Friday, 23 September 2011

Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) - Guest Post

Enough screwing around.

It's time to play a man's game.

September 19th, 2552. The UNSC Pillar of Autumn emerges in an unknown location following an emergency faster than light jump away from hostile alien forces.

Given that they just span the ship in a random direction and zoomed away at full speed in a straight line, Captain Keyes is a little confused as to how exactly the enemy got in front of them. Cortana, the ship's AI, gives the poor Captain some sass.

A little TOO much sass, if you ask me.

While the regular Marines prepare to defend the Autumn from alien boarding parties, Keyes orders the reanimation of the UNSC's most devastating weapon...

"Unseal The Hushed Casket"? Really?

Jeez, get over yourselves...

It's Mr. Halo!

The friendly engineers give me a brief tutorial on how to move and look around.

And then they all get blown up. Oh no!

I've got to head to the bridge. Captain Keyes has some concerns about the alien attack and he's invited me upstairs for a calm and rational discussion.

Along the way, Mr. Halo's MP3 player kicks in. Rum-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta...du-rum-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta...rum-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta...du-rum-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta. A calm and even meter to accompany my slow saunter to the bridge while everybody around me dies screaming.

The Autumn's primary form of defense seems to be to simply shut all the interior doors. If the enemy got through the outer doors (or the hull), I don't think the interior doors are going to be that effective. Especially considering there's vent shafts all over the place that I have to use to get around. But what do I know?

I'd help in the defense, but nobody's seen fit to give me a weapon yet and the aliens are too lousy to kill anyone who has one. Looks like the scripted death of most of the crew is under control here. I'm off to the bridge.

"Captain Keeeeyeeeees..."

Mr. Halo's deep whispering voice is a comfort to the Captain.

They can't let Cortana be captured because she knows absolutely everything about everything, and they can't destroy Cortana because she's really purple. Big problem.

So, the big plan is to stick Cortana in Mr. Halo's armour and let him boogie on down to the ring. Meanwhile, Keyes is going to crash the Autumn onto the ring. Strange plan.

"Don't get any funny ideas."

With the cutscenes complete and handgun at the ready, I'm free to starting kicking alien behind!

Except, the game isn't making this easy. When an enemy is in front of you, the reticle turns red. Fair enough. However, if you attempt to move left or right while the reticle is red, the game interprets this as an attempt to circle around the enemy rather than move in a straight line. If, for example, I was in a narrow corridor leading into a room, and I wanted to use the frame of the door as cover, I could never move in a straight line across the width of the opening and hide on the other side. Instead, I'd lock on to the enemy and be pulled into the room when Mr. Halo tries to circle the enemy.

I'm hoping that I can turn this off in the menu later. During the tutorial, the engineers said I could invert the aiming controls in the menu if I didn't like them. What they didn't tell me is that you can't change the controls during gameplay. You have to quit right back to the main menu to change them. Stupid.

And what kind of aliens are these anyway? They keep giggling and shrieking and bouncing around the place. At least the pistol makes a nice loud bang and the aliens go down in a single hit. Doesn't fire anywhere near as fast as the Red Faction pistol though.

I've met up with some Marines and together we're going to take back the Mess. Hoo-ah.

These controls are stodgy as hell. There's an observable delay between moving the stick and walking. It's making it really awkward to move, especially when there's Marines and aliens running about and bouncing. If I accidentally face an enemy, the lock on forces me into walls and benches. It's taking some effort to make my way across the room.

Rahh! I'm an alien!

This gun's terrible. It makes a noise, but it doesn't seem to do any damage. If I start shooting this blue fellow, it takes twenty rounds to lower his personal shield and another twenty for him to fall down.

I'm glad I have these Marines to back me up, otherwise I'd have no idea where I was going. On the way to the bridge, I could at least follow any signs I found but I don't know where I'm headed now so any signs would be useless.

Damn it! Get out of my face!

With this useless assault rifle, I really don't want to be this close to the enemy. Thanks to the lock on, I really don't have much choice, every direction seems send me spiralling around him instead of letting me retreat. When you're facing an enemy, your rotation speed is reduced. When the enemy is this close, it takes several seconds to tear Mr. Halo away and see where you're running to.

I've been here for about half an hour and I'm still stuck in these damned corridors. Keep moving, Mr. Halo! The level has to be a straight line, so you'll either end up back at the start or you'll end up at the end.

I've reached the escape pods! These ones have already left and those crafty aliens are using the doors as a way to break into the Autumn. Should've closed those impenetrable interior doors, guys.

Guh... there's debris and jagged wall shapes everywhere. I can barely move. Every time an alien crosses my path, I'm helplessly refracted into a wall.

Screw it. The game wants to take aiming out of my hands? Fine. I'm just going to run at the enemy and let the game do the work. Dodging? I don't need dodging! I'll just move the left analogue stick around in circles and Mr. Halo's velcro gaze means I can never miss!

Hold X to swap for... that shape.

The pistol can zoom! It's useless because of the lock on and for some reason it keeps turning itself off.

Don't ask why only the pistol is the only weapon that can zoom. Mr. Halo's magic helmet doesn't have a zoom on it. Hell, it doesn't even have night vision. Poor sap has to carry a torch.

You can instantly kill certain types of enemy if you sneak up behind them and hit them with the butt of your gun. It doesn't work if they're facing you. Oops.

Mr. Halo throws an injured soldier into the last escape pod and we're outta here!

"Punch it."

Mr. Halo. Calmest man in the universe.

We crashed. Everybody's dead. Does Mr. Halo care? Does Cortana care? Hell no.

This has to be a new level, so I'm going to quit back to the menu and turn off this aim magnetism.

Ha! I guess I'm not! Game knows best!

Postcards from Space.

Uh oh! Aliens! In giant flying space magnets! Time to get the hell outta here!

Riddle me this. How am I supposed to avoid the enemies when facing them causes me to walk funny. Stealth requires precision, otherwise you're gonna end up circling yourself into danger like I've just done.

Who cares if I make a mistake anyway? I've got recharging shields!

I found a big thing.

As I approach, it fires huge beams of light into the sky. This almost certainly is not a good thing.

Looks like some groups of humans have fortified the structure. Mr. Halo offers to protect them until help arrives. I don't know how help is going to arrive when we're at an unknown location in deep space exactly a zillion miles in a random direction from where we were last. I'm sure that if the aliens can outrun us and find us here, reinforcements can do the same.

More aliens are landing in the distance to the right. If they think they're going to take over my bouncy castle, they have got another thing coming.

Bang bang bang! Now that we're in a wide open space, it doesn't matter that I have limited control over my movement. With Mr. Halo's magic hands, every shot's a winner!

I'm not convinced that there isn't some small amount of auto-aim at work here. That is, I can fire a shot while standing still, expecting the shot to damage enemies if they're dead centre in the circle. Instead, my shots seem to be able to hit enemies anywhere in the circle and slightly beyond. This pistol must fire bullets the size of tin cans! That could be why it's doing so much damage.

I've picked up the needler!

It's quite something. Not only does the game adjust my bearing so I'm automatically facing enemies and not only does it count off-target shots as hits, but shots fired from the needler HOME.

This game has completely absolved me of any responsibility. I can hold fire and twiddle the analogue sticks however I like and I still can't miss.

I've just noticed that my desperate defense of the last remaining survivors of the Autumn is accompanied by a soundtrack of absolute silence.

My defense of the bigamajig continues as I fend off a few more Covenant dropships.

Gee. Defense missions sure are fun. You get to see lots of interesting scenery REPEATEDLY as you have to do the same thing REPEATEDLY until the game tires of your dance and allows you to proceed with the game.

"Uh oh! Another bandit dropping in behind us! They're trying to flank us!!"

Nah. I stand around trying to get a good shot of the structure. They can wait.

I don't hear any gunfire. I don't hear anything except birdsong, but I don't see any birds. Are the aliens waiting for me?

Yes! They were waiting for me! That's awfully considerate of them.

As the dwarves bound across the screen, I figure I'll see how well the Marines do without me.

Nothing much happens. Mr. Halo is the sole catalyst for action in this game. Time to move.

Ha ha! I'm up here you fools! Taste my noodles! I'm aiming above you! And they're still hitting you! Tee hee!


Standing still was a bit stupid.

WOW! I press a button and I'm back at the last (very recent) checkpoint. None of this Contract J.A.C.K. make-a-cup-of-tea-while-its-loading nonsense. Very good, Halo.

I've got myself a plasma rifle. I get a bit carried away because it's the only weapon I've found so far that has a super high rate of fire and burn Mr. Halo's poor armoured hands.

You see that line of blasts above the ramp? That's my aim magnetism. I'm walking in a straight line towards the enemy. On top of that, plasma weapons seem to auto-aim at targets if they're within the triangles.

It's been a very long time and I'm still defending the structure. These coloured blasts are very pretty.

Greetings from Space Canada!

I've finally defeated all the aliens here. Reinforcements are arriving to pick up the surviving Marines.

I watch as the dropship flies into the distance. So long, Space Cowboys.

The trees sway in the wind. I can't remember whether at the time these graphics were considered good. To me, in 2011, they look reassuringly bland.

Hey, they brought me a car! Thanks, guys!

Looks like one of the Marines has stuck around to give me a hand. Who could pass up the opportunity to kick ass with the legendary Mr. Halo?

Mr. Halo puts on his favourite track... rum-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta...du-rum-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta...rum-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta...du-rum-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta.

Damn, I forgot how much I hated the Warthog.

It doesn't drive like a car. It drives like an ice cube being pulled along by a string. Maybe they thought that this indirect control system would be more intuitive. Intuitive perhaps to anybody who's never driven a car in a game before.

A momentary lapse and the uncontrollamobile is sent hurtling off a cliff. Sorry Marine guy.

Flip it over with my telekinesis and it'll be good as new. Can't say as much for the poor gunner.

"This cave is not a natural formation."

I thought that too. Thanks, Cortana. The biggest giveaway was that it was square and made of metal.

"Someone built it so must lead somewhere."

Or it could lead to a dead end. It could be used for keeping shoes in. It could be anything. You don't know a damn thing, Cortana. Either shut up or pull your finger out and do something useful.

"I've hacked into the Covenant battle network."

Okay... that's better.

"They're actually broadcasting tactical data on unencrypted channels. We should show them who they're dealing with."

Oh, you just cheated. That's less impressive. Call me back when you've actually achieved something.

Where are we anyway? This place is wonderfully ominous.

There's squeaky aliens all over the place, but the car's too loose and wild to target them without flying all over the place.


And we're back at the ominous entrance.

Ignore the distractions, Mr. Halo! We're gonna jump the gap!


I would hope that it's self-evident that the player needs to have complete control of their ingame avatar if they're to be responsible for their positioning, aiming and evasion. If the player isn't supposed to control their avatar in your game, then don't be deceptive by calling it a first person shooter. If you want to make a rail shooter, make a rail shooter. If you want to make an FPS with lock on, then assign a lock on button.

I can't imagine that potential players of Halo are the sort of people who seek out layers of indirection in their controls. It's my assumption that they want to have the game respond immediately and predictably to their input.

Personally, I want controls to do exactly what they promise to do. I don't want the controls to be context sensitive. The very last thing I want to be context sensitive is the analogue sticks.

There's plenty of buttons on your typical game controller, so there has to be a combination that allows the most often used buttons to be placed within easy reach. If you put in an options screen sophisticated enough so the player can create their own, it ceases to be your responsibility.

It's always a shame when this happens because time was wasted devising aim magnetism, then designing it, then implementing it, then testing it. If they had just left it alone, they would have saved an incredible amount of time and the game would have been better for it. If you're going to try and be a smartass and offer a Fascinating and New control system, you need to make it optional because sometimes you're wrong.

Halo is worse than Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza.


  1. Bloody crap, he's the chief, not Mr. Halo :O

  2. Hah, I've dropped the game not long after Mr Reviewer did (though I was playing the PC version). What a boring and bland game, and that's from the makers of fucking Marathon!

    1. Which wasn't actually any better for it's time.
      Well at least Marthon triology didn't have so much filler copy paste corridors.

      Also excatly my thoughts about Halo's assault rifle.

      I haven't played the original Halo on xbox only the pc version and letsjustchangethegraphicsengine remake, but I don't remember any problems with the controls.
      Halo 3 and Reach I think were actualy good, but the 1 & 2 I haven't been able to get back to replaying once I finished them once.

      Thing the original Halo had right for retrospect was that the enemies easily. The sticky plasma grenade was free "get rid of anyone ticket", if it hit it killed and grenades lying on the floor exploded if they got caught in nearby explosions. Combine with the original volatile needler rounds and some indoor fights were just one awesome chain of explosions.
      The seguels all have the majority of enemies made riddiculously tough, which makes the weapons feel under powered. This seems to have only gotten worse in the Halo 4. Imagine Doom, but with every enemy taking three times the damage to kill.

  3. In halo 2 they let you change the controls mid game.


Semi-Random Game Box