There was a time, long, long ago, when every first person shooter that hit the market was touted as a real “Halo killer.” The label emerged from a strange perception that there was only room for one shooter franchise on consoles. In order for any game in the genre to succeed, it would have to topple Halo from its throne. Hell, all the marketing whizzes labeling their companies’ games as “Halo killers” may have been right – Halo was the shooter king of the Xbox/PS2/GameCube generation, and other games often got swallowed up in its shadow.
Sony may have come closer than most with Killzone, the 2004 release that seemed for a while like it would truly threaten Halo’s reign. But the game received average reviews, with framerate issues and lousy controls plaguing most critics’ experiences. Besides, the Japanese-designed PS2 controller’s shoulder buttons were intended more for third person RPGs and dating sims than for first person shooters.
The label emerged again in 2006, when it was applied liberally and with much gusto to Resistance: Fall of Man, a PS3 launch title. This time, the supposed “Halo killer” pleased plenty of critics, and the PS3 controller’s triggers seemed much more suited for pulling of headshots and chucking ‘nades.
Jump to the present, and Halo’s sharing the throne – if you can even call it that still – with a bevy of other franchises. Call of Duty’s cross-platform hijinks have even caused some to hail the end of Halo’s reign. But with PS3 exclusives like Killzone 3 and Resistance 3 both coming in the next year, is there really enough room for all these shooters? Have Sony finally made a name for themselves in a genre once dominated by Microsoft?
Of course, console exclusives seem a little antiquated these days. Gone is the time when one system’s games came on cartridges while another’s were on CDs. The Xbox 360 and PS3 are comparable enough in power that games released for both systems are often nearly identical. We may even be heading for an all-digital future, or one in which the only way we play is by streaming games off a wireless cloud directly to our devices.
Of course, Microsoft and Sony see it differently. Halo defined the Xbox brand for almost a decade, and Sony’s been futilely nipping at Microsoft’s heels for much of that time (in the US, of course – Japan is a different story). Exclusives sell consoles. There’s no doubt about that. Without exclusive releases – Uncharted, God of War, Halo, Gears of War – the names of the controllers’ buttons would be the main difference between the two machines.
Now Sony’s actually managed to raise two successful, exclusive FPS franchises to Microsoft’s one. Of course, they never really killed Halo. If anyone did, it’s Call of Duty developers Infinity Ward, though all they really did was put Halo in its place. But that’s just it. Somewhere along the way, the gaming world opened up. Maybe it was the Wii bringing in thousands of new gamers, or maybe online play and DLC shifting importance from the first week of sales to the subsequent months of support and extra content. But the enormous breadth of games available now is really staggering.
There’s no reason for there to be one shooter franchise ruling them all. Resistance’s alternate World War II-era setting, in which a brutal race known as the Chimera have hunted humanity down nearly to extinction, is one of the most compelling game worlds out there. And Killzone has come a long way since its shaky beginnings. The second was hailed by critics, and the third in the series has a better chance than any other game of ushering in Sony’s era of 3D gaming. Like all console exclusives, they’ve been showered with love and money from Sony, and the two franchises have built up substantial followings over the years.
Add to those two all the multi-platform shooters available on the PS3, and it’s clear that Microsoft’s big, meltdown-prone box is no longer the only choice for fans of the first-person deathmatch. Sony have truly made a name for themselves in the realm of shooters – it just didn’t happen overnight.