If you happen to find yourself driving around at 11pm tonight, you'll likely see long lines of (mostly) men standing outside of Best Buys, EB Games and Gamestops all over greater Los Angeles. Do not be alarmed. It's just the hardcore gaming faithful lining up to claim their midnight copies of Halo 3, the biggest video game of the year. For the completely uninitiated, Halo is the sci-fi shooter franchise that is basically the reason why Microsoft's Xbox became a competitor to Sony and Nintendo's game consoles and not a casualty in the game console graveyard, alongside the Atari Jaguar, the Sega Dreamcast and the 3DO. If the release of Halo 2 several years ago is any indicator, it is also safe to say that Halo 3 is going to be the culprit behind the severe lack of Tuesday productivity among the city's male population.
The game is expected to ring up $150 million in sales within its first 24 hours of release, eclipsing the then record $125 million of its predecessor over the same period of time. It's also expected to convince on the fence buyers to finally take the plunge and purchase an Xbox 360, which is in danger of being overtaken by Nintendo's upstart Wii, the game console that has grandmother's in living rooms all over the word wildly waving their arms as they play air-tennis.
Based on the advertising campaign that has plastered Halo's hero, Master Chief, onto everything from billboards to soda cans, you would think Halo 3 is going to be a Mario-like cultural phenomenon enjoyable by all the masses who love video games. Please kill those thoughts immediately, Wii heads, because this game is not for grandma. In fact, Halo 3 is the Holy Grail for the verbally-abusive, hardcore shooter fans who have been the bread and butter of Microsoft's ascent to console dominance.
Allow me to explain. Before the advent of the "enjoyable by everyone and all-ages" hits the Nintendo Wii and Guitar Hero, most video game players fell into three general categories. They are as follows:
Image by Bobby Solomon for LAist
Madden gamers: These are people who play video games alongside friends. And by "games," we mean Madden football. Madden gamers like to have a group of buddies over and jaw at them as they throw 90-yard bombs with Michael Vick, then extol the game's "realism" while gloating over a final score of 95-78. Madden gamers follow the Madden franchise from console to console, which means they could be found overwhelmingly on the PlayStation 2 during the last console cycle, and now can largely be found on the Xbox 360. Basically, whatever console Electronic Arts hosts the annual Madden Challenge on, that's what they play. When not playing Madden, these gamers can be found playing Devil May Cry, Fight Night and other action games that require rapid button mashing.
RPG gamers: These are the Final Fantasy and World of Warcraft players. They tend to vanish for months at a time when they get particularly engrossed in a new role-playing game. They sometimes move over to real-time strategy games (like Starcraft). Other gamers often consider hardcore RPG people freaks. Yes, the pot does indeed call the kettle black in the video game world.
Shooter gamers: These are people who play first person shooters, often over online networks. Games like Unreal Tournament, Quake and Counter Strike made the PC the longtime home of shooters. Halo's greatest achievement was bringing the shooter to the home console. Microsoft's Xbox is considered the most "shooter-friendly" of the big consoles, making console hits of series like Halo, Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, Gears of War, Bioshock and others. Sony's big shooter franchises are SOCOM and Killzone. If someone you know is really into any of these titles, they're a shooter gamer. In many ways, these are the most abusive gamers out there. When you hear horror stories about 13-year-olds hurling slurs while playing online games in their bedrooms, it's usually in some shooter game.
The Halo series has been a shooter's fantasy, incorporating a wide range of weapons and vehicles to a fairly deep (for a video game) single player story and unlimited options for online multiplayer play. That being said, if you've never bought or played a shooter before and think Halo 3 is a good entry into the genre, you might end up disappointed. The key trait of the shooter gamer is their absolute lack of patience for newcomers ("noobs"). Hop into the game lobby of any shooter and say something like "hey guys! I just bought this game, and it's my first videogame since the Sega Genesis! How does it work?" You'll either be (a) immediately ejected from the game, or, if that isn't an option for the host, (b) verbally abused and stalked by all of the other players until they turn you into a Madden gamer.
So caveat emptor, new Halo 3 buyer. If you need a more friendly gaming environment to get acclaimated to the world of shooters, feel free to send me a friend request (Xbox Live Gamertag: Powerkeni), and I'll gladly walk you through the basics before sending you out into the world for your online life of scorn and abuse.