Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Halo 3: Time to Finish this Fight

Halo 3: "One of the greatest video games of our time." - Andy Lex Bain, 2011.

Before I’d played any of the Halo games, I’d actually purchased a copy of a Halo art book.  Paging through, I was stunned in awe of my first glimpse of the ring, fading off into the distance with the surface of Halo in the foreground.  From that moment onwards a mental note was stored in the back of my head to one day investigate the games of the Halo franchise, and to find out what the hype was all about.  Since then, I have researched and played the first two Halo games, discussed them with other gamers and written reviews on Halo Combat Evolved and Halo 2.  I’ve had many things to say, and I have to admit, despite a few frustrations, I’ve had a damn good time playing these games.  And this was all before I got to Halo 3. 

Halo 3, simply put, is a masterpiece, a true work of art in the world of gaming.  From the very first logo screen to the credits this game is a phenomenon, and I can finally see why the Halo franchise has grown into such a massive beast of gigantic proportions, why Halo has rocked this world, why Halo is definitely one of the most successful game franchises of all time.  As soon as I was plunged into the cut scene in the jungle with the Arbiter joining forces with the humans, quickly followed by the first mission, I knew I was in for a ride.  Once again the presentation of Halo is excellent, with brilliant visuals, absolutely stunning graphics and a ridiculously huge amount of detail.  There is such great diversity in the landscapes, from sun-dappled jungles, to sandy deserts and gruesome flood-infested spaceships.  Although the voice actor cast has changed slightly, it is still a shining example of what can be done when stellar talent add their voices to one of the best loved games of our time.  The soundtrack of Halo 3 is another great addition to the game.  Though I’m not sure it can beat the glory of Halo 2, having not heard the soundtrack independently, it is still an example of masterfully composed orchestral excellence. 

While Halo 2’s story was a little confusing, the story of Halo 3 is once again gripping, compelling stuff.  It is the material legends are made of.  Bungie have put in the time and effort to not only make a great game for the fans, but also tell a really good story.  It is one of heroes, and courage, of strength, and of nobility.  Like any good story, it has its epic conflicts, awesome battles and heartfelt tragedies.  It is very fast-paced, and it is here that my only real criticism of Halo 3 surfaces.  The campaign is much too short, and while this doesn’t detract from the game as a whole, I can’t help but feel that the game would’ve been so much better by having a longer campaign.  Still, the story is a beauty to behold regardless, and I wasn’t going to let Halo 3’s only flaw ruin my experience.  Not to spoil anything, but there is a satisfying ending too, which is essential for the last chapter in a trilogy. 

Halo 3’s gameplay is just as good as it was in Halo 2, if not outright better, as it builds on the controls of the previous game.  It is still that tight, smoothly transitioned first person shooter you are used to from the previous game, with dual wielding, and vehicle combat.  However this time there are a few additions to the weapons and vehicles that really ramp up the Halo experience.  The Brute Spiker is truly an awesome gun, spitting out rapid fire, blood-red thorns making it my equal favourite along with the needler.  There is also the Spartan Laser, a massively powerful super laser that takes a few seconds to charge up but when it fires, it unleashes hell.  Plus there are also several large support weapons.  While very cumbersome they do pack one hell of a punch in terms of firepower.  Additions to the vehicles include the Mongoose, a light, unarmed vehicle that allow a second player (or AI) to get onboard as a gunner.  Although it doesn’t have weapons I very much enjoyed driving the Mongoose around letting the AI do the shooting; this is probably just me but on that note the AI is still at its best, some of the best in video games it has to be said.  This time the player also gets to use a Hornet, which was sweet!  It would’ve been good if there had been more opportunity to use it though.  But of course these additions pale in comparison to the Brute vehicles.  The Chopper is a massive, brutal-looking bike which is a pleasure to ride, if a little unwieldy at times due to its huge, bludgeoning size, which is not really a bad thing.  And then there is the intimidating and deadly Prowler, which seats no less than four characters – driver, gunner, and two side carriages.  Once again the other vehicles are also present, and once again I loved driving the Ghost, I guess I have a thing for anti grav craft. 

The really new addition to Halo is Equipment.  This is great addition to Halo – there are various different pieces of equipment available, and although you can only carry one at a time, some of them are really neat.  Among them are the Bubble shield which gives you complete safety from fire for a limited amount of time, and the Flare which sets off a flash of light that temporarily blinds enemies.  Multiplayer again is excellent in Halo.  Sadly I have not had many opportunities to play in multiplayer, but what I can say is that there is a great variety of exhaustively detailed arena levels and also included is a greater range in the customizations to your character. 

And so ends my review of Halo 3, one of the legendary games of our time.  With a great story, excellent gameplay, awesome visuals, a ton of new equipment, weapons and vehicles, brilliant multiplayer and impressive sound and audio, Halo 3 tops its predecessors in almost every way.  Bungie have certainly succeeded in their goal of dominating the universe, and my response to that is: congratulations, Halo 3 rocks.  I’m giving it a 9.5.

Halo 2: Above and Beyond

So finally I get around to writing another review for one of the greatest franchises in gaming history.  This time I will be reviewing the successor to Halo.  Unsurprisingly, its called: Halo 2.  Does it meet the level that Combat Evolved did?  Well I have to say yes it does, and then it beats it.  Halo 2 is one of the most thrilling and exciting games I’ve ever played.  At first I was struggling to get some content to this review; mostly I was just thinking this is an awesome game, there’s nothing bad to say about it.  But thankfully I now have a decent amount of points to, well, point out. 

The presentation and graphics of Halo 2 are absolutely phenomenal.  I cannot emphasize enough that Halo 2 is a superb game.  It is excellent.  From the incredible landscapes you fight in to the highly detailed character models this game pulls out all the stops.  The level designs are some of the most beautifully rendered levels I’ve seen in a video game, though I have to admit they don’t look that much different from Combat Evolved.  Once again there’s nothing quite like seeing the ring rising on the horizon and the landscapes look very realistic and believable.  The cinematics are excellent and are complemented with some great voice work, including the talent of Ron Pearlman and Julie Benz.  I also think Jen Taylor does a really good job as the voice of Cortana.  Cortana consequently is one of the strongest characters in the Halo universe; this is great as it is the case that there is a lack of female characters in video games.  Cortana isn’t the protagonist but she is actually more of a proper character than Master Chief so its good that this character has been well scripted and voiced.  It’s also good to hear the Australian voice actor there, adding his accent to the mix.  From the level in space at the start of the game all the way through the game has far more variety and many fantastic visuals.  I especially enjoyed using the Arbiter against the Brutes in the mix of jungle-temple terrain, even if at times it did seem somewhat like predator vs a whole bunch of chewbaccas. 

The story of Halo is one of the best in science fiction.  Whilst the story for Halo 2 in particular may be a little weird and confusing to some people, I was able to follow it pretty well although, as criticized by many, the ending is indeed disappointing and all too sudden.  Switching back and forth between Master Chief and Arbiter is also a criticizing point, although I personally enjoyed the alien point of view – after all Master Chief isn’t much of a character himself since you don’t really know much about him.  Its good to see what the Arbiter is going through during the exodus of the Elites from the Covenant, and proves that Halo isn’t just about ‘humans vs aliens.’  Its also good because it fills in some details about the Covenant and fleshes out the Halo universe.

The gameplay of Halo 2 once again is impressive.  The controls are tight, movement is very smooth and the new addition of dual-wielding is brilliant.  Added to the fact that like the first Halo you could pick up basically any weapon in the game, this makes for some cool combinations if you like to use different weapons or use two of the same to pack that extra punch.  I really enjoyed dual-wielding two SMGs with twin needlers as my second preference.  Oh and this time around you can actually wield the energy sword, which is a really neat weapon.  You can hack and slash with it or slay your foes in one fell cut.  A very welcome addition to Halo 2 is in fact not an addition but a cut – that of the health packs.  The shield regenerates much faster and not having to hunt around for health spurs the game back towards the action.  The vehicles handle pretty much the same as before; though I think the Warthog is slightly better than its nightmarish counterpart in Combat Evolved.  In addition, you can attempt to board enemy vehicles which adds an extra level to the combat.  I remember once I boarded a ghost, knocking the Brute off, and then he did the same to me, before I finally wrested control back and mowed him down.  It was a memorable experience.  Having said that, the enemy AI is very good and is definitely a highlight in Halo 2; if you play the same level twice chances are you’ll play it out differently each time due to the enemy AI.  The multiplayer on Halo 2 is very entertaining, especially if you have more than two players.  In addition you can customise your character to an extent – you are able to play as the Arbiter and choose from a whole selection of symbols and colours for your avatar (this of course is updated further in Halo 3.) 

Finally, the sound and music on Halo 2 is truly a masterpiece.  Just like Combat Evolved the world resonates with the sounds of birds in the trees, the chattering of gunfire and the incredibly good AI banter of your fellow teammates.  But its the score by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori that really is the best aspect of Halo 2’s audio.  This is cinematic music, and is very uplifting and powerful, and at times, highly emotional.  There is good variety there, from Gregorian type chanting to fast-paced beat, a rather sad lament and also the sort of music movies play during heroic battles.  I would definitely recommend playing this music out of game, so if you can get hold of a copy of the Halo 2 soundtrack and you’re interested in game or movie soundtracks, then do so. 

So there you have it: a great and robust game that may not surpass the first Halo’s story but despite of that, pretty much outshines it.    I’m giving it a 9.

Halo: Highly Overrated

Halo: One of the biggest game franchises of all. It is so ingrained in popular culture now that people who are not even gamers may recognise the name 'Halo' or the image of the Master Chief. However, for all the hype, the first game seems to be rated slightly higher than it should be.

There isn't much to say in this review - most things about this game are excellent. The graphics are visually spectacular and the first time you look up and see the ring rising in the distance - its a memorable experience. The landscapes and level design is generally superb.

The music and sound for this game are excellent also, they really give a cinematic feel making it feel you are less playing a game and more you are in a movie. The sound effects are especially detailed as you can hear the slightest noises such as shell casings hitting the ground.

The gameplay controls are tight; this is where Halo got its master domination of shooters and now there are few others that can lay claim to the title of best shooter. However this game is now outdated and obsolete when compared to Halo 2 and the updated controls such as dual wielding.

Now to the not so great things about Halo Combat Evolved. This is essentially a good game. However, there are things that are certainly not great: Enemy imbalance and level design. To be honest, the game from the level 'The Library' is a pretty broken experience. The level is dark, and confusing, and although it doesn't take much to realise where you're meant to be going the player shouldn't have to stand around wondering where to go next in a linear game such as Halo. The torch is really bad, especially as it keeps running out of power.

As for the level where the player has to disable the pulse generators, that's where it gets extremely frustrating. I played this on easy, because I hate games that make it too difficult for the player, and I wanted to get through the game quickly. If I have to play a certain section 4 times over (on easy difficulty) I think there's a problem there. The situation was: I had to fly down to the bottom of the tower on the banshee to grab a health pack, then fly back up, enter the tower, fight some Flood and disable the generator. And then get flooded by Flood again, resulting in death. The Flood are horrendously imbalanced: they are much too powerful due to no real flaws, good in melee and also armed with weapons such as assault rifles and missile launchers. Thus I had to replay this section multiple times: NOT FUN.

The health packs are also a major criticism in the game. Players don't want to scavenge around for health packs, and while at the time this was often the norm in games they are often placed badly, and not where the player most needs them.

Now to vehicles. While the ghost and banshee are an absolute delight to use, with excellent transitions, controls and balance, the warthog is a horror to drive. In open terrain it isn't so bad, but in the final countdown section with all the pillars and walls in the way, trying to steer with the warthog is a nightmare. Not to mention keeping an eye on the clock. The final level is a very stressful and frustrating affair: it was here that I put down the controller in disgust. Time limits are much hated in video games and although some gamers see it as 'challenging', having to replay the final level at least five or six (or more) times is not fun. As soon as the game ceases to be fun the player often puts the game down, never to pick it up again. And that's where Halo Combat Evolved fails again. Although the game has a great storyline, there's almost no replay value in single player.

So, that's my rant on the flaws of an otherwise stable and pretty revolutionary game that spurred the xbox onwards and the Halo franchise to where it is today. With Halo 2, 3 and Reach now released, there's little point in playing Halo Combat Evolved so I won't be picking it up again. Although an excellent game it isn't perfect, so I'm giving it a 7.

Rise of the Argonauts: Great Sound, Crap Game

I got into this game because I love Greek mythology. It's good to make your version different, after all if you make your satyrs and centaurs look exactly like someone else's you're simply copying theirs. However, the satyrs here are clear rip offs from Warhammer Beastmen and the centaurs are obviously ripped straight out of World of Warcraft. While the story here isn't bad, and the visuals are quite good, there are several factors in Rise of the Argonauts that I severely disliked.

First though, the good parts. The sound for this game is excellent, from the clash of weapons, the sound of armour as you walk, the ambience in the surrounding environment and the awesome score by Tyler Bates. This game certainly has one of the best game soundtracks I've heard. The fast-paced action combat is good too, especially the slo-mo execution moves as an enemy's torso is sliced in half and blood spatters. However, the sound and combat is pretty much all that's good about Rise of the Argonauts.

The lengthy, tedious dialogue sequences really bore the player and although you have choices about what response to give, this is nothing like Mass Effect. The character animations are a complete joke, as Jason says every line practically in the same pose. The only real thing that moves are his eyes and mouth. Pathetic. This is a horrendous job of dialogue in a game.

This game's level design is absolutely shocking. It is becoming the norm in many games to have some sort of minimap to indicate where you should be going. If its clear, or open world, it's not as necessary. But this game's levels are so confusing and badly designed that a minimap is essential. Yet there isn't one, instead you have to constantly go back to the menu to check the map, which is a true horror to behold. The symbols are miniscule, and the quest objectives are utterly primitive. Also, the levels themselves are often so dark its hard to even see where you're meant to go next.

The third factor which I think detracts from this game is the poorly designed and hellishly frustrating boss fights. While the combat is good, the boss fights are a complete farce. There's barely any indication as to how you're actually meant to win the fight, and even then they're very difficult and require replaying again and again and again. The battle with Medusa is especially horrible, as the camera draws out and you can barely even see your character sometimes. The final boss forced me to put down the game in disgust as the thrown spear lags so badly, sometimes doesn't even work and there's no indication if it actually did anything at all. I must have thrown at least 20 spears to no avail and that was on the first section of that end boss fight.

The last thing to critique on Rise of the Argonauts is the bugs and glitches which detract massively from the game, removing all fun and causing the player to replay whole scenes of dialogue (which is a complete waste of time.) This game seems unfinished and barely any effort went into it.

Verdict: With terrible dialogue, horrendous level design, poor gameplay, along with a bunch of bugs and glitches Rise of the Argonauts is one of the worst games I've ever played. I would never recommend it, especially as there are much more worthy games out there. I'm giving it a 5.

Fallout 3: Thrilling rpg set in apocalyptic wastes

Well first off, let me echo IGN and say this is not Oblivion with guns.  Its open world, you can ignore the main quest if you want and go do your own thing, but this game isn’t quite as immersive as that title.  There isn’t a huge variety of races and classes.  Having said that, Fallout 3 is still a great game in its own right, set in a disturbingly convincing, dark and twisted sci fi future. 

The presentation for Fallout 3 is superb, from Ron Perlman’s narrative, the excellent voice overs, including that of Malcolm McDowell and Liam Neeson, to the realistic graphics that really capture post-apocalyptic America.  Speaking of which, the Capital Wasteland suffers a bit in the field of diversity – it’s very bleak, and depressing, which is great because it really conveys a sense of failure and loss, but wherever you go on the surface its pretty much the same everywhere.  The level design is excellent though in the ‘dungeons’, adding a very frightening sense of dread and darkness when you enter them.  And they are frightening, with dark passageways, half-eaten corpses and terrible things that lurk in the blackness, always ready to leap out at you when you least expect it.  Fallout 3 is a very scary (and bloody) game in certain areas so if you are squeamish or scare easily, be warned.  Bethesda have really captured the feeling of scraping out an existence in a post-apocalyptic world. 

The roleplaying element in this game can get very dark.  You can do some very evil and twisted things in Fallout 3.  There’s a certain sequence in the main quest where it is quite disturbing what you have to do.  However, this is all portrayed extremely well, and is one of the things that make Fallout 3 great.  The game is filled with interesting characters and stories, and you may find that you’ve spent more time in this game than you expected.  Just with Bethesda’s previous title, if you just rush through you’re probably not going to get as much out of the game as you could.  However, once you get to the main quest ending though, make sure you’ve done everything else you want to do in the wastelands, because there is no coming back.  Fallout 3 is a great roleplaying game with a dirty and radioactive edge. 

The combat system is awesome.  Being able to select which body part to aim for with the awesome VATS makes for some very gorey combat, although it can be very entertaining and very satisfying to watch it play out.  Once you get some half-decent guns the enemies become slightly easier, especially if you keep going for headshots, but there is the opportunity to take someone’s arm out which forces them to drop their weapon, or maybe you want to blow off their legs, slowing them down.  These choices make for some very bloody cut scenes, but it is very rewarding after winning your hard-earned gun and is a very visually spectacular system.  I’d love to see this incorporated in other games as it makes the act of shooting people more like a cinematic experience (I know that sounds really bad.)

Fallout 3’s gameplay is genuinely very gritty, dark and realistic.  It is a very bleak game, and uses the ‘Used Future’ settings, in which everything’s battered, worn and scarred.  Which is to be expected, since the world’s been blown to hell.  All the time you’ll be scavenging for stimpacks and food and the like to keep you alive, and keep your rads down.  Rads indicate how high your radiation level is, and if you let it get too high something nasty will happen.  Your weapons and armour are always damaged and you’ll always be keeping an eye out for something in better condition.  While this sounds like a bad thing, it really rams home the need to keep asking yourself the ultimate question: how far would you go to survive?  Eating radioactive dog meat might make the difference between life and death but there’s no doubt it’ll bump your rads up.  Life’s a bitch in Fallout 3.  Try hitting on Bittercup, and she’ll make things better.  Fallout 3 gains a rust-covered and radioactive score of 8 from me.