The Rise and Fall of Halo – as seen by Trolleydude
June 3, 2008 § 6 Comments
i think halo is a pretty cool guy. eh kills aleins and doesn’t afraid of anything
Seriously, though – let’s all take a trip back seven years. Half-life has come and gone, Duke Nukem Forever is still delayed, and there has been nothing but an empty void for a good long while now. Suddenly, bursting out of the ether, comes the, for better or worse, most talked-about game of the decade.
Yes, Microsoft really needed Halo to succeed. This was their maiden voyage into console gaming, and they’d accidentally hyped it more than Transformers (which was awesome, by the way), building up expectations which were difficult to satisfy, and skepticism which was hard to shrug off. When it arrived, people knew they had found an instant classic.
Okay, people are going to hate me for this, but Halo was fucking brilliant. Every last detail was filed down to a shiny point; from the ace co-op vehicle sections to only having two weapons at once; punching someone in the back for an instant kill; the cheesy story that was told so well; split-screen deathmatch: I could go on, and I will. From the disorientating beginning, through the campaign chock-full with brilliant action setpieces, to the edge-of your-seat balls-retractingly fantastic car chase finale. Everything the game did, it did perfectly. The visuals were ahead of the pack, the controls were fluid and customisable, and the AI was a cut above. Halo was the first game I ever saw from beginning to end in co-op. Halo was the only game I ever played with fifteen other guys in the same room. Halo was the game that taught me how to game, and I loved it for that.
Then came Halo 2.
Picture this: you’ve just made one of the most successful games of all time. Your first move?
Make a sequel. BZZT. Wrong answer. Now you’re Bungie and you’ve lost half your fanbase.
The answer Bungie failed to come up with was the answer Valve invented. You don’t make a sequel. You make a new game. You sit and listen to your fans, the intelligent ones, and figure out what made your last game good. Not successful. Good. What made it interesting? What made it innovative? What made it fun? One of their critical failures was not answering that last question.
What made Halo fun was the feeling that you were having an adventure. Not, and I quote every single game designer of the last five years (not Valve) “fighting for your life in a realistic gritty urban environment”. Halo 2 tried to be grim. It tried to be serious. It tried to have characters you give two shits about. The entire game was based around this. THIS IS NOT WHAT CONSOLES ARE FOR.
Leave epic single player games to the PC. Please. There’s a reason for this that I’ll go into next time, but trust me when I say that they don’t work on consoles.
The best parts of Halo (hell, the best parts of any game) were when you’d be fighting off a horde of angry aliens, watching your marine buddies get slaughtered until you were the last man standing, then cheering as your co-op partner drove a jeep full of soldiers over a ridge, swung by just long enough for you to jump in, then sailed away into the sunset.
Obviously that’s paraphrased, but the point stands. Action games should play like action movies. Every second should either thrill you or kill you, and if you get bored then they’re doing it wrong. In Halo 2 every fight takes place in a dilapidated building full of corridors, as you move from room to room pulling triggers. In Halo 3 every other fight takes place in a really detailed alien structure full of corridors. I think a lot of people would call it bad level design. Me too.
Halo 3 did have one or two really exciting moments, like when you’re plummeting down a mountainside on a quad bike with your obligatory co-op sidekick dodging rockets, weaving in and out of craters and pitfalls, until you reach the bottom and take a giant jump onto the back of a huge mechanical spider crawling with pissed off aliens, whom you frantically fight off as your partner runs to the back to blow up the engine, causing the spider to go into meltdown and the pair of you to jump to the ground and take cover inside a bubble shield that you dropped just in time to save yourself from an explosion brighter than the fucking sun. See, I’m waxing lyrical about this section, because it was fun. If Halo 3 had featured more setpieces like this, people would be remembering it much more fondly. That’s the problem. You can tell that there was one person on the dev team who knew what they were talking about, because the scenes they had a hand in engage with a sudden clunk, before something really awesome happens.
I’ve gone on far too long, so I’ll finish with this:
What makes a game good is the feeling that you really are having an adventure. Whether you’re fighting aliens in Halo, fighting aliens in Half-Life, or fighting aliens in Crysis; what matters is the impression that you decide what’s going to happen next. You’re supposed to feel like you’re in control, but at the same time you’re being swept up in this fantastic story, and you follow it because you want to, not because it’s the only way to open this door or get across this room. I guess what I mean to say is; a good game should make you feel like you’re there. Like you don’t have two seconds to press A to get in cover, you have two seconds to get in cover before your brains are decorating the wall behind you. Despite all I’ve said, the Halo series did do this. The trouble is, it didn’t do it enough.
And that, gentlemen, is my two cents.