Movie Review: Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Synopsis: What a shitty movie.

I’ve watched this movie about a year or so ago, but my memory was a bit hazy so I watched it a second time before doing a review of it. Why did I even bother?

The movie is called Conan the Barbarian, which is exactly the same name as the famous and highly regarded movie Conan the Barbarian. It’s neither a remake nor a reboot, nor anything like that, so why us the name of an already existing movie? There is an infinite number of possible titles, and so many options to name it that make it clear that it’s Conan. And now we always have to call it Conan the Barbarian 2011. Conan the Barbarian is not even the name of the series of stories, comics, and other stuff. Conan the Barbarian is just the name of a single movie. The Ahnold movie. This is a cheap attempt to cash in on someone elses good work. Despite not being a remake of Conan the Barbarian, and I think the director explicitly said it’s not a remake but a completely separate movie, Conan the Barbarian 2011 recycles the stupid subplot of Conan searching for the warlord who destroyed his village and killed his father. Which is a completely original invention of Conan the Barbarian and doesn’t exist anywhere else in the story of the character. Totally not a remake. Because they said so. Even Conan the Barbarian could barely be considered an adaptation of the Conan stories. Conan the Barbarian 2011 does a bit more name dropping so you know that it takes place in the Hyborian Age, but feels even less connected to the source material. Conan the Barbarian may not really have had much to do with the original stories, but I think it did a great job at visualizing the setting and bringing it to life. This movie doesn’t.

The movie is way too dark most of the time, so you can’t see anything. The music is also way too loud and the voices way too low, so you can’t hear anything either. Not that there would be anything to hear either. The plot is pretty much nonexistent. Any 20 minutes episode of Conan the Adventurer had more plot than this. And this is no joke. I actually mean that literally. While the indoor shots are always too dark, the outdoor shots of cities and fortresses all look terribly fake. They look like out of 300 or a Diablo III cutscene. Pretty, but completely inappropriate.

The first half hour is wasted on Conan’s childhood and the raid on his village. Conan’s dad is played by Ron Perlman, which could have been really cool, but he doesn’t actually get to do anything but die in a ludicrous way. The two villains, a daddy sorcerer and his daughter sorcerer, could potentially have been interesting. Of course in the actual movie, they are not. Originally, the sorcerer wasn’t the real Big Bad, but his wife was. But she was defeated and burned while he and their young daughter survived. And now he has some plan how to bring her back to life and continue with her original plan. There are a few moments where his daughter hints that she is not really feeling quite comfortable with bringing her sorcerer mother back from hell and that could have been the hook for a really great plot. But the movie completely forgets about it quickly and it’s instead about the daddy sorcerer needing the blood of the last descendant of Archeron to activate a mask that will make him a god. That idea of having the villains of a story being only the henchmen of the real evil mastermind, but one of them having doubt if they should really resurrect her was the one thing that made me want to take another look at the movie to see if there were any more details I didn’t remember. (Hopefully without spoiling too much, there is very interesting similar plot thread in Neon Genesis Evangelion, which I really loved.) But no, there wasn’t. It was a hint of something interesting and nothing ever comes from it. The other characters are a black guy Conan knows who shows up in a few scenes, apparently his second in command, but who never does anything. Then there is a woman who screams a lot and also doesn’t do anything. And finally an annoying thief character sidekick who screams just as much and does even less, and should have been played by Rob Schneider. Because when you’re producing utter crap, then do it right! I can’t remember the names of any of these characters and that is always a very strong indicator that the plot of the movie is shit. It means that there isn’t any relevant conversation in which people talk about characters. Instead they are just cardboard cutouts. I had the same experience when I was watching Avatar. Which was also bad, but not nowhere near as crap as this.

Conan barely has any resamblance to Conan at all. The only thing that feels a bit like Conan is when he shoves other people around with complete disregard for their complaints. That is a trait the character actually has. But Conan is a guy who is usually pretty cheerful and energetic. This guy is just mopey and gloomy while trying to be edgy. And then they have the audacity to have him say “I love, I love, I slay, and I am content”! A real quote from a Conan story that is a very popular line to sum up the character of Conan in a few words. Here it is just a sad joke. This is not the man of gigantic sorrows and gigantic mirth. This is just a whiny emo crybaby.

Of course, there is something like a romance sub”plot”, but I think most porn movies would feel to embarrased to try anything like this. Conan looks at the women for a few seconds, suddenly they kiss and then there’s a dark sex scene. The next morning she secretly leaves him while he still sleeps and is captured by the villains no less than 20 seconds later. A bit earlier, some unidentified men in boats board Conans ship early in the morning. Then there is a fight scene, the attackers are all killed, and Conans crew cheers, and then it’s cut to the next scene, the whole event never mentioned again. Now probably these were meant to be some more of the villains minions, but this scene has no narrative content or pupose at all. It’s just five minutes of fighting without sense or reason. And I believe this movie exist entirely for the stunts and effects. Which aren’t even that great or interesting. And during all these action scenes the movie uses Michael Bay cutting more agressively than even Micheal Bay, cutting about once per second on average and at some points even more often. Good luck finding any point in a fight scene where you get more than 3 seconds without a cut. And since I am at fight scenes, Conan always only fights in loincloth and the other costumes also look bad. And the two villains both use utterly ridiculous swords. Again, if you produce crap, do it right. They should have used the weapons from Krull and The Sword and the Sorcerer instead.

Crom, what a shitty movie! I think this is even worse than The Scorpion King. I think it might actually be the worst movie I’ve ever seen. And this includes Dungeons & Dragons. I am glad I only use a two point rating scale, or I would have to really think hard how shit this movie really is. But so I can say without doubt in my voice: Nay! Do not watch this shitty movie, but crush the DVD, see it driven before you, and hear the lamentation of its makers.

What an utter turd.

Book Review: Bloodstone

A while back I reviewd Death Angel’s Shadow by Karl Wagner, which I really quite liked. So I picked up Bloodstone, which was published two years later, but being a somewhat obscure series from the early 70s I have not the slightest clue in which order they were originally written. I have a feeling that Bloodstone might actually be a bit older, and perhaps even the first story of Kane.

Bloodstone is a single full-length novel which begins with Kane coming into possession of a strange old ring with a large green and red bloodstone. It awakens some long lost memories in his immortal mind and leads him to start another one of his enigmatic plans of conquest. In typical Kane fashion, even though he is the protagonist of the story, Wagner doesn’t tell us anything of what Kane is knowing or planning for most of the time. Usually witholding important information from the readers which the characters obviously know ranks at the very lowest level of cheap writing tricks for me. But with Kane Wagner is always consistent and we’re always kept in the dark of what is going on in his head. In fact, for large parts of the book Kane is completely absent and as in the other stories, the plot mostly follows other people who had the unfortunate fate to get caught up in his wake as he leaves a trail of destruction wherever he goes. Of those other characters we do learn a lot and their thoughts and plans are usually revealed very quickly. It’s a very daring and couragous method of telling a story, but one that Wagner manages to pull of successfully and it works really well.

In Death Angel’s Shadow and Undertow, I always had the impression that Wagner was not a man of great words who uses relatively simple language to talk about very complex and fascinating things. In Bloodstone, it seems more like he is trying too hard in channeling Lovecraft and Howard and pretty much every paragraph has at least one word which I don’t know. I always understand what he means out of the context of the sentence within the scene so it doesn’t hurt too much, but I think he clearly went overboard with it in Bloodstone. His other (and I presume later) works are much better in this regard. The other thing that I noticed negatively is that the story drags on for too long. Especially when it comes to describing the big fight scenes, but also when another mysterious location is visisted. I love well written description that go into a lot of detail to bring the sights and atmosphere to life, and the lack of such is something that often find frustrating in many fantasy stories I’ve read in recent years. But in this case Wagner is often not adding anything new and just repeats more of the same things he already said. With the big battle scenes I was sometimes tempted to flip ahead three or four pages, but I have to say that I generally get very easily bored by battle scene all the times. I usually skip the battle scenes when watching The Two Towers and I don’t even have Return of the King on DVD. So maybe it’s not actually that bad. Overall, this books seems not particularly strong when it comes to the degree of skill at the craft. Language a bit too cheesy, pacing could be a lot better, and the characters are not particularly deep or complex.

But all that doesn’t bother me at all, because it’s the plot where Bloodstone really show. Like the other stories I’ve read, Wagner once more showed that he had a really good instinct for creating plots that don’t tread down the old paths. At several points in the novel I got the feeling that everything seemed close to resolution, but when you’re only a quarter into the book, you know that it obviously can’t be the case. Part of this comes from the fact that we never really know what Kane is planning in the long term and we only follow his antagonist or allies as they are dealing with the issue currently at hand. But any time it seems like the adventure has been wrapped up, Kane plays his next card and reveals another step in his grand plan to the rest of the world. In a TV show or comic this could probably get pretty frustrating, but as Bloodstone is a single volume novel you know how much more you can expect to follow. There are plenty of nice twists, with probably the best one being the one at the end. It’s a rather unusual approach you’ve probably not seen before very often, but it doesn’t come out of nowhere and you probably see it coming two sentences before it happens.

Kane himself is mostly Kane as we know him. A brilliant schemer and utterly selfish bastard. But while his planning and manipulating in this book is very nicely done, his character is not quite as fascinating and disturbingly ambigous. In Death Angel’s Shadow, it is made very clear that everyone who know about Kane thinks that he is a terrible monster in the shape of a man, and everything we learn about his thoughts actually supports that assesment. Not that he’s eating babies and impaling people on big spikes, but it is very clear that his mind has absolutely no regard for anything that normal people would consider just or decent and that he walks on the corpses on innocents without any second guess. This element of his character, which combined with his compelling charisma makes him such an intriguing character, is mostly absent in this book. Here he is simply selfish. If you havn’t read any Kane stories before and then read Bloodstone, you’d probably not feel anywhere near as fascinated by him as I do. If this is indeed one of the first stories Wagner wrote about the character, he’s getting a lot stronger later on.

What I found very interesting about this book is that it finally reveals why Kane does anything that he does. In Death Angel’s Shadow that was always a great mystery. Why does he consider his immortality a curse and why does he live the kind of life he does if he could do pretty much anything he could ever want to? In Bloodstone, this part of his character is explored only briefly, but deep enough to get a pretty good understanding of how he ticks. It’s not really complicated at all and makes a lot of sense. If this is actually a good thing I am not sure. I really loved the walking mystery that was Kane in the stories I’d been reading before, and as of now I can not say if understanding his way of thinking makes his character more enjoyable or less. I probably have to read another collection of stories before I really know.

With all that being said, I still really loved reading this book. And I do recommend it, but with some considerations. If you havn’t read any Kane story before, I don’t think this is a good one to start with. It’s still a pretty good book, but it doesn’t really showcase how good Wagner could write this character. Even if the series of Kanes stories is something you’d love, Bloodstone might not be the book to win you over. If you know Kane and consider picking up this book, I fully recommend doing so. But if you are thinking of giving the series a try for the first time, better start with something else. Death Angel’s Shadow would be a good start, for example.

Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

When Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out in 2007 the oppinions I hear about it were mostly pretty bad and calling it by far the worst Indiana Jones movie and absolutely terrible, and it causing the series to be ruined forever!. So I never watched it in all the years and had no desire to ever do so. But I got the series on DVD for christmas and it had the movie included and yesterday my parents were visiting, and since we wanted to watch a movie and none of us had seen it before, we watched it. Otherwise I still wouldn’t have watched it, preferring to simply don’t know what’s in it. (I might do the same with the new Star Wars movies.)

Right from the start some things seem to be odd. Indy aknowledges being old and mentions his father having died, which doesn’t match the ending of the previous movie. But no explanation is ever given or the events of the movie mentioned, which I found rather odd. The second scene is set in the famous warehouse from the first movie and we get a quick lool at the arc as its box is broken, but otherwise the first movie isn’t mentioned either. It’s just like “look, we made a reference to the other movies!” That’s weak. Indy starts the movie with a new sidekick, whose name I can’t even remember, which always is a very bad sign about the strength of a movies characters and dialogues. It’s never explained who he is or what his relationship with Indy is, and except for two short scenes he has no real relevance to the plot or any meaningful dialogue. The other new character is Mutt, who follows Indy around after fat moustache guy has left for a while and after his first scene has no real impact on the plot either. Later of course we meet Marion again, who is a fun character but also has just one relevant dialogue with Indy and doesn’t really contribute anything to the plot. John Hurt also plays a character who gets picked up with by Indys crew and hangs around for the rest of the plot, but after drawing a map in his first scene does not have any meaningful dialogue or impact to the plot. Indy himself is okay, but you probably can see the problem here. Indy could have gone on this whole adventure by all by himself, or at least with only one companion to give an opportunity to explain the plot to the audience.

There are two villains in this movie. One is a Russian psychic played by Kate Blanchet, who tries to read Indys mind once but fails and then never shows any supernatural abilities for the rest of the movie at all. She keeps chasing after Indy for all of the movie but except for one scene in the middle of the movie she never catches up to him so her impact on the plot is also almost nothing. She has a henchman who commands a group of Soviet soldiers, but since he almost only speaks in Russian without subtitles and very little of that, we don’t really know anything about him. *sigh* And yes, he also does not do anything relevant for the plot. Indy has a fist fight with him, but he simply falls over ans gets pulled into a hole by a swarm of ants. It doesn’t remotely reach the fight against the random German mechanic in the first movie, which is clearly what this scene tries to allude to. At two point during the search for a lost ancient city in South America does Indy run into local tribes of Indians who menacingly sneak around with seemingly supernatura skill in the dark. But they show the Indians the skull and they back off, doing nothing at all and then disappearing while Indy explores the city.

And that really expresses the big problem of the movie. People move to different places and have chase scenes, but nothing ever happens. Nothing is accomplished, nothing is gained. In most of the chase scenes there isn’t even a reason why they are getting chased. They just move fast in vehicles. Occasionaly the classic red line on a map shows us where they are traveling to, but it happens randomly without anyone saying “we have to go to X to do Y”. It’s like the ending of a Monty Python sketch. When they don’t know how to continue or end a scene after they have said what they want to say, you get a shot of the map and then go to “something completely different”. Probably the most infamous scene in the movie is where Indy gets into a nuclear explosion and only survives by hiding inside a big refridgerator. Yes, the scene is stupid, but not because he survives being thrown miles through the air and crashing very hard into the ground. In fact the scene happens about 5 minutes into the movie when Indy escapes from the Soviets who had kidnapped him to have him help them find a specific box in the warehouse where the CIA stores all its secret artifacts. Which happens to be a simple airplane hangar inside the testing area for nuclear bombs. The Soviets probably chose to go to the site on that day at that time because the whole area had been evacuated. That makes sense so far, but wouldn’t that mean the warehouse is now destroyed with most of its contents? That doesn’t make any sense? Why is it just a hangar on a military base and why do they have nuclear tests there?! And worst of all, It has no relevance to the plot! At all! Indy already escaped from the Soviets and was just somewhere in the desert after they had left with the thing they had come to get. There was no point to the scene at all! Maybe to put it into the trailers? Bullshit.

Though I give it to the movie that it is eight years old, I have to say the effects look pretty bad. There are big swarms of goophers in the first scene and monkeys in a schene in the jungle (which have no relevance to the plot), which are obviously only there to show of the effects. And look terrible. The nuclear explosion looks fake too, as do most efects.

It’s also extremely predictable. We usually never do riff-tracking for movies and we didn’t intend to be fooling around, but in the big scene at the end, when they reach a room with alien skeletons, our comments were this:

  • “These will be 12 skeletons, plus one additional one that is missing the skull.”
  • “Which they need to return back home.”
  • “And then the Russians arrive.”

Which was of course exactly what happened.

The ending was also bullshit. Supposedly the reward for the person who returns the skull would be gold, but in Mayan the word for gold also means treasure. And the treasure they found wasn’t riches, but knowledge. What a nice message. But what knowledge? What have we learned at the end? Nothing! The whole trip accomplished nothing! There was some excuse for first finding a missing friend in trouble and then about preventing the villain from getting the power to telepathically turn all Americans into loyal socialists. But in the end Indy and his large entourage don’t really do anyhthing and the villain fails anyway. In fact, the villain only gets this far because Indy leads her there. And why does he even keep trying to get the skull to the lost city once they stole it from the Soviets? Even the other characters are wondering. So Indy tells them that the skull told him so and he has to. And they just go with it.

Is it a bad movie? Yes, it is. But not for the reasons people always complain about. The reason this movie is bad is that things are happening with no rhyme or reason but it’s still painfully predictable. There is no plot worth mentioning and nobody ever does anything. This movie only exist because it had been decided that there should be another Indiana Jones movie. But nobody seems to have had any real inspiration for a story. There are characters and locations, but nothing is ever done with them. The are introduced and then immediately forgotten about. At several points of the movie I had the feeling that the script originally started as a decent story but then was shortened and shortened to make for a shorter film and leave more time for special effects until nothing of the plot remains.

But ruined forever? Yes, the movie is bad. But it is simply very weak. It is not insultingly bad to fans of the series. It really mostly ignores the other movies and it doesn’t do anything really ridiculous except for the refrigerator. And extradimensional aliens? Sure, why not? It’s not a cheap twist at the end as I had assumed, but made clear right from the start that this is what the movie is about. It’s not a good choice, but it didn’t seem to me as particularly unfitting for the series.

But when it comes to asking yay or nay, I think I would like to introduce a third rating: “Meh”. Because that’s really what I feel about this movie. It really isn’t great by any stretch, but it is so utterly bland and without plot that I’m not even mad.

Retro Game Review: Halo

Man, this game is old…

Oh man! I am old!

Old enough to remember when Halo was first announced. At that time Half-Life and Unreal were the big first person shoters of the day that everyone had to have played. (Though I admit I never played Unreal.) Call of Duty and Battlefield didn’t even exist yet, though there was the Medal of Honor series, which quite likely many of you never heard of. It was the time before the decade of World War II shoters and science-fiction was really the big deal, continuing the tradition of Doom and Quake. The first screenshots were just mind blowing. Because it had outdoor areas that didn’t look like total crap! The first videos of the Warthog jeep were just out of this world. The hype was on almost instantly. When Microsoft bought Bungie and announced that Halo would be the launch title for their Xbox project, it really ruffled some feather. The internet was much smaller back in 2000, but there was still plenty of nerd rage in which I heartily participated. In 2001 the game was released and a huge success, and a few years later we actually did get a PC port of the game. In 2012 followed the 10 year anniversary edition with improved graphics for Xbox 360, which I did get used last year. This review is based on my recent playthrough of this version and how it plays now, looking back at the game 13 years later.

When I first played the game, I really quite liked it a lot. Not quite as much as Half-Life or Half-Life 2, but still a fun game. And when I later got an XBox 360 I also got Halo and played through another two times. So this one it was probably my fourth playthrough of the game. I played it on Hard. The one above Normal and below Very Hard. The game doesn’t call it like that, but I already feel too old to learn all the fancy difficulty names games have these days. It was hard. The one with the two swords, but without the skull. And I have to admit, that game is really terribly boring. Okay, in the games defense, I played it the fourth time and I have an exceptional memory for environments, so I always had a pretty good idea what would be behind the next corner and where all the surprise enemy spawns would be. But still, it’s mostly a straight corridor shoter where you run down these big long hallways. These very, very long hallways of constantly repeating copy and paste segments. And playing on Hard meant I died a good number of time and checkpoints are not nearly as tight as in recent Call of Duty games, so effectively I probably ran down twice as many corridors as the actual level length. On top of that, Halo is also very effecient at recycling levels. Usually you have to fight your way from point A to point B, then there is a cutscene and you have to go almost all the way back to A again, this time with different enemies. Generally I like the idea, as fighting your way out of the base you stormed makes perfect sense. But since there is such an excessive amount of copy-paste corridor segments it really becomes very repetitive, as the levels are also pretty long.

The enemies are a very different story though. The enemies in the game are great and are still fun to this day. The alien Covenant is an empire of many different alien species and you encounter four different types in the first game, with two more added in the second. They also come in various different color schemes, with the Elite also having different ranks and special units. In addition to that you also get the Flood, which is a swarm of alien space zombies, which comes in four types as well, and one type of automated defense robots. The four different species of Covenant are the best, though. You got the little Grunts, which are basically hordes of goblins. Individually they are laughably weak, but usually you get to encounter a whole dozen or more of them, and getting into their crossfire kills you very quickly. They also have grenades that stick to you when they make a direct hit and will instantly kill you. The grunts are supported by the Elites, who are two and a half meter tall aliens who serve as officers for the Covenant army. They are much stronger, have a much better weapon, and are almost always accompanied by a small horde of grunts. But what really makes them dangerous is that they have a rechargable shield, so it’s not enough to just hit them a lot, you also have to hit them a lot in a short amount of time. If they can get into cover for a few seconds, they just recharge and will be almost as good as new. Also, the human pistols and assault rifles do shit against their armor, but thankfully you can pick up their own plasma weapons, which work a lot better. The third type of Covenant are the Jackals, which come in two type. One type carries a large energy shield that covers them almost completely and you can really only hit them by getting behind them, using grenades, or hitting their feet or a small hole they use to put their own gun through. Plasma weapons can punch through the shields, but with human weapons you really have no feasable option other than throwing grenade. The other type of jackal is a sniper, which thankfully leaves a bright pink line in the air after each shot, so you always know where they are hiding. The last, and coolest species of the Covenant army are the Hunters. Hunters are huge ogres who are almost completely covered with impenetrable armor, carry a really big shield on the end of one arm, and a plasma rocket launcher in the other. The only way to hit them is to either shot them in the back, which strangely is not covered by armor at all, or into a gap on their stomach, which they expose when they raise their fucking huge shield to bash it into your face. Which wouldn’t be so bad if they wouldn’t always appear in pairs, which allows even the relatively simple AI to cover each other pretty effectively. It’s rare that you encounter any type of enemy alone, except for the hunters, which makes combat really quite exciting almost the whole time. Every enemy has very different abilities and behaviors, which keeps things always interesting. Another fun thing about the covenant aliens is that each of them has a different, but always very bright color of blood, and that stuff gets everywhere. After a big fight in a tight corridor all the walls are painted in bright orange, purple, blue, and green.

The Anniversary edition has improved graphics that look pretty much like those of Halo: Reach (the fourth game in the series), but you also can switch them to the original appearance and back any time with the press of a button. That way you can directly compare the different between the two. Neat feature, something I’d like to see in other remastered games. Back in 2001, the games looked quite incredible. Some games age really well when it comes to graphics and are still enjoyable in a certain retro way. Halo is not one of those games. The original graphics look like shit. They tried to get over the pixelated look of Quake engine games like Half-Life, but in practice everything simply looked blurry and like shiny plastic. I do really quite love the general art style of the game and the series as a whole. It’s primarily a color palette consting of turqoise, blue, and purple, which gives the whole game a somewhat dreamlike quality. That was a very strong contrast to the brown, gray, and olive that dominated in previous games and that came back in the mid 2000s (“real is brown”). Halo always looked different. Perhaps a bit fake, but I rather take that over always the same thing everywhere.

Regarding gameplay, Halo was the first big shoter build for consoles and then ported to PC. That required some adjustments to established conventions of the first person shoter genre, as a game controler only has about 10 buttons while PC games can make use of over a hundred key combinations. (And back in the 90s, when space fighter and jet simulators were a big thing, you needed all those combinations!) The result was the quite controversial idea to not let the player keep every gun he found througout the whole game (which often could easily be 20 or more), but to be limited to only two. With the press of a button you would switch to your other gun and back, instead of cycling through a dozen weapons until you get to the one you want in the middle of a fight. For the World War 2 shoters it made sense, but for a space marine game it seemed a weird choice. In practice, it really didn’t matter a lot, because there were no real “special weapons” in the game. Every gun you could use would either be regular marine equipment you find on the plenty of corpses lying around everywhere, or be used by the enemies. If you wanted to use a specific gun, you usually could find it on the floor within a few minutes, as well as a good supply of ammo. The alien weapons can not be reloaded (presumedly they would do that between fights back in their ship or at recharge stations you can’t use) but have pretty large amounts of ammo. Once they run out you simply throw them away and grab something else. Which in really big and long fights can be quite fun, as you throw away the useless piece of metal in your hand and grab whatever happens to lie at your feet. Total badass carnage! The game also was more “arcade” by giving your character a rechargable shield. The shield can not take a lot of hits before it runs out, but if you simply avoid getting hit for 10 seconds or so it recharge back to full energy. This is now standard for most shoters, except that in the case of energy shields it actually made sense! Healing 50 bullet wounds in 10 seconds does not. Halo did also have a health bar which you could refill by walking over health packs, but that usually made such a little difference that this feature was discarded for Halo 2 and Halo 3 (but returned for Halo: Reach, as it was a prequel and supposedly retro). Again, the nerds were raging, but it really improved the game. I know that Half-Life is quite different in mood and themes, but in that game I would always try to keep maximum health and shields and constantly quickload when a fight went not perfect. Which for me meant losing more than 20 shield energy of 10 health. In Halo that just doesn’t matter so I was much more willing to just throw myself straight into a horde of enemies guns blazing. As long as I didn’t die, I was good to keep going, even with just one health bar.

However, and saying this should cleanse me of any appearance of being a bro, I always played Halo for the story! I never played any Halo game online. (Okay, I did play Counter-Strike for a while and had a week or so fun with Jedi Knight 3, but that’s about it. Playing plenty of Quake Live years later wasn’t broish at all; that was much more hipster.) And I really quite like the story of Halo. The humans have build a huge interplanetary empire throughout the galaxy for several centuries until they encountered the Covenant, a large alliance of many alien species who are better than the humans at everything! They immediately that by now has been going on for 30 years, but the humans have really only held out so long because they keep very few copies of the coordinates of their planets and go to any lengths to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. But at the start of the game that has become pretty much irrelevant, as just a few hours before the Covenant completely annihilated the colony on Reach, which really was the last human stronghold left other than Earth. However, a single human warship escaped from Reach, which had the coordinates of an ancient alien artifact of great signficance. With noting else to lose they try to get there, but the Covenant seem to know where they are headed and really don’t want to allow them to get there. As soon as the ship gets out of hyperspace it’s immediately shot down by an enemy fleet that has been send to intercept them, but they also appear right next to a giant ring shaped space station on which they crash. Since the aliens really don’t want the humans to get there, it must be something very powerful, and maybe it could be just the miracle the humans need to change the outcome of the war and to prevent the completely destruction of their species? In subsequent games, the story becomes a lot more complex and interesting, but in this one it’s fairly simplistic and rather bland. It mostly sets up the situation on which the whole rest of the series is based, so I doubt the following has any major spoilers for anyone left. You are the Master Chief, a genetically engineered super soldier with armor that qualifies as walking tank. These super soldiers were created to be able to beat up an Elite in a fist fight and they can do that, but the war went so terribly that you are the only one left. All the others have since been killed in battle. (Or to be more precise “Missing in Action”, because “Spartans never die”.) Since the ship is shot to pieces and the Artificial Intelligence of the main computer must not fall into enemy hands, you install the nice lady in the computer of your armor. Who happens to be a snarky and smug lady who is full of mean comments and doesn’t take shit from everyone. But I like her, she’s fun. First you travel over the ring world to find other escape pods, then you go to the Covenant command ship to rescue your captured captain. Then you go to a building on the ring to get the location of another building that has the control center of the station. Once you get there your AI companion sends you to immediately get to another bulding (“no time to explain!”) where finally something interesting happens. Turns out the ring had stasis chambers with an alien parasit, which your people unfortunately released when they were searching for the crates that said “Warning: Can destroy everything in the galaxy!” It turns out not to be weapons, but a parasite that turns humans and aliens into mutant space zombies that already almost destroyed all life in the galaxy. You meet the friendly happy artificial intelligence of the station which is excited to inform you that the ring has been created for the explicit purpose of containing any outbreak of the Flood. However, as a safety measure, it requires the assistance of a living volunteer to activate the ring and can’t do it by itself. So you go to another building to get the key. Then you go to another building to enter the key, but then your friendly computer lady informs you that activating the ring will not just kill the parasites, but everything within several thousand lightyears. Because even though they look like zombies, the Flood is actually a highly intelligent hive mind which can not only use weapons (mutant-alien-space-zombies with freaking laser beams!) but also use, repair, and build space ships. So whoever build that thing really wasn’t taking any chances of any parasites escaping after an outbreak. Of course, you would rather not kill all humans and Covenant alien and take your chances at killing the Flood by hand. To do that you have to go back to the alien command ship where the Captain is held prisoner again and once you get his key card you go to the wreck of your ship to blow it up. Which you do. The End.

There really isn’t much more to it. There are maybe four important cutscenes that make up the story and the rest is running through endless hallways shoting at hundreds of aliens. Given that there are more games of the series now, it has very little replay value. The story bits are barely worth mentioning, the levels not really that fun to play, and gameplay also gets a lot better in the later games. If anyone is interested in getting into the series, I would actually recommend to simply skip this one. After having read this review, you know all there is to the story and can jump straight into the second game, where the story really starts to get off the ground. I got the game for pure nostalgia reason and while I don’t regret it (having paid only 15€ or so), I think I could have done without it.

14 years back it might have been a really exciting game, but it really hasn’t aged well at all. So when it comes to yay? or nay?, I think I have to go with nay. If you don’t have it, it’s not worth getting anymore.