In our new regular series, we examine the current state of a variety of online-enabled games - be they new entries or classics a year on since release. We take the fight to the frontline to weigh up whether the multiplayer aspect, now a huge part of some titles, is worthy of your time and money. First up, a special report on Halo: Anniversary.
I've been mixing and matching my multiplayer kicks of late. Recently I've got some Battlefield 3 action going on PS3 - though I'm a long way off being any good at the game. I've also just started on the Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer; I'm still dying a lot more than I'm killing - which is never a good thing. On top of all that I've been trying furiously to capture a feeling long lost by playing multiplayer on GoldenEye: Reloaded - sadly it isn't working, it will never be GoldenEye 007 for the N64. Last but not least there's Halo. Ah Halo, my beloved, my favourite, my precious.
The last couple of nights I've played a little bit of both Halo and MW3; more so I could make I direct comparison than for any other reason. Usually Tuesday night is ‘Halo Night' for me and my brethren, lately the number of players available for our weekly incursion into the future has been dropping. Nobody seems to have the time to play Bungie's sci-fi shooter anymore. It got me thinking; are my friends and I a microcosm of a larger trend? Just how many people are playing Reach at the moment? I took down some notes and here are my findings.
I took my numbers at roughly 10.30pm. Eerily enough, they are very very similar day by day. This is also something I am going to observe over a longer period of time, just to see how it pans out, I'll keep you posted. It will be no surprise to anyone to hear that the playlists on Modern Warfare were rammed. There were 746,000 players on there on Monday, 748,000 the next and the following evening there was 802,000.
Despite my genuine affection for the game, it's not looking good for Halo: Reach. I fully expected the Anniversary Map pack to inject some much needed energy into the multiplayer but, sadly, it doesn't seem to have done the trick. On release day I was surprised by how few people were online playing the new maps (the statistician in me wishes I'd taken the number down now), and I was annoyed by the amount of problems me and my buddies had with getting a game. You can put the connection problems we experienced down to teething pains for the new maps, but the fact that only handful of people are playing the game can't be ignored. Last night (again at 10.30) a disappointing 5939 gamers were on the new Anniversary maps, the night before it was an equally underwhelming 5854 (6469 the night before that). On all three evenings there was roughly 39,000 players playing across the entire Halo multiplayer.
Gameplay-wise both games are much the same as they ever were. MW3 is slick and satisfying, but I don't know it well enough right now to comment on anything other than the repeated beatings I had to take. I remember getting shot by helicopters a lot; something which always infuriates me. I can't wait until I've unlocked the Barebones playlist.
Having been on the receiving end of a considerable kicking, I thought I'd change discs and have another bash at the new Halo: Anniversary maps. Whereas killing/dying is a bit more straightforward on MW3, in Halo there's the Spartan armour offering extra protection, allowing players to be a little more speculative as they move around the map.
The smaller maps are perfect for 4v4 action, and although I was up against some quality players, I think it's fair to say that I had a good time. The larger maps were, disappointingly, a bit of a let down. Both of the times I tried to play Big Team, within a minute of the match starting, the opposition teams lost half of their players. Fair play to those who remained, they gave it a go, but ultimately the game was lost when their ‘team mates' jumped ship like the scurvy rats they were! This uneven contest soured my experience on the larger maps (except for the moment when I hit an unsuspecting sniper on the back of the head with a sticky grenade on Breakneck - blueballs!). It's difficult to draw conclusions given my recent experiences, but here goes: Ridgeline looks excellent for vehicle based combat(and there have been plenty of players lamenting the lack of vehicular slaughter in Reach) and Breakneck is seriously cool, no matter the weather.
The 4v4 maps were much more satisfying to play. Solitary seems to be the players map of choice. That's no surprise: It looks good and plays even better. The Armour Abilities only add to multilayered charms of this level. High Noon is another excellent map, and when two equally matched teams face off against each other on this arena, you know you are going to be in for a tense, hard fought affair. Penance is a good laugh, but if you come up against a team who know what they're doing then it can be very hard to get a foothold in the game. Last but not least, there is Battle Canyon, which I enjoyed very much, even if I was playing a team of clueless halfwits who didn't have the faintest idea how to play Assault.
The one thing that has struck me more than anything else was how the Halo community has started to thin out. Comparing the numbers to MW3's is perhaps a little unfair, especially considering COD was the biggest entertainment release ever and came out this month and Reach is well over a year old now. What it does is highlight the plight of Microsoft's once all-conquering title.
Halo used to be the jewel in the Xbox's crown, but I'm not sure that this is the case anymore. Sure, there are still thousands of people playing it, but those thousands were once hundreds of thousands. Microsoft were probably hoping that the maps included with Halo: Anniversary would bring players back to the Reach multiplayer experience, but it on the face of it it doesn't look like this has happened.
I'd love to recommend you get the Anniversary Map Pack and come and join the action, and on paper I can do just that as the maps are beautiful and well structured. However, and it's a big however, when you get online you might start to wonder where all the other players are.
The maps look good, they play well, they evoke memories of classic Halo skirmishes; there's just not enough people playing them.