Late to the Party: Halo (Part II)

After landing on Halo and kicking around for a bit, shooting bad guys and rescuing Marines, I manage to get my hands on a vehicle.

For those of you that have played Mass Effect, you’ll remember the Mako, fondly or not, as a tank-like vehicle that inexplicably appeared to weigh about as much as a Victoria’s Secret model. The Warthog in Halo has this same problem. Despite being made out of probably at least a ton of metal and with a full combat load of three soldiers, whenever the Warthog hits even the slightest hill or sharp turn it displays an eagerness to flip over onto its back not unlike a dog that wants its belly rubbed. And while the Mako repeatedly showed a complete disregard for the laws of physics and always landed back on its tires, the Warthog can turn over and forcibly eject you and your passengers, often into the line of fire and sometimes crushing a hapless marine under its bulk. It’s an easy matter to turn it back over, however, and some part of me never stops being amused about a single guy walking up to a 2k+ pound vehicle and just hoisting it upright without any apparent effort.

I give the Warthog a some crap, but it’s actually welcome in a fight and it’s fairly fun to drive once you get the hang of the somewhat unorthodox steering controls.

The Marine gunners, however, are not nearly as fun to manage. Spoiler alert: letting them drive is also a really terrible idea. 

I’ve been giving Halo a pretty hard time so far, but one thing they definitely did right, especially in contrast to a lot of shooters today, is they used a lot of color in their environments. The first place you explore on Halo is a large, open semi-forested area with a few rivers running through it here and there. The trees are suitably green, the waters suitably blue, and both of these contrast pretty nicely against the grey-white of exposed cliff faces. In a lot of other games, an otherwise acceptable scene like this would be drenched in a grey-brown color filter to make everything look “realistic”.

The game as a whole actually boasts a lot of variety in terms of your combat environments and you see a lot of different dayparts, weather conditions, and topographical features as you fight along the ring. It’s also pretty cool to look up and always be able to see the other parts of the ring curving away in front and behind you and meeting again miles above you. Good stuff.

It’s just too bad the game doesn’t seem to want you to look at your surroundings at all. The pace of the game is pretty much always set at “go go go!” and there’s not a lot of times where people aren’t shooting at you so you can stop and freely look around. This instance in particular featured about four or five consecutive waves of enemies that kept flying in and attacking you. It started to drag at the start of wave three and I just kinda wanted to be done. Luckily, this is about the only time the game hits you with wave-based enemies (at least this blatantly) and the rest of the time you’re mostly dealing with progressive encounters which is much nicer. 
Eventually you go subterranean and get a peek at some of the internal architecture of Halo. As I point out, it suffers a bit from what I’ve been calling “Tron Syndrome” for a while now, in which the way someone wants to show something as being futuristic they simply seem to say “eh, put some LEDs on it”. Obviously Halo came out a good chunk of time before Tron: Legacy, but that was the most extreme offender so I’m keeping the name. Having random strips of LED lighting on literally every single surface serves no apparent purpose whatsoever and just looks kinda cheesy, like someone couldn’t figure out a way to make technology look any more advanced apart from just making it glow. 
In theory, variable zoom optics sound like a great idea. If you need to scope in a little bit for quicker, mid-range work then you can do that and you can easily switch over to a higher magnification to really reach out and touch somebody. In a game, though, I feel like these levels of magnification really need to be mapped to different buttons. Because zoom is adjusted through one button only, you cycle through zoom levels in a progression that goes basic vision > level 1 zoom > level 2 zoom > basic vision. What happens all too often as a result of this is that I’ll scope in once to make a quick shot, attract attention, and then try to go back to basic vision so I can maneuver to a new position. But because I have to first cycle through the next level of magnification before I can do that, I’ll find my entire screen momentarily filled with a close-up shot of a wall or a rock as I scramble to get away. It can really throw off your spatial awareness and half the time I end up losing track of where I am and overshooting my cover spot or walking off the edge of a platform because I can’t see where I am anymore. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t use the sniper rifle much. 
I like mission variety in my games. Something like Uncharted does a great job of jumping back and forth between gunplay, platforming, and puzzle solving (and often implements all three at once) at a pace that keeps you engaged. But a lot of games haven’t quite figured out how to switch between stealth and combat very well. The Grand Theft Auto games will usually have a pretty clunky, not very good stealth challenge here and there that doesn’t fit in with the regular driving and shooting. And games like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid (Conviction and 4, respectively) can only ever aspire to be “only okay” shooters if you fail to stay totally out of sight. Halo, a game based entirely around shooting people with big guns, is most definitely not suited to stealth. This is made all the more ridiculous by the fact that you are a 7+ foot tall guy in green armor remaining “undetected” by way of picking people off with an incredibly loud sniper rifle. It’s just not a very well thought-out instance and I imagine I’m not the first one to eschew any semblance of subtlety here and instead opt for subtlety’s arch nemesis the fragmentation grenade. 
This scenario actually isn’t as silly as I made it sound. The turrets in question are actually set up as a defensive perimeter facing outward from the spawn point (gravitic beam platform) in question. It just so happens that they have a 360 degree rotational field of fire built into them, so it’s fairly easy to turn them against the enemies beaming down from the ship above you which you’re trying to reach. This configuration of weaponry actually makes a good amount of sense, as opposed to a number of other games where you’ll find a single emplaced weapon that is situated conveniently along your path in a tactically questionable spot and which half the time will somehow be facing towards the people who were supposed to be defending against your attack. 
So with the Covenant reinforcements taken care of, we get to lead a boarding party aboard their ship. Payback’s a bitch, ain’t it? 

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