The creators of Halo, Bungie, had quite a long ride in getting Halo:CE off the ground and into the hands of over a million gamers a little under 5 months after its release. From a Mac and Windows Sci-Fi RTS title to a 3rd person action game, Microsoft announced the acquisition of Bungie studios 19th June 2000 which helped mould the game originally known as ‘Monkey Nuts’ to Halo: Combat Evolved, the first-person space shooter we came to know and love.
Going from an avid Unreal Tournament and QuakeLAN party nerd to playing a solid FPS with a pad on a couch sat next to friends on one screen was just Unreal (soz not soz).
It broke down the nerd wall, the demographic exploded from 13-year-old kids like myself to 20-odd year old people in student accommodation. It was regarded by many as a party game, never before had a FPS worked so brilliantly in the living room. Yes, Goldeneye was awesome but it has aged terribly. Suck It up and move on.
The other big shock about Halo: CE was the immersive plot, this game had this spotty teenager on pins. Let’s not forget when players first encountered the Flood. Also It was just a technically ground-breaking title, no frame rate drops during Flood swarms or busy battle areas, massive environments and crisp textures with great sound FX and voice acting. All rare finds at the time. By the end of Halo: CE, I just wanted more Chief.
A Glorious Return
Chief made his return to this writer’s sad, sweaty and angst-ridden existence on November 9th 2004 with Halo 2. Featuring a brand new engine complete with Havoc physics, this was again a technical achievement on home consoles at the time. This time around Bungie decided to split the story into two halves, one as Master Chief and the other as the Arbiter. The back story of the Arbiter is a cruel one: being made responsible for the Covenant’s loss of the Halo ring against the UNSC, he is sent on a holy suicide mission against Chief and his forces.
A lovely but overpowered addition was dual wielding; dual plasma pistols were unstoppable along with a Plasma sword for one shot melee kills. On the UNSC side we saw such additions as the SMG for rapid fire and the BR55, a short burst battle rifle with mid-range accuracy for popping off headshots without the limited ammo of a sniper rifle.
The biggest role Halo 2 played in the landscape of FPS was becoming the most popular online multiplayer game, and this writer and his buddies got caught up in the whirlwind. This is what took up my break from Pokémon, plugging in the Xbox Live starter kit into the top of one’s Xbox S Pad and playing Slayer, CTF and more online. Halo 2 was the peak in a golden age of multiplayer; when the feature was still supported on and offline. This meant players could have a buddy around, sign into a guest profile and still play some multiplayer mayhem. It was a natural progression for the PC crowd to just crack on, although there was a big fanboy debate over paying for live subscription services.
The Step Up
Just as Gears of War was taking over online Xbox 360, Halo 3 was released in September 2007 tying up the loose ends of Master Chiefs long battle with the covenant. Again, Bungie knocked it out of the park by providing amazing graphical fidelity and making a return to split screen, although the campaign was significantly shorter than the now beloved Halo 2.
In the first 24 hours of release the newest title in the Halo franchise racked up over a million players over Xbox Live and stands as the 5th best-selling Xbox 360 game outside of the Call of Duty franchise. By this time FPS online games were gaining more and more popularity thanks to the original spring board of the franchise. This writer can remember recording CDs in between some team slayer on Halo 3, a bit of CTF every night and endless weekends wasted to Legendary mode.
This was the first Halo title with a built-in map editor called the Forge, this allowed fans to customise levels ready for the gang to smash out. As well as this we saw some new vehicle and weapon additions which changed the gameplay up a bit too. Then, as exciting as the release was. That was the end for Master Chief, whilst not physically seeing him pass away it was pretty much a very educated guess. Or was It?
So began the era of Halo spin off titles, firstly with Halo 3: ODST in September 2009 and Halo: Reach in September 2010. ODST was an odd title for many fans that soon developed a cult following. Players followed a group of normal UNSC marines which made Spartans seemed like legend from their perspective. Tactical guerrilla warfare was the name of the game in this title which was bloody refreshing! No more storming in and smacking Elites in the face. It was shoot, cover and move. ODST also came packaged with the Halo 3 online game which was a nice touch and kept the competitive scene online for a long time.
Reach was unfortunately the swan song for Bungie who decided to move onto a new project, which would become Destiny.
Reach featured one of the most publically-favoured expanded universe story arcs, The Fall of Reach. We all knew what was coming, but we got to see how that unravelled first hand. Whilst the characters were fleshed out and fresh with new skins and Spartan armour, Reach employed an excessive amount of motion blur. This was a massive complaint at the time that was never really fixed and it’s a shame. This title really pushed the 360’s hardware, but this games writer still pushed past into completion. Although it’s not the longest game, it was solid and ran seamlessly into Halo: CE. The multiplayer was quite sturdy as well.
So with Master Chief presumed dead and Bungie departing for pastures new, it didn’t look like theHalo franchise had any steam left, right? Well, after Bungie originally announced its departure, Microsoft formed 343 industries (named after the beloved Halo character 343 Guilty Spark) to continue flying the Halo flag post-Bungie.
On 15th November 2011, 343 released Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary to mark the 10-year anniversary of the games debut. It was a respectful remaster with controls intact and full Xbox live support, so off one trotted to dig through his Facebook friends list to find the old gang to get online again. For those who didn’t play Combat Evolves PC port, this was the first time these maps were playable online. This bountiful bucket of nostalgia boasted overhauled graphics with the option to switch from new and shiny to the original game at the press of a button, new achievements and a tight set of pants for yours truly! Because we all know that wasn’t the last we would be seeing of Chief…
2011 was a great year for Halo, lets backtrack to E3 that year.
Microsoft delivered their presentation which ended with a load of bollocks about Kinect. Then, we heard the words “I’m very excited to share with you a project that will become the dawn of a new trilogy for Xbox”. We saw electricity gathering and shooting across the screen in the dark, then a beating heart, then we could hear a woman shouting, then we heard “Chief, John!”
MASTER CHIEF KICKS A CRYO POD OPEN LIKE AN ABSOLUTE BOSS, GRABS CORTANA AND F**KS OFF OUT OF THE EXPLODING UNSC INFINITY THEN DOES A CHEEKY POSE.
Master Chief was back for what Xbox was calling the ‘Reclaimer Saga’ in Halo 4. The crowd went nuts, as did I. Actually, I screamed that loudly my dogs thought it was the doorbell and went mental.
The promotion for this game was immense with Microsoft fronting the biggest development bill they could muster, the game even got a live action mini-series “Forward unto Dawn” which was brilliant. It followed the cadet career of Thomas Lasky who features as the Captain of the UNSC Infinity in Halo 4. Then finally on November 6th 2012, Halo 4 was released to the public, this games writer was working for Grainger Games at the time and managed to get a limited edition console with was of genuine promethean design! The online scene for this game exploded and moved into the e-sports arena with massive cash prizes fronted my Microsoft.
But with the return of Master Chief came the wrath of the fanboys. Master Chief could now sprint, his upgraded Spartan armour allowed him to have power ups much like in Reach and aim and shoot mechanics were lifted from the Call of Duty franchise to keep up with trends. So there were initial complaints about going against the tried and tested formula.
Perhaps the biggest change in this new trilogy was the addition of the Prometheans, servants to the extinct Forerunner race. Without giving too much away, Chief ends up on a Forerunner shield world and finds out a few new things. The biggest achievement of Halo 4 is how amazing it looks on the 360, 343 really out did themselves in making the most out of the very outdated hardware.
Months after the Xbox one launch The Master Chief Collection was announced in June 2014 at E3 followed by its launch in November 2014. Which wasn’t much of a surprise as the title leaked days before, but this was a complete Master Chief experience on Microsoft new Xbox One. Featuring a long awaited fan request in Halo 2: Anniversary. Much like Halo CE: Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary features overhauled graphics, cut-scenes and sounds.
Again we got the option to flick between the classic version and the new but the remaster looked that good I didn’t bother. Mechanics were untouched and all multiplayer maps returned.
In fact, every map from Halo: CE, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo 4 were featured in rotation online and split screen. It was a fan boys dream, or so we thought…
The Master Chief Collection was plagued with matchmaking and server issues from day one and took a few months to iron out, and by that time people had moved on and 343 had missed their opportunity. But for this writer, that didn’t matter much as one was glued to the campaigns of all previous games. Later on, ODST was added as an apology as early adopters of the game. Reach was later released on backwards compatibility but ran worse than it did originally.
One of the main surprises of the collection was that Halo 3, ODST and 4 were not remastered at all, simply up scaled with uncompressed textures. This games writer won’t lie, they really stood up to Halo 2: Anniversary. It just put into perspective how much Bungie and 343 packed into the 360 titles.
Divisive Fifth Halo
The most recent game in the core Halo series is Halo 5 which was first teased at the back end of E3 2013 with nothing more than Master Chief wearing a shawl looking at a floating bollock. It wouldn’t be until 2015 when hype would start picking up steam for the game with #huntthetruth audio recordings, it came out that Halo 5 would mirror Halo 2 as a dual-storyline affair focusing on Chief’s Blue Team and Spartan Locke’s Fire Team Osiris.
The marketing was more or less UNSC propaganda of Chief going rogue; everyone was getting aboard the hype train. Microsoft’s E3 2015 conference opened up with what we all wanted, a long clip of Halo 5 gameplay.
Following on from Halo 4, 343 once again used motion capture technology to implant some humanity into our characters and take storytelling and action to the next level. Spartans could now smash through weak walls, blast into enemies, jump in the air for downward ground smashes but power ups had been removed. The gameplay had moved to a squad based mechanic, requesting revives from teams instead of respawning at checkpoints (which still happened if you didn’t get revived in time) and directing teams fire and movement etc.. To be honest, the team A.I. wasn’t great outside of reviving players so many players just ignored them.
After the disastrous launch of The Master Chief Collection, 343 Industries wanted to make it clear that Halo 5: Guardians would have a smooth launch. As a thanks for their fans patience, a copy of The Master Chief Collection gained players access to the Halo 5 multiplayer beta. Which was nothing short of freaking awesome! Smooth and snappy gameplay in every mode, it was just fun to play and it did a good job of balancing players abilities. This portion of the game was built with the competitive scene in mind for sure.
After the release of Microsoft’s powerhouse, the Xbox One X, Halo 5 received a 4K update that quite frankly is a work of art, it looks astounding and plays beautifully. But, that was a trade-off for 343 taking away our beloved split screen. Yep, no more couch gameplay with the lads, they had to sod off and go and sit on their own. Or bring their TV round and clog up your bandwidth! As a miserable twat who hardly socialises this wasn’t really a problem, but one still felt its loss! Also, the whole team mechanic didn’t really work out in the end, with that said its highly commendable for 343 to venture into something new with the franchise to avoid fatigue.
Moving forward, the only thing we really know about Halo 6 is that poo is going to hit the fan with Cortana and we’ll be able to do it in split-screen. And that’s all this games writer really needs to know.
343 have had a rough start but now seem to be finding their feet, obviously they are working on their next instalment but we have no idea when its coming or what flavour that will come in. What we do know is that Microsoft needs this IP to be killer, Sony and Nintendo have really upped their game. This fanboy really hopes that Chief will come back in all his glory kicking arse like I remember, maybe at E3 2018? The timing could not be better.