Screens » Screens Etc.

If the ‘Halo’ fits


A couple of weeks ago, the cats at Entertainment Weekly published a hysterical sit-down with Sean Young, the batshit actress whose promising late-’80s career (she starred in Blade Runner and No Way Out) went off the rails due to a series of bad breaks and foolish career decisions. Today, she’s a B-cable-movie dweller.

“I’m not Julia Roberts,” Young whined. “And I could have been.”

Setting the comedy and pathos of Young’s remark aside for a moment, I began to wonder, as we all hunker down to for a third earth-shattering go-around with Master Chief, how many game developers and franchises are spending this week like Sean Young, shaking their collective fists at the cruel fate that’s consigned them to third-tier status while Master Chief basks in the glow of both the completed Halo and his status as a pop-culture god?

The answer? A Covenant battalion’s worth. The Halo series is the Julia Roberts of the video-gaming world.

Before you laugh and utter the words, “Mystic Pizza,” think about it for a minute. She’s got an Oscar; Master Chief has a wax statue in Madame Tussaud’s —and we’ve never even seen the man’s face, for Chrissakes. She’s had two decades of scandal-free Hollywood success and has made billions along the way. He’s had a decade of scandal-free video-gaming success and will pass the billion- sales mark by year’s end. Some — and not just Sean Young, mind you — wonder why Miss Pretty Woman is such a megastar; plenty of gamers look at Halo’s so-so sci-fi storyline and straightforward gameplay and wonder the same damn thing.

If you cut your FPS chops in the PC universe, as I did, then you distinctly recall the Halo-wrought outrage among PC gamers, who’d been playing better FPS games for years — and who’d have to wait more than a year to see subpar versions of Halo and Halo 2 ported to their platforms. As for the plot, we could gently cite that troublesome cliffhanger that closed Halo 2 … or the fact that the developers of the original Halo admitted that their game was essentially 30 seconds of fun stretched out over 8 hours.

And yet, as with Pretty Woman, it’s both impossible and, frankly, stupid to ignore the Halo series’ lasting import or its huge worldwide popularity. The original Halo was the first console game to present an analog aiming-targeting stick that didn’t feel like you were using a sledgehammer to program a digital watch. (Yes, GoldenEye beat Master Chief to the punch on that, but the implementation was subpar. Plus, you couldn’t jump. Strike three.)

Although you’re likely to get some argument from the Unreal Tournament crowd, Halo 2 gave us an online multi-player mode (and use of in-game vehicles) that has largely remained the industry standard. Bitch about the game’s shortcomings if you want, but the numbers on Xbox Live simply don’t lie — 14.8 million hours of multi-player logged and still counting — and neither does the fact that both celebrities and average joes who’d probably never pick up a controller otherwise are Halo addicts. Or at least they know who Master Chief is — which is more than most of us can say about Sean Young.

By the end of the week, we’ll know if the gravity hammer, the slicked-up graphics, and the new multi-player modes are enough to bring Bungie’s epic saga to a satisfying close or one that feels more like a final flood-sized cash-in for Bungie and Microsoft. One thing’s for sure: 20 years from now, the image of Master Chief will tower over this era of video-gaming — as it rightfully should.


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