H² – The Big Two of Shooting Things

Posted on 04/07/2009

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John117 being commemorated at Harvard

John117 being commemorated at Harvard

A common discussion among gamers of different creeds (read: PC vs. Console Wars) is which of the platforms is more suited to play first person shooters.

Whether it’s the quick flickable mouse + WSAD combination of the PC or the seemingly slower gamepad is at the centre of the discussion most of the time it reappears in the wild of the internet.

Since such discussions are eventually fruitless since they’re essentially a matter of taste, I’d like to approach this topic from a different angle, by taking a good, hard look at the two platforms H-initialled champions, Half Life² on PC and the Halo series on the Xbox consoles (yes, I am aware of the Killzone and Resistance franchises, thank you, no they’re one console’s champion not consolekinds champions of the genre).

So, first, innovations. Both games, both franchises were seen as genre defining when they arrived. So what is it that makes them, if it’s actually true that is?

Halos innovations work on the user side on a very basic level: Input. The pad is perfectly mapped for the fast paced shooting-stuff gameplay, and comes with some new twists, basically the buttons that have a close combat attack and a grenade toss mapped to them, enabling the player to use indirect fire and close ranged attacks without having to switch over to a melee weapon or grenade first.

Also Halo popularized the harsh limitation on the arsenal a player could carry around with him.

Halo it seems was from the ground up constructed as a very tactical game, where the player input goes beyond just running around and shooting stuff in style.

He's a REAL DOCTOR with an PHD in KICKING YOUR ASS! (Not verbally. Guaranteed.)

He's a REAL DOCTOR with an PHD in KICKING YOUR ASS! (Not verbally. Guaranteed.)

Half Life²’s innovations worked and work on an entirely different level.

Being the inherently more conservative of the two, Half Life² was much more about the experience than the game part itself. Which is not to say that playing Halo with it’s breathtaking alien “artefacts” would not be an experience, it’s just that Half Life² (and the original Half-Life for all that matters) through it’s prominent interactive narrative that let’s the player choose what to be shown and told to him works more on the narrative- than on the ludistic level.

Half-Life²’s innovations are the introduction of new gameplay elements on the world building level, level design, set pieces, polish and particular weapon types that interact with a certain level. Also of course very PC specific technical innovations, the incredibly flexible – in hardware hunger terms – source engine, the addition of “realistic” (well…) physics as a world sided gameplay element, and of course the gravity gun.

The latter is probably one of the few innovations that Half-Life² managed to make into a “must have” for games following it, since the other innovations it produced were a lot harder to copy.

At the very core, Half-Life² is still a very conservative game, the very basic gameplay being not too different from that of the genres forefathers, basically still a variation of Quake with incredibly clever level design, cooler guns and bad guys – and “interactive” cut scenes.

Whereas Halo is seemingly the more conservative narrative, it’s story being told with a strong reliance on cutscenes, of the two it’s the more progressive game (franchise).

Verdict? Well, there’s not really one to be had.

Still I think both games in their single player configuration represent quite well the predominant way shooters are handled on the represented platform.

I am aware that both games are present on the OTHER platforms as well, and that since consoles are in general stronger in shaping the platform-spanning genre that Halo’s innovations can nowadays be found in lots of rather “PC-centric” games, while Half-Life’s interactive narrative is time and again inspiring console games to mimic their approach.

This last issue is good for illustrating the way the genre of FPS is taking in term of platform specifics..

And that it’s ultimately really down to personal preference, since the line between “typical PC” and “typical console” FPS is blurring more and more.

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Posted in: comparative, gaming