(As played by a guy who's never owned an XBox)
Recently, due to a series of hilarious and sleep-deprived incidents, I ended up making merchandise for an internet personality. I won't go too far into that here, but
as a result of that whole ordeal, I was invited to said internet personality's Halo Night.
I did not own Halo when I recieved this invitation.
I also had never played Halo, for that matter; growing up, my first systems had been a hand-me-down PS1, a new PS2 (purchased at the end of its lifespan in roughly 2006, if I remember correctly), and eventually a PS3 before I started buying up Nintendo systems as well later on. I wouldn't consider myself a particularly ride-or-die Sony fan by any means—I'm desperately hoping Kingdom Hearts 4 comes out on PC soon after it releases— but as a result I've never had any experience with Halo, a series that just about everyone I know seems to have touched and loved at some point or another. I still wanted to participate in Halo night at least once, though, and when I picked up the "Master Chief Collection" on sale and realized that it came with both the singleplayer and multiplayer campaigns for every game involved, I decided I would finally get around to experiencing the series that had eluded me for so many years.
The Master Chief Collection
Before I actually talk about the games themselves, though, I'd like to talk a little about the package they come within. The Master Chief Collection, from the perspective of an absolute
outsider to the series, is shockingly well put together. That doesn't change the... Unfortunate things you're greeted with upon booting it up. There's like, 12 battle passes, a daily mission
system straight out of mobage hell, separate and mildly annoying character customization for every game involved, and so on. It's rough. Once you get past the kind of awful first impression,
though, you're given some really lovely options: every game in the MCC (with the exception of ODST) allows you to install the singleplayer, multiplayer, or neither. This was useful in
my particular case, as I only needed the multiplayer data from Halo 3 and Halo: Reach to participate in Halo night.
It was also useful because everyone I asked told me to stay the fuck away from Halo 4.
Now, I've got no prior experience with Halo, let alone Halo 4. I've got no clue as to why every single Halo fan I spoke to was so adamant that I not touch it with a ten foot pole. Perhaps Halo 4 is wonderful, and by excluding it I have missed out on a truly important experience in the Halo canon. From what I've been told, Halo 1-3 (and the two spinoffs) used to be the loving project of a company known as Bungie. At some point, Microsoft shuffled Bungie away and replaced them with a tailor-made Halo studio by the name of "343 Industries". Now, I have absolutely no idea of the particular effects this might have had on the Halo series, but in my experience any time some kind of shit like this happens it's usually really, really bad.
As such, I didn't play or install Halo 4. I paid like $30 for this collection and got five full-length FPS campaigns out of it without even touching 4, so I'm not exactly feeling broken up about that. Your mileage my vary, but the lessened impact on my poor SSD from not having to play that game isn't something I'm going to complain about. as one final sidenote before getting into the games themselves, I played every campaign on the "Heroic" difficulty— just below the maximum of "Legendary".
So, Halo CE makes a strong first impression. Big Ringworld, fuckhuge spaceship, we're here to see if this ancient and weird place has a weapon that can deal with the aliens who really, really
want humanity dead. A bit generic (aside from the ringworld), sure, but executed well. Right off the bat, the FOV is awful. Way too low. Switching the FOV is annoying enough that I wrote down that it was
annoying in the notes I took, but not so annoying that I didn't forget writing that down to begin with. And speaking of visuals...
You're gonna want to hit Tab ASAP.
Now, I have no nostalgia for this series. Like I've already said 3(?) times and will probably continue to say as this long-winded mess goes on, I haven't got any prior experience to color my opinion, here. Halo: CE comes with remade visuals, and they're... Really not good. At all. The models are higher-resolution, sure, but the changes in lighting and color absolutely ruin the aesthetic they seemed to be going for in the original game; everything is greebled to hell and back, and there's just blue. Everywhere. Constantly. There's so, so much blue; nowhere is allowed to be dark, it's GOT to have blue light. It's not great, chief. Thankfully, hitting Tab really is all you have to do to turn them off. I didn't discover this until roughly halfway through the game, and I've genuinely been considering replaying the campaign just for that. I should at least mention that there's a few easter eggs and collectibles that only seem to exist if you're using the remake graphics, so if you care about getting those all in one playthrough, just tap Tab in areas that look like they might have hidden shit, I guess.
Now, gameplay. As far as gameplay goes, Halo's systems are pretty simple. You have two weapons, two healthbars. The first healthbar that depletes (contextualized as your shields) regenerates, but the second healthbar only comes back if you find a medkit laying somewhere. Shields also take a while to actually kick in and regen. Fun system, I think. Your shields always being there as a fallback actually doesn't diminish the tension as much as you'd think; because you always have shields, the game is shockingly stingy with medkits, meaning you can often spend more than half of a level nervously checking your corners and trying not to die with minimal health. Ammo is also more of a concern than in most FPS games I play—there are two general types of weapon: Human and Alien. Human weapons are strong as hell against most enemies (save for those who also have shields) and can be refilled by finding more of the same gun. This is tricky, though, because the aliens don't use human weapons. This means that, for at least the first chunk of the game, your only source of human weapon ammo is going to be caches of human corpses scattered about. Alien weapons are less suited for all-rounded purposes; they've all got some niche quirk to them that makes them a little tricky to use, but are generally better than human weapons at dealing with shields on the relevant opponents. You also can't refill alien ammo for the majority of their guns; once a gun is spent, it's useless. Add in the hard carry limit of two guns max, and you've got a pretty compelling little system that leaves you scrounging around and making a lot of on-the-fly choices as to what weapon will be the most useful to take in the long run. Human weapons get a lot better after the halfway point or so thanks to the introduction of an enemy type that actually drops them when killed, but it never feels like a massive power imbalance. Plus, I don't know about you, but I'd rather have my weapons feel a little too good than a little too shit, you know?
As for enemy variety, there's a pretty okay amount. You have Grunts as your basic fodder, Jackals as a disruptive, shield-toting (as in, like, a physical handheld one, not the regenerating health you've got)
little fucker, and Elites as something akin to a "humanoid" enemy, being the only other enemy type in the game with a shield like yours. Later on the game introduces the Flood; animated corpses that run at
you and force you to engage at a much closer range than the previous enemy types. They're unshielded, tanky, and very likely to swarm you. They also don't have head hitboxes as far as I can tell, meaning your
best means of defense really is just to unload wildly. This sounds annoying, but they tend to tote human guns and rocket launchers, meaning levels heavy in the flood feel sort of like a good match of
Left 4 Dead, running around and kiting them while taking out the ones carrying more dangerous weapons with a grenade or a sneak-up shotgun blast at close range. It's a good time, and accompanied by a
real nice soundtrack. There's a lot of orchestral stuff going on—not something I usually care for, it's well executed—but every once in a while a track with some really nice synths or more experimental
vibes will kick in to keep things nice and fresh.
That leads me into the story, and it's... Actually pretty nice. I'm not really one for military stories, but the military stuff in this game is more a framing for the weird sci-fi bullshit that takes center stage for the majority of the game. Cortana and Chief have a fun little dynamic, despite Chief being just shy of a silent protagonist; he's kind of like a more subdued action movie hero. He'll pull crazy stunts and crack a one liner or two, but even those oneliners feel kind of quiet in a real nice way. He and Cortana converse with eachother like this is just another day at the office, taking things seriously when they need to be, but not getting melodramatic either. The aliens are given almost no characterization whatsoever, though, save for the Grunts; they talk in high-pitched, shrill tones and cry out in panic before running away and forgetting they're supposed to be trying to kill you if you down a larger enemy before them. It's a fun touch. The game's enemy AI actually adds a lot, on that note: enemies feel smart without being unfair. Elites will take cover to let their shields recharge, Grunts will (as mentioned) freak out if you kill more powerful teammates, and the Flood mindlessly bumrushing you all make the world feel nice and alive. Back to the main plot, the game definitely primes itself for further expansion. Shortly after the Flood are introduced, you meet 343; he's the ancient-alien-made robotic operator of the titular Halo, and his idea of containing the flood involves nuking all sentient life in the vicinity. It's not a particularly shocking plot twist, but the way 343 talks about it provides a lot of genuinely, truly interesting questions. He speaks as though he's done this before; not just in general, but specifically with Master Chief. He talks to Chief like Chief should know exactly what's about to happen, and constantly calls Chief "reclaimer". It's a really cool mystery that, while not expanded upon within Halo CE, left me excited to play the other games and see where thing went.
Halo CE was fun, even with some mild jank. Melee felt a little odd and vestigial, the Magnum pistol is somehow the best long-range weapon in the game, there's a lot of blatantly copypasted sections and... Stealth areas? It's still an experience I'm glad I had.
So, what's next?
First, the good about Halo 2. Halo 2, like CE, has remade graphics available by hitting Tab on your keyboard. Unlike CE, though, these remade graphics also come with remade cutscenes.
The remade cutscenes are prerendered, and frankly drop dead gorgeous. They're really, really nice. Turning on the remake graphics also enables a new soundtrack that I find great, and the remake
visuals (unlike CE) seem to try much harder to meet the original game's intended tone. I don't know what differences in production exist between these two remakes to cause such a stark difference in quality,
but I'm not going to complain when Genesong goes as hard as it does. The story, for the most part, isn't bad. The military stuff takes more of a focus for the Master Chief sections (unfortunately), but Halo 2
has a neat little trick up its sleeve: every other mission now has you play as The Arbiter, one of the Elite aliens from the previous game. You get an up-close view of the inner workings of the alien forces,
with the internal politics and blatantly evil schemes of the council running the whole thing making a lot of the alien forces fairly sympathetic. It's pretty good. Gameplay-wise, the Arbiter more or less plays like Chief, except your flashlight is replaced with the ability to turn on invisibility for a couple brief seconds. This makes the weird vestigial stealth stuff from CE feel at least a little more natural, at least during the sections where you get to play as the Arbiter while dealing with it. Going back to Chief, he and Cortana's dynamic continues to be good, though slightly worsened by something I'll get into later. A "new" character by the name of Sgt. Johnson is introduced, and he's also a real fun time. Technically he was also in CE, but so minor I forgot he was there at all until I thought about it for a couple days while writing this.
This marks the end of my praise for Halo 2.
Halo 2 feels like a fucking mess to actually play. The interesting Shields/HP dynamic is now gone; you now have fast-regenerating shields. When your shields are gone, you can take an indeterminate amount of damage before dying. The game doesn't make any indication as to how much that is. Movement has been changed in a way I really can't describe outside of feeling vaguely worse—just sort of sluggish and mildly upsetting in a really annoying way— jumping in specific feels really bad, here. This is almost certainly not helped by the weirdly constant framedrops I was getting as I played. These drops happened regardless of whether or not I used the remade visuals, I might add. Weapons are a nightmare, too. New weapons are introduced and they're almost all universally lame.
Pictured: One of the only decent new weapons, the Carbine.
So, new weapons. The Brute Shot is so bad I genuinely thought my game had glitched out the first time I fired it, only for me to shoot it again and realize that the terrible firing delay, mediocre damage, and the fact that it's a grenade launcher that not only doesn't explode on impact but ricochets off surfaces it hits were depressingly intentional. The Carbine and Battle Rifle are... Okay. The Battle Rifle specifically feels like it's better than just about everything else, purely by virtue of being the only weapon still kind of on Halo 1's level—every other returning weapon feels as though it's been nerfed to some degree, and aside from the Battle Rifle there's nothing new on the human side of the weapons. One change does make the Magnum busted again despite the nerfs, though: the ability to dual weild means you can use a charge shot from the plasma pistol in one hand and a headshot from the Magnum in another. This combo instakills any Elite regardless of rank, which might be useful if the back half of the game actually used Elites more than once or twice. Every other dual-wield combo I tried felt basically worthless. That just leaves the new melee offering and new long range offering: Energy Swords and Beam Rifles. Beam rifles are basically just the Sniper Rifle with unrefillable ammo and an overheat system. Energy swords are cool in concept but in practice basically worthless outside of the Arbiter sections where they can be used for stealth kills by breaking the AI.
As for enemy design, there's not much good to report. Boss fights are all kind of lame, and as far as more common enemy types go, the new main enemies are awful. There's two: Brutes and Sniper Jackals. Sniper Jackals are more or less what you'd expect; it's a Jackal, but instead of a shield-wielding forward charge, they're wielding the new beam rifle. This can get mildly infuriating when you're getting domed by an infinite-range hitscan AI from across the map, but the game kind of gives up on hitting you with these guys as it goes on. They also die in a single headshot, meaning you do have some manner of counter to the bastards.The Brutes are big Monkeymen who more or less replace Elites in the back half of the game. They're Elites without shields who sometimes go apeshit at low HP, and they take so many fucking shots to put down that you have to pump a full clip and a half straight into their skull with some weapons to put even one of the fuckers down. Did I mention that the later levels of the game like throwing at least 4-5 of these bastards at you at once? That's 4-5 at a time, by the way—sometimes it has more spawn after a couple die. The final level of the game, The Great Journey, is a dogshit fake escort mission where the only actually decent strategy is to sit on the thing you're "escorting" and then jump down to grab a vehicle so you can fly into another terrible boss fight where you wait for the game's terrible AI to land three consecutive headshots just so you get a 3 second window to do damage. This is on a timer, by the way. After you kill it, you get a cliffhanger ending.
Also, they ruined Cortana's design. Halo 2 is some ass.
So, Halo 3. First game in this collection without any remade graphics option, and this'll hold true for the remaining two entries following. I don't personally mind, because it means I got to spend less time swapping back and forth and more time enjoying what was there. Halo 3 looks pretty good, visually. Cortana's design is still the downgrade from Halo 2, but outside of that, no complaints. Areas are diverse and fun to look at without ever coming across as visually cluttered (at least before the endgame, and mostly due to one specific enemy I'll talk about later). It's just a great game to look at, really. The soundtrack is pretty good— I'd put in on-par with Halo 1's, if not a little better thanks to a few nice standouts in the back half that set a really fantastic tone for the more serious and strange events.
Alright, story. Halo 3 kicks off right after Halo 2's dogshit cliffhanger.
Halo 2 ends with Master Chief boarding the big bad's ship. Things are nearing their end, and you have to fight your way through and get to the leader of the Covenant before he can—nah just kidding you start Halo 3 with Master Chief getting bodyslammed back to Earth somehow. I have no clue how this happens. I don't think it's explained. Dude just crashes back down to Earth because he realized the game should probably last longer than two stages tops. You might have realized at this point that I didn't really touch on the actual details and progression of the other two games' stories, and that's because I don't think they'd be super interesting to talk about, especially 2. Here's the quick rundown. Obvious spoilers if you care:
Halo is a cool ringworld that's secretly a containment unit for a parasitic species that kills sentient life. It contains them by nuking all sentient life in a galaxy-wide area.
Halo 1 is about finding this, realizing what it's for, and blowing it up before the aliens use it because they're morons that don't realize what it actually does.
Halo 2 is about Master Chief stopping the aliens from doing this again after they dig some shit up on Earth, meanwhile best boy Arbiter realizes how stupid this entire group is— the Sangheili defect with him.
Also, there's an ancient alien race and Master Chief might be a reincarnation of them, or something. Best Girl Cortana gets locked back in a flood-infested Covenant ship at the end of 2 and it's the one good emotional payoff.
All caught up? Cool. Halo 3 takes the relationship you've been building up with Cortana throughout the past two games and really does not want you forgetting that she's having a bad time in the flesh virus city. Chief starts having intermittent hallucinations of her—these aren't really explained beyond a vague mention or two of "transmissions", and it doesn't need to be. By this point, the weird hallucinations are just motivation to get her back, and it's great. Honestly, I'm kind of amazed the story pulls off as many serious beats as it does. That's just one of a few, and while Halo 1 couldn't really do much more serious than "sort of tense and mysterious" before undercutting itself with a goofy-ass machinima cutscene and Halo 2 undercut any serious moments with being a massive pain in the ass, Halo 3 sticks the landing. It's not gonna make you cry or anything, but I'd compare it to, like, my favorite summer blockbuster action flicks I've seen.
At least until you get to the lore.
Halo 3, at many points, starts hinting at lore. Secret terminals that aren't a remake-only thing, cryptic messages from Cortana during her mental breakdowns, 343 (The robot, not the company) coming back and literally screaming in your face that Master Chief is a reincarnated Forerunner or that Humans are Forerunners in general. I have no idea what's going on with the background lore, and when I went to go look it up I was met with walls of insane shit that apparently happened in promotional ARGs and online arguments over what stuff was apparently only from the 343 games and got retconned into wiki pages. I'm not going to bother, but in a series with a less deranged development history I'm sure this kind of deep dive stuff would be pretty cool to really sink my teeth into and have fun researching.
So, the actual game part of the game. Health is still the system from Halo 2, but the weapons have all been rebalanced to make them all genuinely worth using. I don't think there was a single weapon I found myself thinking of as "bad", even when I gravitated towards my usual favorites. The total overhaul to the weapons keeps them all feeling fresh, but the addition of the Mauler (basically an alien revolver) and a Spiker (basically an alternate variation of the Needler that's been around since CE) came with a much better gameplay change:
The Brutes aren't dogshit to fight any more.
Thank God, too, because they've completely replaced the Elites now that they're allied with humanity. (Not the Grunts or Jackals or Hunters, though, which is... Strange, given that they seemed to defect at the end of Halo 2. I'm just going to chalk it up to the same reason as Chief falling out of the ship.) They're tankier Elites that sometimes go berserk, sometimes wear physical armor, and sometimes have shields. There's a lot of nice little variation to them, now, and (most importantly) they don't take like five fucking headshots to put down once their defenses are gone. The only other new enemy is unfortunately not as fun: it's a new form of the Flood (called a Pure Form, according to the wiki page; I don't think it was mentioned in the actual game) that starts off being terrible at attacking you and then evolves into either an even tankier melee guy (which is fine) or a fucking obnoxious, equally tanky thing that crawls on walls and peppers you with high-damage projectiles forever. These aren't so bad at first, but later on there's a level with very fleshy walls that the little fuckers blend into like you wouldn't believe.
I dare you to aim accurately at these little bastards without losing your entire health bar.
Thankfully, that's about all I can muster in terms of critique. Compared to the others, it's just pretty good without much notable fault. I guess if I'm really reaching, the final boss is hilariously underwhelming; it almost feels like a sort of meme edit where the fight starts and then you nuke him twice with a laser, and the laser sound effect cuts halfway off when his death cutscene starts. I wouldn't call that a negative so much as I would call it gratifying in a roundabout way. Like, a "punting a can across the street only for it to get hit by an oncoming semi" sort of deal. The game isn't flawless, by any means, but any further criticism I could muster would be delving into the minutia of it all; on a whole, game's pretty good.
ODST does not give a good first impression. Your first sight upon starting this game after Halo 3—at least in my case—will be watching a scene with absolutely nothing you were enjoying about the previous games. The story opens in a dropship above New Mombasa, an African city that was basically gone by the end of Halo 2. You're introduced to a cast of bland ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper; they basically fire these dudes out of a ship in low orbit to deal with issues on the surface) soldiers, none of whom I really had any reason to give half a shit about. The first impression is that, while Halo CE was previously a Sci-Fi story smuggled in the trenchcoat of a military story, ODST is a Military story wearing a t-shirt that has a cool alien on it. It's not a good way to start, and immediately put me off of the game. Your silent trooper, known only as "The Rookie", gets ready to drop. Something goes wrong, however—the situation is worse than expected. Covenant ships are pouring in from everywhere, your pod is intercepted, and you crash against the side of the building, unconcious. When you wake up, it's night time. The city is bathed in rain and neon lights, covenant troops mopping up survivors, all while the city's mysterious governing AI named "Vergil" hijacks traffic lights and billboards to direct you around its winding, mazelike roads. Where's your team? All the fighting has stopped; it's you against an army, scrounging around for clues as to where everyone else could have gone, and—
Aw, fuck, it's actually a Noir-style Sci-Fi mystery.
ODST's first impression does an amazing job at completely throwing your expectations out of whack. The military stuff is still present, make no mistake (finding clues in the open world has you play through a more self-contained mission taking place during the actual battles earlier that day) but the vast majority of your time is spent listening to the rain and a soundtrack I can only describe as African Synth Jazz while you try to solve the mysteries of where your team went and just what Vergil, the city's mysterious AI, actually is. It's wonderful. Even those self-contained missions are pretty great since they give you some time to actually get to know the characters: Dutch ended up being my favorite, personally. Another thing that makes the new perspective fascinating is how short the player is compared to other Halo games: Master Chief is canonically fucking massive. Like, 7ft+. The Rookie, on the other hand, is not. Even Grunts are roughly your height, now, which makes the roaming bands of Covenant clean-up squads that much morte menacing when you encounter them. My only complaint in regards to the story is that, towards the end, two of your ODST squadmates start going on about some relationship drama nonsense I honestly just did not care about in the slightest. It's tiring and not very interesting, but it's so small compared to the rest of the plot I can't bring myself to completely hate it.
Gameplay-wise, ODST is interesting. You have a new health system: your main HP is a meter that requires medkits to refill, supplanted by an invisible "stamina" meter that recharges when you're behind cover long enough and goddamn it it's Halo CE again.
I'm not complaining about this, mind; Halo CE's health system is just better, even if it's a little obfuscated by not being able to see your totally-not-shields meter. If I have any criticism to levy on this, it's that having a not-stupid health system makes The Rookie feel stronger than Chief does in Halo 2/Halo 3, which feels unintentional. Everything else in the game seems to be pushing you towards more tactical play; enemies are more imposing, environments are dark and hard to see in, and your grenades have a really fucking annoying throwing arc that necessitates thinking ahead and paying far more attention if you're used to the way grenades work in the other games. Weapons are (to my memory) the same selection as Halo 3 except the Magnum sounds like shit now and you can't dual wield. Combat is otherwise solid, though the only new enemy is the Engineers; floating, explosive-rigged aliens who give a shield buff to every Covenant soldier near them. Not super interesting, but fits the sort of "cleanup crew" feeling of most encounters. If I have any complaint, it's that the nightvision goggles kind of kill the atmosphere, though the areas are so dark I can't imagine the game being too fun without it unless you rebalanced some things.
The only thing really left to touch base on is probably the level design, which is... Fine. I like it more than Halo 2, though going back for 100% and finding audio logs was pretty terrible since the "open" version of the map tries really hard to direct you towards the thing that takes you to the first "flashback" level. It's a bit easy to get lost in, which I don't think is strictly bad, but I wish the direction stuff from Vergil was just a little bit more fleshed out. The whole concept of "being in a living city that wants to help you survive" is fucking awesome and realizing that it basically only manifests as "THE COLLECTIBLE IS NEAR YOU" kills the magic a bit; it's the kind of idea I wish someone would take and do something more with. It ended up being the first game of the series where I messed with "Skulls"— gameplay modifiers that act as either cheats or challenges— while hunting for the audio logs. Also while taking screenshots, which is why I have infinite ammo in those.
So, what's next?
Reach does not give a good first impression. Your first sight upon starting this game after Halo ODST—at least in my case—will be watching a scene with absolutely nothing you were enjoying about the previous games. The story opens in a military camp on the human planet known as Reach, a planet whose population was wiped out by the start of Halo CE. You're introduced to a cast of bland Spartants (Genetic Supersoldiers; Master Chief is one of these), none of whom I really had any reason to give half a shit about. The first impression is that, while Halo was previously a Sci-Fi story smuggled in the trenchcoat of a military story, Reach is a Military story wearing a t-shirt that has a cool alien on it.
...Hey, wait a minute.
Yeah, Reach gives off just about the exact same unfortunate, boring first impression as ODST. Unlike ODST, it doesn't use this to fuck with you; it's played completely straight. This is a military story where the Covenant nuke a human planet for reasons unknown while you play as The Rook- I mean Noble Six, one of the group of Spartans trying to stop it. You don't. This isn't even a spoiler; Sgt. Johnson mentions Reach in the other games in the same way you might hear someone talk about 9/11 or The Alamo. You know shit's fucked, it's just a question of whether or not it being fucked will be interesting. It's not. Your time will be spent watching your teammates get kind of cool just before waving around a giant flag that says "I WILL NOT BE ALIVE BY THE END OF THIS MISSION". This game came out almost exactly a year after Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and I cannot imagine any other explaination for why this game would be so aesthetically bland. Everything about the vibe this game is going for seems precision-engineered to suck the fun out of it to make it align with good ol' CoD: Grunts no longer speak English because then they might be kind of endearing. Every weapon and every HUD element is just kind of gross and desaturated. Every character talks in the dullest, most serious military babble imaginable. I'm not asking for Marvel-type quippy dialog or anything (good Lord, am I not asking for that) but this game is just utterly devoid of anything I find aesthetically appealing. It's just a conveyor belt of military dudes going into a meat grinder with "HEROIC SACRIFICE" written on it. I want to be clear: I have no issue with a game having an oppressive atmosphere—God knows I loved Half Life: Alyx and INFRA, and the latter of those two had me getting jumpscared by graffiti on concrete—it just does not land. It's just kind of boring. The one and only time the vibe the game is going for actually sticks that landing is the very last stage of the game, which I actually don't even want to spoil because it's probably the only really good plot moment through the whole thing, so I'll leave it at that.
Okay, so the story's kinda shit. How's the actual game? Well, the Halo CE health system is back, again, only this time they're not even pretending you don't have shields. You have shields. Weirdly, I felt like my health was also regenerating towards the back half of the game, but that was probably a bug or something else going on because it never seemed consistent. A new mechanic introduces itself: Suit Abilities. Press CTRL to activate a power with a cooldown. Most of these are ass except for the holographic decoy to fuck with enemy AI and the Sprint button that the levels seem designed around. There's an invisibility powerup, but unlike in previous games it makes you visible the second you move, which makes it generally pretty fucking useless. A couple levels have a jetpack which is a little fun, but rarely used. There's also the armor lock, where you can turn invincible at the cost of, uh...
Not being able to move at all?
I'm actually not even a little sure what the point of Armor Lock is. Maybe if you REALLY need to tank a grenade or two and can't get out of the way? It's kind of ass. As for enemies, they feel a little tankier, but in most cases it's justified; aside from Elites not dying to a grenade stuck to them for some reason, Brutes are back up near Halo 2 headshot tankiness, and it's justified visually with a helmet that gets blasted off after a few shots. I don't mind this. Grunts also seem a bit more prone to suicide-bombing than in previous games, but that could just be me having bad luck. As for stages, some of them are actually pretty fun. Shout out to the Falcon-centric level where you fly between towers in a city, that one's pretty great. There's also a weird tower-defense-y level near the end that makes me kind of want a Dillon's Rolling Western style "active tower defense" game in the Halo universe.
Unfortunately, now I have to talk about the worst section in the fucking series: Operation: Upper Cut. Or maybe it's Long Night of Solace, but then that includes the okay-ish on-foot section that happens after the absolute fucking warcrime against fun that is the Spaceship Segment. Dogshit controls, unbelievably aggressive enemies, way too FUCKING long, and no checkpoints. This one stage is the entire reason it's taken me so long to finish these games and write this stupid article, because Hi-Fi Rush came out right as I was in the middle of slogging my way through this pile of shit stage and every single time I tried to go back to it and finish all I could think was "Damn, I sure could be playing Hi-Fi Rush instead of this."
I have since heard that this section might be bugged to make enemies VASTLY more aggressive than intended on the MCC. I don't know if that's true. I don't care because the MCC was the only way I was going to bother playing this game. This stage is AIDS and if you ever decide to play Halo: Reach I cannot recommend enough that you crank the difficulty down to easy for this stage instead of making the mistake I did and powering through on whatever difficulty you were already on. It's not fun, not worth it. The rest of the game is okay.
So, that's it. I played through every Bungie-made Halo game in the Master Chief Collection. I can't say I regret most of it; I see why so many people obsessed over these games for so long, why so many people got suckered into Destiny, and—following a cursory glance at the plot summaries—why so many people really fucking hate Halo 4/5. It's a neat series.
3 = ODST > 1 >> Reach >>>>>> 2. Go play Hi-Fi Rush.