piątek, 18 lutego 2011

Short Review #16: Halo - Combat Evolved

Halo. The shooter that is thought to have 'made' the Xbox platform. An ongoing series, extremely popular all around the world. A multiplayer phenomenon, a game which introduced new solutions to the FPS genre. Also, it's fun for around two or three hours, and then again for another hour, after which it becomes obvious it's utterly and completely rubbish. A piece of crap game, full of very bad design choices and mediocre gameplay. Also, I have heard several people state that this is the best game of the series...

Ok, so without getting into the plot or whatever, I'll point out what I actually liked about the game. The first few hours were a fun, although not a very riveting shooter. The music is good or very good throughout. The graphics are nice to look at, though obviously they aren't anything special today, but I can see how good they could have been considered when the game came out. The enemy AI is quite good, they dodge your bullets and grenades, run around to evade you. And of course, kudos for introducing the regenerating life thing, and grenades into FPS games, though Call of Duty 2 has done both waaay better. But Halo was first, I can dig that. Good for them. Oh, and the Flood 'spiders' were a really nice touch... for the first 10 minutes. They kind of loose their appeal after you've been killing them for several hours.

Now the bad stuff... this is going to take a while.

1) Lazy level design. I have never been so bored by a game's level design in my life. Halo reuses levels more than any other game I ever played. You traverse the same (well, not exactly the same, but pretty much) corridor and room several times IN A ROW, and then you go through them AGAIN AND AGAIN for three or four times over the course of the game. The same goes for several other locations. It's not that obvious in the first few hours of the game when you've got some good variation. But once you reach around the middle of the game, it's just copy+paste pretty much until the end (or at least for the several hours I actually played the game).

This is especially noticeable in the Library location, where you traverse pretty much the same level over and over again for around an hour of gameplay, all the time fighting off wave after wave of the exact same enemies. NO VARIATION WHATSOEVER except for some backup later on.

2) Retarded combat features. To this point: a completely useless 'basic' weapon, the assault rifle. You start several levels with it, and the pistol, you also have ample opportunity to pick it up later on. The weapon which spends its ammo very quickly, has almost NONE accuracy, and deals shit damage. Congratulations. Especially given the fact that all the other weapons (except the Needler) are pretty much all good, just dependant on the situation. Retarded combat feature

#2: enemies which insta-kill you. This includes guys with melee weapons which kill you the moment they reach you, and it doesn't matter how much shields or health you have. They are sometimes cloaked, and at other times they run at you from around a corner, so if you're not looking that way, you'll get backstabbed and won't even know what hit you.

Also, Missile Launchers. There are levels with several enemies close to eachother who have that weapon. One shot from it, and more often than not, you're dead. That's actually what made me quit the game.

3) It's a console game, so of course NO SAVING YOUR GAME EXCEPT FOR CHECKPOINTS. At the beginning, there was quite a lot of checkpoints, so this wasn't much of an issue. After that, this has become a true and utter frustration. That rage quit I mentioned above? Yeah, a guy insta-killed me RIGHT BEFORE A CHECKPOINT, after a good 10 minutes of a hard firefight. Doesn't that just make you want to play a game more?

4) Schizophrenia. This game doesn't know what it wants to be. It starts off as a run-of-the-mill SF story with humourous element to it (the basic enemies speak gibberish english, stuff like 'run away!' in squeeky comedic voices). It then, briefly, becomes a SF survival horror when you fight off the Flood (an alien life form which assimilates and mutates other life forms), although that part of the game has absolutely TERRIBLE pacing, which makes the whole thing (which could have been a nice refreshing of the gameplay) a dreary and tedious experience. Half-way through that Survival Horror bit you meet a character who acts as if he was a comic relief. Let me say that again - you fight with a terrifying enemy which sets you on edge, and then there's that guy hovering over you, cracking jokes and humming songs under his nose... uuuummm theme breaker, anyone? And finally, it assumes a very serious tone in the 'save the world' kind, of course without actually getting rid of the horror-like enemies, or of the comedic-relief enemies.

5) Repetition. #1: The enemies. There's only a handful of them, and you are actually fighting one type of them (the Covenant) for several hours, then you fight the Flood EXCLUSIVELY for another SEVERAL hours (and they have even less enemy types than the covenant), and then, for the remainder of the game, you get a mix of the two. What the hell?

#2: The weapons. You get introduced to most of them early on in the game, and use them for the whole experience. Around 10 weapons is usually enough for FPS games, but in Halo it just becomes boring very fast.

#3: Everything else. Seriously, the game is so god damn repetitive from around the half further, that it was a chore and I had to FORCE myself to play through it. Even the music has only a handful of tracks! They're good, as I mentioned at the beginning, but how long can you listen to the same stuff?

6) Vehicle physics. Ok, Halo had vehicles in. Great, congrats. Too bad they're shit to drive / fly around. Compared to the others, this is just a small gripe, as you don't even use vehicles that often.

And see, if Halo wasn't as long as it is, if they cut out around 30-50% of the game in favour of a shorter, more intense and varied campaign, it wouldn't be as bad. Sure, all the bad stuff would still be visible, but at least you wouldn't be able to say they screwed up the level design as much as they did. If it was like Call of Duty - short but sweet, it would be a decent game. As it is, it's tedious, boring, tiresome and bland for the most part. Once you enter the same location for the fifteenth time, fought the same enemies for several hours, you can't really care about the plot any more. These pacing issues, which are intimately connected to the bad design choices, had to be visible even 10 years ago... why then, god dammit, was the game regarded so good despite having pitfalls which most older titles never had? Remember Unreal, Quake 2, Soldier of Fortune, Serious Sam? Each of these games was different, but NONE of them had such pacing problems and crappy level design.

Halo is a 5/10 game. It may have been a 9/10 back in the day, though how it's problems weren't pointed out, I have no idea. I'd rate it a 4/10, but I have to give it credit for innovating the genre, and paving the way for truly great games like Call of Duty 2 (which had many of Halo's elements - regenerating health, grenades, rifle-butting enemies etc). As it is, this game is an utter waste of time. If you feel you should play it to 'know the classics', well, do it. But don't pay for this game. Rent it, borrow it, see it at a friend's place. Save your money. I had a chance to get this game for 5 pounds. I ended up getting it for 1 pound. I can't tell you how HAPPY I am that I only paid that much for it. I have to say, I had moderate fun with it for a few hours, but after that I was just forcing myself to advance.

Seriously, in the light of my Shogo review, I can see how crappy this game really is. Even Shogo, even though obviously not a very well designed game, was A LOT better than Halo, and a lot more fun to play through. If Shogo was 10 hours long, I'd probably hate it, but it was four of five hours long, which was just enough to keep it interesting and fun to play. If Halo was 5 hours long, I'd probably rate it at around 6, or maybe even 7/10. But what are initially minor grievances, grow up to be major problems once you start encountering them over and over again.

To sum up, AVOID this game. Don't believe your friends that this is worth playing. When they tell you that, ask them when they played this game the last time. If the answer is anything more than a two or three years, they are living off nostalgia, or clearly haven't played much FPS games. This is probably the worst shooter I ever played, and certainly the worst 'supposed to be good' game I ever played. Seriously, I got more fun out of Age of Empires 2, and that says something...

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