Sunday 16 November 2014

ANALYSE THIS! Also, Scan It.

Arriving at Halo: Combat Evolved (Anniversary Edition) is sort of like putting on a comfy, old, much-loved and well-worn jumper only to find out that somebody dry cleaned it, patched up the holes and sewed in an extravagant weave of fibre optic multicoloured lights that you can program yourself (to, let's face it, spell all the bad words and draw rude ASCII pictures). I mentioned in an earlier ramble just how much time I spent with the original Halo, and maybe that seemed a little excessive - but it was a combination of factors, really. I was sixteen and poor; I'd saved all my summer job pennies up to buy an original Xbox (my first console since owning a Mega Drive in the mid-90s; oh, the neighbours I drove insane, dropping in to play your Tony Hawks and your Goldeneyes): and Halo Multiplayer was just the best thing to happen to teenage nerds since anything ever (and until Nathan Fillion).

Let me start by saying that online multiplayer is great: Xbox Live parties, a big screen each, all that jazz. It's marvellous, it really is. That being said, some of the best weekends I (and I hope I won't be inaccurate in saying "we") spent in my (our) teens necessitated loading our xboxes up into our parents' cars and massing at the house of the friend with the most TVs (thanks, Pete. You're a gentleman and a scholar.) and getting into some serious Team Slayer business. It's a geek cliché, no doubt: there were almost certainly Doritos, and if it hadn't been banned for being radioactive or something, you can bet your arse there'd have been Mountain Dew; and yes, it was almost exclusively a boys' club, at least early on. You can't win them all.

Tangent: I've always taken issue with that particular geek culture archetype - the basement-dwelling loner who never talks to anyone et al. Purveyors of this unfair propaganda somehow unfailingly managed to overlook that the vast majority of nerdy passtimes - gaming, especially, be it electronic or tabletop - are SOCIAL enterprises. (insert jokes about playing with oneself here at your own leisure.) Always seemed rather unfair.

Anyway: I'm happy to say that I usually acquitted myself pretty well at these gatherings - winning occasionally, and more often than I came last - unless it was Rockets on Wizard, in which case I spent 90% of the game as a fine vapour. Cooperative campaign play was a revelation, too - strong storylines meshed well with the fantastic gameplay. The Warthog levels in particular were clearly made for two players (and cause far more arguments that I'd care to admit whilst determining driver/gunner rights).

Playing through this last time, I was impressed by how solid the game still is, even before considering the shiny new coat of paint. It certainly feels more stately than later additions to the series, and other more modern shooters, but not prohibitively so. The score is still fantastic - that main theme is deservedly one of the most iconic pieces in video game history and still gives me goosebumps - and the that coat of paint is really rather pretty. It's an impressive balance - everything is sharper and gloriously detailed, but it still feels like Halo. No mean feat. Got quite a lot of enjoyment flipping back and forth between the classic and modern graphics. Notably, this is the only game in which I didn't absolutely loathe fighting the Flood: They were still fresh (not literally) and genuinely pretty scary when they showed up. The Guilty Spark level was deliciously atmospheric. It's sort of a shame that I had the plot spoiled for me by jumping into co-op with a friend at that point in the game. That being said, that same friend's enthusiasm was also the driving force behind me buying the Xbox in the first place. (Also, he got me the summer job that let me pay for it. And also got me a broken arm. Swings and roundabouts. Thanks, Dan! Mostly.)

Thanks to my slightly screwy playthrough order, this is the first time the proper terminals appear, and I managed to find them all this time, with MINIMAL assistance from google. They're really rather great. Watching Guilty Spark go slightly nutso over the course of thousands of years is highly entertaining. On the flipside: Kinect integration. I guess Anniversary must have come out right around the time they were still trying to force Kinect down our collective throats, even though it was clear no-one with an ounce of sense wanted to buy one. Anyway, long story short, I bought one (shut up) and basically only use it to yell XBOX! PLAY DVD! when I can't be bothered to find the control pad. (Or to use Dragon Shouts in Skyrim. In fact, forget my buyer's remorse: the first FUS RO DAH was entirely worth the money.)

Anyway, H:CE:AE (deal with it) has a great little in-game item scanning feature that gives you a fun background article on most of the items, characters and enemies (great little explanation of why the human pistol is SO effective against Hunters) in the game... except it makes you use Kinect to activate it. So if you're slightly obsessive about collecting them all, like I was,then every time you see a new item, you have to shout ANALYSE to activate a blue-filtered scanning mode that lasts about ten seconds, centre the reticle on the item you want to scan, yell SCAN and wait two seconds until the item scans. This, of course, assumes that the Kinect listens to you when you shout ANALYSE, that you are looking exactly at the item you want to scan when you shout SCAN, that the thing you're SCANNING does't run out of shot/explode/chew your face off before the SCAN is complete, that the Kinect hears you shout SCAN before the ANALYSE mode ends and you have to shout ANALYSE again, and that during this LABORIOUS process your neighbour doesn't SNAP and BURN YOUR HOUSE DOWN.

Oh well. No game is perfect. TO HALO 2!

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