What you are about to read has been written by Mr Biffo, the creative force behind the 90s Teletext videogames magazine Digitiser. He now runs the show at digitiser2000.com
I don't love Halo. Yes, recoil in horror if you must, but you can't fault me for not trying my best.
I mean, I've played all the Halo games to date, through to the end. Rest assured, I've made some time in my diary to dive into the freshly released Halo 5: Guardians, like an obedient cow leaving the safety of its pasture, fully aware that a steak restaurant table is waiting in its not-too-distant future.
But that's mostly down to a misplaced sense of obligation. I don't want to be the one who misses out on what I'm assured is one of this year's biggest and best games. Because that's how hype works: Halo 5 will be a well-deserved hit. It has been decided already.
I know there's an element of Emperor's New Clothes between me and Halo. There has always been that niggle at the back of my head telling me that I'm going along with the crowd in pointing out the Emperor's intangible finery, rather than drawing attention to his floppier, fuzzier, areas.
Halo, Halo, it's good to be back
I get that Halo is considered a classic. I understand that much of what the original introduced has become the default for first-person shooters. The two-weapon thing, the rechargable health, the vehicles, the enormous levels which ditched the corridor-like structure that had become the norm for the genre… I understand its place in gaming history. I can see that it was the second properly genre-defining console FPS after GoldenEye.
I don't like being that one guy who hates stuff just because it's popular. Yet I can't deny that something about the Halo universe has never gelled for me. I never felt immersed in the games, never felt connected. And as others heralded each successive instalment as another classic, I became increasingly confused: was my brain doing a wrong thing? Was I missing something integral and important?
A big part of it is, I think, the aesthetics. The universe of Halo has always felt sterile to me. Oh, epic for sure, but I never felt a sense of place. The human locations felt like 1970s sci-fi sets – all clean and angular, not worlds ravaged by intergalactic war. The alien locations were too neon and abstract, like pressing your face up against a tank full of bioluminescent jellyfish. I felt tiny and irrelevant next to those massive vistas; disempowered.
Halo, is it me you're looking for?
It went deeper than that, though. Master Chief, as a protagonist, is a blank slate. Which is fine. He's a bland archetype, an avatar for us to project upon. Yet as the series went on it felt like the audience was being expected to care what happened to him, his relationship with Cortana, his struggles.
With it, that golden mask, that lack of definition, became a problem. I'd never engaged with Master Chief as a character previously, so why should I care when stuff happens to him now?
Halo strives for epic storytelling, but without grounding it in real lives, or identifiable emotion, it becomes... well… The Phantom Menace. Which would be fine – I don't need a story to enjoy a game (Doom did just fine without cut-scenes) – were it not for the fact that the mythology of the universe is so heralded, and everything is crying out with portent.
But that's not all, because Halo has always been as much about the multiplayer as the campaigns. As with most online gaming, it's where my limits as a gamer are most thrown into stark relief. For whatever reason, I've had more wretched, mocking gaming experiences playing Halo online than with any other game. Entering those arenas requires me to steel myself for ritual humiliation – and hours wasted roaming huge locations looking for somebody to kill me.
The controls of the Halo games have improved as the series has progressed, though they've always felt spongy to me. The guns have never had any real heft to them – particularly those of The Covenant; the melee weapons especially feel like I'm wielding some sort of laser trombone designed by Jean Michel Jarre. The vehicles slide and bounce around like greased Segways, and Master Chief has always felt like he had all the weight of a car-lot airdancer…
I could go on.
Halo and goodbye
Games don't have to look or be realistic for me to feel one with them, but somehow all of the above has conspired to distance me from Halo.
I've never felt lost in any of the games, never become so immersed as to blot out the world around me. That's what I want from games, books or movies, and somehow Halo has always conspired against it. Like I'm just rebounding off it, despite my best efforts to the contrary.
Things might be different when it comes to Halo 5: Guardians, and I strive to remain blindly optimistic, because I want to play this amazing series that everyone bleats on about.
Unfortunately, the reality is that I'm approaching Guardians with caution, thighs firmly braced for another disappointment, the continued sense that I'm the one gamer on the planet who doesn't love Halo.
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