I was already pretty into achievements by the time it got around to Halo 3. I'd be the annoying friend that needed to recover their gamertag before playing split-screen on your console, rather than miss out on the occasional 10G. Do you remember how frustrating it was to watch somebody actually do that? Slowly typing their awful my-first-password as you waited to crack on with some Left 4 Dead. Yeah, that was me. Sorry. I'm different now.
But I don't think I ever cared more about achievements than I did with Halo 3. You see, upon reaching 1000G, you'd unlock a katana to wear on your back whilst playing the game's wonderful multiplayer, and for some reason, this mattered a great deal to me. The katana didn't offer any sort of gameplay advantage; you couldn't even unsheathe the damn thing, let alone try to decapitate a Spartan with it. No, it was just there to show off. The perfect metaphor for video game achievements, now that I think about it.
Now, Peter Jackson's King Kong this absolutely was not. My hunt for a katana would prove time-consuming. In the end I must have played through the game's campaign at least three times. The first of which I did for fun, playing on the normal difficulty and enjoying the combat, the music, and even, occasionally, the storyline. Any achievements I nabbed here were just a pleasant surprise. Round two saw me come back having done a little more homework and was all about tracking down hidden skulls and terminals. But playthrough #3, that was the tricky one. I was after two different sets of achievements this time around, one for completing the campaign on legendary difficulty and one for hitting certain targets in the game's score attack mode. I'd already had my fill of Halo campaigns by this stage, and man, that felt like a real grind.
Looking back at the list of campaign achievements, they look a little uninspired. Rewarding players for spending time in your game just isn't as fun as rewarding them for doing cool stuff. Now the multiplayer challenges, thankfully, they were much better. With the occasional exception, most required you to be playing in the Lone Wolves (ranked free-for-all) playlist, which probably wouldn't have been something I'd have been all that interested in playing. This was done largely to prevent people like me from ruining the various team modes, I'm sure, but it also highlights something else that achievements can offer. They can provide encouragement for players to step out of their comfort zone and try some of the more unfamiliar aspects of a game. And you know what? I absolutely loved Lone Wolves. It worked.
Most of the achievements I needed came naturally from this point onwards, as I got a better feel for playing solo. It wasn't too long before I realised the importance of Halo 3's battle rifle and why headshots might be a good idea, and before you know it, there's that lovely Achievement Unlocked sound and 'Headshot Honcho' is crossed off the list. A decent run of kills with the needler and 'Fear the Pink Mist' is sorted. Soon, just four achievements stood between me and that all-important katana.
Two of them really just came down to luck. You've got to remember that these achievements needed to be accomplished in a six-person free-for-all. This means that, for example, lining up a double kill with a single shot from your Spartan Laser requires lots of different things to go your way. First of all, most players are going to be rushing for the power weapons from the get go, so you need to try to get there first and fend off the competition. Then, you've got to find a spot to use said Spartan Laser without alerting everyone to your location (it's not the most subtle of weapons). And finally, you need two players to position themselves in such a way that you can kill both of them, before they kill each other. It's luck. It's pure luck.
But perhaps even worse than that was 'Mongoose Mowdown', which asks you to run down an opponent whilst riding one of those pathetic quad bikes. Sure, they can be useful in a team game like Capture the Flag, but in a free-for-all they're pretty much a death sentence. Not only does driving one of these prevent you from using any sort of weaponry, but hitting someone (even at full speed) is unlikely to kill them outright. This means you need to find someone that's already injured and for some reason unaware of what sounds like a giant wasp racing towards them. I can't remember how I managed this one, but I imagine the whole thing was a bit embarrassing for everyone involved.
No other platform has nailed the feeling of achievements like Xbox 360 and, for my money, no game has managed it quite like Halo 3
I do, however, remember the final two achievements on the list: 'Overkill' and 'Steppin' Razor'. In what would be my finest moment playing Halo 3, I found myself in a swords-only match-up of Lone Wolves, four kills away from winning the game. I'd just been downed and saw that another player was already on 24 points, meaning just one more kill would see them take the prize instead. I respawned in what I can only now describe as a trancelike state and rushed forwards towards the centre of the map. The first kill didn't see me coming, as I leapt into the fray, slashing my energy sword across their back. The second just wasn't quick enough, but the third attacked just as I did, resulting in a clash of swords that saw both of us take a step back, unharmed. But I had tasted victory now and found that I had a hunger for it. My follow-up was a fraction of a second quicker and now there was just one kill left between me and the prize.
That's when I saw them: the other player on 24 kills. Perhaps having witnessed the carnage I'd just created, they didn't put up much of a fight and dropped to the floor like all the rest. And that was that! The game ended, I took first place, and the last of the achievements fell into place. Overkill requires that you kill four enemies within four seconds of each other and Steppin' Razor needs a triple kill with an energy sword. I'm not ashamed to admit that I stood up and cheered at this point, letting out the kind of victorious roar most people save for their football team winning the Champions League.
And so it turned out the katana wasn't just my prize for spending enough time playing the game, it was a celebration of that glorious moment. No other platform has yet managed to nail the feeling of achievements like the Xbox 360 and, for my money, no game has managed it quite like Halo 3.
(It doesn't even really matter that a Spartan wouldn't have much use for a traditional samurai blade, given that they can, as we've already pointed out, use alien swords made out of ACTUAL ENERGY.)