I often say that movies are an amalgam of every type of art form. I would also say this applies to video games. One could say that movies and video games are twins (not in age, obviously, but in similarity). As often as I criticize Hollywood for producing nothing but unoriginal, predictable, factory-processed garbage, but I cannot say the same for the video game industry. You’ll rarely see me hate on this industry because I honestly feel they try to produce art.
The greatest example of this, in my opinion, is Halo 2 (NOT Anniversary). How so? I’ll gladly explain, by going through each art form masterfully utilized in this game.
While Master Chief is back as the main character, we also get a second main character, the Arbiter. Throughout the game, we see these two going through opposite, yet identical, arcs. At the beginning, Master Chief is exonerated for destroying the Halo ring of the first game, while Arbiter is punished for failing where Master Chief succeeded. In the end, Master Chief must leave his beloved Cortana behind in the Flood-infested city-planet called High Charity, while Arbiter must risk joining forces with his former enemies, the humans.
Chief’s arc isn’t very interesting in this game. It’s actually Arbiter’s. In fact, I’d say more the writers purposefully tried to give the game a new main character while not forgetting about the old.
Arbiter is given a mission after he’s stripped of his rank and reputation. He’s sent to kill a rogue army division of the Covenant that don’t buy in to the Covenant belief that the rings are portals to a higher existence. This directly mirrors where Arbiter’s story is going. He himself will reject the Covenant religious dogma later on, but at first, he must kill a man who he will become like.
I love parallels in stories.
In the previous game, the Elites (the species the Arbiter belongs to) were the main enemy. In this game, they become humanity’s greatest ally. We see the Covenant from within instead of just from the outside. This game is also the first time we see the Halo rings fire, or at least start to.
What most people didn’t seem to notice in this game is the arc of the Covenant’s top leader, the Prophet of Truth. He’s calm, patient, and wise. You can really see why he possesses the most power. But throughout the game, we see Truth go from having the highest power, to being the only one in power. The other Prophets, who are Regret and Mercy, die during the story, and directly because of Truth’s orders. He purposefully leaves Regret in a position to get killed by Master Chief, and he leaves Mercy to get chewed on by a Flood spore. What I love about Truth’s arc is that it’s not obvious. At no point is his manipulation ever outright explained to the audience. He’s evil and cunning, but it’s easy to miss because he has such an admirable demeanor.
Honestly, I only have 2 gripes with the story of Halo 2. Master Chief’s arc is dull. I mean, we saw Arbiter develop as a character, so why not see Chief also develop since we didn’t really get to know him in the first game? Also, the Flood are used very poorly in this game. In the previous game, the Flood came from out of NOWHERE and you suddenly have to start trying to kill an enemy, in droves, that you don’t understand. It was claustrophobic, dark, and just plain terrifying. But in this game, the Flood are just ….. there. I was only scared of them during one mission and they had almost relevance to the story, even though the entire Halo series revolves around them.
Sometimes, the game takes us to somewhere sunny, and sometimes we’re taken to somewhere cold and dark. Sometimes it’s chaotic, and sometimes it’s calm and serene. Regardless, we’re always treated to high quality music to fit the situation perfectly. Whether it’s during action or during dialogue, the music always fits, and still blends in with the rest of the soundtrack as well. Some of my favorite instrumentals of all time come from this game alone. It’s music you can remember and love even when you’re not playing the game.
Every shot is gorgeous. It’s cinematic. Even when there’s nothing but death and gore in front of you, the background is always a beautiful shot of space, or High Charity, or a Covenant capital ship. Nearly every frame of this game can be converted into a framed picture. But, it’s not just beautiful the whole way through, it’s also adaptive to the situation. For example, as High Charity is getting consumed by the Flood, the lights start to go out and you can barely see two inches ahead. Even then, when it’s scary, you can see either architecture or even certain weapons glowing in the darkness and it still looks mesmerizing.
Halo 2 may be 13 years and multiple console generations old by now, but I still play it, because it’s just that great.
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