Category: FPS

After a long period with zero gaming (focused on other nerdings for a while) I finally jumped back into Marathon and completed it a little bit ago.  I was only about halfway through, and it honestly ended a little abruptly, but that means it’s crossed off.  Onto the next in this chronological history of the FPS genre, which means it’s finally time to BEAT DARK FORCES!

I remember Dark Forces being something of a revelation when I was a kid.  I didn’t really do the Doom thing (although I did have a copy of Wolfenstien 3D for a while), but I knew about it?  Wasn’t my thing for all the classic reasons; unpowered computer, lack of interest in FPS, and dislike of K+M as a control scheme. But sure, FPS was a thing, and I guess that people liked it?

We were visiting one of my mom’s friends one summer, and her kids showed me Dark Forces on their PC, and it was pretty bad-ass. I mean, when you’re a kid any sort of licensed work beholding to a franchise you love is great, but this was actually kinda special. The attention to detail, the cinematic sequences, it all felt good and high-budget and on point.  I didn’t get a chance to play much, but that quick glimpse locked the title away in my head for examination at some point, which I returned to years later as I discover the Star Wars Extended Universe though it’s myriad of novels.

It ended up being another in my endless stream of barely-touched PC games, but this ends now.

To be honest, this game does feel a step ahead of other Doom-clones of the time, elevating it beyond the bar set by id’s seminal FPS masterpiece (even though next year they’d drop Quake and change everything again).  Dark Forces really wrapped itself up in its lore, making it feel like a unique FPS adventure, instead of another graphical wrapping around a boring mechanic.  The graphics were immersive, the voice clips and cinematics gave us 100000% more story than Doom ever hoped, and it took care to make expansive, diverse levels instead of the monster-filled corridors of other games.

Marathon did it first, but the addition of jumping/crouching and practical 3D space allows for more exploration and opportunities. It also has several bits of usable equipment in the vein of Heretic, with stuff like headlamps to let you see in dark spaces, and boots so you don’t slip on ice.  This adds an element of resource management beyond weapons and ammo, and damned it you don’t always run out of batteries at the worst time (side note: batteries can be looted from any minor robots by destroying them, but this doesn’t work on DarkXL. Beware)

The attention to detail is really doing it for me, too. In particular, the fact that the Stormtrooper’s rifle is not only startlingly inaccurate (it fires all over the place, explaining why Stormtroopers in the movies are such terrible shots), but also has a certain degree of ricochet.  This is the kind of stuff that makes a difference, that really binds the game to the universe and allows the player to feel like they’re part of it.


It has many of the same mechanical problems that I had with Marathon, which were par for course back in the day, although mitigated in some ways.  It’s save system is kinda crap, only auto-saving to your profile when you complete a mission. It does have a checkpoint system in-level where you’ll be regenerated if you die, but this is tied to how many lives you have left; lives are a limited resource and are found in various secret parts in levels.  In any case, you only have a limited number of tries to get the level right, or you start from scratch.

It’s better than Marathon’s manual-save-point system, but I really miss being able to save, leave, then come back to complete the level.  It’s kind of a weird step back too, considering that Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Heretic let you save anywhere, but with the lives system being in place as well, it’s definitely a deliberate choice, and I respect that.

There’s a lot more focus on big sprawling levels, where it feels like you’re actually getting from point A to point B.  Doom/Heretic’s monster-hallways felt super linear, and Marathon’s levels seemed to progress without a serious sense of direction; point a to point b, but with more emphasis on structure and verticality what with elevators and such.  There’s also more switch puzzles and interactivity in the levels (even though some of the ‘interactive’ pieces don’t stand out as well as they could) instead of the more generic key-hunt gameplay of Doom. Even when Dark Forces makes you backtrack, it’s all part of the story.

Speaking of story, it’s so refreshing to have an FPS game go all-in on story at this early stage.  While other, more hardcore FPS would continue to eschew story en masse for the next bunch of years, Dark Forces gave you not only characters, but settings, themes, and motivations.  Cinematics play between levels, and a mission screen at the start of each gives you background on where you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.  It gives your main character, Kyle Katarn, something of a personality, and even introduces ancillary characters like Jan, his friend, fellow smuggler, and mission control operator.  They also give us a look at the antagonists, including the ever-present Darth Vader (can’t have Star Wars anything without Vader), which is also a welcome reprieve from endless samey hellbeasts spawned from the depths (by which I mean Stormtroopers).  This gives the whole game a sense of purpose that other entries in the genre have been lacking thus far, and gives compelling reasons to keep playing.

In all, LucasArts gave us a stand-out game here.  Previous Star Wars games had their pros and cons, for sure; X-Wing gave us a new twist on flight-sim, Super Star Wars platformers fully embraced the core franchise, but Dark Forces let them both capitalize on a rapidly-rising genre, and set a high bar for games in that genre to come.  Looking forward to seeing what new tricks they pulled in the their next FPS game, as well as Dark Forces’ eventual sequels.


I’ve never been much of a PC gamer, as I’ve said before; the various barriers to entry just seemed like too much work (and that’s from someone who loves fixing problems), and I preferred consoles for a number of reasons.

This means, of course, that there are untold reams of games that I’ve never played, but are considered touchstones for various reasons.  In particular, the FPS genre has always been a huge market on PC, with consoles only really picking up the slack in the wake of Goldeneye and Call of Duty, but the lack of standardized cross-platform releases prior to 360/PS3 means there’s tons of exclusives that never got played on both sides.  I’ve never been huge on FPS as a whole, but charting its rise in the video game canon is incredible, from humble beginnings to being the reigning champ.

Anyways, it’s basically the same story as all of my PC gaming: get interested, pick something up, play a bit, get frustrated by something technical, try to fix it, and succeed or not, play a bit more and then drop it.  Just another game that I’ve played the first 1-3 levels of a dozen times, but never got further in.

This kind of got started a few years back, when I beat Wolf3D/Spear of Destiny, and moved to Doom.  And then to Heretic.  And realized that as much as I may or may not be enjoying the gameplay, there was some really interesting stuff happening behind the scenes.  Engines were updating, mechanics were evolving, and I could feel the games moving to a more modern feel.  On consoles, this is usually evidenced by a jump in generation; Super Mario Bros. 3 to Super Mario World to Super Mario 64.  On PC, it’s more of a slow climb; less big risky jumps, but more controlled building on what works and what doesn’t.

This history project is both enlightening and infuriating, like all good history projects.  It gives me an impetus to continue (and not just switch to something else), and I can look at the frustrations as a lesson and a learning experience.  Nothing is insurmountable, right?  Especially something that’s considered definitive/important in the genre as a whole.

Anyways, I’m referencing a few different Top X lists, along with Wikipedia’s list of FPS games, to cherry pick games to play in chronological order. It’s slow going, and has already been ongoing for a while, but each piece is a building block in my head and it’s a decent way to kill time.

Only 20+ more years to go.

PCGamingWiki, always a valuable resource.

Pretty sure I’ve mentioned the XL Engine on here before. It’s not a source port, per se, but an engine recreation using original assets. It started as a way to get Dark Forces working on Windows (the titular DarkXL), before branching out as a platform for several other early FPS’s with outdated engines (most notably, Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall).  It fell by the wayside a few years back though, and the website and forums have basically been overrun by Russian spam-bots.

The original dev threw it up on Github at some point, and the guys over at OpenMW (another valiant engine recreation project, focusing on Elder Scrolls III) have taken it and started to work on it on their own Github.  Sounds like they’re focusing mostly on Daggerfall engine stuff and fixes, but hey, progress is progress.

Anyways, with the engine not being at full compatibility yet, there are certain restrictions and problems with the XLEngine as it currently stands.  Apparently they all have workarounds and the game can be completed, but maybe not?  I’m cruising through it right now, and am just before “the big bugs” start to happen, so pray for me.

I did find another option while cruising around, in the form of Dark Forces + on the GOG forums.  It’s basically a scripting add-on for the DOSbox version of the game (GOG and Steam) that includes mouselook and a couple other quality-of-life enhancements, without sacrificing the original look or function of the game.  If you’re interested:

1. Make sure your “DosBox” folder and “Dosbox.conf” are inside the GAME folder in the Dark Forces root (should be as-is for GOG, might have to move the folders for the Steam version)
2. Extract the first patch into the GAME folder, overwriting files
3. Optional: Download and extract the second patch into the same place, overwriting files. This includes a couple tweaks like reversing mouse axis, and changing sound and video settings.
4. Run “DarkForces+.exe” which is a script file to load the program and add-ons. Apparently it might come us as a virus on some systems, this is likely a false positive.

You’ll likely still need to tweak bits and pieces to your liking, but instructions to do so are both in the original forum thread, as well as generic DOSbox config tweaking.  Personally, I amped up my mouse sensitivity and enabled double-buffering.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Save files between these two versions are incompatible. Dark Forces saves to “Game\DARKPILO.CFG”, but DarkXL saves to “DarkXL\DXL_Saves.sav”.

You have to choose a version and stick with it, no way to swap back and forth


Halo 4 is the latest game in the venerable Halo series, the flagship franchise from Microsoft’s Xbox consoles.  While Bungie Studios created and produced the original series, this latest iteration is produced by the relative newcomers at 343 Industries and marks the beginning of a the new Reclaimer trilogy in the Halo universe.  As a result, Halo 4 is almost a misnomer; with a new studio and new storyline direction, this Halo jettisons the Earth vs. Covenant trappings of previous games and start an entirely new story with only tenuous relation to the previous games.  Although it presents a solid game that doesn’t deviate much from previous entries, it’s deeper connection to the established Halo universe’s lore is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s Review Time!

Halo 4 (7) [Xbox 360]

Any Landing You Can Walk Away From: Okay so, we’re crashed.  This is the… third?… time this game that we’ve blacked out and woken up again.  Chief doesn’t need sleep!  He gets knocked out a lot.


But… but…

Anyway, we’re on a UNSC space station (which happens to be orbiting a Halo) which is where the Composer is being kept and/or studied.  As we hit the landing bay we’re awakened by a Dr. Tilson, who was broadcasting the mayday earlier.  She lets us know that the Covenant have overrun the station, and locked down all the shuttle and evac bays.  We’ll take care of that, and she can work on getting all the personnel to evacuate.  We press through into the main loading bay, and proceed to clear out section after section, with no help from the lab coats running around.  Sigh.  After we eliminated all of the enemies, we headed towards Dr. Tilson to collect her, facing the usual assortment of enemies (and a couple Hunters).  We establish that it took a really big starship to tow the Composer, so it’s not just a little device we can pocket.  And since we can’t steal it, we’re gonna blow it up. Dr. Tilson doesn’t like this plan, but resignedly agrees and displays human emotions.

The Composer: As we head towards the shuttle bays, we’re informed that the Covenant have destroyed that first evacuation shuttle as it left the station.  We need to find the central defence system so Cortana can use it to cover the evac shuttles.  We hit a shuttle bay that the Covenant were using to push troops into the base, but after killing a few airlock-loads, I realized I could just re-0pen the airlocks with the Covenant inside them.  Buh-bye.  We made it to the defence grid, and Cortana got it up and running to defend our evac ships.  We got word to Dr. Tilson, and went to meet her at the Composer so we could rig our bomb.


Boom, baby!

All Things Lost and Found: On our way there, we saw that Covenant forces had made it through to the Composer’s location, and it was certain they’d informed the Didact.  Cue sense of urgency.  We head into the Composer’s… cavern?… and hop into a Mantis.  Yay!  A this point, the name of the game is ‘repel all boarders’, so we basically just get to ride around in this thing and kill everything.  Enemies, vehicles, ships, you name it.  If it’s Covenant, it dies.  After we destroy a number of them, they beat a hasty retreat, and we head back in to meet with Tilson and the nuke.

While we’re heading back up, an explosion rocks the carven and blows the roof off.  The Didact’s ship locks the Composer in a tractor beam, and sucks it back into the ship proper.  I thought this Composer thing was too big to move!  We don’t know how he did it, but he’s got it now, and we’ve got to stop him.  We meet up with the remaining staff to commandeer a ship, but the Didact unleashes the Composer on the station, and ‘digitizes’ (which looks a lot like vaporising) them all.  Master Chief is knocked unconscious (again), but wakes up later with Cortana.  Everyone else on the station is dead.  Cortana theorizes that whatever the Librarian did to us made us resistant to the Composer, but it’s sure not going to help everyone on Earth if he gets there.  We hop into a little Broadsword ship and pursue his big ‘ol starship, hovering inside his shields when he heads through slipspace.


“Slippy, come back here!”

One Last Shot: Hey, we’re still in the Broadsword!  In a scene straight out of the Death Star run, we’re flying StarFox style through a narrow canyon on the ship.  The Didact’s all weirded out that we survived his little Composer blast, and Cortana locates him at the Composer.  Well, if they’re both there, and I have a ship, let’s go meet them!  This run is more about avoiding walls than shooting things.  It’s mostly turrets, but the ships hull keeps moving around in random ways, so the focus is on piloting and finding the best route.  We start to hear radio chatter from Earth as well, since the Planetary Defence systems aren’t doing crap against the Didact’s ship.  We hail the Infinity, get Lasky on the line, and let him know that we have a nuke strapped to this Broadsword.  A +1 Broadsword, if you will, where 1 equals nuclear ordinance.  They’ll cover us, while we go in and destroy this thing.

From the Cradle: We squeeze through the last of the tunnels in and around the hull (I dunno why there are tunnels on the hull), the Didact slaps a force shield around our entrance to the Composer.  The Infinity might be able to punch through, but we have to clear out these guns.  “Not so fast, Star Fox…”  All-range mode!  We just have to dodge some turrets, blow up a few energy fields.  It’s all pretty easy, unfortunately, since the flying’s kinda fun.  I would’ve put a squadron or two of fighters to play against as well, but no suck luck.  Once we take out the guns, Infinity punches a hole in the hull, and we fly in to deliver the payload.  Unfortunately, the ‘tunnel’ we punched is collapsing, and you guessed it, we’re shuttered and crash.  Knocked out again?  Maybe just a little rattled.  Looks like we go on foot from here.

…To The Grave: Yea, let’s walk around with a nuke strapped to our butt!  Plan B is awesome!  We shoot our way through the ship, while Cortana looks for the best placement for the nuke.  We hit a porta transportation system like on Requiem, and we plug Cortana in so she can warp us to the Composer.  The Didact notices something odd about her, but we don’t have time to worry about it.  Cortana can’t exert proper control over the system, so we keep making short jumps from area to area via portal, and blasting through the opposition.  We end up in what seems to be an armory, and that bodes pretty well for end-game anticipation.  We jumped through a few more portals, beat down a bunch more Prometheans, and finally made it to the Composer.


Saved ya again!

Old Friends: We jump into a gravity conveyor, and are sent flying to the Composer.  The Didact has put some kind of shield up, so now we have to run around to a few terminals and take down the shield.  Cortana decides the best way to do that is to offload her Rampancy spikes into the system, so basically making her crazy contagious.  We plow through the enemies and hit a couple terminals, and Cortana’s crazy manages to break through the shield.  Once the shield is down, we head for the Composer and Didact with our nuke, and go through the endgame sequence. YAY!

Looks like we’re all done!  Review incoming soon!


Halo 4 (6) [Xbox 360]

Change of Plans: Looks like those two towers we activated earlier aren’t going to be enough.  We have to hit the main control space for these spires, and we’re gonna use them to trap the Didact’s ship so we can take it out.  We pilot our (boring) Pelican to a third area, hop out, load up, and roll out.  We battle our way through a hallway, taking out Covenant and Promethean bad guys.  After hopping up a few floors, we continue forward.  It’s most just killing and dodging at this point, with hoards of enemies throwing themselves at me to stop an objective.  Solid Snake would be ashamed.  We took out a couple Hunters (with some difficulty), and hopped up to the next area.

Halo4BansheeWoo, we get a Banshee!  This is way more satisfying then the Pelican, in terms of flying and shooting.  We tore through the area, taking out standing guns and Covenant by the boatload, until I realized we could just skip the whole thing.  So we left some alive, no big deal.  We flew to the exit, went through a few ‘loading’ zones, and got to the next cutscene.  We plugged Cortana into the console, and she managed to contain the Didact’s ship… until she started going crazy again.  Listen Cortana, you had ONE job!  But no, a crisis of conscience laced with schizophrenia punks our plans to stop this guy, and he manages to get off-planet.  We need to follow them, so we jump out of the tower and land on one of his fleet ships, and tuck under a wing for a journey through slip-space.

Once we emerge, we see that we’re near another Halo (they’re just all over the place, aren’t they?) with a UNSC base orbiting it.  It seems like the humans have taken the Composer from the Halo, and are studying it on this base.  The Didact wants it, so naturally he’s launched an assault on the base.  We manage to get inside the ship we’ve been riding on top of, and after ‘dealing with’ the crew Cortana opens a communications line.  Yup, seems like the bad guys are already here, and not only can the scientists not evacuate the station, no one is supposed to know about the Composer.  Cortana decides this is the perfect time to go full ‘Sybil’, and crashes our ship into a loading bay.  I’ll never understand women!


The Gravity of the Situation:  So we exit the portal, and are dropped at the edge of a battle.  UNSC is fighting Covenant.  Wait, what are we doing again?  Right, we’re after that gravity well.  I got so caught up in all that massive backstory dump (which actually wasn’t massive enough), I completely forgot what our actual objective is.  But hey, in a UNSC vs. Covenant fight, I know which side I’m on.  We pop into an abandoned (and heavily damaged) Scorpion tank, and take out a bunch of  Ghosts, before taking down another couple of force field generators.  So yea, exactly where we left off kinda.

Once the force field was down, it was a simple matter of walking forward, picking up the target designator, and ‘shooting’ the gravity well.  Once the Infinity was finished with it, it was so much scrap.  I guess this means we can get off-planet now? Nope, it means we are getting off-planet now.  Apparently General/Captain/Commander-dude of the Infinity wants to high-tail it home, ’cause his widdle ship has some boo-boos.  Also, he thinks that Cortana and Chief are crazy.  Like, more crazy than Cortana actually is at this point.  Delusional.  Hallucinating.  That’s a lot of crazy.


Clearly a douchebag because the story calls for one.

I just wanna take a side note for two things: for one, I want to give props to the facial animation team again.  It’s no Heavy Rain, but it’s a damn sight better than Assassin’s Creed 3 was.  Secondly, this character, this general guy?  Biggest ham ever.  Clearly an authority archetype, possessing all the ‘by-the-books chief-of-police’ from every bad-boy-cop movie ever made.  Quick to anger.  Rash decision-making. Quick to take offence.  Infers that his authority is being challenged immediately.  And really?  This older captain, who’s clearly been in the military for a while, rescues this extremely capable war-hero (three times over!) and who everyone thought was dead?  In previous Halo games, I don’t remember a lot of shade being thrown at Master Chief.  But this guy does. Probably only ’cause he’s providing a convenient chance for the bad guy to make good his escape, and imposing some kind of non-time limit on the rest of the game.  And giving us a chance to see Master Chief be the cool bad-boy-cop. Subtle.

So yea.  Captain says go, Chief says stay.  Captain says go, Chief says stay. Captains says you’re crazy, eff you, I’m a Captain.  Chief infers that you’re a jerk.  Cortana say YOU CAN’T GO I’LL CRY!  I think they’re all crazy.  Chief says we’re gonna hang out here and try and take down Didact, and ‘we’ means Cortana’s coming with.  Captain says Cortana’s going nowhere with you, mister, who do you think you are?  Chief says MASTER CHIEF BITCH and punches him in the FACE!  (That actually doesn’t happen, but I was hoping it would).  Anyways, blah-blah, Chief stands up to authority and Captain’s not happy and we gotta beat this game.  Lasky’s cool and he’s got our back.  Dude even scored us a Pelican.

Halo4PelicanOnce More Unto the Breach: Wait, we get to fly the Pelican?  Okay, I can deal with that.  Flying vehicles are usually my favourite of the mandatory Halo-vehicle-sequences, and the space sequence from Reach was awesome.  Unfortunately, this is not that cool.  In fact, it might even be one of the least cool flying sequences in the series.  That makes me sad.  It’s pretty much a standard Halo level, though.  Hop in your ship, fly over to a precarious ledge, disembark, and kill a lot of bad guys while making your way towards a button or something ridiculous down a long hallway.  Activate said ridiculous thing, make way back to ship. Repeat.  The two areas we had to conquer were different, and that was kinda nice.  The first was more ‘plow’ (long path, lots of enemies), the second was more ‘precise’ (multiple smaller groups of enemies/objectives), although neither were particularly special. I did appreciate the attempt to mix it up some.  Also, the Didact seems to be in Chief’s brain.  He keeps talking to us, running a villain monologue, but Cortana can’t hear him.  Maybe because she’s a hologram?  Who knows.


Halo 4 (4) [Xbox 360]

Size Matters: For some reason, I find this title to be unsuprising.  So, we’re heading to take out the guns so we can destroy the gravity well mechanism and escape the planet.  I thought this was going to be a little more groundwork, but instead we’re given a big mobile gunship/tank/fortress-thing.  Woo, missiles!  A few Pelicans were sent in with us equipped with target designators, so the Infinity can use her big guns and finish this little sortie up.  Only problem is, one of the Pelicans got cocky, and managed to get all of the blasted out of the air by the very guns we’re supposed to be taking down.  Nice.  Thanks, Pelicans.

Our mobile fortress rolls along, and we get word that at least one of the Pelicans has a surviving crew member, and their target designators are still good.  Chief’s sent out to collect the equipment so we can get this attack back on plan.  After picking up a Ghost and running through a barrage of Covenant (no Promethans around yet), we acquired the target designator and used it to destroy the main cannon.  After we returned to our Mammoth, we manned the rockets again and took out a bunch of Wraiths and gunships before coming across a large forcefield.  Once again, we’ll need to get out there and take down those generators on foot.

Wow, it is just impossible to take out a Phantom with a Ghost any more.  I tried and tried and tried, and finally I just avoided it all together. We’re not getting scored for kills.  After we took down the generators, we headed to a long pass where we were beset by Dropships, Phantoms, Ghosts, you name it.  We got to hop in a new Warthog with a big plasma cannon (!!) mounted on the back so that turned into some fun.  We managed to hijack a dropship and sabotage the engine, sending it crashing into the distance, but in the process of all this, our poor widdle Mammoth is in pretty bad shape.  After encountering a block in the road, it’s back onto foot, and we’re going in alone.

We attack the particle cannon’s compound, all by our lonesome against a whole crapload of enemies of assorted flavours.  Before we leave the Mammoth though, they have a nice little going away present for us: a sniper rifle, and lots of ammo.  So, it’s going to be that kind of mission, is it?  Good stuff, that’s my favourite!  We spent the next few minutes crawling through various areas, climbing and ducking to pick off enemies and avoid fire.  We had to dump the sniper thing halfway through due to lack of ammo, but retained a slow cover-and-fire progression throughout the compound.

Once we get inside, we’re cut off from the Infinity.  We managed to get a set of coordinates from them, but can’t hear a word they say.  We busted into the Forerunner structure, and were led to the particle cannon controls by a bunch of Sentinals.  Oh look, help to find our objective.  How suspiciously convenient.  Chief and Cortana say something to the same effect.  Once we hit the main terminal, we plugged Cortana in and she managed to take the guns offline, before disappearing from the system!

This lady looks like a prophecy-giver. I’d trust her.

We ‘chased’ her, that is, followed another Sentinal to another room.  In that room, we met The Librarian, the counterpart good Forerunner to the Didact’s bad guy Forerunner.  Apparently there’s a lot of history behind these games, but I didn’t catch most of it.  Something about the Forerunners, and the Didact in particular, fighting with mankind for a 1000 years?  When? And now he’s looking for The Composer, a device that lets biological things become digital, but not vice-versa.  That’s what the Prometheans are, too, humans who had been converted by The Composer.  And now he’s looking for it again, but we’re here to stop him, ’cause we’e the results of a thousand lifetimes of planning.  But we’re not quite bad-ass enough yet, so the Librarian has to speed up the Chief’s evolution so he goes through Chosen-One-Puberty or something.

Anyway, everyone’s under attack, and we grabbed Cortana before hopping out through a Portal, and that’s where we’re stopping tonight.

Halo 4 (3) [Xbox 360]

A Star to Steer By: We found a Cartographer in a temple on the planet, hoping that we could use it to trace the location of a signal from an Earth ship that we kept hearing.  After booting it back up, and killing a bunch of Covenant, the Cartographer seemed to think that the Earth ship, Infinity, was… below us?  Cortana found a teleporter deeper in the temple that would send us to the planet’s core, so I guess this means the big shielded planet is also hollow.  Great.  Also, I gleaned from conversation with Cortana that the planet was called ‘Requiem’.  How did she find that out?  Just another example of the lack of back-story this game is giving.

The Gateway: After fighting our way towards the teleport console, we saw the Sentinels on the planet were also opposing the Covenant forces (including a couple of big Hunters.  Oh joy), trying to prevent them from accessing the tower.  We took care of them, and headed up to the top of the tower.  Once Cortana was loaded in (it’s good to know that in the future, universal port standards will become truly Universal), she confirmed that the human ship Infinity was in/around the planet.  Suddenly, creatures started sprouting from the tops of pillars around the room, brandishing weapons and being menacing.  Probably not good guys, but they don’t actually fire any shots at us.  Cortana can’t get the portal to open, but at the last second one opens of it’s own accord.  Cortana doesn’t know why, but let’s get the crap out of here, right?

Buried and Forgotten: Once we get to the core, we realize that the Infinity isn’t there.  Instead, there’s a large energy mass at the core that’s acting like a satellite, bouncing the transmission around and amplifying it.  Maybe we can use it to contact them back?  Sure, our AI can swing that… except we’ll have to shut down two ‘antennas’, to stop the bouncing and get a clear signal.  We can’t port all the way there, but we can port to the outskirts, which will give us plenty of time to be ambushed by the enemy.  Those guys from the portal room?  They’re back, they’re some kind of AI that comes in a number of different flavours (including scary alien, windsurfing alien, and alien panther), and they don’t like us.  Meet the Prometheans, who are kind of cool as a change from the whole Covenant/Flood thing.  They have their own weapons too!  Except that it’s just more of the same, dressed up differently.  But they can reload, so that’s an advantage over some Covenant weapons.

As we shut down the first beam ‘antenna’, we managed to finally get a clear listen to Infinity.  It seems as though they’re responding to the distress beacon from Forward Unto Dawn, which was pulled into Requiem with us.  If they come too close they’ll get pulled into the planet’s gravity well, just like we were, and then none of us will ever get out.  Of course, even though we can hear them clearly, we can’t get a signal out unless we take down the other beam.  Into the next portal and off we go!

Enemy of My Enemy: As we warped back to the main teleport console, a number of Covenant ships came in at the same time.  It looks like they’re heading to the same place we are, the beam generator, although we’re not sure what they want from it.  Portaling to the next beam area, we find Covenant and Promethean forces engaged in battle… with each other!  Sweet!  I’ll just stand back here and watch them kill each other.  Oh, they won’t do that?  They’ll just keep each other busy, but as soon as I’m close enough they’ll both turn on me?  Great.  Blasted through both sets of forces, picked up a Ghost, and plowed my way to the control panel for the beam.  The Infinity is heading straight for us, and but they can’t hear our instructions to turn back!  This is gonna be close, and of course, our built-in transmitter isn’t strong enough.  We port to the main satellite point, again racing the Covenant and still having no idea what they want with a broadcast point.

Almost Home: We battled our way through the satellite point, helped along greatly by large stores of Promethean weapons tucked all over the place.  Life is good when you’ve got ammo.  Once we got to the heart of the broadcast station, we activated a console to transmit our message to the Infinity.  But it looks like we’ve activated something else.  An alien dropped out of a large cocoon (prison?) and revealed that he’s a Forerunner.  He’s called the Didact, although I only know that because it says so in his subtitles.  Cortana mentions it after, too, but how does she know who/what he is when he didn’t say anything?  Ugh!  What plot holes?  So Didact uses telekinesis or whatever to float Chief to him and give a big speech about how Humans are doomed ’cause now he’s back, bitches!  He also makes reference to a ‘Librarian’ whom we’ve yet to encounter, so let’s look forward to that.  After throwing us aside like a rag doll, he blows up a bunch of stuff and is gone when we wake up.

Next Stop, Certain Death: Once we wake up, Cortana notes that the whole core is ready to blow after the Didact start a reaction.  We grabbed a Ghost, she amped up the boosters, and we flew out of there.  It was actually kind of a fun sequence, though not particularly interactive, as the ground cracked and erupted in front of us and we poured on the juice to clear out of there.  Again at the last second, a portal opened up exactly where we were going to be and zapped us outside, where we saw the Infinity emerge from a cloudband.  They have no control and are heading in for a crash, with the Didact and Covenant close on their heels.

Infinity: We reached the Infinity and received a distress call from UNSC forces, reporting they’re under attack by hostile forces.  Covenant? Promeathan? Both.  They gonna fight each other again?  Nope, they’re working together now.  Great.  We’re in a big jungle area, with huge creeping vines and pretty textures.  As a side note, I love it when FPS games aren’t afraid to use colour, and the Halo series has been pretty good at that.  We battled through the requisite swarm of baddies, picked up a new ‘Promethean Vision’ suit hack which tags enemies through objects and renders the world in outline (and totally reminds me of the FarSight scope from Perfect Dark), got through the jungle, and met up with the UNSC group that was sending out the SOS.  Wow, facial animation looks good.  Nice going, 343.  They need a landing zone cleared, so they’ve requested our assistance.  Right tool for the job and all that.

Reunited: We hit the outside hard and fast, taking out both Covenant and Promethean forces as we fought our way towards a possible landing zone.  Troopers from the UNSC squad were with us, so the provided a good cover fire, and I sniped stuff off from the background.  Hey, it’s what I do.  Cortana also expresses disbelief that the two factions are working together now, as if she didn’t already see it happen earlier.  We eventually got to a cave system, with a large opening at the back we could use for a landing zone.  Once we put Cortana to work opening the doors, we had to hold off an enemy assault, and put up with the PMS’ing AI.  She’s getting cranky, raaaawwwww.  Sorry, I don’t mean to rush you.  Once we got into the caves it was just another clear run to the end, when we were informed that enemies had breached the Infinity’s bridge, and we were told to come in.  Weren’t we calling in the air drops for med-evac?  Not important, got aliens to kill!

The Gun Show: We arrived close to the Infinity and after a casual slaying of aliens, were pointed towards… a Scorpion! Yay!  Tank sequence!  Even managed to fill up my carry points!  Took out a small army of enemies, and eventually made our way to the Infinity.  Once inside, we cleared the loading bay and I was sent to the bridge to back up the defenders.

Shining Armor: They gave us a Mantis suit, a new addition to the series, that feels like I’m in Armored Core. But clunkier.  Basically a mecha to pilot, and not the giant variety.  We kicked up the heat, and headed through the ship.  A series of long hallways and many enemies awaited us, but with the hardware this mecha is packing, it wasn’t a problem.  We got rail guns, we got missiles, we even have a ‘melee’ move in case we get a crowd of fans.  It’s all very exciting.

Eviction Proceedings: We were advised that the Covenant had put some sort of jamming devices in place, and had paralysed the Infinity’s defence systems.  Big spaceship guns are usually a welcome addition, so let’s go fix that up, shall we? We headed for the outside of the ship, only to find our friend the Didact hovering around out there too, running scans and sifting through the Infinity’s databanks.  Well, if he’s right there… we quickly tore through the swarms of Covenant protecting the jamming devices and unleashed a barrage from the ships MAC guns, eliminating the Covenant presence and opening up an avenue to attack the Didact’s ship.  After a stream of hits from all guns, he skittered away, and Chief finally got to meet the man at the steering wheel of the Infinity.

He lets us know the plan is to destroy the gravity well so that Infinity can get back to Earth and report it’s findings, despite Chief’s feelings that they should stay and eliminate the threat of the Didact while they can.  We’re to lead a team of Spartans to take out the guns protecting the gravity well, so the Infinity can come in and destroy the device itself.

Halo 4 (2) [Xbox 360]

Ugh, I find it really difficult to write about FPS games.  But we’re making this a goal, so here we go.

Okay, so the first time I played, which is also the second time, we woke up still adrift in the Forward Unto Dawn.  According to Cortana, it’s been 4 years since Halo 3.  I can’t really remember Halo 3, didn’t leave a lasting impression, but I remember the truce with the Covenant while we all worked to take down the big-bad Flood dude.  And at the end, the ship blows up, and Chief’s on it, and we saw him floating in space, here.  So, for the characters in the game, Halo 4 is basically happening the day after Halo 3.  I get the feeling that’s important, since there’s been a real lack of backstory as if all this should be fresh in your mind.  Or maybe it’s just another Halo game, and who cares what happened last time?

Anyway, Cortana woke Chief up ’cause something was wrong, and we headed through the ship to determine the cause.  At one point, we were assaulted by a “high frequency scan” of the ship that sounded like nails on a chalkboard, industrial-style.  It was loud and not-nice sounding, so we took to mean there were enemies around (of some kind, I’m sure it’s nothing).  After some investigation, we discovered that there were Covenant on the ship, albeit more fanatical (whatever that means. How do you measure fanaticism?) then ones from previous games.  Blasting our way through them, we discovered we were in orbit around a Precursor world, with a huge Covenant fleet also waiting.  After a spacewalk (and by walk, I mean run’n’gun) across the outside of the Forward Unto Dawn, we launched a missile at one of the Covenant ships to take it down.  Immediately after, the planet scanned us again (oh, the planet is scanning us! That makes way more sense), opened up it’s big metal shield, and sucked the whole lot of us onto it’s surface.  The whole Covenant fleet, plus our scrap of ship, and Master Chief.  No escape pod (we did try!), not even a seatbelt, just Master Chief and re-entry.  They’ve done it before, right?

Once we’re on the ground, it’s definitely a Precursor world!  Maybe we’ll find some cool Precursor stuff.  Cortana is apparently past her prime, as well.  She lets us know that AI’s are put into service for 7 years, and after that they go crazy.  They call it Rampancy and it always happens after 7 years, except Cortana’s been online for 8, and she doesn’t feel that crazy.  Maybe we can fix her if we get back to Earth!  Let’s scour this dump for a way home, and take out a small army of Covenant in the process.  Sounds like a Halo game to me!