Those of you who have been following me on other channels may know that I have been playing through some slightly older games recently. I finished Dark Souls last month, and have been whipping and thwacking my way through Bloodborne bit by bit. Halo is much older than these. It was a childhood favourite. My first console game on my first console. I was *obsessed* with Halo as a child. And I’m sure a lot of you have fond memories.
But is it still good? Yes. Is it still a masterpiece? Absolutely.
Not just compared to games at the time but to games generally. The gameplay is excellent. Every gun has weight. The combat is fair but challenging (on heroic difficulty). Enemies are varied and fun to fight. Every Covenant soldier has a role and a combat function. The flood are a bit more generic but they still do the trick.
If I were to redesign the flood, I would make it clearer which flood had grown from which troop – the elites that became flood should look and stand differently to the humans that became flood, to the grunts etc. They should also generally carry the weapons that their original species used. I believe that the thinner flood are supposed to be former humans, and the larger ones former elites, but their weapon types do not match that.
There is also the problem that health packs and human weapons are all over the game, when they have little reason to be. This is a tricky problem. Later games solved this by creating covenant weapons that are equivalent to human weapons, but this reduces each weapon’s specialness. I wonder if the rocket launcher could have been replaced by some kind of flood equivalent that does the same thing. The problem is that human weapons are so recognisable and appealing. It is hard to imagine a flood equivalent of the iconic shotgun would have been as fun to use.
Certainly there could have been alternatives to health packs later in the game, which are human devices that have no reason to be all over the place. The master chief could be able to interface with covenant healing items that look distinct, and perhaps heal in a different manner. They could be healing stations, or could heal over time. Functionally similar but different enough to feel distinct.
The level design is, contrary to later criticism, very good. The arenas are perfect for the combat that takes place in them. The second half of the game takes place mostly in places you have played before, but they are completely transformed and playing through them feels different.
Every level is very well laid out with the exception of the seventh, which is too repetitive. It is worth noting that even this level extremely un-repetitive compared with modern single player titles like the Assassin’s Creed games, which are much longer and contain much more repeated content. And arguably Halo could stand more repetitive gameplay, because there is a joy to be had in grinding to practice a game. But that is another topic.
Where there could be more is in the parts of the game world that would have been lived in. Both spaceships are mostly just corridors and rooms arranged to be combat arenas rather than anything else. Sleeping quarters, kitchens, toilets, and so on would have made the ship’s feel far more real. The levels are designed for good gameplay, but not for that top level of world building.
The sound design is generally excellent, with some noticeable errors especially when firing plasma pistols too quickly. Almost all of th enemies sound fantastic, except for, once again, the flood, which are quiet and dull. The music is mostly exceptional with a few pieces that are a bit janky. In the covenant ship I heard swamp creature music briefly at one point, and one of the combat pieces would occasionally skip out of beat. It is hard to tell if this is a problem with the choice of music, which is otherwise pitch perfect and supports the emotional tone of the game. It could be a music choice issue, or it could be a problem with how the music is played in the game.
Halo’s plot is generally good, with the twist of Halo being to kill all life executed badly. There is no reason for Master Chief to trust 343 Guilty Spark, or to leave Cortana behind in the control centre. The teleportation is also handled badly. It would have been better if the writing team had worked out how the teleportation grid worked, and the limitations of teleportation been better incorporated into the gameplay. As it is, you teleport a few times after the mid game, each when you happen to have completed your current level and when the plot demands, but not when it would be most helpful or convenient.
There is not much to the individual characters in Halo, bit there doesn’t need to be. It is the story of humanity on Halo, and the Covenant, and how a piece of the galaxy is changed. This story is well told in the way the enemies change throughout the game.
Overall then, an excellent experience still worth playing. The biggest downsides are the shallow worldbuilding and characters. But games are games, and if the experience is exceptional, then limited storytelling is acceptable.