Tag Archives: Halo

Halo 4: How is This Even Possible?

You know, after so many years it’s only natural that this generation of hardware has run dry, that it’s impossible for the consoles to impress us any more…

Halo 4 cut-scene

Well, that’s a cut-scene. Obviously prerendered.

Halo 4 E3 2012

Nope. PR bullshot. Show me some real screens.

Screenshot © Eurogamer

Okay, so that one’s from Digital Foundry’s tech breakdown. It’s pretty undeniably indicative of how good Halo 4 looks. How 343 Industries has done this, how it got hardware that has seemingly been running on fumes for years now to push out what I don’t think, resolution aside, would look out of place on a decent PC gaming rig, how many virgins had to be bled dry in sacrifice to the gods of gaming, is utterly beyond me.

It doesn’t change my tune about new consoles being desperately needed, but I haven’t been this impressed with a game’s visuals since Uncharted 2. I’m genuinely flummoxed at why even first-party 360 games have so often been allowed to coast visually, content to be adequate rather than spectacular and giving rise to a popular opinion that the PS3 has a noticeable performance advantage. It frankly shows how lackadaisical Microsoft has been in pushing its developers and partners this gen, and I hope that this is the first sign of a rumoured push for more high-quality, exclusive, internally produced content from Redmond in the next generation.

Plus it’s bloody good to play. That always helps.

Halo: Anniversary

As much as I like Halo, I get the feeling that nobody cares about its anniversary as much as Microsoft. Cool receptions to many of its spin-offs suggest to me that it’s something of a manufactured phenomenon that, without the marketing spend to turn each new iteration into an ‘event’, wouldn’t have developed organically. I genuinely do like the series, especially in multiplayer, but a new announcement does tend to provoke eye-rolling more than it would with any of gaming’s other marquee franchises.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

But without any new multiplayer – or even, more gallingly, old multiplayer – Halo: Anniversary is a good opportunity to go back to the first game and see whether it’s actually as great as the hype would have us believe. My theory was that the years and a million arguments between fanboys have led to both what Halo did right and what it did wrong being amplified, so while a two-weapon limit and recharging health weren’t the foundation of a new dawn for the 21st Century’s most popular genre, The Library isn’t that bad. Ten years on from my first playthrough, I actually found the Flood quite enjoyable to fight, and what I like and dislike about certain levels has changed dramatically. I love the horror vibe of the enemy-free section in 343 Guilty Spark, for example, but the open battlefields of Assault on the Control Room that I enjoyed in 2002 were overshadowed by the tedious repetition of rooms. Needless to say, doing practically the same level in reverse, only with Flood and without a tank, in Two Betrayals seemed like the low point.

First of all, how is the remastering job? While it’s not immediately all that impressive, it’s striking how much has changed when flipping to the original graphics. Looking at that makes me thankful that the graphical overhaul is closer to complete remake territory, and putting it closer to the graphical standards of current games illustrates just how dull a lot of modern shooters are to look at; nowhere will you see such a refreshingly vibrant palette of greens, purples, blues and pinks, and it’s even made the classic graphics look drab in comparison.

Too bad that something – possibly the strain of pushing two engines, possibly the 3D, or maybe even a misguided attempt to keep things true to the original Xbox – makes the frame rate inconsistent. This should be running locked at 30fps at the very least, and it undermines the otherwise-lovely presentation.

Flaws aside, however, I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Halo, and after years of seeing it barracked by popular backlash from areas of the community I was surprised by how much I liked it. Bungie did a tremendous job of balancing satisfying weapons, very believable AI and a few truly brilliant level designs that 343 Industries’ was right not to touch in its attempts to modernise it. Is it a remake? Is it an HD remaster? It’s somewhere in between and I like it. More please.

Best of 2010 #3: Halo: Reach

Halo: ReachWhat is likely to be Bungie’s last entry in the series that it grew from niche Mac RTS to one of the biggest FPS franchises in history proved to be a fitting goodbye. It was almost like, freed of fitting another game into the Master Chief’s story and carrying the Xbox brand now that games like Gears of War can share the load, Bungie was able to flex its creative muscles, and while I’ll concede that it’s still super soldiers killing aliens, it was the most fun I’ve had with a game in this series since I first took it online.

Multiplayer-wise it’s certainly my game of the year, and I’ll take this straight challenge of who knows the maps and weapons better than the next guy over the unbalanced quick fix of Call of Duty, let down only by a limited map selection. Halo 3’s integration of multiplayer and its lobbies into everything is only just coming into touching distance of other games and the setup is just as formidable here.

Going back to the point about originality, it’s true that Reach doesn’t have a lot of it in its story. Nonetheless, as a Halo fan I adored it. Seeing a team of Spartans doing what I’d so far only read about would have been enough to make me go a little bit in my pants but, cliched as they were, I cared when they were inevitably cut down. Set against such a beautiful and varied backdrop and with so many memorable moments – the level that takes you from ground level into a space battle and on to low-gravity combat in a vacuum before its explosive ending is an obvious high point, but the melancholic final moments also deserve love – I have to give Reach as both my favourite Halo game and one of 2010’s greatest.

Best of 2009 #7: Halo 3: ODST

Can an expansion qualify for a GOTY list? Is Halo 3: ODST an expansion at all? Legitimate questions all, but I think that ODST, besides being a standalone release, is different enough to qualify. To be honest, beyond name recognition, did it even need to be painted as part of Halo 3 at all? Most of it happens concurrently with Halo 2, after all.

Semantics aside, I thoroughly enjoyed ODST, even as a relative disappointment after the massive event that was Halo 3. It’s partly a victim of Call of Duty usurping Halo as the 360’s premier franchise and, I think, partly down to people simply getting bored of the games, and I hope that Reach is different enough to win people back around.

So yes, a disappointment. But playing it, I was reminded of how much I enjoy Halo. To say that it’s been made irrelevant by Modern Warfare is extremely unfair because they play very different games, and I love Halo’s unscripted, free-form battles just as much as Infinity Ward’s brand of breakneck, scripted Hollywood action. ODST further courted my affections by somehow feeling more like the original, possibly down to the added vulnerability that comes from needing health packs, and it was a welcome challenge after playing through two Halo games in which you’re the baddest motherfucker in the galaxy.

Plus Firefight was pretty awesome. Expect to see variants of Gears 2’s Horde mode showing up throughout 2010’s shooter line-up.

Halo still needs a kick up the backside, though. Most will pick Modern Warfare 2’s success as the thing to do it, but I think that me only putting it seventh on this list will be the thing to do it. Wait until Bill Gates sees this…

The Good and the Bad of Halo 3: ODST

If I begin in the same way that almost any review of Halo 3: ODST that I’ve seen ends, the game is great because it’s Halo. It has the same tight gameplay, the same great weapon balance, the same great storyline. It’s essentially an expansion to Halo 3, so it stands to reason that it shares most of the game’s good qualities. Firefight is also a fine addition, shamelessly copying Gears 2’s Horde mode but, in my opinion at least, improving it with Halo’s slicker, more precise gameplay and extra enemy variety.

Just in case I get carried away over the next few paragraphs and leave you with the impression that I dislike the game, though, let me just say that it’s great. Worth full price? I’m always hesitant to mark a game down based on value – five good hours better than ten stretched out average ones and all that – and on that basis I’d still encourage people to buy it.

Halo 3: ODST

But regardless of value, this is presented as an expansion of sorts – it’s Halo 3: ODST and not Halo: ODST, remember – and so hurts for being a modest upgrade of a two-year-old game that wasn’t technically mind-blowing when it came out anyway. It’s been improved, certainly, because the derelict New Mombasa streets are far more atmospheric than anything that I can remember in Halo 3 proper, and the engine also seems to throw more enemies than the 2007 model could handle, but compared to the obvious stuff like Killzone 2 – think the urban environments of that game’s second and third stages – and even the cities of Gears of War, it’s showing its age. There’s little more than the occasional identikit building to slip through, and the architecture looks pretty solid for having been essentially nuked hours before the game. I barely even recall a pile of rubble.

Hell, after a Covenant invasion and occupation you’d expect to at least see some sign of carnage. There’s not so much as a civilian body to be found, though. New Mombasa doesn’t feel lived in, which was understandable when we first visited in Halo 2 but much harder to justify now.

The story is also something that I feel needs looking at. Not the content of it, because I still thoroughly enjoy the Halo universe, but the method in which it’s told. BioShock-style audio diaries are in here, but they’re more like the parts of a radio drama than an individual’s stolen moments, making the implementation seem like a heavy-handed knockoff. Some of the cut-scenes are almost painful to watch in a ‘new’ game as well, with unimpressive character models going through stilted animations while the cast is left with clichéd, throwaway dialogue. This ODST squad ain’t exactly Aliens’ colonial marines, not matter how much they want to be…

It’s difficult to pick at the flaws of the flashback storytelling without spoiling things, so I’ll be brief, but that doesn’t make too much sense either. The first is triggered by an ODST’s helmet embedded in a small room overlooking a courtyard; when you’ve played through the resulting sequence, see if you can explain (a) how the helmet got there and (b) how the Rookie – who, incidentally, has been weakened in some areas compared to the Chief but still seems able to operate a Spartan Laser or effortlessly flip a Warthog, and doesn’t really seem too disadvantaged when single-handedly taking on squads of Covenant – was able to piece together that much information. Similar questions are raised throughout, and it doesn’t seem to stand up to dramatic scrutiny.

But like I said, despite a potential laundry list of complaints, ODST is still a great game to play, and I’ll stand by its value when you get £20-odd worth of Halo 3 maps thrown in for less than £30. It’s just not quite up there with Gears of War, Halo 3 and Gears 2 as Microsoft’s headline acts for the last three years. Let’s hope that Bungie’s really getting its hands dirty with Halo: Reach.

Best of 2007 #4: Halo 3

Halo 3

The fact that I’m putting the almight Halo 3 in fourth is not an indictment of the game, but an indication of how good this year has been for games.

Halo 3 will almost certainly be the biggest-selling game of the year by some margin; it does things with its online community that Little Big Planet has been promising for over a year; there is enough multiplayer content to play for months without touching on every permutation. I loved how it brought the story to a close, providing closure and an emotional bookend to the story. And, with the exception of a certain level which was fucking godawful, the campaign managed the great feat of even making the Flood a bearable enemy to fight.

Multiplayer was fantastic and, until another game (wait a couple of days) came and stole its thunder, was certainly the best of the year. Halo still has that je ne sais quoi in its multiplayer suite – a wonderful balance between its weapons and maps that isn’t upset by the addition of the potentially game-breaking deployable equipment – and has ironed out the flaws of Halo 2. I think it’s certainly got the best multiplayer of the three, and I’ve barely touched on the file share, saved films, screenshots, co-op, etc. As almost every FPS since Halo has had a two-weapon limit and Halo 2 brought recharging health to the masses, expect to see those features a lot over the next year.

While I undoubtedly expect Halo 4 before too long, with any luck the separation of Bungie and Microsoft will let them try something new. I can’t wait to see what they can do now, with the budgets they command and the polish that they’ve applied to Halo 3. Just don’t make it another Oni.