Tuesday, December 07, 2004

WTF. Can someone explain Halo 2 to me?

[Spoiler Alert: I'll be discussing Halo 2 without shying away from story details or plot twists. If you haven't finished the game and plan on doing so, don't read any further.] First of all, let me say that Halo 2 is an amazing game. There is so much content to enjoy when you add up the large levels, the many weapons and vehicles, the AI, the beautiful landscapes, and of course the online multiplayer. Bungie has created something special, and any Xbox owner would be doing themselves a disservice by not playing this game (aside: check out these wonderful movies to get a feel for the world that Bungie has created).

That said, what the hell is up with the story in the single player campaign!?!? I finished the game on normal difficulty this weekend, and I'm still mad that there was essentially no resolution at all. It's one thing to set up a sequel, but Halo 2 feels totally incomplete. A lot of reviews that I've seen say that there's no denoument. That's the understatement of the year. I would argue that there's not even a suitable climax. Even The Empire Strikes Back with its many loose ends had a feeling of climax and denouement.

Ok, let's hit some specifics. The story starts off pretty well with the flipping back and forth between Master Chief and the Arbiter. I found this to be an intriguing technique for giving the player both sides of the story (just as Clive Thompson did). The convoluted politics and machinations of the Covenant hierarchs were a tad confusing, but I was willing to work with that presuming it would all be clear in the end. It didn't help that the different Covenant Prophets all looked the same even though they seemingly ruled different groups of aliens. In addition, focusing on the action (and frustration) kept me from paying strict attention to the story.

Thing really started to get crazy with the introduction of Gravemind. Maybe I didn't listen to the cutscene closely enough, but I didn't quite get what he/it was. Other than a Little Shop of Horrors reject, I couldn't really guess. I later sort of deduced that Gravemind had something to do with the Flood, but again, I'm not positive. Let's assume for the sake of argument that I just wasn't paying close enough attention to the cutscenes and Gravemind makes some kind of dramatic sense. Normally, you'd expect something like Gravemind to be a central part of the rest of the game, but we never see him again until a little snippet after the credits. The major twist of introducing Gravemind is basically never followed up.

After playing different storylines as Master Chief and the Arbiter, having them come together at Gravemind was satisfying. However, the goals set for the new duo are never realized. Not because something stops you, but because the story never gets there. The big crime is that Bungie doesn't come through on a single promise set up by the story. Gravemind is introduced, but never followed up on. The Halo network is activated, but you never have a chance to stop them. The Covenant is heading back to Earth, but you never get a chance to try to thwart their schemes. Can't they give us something? Beating Tartarus does not cut it.

One more gripe before I go back to playing the game: there are parts that I found to be too hard. You might call me a wuss or not hard-core... and I'd be the first to agree with you (when it comes to games), but I want to be able to finish the game. There were times toward the end when I seriously considered putting the controller down and not picking it back up. Couldn't they have put some kind of dynamic difficulty adjustment in? All you've got to do is reduce the number of enemies when you notice that a player has restarted the same checkpoint 20 times. Frustration kills a player's enjoyment. David Thomas has a good comment on this.


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