Picture this. It’s 2001, The PlayStation 2 has been storming the market for a full year now and Nintendo is rapidly approaching the release of their new console, the competition is fierce with Sony and Nintendo set to battle out the generation to see who comes out on top but then a company by the name of Microsoft takes the stage and announces that they’re going to try their hand at game consoles. Microsoft gave all the info about the technical specs and how this console will be set to change the landscape of gaming, but the people only had one question, “why should I buy this?” Microsoft had only 1 answer. Halo
It may seem old hat to some of the younger readers but when Halo Combat Evolved was announced the world hadn’t seen a game with this kind of scope, of course Halo CE went on to shape the way 1st person shooters would be made for years and today we’ll be looking at the legacy as a whole to see if Halo is still the franchise it was back in the day and answer the question of ‘is Halo still a must have game today?’
A quick disclaimer, I won’t be covering any of the mobile spin off titles as I’ve never played them, I’ll only be covering main console releases.
Halo: Combat Evolved
As I’ve already stated Halo: CE changed the way 1st person shooters were made when it released with the Xbox back in 2001, console players had yet so see a 1st person shooter tackle this kind of scope with large open ended levels, reactive and colourful AI enemies and allies and Halo also introduced the still prevalent system of only having up to 2 weapons at a time, while this system is now standard at the time it open up a wide range of tactical options never seen before where games used to let you carry every weapon at one time Doom style.
While I was around and gaming in 2001 I would have been about 5 or 6 years old at the time so my personal memory of Halo CE is a bit blurred but I remember that this game stuck with me all the way through my adult life as Halo is one of my favourite franchises. Most of my solid memories of Halo CE are recent with the likes of the Halo Master Chief Collection and playing the backwards compatible version on the Xbox 360. I’ll go into detail about the MC collection later in this article.
All in all, even today Halo CE is a masterclass of innovative design and that Bungie gameplay that the studio is now famous for, no one does 1st person shooting like Bungie and they are the reason why Halo became the cultural mainstay it was and has been for the past 18 years.
Another game that shook the foundation of console gaming for both the right and wrong reasons was Halo 2, if you’re not already aware of the controversy that surrounded this title coming up to release there was a gameplay trailer that showed off a massive city scape with huge scarab tanks and multiple layers and verticality which would rival modern games today in its scope but unfortunately at the time it wasn’t possible to pull of something of this scope and thus on release fans were shocked to find this level being nowhere to be seen.
Naturally people were outraged but that outrage seemed to disappear as they played the game to find an enjoyable experience that once again challenged the scope and size of 1st person shooters and players largely forgot the controversial trailer but that outrage was replaced by another outrage when players go to the end of the campaign and they were left with Master Chief saying “finishing the fight” and that infamous cliff-hanger ending. While this is not much of a problem these days with the like of Call of Duty and Assassins Creed being released every year but back then you had to wait between 3 to 4 years for the next title in a franchise because developers used to care.
You’re probably thinking then “why is Halo 2 remembered so fondly today?” well I’ll tell you, it’s because Halo 2 basically created console multiplayer. Halo 2 was one of, if not the first games to feature a full-fledged online multiplayer suite on consoles. Without Halo 2 multiplayer games like Call of Duty, Battlefield or any other console multiplayer game may not be around or at least not as we know them, it’s safe to assume that developers would have reached it sooner or later but Halo 2 was a pioneer in this field and it was bloody glorious, I still have fond memories of the multiplayer to this day and I’ll never forget the day back in 2010, a full 6 years after Halo 2 came out, where me and hundreds of Xbox players logged onto the original Xbox and played Halo 2 until the old Xbox Live servers were shut off, like CE, Halo 2 was a cultural landmark for gaming and seeing so many people log on to see it off was such a surreal experience that I’ll never forget.
What can be said about Halo 3 that everyone doesn’t know already? Released for the Xbox 360 back in 2007, Halo 3 set the world on fire. It was the next gen experience the world was waiting for and I would confidently state that Halo 3 is the reason why the technologically inferior Xbox 360 beat out the PS3 in regards of consoles sold. Everyone I knew who didn’t have a 360 before Halo 3 came out got one to play it, everything was in place, the marketing was on point, everyone was ready to finish the fight and Multiplayer had come a long way in the relatively short time it had been implemented and even though the hype was astronomical for this title it still managed to pass those expectations and come back around just to show off.
Halo 3 ran like butter and at the time it was the best-looking game on consoles. People had been waiting 3 years to finish the fight and by god was it a glorious end. You don’t really see games like Halo 3 anymore, the closest I can compare with regards to a great story and an even better multiplayer suite on the current gen would be Titanfall 2. I’ll be honest, when I was younger, I was always disappointed how you’re no longer fighting Elites but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate the way the Brutes change up the gameplay with how they go berserk when their shields go down.
Like the previous games in the series Halo 3 brought something innovative and new to the table and for Halo 3 it was the forge and custom game modes that players could use to create content for personal use but as the game grew and players got more and more creative Bungie started implementing the player created content into the multiplayer matchmaking and breathed new life into the game. Halo 3 is probably the favourite of most Halo fans and it still stands the test of time after all these years.
Halo Wars is considered the redheaded step child of the franchise because it was a strange shift for the series, Halo had established itself as the king of 1st person shooters and while everyone thinks of CoD or battlefield these days as the top it wasn’t too long ago that these franchises were considered the followers while Halo was the trend setter. It was strange at the time to hear that the newest Halo game was going to be a real time strategy game in the same vein of Command and Conquer.
To consider Halo Wars divisive would be a bit of an understatement, helmed by 343 Studios (you should be familiar with them by now) rather than Bungie a few people decided to write off Halo Wars before it even saw the light of day where as other people, such as myself, just watched and waited with an interested look in our eyes.
It was an uphill battle from the start as the RTS genre was mostly relegated to the realms of PC gaming mostly because the inputs required to play these games properly needed more inputs then there were available on a controller, some games have attempted to find ways to get this system to work in the past and ultimately failed such as Stormrise and Tom Clancy’s EndWar. As far as I’m aware Halo Wars is the only RTS game to work on consoles besides Xcom. Side not if you haven’t played Xcom or Xcom 2 I’d sternly advise you give them a go.
While not a bad game by any stretch it still had its problems, there were frame rate issues when there was too much happening on screen and a lot of the multiplayer matches boiled down to who could Warthog rush quicker but other than that I would say that Halo Wars was a solid effort that occasionally stumbled but often managed to find its feet again.
Halo 3 ODST
I’m going to play my hand a little early with the one, while considered the black sheep of the 1st person Halo games it’s definitely one of my favourites. ODST started life as a DLC for 3 but as development went on it turned into its own game and was later released as its own stand alone title, there were a lot of complaints regarding the fact that it was a full priced game and to be fair they’re not entirely wrong because while I love this game you can’t deny that the relatively shorter story and lack of competitive multiplayer didn’t do this title any favours but where ODST absolutely nails it is in its setting. My tiny mind was blown when I saw one of the prettiest games ever the first time, I played ODST, the city of New Mombasa at night was so quiet and haunting and playing alone was almost a scary experience, no longer were you the hero of legend Master Chief or even a spartan, you were a tiny and pathetic human and while the engine was the same this changed the way the game played entirely. Bungie did everything they could to make it feel like you weren’t a Spartan and this new sense of vulnerability really added to the idea that you are trapped behind enemy lines forced to fight to escape this now haunted city.
With regards to the multiplayer side of things ODST didn’t have the traditional PvP gameplay from other Halo game but it did include a PvE mode called Firefight which basically boils down to, you and up to 4 players are put into a map and are called upon to defeat waves of enemies until you die with each round progressively getting harder. While not being innovative seeing as Gears of War 2 had a horde mode similar to this but it is a nice addition to the halo series for players who aren’t into the competitive scene and personally every iteration of Firefight after ODST didn’t really have the same feel to it.
Hands down the best Halo game to date and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees. All jokes aside Halo Reach is Bungie’s swansong for the Halo series, this was a title that was set to redefine the way Halo was played, Invasion brought a new scope to multiplayer and the story was one of the most hard hitting of the titles in the series and that ending, oh god that ending. I’ll contain my gushing for a moment to tell you how I personally feel that Halo Reach is a masterpiece.
The story of Reach focuses on a group of Spartan IIIs known as Noble team who are on the titular planet when the Covenant attack and as the game proceeds the tone goes from gun ho balls to the wall action to a deep sombre depression as you slowly realise that you are on a doomed planet destined to die but it’s only a question of how much you are willing to make the enemy work for it. Those who have read the book will be familiar with the premise of Reach and while the story does differ from the book it has the same tone to it. Reach is also a beautiful looking game even to this date with the planet having different biomes each with their own visual style and certain missions really show you the scale of the planet of Reach especially with the one that has you flying a falcon from building to building saving everyone you can all the while the city gets levelled more and more by the covenant leaving only a few buildings by the end of the mission, it’s awe inspiring.
Another major component of Reach that had a massive overhaul was the forge mode which was more extensive then it had ever been before and allowed for a more customisable experience and while the base maps were all brilliant, the sheer amount of player created content was mind blowing, I played Halo Reach since day 1 until the release of the next gen consoles which would be the longest I’ve ever spent with a game and the pc release is a dream come true for me, despite my lack of skill on a PC as I’m new to the platform I can still pop a jackals head from behind his shield like the pro I am. Until I hop onto multiplayer and realise I’m still a scrub.
We’re now entering the most divisive time in Halo’s existence, Bungie had moved on to do an unnamed project, later found out to be Destiny, and 343 who made Halo Wars has now been called upon to create the next generation of Halo titles. While not a bad effort there was something not very Halo about Halo 4. Where in previous titles Halo was the trend setter Halo 4 seemed to be the trend follower with multiplayer tacking on kill streaks and an overall lack of modes with some fan favourite modes being added at a later date such as infection.
The story of 4 was rather intriguing and tried to make Master Chief feel more human and while it wasn’t a bad effort it often took on this cheesy B movie vibe and by the end of the game the sound of Cortana’s voice actually made me angry because I was sick to death of hearing it. There are several points in the story that are really good such as the final mission which was honestly inspiring in a lot of ways but at the very same time it was tone deaf. I think the best way to describe Halo 4 is to say that it’s inconsistent. A very good effort for a new studio taking on a pre-established franchise and all in all my feelings towards 4 are mostly positive so I would consider that a win for 343.
If 343 were able to go back and do it again I would recommend not using Master Chief as his story was over after 3 and bringing him back just didn’t do anything for the series and only made the comparison between the previous entries less favourable, similar to the recent Star Wars films Halo has an entire galaxy to mess around with and keeping the scope of the story and the characters within the shadow of the previous entries just doesn’t keep the Halo franchise interesting enough.
Halo The Master Chief Collection
Oh man what a shit show this was. The MC Collection was basically a guarantee for success and there was no possible way it could go wrong, in an ideal world the Master Chief Collection would have been great, all the Halo games barring Halo Wars in one place where you can play each games story and multiplayer and I’m going to be honest, I picked up an Xbox One just to play it but I like many other people I discovered that the collection was just flat out broken.
The issues were mostly contained to the online portion of the collection and I personally didn’t encounter many of the reported single player bugs except for falling through the map on Halo 2 which on legendary was not fun, however, the multiplayer bugs were universal, some of the issues saw damage not being registered in the Halo CE and 2 multiplayer matches, terrible connection issues in game and a myriad of glitches that made a good portion of matches unplayable, the list goes on. All that is assuming that you could even get into a game in the first place as the matchmaking was flat out broken, all in all the MC Collection was a disaster and while it is mostly fixed it is a classic case of too late and if they hadn’t announced a PC release I honestly doubt anyone would even still be paying attention to the collection over playing the original games using backwards compatibility.
As a Halo fan the MC Collection hurt because it’s the ideal way to play Halo and it’s a shame that it took almost 4 years to fix.
To date Halo 5 has to be the marmite of the Halo franchise, it’s either seen as the best or the worst out of the series and I’m going to have to go for the latter. I hate Halo 5 with a passion for the completely bollocks campaign, the misleading marketing and the gameplay that is suspiciously similar, if not identical, to Call of Duty Advanced Warfare and a REQ system that essentially made the Warzone game mode pay to win and probably the most annoying part about it all for me personally, they removed split screen.
My biggest issue with Halo 5 that it didn’t feel like a Halo game, which is a strange criticism granted but it’s hard to describe how a game is supposed to feel, Halo has never been a trend follower it was a trend setter. Halo 1,2, 3, ODST, Reach they all sought to elevate not only the Halo franchise but 1st person shooters as a whole and while I can forgive Halo 4’s failure to really innovate I can look past it because I understand that it was 343’s first attempt at a Halo title and while it didn’t really pan out that well the Spartan ops storyline that was released after the final game in weekly instalments was a pretty good idea.
Halo 5, however, has nothing that elevates it at all, the Warzone mode is basically Attrition from Titanfall with a card mechanic forced in for that extra cash, the competitive focus on Halo 5’s multiplayer has all but alienated most of the Halo audience as Halo always had competitive elements but it was never the focus. And finally, the one thing which I will always praise Halo 4 for is the fact that they had the balls to kill off Cortana in a way that didn’t feel cheap or forced but Halo 5 goes for the predictable ‘she’s evil now because AI’ plot that feels like Mass Effect fan fiction at best.
I rarely have anything nice to say about Halo 5 and even the parts I enjoy became marred by poor design choices, poor writing and an even poorer art style that somehow looks worse than Halo Reach which came out a whole generation ago.
While everything I dislike about Halo 5 might be the very reason why you love it, you can’t deny that Halo 5 in no way managed to live up the its predecessors at all and I would argue it’s mostly the reason why Halo 5 isn’t such a house hold name anymore.
Halo Wars 2
The sequel to a underrated title Halo Wars 2 actually returns some hope to me because it shows that not only are 343 capable of telling a good story with interesting characters and a great feeling of wonder, it also shows that they know how to innovate with the game mode Blitz which gives the RTS genre a more casual level of play alongside the more strategy focused game types of the title.
The Story of Halo Wars 2 carries on from the end of Halo Wars 1 with the crew waking up from a cryogenic sleep in space only to be set upon by the Banished, a new faction of the covenant that are more ferocious and violent. The story even ends with a link to the mainline games making Halo Wars part of the ongoing story which I personally found to be really cool.
Surprisingly Halo Wars 2 is the best example of what a Halo game can be this generation and it’s a shame that it will be overlooked because of the fact that its not a 1st person shooter.
I’m going to top off this article with a ranking list (because everyone loves those) raking the Halo games from worst to best. Of course, this list is purely subjective and if you disagree feel free to let me know what your list will look like.
- 10: Halo 5
- 9: Halo: The Master Chief Collection
- 8: Halo Wars
- 7: Halo 4
- 6: Halo Wars 2
- 5: Halo CE
- 4: Halo 3 ODST
- 3: Halo 2
- 2: Halo 3
- 1: Halo Reach
At the start of this article I asked the question is Halo still a must have game today? And the answer for me it’s no. Halo seems to have lost that spark that made it truly special and a must have, it’s no longer a title that will sell consoles and that’s just depressing for me because this franchise has been with me my whole life and while it sound a little cliché playing Halo online with my friends has gotten me through tough times. I really hope Halo infinite will turn things around but for now I’m not holding my breath. Many people may disagree with me and that’s fair, games mean a lot of things for a lot of people so if you’re still a fan of Halo good on you but if you’re like me and you’re hoping for a return to the old fashioned fun experience feel free to pick up the MCC on pc, it has its problems but nothing deal breaking.