It has been a while since I first bought Halo 3. Coming back to the game and playing it on Legendary difficulty was a shock at first. I had forgotten what it was like and some of the finer points of the story but I was determined to go achievement hunting when I reached Cortana, a bigger shock was in store.
After a few levels I realised I wasn’t immersed in the game. This is in complete contrast to the original Halo which I love. Replaying Halo 3… I felt some spark was missing. A distinctive voice.
I played the first game on release and it was innovative and had character that has stuck in my memory. The second game, not so much. Come the third and the freshness had worn off. Now I found my eyes were half-closed in indifference as I danced around hunters and rained bullets like confetti. Indifference had settled.
Much of the game continued like that – smooth yet predictable game-play and perfunctory plot (this is a FPS after all). Even the vehicle sections lacked the fizzle and pop the original
game made me feel like the sheer joy of driving a Scorpion tank off a cliff and landing a Hunter or weaving around the sky through a snow storm in a Banshee at night.
Then I had to crawl through High Charity and slog through THE FLOOD.
I gritted my teeth for enemies that inspire a feeling of drudgery. After a series of slow and thorough room clearance operations that resulted in me scrambling around and occasionally getting lost I finally got to Cortana and after that, the game clicked for me in a way I hadn’t expected.
Call it love or friendship but it was her I was missing. She was that spark. That voice. Yeah she was haunting my screen and babbling in a portentous manner throughout parts of the game but to finally get her back after leaving her behind in the second game… I felt an odd sensation. Like I was home.
It was then I realised that without her guiding me, without her voice the game lacked direction. I lacked direction. I would stick close to Sergeant Johnson and the Arbiter because THEY knew where they were going. Without them, I would occasionally get lost and find myself backtracking to find my way out. Johnson had Miranda Keyes giving
orders. She tried that with me but she just wasn’t Cortana.
Throughout the game, every character had urged me to find Cortana. It was like persuading me that I needed to get back with the love of my life, find her and treasure her. And it was true, without Cortana my Master Chief was only half a (genetically enhanced and highly trained super-) man. I was struggling to find a reason to keep going and life had become dull. Meaningless.
Throughout the first two games, Cortana had become my best friend and I cared about her. She cared about me. There were two of us in my head, as she would put it. We traded humour and protected one another until a bitter parting in the second game.
Cortana was what I needed to get back into not just the game but the entire Halo franchise.
After that, every reference to the first Halo came alive from the bombastic music to the final Warthog dash through an exploding level with Cortana urging me on. Hell, even a tired joke about mixing routine up and shooting my way out (Halo 2 reference) was grin
inducing. Every comment she made left me with the same grin.
I finally began to appreciate the wider fiction around Halo, the way Spartans were all regarded as freaks by humanity and then as super-weapons when the Covenant waged war. The fact that Cortana had come to accept and appreciate me for who I was and not just what I could do…
Then I completed the game and fired up my laptop to watch anime online and do some writing. I have no plans to play through it on Legendary again but I could appreciate what had come before in the universe created by the other games and books thanks to that integral relationship.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only person who felt like this.