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Retrospectives – Halo Single-Player Campaigns part 1

posted on November 19th, 2007 by matt

When people think of the Halo series, they’re quickly reminded of the college dorm-room deathmatch. Halo is the quintessential multiplayer experience on consoles, but it wasn’t always like that. Before 2001, Halo meant nothing to people. It was just another FPS game that Microsoft was using to launch their first console, the Xbox.

To really get players talking (and ultimately spending their hard-earned money), Bungie had to create a compelling single-player campaign. If the core game was bad or run-of-the-mill, no one would care about multiplayer. And a launch game’s success is usually dependent on word of mouth. Look at Wii Sports. The more people that enjoy it, the more they talk, and the better it sells (which basically means more people to play multiplayer with).

Contrary to popular belief, Halo was originally all about the single-player, story-based campaign, which is the complete opposite of what it is now. People bought Halo 2 and 3 for the Xbox Live online-play. You’ll see a few players that have “finished the fight” on Legendary, but I’m willing to bet it’s the minority of Halo 3 owners, and Live was the real reason they bought it.

So with that, I’ve gone back and played through Halo 1, 2, and 3’s single player campaigns, to see how the series has changed throughout the years. To me, Bungie’s series peaked with Halo 1, and it has steadily declined since then. But that’s getting ahead of myself. Let’s break them down into different categories to see how they stack up. Today, we will cover…

Core Gameplay:

Not much has really changed in this aspect. Halo is quickly summed up by saying it’s just a FPS, albeit a refined one. You have two guns in your inventory at all times to make things simple, but this also adds a small sense of strategy when you come across a weapon that you might want in the next few battles.

Grenades and melee attacks are always accessible through specific buttons, making the gameplay extremely simple, but very hectic. This is what I’ve always thought Halo does better than any other FPS on the market, console or PC – it makes the game very explosive, both literally and figuratively. If you’ve played a Halo game before, you know what I mean when I say that. Each battle can actually be unique, given these tools for destruction. It’s also the best example of Hollywood gaming. You really are the bad-ass action star that saves the world, and Bungie did a fantastic job in recreating that feeling for fans of interactivity.

However, one area that I feel Bungie has ruined in the single-player experience in the two sequels is the franchise’s gun designs, specifically the Assault Rifle. It sounds way more powerful in Halo: Combat Evolved. If you connect with an Elite and unload an entire clip into him (the original Assault Rifle has 60 bullets in one clip, compared to 32 in Halo 3), it feels like it’s the last chance to save the world.

You get this overwhelming sense of power when using the Assault Rifle, and it was one of the most exhilarating gaming experiences I’ve ever had. This is what grabbed me when I first played Halo. It’s the second gun you get in the game, and it introduces you to the core gameplay with explosive effect. Bungie could have stopped at the Assault Rifle and I would have still enjoyed myself. Thankfully they didn’t, and we got the Pistol and Shotgun as well, two guns that everyone knows by heart.

When I go back and play Halo: Combat Evolved after playing 2 and 3, I’m amazed (and thoroughly confounded) that they didn’t keep the same design for the Assault Rifle. In Halo 3, the sound and particle effects for the Assault Rifle are very much muted, and it brings the overall feeling of Halo to a level of mediocrity that many FPS games are known for. Had the Assault Rifle in Halo: Combat Evolved been what it is in Halo 3, I would have predicted that Halo would not be as popular as it is today. I’m sure you’ll disagree with me, but there’s a stark difference in experiences going from Halo 1 to Halo 3, and the (de-) evolution of the Assault Rifle is the primary reason why in my mind.

While this relates to gun-balancing, having 60 bullets in one clip also lets the user not worry about their ammo reserves. In Halo 3, the moment you fire, you’re already wary of how many bullets are left in the clip. This issue is extremely subtle to the player’s eyes, but it helps drive the sense of power that Master Chief exudes. Halo 3 limits this too much, and I feel it reduces the overall enjoyment of the game.

And what’s even more surprising is the fact that Halo 2 didn’t even include the Assault Rifle at all. Half the reason why Halo: Combat Evolved was so amazing was stripped clean from the franchise. This means that players had to find other guns to use, but found them too limiting to really feel comfortable with. And forget about the sense of Hollywood power; Bungie realized that the guns in Halo 1 would have ruined an online matchmaking experience and turned the game into a mess concerning gun selection.

Another problem that I found with Halo 2 (which will be a recurring theme in this article, as I found Halo 2 to be the worst single-player experience I’ve had in a long time), is how fast you switch weapons with the Y Button. It is extremely slow. In Halo: Combat Evolved, you switch guns at the speed of lightning. While this takes away a sense of reality, it makes the game more fun. In Halo 2, the battles became more frustrating when you were getting shot in the face with the Needler while waiting for your SMG to pop up. It was fixed in Halo 3, but it was never brought back to the set up used in Halo: Combat Evolved.

Other than that, Halo 1, 2, and 3 play pretty much identically to each other, with each sequel introducing a few new additions for variety’s sake. Halo 3 introduced the Brute Grenade (which seems to be a Plasma Grenade that can’t go as far) and Halo 2 introduced dual-wielding and the Battle Rifle, which is deadly in the right hands.

But the problem with the Battle Rifle is that it isn’t the Assault Rifle. Taking out the Assault Rifle for Halo 2 was bad enough, but replacing it with the Battle Rifle was the final nail in the coffin for me with the sequel. It can only shoot in 3-shot bursts, and only has 36 bullets in its clip. It makes the game too tactical for my tastes. It’s not really a bad gun, but Bungie screwed up by making it the game’s primary star. The SMG has way too much recoil, and an even smaller slip. The Shotgun is only used a few times during the entire game, and most of the Covenant weapons are pretty much useless. The replacement awesome weapons I’ve found in Halo 2 are dual Plasma Rifles. But even that has its limitations, as they overheat when used too much. The Brute version is even worse, overheating at twice the speed as the Elite version.

This brings me to another issue that I have a problem with: the Brutes. In Halo 2, they are overpowered. It took way too much to kill these guys. You had to use damn-near all of your bullets/lasers to take them out. It is exhausting to play them, and that’s not a good thing. The entire second half of Halo 2 has you pitted against these overpowered monstrosities, and it makes the game extremely laborious. They toned down their health for Halo 3, which is a god send, as I don’t think I could go through an experience like that again. If you’ve never played Halo 2 before, I would suggest stopping right after Master Chief finds the Grave Mind. The game is basically useless after that point.

And if you’ve ever noticed, in both Halo 2 and 3, the Brutes attack en masse. It seems that Bungie reduced the difficulty concerning enemy AI when fighting these enemies, as there’s a major difference between the AI for the Elites and the Brutes. It seemed like the only way to replicate the tenacity of an Elite soldier was to pit the player against 10 or more Brutes. While it’s great to say you can show 15 huge enemies on screen at once, the end-user experience isn’t any better when their AI is dumber than an enemy that was first introduced six years ago, on a less-complex computing machine.

Coming soon – part 2: Level Design.

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3 Comments

  1. christian said on November 19, 2007:

    Some notes:

    -The assault rifle felt better in Halo, but it was an underpowered weapon. You had to be far too close to use it, which made it worthless on Legendary, and double worthless in multiplayer. You go into an MP with the AR, and you’re toast.

    -While much more puny sounding in 3, the AR is useful and a great base weapon.

    -As you could guess, the Battle Rifle change in Halo 2 was all geared around MP. Its a much better – actually too much better- starting weapon than the AR, and it is clear that the SP capmpaign would have to adjust to the changes Bungie made for the sake of multiplayer.

    – Plasma weapons are amazing in Halo 1 once you get to know them, as they are much better at taking down shields.

    -The scoped pistol being removed was also an MP decision, though I’m kind of glad that happened, as it was necessary.

    – The Brutes in 2 were absolutely nasty, and I like them that way. In 3 they essentially became the Elites, in both look and sound, though minus recharging shields. This pissed me off, as it gave the game a very similar tone, rather than the different tone of Halo 2’s endgame against the Brutes.

    – The needler has been on a rollercoaster in terms of usefulness and rebalancing in all the games.

    – Halo 2 probably had the best SP, at least if you’re like me and enjoyed the Arbiter. Halo 1 had too much backtracking and late game level design blew. 3 seems fantastic, but there is much more backtracking that they trick you into undertaking, and the epic, “few marines in guerilla warfare” feel of 1, and the “let’s scrap together and figure out this damn crisis” feel of 2 were lost. Things were their most hopeless in 3, and yet wepaons and soldiers didn’t stop coming. It felt like everything would be all right, rather than this being the fate of the world.

  2. Matt said on November 19, 2007:

    Theoretically, I’m not even sure the Assault Rifle is more powerful in either one of them, as they both can kill an Elite/Brute with one clip of ammo (in Normal). If Halo 3’s AF had more bullets it would be, but it seems as if they’re equal in this regard. Also, the “physical” power of the AF isn’t what I was referring to. It’s a combination of graphics and sound that really suggest to the player the power of the AF in Halo 1, on a more emotional level. How quickly or efficiently it kills something is not what grabbed me with the game. I remember hiding behind a Covenant container, with 2 Elites coming toward me in the hallway. I chucked a grenade right at their feet, which pretty much sealed their fates. But because I felt like a badass with the AF, I popped out and showered them with bullets, completely emptying my clip. They had no chance. With the thunderous snap of each bullet, to the bright particle effects from the gun’s muzzle, I tore them down, and if I was there in real like, I would be screaming my balls off. It’s just that invigorating to take hold of Halo 1’s AF. That’s the feeling I was referring to. It makes you feel like you could take on an entire army by yourself and win.

    And as you’ll see in the next part of this article, I splooge all over Arbiter. I’ll refrain from spoiling it, but know that I really love the Arbiter, and he saved Halo 2 for me.

  3. Stefan said on November 21, 2007:

    Alright, I feel a bit old. My college memories of halo are of figuring out how I was going to afford a G3 mac so I could play the game when it was released, and watching the macworld expo footage over and over again in awe :)

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