Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I just can't let it go.

Yahtzee's latest Zero Punctuation, to no one's surprise, takes aim at Halo 3. While it's gratifying to see that someone who actually gets paid to blather about video games takes a stance quite similar to mine, it also reinforces the lonely realization that the determined few of us who dare to question the orthodoxy of Halo 3's Supreme Greatness are not going to be seen as the cold-blooded geniuses we are for some time, if ever.

Aside from the world-against-us feeling, which is always invigorating, what do I care if some basement-dwelling fanboys rip anyone who suggests Halo 3 has not been the best game ever conceived and delivered to the sweaty hands of man?

Part of the problem is that 3's multiplayer, which apparently was what I was supposed to buy and use nonstop, has become an excuse for the shortcomings of the singleplayer campaign. This annoys the hell out of me. Several people have tried to explain this away in a few different tacks:

  • "Oh, come on, Halo's really about the multiplayer anyway. No one cares about the singleplayer". Funny, that's not what the pre-release hype was all about. Anybody remember "Finish the Fight"?
  • "You have to understand the backstory from the first two games in order to really appreciate what happens in the third". Weak. This is the first Halo game on the 360, and there are going to be people who haven't played 1 or 2 that want to try 3 just to see what all the fuss is about. Are we really expecting those people to play 20 hours' worth of backstory before we pronounce them ready to enjoy the current game? Why not craft a compelling story that can stand on its own but also rewards longtime fans? Valve does this with Half-Life, Bethesda does it with Elder Scrolls, and even Bungie did it with Halo 2 (a game that has been retroactively rising in my esteem these days). This argument smacks too much of navel-gazing comic book nerds who yell at you if you don't read all your comics in chronological order, and it deserves no more respect.
  • "At least they tried to do a story, unlike some other games that don't even pretend to". They damn well better have a story, since Bungie has always had decent stories with their games (going back to Marathon and Durandal). They spent a lot of time in 2 developing characters, story arcs, and deepening considerably our understanding of the Covenant, the Arbiter, the Marines, and the Flood. Fanboy reaction to this was admittedly negative, so Bungie seems to have decided that time spent on the story was wasted since gamers specifically rejected that part of 2 while embracing the multiplayer. No, Bungie doesn't get points for trying here; they took the safe route and tried not to piss anyone off. When you do that, you get lackluster, uninspired gaming, no matter how pretty it looks.
Some game companies *coughidcough* have in the past succumbed to the temptation to write a multiplayer game, stick some bots into the multiplayer levels, and call the result a singleplayer game. This is the degenerate case of a singleplayer game -- a quick and dirty hack on top of the multiplayer that exists solely that the publisher can check off the "Features single player"/"No Internet connection required" bullet point on the Blockbuster Game Feature List™. Other examples include Unreal 2004; it's one of my favorite shooters, but it made little pretense of being a compelling singleplayer experience. Halo 1, by contrast, was specifically NOT about being a multiplayer game. In the days before Xbox Live, multiplayer was confined to splitscreen on usually tiny standard-def TVs. While it was fun for a group of friends in the same room, it sure wasn't any kind of "new standard" for other games.

Finally, I guess I'm just personally disappointed. I preordered 3 months in advance, I went to the store before midnight to get it, I took the day off work -- hell, Bungie (who all else aside are really awesome people who love their fans and try their damnedest to make them happy) came out in a party bus to sign autographs, shake hands, and dodge questions about Halo 4. I have to say it was one of, if not the best, experiences I've ever had at a public video game event. It's sad that the final product didn't live up to my expectations, but if the game makes $170 million in one day and scores dozens of perfect reviews from otherwise legitimate game sites, making me happy has got to be at the bottom of anyone's list.

P.S. I'm not ending on a "poor lil ol' me" kick here; it's my problem, I'm dealing with it, and video games are ultimately a stupid and pointless waste of time anyway. I may be emo over this, but I haven't lost touch with reality just yet. (Unlike those dumb bastards who forked over US$130 for the Super-Special Legendary Collector's Edition With Cat-Sized Helmet and Worthless Bonus Discs. HA-ha!)


Elizabeth said...

I thought the helmet couldn't fit on cats.

Ben said...

Such is the suckiness of Halo 3 that their helmet designed for cats can't even fit cats.