Time for some real talk. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare marks a high point (one of several) in the first-person shooter genre. The precision of design, its near-flawless flow, and the specificity of each individual encounter gets me every single time I throw it on. Oh yes, five years later, I still run my favorite Modern Warfare levels when I get the itch.
And yet, I play Halo more. A lot more.'
It’s not just because Call of Duty has yet to equal Modern Warfare’s heights in the four games since. I’ve always picked Halo’s multiplayer over Call of Duty’s, and I often enjoy specific missions more. If you want to boil success down into dollars, I’ll cheerfully give that crown to the CoD juggernaut, which turned military shooters into events with day-one sales well north of $300 million. But for me, Halo’s epic sci-fi gunfights are more fun. And I’ve got five reasons why it always has the edge on anything Call of Duty throws my way.
Guns! Guns! Guns!
I like Call of Duty’s guns just fine, but they’re just guns. They don’t have any personality, to the point where I distinguish assault rifles solely based on whether they use red dot scopes or iron sights.
Halo’s weaponry, on the other hand, feels like it's all designed to a purpose, keyed to specific play styles. Spray ‘n pray player? Assault Rifle for you. A bit more refined? The Battle Rifle’s three-round bursts can drop an opponent in a few well-placed trigger pulls. The DMR lets you scope in without a sniper rifle’s slow rate of fire (or it’s one-hit-kill power). Needlers assist a messy aim. Brute shots splash damage everywhere, while a power sword can rack up melee kills if you can get close enough to use it. It takes much more thought to balance that kind of menagerie, but few things suffer through the application of more thought.
Minus developer Treyarch’s tower defense-like zombie mode, Call of Duty multiplayer mainly comes down to deathmatch and team deathmatch. Oh, you get a few wrinkles, like the rather choice One in the Chamber (arming players with one bullet only), but yeah. It’s deathmatch and team deathmatch.
Me? I like an objectives-based game, and for sheer variety, nothing else comes close to Halo. Beyond my beloved King of the Hill, try the hectic last stand in Infection, where all your friends eventually become enemies. Headhunter’s “I was so close!” skull-catching rumble improves on CoD’s Kill Confirmed by not letting you bank points until you reach a moving goal, and “interceptions” happen frequently. Halo 4’s auto-balancing Regicide elegantly aims everyone at the top-scoring player. Or ditch shooting entirely and play Grifball’s magic mash-up of rugby, polo, and big-ass gravity hammers.
If none of that sells you, make your own fun. Halo gives people the tools to create new playable modes (Grifball started out as a fan-made game). Call of Duty lets you fiddle with a few settings, and that’s nice. Just nice.
Be the Badass
Let’s talk wish fulfillment for a second. When we game, more often than not, we’re the superhero (or the anti-hero) who wins the war. In Call of Duty, that’s Captain John “Who Dares Wins” Price. His idea of sound tactics is detonating a Russian nuke off the American coastline. If you try to rescue him from a fortress gulag, he’ll just stick a gun in your face until you answer some questions. When he interrogates a prisoner, his fists do the talking. Unless he’s shooting that prisoner.
And you hardly ever get to play as him. While Halo puts you right in a pair of Spartan super-soldier boots from the first second (with some diversions in Halo 2 and Halo 3: ODST), it’s really not until you tank up in the very last level of Modern Warfare 3 that you get the full Captain Price experience. Up until then, you’re following him around.
That’s right…more often than not, Call of Duty casts you as the sidekick.
Getting things done
I won’t pretend Halo’s story doesn’t contain its share of narrative filler, but those clowns on Task Force 141 (Modern Warfare’s elite team of life-takers) spend two whole games trying to kill just one fanatical ultranationalist. To call the path they take “convoluted” doesn’t even cover it. In fact, I challenge any diehard CoD fan to fully explain General Shepard’s involvement in Makarov’s terrorist scheme — which felt more like deus ex machina than a legit plot twist — without looking up the details online first.
So without overlooking Halo’s early penchant for backtracking, I can’t say entire missions and levels felt like mere distractions, red herrings, time-wasters, and side-tracks from the actual plot. I can say that about Call of Duty. I can even say that about most of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Yes, those levels still often rock in and of themselves, but they do lose a little something if I’m asking, “So, what was that for?” during the load screens.
Toys! Toys! Toys!
Allow me to take a moment to point out how unbalanced Call of Duty’s killstreaks are. For starters, they depend entirely on your ability to own other players on a consistent level. If you’ve got a 1-to-1 kill/death ratio (or worse), you’ve likely never, ever earned a killstreak reward before. So let me break this to you gently: Outside of a game-ending nuke, you’re not missing much. Mainly, it’s drones and turrets…or, to put it another way, things you activate, then ignore entirely.
On the other hand, everybody has Armor Abilities in Halo: Reach — you generally get to choose the one you want from a list — and they directly influence what you can do and how you play the game. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve deployed a holographic decoy and nailed the chump who went for it, or closed on someone with a sprint for a finishing melee strike. And hey, jetpacks! Jetpacks win. Because they do.
Hey, I completely abused Call of Duty, the best video game of all time! Defend its honor, exalt wager matches, suggest improvements, or brag about your Grifball league in the comments below!
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!