Will Halo 3 win any new fans?

Hi, I’m Aaron Linde. I’m 23 years old, a Sagittarius, and I’m not a big fan of Halo. Before you mark me off your Christmas card list, lemme explain: I’m not a big fan of console first-person shooters, first and foremost. Unfortunately, Halo is just part of that crew, if not its reigning king. In the last five years or so the console FPS has grown to eclipse other traditional genres, and big-name releases tend to draw the most attention of industry professionals and enthusiasts alike. Bungie’s flagship series was instrumental in making it so.

That being said, lately it feels as though not liking Halo is akin to wearing your Slayer t-shirt to the first day of Born-Again summer camp. When word gets out that a free XBLA shmup excites you more than a forthcoming beta of a highly anticipated release — well, people look at you funny. 

With all the talk going around about Halo 3‘s development and early reports from those on the beta before the public got their hands on it, some would lead us to believe that this is the game to convert the fence-sitters like me. Once I had the Halo 3 beta downloaded, I wondered: how different would it be? Would the game offer anything new to rope in the not-quite-fans? Most importantly, will the beta convince anybody who had been heretofore uninterested in “finishing the fight”?

Hit the jump for my findings. 

I like this video comparison of Halo 2 and 3 because they illustrate my difficulty in grasping the reasoning behind the “best game ever” rhetoric that gets kicked around in the wake of the beta’s release. Sure, Halo is swell at being exactly what it is: a console first-person shooter. But is there really much by way of revolutionary gameplay going around in console first-person shooters — hell, even first-person shooters in general?

First, big ups to Halo 3 for being exactly what its predecessors were: a great, great living room game. Get the right crew — a Nick Brutal, some Ron Workman, maybe a Chris Furniss or two alongside — and the shenanigans that erupt are extraordinarily fun. This, of course, is mostly an organic result of the sort of bullshitting commonly exchanged between friends, a live-action peanut gallery providing color commentary over the game currently in progress. Xbox Live, as already demonstrated several times over, definitely provides the living-room experience, even if only loosely simulated.

That being said, I can think of several other games that, under similar circumstances, offer a much more satisfying experience than a round or two of team slayer. This factors into my preferences as a gamer — again, I’m more of a mouse and keyboard sort of dude when it comes to first-person shooters — but it also has a great deal to do with Halo‘s development as a series. Where most sequels commonly introduce elements of gameplay to further enhance the experience, I found that aside from the Spartan laser (really, really cool) and the inclusion of equipment (struck me as a little weak), I wasn’t really surprised by Halo 3. At all. Put a few drinks in me and I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the beta and the two games that preceded it. 

But maybe this is how it’s supposed to be, right? Likesay, if you hated Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, it’s likely that the sequel wouldn’t appeal to you, yeah? Such is typically the nature of sequels. But it doesn’t make good business sense to alienate potential customers by carrying on with the same formula game after game, and most developers get it. Hell, I’m one of the guys that didn’t like GRAW, but somehow GRAW2 totally resonated with me, mostly due to the cross-com system implementation. It just made everything click. Halo 3, on the other hand, incorporates no such major evolutions — at least not so much in the multiplayer department. Good news for fans, bad news for the unhitched.

You might chide me for harshin’ on what is, essentially, a multiplayer demo. But in an environment in which criticism of Halo’s somewhat shallow single player experience is swept aside by responses like “Well, it’s about the multiplayer, not the single player”, it becomes easier to mark these sorts of shortcomings as prevalent within what will ostensibly become the total Halo 3 experience.

But here’s something I’ve definitely figured out, and it only took me about 6 years to do it: Halo is a social game. It dominates living rooms everywhere for a reason: the hard-wired community and the interaction that takes place within it. For me, this was most obvious when I hooked up with the rest of the Dtoid crew for a few games. Taking this into account, Halo 3‘s amounting to little more than a gussied-up Halo 2 expansion pack — which is to say, more of the same — makes complete sense. 

But in the end, it seems as though Bungie is still making Halo for Halo fans, and you can’t blame ’em for that; there certainly are enough of them. For those of you who aren’t quite switched on to Halo, I’d wager you won’t find anything unexpected in 3. You fans, though, you guys are set.

Aaron Linde