Radar on Xbox Live is an indisputable reality, but that doesn’t mean a debate about radar’s place in Halo is inconsequential. Custom games, tournaments, leagues and LAN parties all display varying beliefs about its use. There are valid arguments on both sides of the debate which will be explored within. I hope that this article can be used as a point of departure for more (subjective) debates in the forum.
There are many who see the radar debate as a black and white issue. Those who want to keep radar have valid arguments. Removing it diminishes an aspect of the game Bungie intended it to have (as we see from the fact that almost every single game setting uses radar on XBL). Removing radar reduces the importance of the crouch. This is especially true for Halo 2 where crouching is so slow that it no longer has appeal in strafe battles. One thing that XBL has shown is that crouching is a skill. Especially in objective based games, crouch-walking into position requires patience and timing. Radar requires you to be more deliberate with your movements while setting up an attack. In fact, just using radar is a skill in itself. Those who use it properly can know the positioning of, say, three defenders in the base on Zanzibar with one glance at the motion tracker. Interpretation of radar information can become a mini chess game between the opposing teams where players alternately creep and run, trying to psych each other out.
At the other end of the spectrum, many believe that removing radar makes the game more skill-based. You do not know where players are when you turn the corner. Awareness and preparedness become more important because, for example, if you’re on the top floor you can’t know if someone is directly below. Removing radar opens up the maps’ full potential because players are responsible for covering the entire map with their own eyes, not the eyes of the little blue circle at the bottom of their screens. Additionally, game speed changes because you don’t often have people creeping at slow speeds. This does not mean that positioning and timing aren’t required; it just means you can run from one spot to the next much more freely.
Personally, in Halo: CE I found that once I removed radar I became more complete as a player – I had to be aware of all possibilities at all times. Whenever I returned to radar, once I remembered to use it, it was easier. I knew the maps more intimately because I spent so much time preparing myself for enemies to come from all possible directions. Those who rely on radar feel a sense of paranoia when they are stripped of it. Familiarizing yourself with game types without radar also increases your predictive powers in the game. If you see an enemy going behind a corridor you tend to make a judgment call as to where they are going and prepare yourself accordingly. With radar on, there is much less need for this, because the little red dot usually tells you. Those who make arguments along the lines of, “if you are so good, you should be able to win with radar turned on,” miss the point. Players who feel radar should be turned off (whether this be entirely or just for specific game types and maps) feel as though doing this enriches their Halo playing experience.
MLG considers radar for each game type. In this way, it is making a statement about the purpose radar should have in Halo. Looking at the rules for Washington D.C. we see that in the 4 v 4 rounds, team slayer and classic CTF have no radar. In other words, three out of five games in each series will have no-radar games (go check out the rules to find out all the settings for each game type). I point this out to show how radar can be seen to serve different purposes under different circumstances, but this article is not about MLG specifically or its stance on the matter.
Considering the arguments from above, many contend that either having radar or no radar takes more skill. It ultimately boils down to your playing style. Players who prefer faster style play may want to use no-radar. I realize that having radar means players are often aware of where everyone is so encounters are increased, but actually, game speed becomes faster without radar as enemies are blindly entering each others’ screens. Aside from game pace, would the actual dynamics (especially in team slayer) change at all with or without radar? By this I mean would dominating one position on a map become any less or more significant? Would new map hotspots emerge?
Having no radar in CTF does speed up play significantly. In addition, it changes offensive and defensive strategies. For example, you may not see the flag carrier running from the spot you know he has to leave from. Awareness of the flag becomes more significant without radar. Using radar in CTF requires much more precise positioning. Giving up your location at the wrong time can often be fatal (and usually is when the competition is good).
Why is radar different in 1 flag CTF games? Because each team has one role. If radar stays on the offensive team is required to position itself more carefully and precisely. Leaving radar on adds, some would say, a necessary dimension. If we look at a well-planned attack from the radar screen it is often almost or completely blank and then, all of a sudden, 3 to 4 dots appear storming from different positions. If there is room for poetry in Halo, this image would certainly be one of the finest to write about.
I feel that it is important to discuss what the best settings are in terms of gameplay, and just because Xbox Live has default settings in place for games does not necessarily make them the best. As I said in a previous article, a general community effort in favor of different settings could actually influence Bungie’s decision-making about Xbox Live. Certainly the makers have reasons for setting the games the way they are, but they have proven open to change (Bungie’s weekly Humpday Challenges often include non-radar games, for example).
You can contact Brick at Brick@mlgpro.com. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Major League Gaming or its affiliates.