A Halo-ed Life

Life is surreal. A series of random occurrences, a pinball bumper ride that we occasionally help to guide with our fingers on the flippers' control buttons. Or, more apt, a series of falling objects that we have to guide to settle into stable patterns before the playing field fills up too much and overwhelms us. Thank you, Alexey.

I am a lifelong video gamer. My earliest memories include playing a home console Pong. Even before I was a teenager, I was playing Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac Man, etc. at pizza parlors, rollerskating rinks, amusement parks, but most notably in mall arcades. Some Christmas more than 30 years ago ('79? '80?) I received an Atari (not yet called) 2600. Ostensibly it was for me and my brothers, but I had asked for it and I played it most.

In '86 I graduated High School and got an IBM computer to use for university, although mostly I just used it for Bard's Tale and Ultima questing. When I returned home from school after my freshman year, my younger brother had gotten a Commodore 128. PC gaming took on a whole new life for me as the console (by then an Atari 5200) collected a lot of dust.

The next year or so, I, and seemingly half my known world, discovered the Nintendo NES and console gaming was reborn. The NES lasted several years until in '94 I got a Sega Genesis. I didn't play the Genesis too much (although I did complete Sonic 2 a few times), but I also didn't have a contemporary computer, so I missed the whole FPS birth with Wolfenstein and Doom and such. The Genesis did not hold my interest and I started to think that I had outgrown video gaming.

Then Sony released the PlayStation. I got a PlayStation in my second year of law school (Christmas '96). It served as a sanity keeper for me. Get my homework reading done and I could indulge in PlayStation. It worked wonderfully. Lara Croft, through Tomb Raider 1 and 2, was my companion through Years 2 and 3 of school. There were others, but the TR 1 and 2 campaigns were my most travelled. When I graduated in ‘98, I got TR3, but I was also introduced to my new BFF Abe and his mad quest to save all the Mudokons. No idea at the time, but this random game dichotomy was to have a future impact for why I am posting here in a Halo thread.

In 1999, I then experienced my second forsaking of consoles for the PC. Random occurrence #2 for why I am posting in a Halo thread. To the best of my recollection, a friend had brought over Sim City for the PS. I liked the sim building aspect and decided to buy the game. When I went to (wait for it...) Babbages to buy it, I saw another similar game for the PS called Sim Theme Park/Theme Park World. The idea of building an amusement park sim instead of a boring city was vastly more interesting to me. IMHO, Theme Park flat out sucked; it was a souless mess (Peter Molyneaux has been trolling me for years). I brought it back the next day, but the kid at the counter recommended Roller Coaster Tycoon, a PC only game. I bought the game, and I bought a Dell just to be able to play it. And I played it (and played it and played it and played it and played it some more).

The reason that event is more than an aside in this story is because soon after, the PlayStation 2 was released in 2000. I passed on it. My video gaming time was spent on the PC building ultimate theme parks and saving pixilated peeps from boredom as well as insuring there were enough bathrooms and that the paths were puke and litter free, even if the grass did grow a bit out of control.

In 2001, however, I read some more on the new Microsoft Xbox console. Although Tomb Raider was exclusive to the PlayStation, Xbox had secured an exclusive deal for the next Oddworld, Munch's Oddysee. By then I had played TR 1, 2 and 3 start to finish numerous times, but TR4 The Last Revelation remained unfinished and TR Chronicles still had the plastic wrap on. The idea of a new Oddworld, however, was appealing enough that I decided to get an Xbox, despite my continued RCT obsession.

I got an Xbox for Christmas 2001, and two games: Oddworld, which I played and quickly got bored with, and Halo, which I played and quickly got sick to my stomach with an accompanying headache - welcome to First Person Perspective. I promptly put it away and returned to perfecting my amusement parks.

My RCT obsession lasted for a couple years, well into 2002/03, but it did eventually wind down. The release of an apparently unfinished build that, for me, was unsatisfactory, of RCT2 in order to meet a 2002 holiday release window helped hasten RCT's diminished ability to entertain me.

Then, 2003, sealed the fate of my second dabbling in major-release PC gaming. Bioware released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the Xbox. Like many of those my age, who saw Star Wars in the theater first when it was called Star Wars, and then later (on perhaps their 20-something viewing) when it was called Star Wars: A New Hope, Episode IV (FOUR!!!! You mean we will get more movies that follow this one AND there are three movies that come before this that will be made someday... YAY!!!! What could be better than that?!?!), KOTOR was a return to familiar form that more than made up for the loss of optimism and joy that utterly evaporated when witnessing the first utterance of "Mesa called Jar Jar Binks! "

KOTOR was the main title that led me back into the fold of major console gaming. I played the living Sith out of that game for several months. I started looking online for news about new Xbox games to play, and stumbled across information that Halo, the game that held such an unfulfilled promise of a release game to steal my attention away from RCT and PC, was to get a sequel in 2004. With trepidation, I decided to put the game back in my disc tray and try and figure this whole FPS thing out.

My save was still there from December 26, 2001. I had started on Novice, of course, and from the best of my memory (back then) had put hours into the game. I must have been well into it, I thought. Later I realized that I was only back at the level Halo, Chapter 2, in the warthog, just after I had found the controls to extend the bridge. Yes, a SW allusion in my Halo. (For the record, I also eat peanut butter cups).

I slogged through the campaign little by little, getting used to the controls and perspective. It was slow going and I was focused on playing and figuring out what I was doing, not what the game was doing. Then I got to Chapter 6, 343 Guilty Spark. The eerie Dagobah-like atmosphere was not enough to switch my focus to the game's presentation, nor was the blue-blood splattered halls. I noticed it, but was still more concerned with staying alive. Yeah, yeah, spaceships, dead aliens, battles, whatever - manufactured tension.

Then I got to Jenkins' helmet. Finally a cut-scene grabbed my attention. Then, Boom Boom Boom Crash. A flood of infection forms rushed me. I yelped in surprise and shot like crazy. And, I was hooked by both the story twist and the game.

I finished Novice difficulty. Played through on Normal, then Heroic and then celebrated conquering Legendary. Then I replayed through the campaign ad nauseum (but without any nausea returning after that first foray) on Legendary. I put more hours in on that campaign in 2003 and 2004 then perhaps all of the TR games combined.

On November 9, 2004, eight days after my 36th birthday, I purchased Halo 2 on release day at a Wal-mart on the drive into work. I still have the receipt in the game case tucked in above the game's manual. I waded into multiplayer on occasion, but I was still mostly a campaigner and still on Legendary difficulty, learning the paths to avoid all sniper jackal encounters so as not to engage their perfect-aim, one-hit kills.

2007 brought Halo 3. Multiplayer became more of my focus, leading to my clan involvement. I miss those days of Halo 3 clan nights. Halo: Reach, while maybe the best campaign, made multiplayer changes that never caught on with my group. Halo 4, instead of backtracking, has seemingly fully embraced the (non-Donkey Kong) gorilla-in-the-room, Call of Duty, a game I started playing with the first Modern Warfare and then stopped after a couple games because I much preferred the older equal footing Halo model, rather than the RPG influenced, progression based CoD multiplayer model.

I still have a lot of concerns with Halo 4 based on what I have read, but Halo holds a very special place in my life. I will be at some store or other on November 6, five days after my 44th birthday. I will play through the campaign, and I will give the multiplayer a chance. The game could never live up to the expectations that nostalgia could instill in me, so I have approached the game as skeptically as I could given the context above.

Honestly, even yesterday's glowing reviews have comments in them that give me a lot of pause, especially regarding the progression based unlocks and arsenal builds. That being said, it is Halo and I look forward to playing it with any of my old, and maybe new clanmates, that decide to buy it, too, as well as against, perhaps, any of you readers who will be buying it.

Happy Halo-ing!

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