It's Finished

On October 1, 2007, in Games, by psu

I finished the single player campaign in Halo 3 this weekend. There is almost no point in writing anything about the experience because the game has taken on a life separate from normal critical evaluation. There is really only one thing you need to know about Halo 3 and it is this: Halo 3 is Halo, only bigger.

I was going to deploy the standard Spinal Tap reference at this point, but I’ve already used that line this year and it would be ironic to repeat myself in this context. Still, the statement applies here probably more than anywhere else. Everything about the game is really just more Halo with the knob turned higher:

The set pieces are set on bigger platforms with more enemies shooting more bullets at a faster rate as you frantically try and find any tactic that will keep the fight in front of you. Instead of throwing grendades into groups of two or three grunts, you instead toss them into a group of five or six who then fly though the air, all their limbs flailing independently. Where you might have fought one or two banshees at a time before, you know how to deal with half a dozen at once, plus a couple of extra tanks.

There are more vehicles to drive over more extensive pieces of terrain. There are bigger tanks to defeat, and you are rewarded with fatter, more satisfying fireballs when you do so. There are more frenetic runs through burning structures that are on the verge of total collapse. They seem to know instinctively that we love that shit.

There are more brutes. More Flood. More backtracking. More identical hallways (except at strange angles, you’ll see what I mean). More multiplayer modes. More annoying and confusing checkpoints. More more more. There is more of everything, except flying. There isn’t more flying, because flying sucks, so they got rid of some of it. That’s good.

There are more cut-scenes, but fewer well-written lines of dialog. The game ties up the plot in a reasonably satisfying fashion, but the level of the narrative never quite makes it past High School Comic Book. On the other hand, this is a video game, so what do you expect (hint: Bioshock didn’t do it either. We can argue about that later).

What shines through it all is the same excellent combat engine. When you are really tuned into the game, you circle strafe and bunny hop and shoot and beat down your foes in a beautifully rhythmic dance. Then you chuck a grenade into the fray and watch the stragglers scatter and start the whole thing over again. The reward for your work is hearing your enemies scream in pain and then watching them fall on the ground accompanied by the occasional limb flying through the air. This is what I play the game for, and this is what Bungie has delivered.

If you love Halo, there is more to love. If you don’t really care, there is nothing here that will make you care. The game is not the best game EVAR. Neither is the game just a shallow refinement that is more like an expansion pack than a standalone game. The game gives you more Halo goodness without ruining anything that made Halo good. I think this something of an achievement given how many other games have tried to follow the “better graphics, bigger everything” formula and failed miserably to preserve the core gameplay (I’m looking at you Madden Football).

The bottom line is that the graphical improvements, the cool new features (online co-op!), the movie capture mode, and the refinements to the multiplayer all add up to a fantastic upgrade to a game that was already one of my favorites. There does seem to be a contingent of the “Gamez R Artz” crowd who like to gripe that Bungie didn’t try to push the gameplay or narrative in some different directions. I think these people are delusional. As I said before, the Xbox and the people who play Halo do not need Haloshock or Halo 6: Mexican Tactical Combat. We just want Halo, but with more Haloness. This is what Bungie has delivered and for this they should be congratulated.

Here’s hoping it’s really finished. I’d love to see where Bungie could go given the freedom to actually try something new.


5 Responses to “It's Finished”

  1. Chris says:

    Glad to hear someone criticising the poor quality of the story but simultaneously praising the strengths of the Halo franchise… It is a very refined set of interface mechanics, and the audio design in the Halo games has been top notch. But we really could do much better with story than we have been doing. Still, the audience for this game (which I am not really a part of) will probably enjoy a simple sci-fi narrative, and that is actually more important than it being a “good” story in critical terms.

    I just bought Halo 2. I don’t know if I’ll play the single player game or not, though. Hard to decide.

    Best wishes!

  2. psu says:

    I liked the single player in Halo 2 a lot, and the writing was also more enjoyable because the game presented a whole new line of exposition that doesn’t really exist in Halo 1 and 3.

    I know Halo 2 got a bad wrap for its cliff-hanger ending, but I don’t think the universal complaints really hold up for the overall narrative.

  3. psu says:

    Just as a note of reference: tilt understands.

  4. Mike Collins says:

    Heh; I’be been t’inking about this a bit since I made the mistake of buying an Xbox 360, and I think it’s worth noting that both of these games have a very definite lineage to two parallel games in ’94: Marathon (for Halo) and System Shock. It’s also worth noting that the authors o these games have obviously made evolutionary improvements in each generation, but what’s happened is that they’ve decided to go in different directions.

    Halo has increasingly focused on the multiplayer experience, so much so that the current campaign mode is more of a tutorial and demo of what you can do in Halo. It’s a very well-balanced demo and it stretches you through a variety of interesting wide-open scenarios (and thanks to the flying, they are *very* wide open), but the long-term viability of the game is in its multiplayer. In the long run, its competitor is Team Fortress. When I think about “oh sh*t” moments in the Halo games, they’re moments in -gameplay-, like sneaking up near a collection of grunts and sticking a plasma grenade on one of them to see the ensuing wackiness. Or odd moments like in Halo 3′s level where you team up with gravemind, and I start frantically searching the corpses for UNSC weapons because I *really* don’t want to be using a plasma rifle if my guess as to how the story is going to progress comes true.

    Conversely, Bioshock is all about the narrative elements, and the “oh sh*t” moments I have from the game are all plot twists or story-oriented. Things like Fort Frolic. This isn’t bad – the narrative is, within the confines of the genre, impressive – and the use of the FPS to express certain experiences more as a totality is also good (so, for example, the details on some of Cohen’s sculptures or the moment you realize that the smugglers are smuggling *Bibles* into Rapture). That I’d argue is it’s big improvement of SS2, and like Halo 3 it’s an evolutionary change.

    I think in the long run, we’re going to find that Halo 3 is the one that people still keep playing because it’s a better -game-. Bioshock does have a better story, and many parts of it are original for the genre, but Halo’s the excel of the Xbox world – it’s the game everyone has so they can all blow each other up.

  5. psu says:

    Sometimes it amazes me what people can type into a tiny little text area in the browser.

    That said, I totally agree. It’s not clear to me why people insist on comparing Halo to Bioshock. They are completely different experiences, even some moron wants to put “shooter” on both boxes.