We start another fight in Halo: The Master Chief Collection (now playing: Nothing! We're done!)

The year is 255X. Humanity has been at war with a conglomeration of aliens known as The Covenant for thirty years. We’re not doing too hot. We had a bunch of big beefy supersoldiers, but now we’re down to one. Pursued by an attack fleet after a blind jump through hyperspace, the human vessel Pillar of Autumn stumbles across an alien superstructure of unknown origin. Forced to land on its surface, we take on the role of the aforementioned lone supersoldier The Master Chief as we blast our way across forests, caves, glaciers, and mysterious alien buildings we may or may not ever learn the purpose of. Then we do that a few more times over a fair handful of games.

Halo’s a real heck of a series, isn’t it? Seven main games, soon to be eight, with nearly as many spinoffs, all over the last nineteen years. They’re console’s biggest shooters, some peoples’ fondest memories, and currently the focus of our ongoing LP. We don’t always have the nicest things to say about it.

Hello all, I am Rekkin, or Gareth - one half of Cooperative Conversations, a ‘casually critical’ LP series where my friend Skelzor and I do a lighthearted examination of a game while playing through it cooperatively. We talk narrative, writing, level design, encounter planning, art direction, and where it all may have been inspired from. We ask questions, we try to figure out the answers, and we have fun doing it. We’ve got a lot to talk about, and we hope you’ll like to hear it. Join us every Wednesday at 12 noon eastern for the continuing adventures of the Master Chief and his cadre of colorful allies, and we’ll see this entire series through to the end, or at least to the end of what’s available on PC.

As a random additional note, while the Halo games pre-Halo 4 were all presented without subtitles during gameplay, 343 Industries, the people behind this collection, have added in-game subs to Halo 1. Unfortunately, this addition has not continued with Halos 2, 3, ODST, or Reach. As such, I have gone to the effort of adding these in myself. An unfortunately surprising amount of Halo’s dialogue is delivered by NPCs during combat, so hopefully my work on this front will help out. I’ve certainly learned a couple things that I’d never been able to hear before on previous playthroughs.

The latest one: Our final thoughts

The rest of them.

Want to know our ranking of the games so far?

Halo 1: Mediocre and boring. Outdated when it came out, pretty derivative.

Halo 2: Good! Pushed the established design in interesting ways, did some cool stuff, set up a real story, but was held back by an overeliance on timed defense objectives.

Halo 3: Unimaginative, badly written, risk-averse, and just plain stupid. Outright ignored the story set up by the previous game, added very little to the formula, seemed to rely on the status quo of a previous console generation being enough to impress on the name alone.

Halo ODST: Pretty creative, an obvious flexing of the design muscles that went unused previously. Fun overall but I can see why people didn’t like it on release.

Halo Reach: An excellent standalone entry that has very little to do with the overarching story (which I absolutely consider a positive thing) and by far the best level and encounter design in the series. Let down by a lackluster final mission and a sudden demand to have something to do with the other games.

Halo 4: A confusing mess that starts off strong but just can’t stop itself from sliding into total nonsense by the halfway point. Attempts to explain background information of the world are poorly communicated and end up causing more problems than they solve. The main plot of the game takes a sharp turn away from its own setup, leaving the attempt to have an emotional core feeling insincere.

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday is upon us, and so is another Halo video from Cooperative Conversations.

Today, we go on a snowy road trip and take a scenic ski lift in Quarantine Zone. Exciting stuff!

The level Gravemind is where it becomes very obvious that Halo 2 was running out of time, money, or both. Right from the first cutscene, concepts and plot points are introduced that don’t get any payoff, retcons are flying left and right, and the level design reverts to Halo 1 levels of repetition and unimaginativeness. It’s kind of a shame!

Uprising brings us back to the Arbiter’s side of things, and there’s a lot going on. It’s a fun little level and to be perfectly honest, I think he gets the better version of the game’s final act.

We also turn our discussion back to Starcraft for a little bit as we mull over the big goopy guy who’s making us do all this in the first place. Over, Grave, all we know is that great Minds are written alike.

The first of Halo 2’s two endings is a bit of a disappointment, to put it lightly, as we accomplish very little and are rewarded with even less. Ah well, at least getting here was fun enough.

And just like that, Halo 2 is simply…over. The Arbiter easily gets the more interesting of the two endings here, even if the placement of some familiar faces doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s an infamous cliffhanger, and for good reason.

Luckily, our own coverage of the game doesn’t go away quite as abruptly, so check back tomorrow for us talking about the Anniversary treatment, just like we did for Halo 1.

Halo 2’s story might have come to an abrupt halt, but our time with it has a little gentler of an end. Like we did for Halo 1, it’s time to take a look at the game’s Anniversary treatment and all that comes with it. New cutscenes, new lighting, new designs, even new sounds! In general, we’re fans of what was done.

Next week… the big one, Halo 3!

They day is finally here, we made it to Halo 3!

So let’s cut the the chase, I don’t think Halo 3 is a very good game. The video gets into why, but I’ll do an enticing little overview: the story is disjointed and not about what it should be, the supporting characters basically aren’t present, and the gameplay suffers from a lack of ideas that actually leaves you with less to do and fight against than in Halo 2.

But this is Cooperative Conversations, so you can bet we get into detail about it.

The thing about Crow’s Nest is that we did not need to experience the level Crow’s Nest. Our stated goal upon starting the level Crow’s Nest is to leave the titular Crow’s Nest. Then an attack on the Crow’s Nest happens, which forces us to leave the Crow’s Nest. The level Crow’s Nest only exists to tick a Halo box, which is “do a level where you escape a place that’s under attack,” and this is the best they could come up with.

Crow’s Nest.

Today we travel down the Tsavo Highway to make our way to the plot. While driving, we get the first real glimpse of Halo 3’s story! Unfortunately, it prompts some questions.

A storm is upon us. The Storm, in fact.

This level is… badly paced, to sum it up.

So, I’m no great fan of the Flood as an enemy faction or plot device; I’ve made this clear before. I don’t really know how anybody could be, to be perfectly honest. They’re lazily designed, they utterly ruin the intended combat flow of the game, the levels they tend to show up in are repetitive and reused, and any plot surrounding them is equal parts plagiarized from better sources and lacking in any sort of forethought or planning - the Gravemind just tends to say words at you that Bungie thought sounded cool without any intention of following up on.

So it’s good to see that nothing ever changes. Here’s Floodgate.

The Ark is basically a perfect encapsulation of all my problems with not just Halo 3, but Halo as a series. You have:

  • An environment built for spectacle first and understandable place within the context of the game’s world last
  • Constant stripping of the main character’s agency by unnamed characters
  • Low-effort encounter design
  • Something that’s supposed to be a plot twist but is readily apparent to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention.

Halo 3 is only halfway done and I’m already getting sick of it. Let’s take a look.

Halo 3’s biggest, most bombastic level might be fun, but it doesn’t address any of the issues plaguing the game so far. This is the final fight, our biggest push, our most desperate hour. How does the gameplay reflect this? It doesn’t. This is also effectively the end of the story, as everything is pretty much solved nice and neatly. Unfortunately, with two entire levels left to go, some Real Nonsense™ has to be pulled out of nowhere at the last second to justify the runtime.

It’s The Covenant.

People like to say that “words have meaning.” This level suggests otherwise. Today we experience Cortana.

“It does nothing of its own that is worthy of celebration.” One hell of a pullquote.

Halo 3 is over, and it ends in a puddle of its own vomit, as far as I’m concerned. The game is simply not good at doing a single thing it set out to do, and it feels like Bungie didn’t even try.

Next week, my first time through ODST with my cohost Skelzor as my guide. Will it be fun? I sure hope so!

After Halo 3 left such a foul taste in our mouths, it’s time to look forward to the future of the series, by looking backwards into the past of the narrative. That’s right, we step back in time an unspecified amount (uh, more on that one later…) and into the moonshoes of a not-Mobile Infantry in order to take to the streets of New Mombasa and fight off the Covenant menace in Halo: ODST!

It’s my first time through this one, and I’ve got my co-presenter Skelzor as a guide, so let’s delve down into the nine levels of ODST and- What’s that? Oh, the game already starts off with a Dante’s Inferno reference? Oh that’s a little awkward, I thought it would be too on the nose.

ODST’s perspective-hopping caught me a little off guard, but I’m willing to see where it goes. Initial thoughts have me not too sure how necessary it is. Thoughts immediately after that turn to just when exactly certain major events would have taken place in order to have the enemies we’re fighting make any sense. But let’s see if we can ignore that and forge ahead to find out why we’re here.

This week on ODST, we ask what’s better: a fully silent protagonist or one that only talks through infrequent one-liners. Also, just how much training does a zebra need to be an effective fighter pilot?

The game’s already just about halfway in, and what ODST is really ‘doing’ is just now becoming obvious. The flashback sections serve as pretty clear-cut examples of Bungie playing at and experimenting with setpiece design, without a larger, interconnected design to add restraints. In my opinion, it’s letting them do some interesting things. Today, we take a joyride through Kizingo Boulevard.