The Art Of Killing Properly: Halo 3

halo3_002200692510555.jpgNote: This is not a review as such as it is my thoughts on the game in general. It has been written with knowledge of the game as a criteria.

Friends and Firearms

My first experience with the Halo franchise was on New Years Eve of 2001. At the time I was still the proud owner of an N64 and PS1, but my friend had made the first foray into the then next generation of games consoles. I’d be another year until I’d be given my GameCube and another two years until I’d get my PS2 and as such Halo would be my first real showcase of Next Gen power. Me and my friend would ring in the New Year taking on the campaign in co-operative mode, him keen to show off his new console and me keen to play a game that didn’t have the N64’s soft core gauze. We played for seven hours, with only minor pauses for drinks and food, storming through the first half of the campaign until our natural competitiveness forced an impasse of sorts.

You see like most people my closest and dearest friend is a person who would be my mortal nemesis if we hadn’t become friends. This unfortunately leads to an inability to co-operate in any manner, unless the ends truly justify the means. So essentially unless we are working towards an endeavour of pure focused malice we tend to lose our ability to cooperate very quickly. Such was the case with Halo, our initial teamwork quickly descending into farcical fights over who got to use the Rocket Launcher. Over the next few weeks and months I’d slowly pick my way through the game, beating the campaign on Normal and Heroic mode and even dipping my toe in the multiplayer waters. Halo wasn’t a big multiplayer game, Perfect Dark still being preferred for split screen thrills.

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The times I’d attempt to play a Halo Deathmatch against my friend would all end exactly the same way. I’d skulk around for a weapon for a while, my finding of which would coincide exactly with my sudden death at the wheels of a Warthog. Certainly getting run over by a futuristic beach buggy every time I laid eyes on a weapon wasn’t probably the best introduction to Halo’s rich and varied multiplayer, but it would have to do.

By the time Halo 2 was released passion for the series had quelled in my friends house. Timesplitters 2 on the PS2 and Team Fortress on the PC making the game effectively impotent. Whereas Halo had enraptured my entire friends household, his mother, father and sister all having saves to attempt the campaign Halo 2 was largely untouched. Even I only managed to get two thirds of the way through the game before my passion for it was quelled. I would play a few Xbox Live games on various friends’ copies of the game, but I never got particularly into it. My inability to understand the mechanics of the weapons and shield system making my few forays online a brutal experience.

By the time Halo 3 came around I was the nervy owner of an Xbox 360, a console which had been bought for Oblivion then largely ignored until the months leading up to November 2007. BioShock would be the game to get me back into the console and from that point on I’d get drawn into the hype of Halo 3 even purchasing a Gold account so I could attempt to play online. Halo 3 would be a game that I would grow to loathe intensely, and it would also be a game that I would play every night for nearly a month. Only the Orange Box and specifically TF2 freeing me from its pervasive grasp.

It was only after nearly five months of constant play on TF2 that I decided to give the game another go. The five months away from the game confirmed my low opinion of the multiplayer but allowed me to appreciate other elements of the game I’d largely ignored before.

STFU N00B HAL0Z FTW

2782408-full.jpgI’ll make this clear now, when it comes to Halo 3’s multiplayer I’m just downright bad. Tracking my stats online I have a usual kill/death ratio of -5 which effectively means that everytime I don’t kill someone in the game they kill me five times. Through sheer force of will, and the tactic of aligning myself with people who are good at the game, I was able to drag myself up through the ranks. Obtaining a grade of lieutenant which was probably not all that deserved. Back in the day being a lieutenant meant something (the 150 wins and skill rank of 10 required for it generally meaning that it meant you had no social life). Still objectively speaking I could never function in the deathmatch modes.

The main impediment to my killing prowess was the fact that the guns used in multiplayer seem to work less as armaments and more as practical displays of probability. The damage caused by weapons is largely variable in Halo. Sometimes a clip of assault rifle fire will finish off an enemy combatant, sometimes you’ll get a drop on someone shoot them in the back with a full clip and as you’re reloading your opponent will turn around and gun you down with maybe half a clip. The principals of combat are never fully explained in the game, the vagaries of why your shotgun can sometimes kill a foe in one shot and other times requires three or four point blank rounds just to mildly inconvenience them never fully explained.

In comparison to Call of Duty’s one shot kills and Team Fortress 2’s strictly regimented damage system Halo 3 just seemed far too random. With players even walking off rockets to face like it ‘ain’t no thing’ it leaves precision killing to either snipers or brawlers. What this essentially meant was that Halo Deathmatches turned into melee competitions more often than not, with beam swords, hammers and the rifle stocks being used far more than actual ordnance.

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As you progress through the ranks of Halo’s deathmatch you’ll start to notice the effects of the randomised weapons. Early on you’ll be involved in tense firefights and you’ll actually be involved in skilful competition with your opponents. As the ranks go up however you’ll notice the arenas become more and more sparse as traditional Halo tactics are utilised. You see the key to winning in Halo is in ambushes, what this leads to is players rushing to get effective close range weaponry and crouching in corners (so they don’t appear on radar) so they can shoot people as they walk past.

Whilst it is hilarious to watch replays of your opponents skulking around in corridors like a cybernetic Preying Mantis these tactics rob the game of a lot of its fun. When combined with the flakey weaponry it made the deathmatches almost unplayable for me. Of course this problem was compounded by the constant assertion that I was a ‘nigger faggot’ and that I ‘failed at life’ after being shot to pieces by the majority of Halo’s populace. In the world of Halo being brutally insulted isn’t a possibility, it’s an eventuality and it is another element of the game which rears it head in the more straight forwardly misanthropic deathmatches.

Like Mad Max, but without the Mohawks

Halo 3’s multiplayer has a saving grace in its variety. Killing each other only makes up a small section of the game options available, with tactical map variants offering scope for enjoyment for those not truly blessed in the killing arts.

Some of my fondest memories of Halo 3 are based around epic Control Point games on Valhalla. With two teams taking it in turns to capture and defend set control points, and with a full array of vehicles to use, the Control Point games were always the funnest facet of the game for me. They also inspired genuine combat, with people being spurred on to face the enemy instead of being allowed to lurk in the shadows. These objective based maps, especially when played with like minded people, would become the heart and soul of the Halo experience. Halo’s multiplayer in my mind would become defined by the vehicular carnage wrought by these games. Banshees duelling in the sky as down below the teams raced from point to point on Mongooses and Warthogs. Certainly it was all a bit George Miller but the accessibility of the vehicles and their practicality led them to become an integral point of the game experience.

6544406-full.jpgThe only mode to ever challenge the sheer joy of these Control Point games was the awe inspiringly crazy Rocket Races. Rocket Race essentially involves teams of two people (one to drive, one to shoot rockets), dozens of Mongooses, invincibility and a relay of ten checkpoints. It is basically a race, but the fact that you couldn’t be killed combined with the Mongoose’s propensity to shoot off into the air at the slightest provocation would make everything far more Mario Kart than Gran Turismo. Invariably you’d get a sad sack more intent on finishing the race than partaking of the carnage, but most people would be far more interested in the sheer spectacle of propelling futuristic quad bikes across the level with rockets.

Oh God! The Bloom, IT BURNS!

When I got Halo 3 the Single Player was largely an afterthought, I got up to the third mission and just moved onto exclusively playing the multiplayer. What happened was that everything that I had loved about the original Halo, the feeling of discovery, the feeling of being in a large expansive world was stripped away for the first few levels. The openness of the earlier games only coming into effect in two of the nine missions. In particular the first level of Halo 3 is almost hateful in its mechanics forcing you to confront hordes of enemies and ill equipping you for the job. In a mission desperately crying out for a sniper rifle you’re only given one towards the end of the level, at the point in which its theoretical usefulness had already expired.

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The game would gradually improve as the missions went on, kicking into gear from the fourth mission onwards, but its floundering first steps would initially mar the entire campaign. It was only when I picked up the game again that I was able to appreciate how well the campaign had been designed. Previously I had got through to the penultimate mission on my own in heroic, finishing the game on legendary with a few friends on co-op. I’d been rushing to get through the game and as such I failed to appreciate the little touches.

Given a second shot I took my time with the missions and slowly began to appreciate the rhythm and mechanics of each shootout and set piece. Even my earlier gripes with the game were generally dulled by how much the campaign enraptured me on the second play through.

I still found the faux-wackiness of the game to be utterly irritating. The pithy dialogue of your comrades and ironic comedy of your enemies giving the game the feel of a bad Joss Whedon fanfic. It was a game that cribbed from numerous sources without any thought or care, even making one of the main characters a composite of three Carl Weathers characters and Sgt. Apone.

27302233-full.jpgOther problems however became nonexistent as I started to pay attention to the game. Where once I would have criticised the game for its functional graphics and over reliance on eye searing bloom effects, I started to understand what the developers were trying to achieve. The beauty of Halo 3 came across in its minutia, little details only noticeable in the games revolutionary theatre mode. Watching individual shell casings career from your rifle, or watching AI characters work their way through areas of a level you weren’t even in gave a credibility and stability to the world that made me forgive its lack of graphical umph. I could still do without being blinded with each explosion, but generally speaking I grew to love the design ethos of the game.

With its pounding choral score and set piece led design Halo 3 was the equivalent of a summer blockbuster. It was designed to be entertaining and over the top, and that is another area the first few levels faltered. In a game that had aerial assaults on fortified installations, fights against skyscraper sized insectoid battle platforms, and the ability to punch tanks to death the first few levels of skulking around a jungle canopy/military installation just felt lacking. The Halo series operated on shock and awe, grandeur above all else and the claustrophobia of the opening levels almost betrayed this ethos.

I think this disparity between claustrophobia and grandeur is the key dichotomy in play in Halo 3. I’m a fan of the big operatic moments of destruction in the campaign and as such I move towards the grander elements of the multiplayer. Those who like the tense silence and stalking of the first levels will probably find themselves far more comfortable with the deathmatch aspects of the game.

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15 Responses to “The Art Of Killing Properly: Halo 3”

  1. That was an epic write-up of a game that you largely hated upon release, if it weren’t for the community were were playing with at the time. Still, there is nothing that can beat Co-Op with all the skulls turned on, and I’m a bit sad I didn’t get a shout out for my awesomeness. And such.

  2. If you hate Halo so much then why did you take the time to posts this pile of crap…

  3. Spike Marshall Says:

    The name of the site should indicate that I in no way hate Halo. I just disliked certain elements, I felt the piece made it clear that I loved the tactical elements of multiplayer and most of the single player campaign.

  4. Totally agree there. Very nice writeup, it’s always fun to see the opinions of the rest of the crowd like the people who differ from the mean. Halo 3 is a game that either you love it or you hate it.
    Good job
    @Keiran: He posted this so whenever you see articles about Halo they aren’t always praising it…

  5. anonymous Says:

    From looking at your stats it looks like you need to start using the battle rifle. It’s pretty much the go-to gun and you’ve barely used it at all. The Assault Rifle is only for pretty close range combat, you need to start using the Battle Rifle for mid to long range, concentrating on making the fourth shot a headshot for the quickest kill. The first three put down their shield, and then a headshot is a one hit kill with no shield up, otherwise it could take another three or four to take them down. And remember the headshot area is from about the nose area up to the top of the head. It looks to me like if you try to use the BR, you will have a lot more fun. It’s always my main gun, and if I have sniper or rockets, it’s my backup unless we’re really close quarters. If you get one sniper shot on someone, which takes down their shield, a quick BR shot to the head with take them out as well. There are lots of weapons guides online, try looking through some of the halo wikis or on bungie.net. It takes practice to be decent at multiplayer, but once you are it’s a blast.

  6. “Halo wasn’t a big multiplayer game, Perfect Dark still being preferred for split screen thrills.”

    This is the comment that got me. Most of your review is basically nothing more than an average player crying because you aren’t good enough at the game to understand the weapons balance that’s in it. Halo 1 is *still* a huge multiplayer game, even today. Every single LAN I’ve been to in the last 7 years has had a segment of time where Halo 1 was played. In fact, I can’t remember a time since 2002 that I haven’t played Halo 1 at least once every 3-4 months. Halo 1 multiplayer is far more preferred than Perfect Dark’s, and is light years more fun.

    “In a mission desperately crying out for a sniper rifle you’re only given one towards the end of the level, at the point in which its theoretical usefulness had already expired.”

    Did you just happen to miss the 10+ Beam Rifles that the Jackals dropped throughout the level as you killed them, or did you purposely ignore them because you don’t like using the Beam Rifle? Those are a sniper rifle, you know that right?

    “In particular the first level of Halo 3 is almost hateful in its mechanics forcing you to confront hordes of enemies and ill equipping you for the job.”

    This also got me as well. You’re more than well enough equipped. There are weapons all over the place in that first level. You’re given a Battle Rifle, which is more than adequate enough to pick off anything from longer range, and an Assault Rifle, which will help out medium range, and tear through Elites at close range.

    What it sounds like, is that you’re just about average at the game, and you’re using tiny problems and big sounding sentences to cover your flaws. Learn the weapon balance, learn to use every weapon effectively, and learn to use the flow of the game itself to help you out, and you’ll play 100% better.

  7. Unknown Source Says:

    If you think Halo has an ambush problem…you need to play Call of Duty 4 more. Both are great, but I definetly prefer Halo 3.

  8. I really enjoyed reading this writeup.

    Now, I play WAY more multiplayer on the PC (CS:S and COD4). But I like Halo too, especially after I understood how Halo’s combat system worked. If there’s one tangible THING that defined Halo for me, it’s the combat: the “Shoot, grenade, and melee” system.

    I enjoy the way a fight is mixed up in Halo: whiz a grenade, charge, jump and shoot several rounds of lead; and then land a hard smack!

    In a Halo firefight, using guns, grenades and melee effectively is key. All are very powerful, but nicely balanced so that no single element completely dominates the other. Once I understood this balancing act, I’ve practised it in Halo 1’s campaign. Defeating a sword-wielding gold Elite in Legendary with only a crap machine gun, a couple of well-timed frag grenades, and a swift melee attack is immensely satisfying! And I got good in multiplayer too 🙂

    Many shooters have separate grenade and melee buttons too, but they have different styles of play (tactical and cover in R6V, stop and pop in Gears). The games weren’t designed around grenades and melee, and so either they are not as important to the combat or are used differently.

    Now Halo isn’t perfect, and there are better FPS’s out there. But there’s one thing unique to it, which I *sometimes* miss in other shooters. Weapons, grenades and melee, all mixed together. Halo, like Gears, created a somewhat different style of play. Combat evolved? I think so.

  9. Spike Marshall Says:

    Wow, thanks for all the comments.

    Firstly this is very much a personal opinion piece, my stating a preference for Perfect Dark over Halo was just that, stating a preference. Me and my friends had spent far longer with the N64 than the XBox and my one friend kinda monopolised the game so much as to make it unplayable.

    I realise the Jackals drop Beam rifles, but that is only after two shoot outs which could have benefited from being able to countersnipe. The TWO jackals who drop the beam rifles appear right before a section where the ability to snipe is a neccesity, maybe I should have made this clearer in my review.

  10. ZombieFever Says:

    Its clear your just not devoting enough time to understand the finer details of Halo 3. This blog and movies are just taking up way too much time when you could be playing. Perhaps during a movie you could do picture-in-picture and still play Halo so those 2 hours wont be completly wasted. I would even go as far to bet that you still sleep. Thats what, 8 hours that could be spent playing. Sleeping FTL!

  11. You need to use the flamethrower more.

  12. B_MetalSucks Says:

    Call of Duty 4 bends Master Queef over and fucks him in the ass mercilessly then after it finishes him off it slaps him in the visor with it’s shit stained cock of glory.

    Nice write up spike. 🙂

  13. You halo fanboys need to stfu.

    Gits.

  14. Huge McPenisly Says:

    You fuck shit how dare you post such lies and wrongnesses about halo parfect dark is sooo much worse than harlo why my little sister doesn’t even pllay perfact dark and shes mentaly retarded! You forgot to mention the awesome character customisation with the badass ninja helment and slightly different shoulder armor. Everyone knows having slightly different shoulders is what makes you an individual! Jesus man you must really suck at videogames, i beat halo 3 on legendary using only my feet while i was asleep one time. Maybe you should stick to viva pinata!!
    !

  15. gravedigger Says:

    “Halo 3 would be a game that I would grow to loathe intensely, and it would also be a game that I would play every night for nearly a month.”

    This is a perfect summation of my experience, though I hung in there for two months. And now, compared to CoD4 and TF2, the awful balance issues and arbitrary damage effects make Halo 3 look that much worse. Then again, maybe I’m just a gay faggot n00b who gets pwnz0rd too much.

    Rocket Race is awesome, though.

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