Late to the Party: Halo 3 (Part I)

So after two games and countless aliens killed here we arrive here at the finale to the Halo trilogy. While I didn’t have to wait four years and purchase a whole new console to get around to this installment, I did give myself a bit of a break to allow the anticipation to build (and I was lazy and wanted to take a break for a bit). Sadly, there was a lack of promotional-branded Doritos and Mountain Dew on store shelves when I did get around to popping in the disc so I still felt like I was missing some of the trappings you original Halo fans had at launch time. Kind of a bummer but I managed to make do with Dr. Pepper and a box of Goldfish, and with both in hand I set out to wrap up this little adventure.

That slogan was slapped over everything around launch time. The fact that said slogan was uttered in the previous game means that the copywriter for the Halo 3 campaign had the easiest job in the world, the lucky bastard. That said, it is actually a great slogan, one that implies the finality and uniqueness of the upcoming title as well as one that actively engages and challenges the reader, prompting them to be a part of the game.

While here I’m just a guy who plays games, in the real world I hold a bachelor’s degree in advertising and have several years of campaign-building experience. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that I’ve ruminated over this tagline and the marketing ventures surrounding the series just as much if not more than the games themselves.

Continue reading “Late to the Party: Halo 3 (Part I)”

Late to the Party: Halo 2 (Part VIII)

Alright, so last time we left off in the midst of a large-scale Flood attack on the Covenant homeworld (or station, I really have no idea what that giant planetoid thing is supposed to be) and they’re pretty much wrecking stuff all over the place. We’re fighting our way through everything to get to the two remaining prophets to stop them from blowing up the galaxy. So we finally reach them, one of ’em allows the other to be mobbed by Flood and then implies that he’s heading back to Earth to finish what he started, a threat that seems a bit odd seeing as how his supposed goal is to activate the Halo array, but Earth is most definitely not one of those arrays so… yeah, I’m not really sure what’s up.And besides that:
I mean, this is how we started the game, isn’t it? With the Covenant attacking Earth? How is going back to that exact same plot point a climax? Hell, we found out recently that the Covenant’s religious structure makes them hell-bent on destroying all life in the galaxy, so isn’t that a far more important development? This might be the only story I’ve heard of where we actually downgrade the threat at the end. This is not what “falling action” means, and it seems like Halo 2 may have fallen into the trap that a lot of other science fiction stories do: they assumed that focusing the threat on Earth would automatically make for the most dramatic scenario, simply because we the audience of course only know Earth as our home. Only it doesn’t work like that. We haven’t really seen much on Earth during any of the games, and the only time we do spend there it’s just another battleground with no civilians or anything. See, in a story we only care about that which we’ve grown to care about through the narrative, not necessarily that which we would care about externally. This is all the more an obvious problem in science fiction when we might not see or recognize our traditional homes so many years in the future but have seen colonies on Mars that we’re far more attached to within the confines of the story. Mass Effect 3 had this problem: we’d spent two games exploring the vast reaches of the galaxy and learning its intricacies but when the finale comes… it’s on Earth, which we never set foot on or even talked about before. We don’t care about Earth, not in Mass Effect and not in Halo, because we haven’t been given any reason to.

I could talk for ages on this topic and provide countless examples but I might save that for another post. There’s too much there to cover right now.But setting that aside, we run into more of a technical problem in this next bit.

Continue reading “Late to the Party: Halo 2 (Part VIII)”

Late to the Party: Halo 2 (Part VII)

So when we left off, the Arbiter had been knocked off a ledge into a bottomless pit.

Huh, that doesn’t seem to be nearly as compelling a cliffhanger when you write it out like that.

But anyway, we somehow survive the fall and are apprehended by…

… the giant evil plant from Little Shop of Horrors.

I mean, really look at this thing:

 

The only thing missing was the voice and the duet number with Rick Moranis.But really though, I’ve heard since finishing the game that there was quite a bit of negative feedback in regards to Audre- er, the Gravemind. And really, out of all the things I can think to complain about in this game (and which I’ve done so extensively already) this isn’t one of the most egregious by a long shot. Sure, it looks kind of silly but it’s better than the Human Reaper at the end of Mass Effect 2, at least. Honestly the only real issue I can think to bring against this thing is that it looks a bit too plant-like. I mean, I guess it’s hard to create a distinct visual design for the leader of what is basically a hive-minded disease, but this was kind of their chance to get creative and create an intelligence that wasn’t really centralized, maybe just have it speak simultaneously through a lot of different Flood specimens, or take over one prominent figure in the narrative (this would have been a great time for Keyes to make a comeback, though that probably wouldn’t be possible given his fist-induced head trauma) or at least do a knockoff of Starship Troopers‘ Brain Bugs. Instead the Gravemind looks more like a talking venus flytrap.

Continue reading “Late to the Party: Halo 2 (Part VII)”

Late to the Party: Halo 2 (Part VI)

When I was a young lad growing up in the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest, the library was a source of endless joy for me. Rows upon rows of books, calling out to be read and whisk you away to realms of fiction that were sure to captivate the minds of any young boy.

However, the library that I knew then and the Library we go to now are far, far removed from one another. This library is a realm of fear, depression, and barely-restrained rage.

Okay, it’s actually not that bad. Halo 2‘s library is actually leaps and bounds better than Combat Evolved‘s, but it’s still not exactly a picnic. That said, there’ll still be a bit of bitching present here so y’know: be ready for that.

Anyway, here we go. Continue reading “Late to the Party: Halo 2 (Part VI)”

Late to the Party: Halo 2 (Part V)

When last we left off, we had discovered that there was yet another Halo ring, and that we would have to go there to once again stop the Covenant from firing the thing. The only thing that’s really different this time around is that we have an actual antagonist behind the Covenant threat. Our target in question is one of the religious leaders we saw in the opening, The Prophet of Regret. As it happens, he’s also the guy who’s personal fleet jumped to Earth, shot up the place for a bit, and then jumped out. So we’ve seen his face, we’ve tangentially fought him before, and now we’re here to stop his sinister plan. All good stuff, we just don’t know why the Covenant seem so intent on lighting up the Halo network, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

So with our objectives in mind we drop down to the planet. 

The drop in question is made in small, one-man drop pods that encase the soldier in an armored shell, pop air brakes to slow the descent, and then slam into the ground in much less time than it would take a modern-day paratrooper to hit groundside, nevermind the fact that we can’t paradrop people from space. 
 
These pods are pretty obviously a kind of shout out to Starship Troopers. Not the rat turd of a movie that Paul Verhoeven made back in the 90s, but the science fiction classic by Robert Heinlein. Starship Troopers is probably my favorite book ever written so I’m always happy to see it paid homage to here and there, especially when it’s probably even less popular in its thematic content today than when it was written in 1959. But apart from this being a personal treat for me it’s also a very fitting reference: Starship Troopers practically invented the concept of “Space Marine” and since most of the characters in Halo are taken from this same stock it stands to reason that they’d find some way to address their roots. 
As I understand it, these orbital-dropped marines would serve as the basis for the Halo 3 pseudo-expansion ODST, as well. I don’t think I’ll be covering that game in this series as I really only intended I to address the core Halo offerings but I may end up playing it on my own time; a Halo game about a few grunts and not an almighty super-soldier sounds like it would be pretty interesting. We’ll see.
Never one to be out-gunned, Master Chief hauls a rocket launcher out of the pod and then proceeds to ruin the day of everyone in the immediate vicinity. In so doing the in-game pop-up tutorials informed me that my missiles could now lock on to hard targets (i.e. ships and vehicles) and track said target after firing. This is a substantial upgrade over the dumb-fire rockets from Combat Evolved and it allowed me to trust the rocket launcher a bit more than I did the first time. Normally I forego heavy weapons entirely in games for fear of ineffectually using their minimal ammo capacity, but the ability to practically guarantee a hit on vehicles (and still be able to dumb-fire it at the feet of tougher soldiers) encouraged me to make more use of it than I might have normally, so that was nice. 
The game dictates that we get to have a tank, so we get a tank. Air-dropping armor is something we’ve been trying to get right since the second world war and as of yet, it’s not incredibly viable. The amount of resources needed to transport one armored vehicle is pretty immense, nevermind the problems presented by needing to drop it (safely) in a small area presumably under at least some threat of enemy fire. I believe that we can do it, but usually only for lighter tanks and even then it’s just not a great use of resources. I’m totally fine with us having some way to feasibly do this in the future that Halo is set in, I’m just not sure if “precariously hanging underneath a Pelican that is only slightly larger than the vehicle it’s transporting” is it. Of course that’s a minor issue because weeeeeee tank! 
Oh to be a fly on the wall in the meeting where it was decided that this was a good idea. I was concerned before about Halo 2 starting to re-tread the same plot points as Combat Evolved, but now it was starting to re-tread the same plot points that were located in a cesspit. Just leave those points alone, guys. Skirt around ‘em, build a bridge, something. Just don’t make me do this again. 
We don’t get there just yet, though. On the way we run into the Prophet of Regret and dispense a beat-down on his floating ass. 
No, really, Chief jumps up on his floating chair and starts beating him to death with his bare hands. I know they’re one of the best weapons in the game from a statistical perspective but in-universe wouldn’t it be way easier to just shoot him? The whole concept seemed a bit ridiculous to me, really, and I rather doubt that “laughter” was one of the reactions Bungie was looking to evoke during this boss fight. 
As our boxing match comes to a close, however, the Covenant in orbit apparently decide that Chief is a big enough threat that “complete obliteration of the entire surrounding area” is the most effective means of taking him out of the picture. Seems a bit like an odd course of action seeing as how the Covenant consider Halo to be a sacred relic: you don’t usually see Catholics setting fire to pieces of the Saints just because somebody they don’t like happens to be in the museum. But regardless of this possibly out-of-character action, the result is the entire structure you’re on (and presumably much of the surrounding area) being glassed into oblivion and Chief falling unconscious into a lake, where he is then seemingly captured by: 
Apparently this part of the game was outsourced to a Japanese developer and I’m now terrified of what may happen next. 
We’re left in suspense however as at this point we transition back over to Arby to see what’s shaking after that business with 343. 
It’s nothing nice. 
So what happens is that the Prophets start getting even more villainous than before. They extend the blame for the Prophet of Regret’s death to all Elites and revoke their role as protectors of the Prophets, giving it instead to the Brutes, who are giant ape-looking things that act with about as much decorum. Besides this being a seemingly rather bad idea, we also learn the reasons for the Covenant wanting to activate the Halo rings: in their religious mythology, these rings are apparently the means by which the Covenant can achieve salvation. How they reached that conclusion is a mystery to me but in any event it’s not good. 
So with that in mind they prod 343 for answers on how to activate the ring and 343, who of course is quite eager to see this happen, points them to the Index. This is somewhat of a problem as we the audience know that the Index is bad news but are forced to go after it to advance the plot. Games forcing players to do things that they know are stupid is never particularly fun (though again I’ll point to Spec Ops: The Line as an example of how it can be made interesting) and is a good way to get players to resent the game. However this is actually more palatable to me than the first time around because instead of just being an idiot we are very deliberately deceived. Maybe Arby should have asked a few more questions, yes, but he is ultimately beholden to the Prophets and the Prophets ordered him to find the Index for the good of the religious order that he follows. I can totally buy him going through with that obediently more than I can Chief trusting without question a floating ball he just met a few minutes ago. 
Next time: more Flood.