Halo Month, Part 1

So, Halo Month is off to quite the start. I’ve read the first three books (“Halo: The Fall of Reach”, “Halo: The Flood”, and “Halo: First Strike”), played through the MCC version of Halo: Combat Evolved, and started Halo 2.

As mentioned before, a big part of why I’m doing this is because I’ve never really paid attention to the Halo universe outside of the games, and that made following Halo 4’s plot very confusing – a lot of it revolves around Doctor Halsey, who I don’t think ever shows up in a Halo game before that point but who is hugely important to the book plots from the very first book forward.

I can’t really talk too much about the quality of the books. They suffer a bit from the need to lovingly describe the various weapons and gear used by the Spartans, and it comes off a bit… men’s adventure? Like, there’s a drugstore action novel feel to them, with all of the talk of calibers and high explosives – and to make things worse, some of the technical talk is just painful. There’s at least one moment where a character is described as using a “114mm sniper rifle”, for example, which I am going to pretend is just a really interesting typo.

Let’s just file them under not-great-literature and move on.

Two of them are basically lore dumps to get you into the first game and then to explain how one of the characters in that first game survived until the second. The middle book, “Halo: The Flood” is little more than a novelization of the game storyline, which was quite a disappointment. I had expected it to go into, well, the backstory of the Flood. Silly me.

Of all of them, I think “Halo: The Fall of Reach” is the most critical to read and I kind of wish I’d read it before playing the game for the first time – some details from the page don’t perfectly match up with the on-screen events, but it really sets the stage and the stakes for the campaign.

I’d played Halo: Combat Evolved through twice before, both the original Xbox version and the Xbox 360 Anniversary edition, which was a good thing. It meant that I was ready for the godawful slog that is “Assault on the Control Room” and knew in advance that “Twin Betrayals” was just going to be “Assault on the Control Room” in reverse. What I didn’t remember was just how easy it is to get absolutely murdered by random chains of grenade explosions, or how painful breaking into the landing bay in “Truth and Reconciliation” was going to be. I was only playing on Normal difficulty, expecting a cakewalk, and I had to reset my expectations several times over the course of the campaign.

A lot of Halo’s campaign, after your first play-through, is just working your way to the Flood outbreak since that’s where the game really kicks into gear. It’s probably an unpopular opinion, but my favorite level is “The Library”, just because I really love the sense of being constantly almost-but-not-quite overwhelmed by hordes of enemies. It doesn’t have the same adrenaline rush as the final mad dash in the Warthog, but it keeps up the tension level for a really long time. It may be a bit linear, compared to other levels where Bungie was happy to let you get lost and wander around for a while, but linear works for me.

I suspect I have just insulted a lot of fan-favorite levels, and I’d be interested to hear other peoples’ thoughts on the campaign.  Be gentle. 🙂

The Master Chief Collection versions of both Halo and Halo 2 let you swap back and forth between the old graphics and new graphics with the press of a button, and I found myself switching quite a bit. Unexpectedly, I found myself preferring the old lighting in most of the levels – the ring is supposed to be ancient and long-dead, and the Forerunner ruins in the original game LOOK it. The fresh coat of paint added for the remaster kind of destroys the sense that you’re wandering through the remnants, like they spent a long time on retexturing everything and then realized that they needed to turn on all of the lights or you wouldn’t be able to properly appreciate the work they put into designing wall panels.

Old Vs. New

Also, the newly-added ground flora does a fine job of covering up ammo and weapon pickups, and one of the primary reasons I kept switching to the old graphics was so I could find stuff after fights.

That kvetching aside, the new models for characters and vehicles are far better and usually won out over preferring the older lighting. If they ever RE-remaster the original game, I hope they find a bit of a middle ground.

As I mentioned, I’m only a little ways into Halo 2 – specifically, at the point where the Master Chief actually winds up on the second Halo installation. So far, I’m liking the changes to the visuals much more than in the first game, and there is a real evolution in pacing – the opening level is a bit of a drag, especially since I managed to get lost several times, but everything since then has been firing on all cylinders.

Next up, I should finish Halo 2, then read one or two more books and dive into Halo 3. I also have Halo Wars waiting for me, and that’s going to be the first completely new-to-me game. I don’t have a lot of RTS experience so I’m a little anxious about that one, but we’ll see how it goes.

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2 Responses to Halo Month, Part 1

  1. Pete Davison says:

    I have a weird relationship with Halo. I have some extremely fond memories of playing various installments in different varieties of multiplayer — local co-op and a memorable topless drunken LAN party for the original, online multiplayer for 2, LOTS of online multiplayer for Reach — but… I kind of hate the games themselves.

    I tend to bounce HARD off modern first- and third-person shooters these days (while I love ’90s-style ones) and I’m pretty sure Halo is a significant contributing factor to that, alongside Gears of War (which I think is probably my most-loathed game of all time). I tend to associate modern FPS titles with advancing through a linear level, getting to a setpiece, dying repeatedly through what feels like no fault of my own and having to hear the same “checkpoint dialogue” over and over and over and over again. This was a particular issue with Gears of War, but Halo was guilty of it at numerous points too. It’s for this reason I never even tried Legendary mode! I’m all for a challenge but getting plugged by things I can’t see and dying in a couple of hits doesn’t feel like fun. Your mileage may, of course, vary!

    One thing I always found a bit weird about the series is that its super-fans extol the virtues of its extensive lore… though very little of this is found in the games themselves, or at least not in the main story. Rather, this interesting backstory tends to be confined to Terminals all over the game world and while it’s cool that they’re there at all, I find myself feeling like it could have probably been implemented a bit better. Still, the fans seem to enjoy this way of doing things, so that’s fair enough I guess.

    Ah well. Not every game is for everyone, and I haven’t really touched it since Reach. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the series after Bungie left, as that’s pretty much where I left it behind.


    • baudattitude says:

      Thanks for the comments! I’m glad to hear your thought on the Gears of War games. I’ve always been very put off by the character designs and the general dudebro vibe to them, but they’ve been floating in the back of my mind with a “well, but they seem super popular, should I try one at least?” and now I have more reason to shut that voice up.

      I’m certainly having a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Halo series, so we’re agreed there. They’re gorgeous games (well, the remastered versions in any event), the music defines “epic”, and the characters and creatures have reached iconic status to a ridiculous degree… but they can be really unfun at times. Like you say, the checkpoint -> die -> checkpoint -> die loop is just exceptionally bad, even on Normal difficulty. It’s very fond of sticking you in small arenas and killing you until you learn where each of the enemies is going to be and can be ready for them before they appear, and I can’t imagine it on Heroic or Legendary.

      I had some trouble articulating why the combat wasn’t feeling quite right, which is a big strike against a game where your primary means of interaction with the environment is to shoot bits of it, and I think I’ve narrowed it down to a lack of feedback to tell the player whether they’re doing things right. There are quite a lot of weapons that do very reduced damage against both the Flood enemies and the Brute enemies, and I’m still not sure what weapon I SHOULD be using against the Flood. I eventually learned that Brutes will suck up plasma rifle fire all day without taking a scratch, but melt to needler fire – which is a weapon I never got on with in the first game so had largely been ignoring. Weapon resistances aren’t anything particularly unusual, but if there is a cue to let you when you’re using the wrong weapon for a particular enemy I haven’t found it yet.

      To add to the general ranting about lack of feedback, I often find myself wondering what I need to do in order to close one action sequence and open the next. Taking the level “Gravemind” as an example, the last section of it is a series of rooms separated by corridors, and both the rooms and corridors tend to be full of opponents, so actually taking the time to kill everything would take ages – instead, if you’re careful enough, you can run all the way through most of the level without clearing… until you hit the last door in the level, which won’t open until you backtrack to the last large room and kill everything in it. Combine that with the question of “Is this door closed because I have not met a condition, or is it closed because I’m not supposed to go this way?” and you really start to appreciate games that hold your hand a little more.

      All-in-all, I am having to remind myself that it’s a 14-year-old game and I will soon be moving on to the games from what I like to think of as the “telemetry generation” – the generation of consoles where game makers started getting feedback from the games themselves as to how players were playing them, and were able to design to that. I’m expecting the irritation factor to drop quite a bit.

      If you stopped with Reach, I think that’s actually a pretty good place to set it aside. One of the primary motivating factors for this whole affair was that I played through Halo 4 a couple of years ago and felt like it should have made a lot more sense since I’d, you know, played every previous mainline game in the series. I’ll be sure to post if it’s worth playing AFTER I’ve gone through all of the books and other nonsense.

      Liked by 1 person

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