Many developers have been going darker with the tones of stories lately. It's time we stop asking definitively if this is a good or bad thing and consider the artistic value at hand.
I Have Never Played Halo: Confessions of a Gamer
As I look over my library, I see Uncharted, God of War, Final Fantasy, Call of Duty; I have a representative from most major franchises in my game collection. I have a wealth of games from popular to the obscure of every type and in every genre. I have games that most people haven’t even heard of and that rarely see the light of most people’s television screen. My Gamerscore/Trophy collection is pretty stellar as well, so I know that I am pretty good at the video games I play, and I am a true completionist by nature. There is one series, though, that I have never played, not even at a friend’s house or as a demo at a Gamestop or Best Buy. Yup, as of this week, the week of the release of Halo 4, I have never once played a Halo game. It is a personal riddle that has perplexed me, as it is a series that is so vastly popular that there must be some reason that I have refused to purchase or even play one entrant into the series.
To remedy this, I went out this week to my local video game store and picked up Halo 3 (I heard it was a good game in the series…and well it was the cheapest one there), and am going to play a little bit online and a bit into the single player campaign and give my first impressions. Now, aside from what I have read on Wikipedia, I have no real clue as to the story or what is going on in the game, so please bear that in mind as I continue…
The title screen looks promising! I know that sounds strange, but considering the fact that most 1st person shooters tend to focus on the action/mayhem/badass nature of their game right off the bat (I am looking at you Black Ops), I like that the opening of the Halo screen is more somber. It produces a sense of awe with the desolate visuals and the choral soundtrack. I have heard the Halo theme before (I am thoroughly a nerd and have an Ipod filled with video game themes), but I never thought the series would follow through visually what the almost reverential and awe-inspiring theme sets up.
Okay so pressing start now…I decide to go with Normal mode…sounds safe right? I mean, I know my way around a shooter or two. Female narrator, two meteors falling into a forest…guessing the smaller one is me right? Yup, it’s Master Chief. Looks like my squad is the stereotypical group of soldiers…couple of rookies, badass black Sergeant (like him better than Cole from Gears of War…there’s only so much stereotype I can take), and an alien guy with a cloaking device who sounds like Keith David. I just looked it up, that’s Keith David!
I like how they handle the little tutorial section, with Master Chief getting acclimated into his suit again after hitting the Earth. Just another example of the presentation being top-notch. As well the tutorial is really short, and I like that. Already I am trekking through the jungle and shooting at a bunch of different aliens (I am in Africa I am guessing?). I also notice that even the bad guys have personality, which is something that not many shooters have. The little Grunts run in fear and squeak delightfully when you appear in their line of sight, while the Elites and the Brutes try to hold the line and corral the Grunts into action. It is strangely humanizing and refreshing to see the enemies undergo the same emotions that your teammates are going through on the battlefield.
The combat is tough as well, I am not used to the gameplay and my shield is getting eaten away at every turn. I have died a couple of times now and it is only the first level. I am inching my way forward, but mainly I am depending upon my teammates to cover me or push forward themselves while I toss grenades/lay down fire. In fact I have hit a big wall with the first base that you have to storm by yourself. This big guy keeps sneaking up on me with a gigantic hammer and knocking me silly. That or I keep getting slaughtered by this giant turret at the end of this one hallway. I also get pinned down by other random gunfire, which let’s the big hammer guy catch me and smash my head in. It’s kind of frustrating but I sense that this is the first big hurdle for the gamer to get through.
This is fun so far, but I don’t know if it is my personal cup of tea. I like it because it is a really well crafted shooter, and the action is tight and the gameplay is challenging, but I don’t know if it is something that I would ever pay full price for; mayhaps I will just rent a future game?
I decided to see if I could enlist some co-op help, and I was fortunate enough to, with the servers being depleted due to more recent Halo games being released, find a person who was willing to jump in as the Arbiter to help me out. This didn’t last long though, and I truly realized how bad I was at this game. There is a world of rules and conduct for shooters that I am just not accustomed to, and I really pissed this guy off. I killed him once with my own grenade, generally didn’t stick with him during fire-fights, crashed our warthog, and was overall just a burden to this guy. After a bit, he “wished me the best of luck,” which I thought was an overly kind response considering how bad I was, and went on his way. I felt rather embarrassed. The community in these games is anything but forgiving. I mean, what’d he expect, I was playing on normal?
I decided to check out the actual competitive multiplayer. I went into a online “Slayer” match and decided to test my skills here. At this point, I realized that I might have wanted to try Halo Reach or one of the newer entrants into the series, as the people who still play Halo 3 are crazy good at this. They know the maps, where the weapons drop, and are generally much more skilled then I am. I got my ass kicked for four straight games pretty rapidly, and only managed to score a meager amount of kills (I resorted to running people over with the Warthogs or crashing my planes into people…but this only worked when I wasn’t getting blown up by Rocket Launchers). My teams got pretty angry at me, and though I don’t own a headset myself, a lot of people were making great use of theirs at my expense.
At this point, my childish side took over. As always, if I can’t play a game well, I am going to be the person who ruins the game for everyone else. Oh I shot rockets at my own teammates, stole vehicles and just drove around the map blowing up other vehicles before they could be used, and being an overall pest. The victory might not have counted in the game, but it was a personal victory for me.
I reached a conclusion, I don’t think this game is for me.
So why is it that this series has never caught my interest? I really think it was the fact that I never had any exposure to the initial games in the series. I owned a GameCube and a PS2 when the X-Box was first announced, and I didn’t feel like it was worth my energy to get a console that was from a completely new developer and that might not even catch on (I already learned that mistake from purchasing a Dreamcast). Thus I missed out on the original Halo and Halo 2, games that really made the X-box one of the lead consoles today, and truly a game that will forever be remembered as a property that shaped not only a genre, but the medium itself.
Now when I try to enter into this world I missed out on, it is too late. It is like trying to pick up a the newest comic book in a series and trying to follow the story, there is just stuff you are going to be missing. It is a weird feeling to be missing a part of video game history; what if I never had the childhood joys of playing with Mario or playing a Zelda game? Maybe it is because Halo is more of an anthology rather than a series of games you can pick up in any order, a la Final Fantasy or Mario. Or maybe it is because Halo’s main audience is the multiplayer crowd, and that is just not how I like to play video games. When it comes to multiplayer, I enjoy Mario Party or Super Smash Bros; games that force you to interact with people in front of the same television rather than over the internet.
Like I said, the main thing I liked about this game was the unique presentation, the detail it gives to its environments and characters, and the gravitas behind the single player campaign, and I feel that if I return to anything in the Halo series, it will be to experience the whole story (I will admit, my curiosity is peaked).
Or maybe I’ll just pop in The Witcher 2 and play a game that is more my speed…*sigh*