Bad Blogger, No More Halo 3

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Yeah, bit of a light posting period just now. Sorry about that. Should be back to normal soon. If you were me, would you be blogging right now?

I have been playing a good deal of Halo 3. I’m going through on Heroic, which I’m finding to be challenging, in a good way. It’s not clear to me that there’s ever going to be more Halo single-player campaigns before our sun becomes a cold dead husk (prove me wrong, Bungie!), so I’m definitely going to make this one last. In fact, on this trip through, if I don’t finish a fight with sufficient panache, or if I miss a good angle, I’m going through and replaying it.

General impressions are good good good. Obviously. The fact that until now there wasn’t any Halo at all on the 360 has been so wrong for so long that seeing it up there just makes some secret part of me relax a little. The graphics aren’t destroying me and making me check my meds the way Gears‘s graphics did the first time, but then again, before I saw Gears, I’d never seen Gears. And the trade-offs Bungie made are obvious and correct: Halo 3’s color palette is wildly diverse and fruity and candy-colored — consisting as it does of hues other than grey and gold — and its environments are massive. I don’t think I’ve ever seen distance portrayed so effectively in a game environment — the blurriness of stuff that’s far away, the haziness of a Covenant dropship as it passes between me and the sun, on a high trajectory…it just hard-sells the idea that you’re moving through a rich, real universe. Some levels I want to re-play, spending the whole time looking up.

And the lighting effects are gorgeous — early on, when you’re thrashing your way through jungle, you move through an overgrown tunnel and pass a bright white stripe of sunlight on the wall. It’s not there for any reason, just to be beautiful. Nobody else would put that in a game but Bungie.

But this isn’t a damn art gallery, it’s a fire-fight. There’s a very thought-through quality to what I’ve played through so far, as if somebody sat down and said OK: we need a medium-sized battle every 300 yards, each battle needs to last 5 mins, and there has to be three ways to win it. Go team! (Which is actually pretty much what they did.) Every fight mixes different vertical elevations, with enemies carefully placed throughout the battlefield — so far there’s nothing like the repetitive Flood levels of the first game. And the diversity and balance of the weapons is apparent all the time. You’re never in a situation where you absolutely need a particular weapon to win a particular fight. If you like needlers, you grab a needler and win with that. This is the kind of stuff that doesn’t register in screenshots: you’re never bored in Halo 3, you’re never punished, you’re never doing homework.

I’m still not wild about the AI. I get that AI is hard, but I was pretty surprised the first time I met a Brute chieftain with a gravity hammer. Dude just hid in a little store room, bumbling around and getting hung up on boxes, while I tossed grenades in there with him, and pumped pink splinters into his furry hide. Then he finally came out to play, and yeah, then he killed me. But come on! That’s not how you fight with a gravity hammer! You don’t bumble around. It’s a devastating close-quarters melee weapon! You scream and you leap.

What else? So far the writing (especially Cortana’s opening monologue) and the voice acting are great — I mean, if Bungie doesn’t do that what do they do? And there are lots of great touches — it’s nice to see the grunts suicide-charge you with two plasma grenades once in a while, though a lot more touches like that would have been even nicer. I’m happy every time I reload my my covenant carbine and watch it exhale a toxic green mist. And they’ve given the Chief a nice animation for when he detaches the chain gun from its emplacement — he sort of rips it right offa there, like he just doesn’t give a damn.

The question that’s still kicking around for me is, what are they gonna do with all this good stuff? Is Bungie going to show that they can tell an epic three-part story better than, say, Sam Raimi? That’s what I’m still waiting to find out.

Oh, and my other question. I haven’t seen it written up anywhere, and it’s not on IMDB, but I’m sure I hear Billy West (of Futurama, etc.) as one of the Marines. Is he the David Cross of Halo 3? Was I wrong?