Half-Life 2. To many Halo fans in 2004, it was the enemy. Critics hailed it as the best game of that year in many categories including storytelling, graphics, and countless other fields. Online polls across the net were pitting it and the console's biggest game of the year, Halo 2 up against eachother, and we saw on many Halo sites forums numerous "Vote f0r Halo 2!!!1!" threads pop up.
Now, two years later much of that is all forgotten among fans of both games. Truth be told, Half-Life 2, quality wise, is my favorite game of all time. The simple fact that it makes you feel when you're entwined within the confines of the spooky Ravenholm. Or when you are gazing upon abandoned rebel outposts on Highway 17, this game truly immerses you into its world -- something game designers are still striving to do (and not necessarily succeeding) to this day.
Enter Halo 2, which offers up hundreds of hours worth of fun times with friends in multiplayer, on top of the dozen or so hours (close to thirty if you're an easter egg guy) within its campaign mode. It never offered me the same feelings as playing Half-Life 2 on the Xbox did, but it always kept me entertained, which is what games are here to do. Right?
But as someone who is planning on getting into this industry someday, I can't help but be concerned about the generic quality that games seem to be striving toward. If you take away the fact that Halo 2 is part of multi-million dollar hit game, and strip it of everything that associates itself with the original Halo, including characters and names, it isn't above any other first person shooter to come out within the last few years. What I'm saying here, is most modern games focus more on dazzling you with special effects and pretty graphics, and let up on instituing these amazing moments that make you say, "Ok, what I'm playing is more than just a game." And yes, followers of the HBO forum will recognize the term I'm about to use here, I call these "wow moments".
I define "wow moments" as any event taking place during the confines of gameplay that make you feel what's happening onscreen, and take you aback. Any little event or scene of gameplay that's more movie-like than something you'd normally think would be a part of a game. These are little scenes scattered throughout the game that truly immerse you, the player, in the universe, and make you believe you're there in that universe, and not sitting staring at a computer screen or a TV. You may get it from a Strider lancing a fellow rebel soldier in Half-Life 2, or from the first scenes of Prey when you're abducted and taken on the ship. But any way you slice it, interactable or not, these little in-game events are what makes gaming great for me, and I hope, for you.
The original Halo provided me with quite a few of these moments, including scenes like your flight into, and the exploration of, the 343 Guilty Spark swamp. The swamp just had this eeriness and total mystery about it that put you through a loop if you weren't expecting what was about to happen ahead. That was one of the many instances that got me immersed into the Halo universe, though truth be told I had read Halo: The Flood long before actually playing the game. Yeah, strange.
But anywho, it stayed with me until summer 2004 when I first watched the first, and only, campaign demonstration of Halo 2. To get my full feelings on that demo, visit this thread on HBO, but back to the topic at hand. While watching the demo and seeing all of the little immersive events onscreen like the Longsword bombing run, the Marine giving you his SMG, the conversation between the pinned down Marine and Perez, before the Marine's cover is blown away after a humerous exchange. All of these instances clearly fit into my explanation of "wow moments". These were things you would see in a real battlefield (if not somewhat stripped of realism seeing as how you're a 7 foot tall cyborg). From beginning to end, the demo gave me a very strong emotional impact that left me wanting to see it again and again. Truth be told, I still watch it to this day, even if it's more for research for my future career rather than "taking me back to the old days".
Then, Halo 2 shipped. And in comparison with the demo, it was absolutely nothing like it. The design of the "hive city", as I like to call it, was totally stripped down to a rather boring skyline, with generic buldings and "skyscrapers" (if you could call them that) that just made you think this all could have happened closer to sixty years in the future, rather than five-hundred and fifty. The Mombasa levels, and the rest of the game, were filled with absolutely none of my "wow moments". Not once was I taken aback and found myself saying, "This is art." No bombs dropping, no A.I. controlled Warthogs squishing a Jackal formation, and certainly no sense of true conflict with bleeding Marines and medics on the battlefield tending them. That being said, the experience was fun throughout, and the art design was great as always with the Halo games.
So with the Halo series so far, we've gone from a really immersive gaming experience, to nothing really above that of its competition? The sad truth these days within the industry is that developers again seem to be looking more toward cool effects (humm.. think "pretty water" and interactable foliage) and jaw dropping graphics, rather than envoking feeling into their work. Not that awesome effects and amazing graphics are bad, it's just that Half-Life 2 has proved you can have those and a stunning campaign that really makes you think and feel. Gears of War, sadly, is yet another example of this. Awesome game, great graphics, but practically no story and no "wow moments" within.
I know I can't personally do anything to change what Bungie does with, say, Halo 3 to give it the same feeling that playing the original Halo did, but I can promise that if and when I do make it into the videogame industry, I'll do my best to institute my little moments into any projects I work on.
Until that happens, I'll leave you with this question that you can leave your answer to in the Comments. What do you prefer? A game with absolutely amazing moments scattered througout an immersive and fun campaign, or a more "mindless" (kind of harsh word there..) gameplay experience of slaughtering aliens and watching cutscenes?
So, "wow moments" or no, for you?