The Chaos Fold’s Year in Review Pt. II – Buy Teh Haloz

While storytelling in video games has made a tremendous leap forward over the past year, not all games had grandiose storylines, eccentric writing, or clever twists. Most games didn’t.  Perhaps most notably, Halo 3 ended up being, well, Halo 3.

It was Halo.

Halo 3 didn’t demolish the world under the weight of its code.  Halo 3 didn’t annihilate the multi-media brand-scape with its nigh-megalomaniacal marketing campaign.  The soda didn’t taste half bad, though.  Many gamers, though, felt as though Halo 3 was a failure in some way.  It’s hard to blame them.

The first Halo wrote the holy book on how to make a console FPS, from controls, to vehicles, to voice acting and storyline.  Halo wrote the book.

The second Halo’s online multiplayer has been the yardstick by which all other games are judged since the very day of its release.  Just as the first Halo nailed the basics, the second finessed the multiplayer experience.

By the time Halo 3 rolled around, their revolution was already over.  And how do you live up to two consecutive revolutions?  You can’t, and the only reason Halo 3 is as good a game as it is (and it is a damn fine game) is that Bungie didn’t try to reinvent their own wheel.  They instead focused on adding non-essential features that would give the game legs beyond its predecessors.  Four-player online co-op, rudimentary level-editing tools, video capture, screenshot capture, and file-sharing aren’t revolutionary, any PC gamer worth their mouse and keyboard will tell you that these features have existed for over a decade, on PC.  In the end Bungie’s greatest strength was knowing what it could do and what it couldn’t do.  On September 25, they shipped a product that wasn’t out to move the Earth, rather a labor of love, a gift to all those who made them what they are.

Halo became more than the sum of its parts because of timing, and likewise that same timing neutered some of what Halo 3 could have accomplished.

Instead of a graphical revamp, they stayed true to the old art style. It doesn’t get in the way, but the old art style is so shamelessly ripped out of Aliens that they missed an opportunity, here. Likewise the pulpy bits of Halo’s storyline, grunt-humor and all seem to get in the way of the more serious aspects, with Halo 3’s story playing it altogether too safe. There wasn’t a single event in the plot I didn’t see coming from a mile away.

I said a while ago that Halo is gaming’s Star Wars, the parallels are staggering. Star Wars was a film that was in many ways revolutionary, with effects that gave legitimacy to an otherwise maligned genre. Likewise, Halo was incredibly advanced for its time, and became the first console FPS to stand on even ground with its PC counterparts.

Star Wars was released in 1977, still very much in the shadow of the Vietnam War. The unmolested-good vs. indomitable-evil storyline very much spoke to audiences at the time. Halo was released November 2001, two months after 9/11, its own storyline pitting a human hero against a genocidal faction of religious aliens.

Both went on to massive sales and acclaim despite very real flaws, notably campy storylines and dialog, the sort normally reserved for sci-fi channel originals. Halo is arguably the first true gaming blockbuster, with lines stretching for hundreds of yards on the release of Halo 3. Their impeccable timing and resounding themes made them far more than the sum of their parts.

When the dust finally settles and no more cat helmets are sold, Halo’s legacy will take on a similar tone.  Hushed, reverent, respected to a fault, perhaps.

Just hope they don’t make a prequel trilogy.