Finishing The Fight

Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -
I really enjoyed playing through Halo...
...and its sequel at the end of 2011

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.

Halo 3 is definitely "more Halo", but I don't see how that's a bad thing

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.

Halo 3 serves as a satisfying end to the series' story arc

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.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Vagrant Story (PS1)

#1 Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -
I really enjoyed playing through Halo...
...and its sequel at the end of 2011

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.

Halo 3 is definitely "more Halo", but I don't see how that's a bad thing

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.

Halo 3 serves as a satisfying end to the series' story arc

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.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Vagrant Story (PS1)

#2 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6154 posts) -

I think you've nailed it when you say Halo 3 is more Halo. In a way, that's exactly what I want out of some my games. I don't want Halo to suddenly become a squad-based tactical shooter. I don't want it to become an on-rails experience. I kinda just want them to shiny up the graphics, maybe introduce some new weaponry, aliens, and technology, and expand upon the already great gameplay. In that regard, Halo 3 completely won me over. And while I have certain issues with Reach (mostly revolving around the many moments when you're stuck in Firefight modes in the single-player), I think it too further "evolved" Combat Evolved. I'm stupidly pumped for Halo 4.

Moderator
#3 Posted by Little_Socrates (5675 posts) -

Halo 3 on Legendary with three friends in co-op is a fucking blast. The aesthetic in the first half of Halo 3 is also completely awesome.

I also argue that the seventh full level, The Covenant, is the definitive Halo campaign level. Driving along a very Halo coastline, lots of great vehicle use, some huge firefights, the Scarab takedowns, the use of The Flood...yeah, that's nearly everything, right?

#4 Posted by csl316 (8428 posts) -

Halo, Vagrant Story, and Soul Reaver? I approve of all of these.

Been playing Halo since high school and I'm still not tired of it. The fact that each battle can play out differently is what keeps me coming. Tactical gameplay will always beat games based on set pieces for me (Crysis 2 was nice, since it did both)

You should probably check out Reach, as well. One of my favorite campaigns of the series and I didn't even expect much.

#5 Edited by believer258 (11794 posts) -
while Combat Evolved's story came across as kind of bare-bones and merely there to justify the shooting

Well, I can't say that I was expecting someone to say this. I found Halo 1's story to be the best along with its campaign. The original, in my opinion, delivers a few better twists and what's told is told well. Some parts of Halo 2 felt somewhat overdrawn. Maybe Halo 2's story is critically better, but I just like hearing the first one's story more. It's got a certain simplicity to it that sounds like a classic tale. Several marines and one really strong motherfucker against thousands of alien infantry and a whole bunch of other really strong motherfuckers, some with more strength and power than the Master Chief himself. Chuck in a surprise antagonist that both sides have to fear and a weapon of nigh-immeasurable destruction, and you have yourselves one hell of an epic. This is as opposed to Halo 2, where all of those details are in full-swing and the only things left to really fill are the tinier details, like how the Covenant work and that there are far more ring-worlds than just one.

To wrap this up somehow, the first Halo's story is like a small piece of tightly-folded paper that you slowly unfold to see a short, simple, yet inspiring message, whereas the second one's is a neatly-folded letter with tons of flowery language describing the same message.

Damn it, that's not wrapping this up, that's expanding on it more! I hope you guys see what I mean.

What about Halo 3's story? Eh. I'm kind of indifferent. Very few new details to divulge, just the wrapping-up of the story's bigger threads. Interesting, yes, but I can't say that I enjoyed it as much. The campaign was pretty fun and the multiplayer made up for any shortcomings I can think of.

EDIT: Also, Halo 3's Legendary difficulty is easy compared to the first two games. I beat it on Heroic the first time as well on recommendation from our very own Jeff Gerstmann, when he played it for an hour on Gamespot.

#6 Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: There are definitely a few franchises that I want that from, and after playing all three core games I'd be willing to say Halo is one of them. When a core formula is as solid as Halo's, sometimes iterative improvements really are all that's needed. I guess it also probably helps that the Halo games have been fairly well spaced-out as far as releases go - the first game in 2001, the second in 2004, and the close of the trilogy in 2007. If you iterate year-on-year, I think that's when things run a higher risk of becoming stale. Giving players some cool-down time between instalments probably serves to keep them hungrier for the formula on offer, as well as making the improvements seem like a bigger deal.

@Little_Socrates: I'd happily agree with that statement. That level really is everything great about Halo distilled into a single snippet of the campaign. Taking down both of those Scarabs one after the other was an incredible experience, and one I won't soon forget.

@csl316: I do plan to check out both ODST and Reach in the coming months. As somebody who doesn't currently have the means to justify an Xbox LIVE Gold subscription, I'll be playing both purely for the single-player campaigns.

@believer258: Yeah, reading that sentence back, it really doesn't do the first game justice. I still stand by the fact it's bare-bones, but to say it's simply a vehicle for the gunplay is pretty harsh. I'm not sure I'm entirely happy with this entry as a whole, as I wrote it very late at night and proof-read it very early the next morning. As things stand, I'm happy to rescind that comment. I do think the first game's story is good, but it struck me as being very generic and lacking in any real kind of specificity. The marines are your typical gung-ho Hollywood military types, and the Covenant are a largely faceless alien race with no real established identity. Part of what I really liked about Halo 2 was the insight it gave into the structure and workings of the Covenant, providing them with an identity and making them feel less like generic alien bad guys. As for Halo 3, I think it's difficult to separate that game's story from that of its predecessor because it is a direct continuation, whereas the first game is very much its own thing.

#7 Posted by HistoryInRust (6293 posts) -

I think you should give Reach a go. ODST does an okay job at filling in the dire circumstances back on Earth, and tries to show how different combat is for a typical human as opposed to a Spartan, but in terms of narrative it really isn't a significant experience.  
 
Reach has probably the most emotional gravity of the core games in the series. And I think it's really the moment in which Bungie nailed the scope they always wanted to present. 

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