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Why I now suddenly love Halo after 11 years of total, uninterrupted indifference towards the Chief

This might not be news to some of you, but it turns out that Halo is really good. I made this discovery rather rapidly just last weekend. Well I say “rapidly”. You’ll have to discount my previous 11 years of multi-faceted derision from the equation in order for that statement to remain strictly accurate. 

You see I’d never got on with Halo. My attitude towards it over the years has been one of indifference at best, and one all too frequently typified by searing damnation of its generic universe, generic characters, and slow, generic, “my first FPS” gameplay. When I first played Combat Evolved on my uni friend’s Xbox I wasn’t impressed in the slightest. I was feasting upon a diet of Quake and Half-Life at the time, and the lumpen, broad strokes exploits of a faceless jolly green giant space marine in a cartoon sci-fi universe just did not do it for me at all. And as for all of those claims that Halo had changed the face of gaming forever by making FPS work on a console? Pah. Goldeneye had done that four years earlier as far as I was concerned. The N64 just lacked the Xbox’s second analogue stick. 

I tried again with Halo 2, playing a chunk of the campaign in co-op with another friend. But again I couldn’t summon up even one iota of the effort required to care less about it. I had TimeSplitters 2 by that point, which was faster, funnier, more imaginative in its design and storytelling, and looked way better from an art design perspective. And then Half-Life 2 happened. Sorry Halo. Another nice try, but I wasn’t biting.

And so it continued until last weekend. Every new Halo was a bit shinier and brought a couple of new tweaks, but a quick dabble always gave me the unpleasant, sluggish feeling of playing Quake III underwater. It still felt like a training wheels FPS. A competent game that copied the basics of multiple better games, but didn’t execute them with as much finesse or flair.

Whatever Halo did, it never managed to shake my perception that the franchise had just got lucky. That it had gained an artificially high profile by simple virtue of being one of the stronger first-party exclusives in the Xbox’s launch line-up and had coasted along on undeserved circumstantial hype since then. So I kept going back to what I saw as the smarter, more interesting shooters, and left Halo on the shelf time and time again. With Half-Life and Portal and Bioshock and Battlefield multiplayer to occupy me, there was no way that the Chief could possibly grab my attention.

But now he has. I rinsed through about 70% of Halo 4’s campaign in one sitting on Friday night. I finished it off the next day, and I’ve been playing multiplayer during every spare minute ever since. I just really, really like Halo now. Completely and wholeheartedly, and I absolutely cannot and will not stop playing it unless I absolutely have to.

I’ve discovered that I was wrong about it, basically. That’s not something I say about anything very often, because I’m a) usually right about everything and b) always very stubborn. But I was wrong. Despite some flaws in its campaign, Halo 4 has completely won me over.

But how did I get to this point? How did I come to be in possession of my own copy of Halo 4, after so many years unwilling to even use a Spartan-based disc as a novelty beer coaster? The simple explanation is that things have changed a lot in FPS over the last 11 years, and what Halo represents to me now is a very different thing to what it represented in 2001.

You see for me, first-person shooters are about a lot more than simply shooting things from a first-person perspective. Given their viewpoint they’re potentially the most immersive genre of all, but personally that immersion has to come as much from gameplay possibilities as it does from visual fidelity. There’s no point giving me a beautifully rendered world if I don’t feel like my actions within it really matter.

I need to be able to have a meaningful effect on my FPS environments. I need my tactical decisions and the creativity of my thinking to shape or at least strongly influence the way things play out. And I need the game to accommodate my desire for a bespoke, self-authored experience and react to the one I create. To me, FPS guns aren’t weapons. They’re unique, functionally distinct tools with which to cultivate and choreograph eclectic emergent action sequences and mid-fight meta-narratives.  And that sort of thing just doesn’t happen in FPS as much as it used to.

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46 comments

  • RonnyLive19881 - November 22, 2012 8:12 a.m.

    I don't like any of them... I can play and own in them but with out ADS I just can't find it fun for some reason Lol Also a huge gripe I have with Left4Dead and pretty much every Valve game.
  • PhantasyPopStar - November 22, 2012 8:53 a.m.

    yup.. cod games are the only games worth playing... for a complete spastic.
  • filipe-alves - November 22, 2012 12:24 p.m.

    maybe he's trying to justify black ops 2 for the wii u, if halo was a Nintendo franchise he'd probably love it
  • BobDillinger - November 22, 2012 2:58 p.m.

    I feel sorry for you, ADS as a mechanic isn't even that important, you're missing out on a lot of great things.
  • nintendo365 - November 22, 2012 8:42 p.m.

    I think ADS is pretty important, but not vital. ADS lets you aim better, while still being aware of your surroundings as opposed to Halo, where your ads is the scope that lets anyone near you do an assassination once you cant see them. It also created the illusion that youre actually shooting someone, in the HL2 games/mods and in Halo, you never really feel accurate unless its a single shot.
  • awesomesauce - November 22, 2012 9:44 p.m.

    I see your point but the only thing i really agree with is that it's an illusion. But i think it's an illusion for the worse because it dumbs down our aim to only shoot when we're 100% ready. It's almost impossible to aim from the hip in any shooter that has ADS while in something like L4D or Halo you can aim the hip perfectly but it doesn't feel right.
  • thomas1980 - November 22, 2012 8:53 a.m.

    There is always a lot of shit talked about Halo, and there will always be elitist pricks who poo-poo Halo and kiddies first FPS for retards. However its good to know there is now one less of them. Bravo Dave. Now just self flagellate daily for a decade to make up for the years of you being a dick to Halo fans who you previously thought of a lower beings. So Dave, should we expect another post like this in 2022 with your realisation that CoD isn't the most shitty game series of all time that is destroying gaming?
  • Mathead - November 22, 2012 8:59 a.m.

    Halo was certainly the most anticipated game in the community of Mac owners in the late 90's. I played all of its revolutionary predecessor, Marathon, which was at that time only available to Mac users. I never could help but think that this is where the hype had its source. When Bungie moved to Microsoft and Halo appeared on XBox, I couldn't help but wonder what actually made it better than anything else. Last month, I bought an old XBox on a flea market and had my chance, after all these years, to have my first personal experience with Halo and the result after trying it out for a few hours: my opinion hasn't changed a bit. I still think of Marathon to be a deeper, more atmosheric experience and of many other FPS of that time to be way better (specially HL2!). I'm sure Halo evolved over the last versions but it still looks generic and I very much agree with David's past first impressions about Halo.
  • aviator189 - November 22, 2012 9:24 a.m.

    ive loved halo sine halo ce. halo 4 is definitely a change, but it's a good change, imo.
  • Luchalma - November 22, 2012 9:29 a.m.

    I really respect when someone can admit they were wrong about something. Glad to see you were able to overcome your anti-fanboyism. If you loved the campaign of Halo 4, you're in for a treat if you play the others.
  • ShortFuse - November 22, 2012 10:20 a.m.

    I am not a huge Halo fan but in terms of multiplayer and functionality it is a far more balanced shooter than most. And that is what you want on an online shooter, balance. Halo whilst without being spectacular in terms of its campaign is such a well weighted shooter where upon learning the basic techniques you can really do some cinematic stuff. whilst like you I am a fan of far more other FPSs over Halo, I struggle to think of a game where I have had more epic firefights online.
  • Redeater - November 22, 2012 11:21 a.m.

    I'll be honest I ended up enjoying Halo 4 way more than I thought I would but I wasn't too keen on the whole "Tron/Cyber enemies" type thing. I wish they had more environment interactions though.
  • Marcunio88 - November 22, 2012 11:37 a.m.

    Nice one Dave, as a fellow stubborn opinionated chap I know the hardship of admitting you were wrong. Believe it or not, I actually hated Half-Life 2 for a very long time, until this year in fact. Don't worry, it now ranks as one of my favourite games, but for years I just couldn't get along with it. I've actually been working on an article quite similar to this one, hopefully to be completed this weekend.
  • h8ful - November 22, 2012 11:49 a.m.

    Excellent piece; I always ignored Halo because me, I'm a PS3 instead of an XBOX, but I always felt high and mighty because of all the justification you just provided. Time to rethink.
  • FierceVoltage - November 22, 2012 11:57 a.m.

    First of all what's a uni friend? Second what is McGuffin style button pressing? Also glad you are now part of the Halo fan base, it's a great game and a generally great community.
  • ShortFuse - November 22, 2012 12:16 p.m.

    1) a Uni friend= a friend you make while at unviersity 2) basically a plot device with no real narrative significance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacGuffin hope that helps
  • JimmyP91 - November 22, 2012 12:16 p.m.

    1st off, I've only played the multiplayer aspect of Halo a handful of times and I know that is the main attracion to the halo series. However, this is going purely by my single player experience with the series. I can't stand the 1st Halo, I mean I absolutely cannot stand it. If I was to rank my least favorite games of all time I'd put CE at the top. I played it as a kid and was left thoroughly unimpressed and a couple years ago I decided I would try and play through the whole trilogy and give the Halo series a fair go. Now I could (and have) ranted for hours about how awful I think the 1st one is but I don't want to get into a fanboy debate so I'll my reasons out. However IMO the series gets far better after CE. Despite having massive problems with the plot in the 2nd (you could push small moons through some of the plot holes) I enjoyed the heck out of the 2nd. They fixed pretty much every problem I had with the CE gameplay wise (and ironically took away the one thing I liked about the 1st, the health bar). The 3rd left me feeling meh. Storyline wise it has the least amount of problems in the trilogy but it was short and way too easy. Overall my reaction to the halo series ranges from really good to beyond awful. I might try the new one at some point but from what I've heard, it's story is the best of the franchise and the gameplay is ramped up back to the level it was at in 2. This makes the new one look more than promising.
  • BobDillinger - November 22, 2012 2:57 p.m.

    It's nice that you finally see Halo as more than a generic shooter, it was the first FPS I played that I just didn't bumble through so it holds a special place in my heart. It's funny that you came to enjoy Halo at the 4th, because this is probably where me and the series depart; the forerunner enemies aren't as fun as the covenant or even the flood, the new forerunner arsenal overlaps too much with other weapons, the art direction isn't as strong as the old games, especially the Covenant, who aren't nearly as characterful. Not a terrible game by any means, it's just going down a path I can't follow. Oh and for the first time ever in a videogame, the sound effects bug me, everything sounds weird, the WINNIE of the flood, the peg-on-a-bike tire sound of the Storm Rifle, weird.
  • FierceDeity - November 22, 2012 5:55 p.m.

    this

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