Last night I gave the first three campaign missions in Halo 2 a whirl after having let my case catch dust for awhile. And I gotta admit, the differences I noticed kind of depressed me.
The thing that really struck me was that the Friendly Marines I picked up along the way during my battles were actually actively useful in fights, even on the heroic difficulty. Marines could frequently pull off head shots and put up a great enough volume of fire that a couple of them could help you bring an Elites shields down. Given a sniper or beam rifle, I could trust a Marine to occasionally take out an Elite every so often. I could even trust the Marines to be able to sucessfully drive a warthog around in combat as I either manned the gun or got into a highjacked Ghost. When I jumped onto the Scarab in the end of the Mombasa mission, I realized one reason I was able to fight the elites was because the Marines on the walk ways were distracting the Elites with long range BR fire.
At not point during the entire Halo Reach campaign did I think that entire Squads of Army troopers, or all of Noble Team were as useful to me in combat as 2-3 of those Halo 2 Marines were. In Reach you could never trust a member of Noble Team or a trooper to drive. It’d be suicidal. They might as well have gone back to Halo CE when the Marines weren’t programmed to drive a Warthog.
And combat dialogue the Marines in Halo 2 had. They’d say snappy, somewhat cheesy but at least memorable things in combat. They were responsive to things that happened around them in combat. Commenting when that jackal sniper got taken out, letting me know it was clear to move on. Making note of a head shot. Reacting very strongly to taking damage. Or when I exchanged a weapon with them. If I gave them a power weapon the Marines would be quite happy and visibly grin. If I gave them a weaker weapon they’d complain, forming an obvious frown. They’d have a wide range of different voices, allowing you to recognize different Marines just by listening to them in action.
This last bit might seem like a minor point, but one of the things that initially made me fall in love with Halo was the combat dialogue your allies shared with you. It was interesting and was so relevant to the situation that listening to it actually might be advantageous in combat. The Troopers and Noble Team talked, yes…but I can’t remember any kind of memorable thing they ever said. Nor could I really tell the difference between any of them in combat by listening to them.
Certainly nothing like that one Marine I was hiding behind a barricade with as we were pinned down by a swarm of Covenant space bugs armed with death rays. He looked over to me, a 7 foot armored cyborg and philosophically noted “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore”.
I’m not trying to be super nostalgic here, but as much as Halo 2 didn’t completley meet many of it’s promises, the stuff that it did do right it did phenomenally well. If there was anything I’d personally be looking for in Halo 4, it’d be that kind of verisimilitude and closeness that you shared with your AI allies in Halo 2. I don’t want a cast of half a dozen named NPC’s with melodramatic cinematics telling me they’re my trusted battle brothers and sisters, only for them to be nothing more than uncharacterized bullet sponges ingame.