I used to like first-person shooters – in the distant past, I seem to recall having enjoyed Doom, Marathon, System Shock, Dark Forces, and GoldenEye, for example. The last few times I’ve played FPS’s, though, they really haven’t done much for me. I’m not sure why the big change – part is probably that I have other ways to get my graphics fix, and part is probably that I have access to a much wider range of gameplay styles these days, so have a better idea what my tastes are. (Most of those I played before I became a console gamer.) Or maybe those games were just better, or at least had ideas that were new at the time, which isn’t the case for more recent FPS’s that I’ve played – Doom and System Shock certainly qualify on that score, and Marathon and GoldenEye probably do as well.

At least that’s how I feel about the single-player mode. The last time I tried out an FPS in multiplayer mode, I really enjoyed it, and I have no reason to believe that wouldn’t still be the case. My fave was the scripted multiplayer scenarios for Perfect Dark; have more recent FPS’s adopted that as well? As you might guess from that last sentence, however, I unfortunately almost never have a chance to play multiplayer video games these days – I just don’t have that many videogame-playing friends, and for various reasons I don’t play video games online.

Anyways, during the summer game lull I was looking for something to play. And everybody’s been talking about the Halo series for the last five years, so I felt somewhat uncultured at not having played either of them. So I decided to give the first game a try.

I started off on the Normal difficulty setting. (As opposed to Easy, Hard, or Legendary, if I’m remembering correctly.) Which seemed like a reasonable choice for the first couple of levels – I had to take a little care, but really it wasn’t very hard getting past any of the sections.

When I got to the third level, though, my brain gave me its first warning sign. You start off the level with a sniper level; rather than thinking “how nice for them to be varying the game play like this”, my reaction was “crap, that means that I have to spend time moving slowly through the level and sneaking around”. Still, I more or less enjoyed the first part of that level.

The later part of the level had some large areas with a fair number of waves of enemies for you to kill, dodging in and out behind pillars and boxes and such. By the time I got to the largest such room, I was a little low on health, and didn’t manage to make it through the room before I had to go to bed. I hadn’t saved, fortunately, so I wasn’t in a big hole, but it did mean that, the next time I played, I had to replay a fair amount of the level, and be rather more careful.

Which I didn’t want to do; the level was well enough designed, but I just wasn’t enjoying it. I thought about stopping right then, but I remembered the easy setting, so I decided to give that a try.

They made me restart the level from the beginning (why?), which was a bit of a bummer, but my disappointment was quickly erased by the fact that they really weren’t joking when they called that setting “easy”. There were still a few places where you had to take a bit of care, but, most of the time, you can just blithely gun your way through without taking a scratch. Which turned the game into pleasant enough light entertainment, and let me see all the plot points. Honestly, I sometimes wondered if it made the game too easy – maybe there was to much of a gap between Easy and Normal – but later levels brought the difficulty back up to a better level.

Speaking of plot points: people talk about how great the plot is, but I just don’t see it. The plot does exist – we’re not talking about Doom here – but any decent RPG would have ten times as many twists and turns, and FPS’s I played a decade ago had at least as strong a plot as Halo. To me, the single-player game feels like it’s largely an add-on to the multiplayer game – there are rooms all over the place that are filled with platforms and levels and hiding spots that make no plot sense, that don’t make much sense in the single-person game, but would probably be a lot of fun in multiplayer.

The game mechanics are solid. The vehicles are a nice addition. Restricting you to two weapons is a surprisingly good idea. Your suit has a regenerating energy field which means that you can recover from small amounts of damage, so you don’t have to be too much of a perfectionist when dealing with small numbers of enemies at a time. Not many different kinds of weapons, but they’re well-chosen, so that’s a plus instead of a minus.

All in all, I’m happy I finished the game, but I’m certainly not rushing out to play Halo 2. Maybe I’ll reconsider when Halo 3 comes out. Now I’m down to just being in the middle of one game, and I’m almost done with that. Which is good timing – Okami will come out in just over a week, the Wii will launch in approximately two months with at least one must-play game (the next Zelda), and if that proves not to be enough, Civ 4 is now out for the Mac.

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