A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a GDC presentation about Halo on my iPod. The talk was fascinating, and covered a lot about what is good in the game, particularly the A.I. and the pre-recorded alien dialog (“Augh! He’s everywhere!”). As part of the presentation, they played an audio track from one of the early levels of the game, and I got curious about how it would be to replay the game from scratch.
I remember the orginal Halo as being slow, plodding and confusing, especially in the early stages. I had a lot of trouble staying oriented and finding my way through the areas. I also died a lot.
This time through, I find the pacing to be much faster. I originally wrote that the pacing in Halo 2 was tighter and faster than Halo, but now I think they are about the same.
The combat in the game also feels faster and more satisfying than I remember it. Maybe it’s just because I’m using the bitchslap a lot. This will sound like an obvious point, but shooting things is fun. This really isn’t the case in other shooters. In almost every other shooter I’ve played since Halo, combat ultimately ends up being a chore. It is boring and repetitive, there is no rhythm and flow. In the end, you feel like you need to kill the enemies if for no other reason than to just make them shut the hell up and get their 5 lines of dialog out of your head.
Even in Half-life 2, the shooting took a back seat to physics puzzles, seeing the city, and following the narrative line that never did anything but tease you. Consider that the best level in the whole game didn’t have you using a “real” gun, with, you know, bullets.
In Halo, you shoot things, and the combat has been tuned and refined to such a degree that when you get into a pleasing rhythm it’s almost like dancing with the game. Enemies appear at the perfect rate (and slightly differently every time) and you know just what to do to them to make them say something pithy (“Grenade! Oh No! Not again!”) and then fall over in a cloud of blue blood and burnt alien flesh.
The first time I played Halo, I really only felt in tune with the game after I got the shotgun. This time, the feeling started a lot earlier and lasted a lot longer. The game stands head and shoulders above most shooters primarily because so many small details were done right. I’m not sure exactly which of these details were the critical ones. I just know that I’ve played a lot of shooters since Halo and none of them are as fun. You can complain about the checkpoints, the backtracking, the repetitive alien floor plans and the vehicle control, but for me, the whole package comes together better than any game in this genre since the first Half-Life.
Halo 2 is pretty good too.
Note: This was originally part of a bigger piece at tleaves, but this is the only thing that’s interesting to me from that article now, so it is all I brought over.