Halo is as popular a game series as there is, yet I have always felt like it has suffered from a case of identity crisis. First everyone derided the series as being a dumbed down FPS for jocks and kids. Then a wave of revisionism swept through the land, and now even the snobbiest folks may consider the series a favorite of theirs.
With this week’s launch of Halo 3: ODST, the cycle may start anew. The scores are pretty solid all around, but folks have found new ways to bring on the hate. Among critics, there is far from universal love for ODST’s storytelling, both in regards to the hub world/flashback concept, or the Audio/Video logs scattered throughout. From what I can tell, ODST is the closest Halo has gotten to the old Marathon style of narrative, but for some reviewers that has apparently become a bad thing, as it gets in the way of shooting things.
Among fans, there is dissent over the game’s price. Bungie once promised that it would cost less than full price, only to slap in some extra features and ship it for $60 anyway. Aside from feeling betrayed, these gamers argue that there isn’t enough new content to justify the price, something they have calculated by breaking the game into features and comparing them to the features in ‘AAA’ titles like Gears of War 2 and, on at least one site, Uncharted 2, a game that isn’t out yet.
Among both parties, there is a constant habit to remember that the game was originally labeled an expansion pack, and then using the term to frame the entire experience. Put it all together, and you have a game that gets high scores thanks to its name, but a lot of scorn from an online community that represents themselves as poor, young knuckle draggers who cannot stand having a story get in the way of their teabagging. Just like when the original Xbox first launched.
Is this the sign of a return to the old days of Halo Hate? Probably not. In reality I think this is just a big name game bringing out the ugliest nature of everyone in the industry. Microsoft and Bungie did a terrible job of explaining and marketing the game, and its development lacked the clarity and focus of Halo 3. People feel like this was a case of Microsoft discreetly trying to nickel and dime its customers, knowing full well that the name on the box would carry it through. No matter what the company says to the contrary, it would be silly to think this wasn’t part of their plan.
As for the writers and readers, their reactions are a concentrated version of everything that is wrong with your typical “core” gamer. Reviewers forget that their speedy playthroughs may not resemble a typical experience with the Campaign. Gamers forget that reviewers have special circumstances, and take their remarks as Gospel. All of them continue to look at games from an atomistic approach, breaking them down into their tiniest bits in order to asses whether they are worth cold hard cash, and complaining if their barely empirical results do not match up with their overly lofty demands.
Lastly, they are still too beholden to definitions of words that are inappropriately applied. Is ODST an expansion pack, or not? Who cares? I am reminded of Guitar Hero 2, when some people thought that speed modifiers, a standard feature in many Bemani games, should be illegal for high score play simply because the game labeled them as a cheat code.
In my mind, these are the only certainties to come out of ODST’s release:
– It has been years since Halo has been something to buy for the singleplayer alone, and by now you probably know whether you like its multiplayer. ODST is not worth buying for the Campaign, and has some multiplayer goodies as well. There is nothing surprising here.
– Anyone who really enjoys Halo Single Player knows you can’t play it just once, so all the complaints about play time are meaningless. Again, this is not surprising.
– “Core” gamers are still amazingly thickheaded, unable to really think about or adapt to any given situation. Their view of any game is a checklist of features that fails to understand that game development is not static.
– The greed of companies is simply the inverse of stinginess and sense of entitlement among many gamers.
– Seriously folks. I hate the word “manchild”. Stop giving me reasons to second guess myself.