It took my buddy Dave several months to coerce me into playing play Halo 3 with him. “We should nail down our weekend plans,” he texted me on July 1st. “I’m thinking of getting an early start around 8 a.m. and just play straight through until we beat it.”
“I can bring Mountain Dew and Doritos so we don’t have to stop and eat,” he jokingly offered.
Truly, though, he was desperate. Not because he doesn’t have anybody to play Halo 3 with. Dave has plenty of friends and a lovely fiancee. No, Dave specifically wanted to play Halo 3 with me—in part, because I was his only friend with an Xbox, but mostly because I just didn’t like Halo that much and was quite vocal about it to anyone who asked.
We can psychoanalyze, sure. I have a twin brother who hosted big Halo parties with loud, teenaged boys. I had tried out Halo 3 a few times in high school and was aggressively not interested in doing so again. So, in my room, I’d hide and organize my Black Mage macros on Final Fantasy XI. It would make sense if the culture of pimpled, South Park-quoting boys was what drove me away from it. Not exactly.
Now that I am an adult who has paid New York taxes and writes about video games, I can tell you that it was the unwieldy floatiness of the suit. It was the horrible turn radius of the vehicles, which were unavoidable, and the AI’s incompetence while I shot out from behind them. It was the flimsy, cookie-cutter sci-fi plot and the reliance on trite dialogue to move it forward. It was the depressing fact that a massively popular video game had a barely-discernible premise and required little mental acumen.
And, yes, it was also the people who played Halo 3 back in 2007.
“My TV is really broken,” I texted Dave while at the same time playing Hyper Light Drifter on it. It was the 4th of July.
“I better not see any tweets from you celebrating your independence from Halo,” Dave responded. I told him it would take approximately eight years for my TV to be fixed. He followed up in a week, telling me that I’d be wearing Master Chief t-shirts and “slaying noobs on XBL” soon enough.
August was the height of my Overwatch obsession. It was also when Dave turned up the heat on his Halo manipulations. He had just bought an Xbox One off eBay specifically to play Halo. He also picked up Halo: The Master Chief Collection and one of those Elite Wireless controllers with back-trigger compatibility. Guilt permeated the depths of my Overwatch addiction and, for a moment, silenced 15-year-old me’s protestations. On August 14th, I took the train over to Dave’s and grumpily agreed to play Halo 3‘s co-op campaign.
I told him to be prepared for several hours of bitching and groaning. He laughed and said he expected nothing less. We popped in the disc.
The horn track at the campaign’s beginning swelled. A man with a cigar walked over to my suit and pulled it up in a sweet gesture of soldierly brotherhood. He said a few things. Our boots made light squishy noises as we trudged through a rainforest, guns anticipating something unknown. I had little sense of what was coming for me and, in the cover of trees, it could come at any moment. Walking soon became boring and I wanted to try out the gun. The scope of the game had narrowed to excite me for battle, but I did not at all care about what we would fight or why I would kill it.
No, no, no, I thought. I’m just feeling how it wants me to feel.
Enemies fired from a purple ship in the distance. I shot them with my pathetic Needler from behind a tree until I picked up a shotgun, which bolstered my confidence. The crosshairs easily directed me to the game’s intended targets. It was cake, but I felt like kind of a bad bitch. A well-placed grenade sent several enemies flying. Halo 3 rewarded me generously for little gameplay effort. I felt great.
I caught myself enjoying the game and started looking for shit I didn’t like. “This is too easy,” I told Dave. “I don’t even know if there’s a plot. It’s vapid.” He told me to stop fighting it. I didn’t—until I met Miranda Keyes. She gave me orders with persuasive voice acting that demanded my respect. I will do whatever you want me to do, ma’am, I thought. She told me all about the Prophet of Truth and the Arc and the “Halo Rings.” I have no idea what you are saying. You are so cool.
Still, though, I hadn’t had one strategic thought throughout the entire first hour of the game. I relayed this to Dave, who informed me that Halo is not about having thoughts. In my 20s, that suited me fine, because I regularly have several thoughts and they had better be good ones so I can publish them online for my job.
We picked up a car and raced through the desert. Driving fucking sucked. I made Dave do it, as compensation for making me play this game I now suddenly liked, and shot suckers from out of the back.
Two hours in, we arrived to a broad, rocky plane. Ships hung in the sky. A huge, arachnoid robot crawled out from somewhere. It appeared to be a boss because it was very big and compelling to shoot at. Dave told me we had to go inside the Scarab to disable it, which was exciting to hear because it was a strategy. I became a little nervous. It was like we were in a movie, but actually, we were sitting on a couch in Brooklyn and playing a mundane shooting game.
We waited for the Scarab to crawl under a crane overhang and, after failing several times, jumped onto it with ATVs. A tangle of alienish monsters met us inside. We destroyed an orb, which felt like the goal of this endeavor. The thing was over. It died. I felt like a champion.
Today, I asked Dave why he likes Halo 3. “Why do I like the game? Because it’s fucking great. Tactical gameplay chunks with interesting AI, interspersed with fun vehicle set pieces, designed to be played with a controller by a team that clearly appreciates input scheme design,” Dave said.
If you asked why I liked Halo 3, I would not say that. I would say, damn, Overwatch is such a good game. Get a load of Roadhog’s hook. Fucking killer. But if you are an adult who wants to spend an hour or two not thinking about New York taxes or Donald Trump’s foreign policy or whether you’re getting enough vitamin D or who will cat-sit next week, go to Dave’s and play Halo 3 with him.