Reading Between the Battle Lines
Posted by Nels Wadycki
Acquired via BookMooch: a trio of books about Halo including The Fall of Reach, The Flood, and First Strike.
Tell Me A Fable
I was trying to read the triology before the arrival of Halo 3, but only made it a little over a third of the way there (i.e., a little bit into the second book). I’m now nearing the end of the second book, but I got Halo 3 a week ago, and am over half way though the campaign. The second book is basically a recounting of the campaign from the first Halo game with some side stories about the marines and Covenant thrown in. I use the words thrown in, but really, these side stories add a lot of depth to the story of the game. And speaking of depth, the first book tells the (nearly) entire backstory of the Master Chief (aka the big green guy); something that probably would have made a very boring game, but which works very well as a novel.
Speaking of boring games, though: In playing Halo 3, I have been made aware once more of what a poor job the games do of telling the story. The main characters in Halo 3 – the Master Chief and the Arbiter – are actually very deep (the latter actually more so than the former), but the campaign still feels like just another run through a bunch of levels, shooting/grenading/smacking everything in your way. That’s not to imply it lacks the fun factor that makes for a good game, but since I’d read the first book before playing any of Halo 3, I was really hoping that the power of the 360 would allow the story to be told in much more depth and with a greater level of emotion than the first Halo. The second Halo game did a somewhat decent job of weaving the story in, and actually making the game more than just a shooting gallery.
Unfortunately, Halo 3 feels like like a step backwards from Halo 2 with respect to the realization and illustration of the storyline. The levels are more varied and incorporate the use of strategy better than the previous two games (though Halo 2 did a good job of trying to make you think strategically), but the game so far hasn’t told the story of the Master Chief or the Arbiter (or Cortana or Gravemind) nearly as well as I’d hoped. And with only three and a half levels left, I’m worried (and relatively sure) it’s going to stay that way. I mean, Darth Revan reveals himself only halfway through KOTOR (warning: following the link may spoil that game if you haven’t played it).
Playing By The Book
What the book(s) did well in addition to expanding the story from the game was teach me how to play the game. No joke. Reading the descriptions of how Master Chief deals with the Covenant and the Flood in the book made me realize that each part of the game(s) is set up to try to get you to deal with a situation in a certain way. Of course, you don’t have to, but by recognizing strategic points in missions, I feel like my experience with Halo 3 has been enriched. I did notice this in some sections in the earlier games, but I’m not exactly Mr. Final Boss Owner, so I tended to just brute force my through a lot of parts in the first two Halo games, but in the third one, I feel like I’m playing with a lot more finesse and actually playing the game the way the designers intended it. And I know it’s not because of the improved storytelling (see above if you skipped over that part). And I know it’s not because of the improved graphics.
… The graphics are improved, and it does make the game better. That’s kind of a given and an expectation. But when the grunt’s methane tanks sputter and hiss when you hit them (something they didn’t do in the previous games), I notice the improvement because I read the books and know that they breathe methane and have those canisters strapped to their backs to survive.
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