I’ve never liked Halo. I’ve never liked it at all. In fact I’ve always found it to be utterly pointless. And I know I’m not alone. I know a lot of you feel the same way about Microsoft’s plasma-spraying juggernaut, despite the years of quadra-hype.
So having played through the same Halo: Reach multiplayer content as Charlie (check his preview first if you want the exhaustive run-down of what's new), I decided to write a preview just for you, my noble, sensible, Halo-hating brothers and sisters. And trust me, you are going to find it interesting.
First, a little background. Please don’t think that I’m a retroactive Halo-hater. I’m not one of those people who decided to dislike it once it became huge, and I’m not even the guy Charlie talked about in the intro to his preview; the one who just moans that nothing in the series has ever changed. No, my hate for Halo is pure and true. I thought it was crap the first time I ever played it, back when the first game was released on the original Xbox.
I hated the action-figure presentation, the bland universe, and the total lack of personality anywhere in the game. I hated the fact that all my time in the campaign was spent trying to work out how to move at a decent pace, until I realised that you can’t in Halo. I hated the bog-basic, meat-and-potatoes multiplayer, an experience that desperately wished it was Quake 3 but was hampered by the fact that it played like it had been wrapped in treacle. Underwater treacle. In short, Halo played like a sort of “My first FPS”, a training wheels version of a proper shooter, and it did nothing of interest for me whatsoever. And it stayed that way right through to Halo 3.
So I went into the Reach multiplayer demo ready to be bored. And at first, I was presented with a veritable catalogue of every reason I don’t play Halo. The weapons felt lightweight and plasticy. The stupid slow-motion moon physics were irritating. I had to look at the ground to get any sense of speed whatsoever. I was shooting my way through another shiny-but-bland set of soulless corridors and platforms. Screw Halo. Seriously. Screw Halo.
But then something interesting happened. We switched modes to the new Stockpile game type, and after a few minutes I found myself having actual fun. Actual big, stupid fun. After years of avoiding Halo because it didn’t do anything interesting, suddenly I was turning invisible, stealth-creeping along flanking paths, stealing flags from right under the enemy’s nose while it was busy with my all-too visible friends’ decoy attack, and charging back home to score in a death-or-glory hail of gunfire, stealth camo fading and support thin on the ground. Halo? With depth, tactics and variety? What?
And that’s when it hit me. I hadn’t hated Halo because it was simply just shit. The reason that it had always bored the crap out of me was that it had been built as a simple, accessible and solid FPS framework, but that framework had never been built on in any kind of an imaginative way. As an early twin-stick console FPS, its mechanics had been made basic for a reason, but with so little going on around them, the whole game had felt basic. Street Fighter IV is accessible, but that accessibility is there with the intention of easing your journey into something deeper and more exciting. Halo’s simplicity had never had that pay-off. Now though, things had changed.