Late to the Party: Halo 2 (Part IV)

So it’s been a few hours since we’ve actually seen the Arbiter at the start of the game, but now we actually get to play as him, which really threw me for a loop since the Halo games are pretty much all Master Chief all the time. Look at every bit of advertising the franchise uses and you’ll notice that they all focus on the big guy in the green armor. You never really see any promotional materials or tie-in products showcasing any of the marines, any of the covenant, any vehicles, it’s always the Chief. Now, this is fine as he’s basically the means through which players live out their power fantasies in the game, but I was surprised when the game itself then deviated from that supposed ideology.

But even though it was something of a thematic leap, I obviously still appreciated this. I mentioned in the start of this bout of tweets that the new perspective we get on the Covenant is easily the most interesting part of the Halo story thus far. Sure, grand sweeping dramatic events (Halo network can destroy the galaxy) are fine and all, but they’re basically meaningless without a personal connection to make you care. For me, the Arbiter was a much more personal connection than Chief ever was. His status as a pariah is a bit more interesting than Chief’s as a veritable messiah, and also provides glimpses into what Covenant society values (and what the Arbiter values). Furthermore, this sequence in particular is a great opportunity to see more turmoil inside the Covenant’s ranks, which goes even further to cement them as real characters.

See, what’s going on here is that the Arbiter has been branded a traitor following the destruction of the Halo installation, which the Covenant consider to be a holy relic. You are however then offered some small opportunity for redemption by taking up the mantle of Arbiter: a kind of legendary position that is only ever filled in times of great crisis and ultimately always resulting in the death of said Arbiter. Your first mission is to eliminate the threat posed by another Elite who has been stirring up some uncomfortable talk and has split from the Covenant proper, establishing a breakaway “heretic” faction that challenges the religious order of the established Covenant authority. In short: we have to kill an alien version of Martin Luther.

I really have no idea why I’m so excited about this. As I said earlier, swords in a world full of futuristic firearms are kinda dumb. Shooting someone in the face from 100 meters is decidedly more practical than stabbing them in the gut from less than one. Maybe it’s some kind of misplaced nostalgia from having grown up with an intense love for Star Wars combined with the fact that the internal consistency of the narrative and lore isn’t very important to me but at any rate: PLASMA SWORDS BRAH!

As Master Chief, your HUD is blue. As the Arbiter it’s purple. Seeing as how this is a first person game and you never really see your character apart from your hands, differentiating between the two protagonists by using different HUD elements is a good call. It also does keep that purple motif consistent which is nice.

Y’know, I get it. The sword is really, really powerful once you manage to get it close enough to use it (and you can lunge a bit during the attack which helps offset that). Giving it ammo is a good way to ensure that players won’t find “that one weapon” and use it throughout the whole game to destroy everything in their path with virtually no challenge. An ammo cap makes you pick and choose which targets you stab (hint: the big ones) and be a bit more selective and tactical in your approach. I can even understand some kind of in-universe justification, like if some of the plasma energy discharges on a hit and drains some kind of internal battery each time. But that does leave us with one big problem, namely this completely negates the entire point of melee weapons in a world where firearms are the norm. As the saying goes, “a knife never runs out of ammo”, so you can use it as a dependable fallback in a desperate situation when you run dry on everything else. Only when it does run out of ammo then it’s most advantageous feature is nullified and you might as well just carry another gun.

But whatever.

I really liked the score for the original Halo. I still think the Halo Theme is probably one of the best examples of an awesome, memorable title theme we have in modern video games. I wouldn’t have been able to decide on the tone of the first game without that score and it’s not actually uncommon for me to load that track up on Pandora every now and then when I want to listen to something cool.

So what the hell happened? The soundtrack in Halo 2 still has some cool orchestral/techno bits featured prominently throughout and they’re still very good but the space in between is filled in with some kind of hard rock/alt metal tracks that feature over-emphasized guitar riffs and vocals screamed out by somebody that probably never emotionally matured beyond their teens and still thinks that growing his hair down to his shoulders makes him “deep”. Apparently a lot of this was outsourced to prominent bands, probably to increase market appeal but really it just kinda felt like it solidified Halo’s place at the top of the “bro-shooter” category. I’m not against licensed tracks in games by any means. When used right they can be phenomenal (look at basically every scene that includes licensed music in Spec Ops: The Line for reference) but I just wasn’t feeling it here. This is largely due to my own taste in music, I’m sure, and some of you can feel free to disagree with me on the quality of these tracks but what bothered me was how out of place they sounded at the time in regard to what the tone probably should/could have been.

So as you’re chasing down this heretic leader you’re suddenly also attacked by the Flood. Not only is this kind of annoying because I kind of automatically have a negative response to these guys after last time, but it makes no sense. The Flood were being kept on the Halo ring in the previous game, the one which we destroyed. So the question then is if we blew the thing up then how the hell are they still around? We fried them all and launched the charred remains into the vacuum of space. That equals “dead” for just about anything short of a contrived plot device re-reveal and… oh, wait, that’s exactly what this is? Right, how silly of me.

Again: book/comic/whatever explanation doesn’t work. If they can’t bother to plug their plot holes within the game then they’re not actually plugged as far as the audience is concerned.

It wasn’t as bad as the library by any means, but once again Halo’s combat encounters just don’t know when to end. When an incredibly slow-moving elevator swarming with Flood laboriously grinds its way down floor after floor and wave after wave of enemies with absolutely no variation in setting or enemy type then I as a player start to get pissed off. When any game throws combat encounters like this at me I feel like they’re just arbitrarily padding their content and trying to justify their shelf price by saying “well hey, it’s a ten-hour game!” but neglecting to tell you that five of those hours are spent in monotonous, repetitive hell.

Sorry, I’m letting a bit more venom into my words here than I’d like but the Flood always brings out the worst in me. All my friends say I should just let them go but I keep wanting to think they’ll change…

I keep a flask of Johnnie Walker Black on my utility belt. I thought it would help.

It did not. 

And now the kicker. 343 Guilty Spark somehow didn’t explode along with the Pillar of Autumn and the entire Halo installation (does no one die from having the planet/station thing literally explode under their feet in this universe?) and is back once again to torment you. I’m sure there’s all kinds of excuses Bungie could use to try and justify this but “because f*** you” honestly seems the most likely. This little ball was a pain in my ass throughout the entire first game, had arbitrary invincibility in the finale, and forced me to settle for an off-screen death at the end. Only now even that’s been taken from me. There’s a trick to pulling off a good reveal, guys, and “pulling a contrivance out of your ass” is not it.

After all, it’s not called “Earth” or “Random Unnamed Gas Giant”. This makes sense, though. Since we know that the first Halo was part of a large network that was designed to act in conjunction with the other installations it stands to reason that the others would still be a threat, and now that we know the Covenant regard them as holy relics that makes them a bit more connected to our unfolding plot with the Arbiter. My only concern at this point was that the rest of the game would be a re-hash of Combat Evolved as the goals were now pretty much exactly the same, leaving behind the concerns of an invasion of Earth, though I suppose that was kind of aborted.

Anyway, next time we join back up with the Chief, whose ongoing personal drama is sure to zzzzzzzzzzz…

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