Retro Saturday Episode 5 :: Halo Combat Evovled

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Steve Curren in his review for EDGE called HALO, “The most important launch game on any console EVER. Gamespot review concluded that “Not only is this easily the best of the Xbox launch games, but it’s easily one of the best shooters ever, on any platform.”. IGN called it, “Can’t-miss, no-brainer, sure thing, five stars, triple-A game.”

The Xbox Killer app, the game that created the now infamous “Bro-Culture”, the game that has influenced more games this century than any other I know. A game so big and good, that people created Clones and franchise killer. Halo was all this and more.

 

Fighting The Flood for the first time

As is popular knowledge, HALO was initially planned as a third person shooter developed independently by Bungie, for both the MAC and PC. In fact, the game was first shown publicly by Apple at their MacWorld Expo 1999. Bungie was coming off the success of Myth and Oni. They were in the news and in talks with Activision as well. But Microsoft swooped in, and when they did, everyone and their grandmother boarded the HALO hype train. HALO became an FPS. It became an Xbox exclusive (in time, however, it will find its way to almost every platform imaginable). In hindsight, there was some extreme pressure on Bungie and Microsoft.  If HALO had been anything but excellent, Bungie was in danger of being called a sell-out, and Microsoft for being called an evil conglomerate.

The game in its most vanilla form was released on the 15th of November 2001. The same date as the original Xbox. On its release Halo broke sales records; by April 8, 2002, a little under five months after its release, one million units had been sold: this pace was faster than that of any previous sixth-generation console game. During the two months following Halo‘s release, the game sold alongside more than fifty percent of Xbox consoles. By July 14, 2003, the game had sold three million copies worldwide, and by January 28, 2004, it had reached four million copies.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, Microsoft realized that HALO just couldn’t be confined to a single platform. The game was ported to Mac OS X and the PC (which is where I played it) in 2003. While it was not unusual in India, to play games way past their releases, I have to admit I got on the HALO bandwagon way later than most would think. From the time I was in high school to the time I joined college, my go-to game was CS Condition Zero. I played it for the majority of my free-time, and getting good at it was sole goal for a better part of 3 years.

I picked up HALO during my first college break as a vacation from the intense scene of CS. I have no memory of how I got the actual game but I do remember finding the installation file in the downloads folder of my old computer. I had recently bought a new cutting edge15 inch Flat screen monitor and a Razer Goliath Mousepad. So I thought to myself, Meh, and installed the game.

For the next month or so, I spent roughly 2 hours each day (I used to ration myself even in those days) playing HALO on the hardest difficulty. Keep in mind back in 2000, even normal was pretty tough, but I had time and a lot of rage quits on my hand, so I took up the challenge, and I didn’t know it back then, I had now completed the trifecta of shooters, Doom, Max Payne and now HALO.

Say HALO to epic

I do not think anyone does visual scale better than Bungie. Apart from their on point shooting mechanics, its the realization of the scale which is their biggest calling card. None of this is more apparent when you are playing HALO.

I mean saving the world is a common trope in video games. You are the only one who can stop the impending apocalypse. You are the universe’s only hope. Up until that point, however, most of this was communicated to you by text, or if the devs had money some dialogues. The rest of the game had you walking through endless and lonely corridors.

Bungie, on the other hand, painted vistas and horizon which swooped in from every direction. Through the majority of the game, the titular HALO is visible every time you look up, or each time you go long scope looking at the end of the visual horizon. You are not only told that you are on a different planet, it looks as if you are on a different planet.

HALO, also had one of the most legendary soundtracks that I remember. In fact, I can almost hear those trumpets in my mind as I write this article going, “Buh buh buhaaaa…Buh Buh buhaaaa”. It just made the entire game feel grander and for the nth time more epic than I had ever experienced. I mean until then I had spent most of my time either saving hostages or blowing up abandoned towns, now here I was with the weight of humankind in my hands. I wasn’t blown away (because I was a teenager now) but I was surely impressed.

Of course, it was not all about the delivery of the content. Every good game is a good game because it plays well, and dear god did HALO play well. Ability to throw grenades while still having your weapon equipped. Having a regen shield over a non-regen health bar. Ability to melee with any weapon that you have equipped. The restriction of juggling between just 2 guns. All of these now popular mechanics were first seen in HALO. And when you did play the game for the first time, it was like why didn’t they think of this earlier.

It made run and gun much easier, it made combat much faster and it made the game way more fun. It was funny when those small squishy things ran berserk when I killed their leader. It was less funny when someone I had attacked with a sticky grenade ran into me and killed me along with him. But it was always fun. HALO was always fun.

But in my honest opinion, if I was not supposed to write a 2000 words ode to the first chapter, if I was asked by a colleague over lunch, or by a fellow passenger in train on why I loved HALO so much, I would (like most others I know) answer with 2 words which ironically mean the same thing.

Master among Chiefs

Bungie concept artist Eddie Smith described Master Chief as “pretty much the consummate professional. He does his job, walks off, doesn’t even get the girl, he’s that cool he doesn’t need her.”

Unlike most heroes popular in video games. Master Chief fights the good fight silently. He doesn’t have a brooding nature, doesn’t suffer from hallucinations, isn’t an arrogant wise-ass and most importantly he does not have anger issues. He is like Captain America, thrown into space. He is not the hero, who gamers could relate to or want to relate to. He is the person you look up to, the person you want to be.

That’s why him being silent and masked makes so much sense. When you play as Batman, or Deadpool you want them to speak, you want them to do Batman/Deadpool things so they become more believable, but when it comes to Master Chief you want him to be quiet, so you can place your head inside his head. His face is always hidden behind a visor. He rarely speaks (never in player controlled gameplay). Everything that you think, Master Chief thinks, however you respond, Master Chief does the same. There is no conflict between words and action. You are Master Chief, Master Chief is you.

Putting a Ring On it 18 years later

Trying to play Halo, Combat Evolved is pretty easy these days. The game is available on almost any Microsoft platform you could think of, and it’s also available on MAC. Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary edition is the one you are looking for if you are only looking to try out the first game, but if you have never ever tried a HALO game before (probably because of this anti-popular stuff that kids are into…I don’t know), picking up the Halo: The Master Chief Collection available on Xbox One is the one you should pick up. A complete walk in the shoes of the chief,F

BEST SPACE OPERA EVER

Halo Combat Evolved like all the other influential games of their time, was inspirational to many others after it. Call Of Duty, Medal Of Honor, Battlefront even Destiny borrow heavily from the escapades of the Master Chief. Irrespective of where you fall on the FPS opinion bandwagon, there is no denying that Halo and Master Chief are an important part of my and YOUR gaming history.

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