Through A New Visor

Courtesy NerdyShirts

I’ve had some negative experiences playing Halo in the past, mostly due to the nature of the X-Box Live community. This caused me to hop on the bandwagon of people hating on the games. I picked up the Anniversary Edition of the first game for my wife, and have sat beside her during her first playthrough of the campaign. In retrospect, I may have been too harsh on the game in the past.

It’s easy to see that Halo comes from fertile sources. There are elements of Larry Niven’s Ringworld and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, though the latter also informed the most direct influence, which was Aliens. I’m sure there are others, but those are the most prominent. Anyway, the game does take steps to do something new with characters like Cortana, Captain Keyes and 343 Guilty Spark. And as a cypher for the player, looking back, I’m kind of amused by the fact that not only is Master Chief taciturn and seen as somewhat foolhardy, he’s also not necessarily the sharpest knife in the drawer.

On top of being planted in fertile source material, the gameplay is solid. Since Halo came to be before the chest-high wall advent of Gears of War and its ilk, it feels, in retrospect, a lot more like Doom or Painkiller, in which our hero fights a seemingly inexhaustible horde of bad guys. Health kits still exist, with the shield being a dubious stopgap between you and certain death depending on the difficulty. Instead of velcroing you to cover, it trusts you have the wherewithal to simply duck out of the way if your shield needs to regenerate. The fact that later games would apply this to your health and undercut their difficulty severely as a result is hardly Halo‘s fault

Despite apparent restrictions, there’s freedom to be found. While having only two available weapons slots can seem a bit of a bummer, you can swap your weapons around at pretty much any time. My wife even demonstrated how to get a weapon you want from a nearby Marine despite the fact this was before the convenient context command to do so. Let’s just say that guy’s squadmates were a bit more afraid of Master Chief afterwards. Anyway, the ability to hijack enemy vehicles as well as drive or man the turrets of your own opened up new ways to deal with one’s opponents. I know this isn’t terribly new for fans of, say, the Battlefield series, but again, Halo can hardly be faulted for the results of its own success.

So why was I harsh? The fans. Consider fans of The Hunger Games, calling for some sort of boycott or action because Rue and Cinna are played by black actors. Or Homestuck fans, many of whom seem fond of depicting 13-year-olds having sex. I could bring up Mass Effect and the failed initiative to “retake” it or even the fans of any given sport who think smashing in the face of a fan of the other team is perfectly justified. Fandom unchecked leads to zealotry and even particular kinds of hatred. Halo is, at its core, a decent series of decent shooters and given the lion’s share of credit for saving the original X-Box. Just as it’s foolish to blame this particular game for every folly in shooters that came after it, it’s foolish to blame the game for the behavior of its fans. That was a mistake I let myself make repeatedly over the last few years.

With the benefit of hindsight and experience, I can say I was wrong about Halo. The first game, at least, holds up on its own with the benefit of a high-quality graphical touch-up. It just goes to show that fans of any stripe, no matter how enthusiastic they might be, need to check themselves. They otherwise run the danger of wrecking whatever the object of their affection might be, as well as themselves.

1 Comment

  1. The first Halo game was an amazing co-op shooter. Which is probably why it became so big with the frat crowd. On consoles, Timesplitters had the best competetive multiplayer, but co-op? No.

    I’ve never really played the second, but most fans seem to prefer it over the third. The third is great fun in co-op too. Actually, all of them are.

    Although I do have to say that in terms of storytelling and atmosphere ODST and Reach are miles ahead of the rest of the series. The actual story behind Halo is quite good. Probably better scifi than Mass Effect at this point, as they had a general plan and stuck to it all the way through without contradiction, extended universe in the books and all.

    But yes, the fanbase is terrible. I used to hate Halo for the that same reason.

    Also, if you beat all the campaigns, going back to Firefight in ODST and Reach is always great fun in co-op.

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