Ah, Halo. Halo, Halo, Halo. I remember when I first laid eyes on you. It was Boxing Day 2002, and I was up at my auntie’s. My cousin had got an Xbox for Christmas and was playing it. Less than a month later I had bought my own Xbox and Halo – Combat Evolved to go along with it.
I was blown away. The only FPS games I’d ever played were Rare’s GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. Since that generation’s leap to 3D, it had become hard to be wowed anymore. But Halo did. It really was “Combat Evolved”.
You play as Master Chief, the last of a group of genetically enhanced super soldiers called Spartans. He was thawed out to help save the human race who were at war with The Covenant, a group of alien religious fanatics. The Covenant had discovered an ancient planet-sized ring, a Halo, an artefact left by a long extinct race called The Architects. The Architects had built it as a weapon to destroy all life in the galaxy. The Covenant want to activate it. Master Chief is the only man who can stop them.
Graphically, it was stunning for a console at that time, it had lush vibrant worlds, a pounding orchestral score, and what made it stand out especially was the brilliant enemy AI. The Covenant had an easily distinguishable hierarchy. There were Grunts, who were mostly cannon fodder, they’d come at you in groups but you’d taken out a few they’d scarper, shouting “Run away!” in a comical, Python-esque fashion. Jackals would take pot-shots at you from behind a shield. Hunters were a tough armoured foe. Elites were the sword-swinging commanders on the Covenant army, take one out and the Grunts and Jackals fall into disarray. It was these little touches that made it special. Heck, it even contains one of my favourite moments in gaming ever. Yet, I never finished it.
Halo 2. It took what was great about the first game and tried to make it better. It added a couple of new enemies. Drones, a flying insect race, and Brutes, giant hammer-weilding goons. They made the levels a little shorter and more varied (the first game suffered from repetitiveness. The levels were huge and symmetrical, which was clever from a design point of view, fitting in with the Halo universe, it made for a boring gameplay experience. You’d often run down a corridor and get a feeling of déjà vu thinking you’d accidentally back-tracked, turn around and go back only to realise you were going the right way in the first place! ARGH), had bigger set-pieces (an especially memorable one involving a giant mechanical spider), and took the very bold move of making you play as one of the Covenant’s Elites, The Arbitor, for half the game instead of Master Chief. It was also the first game to really bring online gaming to the masses, taking it from the preserve of PC gamers to console owners at large. Yes, then everyone could experience the ritual humiliation of dying all the time and being mocked by American children. And yet, in spite of the improvements and getting close to the end, I never finished it.
Halo 3. I’ll say it now. I have finished it. So why not the other two? The Flood. Simple as. The Flood are a virus/zombie-like enemy that infect everything they touch. They are everything The Covenant is not. The Covenant are intelligent and will use tactics to flush you out, The Flood are unrelenting and come at you in wave after wave after wave. I recognise the game makers were trying to mix up the gameplay a bit, but The Flood are frustrating, annoying, and ultimately boring. When the later levels of each game are made up of battling through The Flood , I just give up.
Halo 3 features The Flood, but thankfully in little more than a cameo role. Again, Bungie, the game developers, take the formula and refine it some more. The graphics have the fancy next-gen HD shine, the set-pieces are even bigger (battle not one, but two scarabs. AT THE SAME TIME), and they cut the controversial Arbitor as a playable character. It it rollicks along at a tidy pace, and ties the story up of the trilogy fairly neatly, but I can’t help feeling something was missing. That little spark of invention to really separate it from its earlier gen prequels. As it is, it’s a good game, just not a great one.
I should also finish by saying that a lot of people believe Halo 3′s online multiplayer is where the game comes into its own. I haven’t played it online so I can’t comment on it, but including the of recording deathmatches, and Forge, the ability to craft your own layout, weapons, and vehicles, within a map can only be seen as a good thing.