[Games That Nobody Plays Anymore is a weekly series written by Nathan Hardisty with a little title card help from Juan Houter. It’s an on-going series about the forgotten games of yesteryear, and doesn’t totally reflect the title. Remember; nobody stops playing these games; it’s just a title. Don’t make something of it or I will come down to your house and ask you politely to stop. If you have any suggestions for future titles to ‘GTNPA’ don’t forget to leave me a comment!]
Worlds collide and a shiver is sent down my spine. It’s the beginning of the end for little Nathan Hardisty. It’s the chain of events that will take him to the precipice of discovery and back again. The journey that weaves through singular titles and franchises alike, the novels read and discovered and all the goodness of my writing perhaps harkens back not to Shadow of the Colossus but to something else entirely. Its one singular moment, a punctuation mark that set about the end of video-games being fun and the beginning of them becoming compelling experiences. It opened my eyes, I was young and I was a lad, but it sticks with me. It’s haunting.
It’s the moment when the Chief steps out of the escape pod, after escaping the Pillar of Autumn, and the player comes out of that little metallic shell. It’s the perfect symbol for videogames, as we shed our escapism skin and delve into complete fantastical compelled stories. The world reared its head at videogames at the start of the 21st Century, but we already had something to show for our artistic merit. It was a glimpse. If Shadow of the Colossus is like jumping over a wall and seeing what’s other the other the side, then Halo: Combat Evolved is the little crack between the bricks.
Yes I ruddy mean that.
That little moment was perhaps a glimpse at my future, my personal future where I argue that games must become both sheer eclipsed entertainment and compelling experiences in order to survive as a medium. It was that moment when I stepped out of my childhood and looked up towards the sky. The draw distance was what shook me by the brain, the Halo reaching up and up. The lines of wild-life peppering the crawling land. It seemed to creep into the starry sky and arch all the way back, it was a true world shaped as a Halo. I had never seen a videogame do this before, this was 2001 and we were already seeing the evolution of videogames; jumping a generation ahead.
It’s that sensibility of fantasy that makes Combat Evolved one of the freshest experiences to hit the market. Say what you want about it simplifying certain aspects of the first-person shooter, I would agree with you even, but that sense of a dream-like world like our own is something that haunts every game designer. Perhaps they saw it from a different title, but to give that to a gamer is to turn him into something else: a lover. I am a bred Halo fan yet I fell off the edge, we’ll get to that on Sunday, but for a long while Halo: Combat Evolved was the best game ever made. It was a breakthrough for me.
If Halo: Combat Evolved brought in the fantasy (perhaps even mending my thinking as a writer, my mind has evolved to capture both science fiction and fantasy as being in the same realm… we’ll get to that someday) then Halo 2 captured the epic. As David Jaffe was running around his Santa Monica studio, chasing his big giant idea of titans and gods and brilliant pacing between the epic metric, Bungie were on his tail. This game shocked me again, somehow managing to push another dose of electric up into my brain-stalk.
There’s an early section in the game when you’re basically tasked to destroy a giant robot, which is moving around a destroyed urban environment. You go through tank sections, fight smaller tanks and battle with the Covenant before facing the Scarab (I think that’s it) actually face to face. It looks at you and you can almost just get a little glimmer of something. The giant and the little Spartan. David and Goliath… Wander and the Colossus? It makes it all the more intricate once you consider that you actually have to board this beast and climb around the thing before destroying it. Too bad there’s no retrospective moral belittlement or similar themes akin to Team Ico’s masterpiece.
So, basically, I’ve compared both games to Team Ico’s monumental achievements in pushing the medium. Do I think both Halo Combat Evolved and Halo 2 are the two most important games of all time? Let me tell you something. Team Ico games do not deliberately tell a story, namely, they tell emergent stories. Stories that the player fills in for themselves, such as why on Earth Wander wants to slay sixteen giants to bring back a woman. It’s that simple link, that little tiny dot to dot within a dot-to-dot. In my mind, Shadow of the Colossus has a more profound meaning and a true sense of character.
Both Halos however suffer from a mechanics flaw. They each extend the wealth on which the consumers consume, but never reach that level of disempowerment. Put it this way: the Scarab level in Halo 2 feels overwhelming at first. You don’t know how to defeat it, but you go from a certain level of a building and then jump on it to climb it. The game pretty much hands you a gun and says you’re the most badass dude to ever live, go kill giant robots. Shadow of the Colossus is an exercise in disempowerment and exploration, Halo 2 is an exercise in killing giant robots and shooting grunts as they run away screaming intangible language.
That’s not to say it is a bad game, neither of the first two Halos are bad games in the slightest. They both extend the fantasy of reality and etch moments of pure wonderment, moments which make you wipe your eyes in disbelief, know what I mean? They’re not exactly life changing but they are semi-important in the medium’s history. I don’t believe much in authorial intent, and I as a writer should exercise that more than anyone else, but I do believe in something more. I believe Bungie are wizards and the real philosophy behind all of their games is to not create an enriching life-lesson or something largely compelling, they only seek to create the most basic of feelings.
Sunday: I dive into Halo 3 and ODST