Late to the Party: Halo 2 (Part III)

So we arrive on Earth and after a combat encounter that lasts for far too long in an inexplicably sealed-off section of city street, we’re presented with a Warthog. Driving the Warthog is the same as it was before: fun, but somewhat finicky and prone to flipping over at the least opportune moments. However, the Warthog is implemented in a rather more precise role at this point in the game. Whereas previously you often found yourself in possession of a Warthog just so you could have a Warthog, here you get one because you really do need vehicular transportation. This allows the set pieces surrounding the acquisition of the vehicle to be a lot better designed. Case in point: 

At this point, you’re on one side of the city and a bridge that you need to get to is all the way on the other side. In order to get there, you need to haul ass all the way across the Covenant-occupied territory between these two points. One or two other Warthogs are along for the ride and together you speed through hostile environments as your gunners unload on Covenant vehicles that pull in front of you to try and slow your progress. Swerving around obstacles while pushing the vehicle to its limits and gunfire is pouring out of that massive gun on the back is pretty fun, but the best part is that the environment in which this takes place actually makes sense.

You’ll recall that the Warthog race against time segment in the finale of Combat Evolved struck me as being implausible and stupid because there was no reason for such a long run of track to exist on a ship like that. In contrast, this chase sequence takes place along an underground highway with vehicle wrecks scattered about and traffic signs for on/off ramps and various destinations marking the way. Something like this is much easier to imagine actually existing: we’re already quite familiar with major roadways and in the future where urban sprawl appears to be quite common keeping your major highways consolidated underground (at least while within city limits) would be a smart idea to save valuable real estate topside. Additionally, since such a network would undoubtedly be constructed according to a very uniform blueprint, it allows the developers to re-use a lot of art assets and textures without making it obvious: of course the walls all look the same, they’re supposed to. Trying to do this with buildings in a rich urban environment wouldn’t work so well as we expect to see a bit more variance in our surroundings. All of this makes for a much more feasible locale that actually makes the fighting chase within it feel a lot more real, thus aiding in our immersion. Good sequence. 

So we finally get to the bridge and we swap out our Warthog for a tank. These things were a force to be reckoned with in the original game but in Halo 2 tanks appear to have been upgraded from “good” to “god”. The time between shots for the main canon has been drastically reduced and basically everything explodes in one-two shots anyway. Probably a dozen Ghosts rush you during the crossing and I don’t think one of them got within even 50 feet of me. It actually would have been rather boring if it weren’t for the physics of exploding Ghosts being absolutely insane and doing a small breakdance number before permanently detonating.

Also, unless I’m mistaken, the tank received another substantial upgrade to its design: it’s frakking driver’s seat isn’t open to the world anymore. As to why anyone would ever design a main battle tank to be driven by someone who has their head exposed to all that fire the armored vehicle is supposedly designed to protect them from is completely beyond me. So thankfully somebody at the UNSC managed to pull their head out of their ass and realize “oh hey, all those guys back in the 20th century might have had the right idea what with protecting their operators and all” and now I’m no longer liable to get taken out by small arms fire while driving something with several inches worth of armor plating surrounding me.  

So it seems to be fairly common knowledge in most video gaming circles that Master Chief is one of an elite line of super-soldiers called Spartans. Only unless I’m mistaken, we never actually hear the word “Spartan” uttered until about 90 minutes or so into the second game. This is like watching Star Wars and then suddenly having some random Rebel soldier call Luke a Jedi halfway through the Battle of Hoth. We have zero context for that term or who it even applies to (I only knew because of outside meta-knowledge) and for totally uninitiated players this would probably be kind of confusing.

And don’t you dare tell me it’s all explained in a book somewhere: Halo is first and foremost a series of video games, not books, comics, anime, etc. If it can’t bother to explain to me vital pieces of the fiction within its primary medium then it’s failed at establishing said fiction. And if the source material fails to firmly establish its own fiction, then why would anyone bother with trying to learn more about something that the creators obviously didn’t give much of a crap about?

For those of you that do read and love the books and all the other expanded universe material, that’s fine, more power to you. But it’s pretty clear that Bungie did not intend for this to be a rich universe with a focus on a nuanced and interesting story. I’ll give them credit for fleshing out the Covenant, and I will even dish out some kudos to the folks willing to go into supreme detail about backstory, military/political organization, and weapon and vehicle naming, it’s really cool that some folks care enough to do that. But what I’m talking about here is the game, and the game fails so spectacularly at providing any kind of depth or context for much of any of these things that I find myself unable to give a damn even if it is supposedly explained elsewhere.  

It had been a while since I’d seen Starship Troopers so I actually looked up said nuke-bugs right before I started writing this post and it turns out that they don’t really look like this giant walker at all. So I guess just disregard this tweet.

Have you ever stopped to think about the kind of ridiculously stupid stuff video games prompt you to do? In my time I’ve flown a spaceship into the bowels of an exploding space station, fought creatures several orders of magnitude larger than me with not much more than a sharp stick, thrown myself off of countless ledges, cliffs, and rooftops, and generally inflicted more bodily harm on myself than anyone should reasonably sustain, medpacs and regenerating health be damned. If video games actually caused violence or flawed reasoning then I’m pretty sure we’d all be dead by now.

Luckily, since most of us do in fact realize that video games are a way for us to do stuff that we couldn’t or wouldn’t do in real life, these moments are instead pretty fun. And the game realizes it. As soon as you drop down onto this thing the music swells and you go about blowing the thing up from the inside before jumping back out to safety.

If Master Chief had a bow tie this would be the moment where he pauses to straighten it.

So with one super-tank down the game throws a bit of a curveball at us, one which we’ll explore starting next week. 

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