I always approach pieces concerning anything Halo with some trepidation. My undying love for the franchise is no secret, even if more recently it has lost its way. It’s been a long time since a new game in the main strand has been released, and I crave the feelings of awe and wonder which the original trilogy brought to the party. Of course, we are mere weeks away from Halo: Infinite, which promises to bring the series back to its roots. And it is here where I’m excited to revisit in preparation for December 8th, when my prayers will hopefully be answered.
Right from the start, Halo: Combat Evolved had an important job to do. It was a launch title for Microsoft’s maiden voyage into the home console market, in the form of the Xbox. Despite a lengthy launch list of 19 games (which at first seemed impressive) once you casted aside the regular sports tie-ins and lesser known titles, there weren’t a lot of big hitters in the line-up. Halo: Combat Evolved was a first party IP, so the pressure was most certainly on. I think it’s safe to say, Bungie pulled it off.
You played as the Master Chief, a Spartan supersoldier who is woken from his statis sleep by the crew of the Pillar of Autumn, who are fleeing from the alien menace known as The Covenant. Captain Keyes partners you with the AI Cortana, as you both set off to prevent The Covenant from discovering Earth. The odds are almost impossibly stacked against humanity, but Halo: Combat Evolved is a story in which one man can make all the difference.
In terms of the narrative, its straight-forward, epic, big budget storytelling complimented the gameplay perfectly. It told a gripping story, which wasn’t too complex and left plenty of questions around the world of Halo both past and future by the time the game had ended. It was clear the series had a very bright future, and thankfully gamers agreed.
I must have played through Halo: Combat Evolved tens of times, and on every difficulty. It’s rare that a game for me has such replay value, especially an FPS. I can only think of Half-Life 2 being in the same arena in this sense. The speedy, fluid, first person action was an absolute revelation, populated with interesting and unique enemies. Who doesn’t remember being taunted by the “worts” and the laughter after being killed by an Elite?
The Covenant were an alliance of all sorts of creatures, from the feeble Grunts to the fearsome Elites that all behaved slightly differently. Of course, just past the halfway point you encountered The Flood, who swarm and resurrect both humans and The Covenant in gruesome fashion. There were numerous weapons available, and scavenging the battlefield for the right ones depending on the enemies you are facing was crucial, especially on the “Legendary” difficulty.
This meant a very subtle tactical assessment needed to be carried out before each battle by the player, because steaming straight in would often result in a hilarious, over the top, explosive death that would see you flying through the air. The ragdoll physics were the main reason why dying was so humorous. I have fond memories of the Master Chief almost swimming for miles through mid-air after being taken out by an explosion.
At certain points in Halo: Combat Evolved you get to take the wheel, and drive a number of vehicles (including the trusty Warthog) to cover more ground and give you an edge in some of the bigger battles. The final sequence is one of the most epic, exhilarating passages of play in any game and for me, perfectly illustrates what made Halo: Combat Evolved so special.
What also blew me away was the sheer diversity of the locations in each level, to the point where visiting the same place twice during the campaign was a distinctly different experience. The Halo ring was a beautiful but deadly environment to explore, ranging from sunny beaches to snow filled canyons.
Given the impact of Halo: Combat Evolved, it wasn’t surprising that it was in line for a remake, which was released 10 years later. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was headed by 343 Studios after Bungie’s departure, and did a great job of retaining the feel of the original whilst bringing it into the next generation. You could use the back button to instantly switch between the new and old graphics at any time, which was a really cool feature (especially at the time).
It can’t be understated how important Halo is to Microsoft and Xbox, in particular Halo: Combat Evolved which had the most difficult job of launching the franchise on a brand new console. It was nothing short of a masterpiece, and remains one of my favourite games of all time. What would be a perfect celebration for Xbox, is if Halo: Infinite can bring that magic back over 20 years later.
Let us know your Halo memories. The comments are below. And if you want to play the original right now, get to it through The Master Chief Collection from the Xbox Store.