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Up Close: multiplayer Halo’s playground genius

Up Close is a new, occasional and informal series here on Eurogamer, looking at the smaller points in games in greater amounts of depth. Covering anything from a single mechanic to a reoccurring theme, in praise or criticism, the aim is simply to look a little closer at the things that deserve our attention. Here’s the previous entry: The supreme realism of Lonely Mountains: Downhill and A Short Hike.

Multiplayer Halo, at its best, reminds me of being a kid in a playground. I think a lot of games would hope for that – playgrounds are often seen as big open spaces, sandboxes, where you can hop off the rails of the story for a bit and doodle about the wider world. But I’m thinking a bit more literally here. Multiplayer Halo is like being in an actual playground, because the best Halo maps follow the same rules on which the best playgrounds are built.

I was reminded of this by Dawn of War 3, of all things, which is a game that strips away the innate flexibility of traditional RTS maps in place of three lanes with specific objectives. In doing so – despite, I maintain, still being quite fun in its own right – it killed the thing that made that genre great. Real-time strategy is about breadth as much as depth, space for invention and flexibility. Wide maps and huge suites of tools for you to use in hyper-specific ways. It’s a massive shame, but it’s not a problem unique to the RTS, as much as some might think. Which brings me back to Halo. Just as I was thinking about the shift from more open RTS maps to the more conceptually closed, I caught this incredible bit of (now months-old) footage from someone playing a the Master Chief Collection:

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