By Jared Newman | Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 5:29 pm
Of all the people playing Halo: Reach today, I’m most envious of the folks who’ve never experienced a Halo game before.
Surely, there are some players who never witnessed how Halo: Combat Evolved defined console first-person shooters in 2001. Maybe some people didn’t play Halo 2, with its industry-changing embrace of online multiplayer. Perhaps some Xbox 360 owners missed Halo 3, which dipped the series in next-generation polish, and skipped Halo 3: ODST altogether. These people, who now see Halo with fresh eyes, and not as another revision of a battle-worn formula, are the lucky ones.
My excitement for Halo waned a few years ago, when my thirst for Halo 3’s multiplayer dried up at an alarming rate. Long hours with Halo 2, it seemed, had worn down my zeal for the formula. I was on to other things.
Obviously, Halo’s allure hasn’t faded for a critical mass of gamers; ODST, despite its origins as a mere expansion pack for Halo 3, sold 1.52 million copies in its first month, and Reach will surely be a bigger hit. But Halo’s ability to revolutionize gaming has clearly diminished. From what I’ve read and played so far, Halo: Reach relies on tropes that other first-person shooters already established, such as customizable special abilities and gruesome stealth kills, while the main ingredients — running in circles while shooting, finishing off foes with rifle butts and being really accurate with ranged weapons — haven’t changed at all.
I’d like to think that Halo’s appeal lies at least partly in its ability to set trends, not just its strict adherence to cherished first-person shooter values. If so, there’s no better time to revolutionize Halo than now, following the departure of Bungie, which has developed the series since the beginning. Microsoft, taking the reins of the franchise, could invent an entirely new kind of Halo experience with Kinect, or use Windows Phone 7 to rethink the possibilities of mobile gaming, just to throw out a couple examples.
Or, Microsoft could spit out conservative first-person shooters every year or two, stringing players along with new verses in what is apparently a tome of Halo lore. That may attract the folks who are getting their first taste of Halo with Reach, but I yearn for a Halo that other game makers still feel compelled to imitate.