Top 5 Master Chief Moments

As any reader of my video game posts will know, I have a deep and abiding love for the Master Chief. For those not in the know, Master Chief is the protagonist of the Halo series. And as should be established by now, I LOVE the Halo series.

For today’s post, I thought I’d talk about my favorite Master Chief moments from the core Halo games. (That means Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 4, and *sigh* Halo 5: Guardians.) I’ve been doing a bunch of video game-related posts recently, and it’s probably because I am super mega excited for E3.

Side note: Posts about E3 itself will be published forthwith!

So just bear with me and my Master Chief adoration, yeah?

The Grenade Beach Ball (H:CE)

When the Chief and Cortana decide to destroy the Halo ring, Cortana’s big plan is to overheat the engines of the Pillar of Autumn. The resulting explosion will be big enough to tear apart the ring.

The plan would have worked without a hitch if 343 Guilty Spark had not hacked into the Autumn’s network and prevented Cortana from igniting the engines remotely from the ship’s bridge. (What a cock blocker.) After she finds out about Spark’s intervention, Cortana is at a loss, which is a rare thing since, as an AI, her existence consists of thinking.

That’s when Chief steps in with the bright idea of just causing the engines to explode directly. He asks how much firepower would be needed to cause a reaction, and Cortana’s all like, “Well, a pretty big effin’ explosion.”

To emphasize his utility with big explosions, the Chief starts tossing a grenade up and down in his hand. The thing is, this grenade is disproportionately huge compared to the Chief. It looks like a friggin’ beach ball. And when he puts it away, he just tucks it into this nowhere pocket behind his back. It’s one of my favorite moments in Combat Evolved.

He Does Know What The Ladies Like (H2)

This is technically a Johnson moment, but screw it, this is my Master Chief list, and I can include a Sergeant Johnson moment in it if I want to.

Johnson drops off a tank so that Master Chief and Cortana can cruise around blowing up the Covenant in style. Cortana thanks Johnson, complaining that the Chief never gets her anything. It’s banter, all in good fun.

And then Johnson just kind of rumbles out, “Oh, I know what the ladies like.”

Every time he says this, every time, I have to mimic Johnson’s exact tone of voice and intonation.

And I, as a self-proclaimed lady, do like the tank every time Johnson brings it.

Back-To-Back Buddies (H3)

Arbiter and Master Chief started out Halo 3 as enemies, but they ended it as friends. And they did this with practically no dialogue spoken between them.

The key defining moment is when Arbiter finally gets his revenge on the Prophet of Truth. He stabs that damn, dirty Prophet in the back, and then he and Chief share a glance. The Chief nods, and even though they say nothing, a whole conversation just happened there. I always picture it going something like this:

Arbiter: It is done. I have just completed my journey, finished the arc for myself as a character in this epic sci-fi opera. My enemy is defeated, and I am free.

Master Chief: Heck yeah, brah. I see that. I respect that. I’m here for it. But we still have work to do. There are two more missions to the game.

Arbiter: All right. Let’s do this.

I’m Not Surrendering Sh*t (H4)

Halo 4 has by far the most comprehensive story. That’s because things got personal between Cortana and the Chief. The two of you have been together for this whole time, and her slow decline into rampancy is terrible to watch. My heart hurt.

So when this dick-head officer named Captain Del Rio demands Chief turn in Cortana for “final dispensation,” you want to cheer when Chief slips Cortana’s chip out of a computer console and returns it to his helmet.

And when Del Rio throws a hissy fit about it, shrieking, “Surrender that AI!” and all Master Chief does is say, “No,” I wanted to roll around the floor giggling.

Take that whiny captain guy!

Locke Alone (H5)

Ugh.

It was hard to find a Master Chief moment in Halo 5 because there’s hardly any Master Chief in the whole game! And the parts where he is included do not have the oomph of previous games.

There is one moment I enjoy tremendously though.

It’s during the fight between Chief and Locke halfway through the game.

And no, before you ask, it’s not the fight itself. That fight was stupid. It was just a lame punching match.

No, the moment I’m talking about happens during the fight, and it’s the fact that every single one of Locke’s team is just standing around watching the fight, not helping.

Like, I get that they might not want to intrude on a cinematic one-on-one battle, or maybe they have a generic sense of honor about things, but come on, dude-bros. Your team leader got his ass whooped, and you only stepped in to help after Chief peaced out of there. I’m honestly surprised Locke didn’t curse you guys to hell and back again.

So those are some of my favorite Master Chief moments. If you’ve played Halo, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t you probably didn’t read this far. (And if you did, kudos to you!)

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Top 10 Favorite Video Game Soundtracks

The music behind a video game might be one of the more underappreciated aspects of a game. Everyone always goes ga-ga for the visuals and the gameplay (for good reason, ’cause, I mean, those things are sort of important), but I feel like a game’s soundtrack isn’t as valued as it should be.

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for soundtracks, so today, I’m going to write about my top ten favorite video games in terms of their music.

That’s right, folks. It’s time for yet another list!

Seriously, these are my favorite kind of posts to write.

Let’s do this.

10. Dead Space 2

The Dead Space series is not known for its soundtrack. (Or at least I don’t think it is.) It’s mostly known for its excellent take on sci-fi horror. In Dead Space 2 you play as Isaac Clarke, engineer extraordinaire, as he deals with yet another necromorph infestation. The terror of these nightmarish creatures is brought to life thanks to the incredible audio design. And, as everyone should know, a video game’s soundtrack is technically part of its audio design. (Kind of.) The Dead Space 2 soundtrack is better than just blaring horns accompanying jump-scares and rapid percussion during a chase sequence. The game also includes some pretty somber melodies, with slow strings depicting the tragedy of the story as well as the fright. It hits you right in the feels. (And yeah, the chase sequence themes can give you minor heart attacks as well.)

9. Tetris

Good god, I could hum this theme for hours. I don’t know if the Tetris theme counts as a soundtrack, but I’m gonna include it on my list anyways. If you have never heard the Tetris theme song, I don’t know whether to recommend it to you or not. On the one hand, it is an iconic video game tune that everyone should hear at least once. On the other hand, if you hear it, you’ll get it stuck in your head and you’ll have no one to blame but me.

8. Shadow of the Colossus

If you’re going to be fighting giants in these epic landscapes, you should definitely have great music to accompany you on your quest. I have only ever played Shadow of the Colossus once on the PlayStation 2. (No, I haven’t tried the remake because I don’t own a PlayStation 4.) It was goddamn beautiful. For those of you who don’t know, you play as a guy named Wander who has to take down these slow-moving Colossi. The music is mostly ethereal in quiet moments, but it changes to bombastic, fantastical themes whenever you begin your fight with a Colossus. And funnily enough, the music is able to make you feel simultaneously triumphant and a bit saddened when you bring these magnificent creatures down.

7. The Last of Us

People hype up the story of The Last of Us all the time (as well they should), but the soundtrack should get some love too. It is remarkably simple, poignant, and easily recognizable. If you really listen to it, the main theme can be boiled down to three notes. Gustavo Santaolalla achieved so much emotional impact with such simplicity. It actually reminds me of Jaws’ soundtrack. Not the emotions tied to the soundtrack. (Definitely not.) But how the melody can convey so much by remaining uncomplicated.

6. Red Dead Redemption II

I’ve already gushed about Red Dead Redemption II in its entirety in this post over here, so some of you already know how I feel about its soundtrack. Masterpiece level of music right there. RDR2’s soundtrack rides alongside the story beats in perfect tandem. You know those fortuitous moments in movies when someone is feeling sad and then it starts to rain. That’s how in sync Red Dead Redemption II’s soundtrack is with its story. Something will happen and the music matches it. Also, there is a fantastic selection of songs chosen for choice moments in the game. If soundtracks in general don’t interest you, be sure to at least check out the featured songs sung by many talented artists. My particular favorite is “That’s the Way It Is.”

5. Prey

Prey is a video game that did not get a lot of notice when it came out, which is a downright shame because it is fantastic. It’s a mix of Bioshock, Soma, and Dishonored all rolled into one sci-fi package. Its soundtrack is also great. While it doesn’t stick in your head with defined melodies, it suits the game to a tee. I just found out it was composed by Mick Gordon, who appears in another entry on this list as you’ll soon find out, and I couldn’t be happier. It has a classic synth vibe to it that is nostalgic and futuristic at the same time.

4. Ori and the Blind Forest

Soft orchestral notes greet you as soon as you start up Ori and the Blind Forest, and the high quality of its sound is maintained throughout the entire game. The tempo picks up when your little forest spirit, Ori, is in danger, but it knows when to slow down too. Throughout the game, you travel to various places on a map (Metroidvania-style), and each area has its own theme. Even these background themes are as enjoyable to listen to as the more dynamic story themes.

3. DOOM (2016)

Mick Gordon shines in DOOM. Admittedly, this kind of music might not be for everyone. If you give it a listen and decide it’s not for you, that’s okay. But just try and picture those pulsing and pounding themes as you play the iconic Doomguy, punching and shooting your way through bloody hordes of ravenous demons. No other soundtrack on this list made me feel like a bad-ass the way Doom’s did.

2. Super Mario Odyssey

Okay, I know I’m not including the original Mario theme, which is a super iconic one, but this soundtrack blew me away with how awesome it is. Super Mario Odyssey wowed me on every level. I played it with relatively low expectations, expecting it to be just another Mario game. Imagine my surprise with how playful and delightful it was. The soundtrack embodies the idea of adventure, which is exactly what you go on alongside Mario and Cappy.

1. Halo

Psh. What, did you think I wouldn’t include Halo on this list? Halo is my all-time favorite video game in the history of ever. Its soundtrack is perfection. I love every theme, can predict when each music cue will occur, and frequently play it in the car to the annoyance of my sister. Rest assured, when I say I like the Halo soundtrack, I’m only talking about the Halo games in which Martin O’Donnell was the composer. Halo 4’s soundtrack was all right, with some great tracks like “Arrival” and “117,” but Halo 5: Guardians‘ soundtrack sucked dick. I’m sorry for getting lewd there, but it’s true. You can’t hum a single piece of music from Halo 5 because all of it just sounds like generic sci-fi noise. Anyways, I love Halo’s music so much, I think I’ll listen to some right now!

So that’s it for my list. Do you have any favorite video game soundtracks? Or just favorite soundtracks in general, from movies and TV shows? Let me know in the comments 🙂

The In-Depth Halo 3 Synopsis That No One Is Asking For

Hah!

You guys probably thought I forgot all about my synopsis project to summarize every major entry in the Halo video game series. You’d be forgiven for thinking so, because it has been a long time since I wrote my Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 summaries.

But I’m back, baby! And I’m ready to give you a Below Average, not-so-short summary of my all-time favorite video game series once again.

Let’s get into Halo 3!

Last we saw Master Chief, he was on board a Covenant ship headed to Earth. Earth is under attack by a massive Covenant fleet, so yeah, they could really use his assistance.

Cortana was left behind, plugged into the space-faring Covenant city, High Charity. Chief promised to go back for her, and we’re sure she is currently holding her breath in anticipation.

Miranda Keyes, Avery Johnson, the Arbiter, and 343 Guilty Spark were on a Halo ring, aghast at the prospect of all the Halo rings in the universe being set to blow. After just barely managing to stop the Halo they were on from being fired, safety protocols now have every Halo primed to fire from a single location called the Ark.

Side note: Seriously, what kind of safety protocol is that?!

If you’re at all confused by what I’m talking about, then clearly you haven’t read my past two summaries which can be found here and here!

Halo 3 opens with Master Chief plummeting to Earth from space because he wasn’t smart enough to find a usable life pod. He crash-lands his body into a dense forest somewhere in Africa.

Johnson and the Arbiter somehow got to Earth before the Chief even though he was in orbit and they were on a distant Halo ring at the end of Halo 2. They find the small crater where the Chief landed and inspect the immobile body of our favorite Spartan. The Chief’s armor locked up on impact, so for a quick second, Johnson thinks the Chief is dead.

Side note: That could never have happened because then we wouldn’t have a game to play.

The Chief wakes up, and there is a friendly reunion between him and Johnson.

But then the Chief catches sight of the Arbiter. Master Chief didn’t play Halo 2, so he has no way of knowing that the Arbiter is one cool guy. He just thinks the Arbiter is a dangerous Elite lurking behind Johnson. Quick as a flash, the Chief pulls out a Magnum and jams it under the Arbiter’s weird four-mandibled jaw. Luckily, Johnson speaks up and tells the Chief that Arbiter’s on their side now.

The Chief grudgingly puts his pistol away, but you can tell he and the Arbiter are not entirely trusting each other.

The group makes their way out of the forest, and after some mishaps with some Brutes, Johnson, the Arbiter, and the Chief are picked up by a Pelican and taken to an underground bunker where the UNSC is holing up. Miranda is there, and I still can’t understand why it took so freakin’ long for Chief to land on Earth. Miranda had the time to set up an entire base of operations!

Anyway, once there, Miranda and Admiral Hood fill Chief in on what’s been happening. The reason behind the Covenant invasion of Earth is apparently some artifact that is buried in Africa, just outside the city of New Mombasa. Hood sends Chief to attack anti-air defenses the Covenant have set up around their dig site so that he (Hood) can bomb the shit out of them with his ships and stop them from recovering the artifact.

Chief does a fantastic job of taking out the anti-air defenses, but the Covenant get to the artifact first anyways. The artifact was this Forerunner portal opener, and the Covenant fleet, which is carrying the nefarious Prophet of Truth, goes through the portal without a second thought to Earth and its people.

With perfect dramatic timing, just as the Covenant depart through the portal, a Flood-infested ship appears above Earth and crashes near where the Chief is. He and the Arbiter have to fight their way aboard the Flood ship, and while in there, they find a broken recording from Cortana, who is still on board High Charity. In the message, she warns them that about the Flood and says she has found a way to get rid of them on the Ark.

Chief, who trusts Cortana implicitly, goes through the new portal with the Elite forces. The Elites, after breaking away from the Covenant, have a warranted vendetta against the Prophets and the Brutes.

Once through the portal, we’re treated to the sight of the Ark. It looks like a massive starfish in space.

Unlike most starfish, this place spells doom for humanity (and lifeforms in general). The Prophet of Truth is dead-set on activating all the Halo rings, so the Chief and his buddies immediately get to work on attacking the Covenant barricades Truth has set up around the activation room on the Ark. While trying to bring down these shields, Johnson gets captured.

It’s never outright stated (at least I don’t think it is), but only humans can interact with these Forerunner devices. This tidbit becomes mega-important in Halo 4, but for now, it’s only important because Truth needs to use Johnson to activate the rings.

Miranda Keyes tries to rescue Johnson from Truth, but there is no way she can get him out of there alive. Johnson tells her that she has to kill both of them since they are the only way Truth can activate the rings. Unfortunately, she hesitates to shoot her friend, and she’s spiked by Truth (goddamned bastard). Truth then takes Johnson’s hand and forces him to start the activation process.

Master Chief and the Arbiter have been running all over the Ark, shutting down shields and trying to reach the activation room. Their friendship has no doubt deepened after spending so much quality time together.

They get to the chamber too late to save Miranda, but they do get there in time to stop the activation process. Some Flood zombies come up to them and help them to the activation platform. Since firing the Halos would destroy the Flood, it’s in their self-interest to help the Chief and Arbiter.

Once the Chief reaches Johnson, he takes out the Brutes guarding Truth. Then the Arbiter takes up his energy sword and slices into the Prophet of Truth. It’s a double-whammy for Truth, because not only did the Arbiter literally stab him in the back, he was also in the middle of getting Flooded. Good riddance, I say.

The rings are stopped from firing, and that’s when the Flood decide to turn on their temporary allies. The Arbiter and the Chief then have to fight against the Flood forms who had just been helping them. They make it out okay, and they discover an awfully convenient Halo ring is being constructed on the Ark.

This Halo ring is special because it would get rid of the local Flood infestation without threatening the rest of the galaxy.

Before the Chief goes to this new ring to activate it, he finally returns to the Flood-consumed High Charity and rescues Cortana. She’s a little worse for wear, but it’s a huge relief to have her in the Chief’s head once again.

The two of them along with the Arbiter travel to this new Halo ring, ready to fire it up. The Flood start attacking them relentlessly, but they all make it to the ring’s activation chamber.

However, when Johnson joins up with them and tries firing the ring, 343 Guilty Spark goes crazy and lasers him. This entire time, Spark has been helping the humans in order to contain this Flood outbreak. But if the Halo ring is fired too soon, it will fall apart afterwards.

And Guilty Spark cares more about the Halo ring than he does about saving the world. Master Chief lasers the insane Spark in return, but it’s too late for Johnson. He dies from his wound, and it’s up to the Chief, Arbiter, and Cortana to fire the Halo ring alone.

Just as Spark said would happen, the Halo ring starts breaking down around them. The three heroes of the universe have to race to the safety of Johnson’s parked ship using a Warthog he left behind.

Side note: Johnson parked reallllllllllly far away from the activation chamber. Did he really walk all that way?

They miraculously make it onto the ship, the Forward Unto Dawn, and Arbiter rushes to the bridge to pilot the ship out of there. The Chief and Cortana are stuck in the loading bay because some wreckage cut them off from the doorway. Arbiter manages to pilot most of the ship through the portal they came through before it closes. However, only his half of the ship made it back to Earth. The Chief, Cortana, and the back end of the Forward Unto Dawn is left adrift in deep space.

The end of the war is celebrated on Earth, but the game truly ends when we see the Master Chief climb into a cryo-tube on the broken-down Forward Unto Dawn. He plans to sleep until someone finds his and Cortana’s beacon and comes to rescue them.

His last words to Cortana are, “Wake me if you need me.”

And then he goes to sleep, leaving poor Cortana to just sit in the ship by her lonesome waiting for someone to find them.

Never Alone Never Again: A Review

So I recently played a small indie title called Never Alone. I don’t normally pick up indie video games unless I’ve heard they’re good (think Celeste), but Never Alone was provided to me freely.

Side note: Well, actually not really. I pay for my Xbox Live Gold subscription, which offers me two free games a month, so technically I am paying for those games. Just not a lot.

Never Alone caught my eye because it looked like a very artistic platformer, something like Ori and the Blind Forest. The game is set in the frozen north of the Alaskan wilds and follows the story of an Inupiaq girl (The “n” in “Inupiaq” is supposed to have an ~ on top of it. Don’t know how to add one on WordPress. Help?) trying to stop a blizzard from demolishing her village. She is accompanied by a little fox spirit on her journey.

The concept of the game is fantastic. The story does a good job of covering some aspects of the Inupiaq culture. Short, informative videos describing the Inupiaq people and their myths are interspersed throughout the game. It’s a nice touch because these tales aren’t normally the kind of stories you see in mainstream media. There are so many untold stories from around the world, it was delightful seeing a story that may have gone unrecognized brought into the light with a video game.

That said, it would have been even more delightful if the gameplay was not irritating and wonky.

Never Alone is a platformer, and platformers require precision. There is nothing precise about Never Alone’s controls. The little girl moves further than you want or expect her to when you nudge your control stick just a tad. Jumping is a strangely lethargic mechanic. Throw in environmental hazards like strong winds and water levels, and your movement controls are now a recipe for disaster.

But the worst part of Never Alone is the fact that you can play as the two characters, the girl or the fox spirit. You switch between the two with the press of a button. Having two playable characters is not a bad thing on its own. The problem is that the AI that takes over for the other character is rudimentary at best, unhelpful at worst.

I suppose a bad companion AI is not the worst on its own. But when that companion is meant to assist you with platforming and you can’t progress without it, that’s where we have a major problem.

The fox spirit can activate certain platforms by being near them. He can also grab onto these ghostly surfaces and bring them closer to the girl, who can only climb onto them when he’s nearby. The fox spirit needs to be right next to these platforms in order for them to be tangible to the girl.

But for some stupidstupidstupid reason, the AI for whichever character you’re not using has a tendency to gravitate toward your own character. It’s a basic I’m-following-your-lead line of programming, but it works against you when you want them to hover near a platform that you must eventually reach.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been controlling the girl character after positioning the fox spirit perfectly, only for him to move away from the area and send my girl plummeting to her death once his ghost-platform disappears.

Side note: I don’t like it in video games when landing in some water kills me, and yet, in another level, my character is swimming like there’s no tomorrow.

The controls for Never Alone were infuriating. Despite the pull from the mythology behind the game, the gameplay pushed me away from enjoying it. I would not recommend this game to anybody I like. The controls are that bad. Besides, even if the controls were smoother, the level design is a pretty vanilla experience.

Though I guess it was pretty nifty to play as a fox spirit.

I rate Never Alone an if-you-value-your-sanity-in-any-way-do-not-pick-up-this-game-even-if-you’re-only-curious-seriously-I-almost-threw-my-controller-in-a-rage-while-playing-and-I-still-have-no-idea-how-I-completed-the-game.

Red Dead Review Part Two: One Final Ride

I finally finished Red Dead Redemption 2!

It took me months, but I finally completed this most epic of cowboy games. I wrote a premature review (calling it a review is laughable) for RDR2, which you can read right here. In that post, I promised I would do a more in-depth review when I had actually, you know, finished the game. So here we are, weeks later, and I’m going to examine several aspects of Red Dead’s gaming experience, flaws and all. Hopefully, that will give you a better idea about whether or not Red Dead Redemption 2 is the game for you. (Or, if you’ve played it already, you will see just how much or how little our respective times with the game can be compared.)

Let’s start with…

1. The Narrative

Red Dead Redemption 2 includes absolutely above-average story-telling. The characters are a notch above other characters you might encounter in a video game because their dialogue is so natural and right; it’s not just hokey Western sayings. Even some movies would be hard-pressed to compete with RDR2’s writing.

The story is told through “story missions” and “character interactions.” Accessing the story missions is pretty straightforward. You just walk your character over to the point on the map where a mission icon is located. As soon as your character nears the spot, the mission begins. The free-roaming aspect of the game transitions to a cutscene that heralds the mission’s start. These transitions are as smooth as good coffee creamer, and their separateness from the rest of the game’s world allows you as a player to have free rein of the map until you initiate a story mission.

The most fantastic thing about these missions is that they always either push the story ahead or develop the main character’s growth just a bit further. I hungered for these missions and their ensuing cutscenes like I have never hungered for a video game’s cutscenes before. Normally, I can’t wait for a cutscene to end so that I can go back to playing a game. In RDR2, I desired both in equal amounts.

You can also get more nuanced story-telling from just having your character walk around the main camp. Without any prompting, members of your gang will walk up to your character and discuss past events with him, just like they would if they had been real people. These chance encounters might not happen for every player (especially if they spend a lot of time out of camp), but they are definite rewards a gamer can reap merely from walking near side characters.

The narrative arc of the main character, Arthur Morgan, is one of the most glorious, and bittersweet, stories I’ve ever experienced in a video game. If you are a fan of game narratives, Red Dead Redemption 2 is not a game you should ignore.

I’m going to summarize and gush about it right now. There will be spoilers. If you want to experience the story for yourself, I highly recommend you scroll down to the next section without reading what comes next. You’ve been warned.

Arthur Morgan is a member of the Van der Linde Gang, a group of outlaws led by the charismatic leader, Dutch van der Linde. Arthur has been with Dutch for a long time; he’s one of Dutch’s right-hand men. As such, Arthur’s been following the outlaw lifestyle for quite some time. However, the time of lawless criminals roaming the West is coming to an end. Society has had enough of “honorable” rule-breakers, and the Pinkertons are hot on the trail of the Van der Linde Gang.

The game starts with the gang fleeing the tightening grasp of the law. Dutch is keeping the group together with promising words and their sense of loyalty, but as the game progresses, this is a losing battle. Arthur, the most loyal of them all, realizes that Dutch can’t face reality anymore and recognize that their way of life is over. As the band flees from one location to the next, Arthur becomes disillusioned with his past and changes as a person.

This change is one of the best character arcs ever achieved because it feels real. It doesn’t feel as if Arthur changes just because the story needs him to. You as the player are alongside Arthur for every bit of the gang’s downfall, and you can empathize with Arthur’s change of heart.

A huge catalyst for Arthur’s epiphany is his acquirement of tuberculosis. This fatal disease makes Arthur’s life come into sharp focus. No matter if you played Arthur as a wild and vicious outlaw who frequently goes on murderous rampages or an honorable man caught in a criminal lifestyle, Arthur’s reflections and regrets match his actions.

He is caught as a man who always believed loyalty to be a virtue, but what is he supposed to do when the man he has been loyal to his whole life is disloyal to him? What can he do when what is loyal and what is right contradict each other?

Yes, Arthur dies in the end, but his journey to that point is one masterpiece of a story.

The narrative only suffers on two points.

The first occurs during the fifth “chapter.” (The game is separated by chapters, and these chapters are defined based on where your character’s main base is located.) The fifth chapter takes place on an island called Guarma. After a bank robbery gone wrong, Arthur and some fellow members of the gang take a ship to sea in order to escape the law. The ship gets destroyed during a storm, and the band finds themselves marooned an this tropical island.

There is a severe disconnect between the events on the mainland and the events on Guarma. On the mainland, the Van der Linde gang’s decline was what drew the story along, moving the group from hideout to hideout as they tried to flee the Pinkertons. On Guarma, we’re suddenly embroiled in a revolution between the natives and a dictator that ends up having no relevance to the rest of the story. When Arthur and his friends eventually return to the mainland, Guarma just ends up feeling like a bad dream.

Though the game is able to pick up the narrative from where it left off before Chapter 5, it still feels as if the story decided to take a break and only returned after hours spent napping. If you play RDR2, I recommend you to power through the Guarma chapter. It is worth it for that ending.

The other point on which the narrative suffers is the epilogue. After Arthur Morgan breathes his last, the torch is passed on to John Marston, a fellow member of the Van der Linde Gang and the protagonist of the original Red Dead Redemption. The story picks up with John’s struggle to lead a normal, law-abiding life after Arthur basically sacrificed himself to give John that chance.

The epilogue is fine on its own, but if you haven’t played the original game, it will feel a tad off. This final part of Red Dead Redemption 2 is meant to connect this second game with the first. Since RDR2 functions as a prequel, it is meant to form a bridge to the events of the first game. In that regard, the epilogue excels. There are callbacks, explanations, and nostalgic story beats galore.

In fact, an entire section of the map is a recreation of part of the map from the first game. Many of the epilogue’s story missions do not even take place there. It exists for you as a player to explore afterwards.

However, if you never played the first game, this ending will feel like an unneeded add-on, especially since Arthur’s story ended in a perfect fashion.

2. The Open World

I’ve played a couple of open-world games before in my lifetime.

None of them have impressed me like Red Dead Redemption 2’s.

Worlds can be vast, but if they don’t have enough within, they can feel empty. RDR2’s world breathes life and atmosphere in a way that other games can’t hope to match.

What more would you expect from the developers of Grand Theft Auto?

As you ride your horse in the countryside, the environment teems with wildlife. Birds fly past you in the air, and you can see their shadows on the ground. Deer become startled by your approach and bound away as you come closer. Grizzly bears will immediately roar and attack you if you are near them, but a black bear, notorious for being shy creatures, will lumber away as quickly as they can.

The different climes of the places you visit are impressive as well. You have snowy mountaintops, wooded hills, dusty Southern fields, a bustling city, dark swamps, and rich, red deserts all on the same map. It boggles my mind. I spent days ignoring the story and getting lost in just appreciating the goddamned weather.

RDR2 does not simply leave you with atmosphere and animals though. Its towns and cities are populated with people. If you travel down a road long enough, you’ll meet fellow travelers going the same way. You can interact with these people however you choose to, either by greeting them politely or lassoing them off their horse and dragging them away. Be cautioned though. These random NPCs (non-playable characters) can be a mite sensitive with how you deal with them. Too many times have I just nudged one of them with my horse on accident and they called law enforcement on me for assault.

Plus, there are a plethora of activities you can do in the open world. I mentioned this in my first Red Dead Review, and the same holds true now that I’ve finished this game. Hunting, fishing, poker-playing, crafting, and tracking are just a few of the things you can do. Alongside the narrative, Red Dead Redemption 2’s open world is a major reason to pick up this game.

3. The Combat

This is where RDR2 begins to show cracks. The combat is a bit…abysmal.

Like you would expect from a game dealing in outlaws, cowboys, and Pinkertons, you mainly experience gameplay through some third-person shooting. Sadly, the aiming mechanics are either ridiculously easy or outlandishly difficult.

The default setting for shooting is to have this sort of aim assist turned on. What that means is that every time you press the button to aim your weapon at somebody, it automatically zeros in on the closest enemy. I’m telling you, the aiming reticle is like a magnet that is drawn toward anybody you’re fighting. So all you really need to do to kill a person in RDR2 is press the aim button, press the fire button, release both, then repeat. There is never any need to aim with your analog stick.

Alternatively, if this kind of extreme hand-holding doesn’t sit well with you, you can turn off the aim assist in the settings. Unfortunately, the aiming then becomes nigh impossible. You can hardly focus on your target, and the reticle is only a little dot, so that doesn’t help you at all.

There is no middle ground whatsoever.

Also, the cover system in the game is wonky. If you press the cover button, Arthur is supposed to slide into the nearest cover. This could be a rock or an overturned wagon. However, Arthur does not always slide to the most logical place. He’ll crouch on the wrong side of the rock and get peppered with bullets. There is also a lag time between when you press the get-out-of-cover button and when Arthur will actually get out of cover.

There’s not much you can do about the cover system. As for the aiming situation, I was fine with the ease of the aim assist because that allowed me to just speed through combat encounters. It is a definite shame the game couldn’t have a more advanced system in place, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. If you’re looking for meaningful gunplay in your games, steer clear of RDR2.

4. The Realism

Video games are not usually forms of entertainment where you go to bask in the realism of it all. You play video games to entertain yourself, and said entertainment is usually hindered by the limitations of reality. The most a video game usually sticks to realism is to have some sort of logical physics system in place.

Red Dead Redemption 2 takes realism to a whole new extreme.

You have to feed and water your horse and Arthur if you want them to maintain healthy levels of stamina. If you don’t they can become severely underweight. Conversely, if you feed them too much, they can get overweight.

Your horse needs to be brushed every so often, otherwise it will accumulate so much dirt and grime it will begin to “under-perform.” If you take your saddle off a dirty horse, you will see saddle lines marking where the horse’s skin was protected from the dust.

Your weapons also need to be maintained. Using liberal amounts of gun oil, you need to clean Arthur’s guns so they can continue to perform admirably.

When you loot dead bodies, Arthur actually goes through the motions of checking their coat and pants pockets.

The day/night cycles of the game also include a lunar cycle.

This is just a fraction of how realistic the developers behind Red Dead Redemption 2 strove to make their game. Don’t even get me started on how the balls of your male horse can shrink and expand depending on the outside temperature.

This amount of dedication to realism can be astonishing and annoying. I get why many people can become irritated at how arduous the daily care of their character be, but I was one of the people who played the game and enjoyed this aspect of it. I would not count its realism against or for the game. Whether you like this attention to detail is entirely subjective.

I happened to enjoy it. I have a love for schedules, lists, and daily tasks bordering on the obsessive-compulsive. As such, the upkeep of Arthur Morgan, his weapons, and his horse pleased me to no end. It became a ritual I grew accustomed to, and I appreciated the amount of concentration and hard work that must have gone into making this game as realistic as possible.

5. The Audio

The sounds of the world around you are amazing. Red Dead Redemption 2 really nails the vibe of whatever biome you happen to be in.

I could listen for hours (and I did) to the sound of my horse galloping across dirt paths. Dudes, I freakin’ love that sound.

Plus, the animal life comes with their own unique soundscape. I nearly shit myself when I heard a passing wild boar squeal in some nearby underbrush. And, it is thanks to RDR2 that I now know what sound a fox actually makes.

The music is also fantastic. The soundtrack blends in seamlessly with whatever activity Arthur or John is doing. When going into battle, the music appropriately ramps up. The “American Venom” track and the “Train Heist Theme” are some of my personal favorites.

Along with these musical tracks, some worded songs sneaked their way into this game, to my surprise and delight. These songs come on during playable moments, so they’re not just adornments for a cutscene. You are actually riding your horse around when these songs come on, and they perfectly accent whatever is happening in the story. They are beautifully performed, and, I’ll admit, one of them caught me at a particularly vulnerable time and made me start sobbing.

If I could buy a video game’s album aside from the original Halo soundtrack, it would be Red Dead Redemption 2’s.

So that’s my final review on Red Dead Redemption 2. I heartily enjoyed it despite its wonky combat system. The strength of the narrative and the world were so immersive and enjoyable, I was able to delight in the game despite its lackluster gameplay. I would even go so far as to recommend it to people knowing in advance the kinds of flaws it possesses. It’s the kind of game I believe stands above the rest while still holding a few mistakes.

I rate Red Dead Redemption 2 a holy-hell-how-often-do-I-have-to-say-I-love-this-game-before-my-family-and-friends-get-tired-of-me-because-I-think-it’s-already-happening-since-my-sister-just-gets-this-look-on-her-face-every-time-I-mention-it-to-her-and-my-boyfriend-has-stopped-paying-attention-to-me-when-I-gush-about-it-ah-well-whatever-it’s-not-like-they-have-any-idea-how-freaking-cool-the-game-is-and-I-will praise-this game-until-the-day-I-die-because-I-LOVED-IT-SO-THERE-YOU-HAVE-IT-FOLKS.

My Top 5 Favorite Horror Video Games

Horror video games are scarier than horror movies. I’ll stand by that statement till the day I die. A horror movie can be scary, I’m not saying that it can’t be, but nothing beats being in the role of someone in those terrifying circumstances.

I mean, would you rather watch a character run away from a monster or would you rather be that character as he/she flees?

Exactly.

It’s bone-chilling, sweat-inducing, shiver-inspiring, and scream-splitting terror.

So even though it is broad daylight and the sun is shining through the window as I write this, I’m going to scare myself by telling you guys my top 5 favorite horror games.

Shall we?

5. Layers of Fear

Layers of Fear is not a particularly good or memorable horror game. There are others that outclass it by a long shot. Layers of Fear relies too much on jump scares, and a sense of player agency is missing. You feel as if you’re on a set path you can’t stray from, which makes the creepiness feel forced and manufactured. (And in a horror video game, you really want to mask that sensation.) You play as a renowned painter who has fallen on hard times. He has been ruined by his own arrogance and the disintegration of his family. Alone with his thoughts and a grotesque, new work-in-progress, he must roam through his dilapidated house as paintings fling themselves from their frames, wallpaper melts, and porcelain dolls scamper around corners from just outside his field of vision. Typical horror fare. I played the game once and then forgot about it. However, I made the mistake of getting my sister to play it while I watched years later. She screamed at every loud noise, flinched at every sudden motion, and shrieked at the smallest change in scenery. I got traumatized by this game because of her reactions to it. At one point, she threw the controller in fright directly at my face. I had a bruise for a week.

4. Slender: The Arrival

This game got a spot on this list because it was the first horror video game I ever played. And by played, I mean I cowered behind some friends while they played the majority of the game. My sister and I are friends with the Twins. They’re two of the coolest people I know, Robert and Emmanuel. When they bought Slender: The Arrival, they invited me and my sister over to play it with them. They turned all the lights off in their bedroom, raised the volume on their speakers, and began to play. It was terrifying. The atmosphere of the game is top-notch creepiness. What scares you the most in the game is your own sense of dread. You do half the work of scaring yourself. You play as a young woman named Lauren, desperately combing the woods and an abandoned mine in search of her friend. The infamous Slender Man haunts her every step. (For a synopsis of the latest Slender Man movie, be sure to check out my post here!)

3. Outlast

The plot of Outlast alone would be enough to scare anybody. You play as Miles Upshur, a reporter who is investigating strange experiments at an insane asylum. Several of the inmates are out to get you once you’re trapped inside, and you have to race your way out while hounded by deformed crazy people. You’re equipped only with a camera which has a night-vision setting. This setting is what gives the game its sense of horror as you move along, even while nothing happens. The quality of the video makes you wait for scary things to jump out at you. And when things do jump out at you, they are delightfully unexpected. Outlast is a game that made me appreciate jump scares.

2. Soma

Soma was made by Frictional Games, and it is one of my favorite games period. Its environment is unique in that the game takes place in an underwater facility after a meteor has crashed into the Earth and decimated the human population on the surface. The reason I like this game so much for itself is because the story is fantastic. It’s an intellectual puzzler of a plot, and there’s nothing I like more than a horror story that has roots in philosophy. This is the one game on this list I would recommend to anybody who has a love for video games in general. It’s great, and I wish more people knew about it. I feel like it flew under the radar when it first released in 2015.

1. Alien: Isolation

The suspense of the gameplay is what gives Alien: Isolation its power. Admittedly, the game runs far longer than it should, with a play-time of about 15 hours, which can potentially stretch a lot longer if you take your time. However, the AI of the Alien is superb. It’s masterful. Whenever it is present, you can feel the terror of having a Xenomorph in the same room with you. The Alien series has always terrified me (as seen in this post I wrote about the Alien specifically), and this game paid tribute to the beginnings of the franchise. You can’t kill the Alien, even if you have your pistol equipped. The closest thing you have to a weapon against it is the flamethrower, and all that does is temporarily scare it off. It always comes back. It dogs your character, Amanda Ripley, as she explores Sevastopol Station looking for information as to the location of her missing mother, the renowned Ellen Ripley. The tension the Alien inspires whenever it is present made me sweat buckets. You never feel secure. I could not play this game for more than 20 minutes at a time. Otherwise the stress would make me shake. I played this game with a friend of mine in order to survive the experience. We passed the controller off every time it got to be too much.

The Literature of Halo

For this particular post, I thought I’d give a shout-out to the expanded Halo lore that has sprung up in the bountiful form of books.

Halo is my all-time favorite video game, and part of the reason it has branded itself onto the chamber walls of my heart is because of those books.

I won’t go into the exact details of Halo’s story here, but if you want to, you can check out these Below Average synopsis posts I made for Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 by clicking on them links.

Side note: The synopsis for Halo 3 is coming eventually. I haven’t forgotten about it.

I will, however, talk about the benefits the Halo books lend to the games, my favorites, and how the games should incorporate the lore in the future.

The best kind of Halo books have little to do with the events of the games. They tell compact stories within the Halo universe revolving around characters we barely see in the games. For example, Contact Harvest by Joseph Staten tells the backstory of a side character from the first game, and damn if he didn’t make the character of Avery Johnson more popular by doing so.

That’s a great example of my favorite kind of Halo book.

A book like The Flood is the complete opposite of that.

The Flood by William C. Dietz is a retelling of the plot of the first game. I mean, I’m a total lore-nerd when it comes to Halo, so I did enjoy reading the book. Plus, it gave me some hints about secrets in the game. However, in terms of an objective reading experience, you could kind of tell that the novel was a bit derivative.

So the best Halo books add to a universe that we’ve glimpsed in the games. Playing a Halo game is like visiting an exotic new location. Reading a Halo book is like hiring a tour guide to tell you about the places you are walking through.

Now, if the average layman were to pick up a random Halo book from their local Barnes & Noble, I’m not going to lie, they’d probably get a bit lost. Many of the plots rely on the fact that readers will know certain aspects of the Halo universe. Since I have played all the games and been immersed in the lore since high school, it’s actually pretty difficult for me to discern what will be obtuse to a newcomer or what will make sense.

But if I were to recommend Halo books to anybody, here are the five I would choose:

1. Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nyland: This is a classic Halo book, perhaps the classic, and it would be the best start for a newcomer. It describes the events before the first game, setting up the story of the main character and the war he finds himself thrust in. You’ll learn what the SPARTAN program is and how the war with the Covenant escalated. I know certain Halo fans dislike how the story conflicts with the plot of the game Halo: Reach, but I like both, and I take them on as separate entities in the same universe.

2. Halo: Cryptum by Greg Bear: This is the first book of The Forerunner Saga, and even though it’s a strange read, I adore it. The plot takes place millennia before the plot of the first game. It talks of the Forerunners, the ancient alien race that built the Halo rings and battled the Flood before Master Chief did. The book is written with a weird syntax which takes some getting used to, but after a while, I appreciated it. The Forerunners should speak and act differently from how a human would, and the book reflects that. A word of caution though: be prepared to interpret things freely as you read. And the best delight this book brought to me came from revelations that tied to the games. I would not recommend this book to a newcomer unless they are committed to reading more lore.

3. Halo: Glasslands by Karen Traviss: This is just a well-written book. Straight-up awesome writing. The Halo games have trouble translating the human nature of characters into the games (with a few exceptions), and this book excels at making these characters feel real. Traviss tells the story of a special ops group comprised of different members from different branches of the United Nations Space Command. They each have had different experiences in the Covenant War, and it shaped who they are and how they approach the situation they find themselves in.

4. Halo: Broken Circle by John Shirley: This book wowed me by making Prophets seem sympathetic. (Well, certain Prophets.) Any Halo fan can tell you that the Prophets are a race of aliens in the Covenant that only come across as religious fanatics or manipulative schemers in the games. The Prophets, or San’Shyuum as they call themselves, are not to be contained by such representations thanks to this book. It shows us what they were like before they became a political nightmare. It also gives a narrative for how the Covenant came together. (The Covenant being a group of different alien races that banded together to find the Halo rings and destroy humanity.)

5. Halo: Last Light by Troy Denning: I discovered Troy Denning waaaay too late. I have since been rectifying that, and several of his Halo books are on my to-read list. Last Light is my favorite so far. He gives us a closer look at the Spartan-IIIs, and he tells a close-knit story that is separate from the events of the games. It also helps that his main character, Veta Lopis, is an outsider to the UNSC. You get to experience her reactions to the Spartans as she sees what they can do for the first time.

Now, I love lore as much as the next person, but I do have problems when the games include too much of it. My favorite Halo games are the first one and Halo:Reach, and they both have a story that relies more on its setting than on plot points. It allows the player to draw conclusions on their own without shoving too much narrative down their throats.

Side note: I do like narrative-heavy video games. But Halo has never been about a heavy narrative, not in the in the original games at least. And I liked them that way.

Halo 5: Guardians handled its narrative all wrong. It made the mistake of trying to jam too much lore into every seam of the game. With so much lore dripping out of it, the actual story of the game lost its tightness. Plus, it made it so that only a person who had read every bit of lore could enjoy the game with a thorough understanding of the characters.

I believe future games should return to the story-telling habits of the first ones. Less can be more, show don’t tell, and, for the ever-loving love of god, GIVE US BACK COUCH CO-OP.

To come to a conclusion, I just want to say that the Halo universe is a rich one, oozing with science-fiction possibilities. If you want to get into it, don’t let the growing library of books supporting it daunt you. Pick one up and get ready for some excitement. (But seriously, at least start with The Fall of Reach.)