really an accident, so id can’t be said to be the best. Bungie could take a very developed style and rework it to be their own, which then became the mainstream style, and that is the sign of exceptional mastery.

    Even then, a lot of the decisions that made Halo a good shooter on console were very subtle–for instance, enemies do not attack you in such a way as to make you have to move or aim in such a way that is too awkward with a pad.

    Now there are some other FPSes that take different paths. Gunvalkyrie is a good one–a game that, like Quake, is very much about movement. Gunvalkyrie’s lock-on system means it’s almost entirely devoid of “aim”, too! Of course Gunvalkyrie is also very different than Quake–and different than Halo, too.

    Vanquish is a more modern version of Quake (or really: Gunvalkyrie, although it takes place entirely on the ground). It doesn’t feature a lot of the things that Shamus singles out as reasons why console FPSes can work and, instead, has the extreme mobility and aim requirements of Quake. (Or closer to that than Halo is, at least.) It still works as a console game, though, because of how it was designed. (Or at least, the demo.)

  23. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The thing I hate about halo is that one of the best shooters,the original call of duty,abandoned its mechanic for the health regen,which is dumb.It makes sense in the halo universe,but outside of it,its the stupidest thing ever.And everyone is using it.Its not a step forward from health packs like everyone keeps saying,its a step sideways.Its just as dumb,only in a different way.

    As for basing games around halo instead of half life,thats not really true.Look how long counter strike reigned supreme as THE online shooter,and it is a direct spawn of half life.

    As for the cover mechanic,I hate it because it never works.I saw it working only in the original call of duty for the player and in fear for the computer.But thats maybe because I dont play consoles,and I dont play multiplayer.It kind of works in mass effect 2,but thats a borderline thing.

    • ccesarano says:

      I believe the Call of Duty developers actually stated that change because in war you’re not constantly looking around for health packs. Granted you’re not just waiting until that bullet wound stops hurting, either, but honestly, there are games where I like health packs, and then there are games I’m glad they aren’t there. Call of Duty is one of those that I’m glad they aren’t there.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well you can always play the original on the hardest setting,and therell be no health packs.True,you wont survive past the third bullet,but then again,people in the war rarely got up after the first one,so there.

  24. Emm Enn Eff says:

    I’m quite surprised that 51 comments in, nobody mentioned Tribes, which I’d consider far more worthy of praise for innovation then Halo. Jetpacks, vehicles, team-play… Check, check, check.

    Can’t that I know much about why it wasn’t a commercial success, so I guess I’ll blame consoles and lack of marketing. And being too hard to play for the masses.

    And I’m sure Shamus will get a rise out of this – the Tribes 2 authentication servers permanently went down in 2008. They were operated by… Vivendi.

  25. ccesarano says:

    If you charge out into the open like the Doom Marine you’re going to get blasted back to the Game Over screen faster than you can say Larry Niven.

    This made me laugh. Very clever insertion.

    And reminds me, I need to read the next book in that series.

  26. Nazgul says:

    I looooved Marathon and the sequels. They were incredible shooters, especially for the time, a ton of fun solo and even better as a LAN game with friends. I really had the keyboard controls down, and preferred that to using the mouse for aiming and such.

    Halo was a worthy successor, although the Xbox Live experience (complete with the irritating cheats and the asinine rating system) was the first thing in the Marathon-to Halo family that I didn’t enjoy. I also missed the grenade-launcher on the assault rifle.

    Many of the arena level designs and campaign levels in Halo II weren’t a lot of fun, and combined with the negative Xbox Live experiences I lost interest and never bought Halo III. Very typical of Microsoft ruin something good, I have to say.

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