Sunday, November 7, 2010

Taking on the big boys

For a series that has received (almost) universal praise over the years, Halo still has a lot of out and out bull shit in it that everyone, including myself, has simply been looking past. A game being really good for around 90% of the time makes it easy to do so, but no longer! After five games across two generations of hardware there is no excuse for a few of these things. I spent a solid five hours with Reach last night and by the time I was done my tolerance for Halo's warts was just about gone. So now it is time to vent, Andy Rooney style.

Did you ever notice that the warthog has been almost undrivable since the first Halo on the oXbox? Many, many games have come and gone since that feature vehicles as a part of their game play, and every single one of them is easier to get to move in a straight line than the warthog. It's not that Bungie can't make good vehicles, most of the Covenant hardware actually controls very well. The warthog is so bad that even the games own AI can't handle them, blundering into the now intricately detailed scenery over and over as you try to draw a bead on frog hopping elites with the chain gone. This little bit of bull shit has been forgiven for years, even though at least two of the games' ending sequences forces you to drive one of the damn things over impossible terrain and against a time limit. If Reach ends in a gauntlet against the clock I am just going to let Number Six die, the whole planet is going to be glassed anyway.

Did you ever wonder why a Spartan's ability to take damage is wildly inconsistent? I can survive bullets, plasma fire, most grenades and god damn orbital re-entry, but one hit from an elite's energy sword of a swipe of a hunter's shield and I am done for. It gets even worse than that: one of the other spartans just dies to a single sniper bullet to the head even though I had been absorbing the same punishment for a half dozen missions. Why? Because the plot required it. No spoiler here, everyone on Reach dies, but at least obey your own established rules while you kill them off.

Have you ever asked yourself why Bungie can't seem to wring as much out of the now five year old hardware as other developers (ie Epic)? Reach has the same texture pop in that plagued Halo 3. It is better than it was, but it still shows up in cut scenes of all places and is very distracting. There have also been a few moments that got so out of hand that the frame rate dropped down into the single digits, something that I have not scene in a 'AAA' title for along time. Here's a hint Bungie, if you design a section that the hardware can't handle, and everyone playing the game is on pretty much the same hardware, maybe you should rethink what you are doing.

I could go on with complaints like why can I only hold two different weapons at a time or only two of each kind of grenade, but those are nothing new to Halo. Reach has a few new oddities, like not giving you a new way point until you wander around the level for five minutes. When the levels are full of things to shoot they are fun, but as soon as the action stops and you are looking for the next door they become as boring as any other shooter with unintuitive level design. The new space combat is excellent, better looking than anything I played in my twenty hours of Dark Star One, and with a little bit of tweaking could be a game onto itself. But no, after a bit of ham handed self sacrifice I was literally thrown back down to the surface for more of the same shooting that hasn't changed in nine years.

Halo Reach is exactly what I thought it was going to be, so I shouldn't be disappointed. It is still better than most of the other shooters that I fill my time with, yet it still feels stagnant and old. Remember the subtitle of the first game, Combat Evolved? Evolution this time consists of underused space levels and a jet pack stolen from Tribes 2 (poorly, I might add). Bungie should have let this series go two titles ago. It just isn't much fun anymore.

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