My life in Halo, part 2

Part 1 of this post is here.

We continued to play Halo 2, basically until Halo 3 came out. In fact, even after the Xbox 360 launched and we waited in line overnight for it, the game that spent the most time in the console was still Halo 2. We joked that the backwards compatibility team at Microsoft had just 1 title on their list: all the others were just bonus. And that game was Barbie Horse Adventures, of course. Sure other games came and went, but it was always nice to get back to a little stabbing action on Midship. However, the community was definitely getting smaller and smaller.

Halo 3 kicked off with the public beta attached to Crackdown. Surprisingly, Crackdown itself turned out to be a pretty awesome multiplayer game that killed many hours while waiting for the beta to open. The day of the beta was marred by some download issues leading to much online gnashing of teeth, and Adam and I were happy that we hadn’t taken a day off work to play. Clearly, we were learning about priorities.

We had one crazy night with the beta: my friend Jason was in town and so we dragged a bunch of monitors and Xboxes to my place and had a pretty long gaming session: lots of games on Valhalla, testing out the Spartan laser, getting blown out of the sky while riding the man cannons. So we decided that for the launch of the actual game, we should be suitably epic. See, by this time, change was in the air. I was looking to move away from Chicago and so I was putting the feelers out for other jobs. One of our old coworkers had ended up at Google and he had passed my name on to the recruiters there. It was the end of an era: leaving my first place of steady employment after 5 years.

So, Adam and I saw 9/24 as one last day to game together all night while we still had the chance. We dragged his TV over to my place, loaded up on Cheetos. We innovated this year: we used chopsticks so that we wouldn’t get the controllers all orange. We picked up our copies at midnight and then loaded up Halo 3.

The campaign was kind of a mess. We enjoyed playing it, but after playing games that were a little more suited for coop, like Gears of War, Halo 3 was a bit lacking… something. Not like Halo 2′s campaign had made much of an impression – I’d spent some time catching up on Wikipedia. Still that big talking plant was back (Gravemind) and there was Cortana weirdness; it’s a little hard to follow when you’re whacked out on Red Bull and red number 5 food coloring. 9 am rolled around again, we trucked the TV back and then we started back in on multiplayer from our respective houses.

Which is the way we’d play for the next few months before I left for California. We were doing most games like that anyway, with the notable exception of Red Star on the PS2. Halo 3 had some good memories as well: stalking enemies in the Pit corridor, lasering Banshees on Valhalla, etc. However, we noticed that playing Slayer was the most fun: for some reason the objective games had lost a little of their luster. Perhaps it was the Assault Rifle: a big change after Halo 2 had gone mostly BR starts for everything. Eventually the BRs came back in force in matchmaking playlists as well. Maybe it was the lack of inspired ActionSack games: the crazy anything goes playlists of Halo 2 were sadly diminished (or had incredibly weird rules). It was almost a relief when Modern Warfare launched and there was something different, something not Halo, at the top of the Xbox Live charts.

And then… there was ODST. I had high hopes for ODST. The Firefight mode (Halo’s zombies mode, basically) was going to be so awesome. We were going to load up a 4 man team and go to town on the Covenant. And then… it wasn’t. Unfortunately, the networking code for Firefight used the campaign’s token passing methods for synchronization instead of the more lenient prediction methods used in deathmatch. And so when we managed to coordinate our epic onslaught, lag killed it for us. We tried a few more times, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I played the campaign completely solo, which actually sort of fit the feel of the game. I felt vulnerable all the time: health bar flashing, no covering fire. I quickly put ODST down in favor of Modern Warfare 2 and started building my character there slowly to 70 (still haven’t quite gotten there).

Microsoft turned off the Halo 2 matchmaking servers earlier this year, and there were a few stalwarts who stayed online days after the shutdown, just playing more games. Eventually their Xboxes overheated or crashed and they logged off, one by one. I was sad that I couldn’t take part: I was on vacation at the time. And even if I were here, I’ve been through 2 360s since the last time I played Halo 2 and I had no way of getting all the multiplayer maps back again.

The Reach beta launched a little while later and that was when I put my ODST disk back in the console. The game felt much rougher than the Halo 3 Public Beta, but I’m actually sort of heartened by that: it shows that they’re taking more risks. Armor abilities are more fun that equipment already. I’m also looking forward to giving Firefight another shot: I think it’ll be what we were hoping ODST would be.

But the most exciting part of Reach for me is the return of some favorite maps from, you guessed it, Halo 2. I can’t wait to start Ivory Tower and go running for the rocket launcher in the fountain. Or jump throwing the flag out of the base on Midship. Or ambushing someone in the cavern side of Blood Gulch.

It’s 11pm here and there are lines outside stores waiting for the door to open and for Reach to come pouring out. I’m not among the throngs: I’ve given up on local game stores and I’m on the Amazon credit IV line. With release date delivery, I should have it tomorrow midday. I’m not even taking the day off (Adam’s already giving me crap for that).

Sigh, I’ve got a product to ship, and vacation days to save to spend with Lola. Instead of Halo filling the empty spaces in my life, I have to carve time out for it. But carve a little I will. Because it’s Halo Day, perhaps it’s the last one to ever be this good. Thanks for all the memories, Bungie, and thanks for giving us one last huge whopping helping of Halo to last us for years to come.

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