Tag Archives: Halo

Halo Fest 2020: Combat Evolved

Halo: Combat Evolved rounds out a trio of FPS games, along with GoldenEye and Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64, that my brother and I did some serious bonding over in my late teens/young adult years while he was living back with my family – we’d watch each other’s playthroughs, hop into cooperative missions together from time to time, and of course, play tons of “Slayer” deathmatch against one another. Unusually, my dad, not much of a gamer, was also strangely drawn to Halo, often filling a third slot in our split screen multiplayer sessions. My dad really got into it and probably spent far more time with the single player campaigns of the first Halo games than either of us did. In fact, through sheer force of will (I imagine assisted by unabashed abuse of the checkpoint system) I think he even eventually beat them both on “legendary” difficulty.

Well, well, well. What do we have here?”
“Well, well, well. What do we have here?”

Beyond what it meant to me personally, Halo: CE was a special game. I still vividly recall my brother bringing home a brand new Xbox that he’d unwisely blown a chunk of a paycheck on, hyping us up on how awesome Halo was. At first I wasn’t all that impressed with what it was doing, since games like Half Life and Unreal had already started evolving the FPS genre in similar ways on PC, but I was quickly won over with its unique aesthetic, mysterious science fiction storyline, slick, polished execution, and almost perfect early implementation of dual analog stick FPS controls. I found the less linear, more open world sections (complete with crazy vehicles and more advanced AI than I’d seen up to that point) particularly compelling. As much as I had enjoyed some of the previous console FPS games, it was Halo that finally really sold the concept. To me, and to millions of others, it seems.

My enjoyment of Halo wasn’t isolated to consoles though – I preordered Gearbox’s PC port of Halo: CE mostly for the promise of at last being able to play multiplayer online, but I ended up being quite underwhelmed by it. The netcode in particular wasn’t quite as well suited for those of us pitiful enough to still be rocking dial-up Internet in 2002 as a lot of the other games I’d been playing on PC were. In more recent years that PC port of Halo: CE became the multiplayer game of choice for me and a couple of my co-workers during our breaks, and we still occasionally get together for online multiplayer sessions using the Xbox One’s Halo: The Master Chief Collection to dust our old favorite maps to this very day. While multiplayer really isn’t in the scope of Halo Fest 2020, I can’t go without at least mentioning it since it’s such a huge part of Halo: CE (and the rest of the franchise’s) success, and there’s definitely still a ton of fun to be had there.

Alright, tutorial time!
“Alright, tutorial time!”

On to this playthrough of Halo: Combat Evolved! I should note that I’m playing through the version of the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary included with the aforementioned Xbox One MCC. This was my first time playing the Anniversary edition remaster, and given that I’ve played through Halo: CE’s single player levels more times than I can recall, I’m going to spend much of my time here discussing that release more than the game overall.

The first thing that I noticed upon loading into the first level of Halo: CE Anniversary was the lack of the short tutorial section based around Master Chief waking up out of cryo-sleep. This immediately left a sour taste in my mouth. I mean, what the fuck? They removed the tutorial? What else did they remove? ARGH! Later I realized that this was because I started the campaign in “heroic” difficutly, which skips the tutorial just as it’s always done – nothing to do with the new version. Oops. Okay, well, of course, my attention then snapped back to the presentation.

While beautiful, 343 Guilty Spark feels quite different from the original.
“While beautiful, 343 Guilty Spark feels quite different from the original.”

All of the graphics in the Anniversary edition have been lovingly and painstakingly remastered to make the game look a little bit more suitable to newer generations of consoles. The remaster also makes efforts to bring Halo: CE in-line stylistically with the latter games in the series, particularly Halo: Reach. For the most part, I think this was a rather successful effort. The new artwork is mostly great and overall the game looks how most people would likely remember it looking after not having played it for years. Still, the change in style also means it is often quite a departure from Halo: CE’s original graphics, which were of course Bungie’s first stab at what would eventually evolve into what we got in Reach. The dark purples of the covenant forces have been replaced by lighter hues, the architecture of the buildings on Installation 04 now have a lot more detail, but losing much of their cold, stark character as a result. The dense foggy swamp of “343 Guilty Spark” is now a much more lush, and much less creepy, jungle. The list goes on and on.

This might have all been less obvious if 343 didn’t include the fantastic addition of being able to instantly toggle between new and old graphics with the press of a button. I found myself doing this quite often to really take in the differences. Surprisingly, sometimes the original graphics “up-resed” still looked quite acceptable, even rivaling the new ones, and it took me a few seconds to realize I was accidentally still on the old graphics on more than one occasion. They would have been even better if they weren’t based on the aforementioned flawed PC port. That said, the outdoors sections of the game are where the remastered graphics clearly blow the old ones out of the water. The lighting on the indoor sections is quite a bit different too, and while some might protest a loss in tension, some sections are much easier to navigate as a result. “The Library” is the prime example; while still being a Flood infested, repetitive slog, you can probably remove getting turned around and lost multiple times from your list of its aggravations now.

Ugh. The Library...
“Ugh. The Library…”

While discussing potentially unpopular changes, let’s talk sound. The music has been completely rerecorded for the Anniversary edition, and it’s mostly great. The biggest issue I have here is with mixing – there were definitely many points where the music was drowning out the in-game dialog, which is an issue I don’t remember having with the original game. They did eventually add the option to toggle between soundtracks to keep the purists happy, which is probably a good thing given how beloved the Halo: CE soundtrack is. The sound effects have also been completely redone. Again, they did a great job here, and most people probably won’t even notice, but some of the effects do indeed sound radically different which I’m sure irks quite a lot of the more hardcore Halo fan-base. While I believe they’ve included an option to use classic sound effects when starting a single player session in a recent patch, it’s still not instantly toggleable like the graphics are, unfortunately.

As I mentioned, I went through the campaign in “Heroic” difficulty, which is way more of a pain in the ass than I remembered it being. There were definitely a few sections where I had to bash my head against the scenario I found my last checkpoint throwing me into over and over until I managed to work out a strategy to survive, or at least had a rare bit of good luck with. Honestly, this didn’t feel much better than “save scumming” through the difficulty, and was seriously frustrating. Maybe this is just a case of me getting older and my l33t FPS skillz withering away though. Finally, as if Heroic didn’t make me hate myself enough, Anniversary added the “skull” system found in later Halo games, and while I did go out of my way to collect all of the skulls, I certainly didn’t activate any of them as part of my normal playthrough. Searching for them was a fun diversion, at least!

As annoying as the later levels can be, they have their moments.
“As annoying as the later levels can be, they have their moments.”

Throwing back to a complaint I’ve always had about Halo: CE, I hate how goddamn repetitive and long some of the levels in its campaign are. I’m looking at you “Assault on the Control Room”! At least the checkpoints come frequently enough to subdivide the levels into more bite-sized chunks pretty well. The infamous fact that you then have to backtrack through a few of them in later levels on top of that still almost feels like a direct middle finger from the developers to the player though. These rehashed areas tend to play out just differently enough to just barely work. The saving grace here is that, despite all of this, the campaign overall is fairly short. Again, this just barely works for me, and thankfully Bungie never really made these mistakes again in later games.

Halo: CE’s story has always been a little odd. The overall plot, which I’ll recap in my next entry, is easy enough to understand, sure, but there are so many vaugeries in its details and its backstory that only later get fleshed out as the series progresses, and even then, I’m guessing (having never read them) those are mostly only truly explained in the novels. The Anniversary edition adds a hidden terminal to each level that can be triggered for a short animated cutscene that goes a long way to help explain flesh out the origins of Installation 04, Guilty Spark 343, and the Flood. I have to imagine that some of these would be utterly bewildering to new players, but to a Halo veteran like me they’re pretty damn cool and very much appreciated.

I never get sick of The Silent Cartographer, especially in co-op!
“I never get sick of The Silent Cartographer, especially in co-op!”

You know, Halo: CE still managed to be a fun ride despite its old age and more well-known shortcomings. The first time you load up a Warthog with marines and go tearing down the beaches in “The Silent Cartographer”, out maneuver a charging Hunter to land that final shotgun blast to the small of its back, or perfectly stick a plasma grenade to a rampaging Banshee as it dives down from high above you, you’ll forget all about this game being almost 20 years old. To me, it remains a reasonably timeless game, and the Anniversary enhancements should only help it to feel that way a little longer.

Now onto a game whose campaign I’ve somehow only completed once, Halo 2!

Screenshots taken from the Steam community for the PC version of Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

Halo Fest 2020!

This most historic of gaming logs represents the first of a long series of posts which will chronicle my very own personal Halo Fest 2020. That’s just a stupid name I came up with for, in anticipation of the launch of Halo Infinite, replaying through every single one of the Halo games.

I’ve been into Halo since around the launch of the first game but I’ve only played through most of the single player campaigns a single time which should make going back through them pretty entertaining. I haven’t even played some of them yet, namely Halo 5 and the Halo Wars games, so I’m really looking forward to those. On top of that, going back through old gaming logs, I really haven’t talked much about any of the Halo games all that much, and my coverage of the few I did write about here was a little anemic. This will give me the opportunity to go into a little more detail about all of them.

Back into the fight!
“Back into the fight!”

Of course, this whole thing might very well take me longer than the next 4 months, which with Halo Infinite being delayed some indeterminate amount of time, works out okay I suppose, though perhaps I shouldn’t have put the year in the title. So, what first? I thought about doing these playthroughs chronologically in the order the story unfolds, but the technological leaps between the games seemed like it might be a little too radical. Instead, I’ve opted to play them in original release order, which means we’re starting from the beginning with the legendary Halo: Combat Evolved.

My next gaming blog entry should be following shortly!

This awesome concept art by Kai Lim is actually from the cancelled fan film Operation Chastity.

Braid Your Pitts

I haven’t posted in nearly 4 months. Shameful, I know. I have been gaming a bit though, for sure. In fact one of the main reasons for my lack of updates in the last 6 or 7 months was climbing back onto the vile World of Warcraft bandwagon. I haven’t mentioned it much on here because I’ve been about ready to quit again, once I completed the last of several goals I’d been working on. After that I planned on writing an entry all about my return and what I had accomplished with my time. Unfortunately that last goal has turned out to be a total pain in my ass – expect that post if I finally do meet my goal but I’ve all but stopped again as it is so that seems unlikely.

Braid is goddamn pretty.
“Braid is goddamn pretty.”

I got around to playing Braid on XBLA. I actually played through the demo at around the time of its launch and honestly most of my critical analysis of the awesome, creative puzzle mechanics is probably back there somewhere since I was pretty blown away by them originally. Even blasting past that topic, I loved the art style and absolutely adored the music. Despite how mind-bendingly difficult some of the puzzles might seem to some players (personally, most came to me easily, though I did definitely struggle hard with a few of them) it’s still very worth checking out. Notice how I skipped talking about the narrative? 😉 Seriously though, I actually enjoyed it at first and like what they’re were going for though the end came out of nowhere and didn’t really do much for me. In the end though, it didn’t seem crucial to the experience – how much did the story in any of the Super Mario games (and the comparison here is appropriate given all of the obviously influence and callbacks) ever matter?

I finally finished my run through of Fallout 3 + all of the DLC. I got pretty much all of the achievements I could get in one play through and had a blast. My insanely sporadic playtimes made me come to some odd conclusions about my gaming habits as of late: I’m getting too old for this shit. Seriously, I seem to only want to jump into most games (basically anything I’m either not insanely addicted to, or anything that isn’t extremely “pick up and play” friendly) when I have a couple of hours or more free in one sitting, and even then I have to be “in the mood” which I’m often not after a long day at work or whatever. If it is going to take me a year to finish a decent sized RPG for now on I suppose I’m going to have to stop spending as much time and money on this hobby as right now it’s just a little out of whack.

We're going vault hopping tonight, baby!
“We’re going vault hopping tonight, baby!”

Back to the game though. Obviously I loved Fallout 3 – I mentioned that in my last update about it. How could I not? I loved the original Fallout games and I love the Elder Scrolls series so… yeah? I’m not going to get into a big, detailed review of it or anything but I did want to mention one unexpected surprise: The Pitt DLC campaign. Whaaa? Although I know it often gets praise as being one of the better DLC add-ons for Fallout 3 I don’t remember hearing anything about the whole moral dilemma you’re faced with in it. Hell, maybe I did and simply forgot all about it since then, but in any case… spoilers in the next two paragraphs!

So, the basic setup for The Pitt (I’ll try to keep it fairly general) is that you’re contacted by a runaway slave who wants you to infiltrate the city which is overrun by an oppressive, ruthless group of slavers who force their slaves into working in their factories while they reap the benefits. They also all have some horrible radiation sickness and the leader of the slavers is apparently hording the cure for his very own. Seems straight forward enough and when you arrive as sure enough, sick slaves everywhere and the people in power are stacking the bad karma deck without question. Once you finally infiltrate the slavers and confront the leader, however, you learn that all isn’t as it appeared – the cure is actually a baby and the ex-slave who talked you into the whole thing in the first place is actually an ex-slaver who was forced out after a failed coup attempt looking for revenge. Seems like the situation is getting greyer. Still, why would I want to leave the baby in the hands of these assholes? Plus, who cares if the other guy is an ex-slaver himself, he clearly wasn’t lying about this place being packed with slaves and this sickness killing everyone. I stole the baby and vaporized the leader of the slavers, and most of the rest of them while I was at it.

Fireworks are always better when they're made out of your enemies.
“Fireworks are always better when they’re made out of your enemies.”

The plot thickens. Audiotapes reveal that the leader of the slavers was an Paladin of the Brotherhood of Steel who got stranded there after cleansing the ruins of the city long ago. Hm, well that still doesn’t mean he wasn’t an asshole, I suppose. Left there alone, he built up his gang and the settlement himself including bringing the factories back online. He regretted the slave labor but viewed it as a necessary evil and even planned to eventually set them all free. Hmm. He was also the father of the baby in question and, it’s revealed, seemed to genuinely care for the kid. He also viewed his research into the cure in a philanthropic way – he didn’t seem to be hording the cure at all, it simply wasn’t finished. *gulp* I might have made a bad decision but… well, at least the slaves are free, right? So then I get back to the people I was working for to discover the guy acting like a total fascist asshole himself and implying that the baby was now in much worse hands. It also only took me about 2 seconds to notice that the slave labor still appeared to be in full effect around the settlement – maybe the people in the chains had changed, but still… what exactly have I done here?!

This is one of the most interesting moral dilemmas I’ve run into in a game in recent memory. Most fascinating was probably the fact that I really wasn’t ever asked to make any clear cut, black and white choice on the matter. Sure, I was forced to pick a side but it was before I had all of the intel. Even after all of the cards were on the table it was still a pretty nebulous situation with no obvious right choice… and the fact of the matter is, not unlike after the big reveal in Bioshock, I felt totally played after it was over. Nice!

These guys, yet again...
“These guys, yet again…”

What else? Oh yes, I bought and played Halo 4. I’ve talked about the Halo series on here a lot in the past so I’ll skip the background and the in-depth analysis and just say that 343 Studios did a fine job. It still feels very much like a proper Halo game yet makes necessarily measured steps into new directions. I enjoyed the new multiplayer advancement (for example) though so far I prefer Firefight over Spartan Ops. Most of all, I just enjoyed returning to a universe that I’ve always really enjoyed. As far as that goes though, I might have enjoyed watching Forward Unto Dawn more than playing the actual Halo 4 campaign. *shrug*

Next up is a play through of the original Saints Row, if I can manage to slog through the grind. Oh, and I also started a new blog which I’ve been filling full of random non game related stuff – mostly related to music and just general expressive bullshit. I’ll link to it eventually when I have more content. Hell, maybe I’ll even merge it into this one and make it a little less gaming focused. Stay tuned!