After rapturous reviews from mega-sites like IGN and Gamespot, others are responding to Halo 3 in rather more skeptical and, dare I say, clear-sighted ways. In particular, critics like Daniel Weissenberger at Gamecritics.com and Leigh Alexander at Destructoid cite the game's failure to deliver on its PR hype about Halo 3 as a significant cultural milestone.
Weissenberger: Halo 3's biggest flaw is that at it never rises to the level of epic storytelling or gameplay that the premise suggests, even demands. Although I was told time and again there was a war for humanity's fate going on, I certainly never saw any evidence of it. Great stakes are discussed, but never established. I'm supposed to be horrified that the Flood overrun a city, or that most of Africa needs to be bombed to prevent their spread, but since no one actually seems to live there, why should I care? No reference to civilian casualties, or even civilian existence, is ever made, so there's no tragedy in the "glassing" of Africa, just the mild satisfaction that comes from having survived it.
Alexander: Even if you're an enormous Halo fan, I think it's hard to argue with the perception that what with the advanced press, inflated reviews and hype, the game's enormously overrated. Perhaps if Halo 3 is going to serve as an ambassador to the uninitiated, I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth; maybe knowing that a broader section of society is playing a "hardcore game" should be good news to me...But what, exactly, about Halo 3 has "greater significance," makes it a "cultural milestone," besides the sheer size of its audience? This isn't a facetious or rhetorical question; I really want to know.
I discussed Microsoft's ad campaign for the game in my last podcast and described feeling intrigued but troubled. I asked for your reactions and received the following thoughtful response from Danny Fisher, Buddhist chaplain and FOBG (Friend of Brainy Gamer ;-)):
I watched the ads that you linked to at your blog. Like you, I'm struck that they're kinda brilliant as promotional work. Overall, though, I think they're repulsive--if I can be blunt about it. In the end, I guess the joke here is really on a style of documentary filmmaking. But, as I see it, that style is pretty closely associated with its subject matter: war, the veteran experience, and so on. Maybe there's a time to ape or mock those kinds of films, but is that really right now, when we're in the midst of an unpopular, unjust war waged under false pretenses that is killing thousands of Iraqi civilians and so many young Americans? I think not. It would be nice if we had the luxury of relegating war to the museum and being hip and ironic about films about veterans, but we really don't. War is happening RIGHT NOW. And it's not some glamorous, "Greatest Generation" thing. It's horrific. (Look no further than the wounded kids coming home that you mention in the podcast.) These ads smack of thoughtlessness and heartlessness--and I don't really think that's overstating it. It all makes me sad and angry. Has this Administration been so successful in keeping the effects of war out of sight that ads like this play without more outrage? Have we gotten so soft that we don't mind being manipulated into buying a video game this way?"
The more I reflect on those ads, the less I like them. But I'm thinking about them, see? See how that works? Damned if Microsoft doesn't win again. They always win.