Attention non-gamers. Stay with me through the next six paragraphs on this one, because contrary to the way things might seem, I'm not much of a gamer.
In fact, I wrote a column two years ago proclaiming, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I was under no circumstances purchasing the XBox 360. The console was flawed in a number of areas and I simply didn't have the time to waste at the mercy of pixels and clunky AI.
Yes. I now have an XBox 360, merely for the purposes of research. But more to the point, I now have an XBox 360 because between November of 2005 and last Tuesday, several phenomena came together to turn me into a hypocrite nerd. Like Rivers Cuomo.
1) They fixed the backwards compatibility issue. 90% of my original XBox games will now work on the 360.
2) They dropped the prices.
3) Halo 3.
That last entry, by the way, not only fixes an issue with the console (no killer app), but also fixes my personal time constraints issue (I will effing MAKE the time).
You non-gamers still with me? Fantastic. So this is a Halo 3 review, but I will not be going all Skolnick on you with the lavish advancement in the art of 3D smoke or the 100,000 decision events per character in the enhanced AI. I will also not delve into the G4TV babble about this gun or that vehicle or frags or schlongs or whatever new term that makes killing awkwardly sexual. And for the love of God, I'm definitely staying away from the psychological ramifications of the storyline - my pledge to you after reading a review by some knob at a major newspaper who stared so deeply up his own ass he found Master Chief's visor, his boyhood dog, and the US/Iraq conflict.
You have your reasons for not being a gamer. You might be too cool for school, you might be lacking in the eye-hand department, or you might be a chick (Come on! we're all friends here!). My own reasons are simple. I don't have the time and I don't have the resources. I'm one of the masses the industry left behind because we're no longer ten years old, we can't bring ourselves to start a sentence with the words "I'll cast...", or we simply have passed the phase where slapping a hooker is funny.
My column from two years ago suggested that all I want out of video game is fifteen minutes of mindless, unproductive, sheer fun. This is still true today. And I'm not talking about Tetris or Minesweeper or Bejeweled or anything else that seems like as much fun as rearranging the garage. I want to be wowed.
So that's where this review hits home. I don't care if you've never touched a joystick (Friends! We can joke like this, right?). I'll take gamers and non-gamers alike into the game, and I'll do it all with no spoilers (yes, there are spoilers in video games) and no buzzwords.
Like "strafe". Gamers - and especially game reviewers - no one gives a crap how well the game does strafe. They got strafe right in 1999. Let it be.
Like any old review, let's quantify. I give Halo 3 a 9 out of 10 for gamers with 10 being an unreachable score (trust me, game reviewers do this, it's like an unwritten rule, nothing can ever be perfect or it will rise up an destroy us all like in the Matrix) and 1 being a digital watch with Frogger on it.
For non-gamers, I give Halo 3 a 10 out of 10 with 10 being your all-time favorite movie that you got to see on the big screen with an unlimited supply of your favorite movie candy and 1 being reading a five page review of "Grand Theft Auto" in PlayStation Magazine for People Who Like Calculus and Anime.
The reasons for both scores are the same, and this is why Halo 3 is one of the best video games ever released. This game effectively brings together the gamer and the non-gamer without burying the game in obscurity. Pale attempts at bringing the non-gamer (read: women, because that's what the industry thinks and, for the most part, they're right) into the fold have resulted in clumsy sorta-games like Yourself Fitness (which is really just sweating and being told what to do), Dance Dance Revolution (which is really just sweating and being told what to do), or The Sims (which is really just being bored until your eyeballs explode and telling imaginary people when to go to the bathroom).
You know what almost bucked that trend? The Nintendo Wii. Here was a whole console seemingly dedicated to the non-gamer. By revolutionizing the controller, they managed to bring a whole new facet to video games. But all this did was splinter the existing gamer crowd into those who loved the Wii and those who couldn't get past feeling like a tool swinging that controller around - me and everyone else I know included.
You too, gamer. Seriously, if you get a chance, videotape yourself playing some Wii sometime. After viewing, you will never play the Wii or hold a sub sandwich the same way again.
Halo 3 succeeds in a couple ways. First of all, it's stunning to look at. I mean stunning, not "technically advanced." For instance, in Halo 2, they made some technical advances with the lighting, so every single scene had some oddball dawn/dusk or external light source element to it.
But the look is a minor plus for the game. It was expected to be beautiful.
Another minor plus is the story. Yes, beyond every review you read that will compare the story of Halo 3 to ancient mythology or Star Wars or both, the story is secondary... AS IT SHOULD BE IN A VIDEO GAME. The story moves along briskly, is easy enough to follow (obviously they learned from the yawnfest complexities of Halo 2), and has some deservedly eyebrow-lifting moments. I'd love to say it does all this without going over the top, but it doesn't. However, while gamers will dig this, the non-gamers won't have their intelligence insulted.
There are plenty of other minor pluses in Halo 3. In fact, they did everything right, gamer-wise. The big win, as I alluded to, is that they were able to be immersive for the non-gamers without having to sacrifice any of that.
Here are the key elements.
There are no health packs. THANK YOU! When you're hit, you can choose to take cover for a few seconds until you are restored. There is nothing more annoying for a non-gamer than having to drop the point of the game (plan/kill/escape) to run around looking for the equivalent of some band-aids and Neosporin to put on your GAPING BULLET WOUNDS. Dropping the gamer "realism" here made it more playable.
If you do lose all your health, you die. But this is a good thing. It allows you, and in fact forces you, to rethink your strategy and try again, without penalty. Would you really jump into an open area filled with a dozen huge freaks and start punching the closest one? No. You're going to have to use your head a little bit, and this is ultimately a satisfying and cool experience.
And this is the big win. Bungie, the Halo 3 developer, spent tons of resources making sure the game was... (shocker!)... fun. They based this on a rough golden rule of short battles followed by short pauses. This accomplishes a couple of things. You never get bored, the adrenaline kicks in at just the right time most of the time. You also never get frustrated by seemingly impossible tasks, bum-rushes, an infinite number of bad guys stretched over acres of real estate, or, the downfall of a lot of games like this, little cheats you need to figure out to get by - like, this will only work if you have THIS gun or you will only survive if you kill these guys FIRST then hide behind THIS rock for a minute.
See. I almost got too gamey right there and I pulled up.
Ultimately, Halo 3 rocks because anyone can play it. And anyone can play it because they squeezed all the fun they could into it, not because they dumbed it down or put in a cute unicorn with sunglasses and attitude. So no matter what you hear about aggression engines or frame rates or shotgun power versus carbine accuracy, just remember that if you've ever wondered what all the fuss was about, it's about this, a few months worth of fifteen minutes worth of sheer fun.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
10.2.07 @ 1:56p
I do have to say I prefer carbines over pistols for the accuracy, but you can't beat the long-range capability of rifles. Up close though, they're nothing but trouble.
I'm not a huge personal fan of first-person shooter games. I've played the MMORPGs - the Everquest, the Dark Age of Camelot, the Star Wars Galaxies, the Everquest 2... but maybe we'll have to give Halo 3 a try.
10.2.07 @ 2:22p
I don't have an XBox, and never will, but I absolutely love the Halo 3 commercials with the classical music. So utterly different from any other game commercials I've seen, enough so to actually peak my interest.
Still, I'll stick with turn-based nerddom.
10.2.07 @ 5:55p
I'm still trying to get a grasp on D-n-D.
"Dice? You want me to roll character stats based on dice? How does that make any sense?"
"Honey, this is how role-playing games worked before computers. It's all imagination and using your brain, instead of having scenarios and locations drawn out for you."
"Yeah, I don't get that. I like being handed my world, already drawn by someone else. I'm lazy like that."