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

Shooters have become glossier and more cinematic, and insanely well polished of course. But without naming any names, it’s no secret that they’ve also become increasingly less interactive. In fact some of them now almost feel like part of a different genre to the stuff that first made me a fan. Level designs are increasingly funnelled. Weapons are increasingly ‘realistic’ and similar in effect. AI is less demanding of creative play. Interactions are increasingly a case of follow the leader, do what you’re told. Playing an FPS used to feel like being a sculptor of action. Now a lot of them make me feel like I’m just an actor in someone else’s play.

The truth is that I’ve labelled myself an enthusiastic FPS player for a very long time, but over recent years I’ve only felt like a fan in principle, finding less and less examples that really gave me what I wanted. Because what was the last great mainstream console FPS built around the qualities I’m after? Singularity? Bulletstorm? Bioshock 2? And two of those tanked commercially.

So I started to gravitate towards Halo 4 a couple of weeks ago. The series had long had a reputation as a freeform shooter sandbox, so out of borderline desperation I decided that it might be time to give it another try. The development shift from Bungie to 343 Industries helped too, if only in terms of giving me an outward justification for backing down on my long-held anti-fanboyism. Pride swallowed, excuses in place, I got hold of a copy and gave it a go.

And ye gods, was coming back to Halo a beautiful experience this time around. Yes, it has issues. There’s too much repeated level design in the campaign, and too much arbitrary button-pressing by way of narrative McGuffins. But I can forgive a handful of dated old-school design crutches when they come along with so much old-school design brilliance.

Each and every time I get into a firefight in Halo 4, magic happens. In campaign, a run-in with overwhelming opposing forces isn’t intimidating or irritating. There’s no fear of the cheap bullet-hell onslaught and attritional grind that ‘certain games’ bring in such situations. There’s just opportunity and excitement. Between the inter-locking intelligence of its enemy AI and the adventure playground puzzle-box of its environmental design, playing Halo 4 today is like finding a crisp waterfall of rainbows and wishes in the middle of a baked-hard desert of uniformly coloured sand. Multiply all of the above by the sheer number of ways that every single encounter can be interpreted and reinterpreted by each combination of weapons you and your co-op partners may be packing, and you have a vision of multiple possible, completely different Halo 4s stacked on top of each other, just waiting to be unlocked by player experimentation.

And multiplayer is a revelation. Because now that I’m actively looking to Halo for something specific, I’m seeing what it can really do for the first time. After tiring of multiplayer shooters built around twitch-focused hide-and-seek and insta-kill machine-guns, what I perceived as Halo’s slowness is now obviously just a perfect pace for allowing methodical, tactical firefights.

That weapon-set isn’t insipid, as I once thought. It just demands thoughtful use and has its power pitched towards playful, completely asymmetrical cat-and-mouse combat rather than instant domination. That regenerating shield isn’t a cop-out for cowardly players. It’s a fundamental tool in facilitating drawn-out skirmishes and a back-and-forth, almost conversational combat flow. It’s also a fantastic route to poker-style battles of nerve and wits, as players back off to preserve their own shield while trying to work out exactly how much punishment their opponent can take.

But you probably know all of this already, because there’s a good chance you’ve been happily playing Halo for years. But alas it’s taken 11 years and a very particular set of circumstances for me to come to appreciate it, as well as a rather hefty change of attitude. Now that I’m actively reaching out to Halo rather than poo-pooing its efforts in favour of those of its genre rivals, it’s obvious why it’s so good.

Via a combination of internal and external forces I’ve ended up really getting to know the game for the first time. To be fair to my earlier self, that can be a tricky thing to do unless you really want to, particularly when you’re dealing with the kind of great game design that thrives on subtle intricacy and depth. But the experience has been a positive one all round. You see not only do I like a new game now, and not only has that discovery really cemented what I personally want out of game design, but it’s also made me realise just how easy it is to close yourself off to the good stuff. Even if – in fact especially if - you think you’re already looking at it elsewhere.

Fanboysism. Positive or negative, it gets your nowhere.

Now to get myself a copy of Halo Anniversary and start from the beginning. Again.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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46 comments

  • skull war - November 26, 2012 6:47 a.m.

    halo in general is just crap the master chief character sucks and pretty much has the same level of personality as the guy from doom 1 only thing ive liked about each halo is the multiplayer and thats mainly due to having quite a few friends that play them, i only liked reach and odst campaign the rest i thought were dull and felt more like a chore playing through than fun havnt played 4 yet but if its anything like the rest of the main games then it will sick balls
  • MyCoolWhiteLies - November 24, 2012 9:34 a.m.

    Yeah, the main reason I prefer Halo these days is because you don't die instantly when shot by another player. The skirmishes that come from combat are where I find the most enjoyment. It's something that most FPS games these days barely have.
  • AzumaGames - November 24, 2012 5:09 a.m.

    My problem with this article is that you're speaking about the whole Halo franchise from your experience with one game -- the first two games I played felt incredibly generic and 'safe' in terms of FPS games, and after reading your article it seems that you just like Halo 4 because it 'felt' good rather than citing anything with any real detail. You yourself admit that you had poor experiences with the franchise up until this title. Well-programmed AI and regenerating shields (or health, as the case may be) aren't anything new to FPS games, and if you mean to say that Halo 4 is the apex of such concepts, then I'd have to ask you to explain WHY instead of just stating so... I get that this current batch of Halo games is called the 'redeemer' series, but the idea of absolving the series from all it's sins based on a good experience with ONE of it's games is a bit ridiculous to me. I'm glad you're picking up the older games, because I'd like to see what you think of the series as a whole, rather than stating that Halo is good after playing the most recent entry. So basically what I'm saying is that I am in the same state you were before you played Halo 4, and how I'm hearing this is 'Halo 4 is actually good!' which is the same thing people were telling me when the first game in the series came out; 'Halo is good!' I don't disagree, I'm sure it's a 'good' game, but I don't buy 'good' games. I play games that are innovative and dare to break conventions. It's the same reason I don't consider Bioshock to be especially great in terms of mechanics; the idea of a FPS that utilizes 'powers' is nothing new. It was done in Star Wars: Dark Forces YEARS ago. So does Halo -- as a series -- bring anything new or innovative to it's genre? I'm not asking rhetorically, or trying to upset anyone. It's my actual, genuine question about the series. I tried the first two and felt that they offered nothing new to me, and why I've had my opinion of Halo dangling on the same indifference that you seemed to have had.
  • zombi3grim - November 23, 2012 9:01 p.m.

    I have played every single Halo game ever made. I love the series. I also grew up on Doom, Goldeneye, Quake and Half Life. Tribes and Unreal Tournament as well. Halo fits in with those games extremly well. I find it unfathomable that you could love those games and dismiss Halo. Seems to me you were just afraid to try something new and already hated it before you even tried it. Glad you like it now though. Too bad it couldnt join your sessions of classic FPS gameing like it did mine.
  • Shadow Of Death - November 23, 2012 7:33 p.m.

    I've wanted to get into the Halo games, but unfortunately only the first and second (and I think Reach? Not sure? Possibly 3 might be?) are on PC. I don't want to get into a FPS series if only some of the games are on the PC. It's one thing if the spin-offs aren't on the platform of choice, but if the main series isn't then that's a problem.
  • Person5 - November 24, 2012 12:50 a.m.

    this To be fair, I do have an Xbox and have played Halos 3, ODST, Reach, and 4, but I'd prefer to play them on my computer, It's why I still play CE over and over again. Problem is is that if we all did get our wish and these games were put on PC, they'd be on Games for Windows, not Steam or something good.
  • Fox_Mulder - November 23, 2012 2:12 p.m.

    I'm glad you've "rediscovered" Halo David!
  • gilgamesh310 - November 23, 2012 7:22 a.m.

    My feelings to Halo 4 were not too dissimilar to this.
  • Hig1134 - November 23, 2012 6:10 a.m.

    This was a great article. I actually don't own a 360, but my fiancee has the Halo 4 LE console picked up for me for Xmas. I can't wait for it! I know I've seriously missed out on the Halo series, being primarily a Playstation gamer. I feel blessed that I get to catch up on this legendary series, starting with Halo Aniversary! Sweet!!
  • yonderTheGreat - November 23, 2012 4:21 a.m.

    So... you now like Halo cuz the genre has gotten worse. Sounds about right.
  • zombi3grim - November 23, 2012 8:54 p.m.

    Zooooooooom! The article goes RIGHT over your head!
  • JokerJ0613 - November 24, 2012 8:04 a.m.

    *Hgh Fives zombi3grim*
  • Rhymenocerous - November 23, 2012 2:50 a.m.

    Never played Halo myself, so I won't judge. And come on, enough of this "naming no names" stuff. Just say it; Call.Of.Duty.
  • boondocks50 - November 23, 2012 2:32 a.m.

    Ill probably get hated on for this but I think Halo 4 is my favorite of the series thus far. I really like the focus on the characters rather than the setting and "bad guy". Games that do that have always drawn me in a lil bit more than others. Games that try to convey a story and concept that has you thinking about it after its done. I litterally researched Halo lore for an hour or two after i beat 4; it drew me in that much.
  • Vincent Wolf - November 22, 2012 10:22 p.m.

    I had same kind of thing with James Bond, until I tried "Everything or Nothing", a fantastic videogame back from 2004. Unfortunately my passion with Bond didn't live long, since they recast the best actor who put tuxedo on -- Pierce Brosnan, with this ugly pathetic miserable f**k craig. As for Halo, I fell in love with it from the first time I started to play Halo:CE on PC years back. It actually was like in 2006 or 2007 and I still was hooked up for the game. Universe, covenant, weapons, great AI, well, many things overall. I hate multiplayer though so never even touching it.
  • Evanesco - November 22, 2012 8:50 p.m.

    I wish this would happen to some of my friends who aren't in to Assassin's Creed or GTA games and only play CoD. But that probably won't happen.
  • RebornKusabi - November 22, 2012 8:18 p.m.

    After hating every Halo after the second one (I didn't even really like Halo 1...) and moderately liking Reach (8/10), my opinions on Halo 4 are 100% the exact same as the lovely writer here.
  • ParagonT - November 22, 2012 4:47 p.m.

    Everyone is missing out here unless they have at least read The Fall of Reach book. Please, I implore you all, if your a fan of Halo, bless your eyes with the mystical text of Eric Nylund.
  • AlphaSixInsight - November 23, 2012 2:22 p.m.

    What do you think of Karen Travis' work on the Halo books? I think that she's sloppy, and uncaring. She is no Eric Nylund. Her books have been a catastrophé to Halo cannon, a cancer.

Showing 1-20 of 46 comments

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