I bought my Xbox at the end of the product cycle. It was late 2005 and the 360 had just hit the market, but I wasn’t ready to make the leap yet (mistake). The Xbox was intended as a sort of stopgap, and a way to catch the games I had missed out on in the years where my time was occupied first by the Gamecube and later by the PS2.
One of the first games I bought was Halo – a staple for any collection. It was enjoyable enough, and was really one of my first experiences with the modern first person shooter (FPS). I was indifferent to the overall art direction (generic) and level design (repetitive) but I played through it with Abe and it was a fun, co-op way to kill some time.
Halo 2 followed shortly thereafter, but for whatever reason didn’t receive our immediate attention. By the time we started to play through it, it was on the Xbox 360. Console choices aside, Halo 2 was a struggle for us to stay interested in. The frequent switch between characters and storylines was confusing, and the environments weren’t any better than the first game. We spent a fair amount of time just trying to figure out what we were supposed to do. I’m being generous if I say we made it roughly halfway through the game before it got shelved, and that was my last experience with the Halo series aside from some occasional local multiplayer on Halo 3.
So maybe it was the lull in games, or the recent release of Halo 3: ODST that made me want to try to continue the adventure. Two weeks ago I put in Halo 2 once more in hopes that my interest would be rekindled. A couple ugly, repetitive, frustrating levels later, it was becoming clear that this was not going to be the case. With no achievements to keep me motivated, it was roughly a couple of hours before the game found itself shelved once again.
Still lacking for games to play, I ended up borrowing Halo 3. I’ve been told that a) I didn’t miss much by skipping the rest of the second game and b) the third is a much stronger game. Both of these assessments proved to be accurate, for while I still experienced some of the same typical Halo frustrations, I can look back and say that I did enjoy playing the game when all is said and done.
As the first of the series to appear on the Xbox 360, you’d expect that Halo 3 would be both visually and aurally superior to the previous iterations, and it is, if only in a technical sense. I found the story to be engaging enough that I at least wanted to continue playing through the game, and the gameplay is solid as ever; even the vehicle controls felt much less frustrating than the previous games. There wasn’t nearly as much repetition to the environments which meant that I spent less time getting lost and backtracking and more time enjoying myself, and I also enjoyed that a good portion of the game took place on earth. I also especially liked the sequences where I fought alongside the Arbiter and/or the Covenant Elites – both make solid teammates.
The thing is, where Halo was once the king of shooter games thanks to its solid gameplay, it seems like dozens of similar games have since flooded the market, some of which offer things that seem to be a staple in games nowadays. Gears of War and its emphasis on finding cover during battle comes to mind, something that a first person game such as Halo would have a hard time dealing with. The problem is, there are a myriad of situations in Halo 3 where running and gunning is the last thing you should be doing; you need to hunker down and pick off enemies from a safe vantage point, but there’s no mechanic to encourage this sort of behavior.
Aside from that, all the processing power in the world can’t disguise the fact that this is merely an update to the artwork from the original game. Obviously trying to change character designs midstream is a bad idea, so I suppose more of my issue is that I’ve always found Halo’s style to be incredibly generic. I also had trouble occasionally following the story, particularly in one sequence where I felt as though I missed a cutscene.
Fortunately for me (and for Halo 3), I didn’t go into the experience expecting something groundbreaking; I just wanted to shoot guys for awhile. Which brings me to my final critique: it’s hard to shoot guys when you can’t find any ammo.