Staff Editorials

Halo: Why is it Love or Hate?
Posted: 23.09.2011 16:22 by Jamie Davey Comments: 8
It only takes three notes. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never played the series before; the theme seems familiar – almost like an old friend. As its intensity rises, it becomes clear. Halo 4 is here and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Perhaps the worst kept secret of E3 2011, Bungie’s follow-up presented itself to the expected fanfare. The internet erupted. “Yes!” they cried - a new Halo. On the other side messageboards wept as the FPS moved closer to its untimely demise. The trolls had already begun to light the fires. The fanboys were assembling. War is coming.


Alongside Halo 4 was the reveal of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary – an HD refurb of the game that started it all. Ten years may have passed but do we already need a remake of a game that people still play. Perhaps it’s a stop-gap to keep fans entertained while Halo 4 is in the works. Numbers on existing Halo titles will dwindle as 2011 unleashes its heavy hitters. Have people begun to forget about the series?

I scream, you scream, we all scream for Warthogs

No other gaming franchise causes so much diversity in opinion. Call of Duty comes close, but Bungie’s mega-seller has managed to maintain the top spot for polarising gaming opinion. It seems impossible to explain why the series shifts so many copies. Proclaiming a definitive reason would be lying, but theories do exist. You’d expect heavy sales figures if it was a game known for breaking boundaries, but on the surface it’s a simple Sci-Fi FPS.

Let’s look at the original game – the story’s lacking originality – the graphics were decent for the time, but there were better games already out or nearing completion. You can’t even put it down to the genre’s popularity. Sure, it paved the way for the FPS to be a legitimate development choice on consoles, but years have passed since it made its debut. Arguably, it’s not changed one bit.

Perhaps the best place to start is with the beginning. By 2005 the game had sold 5 million copies. In today’s numbers, that’s still strong. It’s even better when you consider it was an Xbox exclusive; a platform that was new in an entertainment medium still considered to be the passion of socially inept males.

Genesis. Bungie brought on board by Microsoft. Everyone knows how production shifted to the fledgling Xbox – Microsoft’s shaky stab at a dedicated gaming platform. Never mind it had a platform (Windows) bursting with fans. The burgeoning console market had already demonstrated its lucrative prospects. Microsoft wanted in.

Long before it morphed into Bungie’s current opus, Halo was your typical FPS - a winding tale of one man against an alien invasion. Decked out in green armour, faceless – an individual sent to rescue the world from space hostility.

Never original, Halo still managed to muscle its way in and throughout its lifetime it’s continued to flex its marketing muscle with massive sale figures. But this isn’t a history lesson – rather, we’re interested in the fans, the converts, those who struggle to accept Halo’s popularity.

Hail high and low to the king


Halo is marmite. There’s no in between with it – you either love it, championing its graces or become a vocal despiser. To its fans it’s a brooding space opera, a melodramatic exploration of survival - the classic underdog story that never loses its appeal. It represents the pinnacle of console shooting. Half What? Biozzz. Call of Shooty: Boredom Warfare.


The other camp sees it as mediocrity personified. A simplistic shooter with repetition as its drive. It oozes faeces from its pores. Master Grief. Every single cash-cow edition of the series damns it to gaming hell.

Ugly or understated beauty? Refined gunplay or Fisher Price shooting? Goosebump evoking score or aural abuse?

What did Halo do to receive such criticism? It’s no different from any other popular gaming series. Could it be the exclusivity – the faith in the Xbox brand? Traditionally single platform games take the most flak. Haze, Killzone, Halo – they’re there to divide gamers. Halo is the Grand Canyon of gaming – a deep gash across popular opinion.

The very action of aligning to a single platform is a subconscious claim that silently shouts “we think every other system is inadequate, you are fools for playing on them.”

It’s either that, or a yacht full of money is involved. Disregarding motives, that still shouldn’t prompt such strong discourse. Fable, Final Fantasy (prior to XIII), Twisted Metal, Uncharted. They’re all exclusive series that have their fair share of doubters, but none of the volatility of Halo.

Licence to print money

Is it the success? After all, the wheelbarrows of money relentlessly roll towards Microsoft. It could easily be a primer for criticism. If it was a secondary tier series like it should have arguably become, it’d be different. New Halo games would come and go (much like Halo Wars) without fanfare or widespread discussion. Eyelids would stay un-batted. Halo and goodbye they’d say.

The catalyst of success, combined with an allegiance with Microsoft (the upstart of gaming) is enough to fuel criticism. It isn’t however enough to offer the polarisation we see on a daily basis. To understand that, a closer look at the game is necessary.

A lack of depth has turned many off – before Halo the FPS struggled on consoles and the reactionary-focus allowed with a mouse/keyboard combo was addressed by reducing the game’s difficulty and the introduction of aim-assists. What was left (and promptly copied), was a hollow shell of First Person Shooting and sadly the genre’s never really recovered.

This was enough to overturn the positive critique lauded on the series. It’s a game that drags the spotlight away from more deserving games, one that doesn’t deserve the success, money or focus. As Duke Nukem Forever said, “power armour is for pussies.”

Pushy Parents

But by reducing the hardware requirements of FPSs, the genre was suddenly a credible force on consoles. Surely this contribution to gaming should relieve it of its verbal attacks. Was it just a matter of time until someone else did it?

Cash-cow or bovine brilliance deserving of its place in history. You decide. The Halo effect is something that transcends the game itself. It’s not the strafing or shooting. Instead it’s the representation of fanboism, platform betrayal and iconic FPS meta.

War, the never ending struggle. The sounds, smells and stories; it’s those that make Halo what it is. The late night gaming sessions, the evocative advertisements willing gamers to Believe in a single-word mantra. That’s the real Halo. Master Chief is defunct, yet stronger than ever.

The call of orchestral monks. A raw holy desire that shakes the listener to the bone. A halo over Halo. It can do no harm.

Or can it? Isn’t it a critical darling? One that eats 10 / 10s for breakfast. Twitter and the extensive journalist pool that we call upon in these situations is far from praising. “I’m anti-halo,” “Halo? Meh.” The responses come thick and fast. Others chime in defending it like a besieged solider. “Without Halo I’d not have owned an Xbox site,” “Massive, massive fan”.


It's possible to claim that Halo was destined to divide - it's genre, marketing spend, and allegiances is a polarising cocktail - grinding through popular opinion, dividing and raising an army of advocates that blindly worship the disc it's burned on, there’s nothing quite like it.

And for that we love it. May it long continue dividing us all.

Comments

By Jasca_Ducato (SI Core) on Sep 23, 2011
Jasca_Ducato
Well, the fact that it was a launch title for the Xbox definately had something to do with it. I remember when I first bought my Xbox, I got a copy of Halo with it for free; the idea being that one would play it, love it, and word of mouth would do the rest. The idea of playing online over Xbox Live was also a major factor in the game's success, if not the admittedly unoriginal story. I'd be lying if I said I didn't spend thre, four times as much time on the MP that I did on the SP (of which I completed all the game difficulties).

Halo was also the Xbox's only launch FPS, a genre that fits perfectly with the controller (in hinesight, this is pretty damn obvious, but back then it was difficult to imagine), so fans of CoD on the PC didn't have much choice if they wanted a FPS experience, not for sometime at least.

Finally, I think your decision to portray the game's "lacking originality" as one of the game's core obstacles is blowing things out of proportion; granted, a lot of games involve the 'alien invasion, one-man mission to destroy' genre, but that has one recently been the case because of Halo's success, and you gotta admit, the appearance of the Flood didn't half scare the crap out of you?
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Sep 23, 2011
nocutius
The only problem with Halo was that it was hyped out of proportion. We had all those console players telling us how it's the best game ever when in fact it was basically a standard FPS. I have nothing against Halo as long as it doesn't try to claim a place among the best games ever :).
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Sep 23, 2011
SirRoderick
I liked the first one.

I couldn't STAND the second for more than five minutes because of the retarded crosshairs, which were offcentered to the bottom.

Now I don't care at all.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Sep 25, 2011
Kres
Not a Halo fan myself. But it's more of a reason that I don't personally like sci fi shooters.
By gramila888 (SI Newbie) on Sep 25, 2011
gramila888
Halo 1 and 2 are the best!!! The rest is for the less.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Sep 26, 2011
JustCommunication
I'll always have a lot of time for the Halo franchise, as it really got me into 'core' console gaming in the first place.

I have very fond memories of playing through the first Halo co-op with my brother, and as naff as the second game was on the single-player front, the multi-player (in conjunction with the proper launch of Xbox Live) re-defined online console gaming forever.

Obviously, it does ger overhyped quite a bit, especially consideirng it grew to become the poster child for the Xbox, and later 360.

Personally, I rather liked Halo 3, both in SP and MP and ODST was a great way of showing what 'else' the franchise was capable of. Reach... well, Reach wasn't the game I wanted, but it was still very well made and fune to play.

Whilst I welcome a Halo 4 and return of the Cheif (He's a much better character than Noble 6), commiting to a whole new trilogy seems a bit too soon for me.

The way I see it though, Halo earned the benefit of the doubt, so I'm willing to give 343 a chance.
By ushiomi6 (SI Veteran Newbie) on Oct 11, 2011
ushiomi6
Halo 3 was my second halo game. Halo 1 was my first. Halo 2 came a little bit after halo 3 for me. Halo is still a great series even with 343i making halo now.
By GRTatom (I just got here) on Nov 14, 2011
GRTatom
Halo 1 was good, however you could easily complete the game in 12 hours. The rush to establish X-box as a game platform hurt the story development of Halo, making it weak and inconsistent with the Halo story. Too few missions or down loadable content (DLC) that continues to this day.
The Spartans were created to exceed human and later Covenant capabilities; yet in the game the Master chief is a wimp! Why were the Spartan's developed and what were the difficulties? Why is Cortana so special and an essential part of the Master Chief?
Admiral Keys, the Master chief and Cortana had a Primary mission: capture a Covenant ship get to the Covenant specie worlds and find a peaceful solution - how does it change? Why does the Chief know so much about the forerunner? Missions before Reach was attacked explain why.

DLC focused on Halo's Orbital Strike Team (OSDT) base would have been an ideal addition, as the Master chief had to rest and resupply somewhere! Why was the OSDT commander hostile toward Cortana and the Master Chief? Defending the OSDT base on Halo was critical to the Chief's mission and shows how covenant Stealth technology is detected among other things.
Additionally, the OSDT commander seeks personal gain by taking a sample Flood back to Earth for study along with a Covenant ship. Cortana and the OSDT AI develop a plan to capture a downed Covenant Cruiser to rescue the survivors when Halo is destroyed. The Master Chief and Cortana help the OSDT capture the covenant cruiser and repair it. However, when the OSDT commander's plan is exposed; most of the OSDT agree with their AI and Cortana: taking the flood infection back to Earth is insane. The OSDT second can't reason with her leader's insanity or escape the Covenant search parties and overloads the fusion core of the infected Covenant ship destroying it and their attackers.

How do they get back to Human controlled space? Another logical DLC.
The Master Chief and Cortana carefully evade Covenant patrols and find survivors in Halo's debris field, including “Master Guns”, some of Keys remaining staff, OSDT and another Spartan in Cryogenic suspension. Cortana skillfully hacks the Covenant communications between ships near Halo's debris field and quietly inspects their capabilities. A strategic plan is developed to board the Covenant C&C ship and use it escape the Halo system. Cortana uses electronic countermeasures to disable the Covenant ships and weapon systems. Then after taking control of the Covenant C&C modifies its weapons to destroy the other Covenant ships and their boarding craft. However, the hasty boarding action allows the Covenant C&C crew to sabotage engineering systems and Cortana is forced to move the C&C ship into a Gas giants gravity field to evade Covenant reinforcements. Cortana instructs the rather ambivalent Covenant engineer species to repair the ship and repair the Master Chief's armor and shields. Then instruct them to take the Master Chief to engineering where he can eliminate all the Covenant resistance and restart the reactor and slip-stream generator. Cortana studies the Covenant systems with the other human staff while the Chief is at work! She rewrites the Covenant slipstream drive to operate in an intense Gravity field which severely distorts space-time such that they arrive at Reach just as the Pillar of Autumn left Reach for Halo and watch as most of the Covenant ships follow in pursuit. They use the debris field around Reach to and dock the Covenant C&C with a human ship for its reactors and rail guns. Cortana's uses the combined power of two ships to modify the Covenant plasma into a tight beam while firing rail-guns. Her new slipstream calculations let her insert the chief close to Reach and then return to the debris field. The Master Chief rescues the Scientist that designed the Spartans as well as many Spartans and Reach Command personnel.

The Halo Ring itself is based on Larry Niven's "Ringworld", an enormous structure developed to support population growth far beyond a planet's capability, yet using far less resources. In Ringworld Engineers, the Forerunner species harnessed a rogue star to escape their entire population from a doomed solar system. They were able reposition the ring and harness the star's energy to defend the ring as it moved away from the Galactic Core. Thankfully most things that can wipe out life take many thousands of years, yet kill everything in their path.