I recently decided to pop the old Halo 3 disk into my Xbox 360 after squeezing achievements out of Assassins Creed 2. I was surprised at how many people were still playing this game online 2 years after release; 1.5 million games played by over 636,000 players over the past 24 hours! Most multiplayer games die off within the first few months after release. Halo is an exception, but these are exceptionally healthy numbers for such an old game. I decided to 'analyze' what it was people have been playing for so long.
Not too long after starting up my first game (social big team), chaos ensued. I was gunning on the back of the warthog with a teammate driving, and the enemy Spartans charged at us like mad. The vehicle got tossed back and forth from the impact of the enemy grenades. We managed to escape and survive for a few seconds longer until a Spartan laser blasted us into pieces. It didn't take long for me to remember what it was I loved so much about this game a long time ago: It's crazy. It's wild. Insane things can on these battlefields that you will simply not experience in other online shooters. In what other multiplayer shooter will you see the remains of some aircraft fall and crash into two players? Where will you ever see your vehicle get blown 20 feet into the air spinning like a top and land back on all fours? Not to mention the satisfaction of sticking a spike or plasma grenade onto your enemy's visor. I brought up my memories of the many hours I spent playing COD 4, 5, and Modern Warfare 2... the 'fun' I had was mostly around raking up, achieving awards, and unlocking new guns, but from the pure gameplay element, (opinion) Halo surpasses it.
Having been around for almost a decade, the classic Halo gameplay has been tweaked and oiled to near perfection. The map designs are definitely cleverly designed, some having some impressively intricate art in them. Except for one or two (Isolation), the maps in Halo 3 do an excellent job of providing a huge variety of different environments while keeping the action tight; fighting over a common objective such as a power weapon or an oddball in the middle of the map is intense, and the slower paced, vehicular based gameplay on the larger maps is not something anyone can get tired of. Add in gameplay types such as Griffball, King of the Hill, and Rocket Race, and you've got a hell of a multiplayer package.
Despite everything this game is good at, Halo 3 receives a lot of criticism from the 'hardcore' (I use this term loosely) community, who say that the game is too mindless, simple, requires little skill, and is only played by little kids. The large population of younger players can be expected from a game that sold like hotcakes, but is this really a game-breaker? At the moment, Call of Duty has a much higher number of kids playing, and it gets complimented from all sides. In terms of the amount of skill required, it is not a tactical shooter; however, strategies like knowing when to engage with an enemy, where to retreat, and what kinds of weapons are best for certain areas of the map undeniably help players get higher scores â€“ it is in no way a 'mindless' shooter. In comparison, Call of Duty requires much less strategies. All automatic weapons can potentially snipe all the way across the map, and considering that most of the maps are incredibly small, there's not a wide variety of ways you can kill enemies. In addition, it doesn't take a whole lot of bullets to kill someone, removing the need for retreat strategies. Shooters that require a lot of thought are games like Rainbow Six, Killzone 2, Battlefield Bad Company, and Operation Flashpoint 2. Halo finds a nice balance between that and pure arcade shooting.
I will probably be playing this game for the next month or two until the mad game releases early 2010. Everyone should have fond memories of this franchise, whether it's playing Halo Combat Evolved on the Xbox in 2001, or getting together with friends and drinking while playing LAN in Halo 2... it's nice to re-discover what is so fun about this series.