The Fight for the Shooter Crown: Halo vs Call of Duty
February 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
Halo: Reach is a game in which you, an anonymous soldier, make your way through linear levels from a generally first person perspective. Your primary interaction with the world around you is through the barrel of a gun, which is handy because everything wants to kill you. Sometimes you come across men that want to kill things that want to kill you. This makes them your friends. You reach the end, credits roll, and then you head online to do much the same thing without the linearity.
Call of Duty is a game in which you, a largely anonymous soldier, make your way through linear levels from a first person perspective. Your primary interaction with the world around you is through the barrel of a gun, which is handy because everything wants to kill you. Sometimes you come across men that want to kill men that want to kill you. This makes them your friends. You reach the end, people rap, and then you head online to do much the same thing without the linearity.
Quantitively then, the two games seem identical, divided only by setting and a sales margin of $160 million at their last releases, but as anyone who’s played the two games will tell you, they’re both very different experiences. Is it possible to work out exactly how? Could doing so give us a new insight into which is the better game?
Call of Duty is in many respects a much faster game then Halo. Part of this is the nature of the engine: the former runs at 60 frames per second and the latter just 30, but it’s mostly to do with just how quickly the two protagonists get around the world. Call of Duty makes the sprint button an essential part of any player’s arsenal. When you’re not killing, the game teaches you very early on, you need to be sprinting. In contrast, Reach was the first Halo game to include a sprint button at all.
Halo is a much slower game by design, a choice that allowed it to succeed when console shooters were in their infancy. Without the precision of a mouse, a console game needed to be much slower, and have much more auto-aim to allow players to feel on top of the situation.
Call of Duty manages to be much faster because it is at once much more generous and much more subtle with its auto-aim. Whenever you look down your iron-sights the game is searching for a target nearby to lock your curser to, and when it does so you’ll likely not notice because of the guns animation as it fills the screen. Without a similar solution, Halo cannot hope to be as fast without being impossible, or frustrating to play.
It’s not just this that makes its pace quicker though, enemies will also take far fewer shots before eating it. It’s instantly gratifying, you line up a soldier in your sights, and within a second of pulling the trigger he’s down on the floor. Halo refuses to let you off that easily, putting enemies in your way which will take several rounds to down. It forces you to think about where you’re going to hide yourself in the meantime, since the act of murder will leave you exposed to their comrades for a far greater length of time.
It seems like a snobbish remark sure, but Halo does force you to think more whilst you play. It’s not a matter of just getting the enemy into your sights, but about positioning yourself whilst you do so in such a way so as to not get yourself serious dead in the process. It’s not a shooting gallery, it’s a warzone.
For the most part you’re not thinking about ammunition in Call of Duty. You start a level with a weapon, and its unlikely you’ll ever really need to put it down. This leads to a lack of variety, since you can pretty much play the whole game the same way if you want to. There’s no incentive to suddenly start hanging back, or get up really close mid mission, because with the same weapon there’s no real need to.
Halo always starts you out with the same two weapons, but it pretty much refuses to ever lay out enough ammo for you to complete a mission with just them. At some point your going to run dry, and its up to you to frantically loot an enemy’s body for salvation. Once this happens you might have to completely alter the way you play, you might have to keep very close with a shotgun, or hold back to compensate for a rifle’s slow firing speed. You don’t customize the game to best suit your play style, you’re the one that’s forced to change.
Call of Duty is a repetitive game that hides this with very well produced set pieces. Halo on the other hand has more variety in its moment to moment gameplay, but has less stand out moments. Both are great games, but one wow’s audiences with its budget, whilst the other does so with rock solid design.
So really it comes down to what you want to praise, a game made great from budget born out of the success of its predecessors, or a title made by some of the most genuinely talented designers in the industry (admittedly yes, with a quite large budget). A game designed to empower you every step of the way as you put in minimal thought, or a game which hides its enjoyment until you put in the effort.
Professional reviewers are tied to a requirement to state objectively which is more fun, and I’m thankful I’m not them because frankly; Halo: Reach is the better made game.