Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Halo series retrospective

"Halo, it's divine wind will rush through the stars propelling all who are worthy along the path to salvation" - Noble Prophet of Mercy

Ah, Halo, you've heard me talk about it time and time again. Well, I figure, since I talk about it enough, might as well just get the talking out of my system, as best I can.

A lot of people found out about Bungie through Halo, this was not the case for me, as I knew about bungie for 4ish years before Halo 1 even came out. This dates back to Myth: The Fallen Lords, which my eldest brother would play the demo of, over and over again, off the Mac Addict CD, and finally, the next year, when Myth II: Soulblighter was released, which my brother bought. For years, we played Myth II, from online, to single player, from Standard to completely modded. Myth was amazing, In 1999, a trailer was put on one of the Mac Addict disks, for Bungie's new game, Oni, a Anime styled shooter/fighting game. The trailered looked a bit too intense for me, back in the day, but when the demo came out, I fell in love with it, and bought it when it released in 2001. I played both Myth and Oni for years, loving them, and having them stay in my top 10 games list.

Fast forward a few years, to March 2004, I had a friend, who's dad had won a Xbox as a door prize to a place he had visited. Considering his family had no TVs, it was interesting to see it sit in his room for years. I finally asked him what the deal with it was, and he gave it to me, or more accurately, lent it to me on indefinite loan. (Thank you, you know who you are) It had a copy of Halo 1 with it, but at the time I was not interested in it, more looking forward to trying the Oddworld game, Munch's Oddysee, which I had wanted to play for quite a while. My eldest brother, again was the one to try Halo, and fell in love with it. I at the time, was very hesitant to try it, due to a few facts, one of which, was me not being able to handle gore very well (I played Myth II with the blood lock on). I eventually tried it briefly, then again at a party, where we bought a second controller, so we could try 2 player. My first game was against someone who'd played it for years, who I was able to completely beat. The gameplay itself hooked me, and I finally decided to give it a chance.

Halo: Combat Evolved (AKA, Halo 1, Halo, Halo: CE), Xbox - 2001

So, I finally tried Halo, what did I think? Well, first of all, the look of the game itself really connected with me, I liked the vibrant colors, and style it had going. The gameplay also reminded me a little of Oni, with it's focus on guns, but also being able to punch. All of that, and it was the first First Person Shooter I had played that had a story I actually cared about. I was taken along with the Master Chief for the ride that is Halo's campaign, and once I had beaten it, I went back and beat it on every difficulty, and many more times playing 2 player split screen.

Halo had many things going for it at the time, Amazing and clear graphics, split screen coop, split screen versus, and LAN play, something PC gamers had been used to for years, but was new to console gamers. It also had a great story, art design, universe design, pacing, and overall feeling.

Something about Halo really just grabbed me, and didn't let go. Both me and my brothers played it split screen for the rest of the year. We would also fire up COOP from time to time. Overall, it felt like another great game from Bungie, which reminded me of their older games in a sort of atmosphere.

However, I couldn't have gotten away that whole year without realizing there would be a second Halo game, Halo 2, which was coming out November 9th, of that year. I quickly looked up all the information I could, and read every preview and article. As the year went by, I had read or seen everything Bungie had released on Halo 2. I had also read and participated in forum conversations on it, and debated everything. I was so ready for November 9th, that I pre-ordered a game for the first time, that and I had paid off all the $50 before November. I sat watching and re-watching the trailers for it.

Soon enough, someone had leaked the game, and there was even more information for the game online. I took to reading some of it, and seeing videos of the new Blood Gulch. I did try to stay away from the story details, but accidentally heard about the Arbiter, tsk.

Halo 2, Xbox - 2004

Then it came, the magic day, November 8th. It was only a day till Halo 2 came out, and I took my receipt, and come nightfall, made my way, and stood outside of gamestop, waiting for it to hit midnight. I stood in the rain with many other Halo fans talking about the series, and watched as some fans set up a TV in the back of a SUV, and when midnight hit they played Halo 2 on it. I got my copy of Halo 2, and rushed home, and played it for hours, being up till probably 3-4AM (This was when I went to bed earlier), The next day I hosted a LAN party, and we played Halo 2 for hours, trying out the new multiplayer maps and gametypes.

It was nothing next to finding out what happened in the story to me, Once people started to leave the LAN party, I started to play, and in one sitting made it 5 levels into the game.

I liked the game a lot, but definitely felt some of the changes weren't for the better, such as the clunky look of the melee animations, and the new feeling for the human tank. At the time I felt a little let down due to the impossibly huge expectations I had the game. Ones that would be impossible for anything to fulfill. The more I played the game, though, the more I liked it.

This was all, however, before I tried the online. Sometime later, I was convinced to try Xbox Live, which I tried, and me and one of my brothers really got into. We got so deeply into it, we played it nearly every day for the next 2ish years. Over that time, I made friends with a lot of local people that played the game that I remain friends with to this day. Getting into online, was interesting, first finding out how the party system works, matchmaking, custom games, ect.

Online was so well done though, everything was smooth, and worked exactly how it should, to this day I've never seen an online game run as smoothly as that. It's jaded my online experience to a very bad degree. Anyways, when the downloadable maps came out, I bought them right away, and enjoyed them more than a few words can say.

Another thing about online was the maps were all glitch-out-able. If you had enough people working together, doing the right thing on a specifically designed gametype, you could find your way outside the map. To me, it was like every map was it's own puzzle. Sure you could say they weren't designed as well they could have been to have let that in, but it was 99.99% impossible to do it in a competitive game, as a lot of them required you to work together with the opposing team. Exploring the outsides of the map, and finding my way out of them extended the life of the game for many months for me.

Halo 2 overall had a very solid campaign, with many more characters, characters that could be related to, and were played by famous actors who delivered great lines. Also, the Covenant's side of the story was shown, giving everyone, allies and enemies alike much more depth, and made the whole universe much relatable and plausible. The story itself was unpredictable, and interesting, with great scenery, and thought provoking plot points. The weapon and vehicle selections were greatly improved, and the new health, and duel wielding systems were amazingly well done. Added to the gameplay was HAVOK physics and explosive scenery, which added a lot to the gameplay. The enemy variety was also greatly improved, with snipers, flying enemies, along with mini and major boss fights. The music had a lot of the same tunes from the first game redone, some were on par, some worse, and a few better. The newer songs in the game, were generally better than the songs from Halo: Combat Evolved, and there were a lot more songs overall. (So many that they needed to make 2 soundtracks). The graphics for Halo 2 were also insane, being the best I had ever seen at the time, I couldn't believe it looked as good as it did, it felt like it should be on a new system. Everything from character models to environments looked nothing short of amazing. I would hazard a guess at probably the best overall graphics from the last generation.

It was not without faults though, the big one I remember was pop-in during cut scenes, due to no loading times except when you first start your game. Another issue was cheaters/glitchers online. Even though the best glitches were exploring ones, there were some gameplay ones that popped inside, and not all of them were fixed. Another thing I didn't like, was the change from more open world, and large levels, to much more linear levels, this was, in my opinion an awful change. As mentioned before, I also thought some of the animations, and music weren't to par...

Still, with all that, I would put it as one of the few games I could ever feel justified in giving a 10/10.

After Halo 2, I moved to the PS3 for my next generation system, due to the high failure rate of 360s, and lack of games that interested me. I almost forgot about Halo 3 until it had snuck up on me, and in the last 24 hours, I was able to find a friend who's house I could go over and play it on. There we went, into the wee hours of the morning, finishing the game.

Halo 3, Xbox 360 - 2007

So, my first impressions of the game were kinda luke warm. I felt the graphics didn't impress me very much at all, and then, when playing I felt it was much harder to follow what was going on, due to more discussion via radio, and in game cues, so if you weren't paying attention due to being in the middle of fight, or something, you'd miss parts completely. Another thing I found, was that the levels themselves were even worse than Halo 2 in terms of linearity and felt a lot more bland.

The gameplay itself was Halo 2, but felt a bit more generic, and lacked that part of it, that seemed to grab you, and not let you go. Plus, I felt equipment was not a worth addition to the formula of Halo.

That is not to say that it was all bad, I did enjoy playing through it, I felt it is shoulders above a lot of mainstream games.

The story itself felt simplified to fit the ever growing Halo fanbase, turning the deep world into almost action movie-simplicity, removing other sides of the story, and making the 'bad guy' instead of feeling like a clever foe, just an evil for the sake of being evil villain. Also, they changed some of the main actors, to, in my opinion, worse actors. I was able to predict almost every plot twist within an hour of it happening, or so. Which I feel is poor on the writing side.

There are deffinitelly some plus points to Halo 3. I thought the Spartan Laser, while it's name sucked, was a great addition to the arsenal, I also thought the Magnum was greatly improved as a weapon from Halo 2. The Assault rifle was a pretty good starting weapon too, though I think it could have used a bit of tweaking. The ability to carry turrets I also liked (Though, clinking the right joystick should switch shoulders for the camera). The new wartogs were cool, if mostly useless.

Also they added a lot of cool user features, Saved films, forge, online coop 2-4 player, better handling of skulls and campaign scoring.

One thing about Halo 3 was this feeling that for everything it did right, I could name a few things it did wrong, Saved films were nice, having to pay to get them to your computer was not (if that's how it worked, that is, I never tried, only heard), forge was a great idea, but was let down by it's execution, being nothing more than level decorator, and a clumsy one at that. Online coop with 4 players, but split screen was still limited to 2. Campaign scoring that takes you back to the menu after every level. Though I will give it the skull part, which was a great addition.

Overall, Halo 3 to me felt like the new star wars trilogy compared to the original. There were redeeming factors, but it really made me second guess the series as one of my favorites, or even one to follow.

I later bought a 360, to play Halo 3 online, only to find I just couldn't get into it, I tried many times, only to just stop each time, after a few days. Even owning the game itself, I couldn't bring myself to go back it and replay it, except with those that were playing it for the first time.

So, after Halo 3, I cared even less about whatever Halo games followed. Being the fan I was of Bungie I was excited to see what they would do next, only to hear that they were working on Halo 3: Recon, and Halo: Reach. "Ugg" Along with Halo Wars, I wasn't too thrilled.

Halo Wars, Xbox 360 - 2009

I must admit, I own this game. I must also admit, I never played anything more than the demo. (I was given the game for free) So this is all based on my experience of the demo.

My first thoughts: This doesn't feel like Halo. It feels like a generic RTS with a Halo skin. Not a hugely bad thing, but it really didn't inspire me to get into it.

Let's get this out of the way, it's an RTS, on a console, and it doesn't play badly. I don't feel it would be much, if at all better on a PC/Mac. As much as an achievement as this is, it's very much let down by it's simplicity, there is 1 resource, and you can only build in set places.

That, and an RTS as such just doesn't scream 'Halo' to me. "There are some covenant over that hill." "Quick, build a base, and start developing wartogs." I dunno, it just didn't cut it for me. Call me jaded, but I feel a Myth-style RTS would have much better fit the universe, and it's a real shame not to have seen that instead.

The music, art design, characters, and story didn't even feel like it belonged in the universe...

But again, it's not really a 'bad' game, just a generic RTS, with Halo's skin.

So what was next in store for Halo? Well, a while after it came out, and I heard people talk about it, I was able to borrow Halo 3: ODST (Formally called Halo 3: Recon) from a friend (Thanks! You also know who you are!).

Halo 3: ODST, Xbox 360 - 2009

You might already remember my review of this, but feel free to keep reading.

I actually was surprised to find I quite enjoyed this game, probably due to my distaste of Halo 3. Sure, like Halo 3, it had a lot of issues, but it also remembered that, you need your game to be fun to play, something I feel Halo 3 forgot.

The game has that same issue of having things very hard to follow unless you are paying attention 100% of the time. Also I felt that I was only able to really get to know 2 of the characters over the course of the game, and mostly in the last few hours.

The game tried some new things, which I completely embrace, but I feel it never fully managed to pull them off completely. First off, you are a marine, and ODST, not a spartan, so you are suppose to feel more human, and to an extent, you do, but sometimes things really break the 'human' feeling, when carrying a spartan laser, flipping vehicles, ripping off and carrying turrets, jumping 6 feet+ up, punching down a brute, ect.

Other new things it tried, was having it be an open world game, with missions in set places. Urban combat, open ended gaemplay, and a new style of music, also the induction of "Firefight."

Also, the lack of dual wielding makes a bunch of weapons pretty much useless, and there's a few more annoying things, such as the fact that the game is very short 6 hours-ish, it had no ODST unique multiplayer, besides Firefight, which lacked matchmaking, and it cost $60, which in my opinion is much too much for what was offered.

In the end, I felt while fun, it didn't stand up to Halo 1 or Halo 2. Still, much better than Halo 3.

So that left 1 more game, one which again, just snuck on me, and again I was lucky enough to find someone to play it with the night it came out (Once again, thank you, you know who you are, all of you).

Halo: Reach, Xbox 360 - 2010

LARGE NOTE HERE: I still haven't completed the campaign, only having played 7-8 of the 10 levels.

My first impressions were that Reach, like ODST and Halo 3 before, continues the trend of characters it's hard to get to know, or care about, and a story that requires you to really be paying attention all the time, or you miss important things, be it visual character interactions in game, or radio messages.

Another thing that struck me were that, despite a redesigned graphics engine, the game only still looks decent. Not as dated as Halo 3 looked to me, but not as good as a game with that kind of budget should have. I am probably jaded due to games like Uncharted 2, and Killzone 2, which I think, look leagues better. Also, there seems to be some sort of strange ghosting issue with the graphics, which make things blurry or leave trails when dark things move across light backgrounds. Reminds me of playing something on a PSP, didn't think I'd see it on a console anytime soon.

The game itself though, following in ODST's footsteps is actually fun to play, and I was enjoying myself as I played through the levels alongside some friends. I was enjoying a lot of the changes, and overall was reminded more of Halo 1 and 2 than 3. Which was a huge step up in my book.

Though, it still has a generic-ish overall feeling, which I felt was added to the series in 3, which was disappointing. Like Halo 3, I felt the new weapons didn't feel as interesting as the original weapons from Halo 1 and Halo 2. However, again the Pistol seems to be very well balanced and fun to use, the assault rifle feels much nicer this time around, and the DMR (Battle rifle replacement) feels amazing, not too over powered, still fun to use.

The armor abilities I feel are a mixed bag, though much better than Halo 3's equipment. Some of the abilities seem very situational, and tacked on, rather than integral parts of the gameplay, while the run ability I feel should have always enabled.

The length of the game and open world feeling levels are very welcome additions, though the whole game feels a bit color muted compared to the older ones, which is strange. There are also some gameplay shake-ups I wont spoil for you, but they are let down by really not being long enough, even so, I am happy they went the length to shake things up.

Online is much more fun this time around, and I would probably be playing it more if my Xbox Live account hadn't run out. Nice balance, and much more addictive than Halo 3. (Though the ranking system is still not a straight forward as 2.)

I hear the difficulty has been raised to be closer to Halo 2, which is good, because 3 was kinda easy on legendary.

Forge is actually useful in this one, allowing you to create, while they be simple, levels. I've created a few of my own, even if I will never get to play them with people, they are fun to make. One thing that was annoying though, was the very strange restrictions placed on items you can place, the lack of a copy, and the lack of an undo.

So overall, I am happy with Halo: Reach, but I still don't think it can touch Halo 1 or Halo 2. Congrats to Bungie from bringing me from "Bleah Halo" back to "I like Halo, at least some of the games"

I am done with Halo as a series, and it's just as well, considering Microsoft is ready to destroy the franchise with yearly releases in the style of call of duty. So it's a good place for me to pull my hands out of the franchise and be happy with the games I have.

Who knows, I might write a review for Halo: Reach once I've finished it. Could be fun.

No comments: