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The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009, Part 1

By Douglass C. Perry

When we look back 20 years from now, the first decade of the 21st century will look obvious to us, like a paint-by-numbers drawing for kids. It’s almost incalculable how many little triggers have shaped our current place in the games race. But there more than a handful of events, dozens of key games, and entire years that pushed this one-time cottage industry into the full-blown billion dollar industry it is now. While this isn’t the definitive historical account of single thing that happened between the years 2000 and 2009, this Decade in Review is an insider’s look at what happened. See “Part 2 of The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009” here.

The End of an Era

The decade started with a tumultuous bang. After the Sega Dreamcast roared into the world’s consciousness on September 9, 1999, breaking sales records, introducing online gaming to consoles, and introducing David (Visual Concepts) to Goliath (Madden), the Japanese hardware maker shocked everyone again in 2001 by declaring its console was kaput.

Perhaps more remarkable was that Nintendo’s biggest competitor in the 1990s, the creator of Sonic the Hedgehog, and EA’s biggest partner, was re-focusing its energies to become a “console agnostic” software producer, meaning Sonic and his pals would appear side by side with Nintendo’s mascot, Mario. To the gaming world, this was like Bill Clinton announcing he was Republican, Bill Gates admitting he stole the Mac’s operating system, or saying you didn’t really like The Empire Strikes Back–all of it anathema.

Sony’s Big Empty PS2 Launch

Sony Computer Entertainment American launched the black, asymmetrical, and interesting (it was neither beautiful nor ugly, it just kinda “was”) PlayStation 2 in Japan in spring 2000 with lots of Sony-built hype, but few significant games to back it up (Tekken Tag Tournament and Ridge Racer V just didn’t cut it). The even bigger North American launch was amazing in that it packed 28-launch titles, only two of which were truly memorable, Madden NFL 2001 and SSX (originally proposed as a Dreamcast game). Sony scrambled to get 1 million consoles to the US, some flying on planes at the last minute.

Sony’s Stunning 2001 Line-Up

So while Sony’s launch year was a bust in many regards, replete with lots of faulty aliasing and sketchy titles, Sony (and its partners) made plans for 2001. Sony’s fall 2001 PS2 line-up was remarkable, perhaps the greatest line-up of a single system ever. In many ways it secured Sony’s first-place spot in that console generation. In the fall 2001, Sony and its partners launched Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Ico, Final Fantasy X, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Grand Theft Auto III, Onimusha, Red Faction, Gran Turismo 3: A-spec, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, Devil May Cry, SSX Tricky, Twisted Metal Black (which admittedly came out in the summer), Jak and Daxter, NBA Street, Klonoa: Lunatea’s Veil, Half-Life, Silent Hill 2, and Midnight Club, among many others. The knock-out punch was thought to be Metal Gear Solid, but in fact in was Grand Theft Auto III, which swept the message boards and radio waves, and became the PS2’s exclusive killer app for the next four years.

September 11, 2001

The al-Qaeda-backed hijacking that led to the destruction of four commercial airlines and the devastation of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York affected the entire world. In the video game business, publishers with games based in New York, removed the Twin Towers from the skyline of their games (i.e. Spider-Man 2). The grim repercussions stole the industry’s light step, killing four-day PR stunts and junkets (some of which were too long and crazy, anyway), forcing marketers to edit creative use of violent language, and heightening American’s fears of Middle Eastern religious groups, the subject of which would appear in games to come.

Grand Theft Auto III Steals the Show

Grand Theft Auto III launches; and with it Rockstar Games brings a whole new way of looking at game design, game production, and a maturing gaming audience. GTA III brought open-world gaming–sandbox design–to the forefront of game development, but it was Rockstar’s magic touch of high-cost development, mature themes, good story-telling, enormous geography, stellar, hand-picked soundtracks, and most importantly, humor–that parodied American civic life–that made the Grand Theft Auto series so revolutionary, not to mention one of the best selling series of all time. Activision, Midway, and several other companies tried their best to imitate it, but between 2001 and 2005, none came close. Pandemic’s Mercenaries, Vivendi’s Scarface, and Activision’s Spider-Man 2 came in at a distant second.

Halo Captures a Generation

When Microsoft entered the videogame business in 2001, it tried buying developers across the world. Its big catch was Bungie Studios, which was in development with the first-person shooter Halo (originally for the Mac). With Halo, Bungie revolutionized FPSs on the consoles. The Halo franchise won over millions and millions of college students who spent endless nights playing linked systems and Master Chief strangely displaced a generation of confused, lone college women. The Halo franchise went on to break previous opening day retail sales records and remain the number one selling game on Xbox during its four-year life-cycle.

2001: Titus Acquires Interplay

French publisher Titus Interactive, best known for its phenomenal failure, Superman 64, completes its acquisition Interplay. French gamers are oblivious. American RPG fans openly weep across the nation.

2002: Square and Disney Raise a Kingdom

In 2002, after navigating high-level political discussions and crashing into license cul-de-sacs, Square demonstrated its creative genius again with its fully licensed Disney action-RPG, Kingdom Hearts. One part Final Fantasy (without being Final Fantasy), and the rest a bamboozling assortment of Disney characters, Kingdom Hearts, up until the recent Batman Arkham Asylum–became the pinnacle of innovative licensed work.

2002: Titus Fumbles Interplay

Interplay’s shares descend drastically, and Interplay is de-listed from NASDAQ. American RPG fans claw their eyes out, wander the streets blind.

September 20, 2002: Square and Enix Merge

In one of the biggest mergers in Japanese game history, Square, makers of the popular Final Fantasy franchise, and Enix, makers of the Dragon Quest franchise, join in holy matrimony. The new company is called Square Enix, and its formation has as much to do with the crumbling Japanese economy and staying solvent as anything else. Years after this merger, Square will make yet another purchase of note.

September 12, 2003: Valve Launches Steam
Valve’s digital distribution platform, Steam, might have launched in September 2003, but it wouldn’t be until Half-Life 2 released in 2004 and third parties joined the party in 2007 that Steam gained traction and reached profitability. By carrying big third-party companies such as Eidos, Capcom, and Id Software, and seeing financial successes with The Orange Box, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and BioShock, Steam took the leadership role in digital distribution.

December 8, 2003: Black Day, Indeed

Interplay lays off the Black Isle Studios staff. A spat of former Black Isle staff members bitterly recalls the final days of their studio’s collapse. American RPG fans walk off cliffs, in front of cars, into the mouths of sharks.

September 1, 2004: Acclaim (Finally) Calls it Quits

One of the oldest publishers in the arcade and video game business, and makers of titles Shadowman, Burnout, NFL Quarterback Club, WWF Attitude, Re-Volt, Extreme-G, Vexx, Fur Fighters, Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX, and many others, Acclaim finally throws in the towel. After its multiple comebacks, all of its ghastly Mary-Kate and Ashley “games,” and the last, gasping hope at re-kindling Turok (once a great series), Acclaim Entertainment filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in fall 2004, purportedly owing $100 million to its debtors. Nobody, not even Acclaim employees, weep a single tear.

2004: EA Buys NFL License, Kills NFL 2K Series

In a move that crushed the healthy competition between annual football developers EA and Visual Concepts (and football-based videogames in general), EA out-bought its competition. EA convinced the NFL to an exclusive five-year licensing deal granting the Redwood Shores publisher the sole rights to the NFL’s teams, stadiums, and players. The move followed Visual Concepts/Take-Two’s risky move to sell its game at just $19.99, undercutting EA’s Madden sales with a superior game at a lower price. EA went on to produce three years of substandard Madden games in the new generation of systems, proving true the adage that competition is healthy for any market.

The Fall of 2004: Heavyweight Sequels Reign Supreme

The year 2004 was one of the greatest all-encompassing creative achievements for the game industry. In the fall of 2004, heavyweight games were in abundance and every system had its killer-app lined up. After an alleged security breach forced developer Valve to stall the release of Half-Life 2 in 2003, the Seattle-based developer delivered the wildly popular sequel on the PC in fall 2004, garnering dozens of high scores and game-of-the-year awards. Bungie followed up its first Xbox success story with Halo 2 to high scores, incredible sales, and a technologically advanced online system that revolutionized console multiplayer games. Rockstar Games brought its biggest, grimmest (and subsequently most controversial) game in the Grand Theft Auto series, GTA San Andreas. GTA San Andreas brought in the highest ratings and sales for the franchise, but also produced the hidden Hot Coffee sex scenario that caused characters like Jack Thompson to have their day in the sun (you know, before he lost his license to practice, soon thereafter). While these titles initially garnered the lion’s share of press, awards, and sales, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft silently took over the PC, wooing millions of casual gamers to subscribe to its highly addictive MMORPG, which went on to become the most successful MMORPG ever.

November 21, 2004: Nintendo launches the DS

Ever marching to its own drum beat, Nintendo launches the dual screen (DS) handheld, a modern new take on the Game Boy, which doesn’t instantly take off. It wasn’t until Brain Age and Nintendogs were gobbled up like candy in Japan, Europe, and North America did the system surpass sales of major consoles.

See “Part 2 of The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009” here.

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GameStop: Play Halo 3: ODST Firefight Early

Seen enough Halo 3:  ODST previews and impressions? Ready to play? Your time has come, rookie.

In conjunction with Microsoft and GameStop, Bungie is fueling its custom Halo 3: ODST Transport and is scheduled for a  22-stop, nationwide roadtrip to offer gamers a chance for hands-on sessions of Halo 3: ODST’s new Firefight mode.

Visit GameStop in the day to play Firefight at night.

Visit GameStop in the day to play Firefight at night.

Starting at 12 pm, Saturday, August 22 at the GameStop in Redmond Tiwn Center, Seattle, WA, Major Nelson and his Xbox Live crew will head up competitions that start this Saturday in the Pacific Northwest and end at the Sunset Plaza in North Babylon, New York on September 19.

For those folks who live in the Bay Area, the “Bungie-Mobile” will stop at Union Landing, Union City, CA on Tuesday, August 25, and Wednesday, August 26, at the Center at Slatten Ranch, in Antioch, CA.

Check Major Nelson’s blog for the full schedule.

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Halo 3: ODST Firefight, Multiplayer Hands-on Preview

We sat there glued to our TV screens. The familiar countdown sounded off–four, three, two, one… until the black TV screen revealed a narrow hallway where I stood shoulder to shoulder with my team, three ODST soldiers. Stepping into the sunlight we saw Covenant Phantom dropships appear from left and right. Grunts and Snipers descended onto the grassy slopes of Security Zone, the first of three Firefight maps shown during a hands-on session at Bungie’s Kirkland studios Tuesday.

Finishing him off only brings more.

Finishing him off only brings more.

The first wave of Covenant was easy: Four of us against a bunch of alien meat puppets. But it was the appearance of two Covenant Wraith tanks coupled with the re-appearance of new dropships and the constant, accurate plasma blasts reigning down on us that made me nervous.

The silence between waves was even more nerve-rattling. During those short windows of time (maybe 10-15 seconds), we sprinted across the green searching for ammo or any ammo-filled enemy gun we could find. The third wave of the first set brought Brutes. The fifth wave finally came, bringing the distant icon of the Brute Chieftain, with his elaborate headdress protruding into the air and the massive, powerful hammer clutched in his paw. You could hear him grunting a hundred yards away. I watched one teammate take the Chieftain’s first swing, his body like a puppet slammed 30 feet back. It took all four of us to mow him down.

That was wave one.

Survive This

Firefight is the new survival mode in Bungie’s Halo 3: ODST. Along with a fleshed out single-player campaign, ODST comprises a multiplayer mode, Forge, Theater, and all of the community tools first revealed in Halo 3. Additionally, if you purchase Halo 3: ODST, you’ll be invited to play the Halo: Reach beta next year.

Firefight reminds most people of Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, although Survival gameplay modes have existed in fighting games for dozens of years now; they’re nothing new. But Firefight is new to Halo, and it’s a logical extension of the Halo play style that bolsters co-op play and camaraderie, as up to four players team up to fight endless waves of Covenant enemies. Bungie’s Lars Bakken, senior designer on Halo 3: ODST, said he recalled being aware they had something great just after Halo 3 shipped. “In the first section of Halo 3, when the jungle opens up, we toyed around with the idea of Firefight. We just reset wave after wave of enemies, and we could see the making of something really fun. It was stripped down, not at all like what we have in ODST, but that’s when the roots of Firefight began.”

Use the night visor to illuminate the tight, circular Crater map.

Use the night visor to illuminate the tight, circular Crater map.

In Bungie’s version of survival mode, you and three other ODST soldiers start with a single suppressed SMG and (scoped) pistol each, and you’ll fight off five waves of Covenant enemies, each wave separated by about 15 to 20 seconds before the next wave hits. Your team shares a pool of seven total lives (shown the upper right hand corner); meaning you get seven lives to survive three sets of five waves before Bungie rewards you with a Bonus Round. Survive that, and you’ll get new ammo, extra health, and new lives. The Firefight maps are specifically designed for ODST and there are about 10 of them.

Adding to the fun are skulls. Skulls are like wild cards or little dark clouds, depending on your point of view. Bungie and its massive ark of fans love the skull challenges. In our sessions, each new set of enemies added a new skull to up the ante. In the first round of five, Tough Luck, which directs enemies to dive away from grenades, is employed. The second round sees Catch, a skull that enables enemies to hurl dozens of grenades at you. And, finally, on wave three, you’ll see Black Eye, a brutal skull that forces you to physically attack enemies with melee attacks to regain health.

Getting to the third set is easier said that done. The par goal Bungie set for the game is 200,000 points, and our team, using the normal setting, averaged about 68,000 to 80,000 points. In our several attempts we nearly beat the third and final round, but our last human fighter died, having run out of bullets with nowhere to go against the Chieftain. High points are earned for doing cool things, like attaining multiple deaths in a row, gutsy kills, or successful melee attacks.

The Grunts? Throw a grenade at them and watch the fireworks begin.

The Grunts? Throw a grenade at them and watch the fireworks begin.

For instance, one guy on our team hurled a plasma grenade into a group of Grunts and watched five of them explode–he gathered a hefty number of points for that. On normal mode, I snuck down into the lower green and jacked both of the Covenant Tanks, for which I was awarded handsomely. In the same way that multiplayer modes require study and patience, Firefight requires teamwork, quick assessment of dead aliens’ weaponry, and weapon placement. For instance, on a lookout spot at the top of the hill, you can grab a detachable turret, but once those bullets are emptied, whatever the aliens dropped after dying is what you’re left with. One strategy is to save the big guns for the later, tougher battles.

Fighting with Four and Seven

Bungie showed off three Firefight maps during its all-day, hands-on MP/Firefight session: Security Zone, Crater (at Night), and Alpha Site. Security Zone is like Zanzibar in that it quickly demonstrates the full potential of Firefight. It’s simple, easy, and a quick map to understand. It’s also the first map Bungie showed of the mode, so by now everyone has seen a portion of it. Security Zone comprises a gradual grassy slope anchored with three lookout points at the top of the slope and has a few structures creating partial barriers near the slope’s bottom. There, a flat grassy section ends with a gray alcove designed for various purposes (such as hiding or grabbing a sniper rifle, for instance). When the mission begins, players start at the top and fan out across the field as Covenant dropships blast cover fire while dropping their soldiers. This Environment is both wide and long, and if you look hard enough you’ll find a power rifles, rockets, and sniper rifles in the wings of the level.

Crater (night) is a smaller, circular map built upon three or four split level balconies and ramps, along with a crater in the middle. This map, as indicated, demonstrates what a night map looks like, and you’ll need the night visor to handle this level best. Hit X and the dark, hidden enemies will appear for a limited amount of time in full light. Crater is full of mischief. It’s packed with circular sloping paths, alcoves, and tons of little nooks to duck into and re-appear in to handily slaughter enemies. Since Firefight is limited to four humans per team, this map delivers the perfect size and structure, giving you the ability to always seen your comrades if need be (and there will be the need!).

The third map, Alpha Site, is another circular one; only it’s flat and appears during the day. Covenant waves appear on a wide balcony at the far end of the level, split in the middle and connected by two narrow-ish doorways, creating potential for bottlenecking. This level, however, is distinguished more by the multiple columns that split up the opposing end, giving both you and the enemy cover sections and hiding spots from which to recover and attack.

Full-on firefight at Alpha Site.

Full-on firefight at Alpha Site.

I liked Security Zone in the same way that Zanzibar was the picture perfect capture-the-flag map. It’s big and obvious, but there is room to play. And it’s also wonderfully balanced. Its biggest fault is that it’s actually too big; you often find yourself completely adrift from your teammates more often than not. All of the maps are solid, but I found myself really liking Alpha Site, as the environment is filled with columns, walls, and areas to avoid fire and surprise enemies. Moreover, the many columns stop the Chieftain from performing his deadly hammer attacks.

In each of the three Firefight maps shown, not one included drivable vehicles. Bakken explained that a handful of the other Firefight maps were large enough to include vehicles, specifically citing Warthogs. He pointed out, however, that you couldn’t jack a Wraith tank, which I so desperately wanted to do in Security Zone; you can however, plant a bomb to destroy it. Jacking the Wraith tanks was something Bungie toyed with early on, but it quickly became apparent, as Bakken pointed out, that it threw the game out of balance and changed things for the worse.

Hands-on Multiplayer with Citadel, Longshore, and Heretic

The all-day session also offered us a look at the three new multiplayer maps: Citadel, Longshore, and Heretic, a remake of the previous released map, Mid-Ship. With these three new maps, Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST offer a total of 24 total multiplayer maps.

“Our fans have been asking (demanding) more symmetrical maps,” said Brian Jarred, Bungie community director. “We assessed at all the Halo maps and looked to see what niches were missing. The areas we were short on were small and symmetrical maps. Heretic, a true re-creation–although I won’t say it’s a pixel perfect one–of Mid-Ship, is a fan favorite. A small team of eight people is perfect for this map.”

Citadel: The center area is big, wide has an upper bridge connecting two sideds.

Citadel: The center area is big, wide, and has an upper bridge connecting two sides.

Citadel is a solid symmetrical map that’s somewhat similar to Heretic in that it offers multiple pathways and a center piece, but it’s got a larger diameter and so it’s got wider paths and slightly bigger spaces. Both Citadel and Heretic are especially good for shotguns. “Citadel is simple and pure,” said Jarred. “And dare I say it, it’s my favorite.”

Longshore is a big team battle map like High Ground or Zanzibar. It’s an industrial warehouse setting that delivers a sense of vast size. It’s asymmetrical and has multiple stories, includes a Covenant Ghost, a rocket launcher, and an Energy Sword and we were able to play Capture the Flag and One Bomb on it. There is little else to say than it was a blast. Although, I’ll add that there are multiple ways to get the flag, perched on a four story high tower, including an extension bridge that expands almost directly above the tower.

This map is s touch too big for eight players, but it's suited perfectly for 16.

This map is s touch too big for eight players, but it's suited perfectly for 16.

The extension bridge can be activated by running up to the second (or third) floor and hitting a green-lit button. The activated bridge makes a big lurching sound, so it’s obvious it is extending, which can be useful for an attack or as a decoy. When on defense and we heard the bridge extending, we all focused our attention on it, even though the opposing team wasn’t coordinated enough to use it.

Look for Halo 3: ODST to ship September 22 for $59.99, and check Bungie.net for updates on the game over the next several weeks.


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Halo 3: ODST Preview Coming Wednesday

Bungie Studios is holding a day session on location for select journalists to play Halo 3: ODST and yours truly will be there to report on it. Microsoft has placed an embargo on the material, so expect a hands-on report at 9 am PST, Wednesday, August 12. H3ODST_Firefight_SecurityZone1stPerson

For what is essentially an add-on pack, ODST is turning out to be something quite big, and despite Halo 3 ending the story arc of the vaunted series, ODST this year will be followed by Halo Reach next year, giving gamers two straight years of new Halo games. Additionally, Microsoft recently announced three new maps for Halo 3: ODST: Longshore, Heretic, Citadel. And at Comic-con in San Diego, Bungie announced its intention to Matrix-ify the IP, an anime-style series consisting of seven short films.

Check back tomorrow for a detailed preview.

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E3 2009: Halo ODST Deeper Detail Preview

Behind closed doors at the Microsoft event Bungie showed a deeper look at this fall’s Halo ODST, a first-person shooter that’s both very different than the Halo trilogy but that also shares some similarities.

The demo showed essentially a deeper look at the same level that debuted at Microsoft’s media briefing Monday, with more detail and storyline revealed. Also, for clarification, Halo ODST will arrive in one package on two discs. The first disc includes the story campaign, which can be played with one to four players cooperatively; Firefight, a survival-style co-op mode; Theater, which enables screen capture and movie replay just like in Halo 3; and Extras, the gateway for gamers to enter into the Halo Reach beta (when it becomes available). The second disc is the multiplayer disc, which includes all of the (unannounced) MP details. Creative Director Joseph Staten confirmed that Bungie separated the game onto two discs because of space restrictions.

Staten led the demo, which started at the beginning of the game, in a starship high above New Mombassa with a group of ODST marines shooting the breeze before their next mission. You meet Dutch (who goes missing later on the game), a red-headed soldier who is friendly. You also meet a black dude, an angry squad captain, and a female leader who one of the soldiers notices wears new and advanced gear. The mention of her gear, her relationship with the squad captain, and her story all appear as hooks into a deeper storyline that assuredly will be explained as you, “The Rookie,” find various items in the broken scraps of New Mombassa, each one initiating a flashback sequence and more storyline. Halo ODST is a prequel to Halo 3, taking place weeks before that game started, and explains what happened to New Mombassa after Halo 2.

The next scene shows you jumping into a landing pod, which along with hundreds of others, are maneuverable space craft designed for hard, fast drops into heavy military zones. You jump in and are given a look at what looks like a solo space elevator, except with controls to maneuver, slow down, and even pull a tech parachute for landings. As you’re falling you’ll start in space and get a good view of the craft you’re leaving, plus you’ll get a great view of the other pods dropping from the mother ships underside. You fall through space, make the transition into the atmosphere, and then pick up where the media briefing demo started off, watching a Covenant spaceship enter into slipstream leaving a destructive blast in its wake and scattering your team mates across the wide terrain below.

You make a hard landing, and wake up six hours later, at night, all alone. Upon landing you begin seeing the biggest differences between previous Halo games and Halo ODST. First, you’re a regular guy, sans cybernetic enhancement and alteration and a SPARTAN suit. So, you’re a lot less powerful and must be smarter about how you approach and attack enemies. Unlike the Halo trilogy, in Halo ODST, you’ll have different and in some cases more helpful gear, such as a compass and a unique visor in your helmet and HUD. You’ll need to pick up health from first aid kits because while you have a health meter and an adrenaline meter, the health meter doesn’t recover on its own — a first and a step…backward (sideways?) for the series? As a quick aside, Halo introduced the regenerating health system to first-person shooters (after which all other shooters followed), so for Bungie to change this, and for Halo fans, this alteration ought to be, well, different at best. We shall see. Anyway, the visor provides a low-light vision mode so you can see at night, and it also provides a target acquisition scanner that identifies objects of importance, such as enemies (which show up in red). You’re equipped with different weaponry, too: two silence weapons. You’ll get a sound suppressed sub-machine gun with a zoom function, and a sound suppressed Halo 1 pistol, which frankly, kicks ass.

Sensing the game’s new mood was difficult even behind closed doors (the Alan Wake sub-woofers next door were exceptionally loud), but Staten illustrated how the new game was designed with a greater sense of mood. Halo ODST is a mystery, and as such, the coloring, music, and story will reflect that idea with red skies, a much vaster scale of the city and you’re small place in it.

Bungie loves its AI characters and in ODST, instead of Guilty Spark, you’ll meet the city’s super smart AI, The Superintendent, created by ONI, the office of naval intelligence. Known as the “Super,” this city AI reaches you by making a phone call on a public phone. When you answer, you learn he is watching you and wants to help. The Super is also damaged, partially broken due to the Slip Stream blast the Covenant ship caused. The Super gives you a top-down digital map of the whole city, and provides you with beacons you can set to help guide yourself and others (if you’re playing co-op, for instance) as the story progresses.

The first enemies you’ll see are basic grunts, after which you’ll encounter basic level brutes. In these first battles, you’ll have to strafe, distract, run, and keep the enemies guessing, unlike the straight run-and-gun of Halo 1-3. These fights, however, didn’t appear to be terribly difficult nor interesting.

Staten ended the demo by showing the Firefight mode. Firefight is basically a massive survival mode, in which your team is given a finite amount of team lives (seven) and must withstand nonstop, increasingly difficult Covenant attacks. Bungie is in the process of completely re-designing its Website to incorporate new stats and functionality, leaderboards, etc., to reflect the demands of the new game. We watched a replay of ODST troopers fight off Brute leaders equipped with their giant hammer/staffs, which pretty much just ended the fight, as each ODST militant was eventually hammered off his feet and propelled 30 to 50 feet into the air like a sharply hit tennis ball serve.

While Bungie is correct in thinking that the next Halo needs to look, feel, and play differently, not running and gunning in Halo, not recharging instantly, and not being a super bad ass seems like a weird idea for any Halo game. I mean, those are, in some basic way, the tenets of what Halo is. To play it differently, stripped down to human proportions, makes me wonder why it’s called Halo at all. I say this, of course, not having played it or experienced the story or what Bungie has to fully offer, so I am not fully equipped to judge. So what I am hoping is that place of these tenets, there are bigger, more impressive elements to be revealed that compel gamers in ways that are so great and enticing that they will accept this new Halo style and embrace it. From an experienced perspective, having read all the books and played all the games, it’s tough to see those enticing elements just yet.


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Halo Wars Reflections


After several nights of intermittently playing and ignoring Halo Wars, I finally hurled myself, like a body against a door, at the last and 15th mission of the game and finished it.

Since I don’t have any deadlines per say, I traded in a few games for Halo Wars for two reasons: 1) it’s another addition to the Halo universe, which I am obsessed with, and 2) I would love to see RTS games make it on consoles, despite their fateful lack of a keyboard and mouse and the unlikelihood of them ever succeeding.  Call me crazy (you won’t be the first), but I just feel like taking the underdog position on this one. One day RTS games will do well on consoles, I swear!

With my inner wishes now in plain view, I return to face reality. Halo Wars doesn’t succeed very well as an RTS, making little headway into creating an equivalent control system like the PC and crushing my basic hopes with a pair of brass knuckles. But what Halo Wars does well is give gamers another Halo game to enjoy. It’s pure fanfare; it will neither recruit PC RTS fans to play it nor does it cast a wide enough net to grab casual console gamers. No sirree.  This is pure fan service, but for the record I like it better than EA’s Lord of the Rings RTS endeavors, which weren’t half bad.


The engine and systems behind the game are rock solid, and it’s incredibly fun to see the creatures, spartans, soldiers, and Flood appear as mini versions of themselves and control them in vast armies. Similarly, it’s great fun to control Warthogs and Grizzlies and Scorpions and mini-scarabs. Every chance I got to use a Spartan to jack enemy Covenent vehicle, I took it. They’ll jump onto the vehicle hoods, bang on the door and eventually throw out the Covenent driver to its death. Just like old times.

The only real hard levels in the game are level 10 and level 15. Level 10, Shield World, is a Floody mess. The mission is timed against a Flood army that never really dies, and at the end if you don’t place your army exactly on the right spot, at the right time, even if they’re generally in close vacinity of the rally point, you’ll have to start over (and you will do this multiple times, I swear it). The best thing I can say about this level is that in being frustratingly, you will increase your skills through repetition and be better off for it. But the pain and annoyance might turn less determined players away.

Level 15, Escape, is also timed and tough. In Escape, you’ll have to use a narrower technique than in other levels, which is building up ODST troops to swarm across the circular map and beat down both Flood and Covenant forces, while fending off three scarabs, while opening doors in the correct order. Building up your tech in this level is the key, not only with troops, but with the MAC Cannon, too. You know you’ve done well if you beat the level before the timer runs outs, but you’ll have done especially well if you beat the level and wiped out all of the Scarabs, too. Good luck.

So yeah, Halo fans rejoice in all of Halo Wars’ fun little intricacies and inherent scripting problems and lack of control. It’s a bit of a headache but it’ll will satisfy your inner Halo fan.


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