As a videogame critic, I feel in some ways obligated to familiarize myself with the most important works in the gaming medium. Just as English literature buffs should be knowledgeable about the heavyweights of the Western canon—Macbeth, Huckleberry Finn, Ulysses, etc.—so too should videogame critics be acquainted with gaming's megahits, games like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and, yes, the Halo series. So, like the English lit student who struggles to wrap his or her head around Ulysses, not because it's enjoyable but because it's important, I decided that I should at least try to understand Halo.
Unlike literature, understanding a videogame isn't about reading up on it or analyzing it on an academic level. It's about playing it. Now, I first played the original Halo about two years ago. After reading all the insanely high praise on Metacritic, I decided that it was time to see what all the fuss was about. But the experience proved to be a bit of a letdown (more on this later). Maybe I had arrived too late. Maybe it was because, as I had read, Halo isn't really about the single player. But lacking Xbox Live access, I soldiered on and beat the game on the easiest setting. Lame, I know. But hey, I was new to first-person shooters.
Despite the fact that Halo hadn't exactly blown me away, I decided to move on to Halo 2. After all, the reviews were generally positive. Sure, people complained about the abrupt ending, but it looked promising. In any event, I never actually finished the game, not because I didn't find it at least slightly enjoyable, but because I couldn't figure out how to beat this big white-haired boss monster towards the end of the game. Yes, I'm lame. I know. Despite my cop out, however, I actually enjoyed Halo 2 more than the original. Everything looked a little nicer. The fights were just a little cooler and flashier. But I still didn't really get it.
So having left the Halo series behind two years ago, I decided that it was time to give Halo 3 a try. I'd seen it on several occasions sitting on the rental shelf at Blockbuster. Since I hadn't yet used my free game rental pass for January, I figured I might as well give it a go. But wait, I still hadn't finished Halo 2. Gotta have continuity, right? So I popped Halo 2 into my Xbox 360 thinking I could pick up where I left off, only to realize that my original game data was in my inaccessible stored-away Xbox. Dismayed by the prospect of having to start from the beginning, I finally said “screw it” and fired up Halo 3 anyway.
As of right now, I believe I'm at the end of the sixth mission (out of nine) or thereabouts, and I've been playing on the recommended “heroic” setting. The verdict? I'm not terribly impressed. Yeah, I know the multiplayer is supposed to be the main draw, but after having recently been subjected to the idiotic trash talking on Call of Duty 4 online, and figuring that Halo 3 players would probably be just as bad if not worse, I frankly don't really want to try Halo 3's multiplayer. That being said, my complaints against Halo 3's single player campaign are pretty much the same as my complaints against the series as a whole.
First, the graphics aren't that great. Halo 3 looks okay, but for such a hyped title, I would have expected some much more impressive visuals. Second, the guns lack punch. The weapons in Call of Duty 4 are much more fun to handle. Third, the enemies suck, and I'm not talking about the enemy AI which, from what I understand and from what I've experienced, actually seems pretty good. But the way the enemies look and talk is completely ridiculous. They come off like some dimwitted teenager's conception of what an alien should look and sound like. The enemies in Halo say stupid things and they sound stupid saying them.
Some fans say that if you haven't played Halo's multiplayer, then you haven't really played Halo. Given how much praise the Halo series has received and how insanely popular it is, I sincerely hope that this is true. I only have a couple more days until I have to return the game to Blockbuster, and I don't care all that much if I finish it. I still don't get the Halo series, which is to say that I don't like it all that much and I don't see why it's so big. Who knows, maybe someday when I've developed a high enough tolerance for idiotic teenage trash talking I'll try the multiplayer. But for now, it doesn't seem worth the effort.