9th of April, 2021
Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: Halo, traffic lights, and more Halo.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What we've been playing, here's our archive.
Halo Reach, Xbox Series X
Some games are better on the big screen. And I mean the proper big screen. I used to be a projectionist, back when that was still a thing, and for a while after every Saturday shift I'd take over the main screen, plumb in an Xbox 360 and have some friends around for an all-nighter. You haven't really played Rockstar's Table Tennis until you've done it with a 20-foot tall Liu Ping, really.
Playing games at near-IMAX proportions was a thrill, and there was always one game that made the leap to the big screen more capably than the rest. We toss around the word cinematic an awful lot in these parts, but Halo's a series that really deserves the term - playing through Halo 3 in a 200-seater screen is proof of that, its impossible vistas and fizzing clouds of purple laser fire popping like a sci-fi spectacular. It's where a series of that scope and vision belongs.
I've no longer got the keys to the cinema, sadly, but thanks to some building work that's going on at the moment our sofa's pressed up against the television, my knees almost touching the 55-inch screen. The proper IMAX experience, if you will. It was as good an excuse to play through a Halo campaign the past weekend, though, and it was Reach that did the honours - a more muted Halo, sure, but one with a vision just as grand as anything that went before or came after. It's an incredible thing. Now I'm just hoping someone's kind enough to lend me a cinema screen for when Infinite comes out later this year.
Urban Flow, Switch
Anyone who's spent a proper amount of time with Mini Motorways will understand the deep mystery presented by traffic lights. They seem so filled with promise, and yet they don't seem to really do anything when deployed. Mini Motorways is a game about constructing roads in which the traffic lights are, at best, a bit zen, a bit homeopathic. Urban Flow, meanwhile, is a game in which the roads have all been constructed for you, and the traffic lines mean business.
This is a game about dealing with the steady onrush of traffic and making sure everyone gets where they're going without accidents. You'll have an intersection of some kind and a bunch of lights, each hooked up to a specific button. You press the buttons to change the lights from green to red. Keep traffic on red too long, though, and the drivers might get impatient.
I can play this game for many, many hours at a time, lost in some kind of asphalt otherland, sweeping traffic along, almost willing it through the gates to safety. The music is elevator jazz and the colours are all sunset and chrome. A tooltip might read "Sometimes it's best to do nothing."
This is why I don't drive - because the whole thing lulls me into a warm state of reverie. In Urban Flow, which should be nail-biting, I can zone out safely. What a lovely game.
Halo 5: Guardians, Xbox Series X
I'm not sure what caused the Halo serendipity this week but for me, I've been playing Halo 5 because I had a week off, and a Series X with very full storage, and Halo 5 just happens to take up the most space on it.
Playing it does, unfortunately, maintain that sense of steadfast duty over proper fun: I am playing Halo 5 in order to finish playing Halo 5. It's good, in its own way - actually probably very good, compared to a lot of other shooters like it, and probably more good than we collectively remember, too. But, alas, it is not Halo good. Post-Bungie Halo remains a playable existential crisis. The standard Assault Rifle feels amazing, which is wrong - the point of this gun is that it feels like tickling enemies with a feather, you're supposed to want to swap it out for something alien and weird. Halo 5's is like a cannon. The things that are alien and weird don't feel very alien or weird - mostly they feel like metal, which we humans have enough of to shoot with, and which feels naff to shoot at.
But still, it's Halo. The multiplayer is ace, ultra-fluid and in places smart in the old ways: minimal visual noise by choice now, rather than early-00s technical constraint, which is a sign that 343 really does get it. We are getting there, with new Halo, and I will finish Halo 5.