I cracked open Halo 4 last night, confident that I'd have nothing useful to say about it. I'm usually a bit of a prima donna about starting series in the middle--note also my complete lack of posts concerning Mass Effect or the latter Assassin's Creed offerings--but Halo isn't the kind of game that usually falls under that somewhat neurotic edict. It's just never really been my game. It was popular enough in my social group, and like Super Smash Bros., Super Monkey Ball, and State of Emergency before it, Halo filled my suite with an astonishing variety and volume of profanity and inappropriate sexual comments. I'd clocked some field time with Doom on the PC and GoldenEye/Perfect Dark on the N64, but in general, I was better at single-player FPSs than multiplayer, and I wasn't very good at single-player. Aside from the occasional pickup game, the closest I ever got to Halo was Darkwatch, a vampire-themed knock-off that didn't require me to own an X-Box.
I've read loads about it since then, of course. The level design, the fan community, the marketing. Anything I could ever have wanted to know about Halo, there seemed to be an adequate number of people writing about it. So, like World of Warcraft in the early-oughts, it kind of fell off my radar. I was surprised, then, by how evocative I'm finding it, as a game and as a genre. Nothing feels quite like Halo, apparently, and it's bizarre how familiar it feels: that the bits and pieces I remember from ten years ago are definitive enough that I can remember them at a tactile level.
My most persistent point of frustration with the genre is the extent to which the gun erases the avatar: not in a narrative or philosophical sense, but in terms of control systems. Although both are technically true, it would be more accurate to say that the controller (or mouse and keyboard, he added in case those people are reading) is controlling the gun than to say that it's controlling the protagonist's body. The gun is primary, and drags the body with it, not vice versa.
The player doesn't see the world through an avatar's "eyes," the player sees the world from the view of the weapon. Imprecision is often added in after the fact, but in most FPSs, it's simply not possible to point the weapon anywhere except directly in the center of the player's visual field. With the possible exception of the skull gun, this is rather not how projectile weapons work.
One of the first things we learned to do, as we moved to the now-dominant keyboard+mouse/dual stick setup, was circle-strafe: that is, learning to fire precisely while sprinting in a circle around a target. If media effects were as dramatic as some would like to believe, our emergency rooms would be overflowing with twisted ankles.
Bodies simply do not move this way. Even if constant sprinting is ruled out, characters usually move through their environments at a stunning pace, especially considering the weight of the hardware they're carrying. People do not run backwards as quickly as they run forwards. They do not, as a rule, change between running forward and running backwards, while turning, to shoot in a different direction while maintaining their momentum. FPSs seem particularly adept at facilitating the uncanny in other genres: the feeling of momentum in Mirror's Edge struck me as marvelous until I stopped to wonder why it hadn't been in every first-person game I'd already played. It would be rather pointless to say that FPSs aren't "realistic," but it strikes me as odd that "legs" are an issue on which everyone's come down on the side of fantasy. I'm always a bit put off, even in my favorite multiplayer shooters, at the way FPS characters look from from a second-person perspective. They circle and bounce, not like bipeds, but like mobile gun platforms.
The first-person shooter genre is, and always has been, utterly dominated by Daleks.