Nadir – The Flood

Allow me to talk about games for a moment. Specifically Halo, and specifically why the Flood was the best in the Halo:CE.

Now initially I was going to try and write a longer thing about how everything to do with Halo story-wise was better in the first one but it got rambling and useless so instead let me focus entirely on the Flood; the biggest of the big enemies in the series as they are out to kill everyone and everything. Well, ‘kill’.

A wonderfully creepy enemy in theory the Flood is some kind of extra-galactic omni-parasite with an aim to consuming all life in the galaxy. A good concept; unreasoning, infinite in number and intent on thoroughly violating everything in your body in the process. Somthing no-one could sympathise with, and rightly so.

In the first game they appear suddenly and from nowhere and lead you on a panicked retreat through the facility you just worked your way deep into. Actually, the first time I saw them it took me a while to work out what they were (possessed bodies of elites and marines) but then I needed someone telling me that headcrab zombies were zombies, so maybe it’s just me. The level where they first appear is good as well; a slow burning, tension building level with surprisingly little fighting up until their appearences with lots of little touches designed to put you a little on edge. Very well done, if I do say so.

But yes, these snarling, clawing, leaping, shooting hyper-zombies of doom are a little on the intense side as there’s a lot of them, they’re fast, they’re tough, they shoot at you and they also thoroughly tear through all those nasty alien you’ve been being killed by this entire game. In short, a good relentlessly enemy. Then the Gravemind appeared in the second game.

Oh dear.

Again, this is a personal thing but it really did just add a voice and a face to an enemy that needed neither. The Flood don’t need a guiding intelligence to be scary, or if they do it doesn’t need to talk (and not in that weird rhythmic fashion that the Gravemind talks in!). Look at the ‘Hive Mind’ of the Tyranids, if you will, and see how just hinting at a nebulous, gestalt guiding force works just as well. It doesn’t need to interact with characters and in fact it’s far better if it doesn’t as then the enemy remains utterly different and therefore scarier. Having the gravemind yak on at you turns the flood from a terrifying, civilization destroying force to some guy with a deep voice sending his goons at you.

As a quick aside how rubbish were the Forerunners if they with the capability to construct whole ‘shield worlds’, rings that can kill everything in the galaxy (except the flood, somehow; probably a lore point I missed) and AI that scoffs at your armour by calling it sub-par were still killed off by the flood. I know the flood uses races technology and intelligene against them but seriously, Master Chief managed it by blowing something up. And his armour was only class two! Plus, why do sentinels suck so much? For machines made to contain and eliminate the flood they’re very bad at it. Grr, rage. I think this is just me venting my perenial greivance of “It’s hard to emphatise with allied characters if they’re rubbish”, best exemplified by the marines who I’d feel a lot more attached to IF THEY KILLED SOMETHING ONCE IN A WHILE. Grr, rage. Again.

But yes, the flood.

So where was I? Oh yes, in the first game an enemy with the briefest amount of explanation. Super parasite, yada yada, kill everything in the galaxy, blah blah blah, start the rings and the stop them. Huzzah! Sounds like a plan. So off you go through the Library and if you survive that without actually physically killing yourself then you find out the truth about the rings which is that they’re designed not to kill the flood but to starve them into dormancy by killing off the races they parasite on. A bit of stretch but go with it; it’s actually a pretty neat twist at the time, made all the better by 343 who I actually like in this game (which makes his ignominus transformation into ‘end boss’ in the third game all the more grating…).

So you finish the first game and the gravemind appears in the second one, as I said. It’s not that bad in the second; the flood loses a bit of its menace due to this big green geranium that talks to you about bollocks from time to time but it’s okay, they’re still quite scary. And hey! They take over that big Covenant city! Wow! Nasty stuff eh? Fine times.

Then the third game. Oh. Oh God. Oh God why.

By this point I really am venting but as a man who likes to write stories and who likes to read stories and who likes sci-fi what they did to a formerly scary thing is just painful to look at. The gravemind is still around but dear God this time is he a whiny, philosophical bitch. He’s forever going on about this and that and usually while taking control away from you. How Bungie thought that method of storytelling was good I will never know; probably the same way they thought anything the gravemind said in that game was deep and meaningful.

Gameplay-wise the flood is at it’s – nngghh – best in this game, but that doesn’t help much when they actually act as speakers for the gravemind to bitch at you. And the pure forms! Argh!

But yes, what’s my summation for this useless, insulting, subjctive rambling? The following; read it as my conclusion:

Enormous, planet and species consuming enemies are a staple of science fiction and with good reason; they present a great anatagonist for people to unite against and also form a magnificent enemy as they can be gleefully killed with no guilty feelings and also present a daunting task due to their infinite, ravenous nature. The flood did this very well before ‘purpose’ and ‘drive’ was forcefully shoved into their perfectly solid paradigm. Had they been left as an insaitiable, all-consuming parasite who could not be talked to in any way the game would have been better for it. I mentioned Tyranids and I mention them again; that’s a faceless, ever-hungry enemy I can run away from.

But then I don’t get paid millions of dollars to make smash-hit games, so I’m probably wrong.

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