Pwner of a Lonely Heart Halo 3 Beta Test Brings Massive Online Masses

Pwner of a Lonely Heart Halo 3 Beta Test Brings Massive Online Masses
Now let’s be clear — I don’t like playing king of the table in a pool hall, not big on intramural sports and was never fond of getting my digital ass served to me in an arcade by the Mortal Kombat 3 samurais running the coin-op cabinet. See, I enjoy friends and friends-of-friends but I’m just not a big fan of talking to strangers, much less playing videogames against them. So I’ve always been pretty whatever about gaming’s increasingly omnipresent multiplayer modes.

But when Halo 3 developer Bungie announced a beta test — intended to prevent gamer-infuriating bugs when millions jump online September 25 to play the first now-gen edition of one gaming’s most successful series — I was actually excited. I wasn’t the only one — more than 820,000 unique participants logged more than 12 million hours of online gameplay, equivalent to more than 1,400 years of continuous play by one person. The available maps — Valhalla, High Ground and the Hoth-like Snowbound — appeared diverse and challenging, and though these pre-release graphics pale before Gears of War, it was still rather pretty (especially the photorealistic water).

Alas, when I dropped into the beta rumble pit, the "lobby” was replete with more than 30,000 people who I don’t know. And they were all better than me. Over and over and over again, I found myself being blasted, sucker-punched, shit-talked and occasionally tea-bagged, no doubt by some pimply 14-year-old prick. Whee?

The first few days were the worst — everyone started out at the same skill level so my "n00b” self (I never spent much time online with Halo 2) got "pwned” over and over again. By the way, that’s not a typo, or rather, it is a typo, but one that happened so often when PC online gamers were trash-typing that it’s become ingrained gamer slang. By a couple weeks in, when the servers could better match me with folks at my own skill level, I was belt-notching a bit of slaughter in the wee hours. But as much fun as it was initially, the matches began to feel like I was on an endless loop.

The eventual single-player campaign will never enjoy the sheer hours of gameplay that the multiplayer mode will, but I find myself more interested in finding out how Master Chief defeats The Covenant than how many times I can be blown away in a single session.

Microsoft’s latest first-person-shooter Shadowrun eschews a single-player narrative altogether. They simply provide a magic-filled cyberpunk fantasy setting and a few maps then let players duke it out in a stripped-down, balls-out battleground.

In fact, its biggest selling point is the ability to allow console gamers and PC peeps to fight against each other online for the first time using "Games for Windows - LIVE.” (Of course, PC gamers are even more hardcore, and therefore more likely to frag me senseless, since who else would sink the horrifying amount of money needed to enable your desktop to play these titles without weeping?)

Other games will soon join Shadowrun in the online-only realm, most notably the PS3’s Warhawk and SOCOM Confrontation, the latest in the Navy SEALs franchise, which will allow 32 simultaneous gamers. Now I do appreciate why multiplayer has become so popular. While old-school arcades were largely about socialising — whether buying a dime bag or joining a few friends to co-op through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — modern gaming can be a very solitary activity and the rise of Guitar Hero and Wii Sports parties are yet more evidence that people miss the interaction. But beyond my irritation at anonymous teenagers shouting "pussy" at my dead digital corpse — at least Bungie has kindly added a player mute function dubbed "the a-hole button” — the real problem with multiplayer is that they’re almost all essentially variations on deathmatch (think tag, except everybody is it) or capture the flag.

Halo 3, and Gears of War before it, may add a fresh coast of paint, but so far they haven’t been able to change the game.