One More Go: Why Halo makes me want to lay down and die

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There are those who say that when any door closes another one opens. These people have clearly never queued for the ladies toilet in St Pancras Station. Conceptually, though, they have a point. Endings are often beginnings.

The biggest ending of all, however, has long had me beat. As a wet-humanist, I have no big expectations for life after death. A bit of rotting. General blankness. The absence of everything is a prospect I’ve always found more soothing than daunting. The concept of heaven has always troubled me far more. What would it be like? What would I want it to be like?

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For a while I thought my answer to those questions was Phantasy Star Online. Perfect sunsets, nice greenery, good clothes, the company of friends. There was a timelessness on Ragol which would clearly have been compatible with eternity.

Today though, thanks to the slightly underwhelming reminders of ODST, I think I’d like to go to Silent Cartographer when I die. What could be better? It’s beautiful, for a start. The moon hanging fat in the sky, and the Halo stretching like spun silver around the horizon. Waves lap on the golden shore, shaded paths climb to airy peaks.

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Heaven shouldn’t just be cosmetics, though. Halo has always been a place where I feel safe. Nothing in games has ever been more reassuring than the feel of that pistol in your hand and full clip in your belt. An elegant weapon for the civilised task of shooting people once in the head and watching them fall over. Not flashy, not over-dramatic: more a tool than anything else, and one which repays practice and patience, which are the kind of things I suspect heaven approves of.

Halo has always been a place where I feel loved. Over-statement? Perhaps, but there is something profoundly warming in the reaction you get from the marines when you stride (or bunny-hop) into view. They are genuinely pleased to see you. Genuinely buoyed by your presence. Being able to instill hope and confidence into people just be being near them sounds pretty heavenly to me.

Halo has always been a place where I feel good. I don’t mean that in a James Brown sense. I mean it’s a place where I feel virtuous. Master Chief, often lambasted for being nothing more than a suit of armour and a weapon set, engenders a sense of honour and duty which actually make you feel like a better person. He does always put others before himself. He never gives up. He understands sacrifice. What’s the point of going to a better place if you aren’t going to be a better person?

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Halo is a place where I feel peaceful. It’s partly, I grant you, the pistol in my hand and the rocket-launcher on my back, both of which take the stress out of day-to-day life in a way in which is often underestimated. It’s also, partly, the beauty. But there is something more profound. There’s a solitude to be found on the beaches of Silent Cartographer. A tranquility in the scene which has more in common with a photo from a inspirational poster than a videogame. As I pick my way across the beach, I find myself instinctively looking for another set of footprints and listening out for the voice that says ‘My son, that was when I carried you’. Although, this being Halo, that voice would surely more likely say, ‘My son, that’s when I stickied you with three grenades and then juggled you with a rocket launcher.”

Which – good point – is my last requirement for heaven. Fun. Silliness. Generously assisted nonsense. Halo was always a very adaptable toy-set, full of springs and balls and dolls waiting to be tossed in the air with endlessly unpredictable results. In fact, my soundtrack to the whole thing would probably be taken from the Warthog Jump video – Sinatra and Hendrix. What could be more heavenly?

So now I don’t fear endings. The road not taken is the road you shouldn’t have taken. And when the last door shuts, I’ll square my shoulders, unholster my pistol and let Frank serenade me into eternity.

[Margaret Robertson is the former editor of Edge magazine and now videogame consultant. One More Go is her regular Offworld column in which she explores the attractions of the games she just can't stop going back to.]

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18 Responses to One More Go: Why Halo makes me want to lay down and die

  1. xzzy says:

    I suppose if one were to run with this idea, the later mission where you descend into the depths of a forerunner facility and witness the release of the flood is the Halo equivalent of hell.. followed shortly by the Library, which most gamers consider Hell+1.

  2. Ratdog says:

    I still prefer Bungie’s earlier series, Myth. That had some cool levels. It also had dwarves with molotov cocktails. Now that was fun.

    Myth III (not bungie) sucked though…

  3. tuckels says:

    I’d be happy to have halo as heaven, if just for the soundtrack.

  4. jakekingdead says:

    I can spend all day thrashing Halo, and the resulting march of halo-a-likes that are it’s spawn, but in the end, I spent more time playing the trilogy then any other non-jrpg game.

    And with reason!

    The pacing and scale of the larger set-piece battles left me feeling like I had eaten all but the last few bites of a cheesesteak, wanting more. The multiplayer also brought out the visceral fps gamer in me that hadn’t seen gotten any screen time since TF2 or golden eye even, asking myself what I just did, if I was lucky, or what I just did wrong if I wasn’t. And the always-shoot-for-epic scope of the setting and story, had me thinking BRUCKHEIMER/BAY the whole way through and loving of it the way I still get a kick out of watching bruce willis slow-mo-explosion-jumping. And look at that! you play as an actual hero, no anti-hero lead here, no misgivings about stepping up, no hesitation, no family to give priority to, just straight up savior action.

    So apologies to my cynical half, finding faults in Halo is like finding faults in a Led Zeppelin album, they exist but get ready to forget them as there’s another nosebleedingly good drum solo around the corner.

    It’s the legacy of shitty 10 minutes of action, every 5 minutes, yo bro let’s just push through, fps games that gets me. But you can’t blame that on Halo, it’s like blaming the Beatles for Britney Spears. or can you? Can we? (please?)

    Anyway, I enjoy the shit out of One More Go. Thanks.

  5. jakekingdead says:

    I can spend all day thrashing Halo, and the resulting march of halo-a-likes that are it’s spawn, but in the end, I spent more time playing the trilogy then any other non-jrpg game.

    And with reason!

    The pacing and scale of the larger set-piece battles left me feeling like I had eaten all but the last few bites of a cheesesteak, wanting more. The multiplayer also brought out the visceral fps gamer in me that hadn’t seen gotten any screen time since TF2 or golden eye even, asking myself what I just did, if I was lucky, or what I just did wrong if I wasn’t. And the always-shoot-for-epic scope of the setting and story, had me thinking BRUCKHEIMER/BAY the whole way through and loving of it the way I still get a kick out of watching bruce willis slow-mo-explosion-jumping. And look at that! you play as an actual hero, no anti-hero lead here, no misgivings about stepping up, no hesitation, no family to give priority to, just straight up savior action.

    So apologies to my cynical half, finding faults in Halo is like finding faults in a Led Zeppelin album, they exist but get ready to forget them as there’s another nosebleedingly good drum solo around the corner.

    It’s the legacy of shitty 10 minutes of action, every 5 minutes, yo bro let’s just push through, fps games that gets me. But you can’t blame that on Halo, it’s like blaming the Beatles for Britney Spears. or can you? Can we? (please?)

    Anyway, I enjoy the shit out of One More Go. Thanks.

  6. matttthompson says:

    Whereas previous generations had scripture, literature, or even—I guess—nature to inform visions of the here-after, our lot is stuck with videogames as our main source of reference for all of that.

    Katamari Damacy, for instance.
    That’s what I’m holding out for.
    …I think.

  7. Ratdog says:

    Yeah, I always noticed that about the Halo games.

    I am also a fan of Bungie re-Microsoft. But that is because of their other old series: Myth. I still play Myth II. There is something very unique about it. Myth III (not bungie) wasn’t very good though.

  8. Ratdog says:

    Yeah, if anybody is wondering, it looked like my message did not send, so I sent another. That’s why I have two messages saying prettying much the same thing.

  9. Lemon says:

    If I could take one level from any game with me to a desert island The Silent Cartographer would probably be it. I think I have spent more time on that one level than on most games.

    @2 Those so called identical levels did play a lot differently with the flood infestations. Two Betrayals (the flood infested version of Assault on the Control Room) is one of my favourite levels. And for me Halo 1 is a lot less flawed than Halo 2.

    @1 I actually played the library more than the last level which I found harder. With a pistol the library ain’t to hard.

  10. Agies says:

    @1 And then you have running back through a series of identical buildings for no good goddamn reason. I love the Halo series but the first game was definitely flawed.

    ODST on the other hand has brought me nothing but joy.

  11. Flyagainhero says:

    Thank you for a thought-provoking column! I love reading One More Go, but this installment was especially interesting!

    I found intriguing how different my own experiences of the Silent Cartographer were compared to what you wrote.

    For me the atmosphere of the whole first Halo game was disquieting. The game was really immersive, and, like you, I spent quite a while marveling all the visual and aural wonders of the game world. The waves, the peaks, the huge moon and the Halo arching overhead were all very pretty, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread. The pistol in my hand felt insignificant and useless in the face of the mighty Halo and all the ageless structures I explored.

    My memories of the Silent Cartographer are memories of loneliness, and of melancholy. It was heart-achingly beautiful, yes, but at the same time it was horrifying. It felt like the serenity was there only to mask the evil and chaos lurking just beyond your reach.

    The marines could have inspired a sense of camaraderie and security I felt lacking in the game world, but instead I always thought of them as dead men walking. Mere humans who, in their eager admiration of Master Chief, would follow him blindly into meat-grinding situations from which only a Spartan could survive. Of all the possible emotions to express, they chose to be happy to see me, even though I would certainly offer them nothing but death. It felt like I’d betrayed them from the moment they first set their eyes on me.

    Funny how people can experience places and situations in games so differently. What was serene and tranquil for you was horrendously vacant and depressing for me. Halo was the first (and thus far only) FPS that has affected me emotionally in this way. I have no idea why, though.

  12. VanceG says:

    Me love HALO! Plus I totally agree with LEMON, even me I could take one level from any game with me to a desert island which is said to be The Silent Cartographer. The level of this game is awesome. Anyway, I was fascinated by the pictures you have posted here – I barely reminded by the Frank Lloyd Wright’s house Fallingwater that we have visited last month. But, anyway what with the library? I’ve never gone there? Any updates please

  13. EyeSpy Guy says:

    Youz Are So Rightz! Teh Haloz is teh best game EVARZ! I _love_ usink mi thumbs to bring hot death to other playars, epsecially because we can be drinking so much beerz on teh couch when we play. I tried to play teh PC gamez once. People were sayin that there were good gamez on teh PCs, but they is too hard! I keep missing, and the maps are so big. It just made it all the sweeter when I got back to teh Haloz, because Bungie is always good to me.

    So I want to say Thank You. This column is pure poetry. The idea that when I die I’ll go live in teh Haloz is just too sweet for words. Rock on Bro! Teh Haloz for evarz!

  14. AirPillo says:

    I can’t personally relate, but that was rather poetic, thank you for the thought-provoking read.

  15. Napalm Dog says:

    Strange. I just installed and am playing Halo on my PC. Mind you, it’s mostly because I was a Marathon fan pre-Microsoft ownership of Bungie.

    Even stranger is the fact I have just landed on Cartographer’s Island. It’s slightly confusing; I can’t tell if I’m Lu about to face off with a Protector or if Durandel is going to pop out of the woodwork and be the basterd he is.

    One thing is for sure; Microsoft is milking the Marathon/Halo universe. Halo doesn’t feel much different playwise than Marathon. I wonder if Bungie has anything else up their sleeve?

  16. Bobby Smiles says:

    You can’t honestly be saying Halo doesn’t play differently Marathon. You just can’t. That’s like saying Mario 64 plays no differently to Mario 2.

  17. Bobby Smiles says:

    Wait, are you condemning FPS games for being action-oriented?

  18. Guaca says:

    Ahhh. Your idyll leaves me with deep pangs of nostalgia. Halo is not so much a heaven for me but a half-forgotten dream. There is no possibility, for me, of reliving those moments on Silent Cartographer, but I’m glad I had them.

 

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