Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Halo 3: love it or hate it (aka: It’s the Multiplayer, stupid)

So, I bought Halo 3. For me and me alone, and to no one else that knows me, this was a controversial decision. I previously thought I would rather have purchased TF 2 and a year’s subscription to Live (I haven’t paid for it yet) instead, but I may have to put TF 2 on hold (calm down, it’s only for budget reasons.)

However, I recanted. So many people were buying it, playing it. I was awake, and at 1:00 A.M. I realized I missed the presale. I felt like I had betrayed someone—something. Perhaps a higher (or lower) power insisted. I can’t put it any other way: I felt it was my duty to get this game, and the duty was to something greater than I am.

Oh right, hesitance. No, really, I truly was conflicted on the matter, because I played FPS on the PC long before it mattered on the console. I’m talking Wolfenstein 3D and Rise of the Triad, here, folks. (Hey, check out the requirements on those babies.) I know this question is old, and people roll their eyes at it, but seriously: why would you think that a first person shooter is better on a console? Hell, the unimpressive Quake 4 was better (on PC) than Halo or Halo 2 (PC or console). On the computer, with a mouse, you have much finer control. It’s much easier to aim exactly where you want, and it takes more skill, too. You can customize how sensitive the mouse is. You can sit closer to a screen, and be more immersed. Also, your characters are more flexible. You can move more easily. You can dodge. You can escape. In Halo, once you engage in combat, running away is difficult or impossible. It’s clunky. It’s predictable. It’s more boring to watch.

Still, on cross-platform releases, the console version always sells better. Why are there more people playing console games? I purchased Halo 3 because I wanted to know why. I have to understand my people, the varied community of gamers, and to do that I have to understand how a genre that was originally intended for a mouse and computer transitioned to a less smooth, less controllable, and more successful version. “Good game, better marketing” was an answer that seemed to only partially explain it.

The frequent discussion patterns I see regarding Halo 3 usually proceed as follows:

“Halo is awesomely awesomer than awesomeness.”
“But PC games are better.”
“But it is Halo—it is inarguably good. Look at what everyone gave it in review—all reviews of it are good, from all kinds of outlets.”
“Right, but PC games are better.”
“Everyone is playing it, and all who play it have never changed their minds. They have kept playing it, and not abandoned it, not for Gears of War, and certainly not for any PC shooter. How can millions be wrong?”

“Most of you, if not all, have not played on the PC. All PC gamers have also known that PC shooters are better, and most, if not all, have not changed their minds. They haven’t abandoned it for any console games, and never will.”

Halo 3 is a big game. It’s a big marketing effort. And how people respond to it, both collectively and individually, is indicative of something that is, fundamentally, more cultural than it is of what they think of a game, genre, or platform.

Halo is not nearly as successful in Europe or Asia as it is here. The unspoken questions are American ones, to be sure. “Do you play it because everyone else does?” “Do you play just because you played the others?” “Do you refuse to get it simply because it’s big?” “Why do you play it or not? Why? Why?” Often in response: “Why are you asking all these questions, and why is everyone feeling so pressed to answer them?”

The reason it goes this way is because FPSs are generally not artistic, nor appreciated for their storylines. There is no ancient higher law of art to appeal to—we’re talking about a new medium, with no boundaries or rules made yet. We haven’t really seen it yet.

I played Halo 3. I liked it. In fact, more than I thought I would. I doubt it will be a better multiplayer game than Team Fortress 2. And I know why the argument proceeds the way it does—because PC gamers know a mouse is much more fun to use than a controller. They’re right—if you’ve played on the PC, it’s better. And I know why console players will keep playing it, even if they don’t—because they can find people to play with. Because they can much more easily transport 4 controllers, a dvd, and an xbox to someone’s house than to get 8 guys to bring keyboards, mice, and computers with monitors, with space to put them all in close proximity on a network that can support it.

PC FPS players play the game for the sake of the game. Console players play FPS games for the sake of the sociality. Halo will assign you a game and server with non-ridiculous settings, and you don’t have to find the server yourself.

For now, console wins. Gamers don’t know how to organize themselves. Economic, social, and technological issues are a factor, and it’s staring us in the face. In the future, as PCs and TVs blend into the same thing, we may have these worlds collide, and when it does, it will be beautiful. For now, we must settle on having our PC aristocrats and our console bourgeoisie.

2 Comments:

Blogger Thirdmango said...

As you were going on I was thinking of point after point but you hit on all of them. I'd say the big thing currently is economic and sociallity. Economic the biggest of them all. For a good LAN FPS party, everyone needs to have the game, a laptop and a way of connecting. For a good halo 3 game, one person has a tv, an xbox and 4 controllers, or if they have a bud with another one it can go up to 8 or 12 or whatever. As a mac user I would tend to steer towards the console, also because I'm a social being and have more fun playing games with people then by myself.

1:18 AM  
Blogger justin.last said...

I've played FPS on both PC and console as well, and I can honestly say that I prefer the genre on the console. I like the fact that it's not as exact; makes the firefight feel more tense. I like that I can't run away at the drop of a hat - because that's how real firefights work.

I also think that between the 2 schemes, the console control pad feels more immersive, and I have more fun playing on the console than I do on the PC because of it.

5:21 PM  

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