The world of the FPS is going to get even more crowded when Bulletstorm comes out soon. Games gather dust as more popular ones come out, and it is almost impossible to be a "dedicated" player of more than a few titles at best. I went through a few weeks of solid Halo and Black Ops playing; I played hours nightly. I've had to turn away from juggling Bioshock 2, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and more in order to focus on my truest calling: Halo: Reach.
But what is it about Reach that puts it somehow above the other games? And is it really something about Reach...or is there a greater lesson?
Halo represents the ultimate even playing field: everyone gets the same weapons, the same choice of special equipment, there is no change in game play with leveling and all your upgrades are cosmetic. I love it. No worrying about not having the right set up, the experience feels very mathematical. So recently I decided to find out if there was a formula for greatness in online multiplayer experiences because...well why not?
What is it that makes a multiplayer experience great?
1) Consistency of experience. Now this can be for better or worse, but making sure that the free radicals don't interfere with the game play can be hard. An example is a game like Mindjack: You may have the same controls as everyone else, but even so you'll find yourself not sticking to cover right, or throwing grenades into pillars. Remember back to Mirror's Edge when Faith would not grab ledges, or miss leaps you knew you'd made before. It can lead to frustrating times when the skill of the player is held back by features that don't deliver.
Now in a game like Reach I cite grenades as my thermometer of consistency. I can throw a grenade at anytime in that game and feel like a surgeon. Grenades around corners, grenandes over ledges, grenades on people's heels. It's the confident Spartan who throws the grenade, and he throws it cause he knows it'll stick. Jet packs similarly have a surgical feeling to them, giving careful players some incredible air control. I don't feel like I can expect the same from Call of Duty; Diving on time is a coin-flip, grenades are more deterrent than anything, and you find yourself cursing each time your typically perfect accuracy goes awry thanks to gun kick or otherwise.
2) Equal access to greatness.The only way this can happen is if step one is achieved, and this is my favorite step. This is where the game you're playing rewards you for playing, gives you access to a system of controls that will, if you use them right, put something beautiful on the screen. Feeling responsible for great moments in games is the bragging rights we play for. I'm thrilled about the upcoming Anarchy Reigns from Platinum, because of how Bayonetta gave everyone access to greatness. If Platinum can pull off the same game play on a multiplayer field...we're in for a ride.
How do you give all players equal access to greatness? I believe it's all in the controls. Games like Smash Bros, Power Stone, and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom all use simple controls, and enjoy a wide range of followers. I have trouble accessing greatness in games like Street Fighter due to the incredibly high price of entry: without basic knowledge of inputs and mid-level techniques games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat become one-sided affairs with the new players unceremoniously trounced by seasoned vets. Letting new players jump right in with simple inputs, while layering more complex systems and techniques (cancels, combos, counters) on top is the way, and it's not hard to mix inputs back in for the dedicated maniacs who want them.
3) Strong community. No one likes to play alone. Choosing a game to stick with often falls to who else you know is playing it. Firing up Xbox Live I see my friends often playing Black Ops, Reach has fallen off the top of people's lists...but the people I started playing Reach with, I still play Reach with. And just recently I made a new buddy over the service to play Reach with. My favorite moments of Lost Planet 2 were when my crew was tight, and we were wasting Akrid and laughing over chat.
Having a good community could mean the different between your game lasting one month and one decade. I can almost assure you people will be playing Reach for the next five to ten years, maybe longer. >Counter Strike, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, Day of Defeat...they all have dedicated communities running dedicated servers keeping games that maybe long out of print still alive. Add into that the advent of digital distribution and soon you've got a cocktail for game immortality: Good Community + Dedicated Servers + Digital Distribution. Good people, running a good game, and new players have a chance to get involved at any time.
So Reach is my baby. Is it all I play for my Multiplayer fix? Not by a longshot. I love Red Dead Redemption, NFS Hot Pursuit, Section 8, and Rainbow Six Vegas 2. But Reach is the cream rising to the top. Games that can hit those three points stay on my shelf.