Holy crap. Halo. The original Halo.
It's time to talk about it.
The Halo franchise had a massive impact on me and I've talked about it a lot. So why not one more time? I doubt any of the other times I've tried to talk about it any 'official' capacity can be found anywhere on the internet anymore. As usual, this won't be a review, since I don't really know how to write reviews, nor do I really want to. This will just be my perspective on the game and what my thoughts on it were back then and nowadays.
The very first time I encountered Halo in any form, I was at my friend's house. He was definitely more well off than I was, so he had an Xbox and a lot of the latest titles. I found this case that said HALO on it, and I though it looked pretty cool. When I suggested playing it, he said, "Nah, let's play Timesplitters 2, it's like a lot better." Yes, this actually happened. I was THAT close to playing Halo. I suppose, in retrospect, it was a lot better that it didn't happen because then I'd have had a taste of Halo and been forced to wait YEARS before I got my hands on it.
Still...fucking Timesplitters 2. It was boring.
The very first time I saw Halo gameplay was probably in late 2001 or early 2002. I don't know for sure. The only thing I know is that I was walking by a GameStop in a mall somewhere, someday, and I stopped in front of their glass-fronted walls, staring at a big TV on the other side with an Xbox hooked up to it and a Halo: Combat Evolved demo running on it. What was on the screen was the Silent Cartographer, the beach battle in the beginning.
It looked fucking amazing.
But me owning an Xbox? It was a fantasy at the time.
Fast-forward to December 2003. It was my sophomore year and Christmas Vacation was right around the corner. Almost three weeks of no school. The day before we got out, however, the school pretty much said, "We're gonna have a fuck off day! Do whatever you want!" I have no idea how this happened, let alone how these kids managed to bring in two Xbox consoles, eight controllers, and two copies of Halo, then system link them up to two school TVs.
But it happened.
I managed to come in and play exactly one ten minute slayer match in Blood Gulch. And nothing was ever the same after that. I knew, right away, that I needed to have Halo. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait too long.
February 2004 rolled around. My mom bought me an Xbox and a copy of Halo as a late Christmas present. I played the fuck out of it and within weeks I was off and writing Halo fan fiction. I wrote a story about a Marine trying to survive the horrors of Halo and it made a lot of people happy.
One of the my clearest memories is starting up the game and, after the logos in the beginning, seeing that initial menu screen. And hearing that chanting. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I knew that this was going to be something different. This was going to be something special.
This was going to be an EVENT.
I spent a lot of time playing the hell out of that game. Multiplayer wasn't even a thing for me, though. Not for a long time. Not just because there was no online capability at the time but also because I didn't know anyone else with an Xbox. However, the split-screen co-op capabilities meant that me and my friends, could play the shit out of the campaign.
Let's talk briefly about the plot, in case there's anyone out there who has not played Halo, but for some reason is wanting to read this Game Talk.
In Halo, you take on the role of the Master Chief, aka Spartan-117. A walking tank, a living legend, a genetically and cybernetically modified seven foot super soldier encased in a suit of state-of-the-art armor. In the far future of 2552, humanity is at war with the Covenant: a collection of alien races united by their fanatical worship of ancient technology left behind by the mysterious, long-vanished Forerunners, and their convictions that humans are basically the worst thing ever and they've gotta go. After thirty five years of brutal assault by a technological superior race, humanity is starting to look down the barrel of extinction.
Everything changes when a ship, the Pillar of Autumn, makes a blind jump into slipspace while fleeing the destruction of one of humanity's last bastions of hope, a planet named Reach. They arrive at a mysterious artifact, a giant ringworld, floating in a previously unexplored region of space. Forced to land on it after encountering significant Covenant presence, the Master Chief, at the time believed to be the last living Spartan, leads the remaining forces from the Pillar of Autumn in a bid for control of the ringworld, known to the Covenant who worship it as Halo.
But they soon discover that Halo, though beautiful and wondrous in its grand design and high-tech veneer, hides a dark secret that could threaten all life in the galaxy.
And that's what Halo's about.
There's mainly a lot of shooting and running around, and sometimes some driving. But it's really good shooting and driving.
Halo was a landmark game that shifted the face of the industry as a whole for a few different reasons, but the primary reason was gameplay. It revolutionized the first person shooter like DOOM, GoldenEye, and Half-Life before it. It implemented a new system of being able to hold only two weapons at a time, making you choose your arsenal carefully. It had amazing and very tight shooting mechanics, with all sorts of neat tricks woven in to make it feel ridiculously satisfying. The control was pretty much perfect.
There was a quote from one of the original team members that made Halo, Jaime Griesemer, that pretty much summed it up: "In Halo 1, there was maybe 30 seconds of fun that happened over and over and over and over again. And so, if you can get 30 seconds of fun, you can pretty much stretch that out to be an entire game."
And then there's the aesthetics, both visual and audio.
Halo is a colorful game, and it is a better game because of it. The bright environments and enemies really helped give it a strong aesthetic. And the music, holy fuck, it's amazing. Here's a couple of tracks that help emphasize what I mean when I say that.
Really, the whole soundtrack is pretty great. And these facts remain fairly true throughout the entirety of Halo's original run under Bungie's flag.
Another thing I want to touch on is the lore and background, and how the games handle it. The Halo games, for the most part, are able to be enjoyed whether you want to go digging for more information on the universe, or you don't give a crap and just want to play through the campaign. The basic plot of Halo is simple but well-executed, and it's done in such a way that you can go looking for information on the Covenant, the Forerunners, the Flood, there's all sorts of extra stuff out there, but it isn't required for you to enjoy the campaigns.
Something 343i absolutely failed to understand when the flagship franchise got passed over to their inept, grasping hands.
There's so many other things about the game that make it so strong. One of the things I absolutely loved about Halo is how often they reference Aliens. From the extremely obvious Sergeant Johnson, who is clearly a homage to Sergeant Apone, to the basic shape of the Pillar of Autumn to the dropship pilots. It was all so awesome. Probably the greatest one for me personally was this:
In case it's too crappy quality to read, the third from the left sign reads LOST: CALICO CAT ANSWERS TO: JONESY. The only survivor of the original Alien film besides Ripley.
Another thing that totally blew me away was the Flood. I had no idea it was coming, and that was probably the best part of the game. The build-up was great: the mystery, the Covenant fleeing from unknown combatants, the glimpses of something totally different in the mist around you, the grizzly remains and the obvious clues that something had gone very, very wrong. In a way, it was kind of like Predator. The movie starts out like this badass action movie. Arnold and the guys are mowing down the bad guys, shooting the place up, having a laugh and delivering one-liners...and then, holy shit, they're getting picked off one by one by an unseen foe like they're nothing. An alien creature with far advanced technology that hunts man. I love the idea of the genre twist.
I also loved the non-traditional ending. Pretty much every game I'd ever played up to that point ended in a boss battle. Halo ended in a long, desperate drive while everything around you exploded. It was so intense and so well crafted.
Then, of course, there's the level design. It's beautiful. I personally loved the immense outdoors atmosphere. It was something that I've felt only Halo 3 has appropriately recaptured. None of the other games managed to get that feel.
What else is there to say about Halo? It's all been said before, a million times over. The visual aesthetic is brilliant, the soundtrack is breathtaking, and the gameplay raised the bar and set the standard for a new era of First Person Shooters.
What Halo did for me personally was probably serve as a massive stepping stone on my way to writing novels. I wrote more fan fiction for Halo than any other IP, by far.
As for how it stands up today? It's still pretty awesome. I mean, I've played the game into oblivion, so I can't really play it for fun anymore, I'm far too familiar with it. But it's aged extremely well. It still looks and handles great. I mean, I still have an original Xbox and a copy of Halo for it.
Halo: Combat Evolved was awesome. If you haven't played it but you like First Person Shooters...that's kind of impressive. And depressing. Go play it!