Halo is a sham of its former self, but no one seems to realize.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure Sonic or Crash Bandicoot or Rayman have fallen farther from their previously immense stature, but none of those games are truly relevant to me personally, so I can't really make any argument for them and their respective declines. However, one series that is highly relevant to me is the Halo franchise. Having been around since the very beginning and being well-versed with the ins and outs of Halo: Combat Evolved, it is sickening and depressing to see the direction that Bungie has taken the series.

I'm not really griping about the Single-player -- each game's campaign had its fair share of high-points and low-points, and I enjoy different aspects of each. No, my complaint is with the multiplayer mode -- it has been stripped down and altered so radically from the near-perfect formula that Halo: CE introduced that I find myself growing more disappointed and frustrated with Halo 3 every time I fire up my 360. A vast, vast majority of players who play Halo 3 online have never experienced the masterpiece that was Halo: CE, and therefore have little concept of true weapon balance, tactful and creative player movement, or aiming with skill and precision.

The H1 Pistol was in every way superior to the current Halo 3 Assault Rifle in terms of being a balanced starting weapon, because it gave you a fighting chance no matter the scenario, and required the user have a fair amount of aiming talent to be effective. If you spawned in the direct line-of-sight of a player with a Sniper Rifle, he wasn't guaranteed an easy kill just because the weapon you held couldn't reach him. Granted, he had a profound advantage over you, but it was far from insurmountable from the spawning players' perspective, because of the range and effectiveness of the Pistol. While the Sniper had the superior weapon, he still had to eliminate the newly-spawned player quickly or he would be killed, while the player who spawned with the Pistol had a fighting chance against the Sniper, but he had to be accurate and fast if he wanted to down his enemy before getting shot. Such encounters demand skill from both players, and really left the end result up to who was the most talented at the game.

The Assault Rifle in Halo 3 doesn't bring balance to the game in nearly the same way, it just lowers the skill gap required to play. Not only does it serve to make close-range encounters more random and unpredictable, it makes good luck a much more influential factor -- if a Player A spawns closer to a Rocket Launcher or Sniper Rifle than Player B, then Player B better run away, because the weapon he's holding (the AR) won't get the job done. This stifles player options a great deal, and brings the natural flow of player movement about the map to a screeching halt.

For the sake of not rambling on for pages about the differences between the games, I'll just list some of the manifestations of the decreased skill gap:

  • Halo 1: Momentum based melee attacks that did varying amounts of damage (the force of your melee attack was determined by whether you were jumping, running, or standing still); Halo 3: One size fits-all melee damage, and a horrible "window of response" system that rewards players with slower reflexes and reactions.
  • Halo 1: Excellent weapon balance -- every gun had a practical and useful application and fit perfectly into the game's sandbox; Halo 3: A large amount of "cloned" weapons that behave nearly identically to another gun in the arsenal, and unnecessary weapons with little practical use that clutter up the sandbox.
  • Halo 1: Weapons and Power-ups that respawned on a set timer, ensuring a battle for control of said weapon or power-up at regular intervals; Halo 3: Respawn times dictated by when a player picks-up a power-up or weapon, meaning that the team who is lucky enough to spawn closer said weapon or power-up has a decided advantage for the rest of the match by knowing the precise respawn time.
  • Halo 1: The ability to carry up to four of both frag grenades and plasma grenades, with a radius of splash damage and an overall strength to make them a highly useful item; Halo 3: Grenades with laughable comparative strength, greatly reduced splash damage, can't be thrown nearly the same distance or with as much accuracy, and the ability to only carry a maximum of two frags and plasmas.
  • Halo 1: Superior map design that encouraged free-flowing player movement and existed only as a medium for players to display their true abilities at the game; Halo 3: Maps with geometry that stifles player movement and dictates play-styles, creates stalemates due to terrible design (shield doors as a perfect example of an exceptionally stupid idea), and elements of randomness that keep the better player from dominating as effectively as possible (ex: Unnecessary over-texturing of walls and floor surfaces that make banking grenades very random)

On the surface it may appear that the Halo franchise has bettered with age, what with the inclusion of a multitude of new customization options and the addition of online play via Xbox Live; but, gameplay-wise, Halo 3 has butchered and deformed "true Halo", and unceremoniously catered to the inexperienced players in nearly every aspect. To me, the multiplayer in Halo 3 is an absolute insult to the greatness of Halo: Combat Evolved.