Why I still cannot finish the Halo: Combat Evolved campaign
(It’s not a matter of skill)
By Bill Jones
My brother picked it up, and at the time we were still living in the same house, so I had one readily at my disposal if I ever really wanted to play it. I usually didn’t, though.
And sometimes I think maybe that’s why I never really got into Microsoft’s flagship console series (yes, also a PC title), Halo. But I really don’t think that’s the reason. Again, that original Xbox was always at my disposal, and I distinctly remember the amount of Goldeneye-caliber multiplayer parties going on at our house numbering in the ridiculous.
But as everyone else was enamored with its multiplayer, I was doing what I usually did. I’ve always been interested in the storytelling aspect of video games, and so generally speaking the story, the single-player campaign, has always come first for me. Maybe that’s why years later I actually got reinterested in the series, finishing Halo: Reach and Halo 3: ODST. Or maybe it’s just because I was obligated to review those.
Either way, back in the day, something wasn’t clicking with me in Halo: Combat Evolved. Maybe it’s because I considered myself something of a PlayStation guy at the time. Maybe I was too busy being enraptured with Max Payne’s noir-esque storytelling or Devil May Cry’s stylish gun- and swordplay in 2001. Maybe I was laughing my ass off to Conker’s Bad Fur Day, strategizing on a GameBoy Advance with Advance Wars or enjoying the multiplayer insanity of Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Maybe I was quickly finding out that Solid Snake wasn’t going to be the main character in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, or maybe, just maybe, I was watching the game industry change with Grand Theft Auto III (holy shit, what a great year for gaming). Either way, in 2001, you could not have paid me to care about Halo: Combat Evolved.
Everyone else couldn’t be pulled away, though. The review scores were off the charts, but as critics and gamers alike swooned over the graphics, I was doing other things. In the years since, a number of sequels and off-shoots have been released, but I couldn’t tell you anything about Halo 2 other than that it must have existed if a Halo 3 was made.
And of the trilogy I spent the most time with Halo 3, but that was mostly because a buddy owned it and we had a blast messing around with the Forge editor. We also liked to simply set up ridiculous scenarios of our own in the environments in closed matches. I honestly don’t remember if I ever got around to playing the game online, and I know I never played through its campaign. I just didn’t care.
At the tail end of 2011, Microsoft Studios and 343 Industries released Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition. We received a copy for review, and I’ve been sitting here with it for months, playing through the campaign piecemeal. I’ve been trying, but I just cannot do it. Again, in the years since its original release, I played through and enjoyed Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach. I even got used to the Halo vehicle steering mechanic. I figured I’d give this revamped version of the original another shot.
I think I got further into it this time than I ever had before, but the longer I played, the more it seemed like a chore. The deeper I dove into the rabbit hole, the more I wish I had just left it behind in 2001. Even with 10 years time and changed perspectives on gaming, I still cannot bring myself to finish Halo: Combat Evolved. The interest just isn’t there. But this time I think I’ve figured out why.
To start, the story is disappointing. It’s an old-school, pointless sci-fi shooter whose detriment was coming out at a time when video game stories were at the crest of a new wave (see Max Payne, MGS2 and GTAIII). In Halo: Combat Evolved, it was little more than a reason to go from room to room shooting things, with weighty twists galore near the end (I think).
And while, yes, I understand that time has passed and graphics and animations will inevitably appear dated, even in their updated format, I’m just not impressed by the art design of the game. Everyone at the time was amazed with the graphical prowess of the game, but I still just find myself asking why everything is in ridiculously bright colors and why the alien weapons look like NERF toys.
More than anything though, I’ve decided that it is the level design of Halo: Combat Evolved that gets to me the most. Put simply, it’s bad, especially the further in the game you get. None of what was presented to me was truly exciting. But it was late in the game this time when I found myself going through hall after hall that looked the same, room layout after room layout that seemed nearly identical, simply littered with more shooting targets, which I tried to oblige in their collective death wish. But I was slowly becoming bored out of my mind, the only thing changing in the scenarios being the inconsistent difficulty levels.
Frankly, it’s hard to believe people liked this when it came out enough to spawn a mega-series. It’s hard to believe the review scores were what they were in a year with so many better games. It’s hard to believe that Microsoft is trying to sell it all over again.
I suppose it’s not a bad thing that it succeeded, though, as some titles later in the series have impressed. But I feel like after 10 years, I’ve given Halo: Combat Evolved a fair shake, and I’m more than happy to put it away for good this time, content with my decision that this is just one game I’ll probably never finish. I just can’t convince myself to give a damn.