Right at the end of last year, I played through the first two Halo games back-to-back. It was an impulse decision, encouraged by the atmosphere surrounding the time - I was halfway through Persona 3, eager to start Skyrim, but wanted something straight-forward to tide me over without distracting me from the commitment of writing my usual string of year's-end blogs. I settled on Halo 2, a game I've had as long as I've owned an original Xbox (which is to say, about seven years) but never actually played. In order to better prepare myself for the experience, I decided to precede it by quickly running through Halo: Combat Evolved. I'd already played and beaten the first Halo way back in 2006 or so, so I figured it would serve as a nice refresher.
I didn't blog about the two games after beating them, mainly because I was so wrapped up with the end-of-year blogging proceedings (although both games did get a brief mention in my End of 2011 Awards blogs). So, to clarify my opinions on both of these Bungie-developed titles - they're both great first-person shooters. The original Halo in particular is even better than I remembered it being, boasting a brilliantly-paced, meticulously-crafted campaign that I'd happily rank alongside the likes of Half-Life. The surprisingly open exterior environments seemed to invite tactical experimentation, leading to a more emergent feel to the gunfights - something that I really admire in an FPS, as my love for Far Cry 2 will testify. Halo 2 is great as well, ramping up the graphical sheen and the intensity of the set-pieces, but it was the first game that really grabbed me when I played them back in December.
So why am I recapping my thoughts on a pair of games I played just over four months ago? Simple - because I've just finished playing the third instalment in the Halo franchise, the somewhat predictably-titled Halo 3. I bought a copy of the game back in February, using a GAME gift card I'd been given for Christmas. After recently finding myself hankering for more time with the Master Chief, I picked the game up just over a week ago and began working my way slowly through it. I finished the campaign this morning, coming away from the game feeling pretty darn satisfied. Much like its predecessors, Halo 3 is a great first-person shooter, and a fitting end to Bungie's three-part story of space marines and super-weapons.
These days, when a new Halo game is revealed or released, it's typically met with snarky internet users remarking, "Oh look, more Halo". This frustrates me a little, because although those words carry strong connotations of disinterest, they're also the best, most concise description of Halo 3 I can muster. It ticks all the same boxes as the first two games. A well-paced campaign? Check. Exhilarating, challenging combat both on-foot and in-vehicle? Check. A varied and interesting arsenal of weaponry that encourages experimentation? Check. The god-damned Flood? Check. Halo 3 IS more Halo, and I don't say that in a condescending way - rather, I mean that Halo 3 is a great sequel to two great games, and one that maintains the high level of quality those two previous titles established.
While my primary reason for playing Halo 3 was rooted in the series' great gameplay, I'd be lying if I didn't also admit that I was a little intrigued to see how Master Chief's story arc would end. This was a curiosity born more out of the second Halo than the first - while Combat Evolved's story came across as kind of bare-bones and merely there to justify the shooting, Halo 2 delivered a pretty interesting plot, providing much greater insight into the workings of the Covenant and the mythos of the Halo universe as a whole. Halo 3 picks up exactly at the point where the previous game left off, and for the most part I enjoyed its story in the same way one might enjoy an action-movie. Some of the big reveals don't quite hit the mark - after the other two games doing exactly the same thing, the "surprise" reveal of the Flood half-way through wasn't really a surprise at all. But on the whole it's good innocent fun, serving to drive the action forward and keep the player just intrigued enough to wonder how it's all going to end. Sure, it's fairly generic sci-fi, but it's also pretty entertaining sci-fi.
One thing that differentiated my Halo 3 playthrough from my other Halo experiences was my decision to play it through on a higher difficulty level, stepping up from Normal to Heroic. This was something I attempted with both the previous Halo games, but quickly reverted to the default when I hit an impassable wall in around the third level of both games. Both Halo and Halo 2 seemed to take immense delight in fucking me over at every available opportunity, even when from my perspective I didn't think I was doing anything wrong. In Halo 3, on the other hand, I never felt like the Heroic difficulty was deliberately out to get me. Every time I died, I recognised it not as the game being unfair, but as me having done something stupid, and I'd try to correct that after the game had resumed. I only hit a couple of small walls with Halo 3, one early on and one about two-thirds through, and even those didn't feel too nightmarish to push through. Maybe it's just me, but Halo 3's campaign certainly felt like a fairer, better-tailored experience to me. Although with that being said, I'd still never dare to push the difficulty up to Legendary - I like a challenge, but I'm not a masochist.
I think that's all I've got to say on the subject of Halo 3. With an absence of Xbox LIVE and a lack of experience in playing competitive shooters, I'm not really in any position to pass judgement on the game's multiplayer component. Similarly, I'll spare you all the gameplay particulars of the campaign because I'm willing to bet pretty much everybody has played this already. I'm now deciding whether or not to pick up both ODST and Reach, just in case the Halo bug chooses to rear its head and bite me once again. In the meantime, I'm keeping myself busy with Vagrant Story, which is living up to my exceedingly fond memories of it. I also picked up the PC version of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver following its recent release on GOG.com. After playing and loving so much of that game on PlayStation last month, it would be great to finally see Raziel's adventure through to the end. All that remains to be said is thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Vagrant Story (PS1)