October 3, 2007

Halo 3 – less bang, more whimper

Posted in Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 9:49 am by loolar

There is really only one “spoiler” here, and it’s not that big; frankly, if you played H2, you know most of this.

My buddy Ben and I got together for an eight hour session and played through the first dozen or so missions; judging by the missions displayed on the screen and where we are in the story, I think we played about 3/4 of the game.

This will not be some fawning, sycophantic, tongue kiss to Halo 3 (H3 from here on out). Many of the things that pissed me off about Halo 2 (H2) were left in the game, and some were made arguably worse. In the interest of disclosure, you should know that I played the first Halo (H1) up past Assault on the Control Room (ah, how I love you, best level in the game), in the hours preceding playing H3. So my experience of the first game was clear in my memory – its intuitive, smooth flow; its polish; its visceral satisfaction (things just WORK right, with the possible exception of the controlled chaos of driving a warthog, which, admittedly, has its own charm).

First, start with…

THE POSITIVE

  • Vehicle handling is much better; the ghost is a joy to drive; the mongoose is a lot of fun too. Much more “solid” feedback to the controls.
  • I love that you can now destroy anything – including a gigantor, ginormous, battle walker tank thing – if you shoot it long enough.
  • The grunts still have the best lines in the game. “I’m here to help!”
  • That frickin hammer weapon. Holy butt pimples, so this is what it feels like to be Thor! Almost worth the price of admission – except for the repeated frustration of only finding the thing at the end of a level.
  • Gorgeous to look at. Photo-realistic, lush, melt in your mouth but not in your hands, quick, change your shorts you sticky mess environments.
  • Lots more fun vehicles.
  • You can now see your other weapon on the character model, holstered at your hip or on your back. Nice.
  • Online cooperative. At last. Too bad I killed my XBOX Live account a year ago.

Now, what’s wrong with it? Ah, where to start.

GAME MANAGEMENT TOOLS

  • The non-intuitive menus of H2 have gotten worse by an order of magnitude (Magnitude ordered it to be so). You load the level – and then have to tell it to start, too? Good luck figuring out how to change your controller to invert-look. FIFTEEN MINUTES of us digging around in the menus until we accidentally hit a D-Pad to the right and suddenly found a new set of menus. Yay, controller setup as an Easter Egg! Fun, kids!
  • Why can’t you alter your profile when in the game; specifically, your controller setup? To be fair, this might be a Microsoft XBOX choice of bungle, forcing you to update a gamer profile when out of a game (why? I guess to make them “consistent” – but shouldn’t the profile be game-specific anyway?), but it makes it ridiculously arduous to adjust things like look sensitivity, which should be easy to do on the fly. It was easy in H1.
  • Can’t save a coop game at checkpoints, like the solo campaign – why not? Hard drive space aplenty. This legacy issue from H1 has no excuse for why it hasn’t been fixed.

THE HEADS UP DISPLAY (HUD)

So many elegant features of the original were changed or discarded in H2 and now H3, making the game harder to play and less intuitive. Is it the MS influence, getting rid of the Mac-style, intuitive, elegant UI?

  • HUD makes it very difficult to tell the difference between covenant weapons (brute pistol, covenant rocket launcher and grenade gun all look the same).
  • HUD words are tiny and nearly illegible.
  • Stupid “game tips” about my shield being low and telling me how to throw a grenade. In the original, a single message popped up telling you how to use something ONCE – and then it was gone forever.
  • HUD mission arrow is tiny, the same color as other things (vs. the orange of the original), and frequently disappears; it never converts to a range diamond when you’re in visual range.
  • Why no life bars? Discarded since H2, it makes no sense. C’mon, how many of us loved playing H1 “gonzo style,” with a full shield but a lone sliver of red health bar? Give me that “oh shit” valve for when the shield goes down. In H2 & H3, if the shield goes down, you die. Weak. What in the hell is the point of all that armor, again?

THE GAME PLAY

  • You can’t both play as Master Chief in coop mode. Excuse me? According to a review on CNN, which is likely quoting, word for word, a Bungie/Microsoft press release, “‘Halo 3’ lets up to four gamers play through the entire campaign together in a cooperative mode… There’s only one Master Chief, however, so additional gamers will take on roles of other characters, such as an Arbiter alien, each with unique skills.” Well, apparently, while there’s just one Master Chief, there’s no limit to idiots with their head up their anal sphincter at Bungie/Microsoft, when they unilaterally decide to give the finger to players by not letting them be the star of the game. I don’t want to be a goddamn Elite – killing Elites was the high point of H1. The worst confusion in H2 was trying to figure out who the hell you were allowed to shoot. Cripes, how about we develop a Star Wars game where Luke’s sidekick is a Stormtrooper? Good job! So, do they limit only one player to being Master Chief in the head to head, player vs. player games? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
  • The world is gorgeous and full of texture; unfortunately, it also means that weapons and grenades and deployable cover are all but invisible among the background “noise” of the environment. Too much time hunting through terrain looking for guns. Most games have this problem; they have yet to master the way our visual system “picks out” objects, which means too often, important things are all too well camouflaged. Somehow H1 managed to make weapons easy to find, but still had a rich environment. Some of that was glowing covenant weapons. Some of that was realizing I don’t give a screaming zit how lush the terrain is if I can’t figure out where I just dropped my damn shotgun.
  • Since when is the game about going back and forth? Get to the command center – now, go secure the perimeter – now, back to the command center – now, back to the perimeter… we’re doing the cha cha! The only way this was ever fun was when it was go all the way in, and then all the way back out (e.g., the 343 Guilty Spark level), and even then, those levels were different on the way back out (yay Flood).
  • Why no left trigger elements to vehicles; particularly, the guns on the Scorpion? You’re left with a moronic marine to run the guns. By the way, don’t ever, ever, ever let the marines drive. “I know where it is!” the Marine declares eagerly as he takes the wheel. The only trouble is, “it” seems to be a porto-potty on the other end of the level.
  • Why is the needler no longer dual-wield? What a disappointment.
  • There are more types of grenades, but you can hold fewer of them. I don’t get it. And frankly, I don’t need it. Plasmas and frags, baby, just give me plasmas and frags.

THE STORY ELEMENTS

  • The cut scenes are still obtuse, incoherent, difficult to follow, disjointed, and unintelligible. Ben and I were constantly asking each other, “wait, what did he say?” and neither of us knew. Why hasn’t the dialogue been mixed so that you can hear it? Too much audio twiddling with radio static has left in game “chatter” a muddy mess, too.
  • The whole plot device where Mind Head or Big Brain or Doot Wad or whatever is suddenly a sentient controller of the Flood is just a weakloaf covered in weaksauce. This was already a boob-move when Star Trek made the Borg controlled by a Borg Queen just to give us a “super villain” (“I’ll get you next time, Superman!” (c) Cliche Unlimited). The Borg – and the Flood – are interesting precisely because they’re mindless. The height of this moronic toilet-floater plot idea is when the Flood help you attack Truth, with the help of Elites. I turned to Ben and said, “First Elites are our friends, now the Flood. So, who do we still get to shoot? Can I shoot you?” If the game had forced me to play as a Flood character who believes the Flood are mislead, I would have destroyed Microsoft with explosive, projectile diarrhea.*
  • I still don’t understand why the “prophet” Truth thinks it’s a good idea to activate the rings. Besides all the gibberish about being “saved” and being “chosen,” he doesn’t ever mention the fact that he and all his followers will be sucked by the cosmic dust buster, and how they expect to be rewarded for this idiocy. Radical Islam at least goes through the trouble of promising dozens of virgins to suicidal maniacs; what do you get for wiping out yourself, your allies, your entire species, and all life in the universe? The list better start with Jessica Alba.
  • The psychoactive-dementia-inspired visions of Cortana, crossed with a bad VHF transmission (apparently there is no high def in the future). What the hell was the point of that? So, Master Chief, what’s up with you and the AI chick? Are you two, you know, “crackling,” in the parlance of tech sex**? Is this really the “romantic interest”? Who cares! Just download a new one and move on, Master Chief. She’s just too psycho, with all those annoying mid-battle, incoherent phone calls and video voice mails.

THE FINAL OPINION
Just play Halo again. Put it on legendary and cackle madly. Who needs to dual wield when you can hold 8 grenades? All the frills of H3 still don’t make up for the collection of minor irritations, which, on the whole, detract from what makes a game great: wanting to play it over and over again. Yes, it’s gorgeous to look at. So is Jessica Alba – but you still can’t have sex with her. All the looks in the world don’t mean a vanilla coke and a boiled egg when you’re in the middle of the battle and trying to figure out how to drop your left hand gun so you can throw a grenade and I’M DEAD! Wheee! It’s certainly not worth ponying up $500+ for a console/extra controllers just for this game. Do what I did – get someone else to buy it.

*I may do this anyway.
**Not literally true. I just made that up. It’s not parlance until you use it, too.

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4 Comments »

  1. Kris Kelso said,

    Jeff get an hd tv and tell me you can’t see the guns. That’s my only comment is that you played on week sauce tv’s. I have no issues with visuals and finding weapons in 1080i definition. Also you can play as master chief if you have your own profile and have yourself set to master chief.
    My complaint is the emphasis on online play and them sinking all the innovation into online play. I hate playing with 10 year old kids but your forced to to experience most of the game which is the online aspect. But those online aspects are fun and very enjoyable and make a B single player game an A multiplayer game.

  2. dfsfsdfsd said,

    Dude, the Flood joining you (for a BRIEF period of time) was one of the COOLEST moments in the game. Also why were you surprised/upset that the Gravemind was the Flood leader????? It was made quite clear that Gravemind was the Flood controller in Halo 2.

  3. Kamron said,

    I must absolutely agree with Kris’ comments about the visual experience. Going from a 20+ inch tv to a 50+ inch tv makes the world of difference. Granted, is one video game worth dropping $2,000 for? Absolutely not, but unfortunately the way the video game world is moving is towards the high definition. These games are being made to be experienced at the highest of definition, unfortunately leaving the low-def troglobites in the wake of us high-def dynamo’s. Nothing is more satisfying than cranking up the surround sound, popping in H3 and hearing “ahhhhh ahhhh ahh ahh ahhhh ahhhhhh ahhhhhhhh” (lame attempt at the opening chant theme) coming from every corner of your living room. Yes, video games should be made to the mass market. But that’s what makes H3 so great. It’s the level of detail they put into every nook and cranny. Splitting the screen four ways on a 30″ tv would make gameplay impossible, as weapon icons and text would become nearly impossible. On a 50+ tv, each screen is just a little over 13″, giving a small, yet still legible experience. I argue Jeff that you should attempt H3 on a TV like mine or Kris’.

    While I agree that H3’s use of only one Master Chief is a lame duck, it is consistent with the Halo universe. The story from H1 remember, is that Master Chief is the only remaining Spartan left. If you had an entire army of Spartans running around killing the covenant it wouldn’t be much of a battle. The Spartans are the masters of the Universe, the Invincible Demons that the Covenant claim them to be. Should Bungie have altered the story to find a cache of hyper-suspended Spartans floating off in space somewhere? Yes. I agree that there should have been the ability to play as additional Spartans, but I applaud Bungie for its continuity. Do I think that teaming the Elites up with the Spartan is a bad choice? Yes. Great stories need that “good-vs-evil” thing and making every body friends in the end is just a cop-out. It was an interesting try, but a failure.

    Just my two cents.

    Oh.

    And the Patriots piss me off.

  4. Jeff Herrold said,

    To “dfsfsdfsd” – I know that Mindbrain or Dumbhead or whatever was the chief of the Flood since H2 – my point was, it’s lame.

    To Kam – both you and Kris base your enjoyment off playing H3 in PVP modes, which I have not tried, and did not review – I was clear in stating that my review was about the campaign mode. Additionally, it can be argued that a 50″ plasma HDTV would make any game better; that still doesn’t make the game good.

    Finally, in H1, in cooperative play, both players are Master Chief. Where is the continuity there? Bungie let both players be a Spartan in H1; why suddenly – and somewhat arbitrarily – enforce that players can’t do that in H3? Spaghetti and weakballs.

    And I love my Pats. It’s nice when you only have to endure 6-7 years of your team being crap before they dominate (as a footnote, I decided to follow the Patriots after moving to Boston in 93, the year they drafted Bledsoe, and when they were absolute crap – pre-Bob Kraft team. I had been a Bills fan, but after going to the superbowl and losing four times in a row, I said, “screw it, I may as well root for the crap team that’s closer). How much must it suck to be a Cardinals fan? At least it looks like Detroit is finally emerging from their 50-year “rebuilding year.”


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