Chief, Master Chief

I am James Bond, mere milliseconds ago I finished the final level of Halo which in ordinary circumstances would be impressive but not really a cause for dancing. Further context can be provided: I’ve been trying to do it for two days now to ever increasing frustration; I hit the spaceship with 00:01 remaining. That’s right, one second remaining.

The last section of the last level is a 6 minute drive and sprint through a full scale battle in a jeep to get the last ship off the soon to explode world. Sadly I’m not very good at driving the jeep (or ‘Warthog’ in game parlance). Ordinarily this is actually a plus as I rampantly squish enemies beneath the irresistable treads of the metal colossus. When intricately weaving at top speed through a series of pillars and making impossible jumps things get a little more complicated so you’ll excuse me if I’m deliriously happy to finally finish the thing.

Halo is alternately the most superb and frustrating FPS I’ve played in a good long while. The story is great, the early levels bewitching and engaing, the AI is challenging yet outwittable, the colour pallette isn’t muddy brown. All this sets it apart from the vast majority of derivative shooters. Yet about 23 of the way though things suddenly hit the wall. They entirely repeat one of the earlier levels, in reverse, with more enemies and no evidence of your previous passing. The level wasn’t that good anyway making key use of that annoying cliche ‘glowing arrows on the floor’, except because you’re doing this level backwards all the arrows are pointing the wrong way. After that lowest of lows the quality rockets back up again to the exceedingly satisfying conclusion noted above.

Since I’ve had my Xbox I’ve completed more games than ever before in my gaming life. This could have something to do with the fact that I normally prefer open ended experience games like Championship Manager or Civ, it could be that the games are easier or it could be that I’m better. Now I don’t think the games are any easier per se these days, they’re just better designed. There’s significantly less Lara Croft like ‘learning through killing’. The difficulty ramp is better now, gently increasing the heat until you’re a ninja master without realising it. But the real reason why I’m so much more skilled at playing games? Online multiplayer. Playing against humans is so much harder than against the AI that you have to become a player capable of beating the AI just to survive.