Late to the Party: Halo (Part IV)

It’s time for another change of scenery.

We started in a semi-forested area before moving on to a desert cliff, then a tropical-looking beach setting, and now we’re in a snowy canyon network. This is pretty cool for the purposes of having a lot of diverse environments but we also just learned that Halo is a weapon. So looking at it now, this is kind of like planting a small vegetable garden on the barrel of a 105mm howitzer.

There’s no point in running: you’ll just die tired.

Okay, here is where the game stops being a pretty decent product with a few annoyances and starts becoming something of a chore. This section is essentially a seemingly endless string of completely identical looking rooms jam-packed full of enemies. Just when you think there can’t possibly be another one, you come out of another hallway and lo and behold: it’s another identical room. The worst part is that none of these rooms appear to have any real purpose. They’re just huge octagons with sloping ceilings and nothing in them apart from a bunch of people that want to kill you. Like the weather functions of this ring, I can’t imagine any purpose that such a room would serve, nevermind what seems like a dozen of them, all one after the other. I’d gotten a bit irritated with a few things before this, but this is the first time the game actually started actively pissing me off.

They do try to make it up to me immediately afterwards, and I’ll admit I fell for it at first. 

But it’s gonna take more than some flowers and an apology if you want me back, Halo. Momma raised me better than to stay with somebody that hurts me.

I’ll admit, I never really used the alien plasma weapons because if you ask me, all the “pew pew” laser guns in the world are no substitute for a high-velocity JHP bullet judiciously applied to foreheads. But the point is I could have picked up those weapons if I’d wanted to. The same cannot be said of the sword.

I wanna stab somebody with that sword, dammit.

So I fight my way through this labyrinthine complex of identical rooms and make my way into Halo’s control room. I have to fight my way past some Covenant waiting in the hallway outside but I guess I’m still the first one to make it into the control room itself? I plug Cortana into the control panel and she immediately starts freaking the hell out and telling me that I need to go find the Captain again before… something. Seriously, she never gives me any idea what the problem is she just starts screaming at me to get moving, which Chief unquestionably obeys, him being a brick in both characterization and intelligence. If I don’t know what I’m doing, then why should I care about doing it?

As far as I know, I ran out of the control room, onto this transport plane, and then flew halfway across this ringworld twiddling my thumbs the whole time. I really need to stress that Cortana is an artificial intelligence program. She is literally software and is currently plugged into a computer that I’ll be damned if it doesn’t have some kind of comm system. Yet despite this she can’t spare a moment on the trip over to tell me what in the hell I’m doing. So the unexplained need for haste is broken by the implied long shuttle ride and along with it goes the poor justification for not telling me what’s going on.

Let me provide a bit of context here for the uninitiated: gauge is a unit of measure used to express bore diameter, most commonly used today in relation to shotguns; the smaller the number the larger the bore. Most every modern-day combat and hunting shotgun is chambered for 12 gauge shells, and anyone who’s ever fired a 12 gauge can tell you that they give you more than a love tap when fired. 10 gauge is obviously even heavier and 8 gauge is exceedingly rare, especially in the US where it’s actually been outlawed for duck hunting. Call me crazy, but the idea of issuing an 8 gauge shotgun for combat purposes seems absolutely nuts: it’s incredibly overpowered for anything you’ll be shooting at, it’s difficult to control, the ammo is large and heavy, and it likely couldn’t hold more than a few rounds at a time. Luckily, the shotgun in-game suffers from none of these problems as it holds 12 rounds (in a tube magazine!) and hardly suffers at all from recoil as the weapon is slow-firing enough for the crosshairs to settle back on target before firing follow-up shots.

Strangely, the one bit of shotgun operation that this thing gets right stands in contrast to virtually every other video game shotgun: its spread doesn’t render it useless after ten feet. In most games, a shotgun outside of spitting distance does all the damage of a fistful of thrown snowflakes whereas in Halo (and the real world) the shotgun has a much longer effective range. This easily makes it my favorite weapon in the game.

This level takes place in a swamp. Again, we have some pretty cool areas to fight in, it’s just that the fighting by this point in the game has gotten pretty repetitive. Sure, one can argue that there’s plenty of enemy variety what with weak grunts, strong elites, and shield-carrying jackals, but there’s not really any difference in how you take these guys down: you apply bullets to them until they die. In games like the Zelda series you fight a bunch of different enemies that need to be dispatched in different ways, keeping the combat varied and engaging. Even in games where gunplay is pretty much the only option like Half-Life they at least provide enemies with varying damage types, attack ranges, and movement speeds. Every enemy in Halo basically stands at a distance and shoots at you with the same guns over and over (except for those sword-wielding guys, but I’ve already discussed how I feel about them). A shorthand way of saying this is that I was getting pretty bored at this point.

(Sigh) This game really loves to jerk me around. I was getting fed up with the combat, so the next thing they do is tone down the encounter rate and introduce some environmental storytelling (a quick inroads to my heart) to suck me back in. At this point I’ve discovered another complex of nonsensical rooms (bad) that are mysteriously inhabited by the brutally slain bodies of Covenant aliens (good). As far as I can tell, I’m the ultimate killing power on this ring, and yet I didn’t kill these guys. That means that something else out there did, and I’m probably going to find and deal with it pretty soon. I love this kind of thing because it has the player to stumble across things that seem interesting or out of place and then allows their own mind to craft scenarios about what happened or what will happen. Now, a dead body here and there isn’t really anything too special, and it’s not like other games (System Shock, Half-Life, etc.) hadn’t done this before, but I really did appreciate this.

In another bit of environmental storytelling you stumble across a crazed marine who fires his pistol at you until you stop him. I may have stopped him a little too judiciously. Too bad every button press in this game invariably nudges you toward some form of killing. 

Lame joke. In Mass Effect, Cpl. Richard Jenkins is the first character in the game to die. Here, we find only the helmet of a Pvt. Jenkins after something presumably ate his face. And then when we take Leroy into account… well, Jenkins might be something of a cursed moniker.

I’ll eat my hat if the small, swarming aliens seen in this segment weren’t at least somewhat based on the facehuggers from Alien.

What those little facehuggers produce is a much more agile version of Half-Life‘s zombies. Anything one of those little things attaches to is pretty well and truly screwed, turning into a brown blob of a zombie (collectively called the Flood) that’s pretty much completely unrecognizable from what it used to be. These things are strong, fast, and can jump like Michael Jordan. Yes, Xenomorphs would have been worse, but not by much.

Oh, right, these zombies are also smart enough to use sophisticated tools like firearms, I guess. Because being fast-moving, hard-hitting, and always swarming you in packs wasn’t bad enough.

I did not like fighting the Flood.

The incomprehensible interior environments make an appearance here again. Hallway after identical hallway leads to room after identical room. Nothing of any apparent import is in these rooms, there are no stairs leading to the second level, and platforms to vital doors float 10-15 feet in the air with no way up besides using your superhuman strength to jump there. No one would ever design a room like this. The sheer nonsensical nature of it is jarring not only because we can’t imagine what it could possibly have been used for, but our brains don’t know how to navigate a place that seems to have been built by bad architects for great explorers. Add to this the fact that you’re constantly fighting zombies with assault rifles and this quickly becomes an exercise in frustration.

Finally I make it outside again and meet up with some Marines. Before I can get to an extraction point, however:

A small floating orb with a smug-sounding voice helps me clear out the remaining Flood before teleporting me… somewhere.

We’ll find out where next time, but most of you probably already know where this is headed. Prepare yourselves.

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