Before we start, a quick note on formatting: the screenshots are (obviously) the tweets themselves that I posted moment-to-moment while playing through the game. The body text following each screenshot consists of a bit of context, elaboration, and then hindsight and commentary on just what I was talking (or more commonly, complaining) about.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s get started:
The inaugural tweet. This is where the madness started, before I realized exactly how much “tweeting” this would entail.
One of the first things that happens in the game is you’re revived from cryostasis (already in full armor for some reason) and a pair of technicians help you bring all of your suit’s vital functions online. This is pretty cool, as I’ve always liked it when game mechanics and controls are explained through some part of the narrative. This segment introduces basic movement, HUD elements, your shields and their regenerative capabilities, and in the instance that I’ve called out in the tweet, your X and Y look axes. While I can understand and appreciate a few guys talking you through how to boot up your shields, the fact that they can apparently control how you move your own head (suggesting that someone else could potentially mess with this feature) is a bit weird. This actually would have been all kinds of cool if someone actually did screw with your look inversion later on in the game as an in-universe interface screw challenge. This would keep the tutorial and the narrative and game lore consistent with each other, but nothing like that ever happens (which admittedly would be a lot to expect) and it ultimately is just a minor case of gameplay and story segregation.
This kind of thing really doesn’t happen much in other genres. Taking characters that you could never meet in the real world, like an individual enhanced by science to be the ultimate fighting machine and an apparently completely sentient AI, and having them talk back and forth like normal people you’d interact with in the real world today is just downright fun. This kind of thing is what makes characters like Data and C-3P0 fun and interesting: they’re people that absolutely cannot exist in our current world, but who face some of the same situations and challenges that we do now and always have. Science fiction is, in a lot of ways, a way for us to examine issues that we face today in reality and how we might handle them in the future. In this case, we have two individuals that are practically robots, but who both display the very relatable human quality of joking with each other.
Mind you, there are still some issues here: the banter comes at kind of a weird time, when the ship is being overrun by hostile forces and everyone is dying by the truckload. don’t get me wrong, comic relief is a necessary part of a more serious work, but it has to come at the right moments to be effective. It’s also still really early in the game so I’m busy trying to figure out if this even is a more serious work or not. The soundtrack and introduction to you as a gigantic, powerful soldier do actually seem to suggest that this is more like a space adventure story than a drama piece, but nonetheless: timing.
But the biggest issue I’m going to touch on here is actually more of a conclusion made in hindsight: this is about as deep as these characters get right here. This quick back-and-forth is probably the most characterization ever afforded either of them. Cortana, the AI, gets a little bit more variety but it’s all over the place and she goes from being overly emotional to coldly calculating to kind of bitchy and unreasonable. For game purposes, she really strikes me as less of a character and more of a compass; the voice in your ear telling you what to do next.
Master Chief is even worse. When presented with the idea that Master Chief is a boring character, many people will argue that there are worse offenders out there; Gordon Freeman from Half-Life being a popular target. In some ways this could be seen as true, but I feel like there’s more to look at here: Gordon Freeman is a non-voiced character who is never seen outside of the first person perspective and does nothing that the player doesn’t tell him to do. I would posit that Gordon Freeman isn’t a boring character because Gordon Freeman isn’t a character at all: we, the player, are the actual character in question. We see everything through Gordon’s eyes and control virtually all his actions. This is the essence of the “blank slate” character that players can impress their own ideas and attitudes onto and is, in a narrative mechanic sense, pretty much exactly how the first person camera perspective should be used.
Master Chief however is not at all like this. While still controlled during gameplay from the first person perspective this is purely a mechanic of play, not of narrative. Master Chief is voiced (albeit incredibly rarely), Master Chief has a backstory (though one you have to dig for a bit), and Master Chief does things of his own volition outside of player control. He is his own character but it’s a character that is bland and uninteresting, displaying virtually no depth whatsoever. It feels like the developers couldn’t decide if they wanted him to be a blank slate for the player or an actual realized character in the story so they shot for somewhere in between these targets and as such missed making any kind of meaningful impact whatsoever.
Again, a lot of this has to be realized in hindsight but I felt that for the rest of you that have probably played this game by now, this was as good a place as any to bring it up. But I’ve rambled enough about that so let’s move on.
Just a strange line given by the NPC character here, which contradicts the reality of the situation you’re presented. I can only assume that the developers intended you to scavenge for ammo early on before being able to use your pistol, but I guess that was scrapped in favor of allowing you to get right to the shooting.
I’d heard stories about the pistol in this game but it wasn’t until now that I realized just how accurate they were.
This kind of thing happens a lot in video games, I’ve found. In the real world, while getting shot with anything is no picnic, taking a wound from a pistol-caliber weapon is somewhat less likely to ruin your day than a shot from a rifle cartridge, which delivers one heck of a lot more energy to the target. Yet in the world of video games, a single round from a pistol-type weapon is often given a higher damage rating than one from an automatic rifle. Seeing as how in Halo the weapons from the single player are all used in the multiplayer component, this is fairly easy to explain: game balance. If the assault rifle did more damage per bullet and also kept the incredibly high cyclic fire rate that it has, then it would render the slow-firing pistol completely obsolete in the hands of another player. In short: the guy with the rifle always wins and that’s not exactly a recipe for fun, engaging multiplayer combat. So I can forgive a few wonky damage values here and there if they serve to make the game more fun. This isn’t ARMA, after all. I will say this though: at least Halo attempts to offset this disparity in damage by referring to the pistol as a “magnum”, though even your typical magnum cartridge delivers less energy on target than most rifle rounds, and are additionally ill-suited for combat purposes.
I was talking about having some trouble nailing down the tone of this game earlier, but this is where it really gets egregious. Grunts are small, weak enemies that in contrast to the larger, stronger enemy types you face serve primarily as… well, grunts. (I really, really hope that this is just the slang term given to them by English-speaking characters and their actual name in their own language isn’t quite so demeaning.) These guys generally carry some of the weakest weapons, take very few shots to kill, and have incredibly high-pitched, cartoon-like voices. Kill one or two of them, and the rest will more often than not actually turn and flee from you while crying in terror. Allegedly this is supposed to sell the idea that you’re a big, scary space marine; so much so that enemies literally run away from you when you show up. In reality, however, this creates some pretty intensely competing tones as you’re busy trying to be a badass super soldier in a military science fiction piece who’s ship is being attacked and who’s allies are being slaughtered all around him… and your enemies are re-enacting Tom and Jerry episodes. Grunts, more than anything else, really damage the tone and atmosphere of the game and give the impression that the developers had no idea what they actually wanted to make.
They’re also the most common enemy type you’ll see. So that frustration with tone lasts for the entire game.
After escaping your doomed ship and crash-landing on an artificial ringworld construct in space (which is never really explained or introduced thoroughly before you arrive on it) you regain consciousness already on your feet and with your rifle securely in your hands. Alright, fine, they didn’t want to make a “getting up” animation, but when you just survived a major crash that killed everyone else in the escape ship (and they were all securely strapped in, while you were to cool to even sit down) it comes off as a little silly. Yes, Master Chief is a badass, we get it.
So with that we complete the tutorial/introduction mission and begin our adventure on the eponymous Halo.