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June 29th, 2013, 01:33
Halo: Combat Evolved

I was planning on covering both of them in one post but since I had enough notes on the first one I opted for a more organized approach.

First of all, I have to make clear that I wasn't expecting too much going into the game, only picked it up to satisfy my sci-fi craving and for what its worth I can say about 1/3 of the game certainly did that. The Halos are, at least amongst the gaming communities I frequent, generally looked down upon as mainstream kiddie shooters alongside the Call of Duty and Gears of War series which lowered my expectations even further. With that in mind I expect to be somewhat lenient.

Gameplay-wise the original Halo was average, it certainly wasn't a classic but still nowhere near downright bad. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by how challenging it was, I set off playing on the 3rd of the 4 levels of difficulty but had to revert to what the game considered Normal (2nd out of 4) about a third of the way in. The handling of difficulty also surprised me because it wasn't a simple change of damage and/or health bar, the game tweaked both the number and the type of enemies and encounters when changing difficulty. I can imagine most of the battles/tactics later on in the game being completely different on Legendary.

To its detriment there were plenty of occasions where my having a hard time had more to do with the absolutely terrible gunplay, the worst offender of a tube-like FoV I have experience and most importantly the overly retarded checkpoint system. Having finished the game I still got no clue how checkpoints worked, there were occasions (including the very last part of the game) where I had to do a fairly lengthy sequence 3 times and only after that would I get a checkpoint. The gunplay was anything but advanced, there were a total of 8 weapons in the game (3 of them useless), no recoil whatsoever and the crosshair was about 1/20 of the screen. Quintessential console shooter.

The developers were wise enough to let the player occasionally take a break from the shooting and included some very fun driving bits. While easy they were far less limiting than those present in modern shooters and I have to give Bungie a huge thumbs up for including a machine that let you fly unrestricted on all 3 axes, a brave inclusion even for a 2013 game.

Not sure what the budget for the game was but there was a noticeable reuse of assets. About half way through the game the experience felt strongly like a corridor shooter although it did pick up later. The point about the reuse stands however as there was a grand total of less than 7 enemy types and about 50% of the action took part in structures used 2-3 times without any alteration whatsoever.

If Halo's gameplay was average there is a stark contrast between the game's memorable audiovisual presentation and its low quality story and writing. The story was nothing to write home about and was at best an excuse to shoot things and visit places. And while I feel there wasn't much of an attempt as far as the story is concerned the game can't hide how comically bad the writing is. There were about as many cliche dialogs per minute as in a low quality Hollywood action film. Most notably, the marines (think of any bad American patriotic film), the single alien race encountered(either straight up monsters or some speaking jar-jar like English(?!), whose idea was that?) and the captain (about the 4th most important character) who was easily the worst written - most cliche character I've even seen in a video game. Suffice to say I had a trouble picking the most cringe worthy aspect. Oh and if there's a reason Master Chief is a huge video game "persona", it wasn't included in Combat Evolved.

Not sure why I left the game's highpoint for last but I guess it will be the one that stays in mind. I wanted beautiful sci-fi and got at some parts exactly that. It's not the technical fidelity that impressed me, it's a 2001 game that probably wasn't impressive back then, it's about the beautiful vistas (limited in number but deserving a mention) and the use of colors that seems very liberal and in stark contrast to today's browny games. Even alien corridors were impressive for the first few minutes of exploring them. Crysis' trip into the heart of the alien mountain is the closest similar example I can think of (BTW does anyone know if Crysis 2 or 3 had more of that?).

Halo's music and ambient sounds also deserve a special mention. The music was an interesting mix of ambient space, world and tribal sounds (I suck at describing music) and it was good enough for me to add this to my favourite music soundtracks. The battle music was at times so good that my death annoyed me mostly because they interrupted the music. All in all it enhanced the sci-fi atmosphere more than I could have hoped for.

The artists that were involved in the game were much more passionate about it than anyone else.

The effect the game had on the shooter industry is easy to see. Probably the most obvious is the fact that cutting it down by about 60% wouldn't really worsen anything apart from the campaign's buck per hour value. I'm also not sure if this is the kind of game that deserves a remake or one that is the exact opposite.
I'd just like to interject here and point out that I'm not going to say anything to spoil the mood, Chief. I'll just float here and watch. Don't mind me, just sitting here, floating and watching, that's me.
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