Monday, January 23, 2017

Game Talk #2: Halo 2

Holy shit look at that image.

THAT is Halo 2. Or, at least, that's what we were led to believe. I mean, with a poster like that, how could Halo 2 NOT be amazing? How could it not be everything that Halo was and more?

Well, let's get started.

In a way, I was lucky. While there were some people who had been dying for Halo 2 since late 2001, I had only really entered into the game in early 2004. I only had to wait about ten months. I remember losing my shit wondering about just what it was going to be about. Slowly, bits and pieces were released, and it only fueled the hype even more.

It was going to be set on Earth. There were new Covenant, new weapons, new vehicles. New everything. And visually it looked great.

I remember watching that E3 video with Master Chief fighting on Earth and all the crazy shit that was going on...and being pretty disappointed that clearly a lot of it had gotten cut from the game. The day I went up to Blockbuster to purchase a copy, I managed to get my hands on the silver, two-disc case by trading in several other games. I raced home and immediately started playing the game.

And it was amazing.

I maintained that feeling of amazed wonderful for about...two days. That's how long it took me to beat the campaign. And it probably wouldn't have stung so bad when the credits started rolling if it hadn't ended on such a fucking cliffhanger.

That's when things began to turn sour for me. I remember thinking "Now I have to wait another three years to find out what happens next?" One thing you have to understand is that, for me, at the time, there was only the campaign. Yes, there's a lot to do in the campaign and yes there's co-op, but even while I was playing the first game, I couldn't help but think, "Where are the computer controlled enemies for multiplayer? For the people who don't the ability to system link? Perfect Dark did it...why the fuck can't Halo?"

I used to play Perfect Dark like crazy. I racked up days on my multiplayer profile. And it seemed to me that Perfect Dark was old, like, Nintendo 64 old, and clearly technologically inferior to Halo. So why, I found myself wondering in growing resentment, in the fucking hell didn't Halo 2, a clearly superior game with dozens of people working on it for years not have simulants for multiplayer? I forgave Halo: CE for it, for some reason certain that this oversight would be rectified in the big-budget sequel.

But I was wrong, and I was left in the dust. I didn't have money for fucking Xbox Live, let alone a good enough internet connection to seriously support it. The only times I got to play online were when I went to go visit a friend. It seemed extremely unfair, especially coupled with the abrupt ending.

I began to notice other things that were odd. Halo 2's aesthetic just didn't sit right with me. Yeah, it all looked better, it had a higher fidelity, better shading, better lighting effects, everything looked better...and yet, it seemed to have lost some of that beautiful, wide-open appeal that Halo: CE had. At first I chalked this up to the Earth levels, but then I realized that Delta Halo didn't look much better either. It just didn't have the same...ambient wonder.

Then there was the boss battle. At first I thought it was great, but then I began to wonder about it. I remember being impressed with Halo's ending, the fact that it didn't rely on a climatic traditional boss battle, and it somehow seemed like a failing that they didn't manage to think of something else. Not to mention...I still don't understand why Tartarus suddenly became invincible...unless you shot him with a beam rifle? That doesn't make any sense.

And the weapons. Don't get me started on them. Do you know how long I spent looking for an MA5B Assault Rifle? An M6D Pistol? I shouldn't have bothered, they weren't there. The Battle Rifle was cool, but damn were those SMGs were shit substitutes for the Assault Rifle. Same with the new pistol. It was horrible. Still is. And that was kind of the biggest problem with the weapons. Even playing through the game again today, the weapons lack the same power that they had in the first Halo, or in Halo 3. They felt weaker, and the way the bullets hit the enemies just didn't feel as satisfying.

These are just some of the things I was thinking back then, and some of the reasons I think that Halo 2 stands oddly apart from the rest of the games. It just feels different. Halo 3 felt like a sequel to Halo 1. For the most part, Halo: ODST and Reach felt like they belonged in the Halo universe. But Halo 2 felt out of place. I still feel this way to a certain degree. It kind of feels like it was made by someone else.

Now, I have since learned that Bungie went through a LOT of shit during the making of Halo 2. I've heard all sorts of things but it seems clear that something went wrong during production. Mainly it seems like they overextended themselves, biting off way, way, way more than they could chew. Which I know is a Bungie tradition, they always want to see how far they can push themselves, but this time the game clearly suffered for it. Honestly, these two videos, The Making of Halo 2 & O Brave New World, both of them sort of documentaries about Bungie and how they made games, really helped illuminate a lot of the problems with the production of Halo 2. Honestly, I don't blame them for their mistakes, and given everything that happened, it's amazing that Halo 2 is as good a game as it is.

A lot of my frustrations with Halo 2 have faded away. I still have a certain fondness for it. Playing it created a new era in my Halo fan fiction and I've come to accept it as part of the true Halo Trilogy. And I might as well throw out some positives, some things that I did like about the game, so this post isn't entirely dreary.

I loved playing as the Arbiter. That was cool...although the fact that it never happened again is just another thing that makes Halo 2 really stick out like a sore thumb.

I particularly loved the Elite Rebellion and how all that shook out.

Delta Halo did look really cool. I liked the strange stone temples, the underwater sections and how it looked distinctly different from the first Halo without going too far and just feeling different for the sake of being different.

The Fight Club reference was cool.

Getting to finally use that energy sword: big plus.

Dual-wielding was kickass.

The battle with the Scarab was pretty great, and I remember being excited when I realized that Marine NCPs could actually drive the Warthog. (Even if they weren't very good at it.) Also, that one part in the beginning of Sacred Icon where you find and gather the scattered remnants of the Covenant forces that survived, and they help you fight. That was really fun. I also like how the Flood evolved. They from being able to use guns in Halo: CE to being able to drive vehicles in Halo 2.

Honestly, looking back on it now that I've had over a decade to play it, let it sink in, ruminate on it, I have to say it's fairly solid. It still does kind of stick out, but it's a great game, and now that the passage of time is no longer a factor, the cliffhanger ending is actually pretty good. But only because I don't have to wait three damned years to find out what happens next.

Halo 2 was nice, but Halo 3 was an entire other level of amazing.

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