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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

  • 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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