Late to the Party: Halo Franchise (Final Thoughts)

So after 20 posts and a word count in the tens of thousands we’ve finally finished the Halo trilogy. And through all the questions, all the frustrations, all the mumbled curses, all the shouted curses and all the outright whining, if nothing else I’m glad to be able to say that I’ve finally finished this franchise. While you can debate the literary or intellectual value of a game like Halo it’s still a staple of the genre and it’s useful to have experienced just for frame of reference. And now with that experience under my belt I feel like I can finally give my own educated verdict on the franchise.

It’s somewhat anticlimactic then that that verdict is more or less the same one I had going in. Ultimately I still think Halo is an over-hyped, over-rated, bland and boring linear journey through the halls of mediocrity.

Of course there may be claims that I was simply looking for things to complain about, to which I say yes, of course I was. That’s what casting a critical eye on anything is all about. I was looking for problems because I wanted to ensure that I was giving the games the full comprehensive treatment. But that critical eye works both ways. When I saw something I liked, I made sure to point it out, and I was actually quite pleasantly surprised that there were so many things that I found to be quite good within Halo’s three-game core experience. The music, the varied and colorful environments, and the sometimes quite amazing image of a future science fiction setting were all great and a lot of fun to see. Still other things showed hints of brilliance, like the internal politics of the Covenant and the few haphazard tones and thematic elements which if nailed down could have made something truly special. I’m still adamant that with a bit of work, Halo could have been either a rousing science fiction adventure story in the vein of Treasure Island or a dark and gothic science fiction horror tale in the vein of Alien. Because it can never seem to decide just exactly what it wants to do it misses the mark on both accounts but the thoughts of what could have been are interesting enough to keep me thinking and toss some credit its way.

But ultimately these things aren’t enough to save the game in the face of my onslaught of “meh”. There are just too many things wrong with the franchise for me to give it the same accolades that many seem to. The yawn-inducing characters with less personality than a 2×4, the idiot ball that gets passed around like hot potato in order to keep the plot moving, and the inconsistencies, contradictions, and outright flaws in the lore, narrative, and presentation of reality all prove to be too egregious for me to let slide. Couple that with more than a few truly baffling decisions in regard to gameplay and level design and it’s quite impossible for me to call the game “good” at least as a whole package.

What I can call good, however, is the very pure foundation of first-person-shooter gameplay. On a purely mechanical level, Halo is proficient to the point that it could probably pass inspection by one of its own Marines. Moving, shooting, jumping, meleeing, throwing grenades: it all feels very, very smooth. When you consider that one of the largest draws of Halo is in its multiplayer which utilizes these mechanics above any kind of story, it’s understandable that it would receive such high praise from so many sources. As a thing you interact with via a controller it’s really quite fantastic. But as a game that does attempt to present a story, all elements of that formula need to be taken into account and it just doesn’t hold up all that well.

To be clear: I didn’t set out to do this whole series to fault anybody for liking the game. If you love Halo then more power to you, game on. Rather I just wanted to do this so I could finally voice an educated opinion on the franchise and to examine and perhaps challenge the belief that they were some kind of pinnacle of gaming. Whether we share the same conclusions now or not isn’t really a big deal, but I’ve spoken my piece.

For those that have stuck around through all the grousing in this series of posts, thanks for enduring that. I know pages upon pages of nit-picking isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time, but for those of you like me that enjoy taking media apart and putting it back together, I hope you had some fun and maybe got to thinking about a few things you didn’t before.

While this format was definitely time-consuming due to the nearly minute-by-minute picking apart it entails, I found it pretty useful for really diving deep into each part of a game in a way that a cumulative review just doesn’t allow for. It’s a format that I think I’d like to explore again sometime soon, but maybe with something that might earn a little less of my ire. Possible candidates include Deus Ex, Thief, System Shock, and basically anything else that I never got around to playing before. While you obviously can’t know every game I’ve ever played if there’s something you’d like to see given the Twitter treatment here at Nerdwatch let us know and we’ll see if it’s something we’d be willing to give a go. Comment section is open for suggestions.

But that may be a while in coming in order to give my keyboard a rest. Coming up we’ll probably have a few more ramblings on industry news (lot of stuff happening right now), I’ve got another D&D campaign I’ll be starting up this weekend, and we may even see if we can get another season of Nerdwatch recorded for you guys (it’s only been what, a year?).

Anyway, thanks for reading.

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