Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My time with Halo

I played through Halo 1 recently, and I want to write about my experience with it.

In my understanding, Goldeneye on the N64 was the high water mark for console FPSes before the release of Halo. If that's true, it makes sense that Halo got the press and high review scores that it did. It's an improvement on Goldeneye's graphics and interface, and more importantly, the multiplayer was better than anything done prior on a console. Gamers who grew up playing only on consoles would understandably view it very favourably.

Now, I wrote all that partly because I've recently finished the single-player campaign (normal difficulty) and my experience was very different from the vast majority of what I read about it beforehand. Specifically, I found the enemy encounters very repetitive except for the areas where they included The Flood. When I was fighting through the last gauntlets and going through the final driving sequence, there were moments of controller-stomping frustration at either the sloppy controls (I'm looking at you, warthog) or sudden spikes in difficulty.

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I think the biggest reason I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped is because I've already had my own Goldeneye-to-Halo-equivalent revolutionary FPS gaming experiences on the PC. I was exclusively a PC gamer until 2005, and the groundbreaking works in PC FPS gaming like System Shock 2 (amazing atmosphere), Half-Life (scripted events, cool story) and Unreal Tournament (amazing multiplayer, especially on a LAN) all pre-date both the Xbox hardware and the Halo franchise. That's not to talk down Halo as much as to highlight my own biases. Similarly, if I'd already played Bioshock when I first encountered System Shock 2, I'd probably be much less nostalgic about SS2 for the same reason.

Also, review after review all spoke much more highly of the multiplayer than the single-player game. I also understand that the single-player campaign obviously isn't a fair way to experience a game whose biggest strength is multiplayer. As such, I'm going play Halo 2 in co-op mode with a friend of mine and hopefully I'll be able to make a more informed decision about it then. That said, a lot of reviewers were generous with their scores if the weak single-player campaign is supposed to be one of the selling points of the game.

I appreciate what Halo represents far more than what it actually is gameplay-wise nearly 8 years after its release. I can understand why a lot of people really love the Halo series, especially for those whose FPS epiphanies came through Bungie. I certainly value my formative PC experiences very highly, and I'm sure I'd find just as many flaws in the original Half-Life as I did in Halo if I went back to it now, a decade after the fact. As it stands, Half-Life is still the #1 FPS in my heart. (:

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