I love Bungie. I love the Halo universe. No matter how much I want to, though, I cannot love Halo multiplayer.
It is a game about duels. Discounting snipers or campers who are problematic in any FPS game, when mobile Player A sights mobile Player B, these players being opponents, they will run straight at each other with the most appropriate weapons at their disposal, and someone is going to die. Perhaps both of them. They will never attempt to retreat, they will have no time to call for help, it’s effectively one-on-one from the moment A and B lay eyes on each other, and that’s it. The end.
It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about every-Spartan-for-himself Slayer, Team Slayer, or any other variant of the game. Unless you snipe or camp, it is all about memorizing where the weapons lie on any map, getting them as quickly as possible, and then facing off one-on-one and surviving as long as you can until someone puts you down.
Never, not once, in all my time playing Halo 3 did I ever hear a player say the words “Flank them.” I’ve never heard the words “Suppressing fire” or “Fall back” uttered. Nor discussion of a “Feint” or “Covering fire.” These concepts simply do not exist in any Halo multiplayer circle I have walked among. This is unique in my FPS multiplayer experiences. Even in old-school shooters like Medal of Honor there were sometimes attempts at team communication when team-based play was the match type.
It does not come down to being in random groups, and therefore not having cohesive team play on that account. I play first person shooters on XBox Live with a very tight team of squadmates who have been playing together for years. We have gone through Call of Duty: World at War, and both Bad Company games, and both Modern Warfare titles, and Operation Flashpoint together, and we pride ourselves on tight comms and teamwork. Some of “the squad” have been playing FPS games together since World War II Online. We demonstrate proper FPS squad-based tactics as much as one might expect from a bunch of civilian gamers.
When we play Halo, we don’t use any of those words. There is simply no time for them. Halo multiplayer is a blunt object. It doesn’t matter if I am being killed by, or killing with, one-shot sniper rifle rounds, headshotting with a BR or the new DMR, or any other skillful fashion of dispatching the enemy, it still feels like being smacked in the head with an engine block or bashing someone with a concrete slab.
What I want to know is: why does Halo work this way? What is it about this particular first person shooter that even though it has now been through three iterations, judging by the Halo Reach Beta the gameplay still doesn’t feel like it has matured at all?