VIDEO: The trailer for Halo 3
That giant sucking sound you heard last week was $170 million being transferred from gamers’ wallets to Bill Gates’s retirement fund, all for the privilege of playing Halo 3. What an event! Stores across the country held midnight launch parties. Some merry MIT pranksters dressed up John Harvard as Halo’s star, Master Chief. Local news stations interviewed kids who’d been waiting outside storefronts for hours — ostensibly because they wanted the game, but more likely, I suspect, because they know that in America you can get a taste of celebrity just by waiting in line to buy something.
| For Xbox 360/Rated M for Mature | Published by Microsoft Game Studios | Developed by Bungie
Halo is the great unifier of the video-game world, bringing together people of all stripes, from hardcore geeks to competitive jocks. As the first console game to integrate on-line multi-player, it gave the masses a taste of something PC gamers had been enjoying for years. Yet of all the high-profile shooters to appear on the Xbox 360 within the past year, it’s the weakest. It has none of the gritty verisimilitude of
Gears of War
. It doesn’t require the tactical tightrope walk of
Rainbow Six Vegas
. It lacks the brains of
and the heart of
. With so many superior alternatives available, one wonders why Halo is the game everybody agreed on.
Start with the lackluster single-player campaign. It has a single distinguishing characteristic, the stellar vehicular sequences, and the franchise has been coasting on that since day one. Little else has changed. True, the level design doesn’t reach the ludicrous repetition of the original Halo’s infamous Library stage. But rather than lay out dozens of identical sections of hallway, as in the past, Halo 3 simply makes you run back and forth through the same one several times. It’s really the worst of both worlds: no room for exploration or environmental interaction, and no propulsive narrative to keep you hustling.
In between all the usual mission objectives to shut down shield generators and eliminate anti-air defenses and so on, you’re treated to some of the most hamfisted storytelling in recent memory. The dialogue is full of macho platitudes and meaningful pauses, and when the evil Prophet of Truth speaks, he might as well be cackling and twisting his handlebar moustache. Worse still, idiotic in-game dialogue on the part of your computer-controlled allies punctures any sense of drama during the action.
Of course, no one plays Halo for the single-player campaign. It’s all about multi-player. And the first thing you’ll notice upon joining a game on Xbox Live is that the non-player characters are the acme of sophistication and wit compared with the real-life cretins you encounter on-line. It’s simply not possible to exaggerate the level of idiocy in a typical public match. Bigoted taunts are bad enough on their own, especially coming from some prepubescent kid, but is it too much to ask that some of the comments be remotely clever? As my first on-line match was loading, someone demanded that we veto the game because the level was “gay.” Another participant quickly noted that the complainer’s mom was, in fact, gay.
Ah, they’ll say, the point is to play Halo with your friends — not with random idiots! The franchise’s popularity endures because it provides a place for pals to congregate, even over long distances. There’s something to be said for that. The most fun I had with Halo 3 was playing split-screen with a friend of mine, but anything is fun if you do it with your friends. That’s why they’re your friends. Halo may serve a valuable purpose for millions, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good.