Call it old and outdated all you want, but Halo: Combat Evolved changed the First Person Shooter genre forever.
Back in 2001 it seemed the console wars were over and it looked like PlayStation had won with the PS2, which had come out just the year before, since Sega had discontinued manufacturing the Dreamcast after just under 2 years and fell off the radar and while Nintendo would eventually bring out the GameCube (which I think suited younger gamers rather than a more mature audience) they felt like they were more interested in the hand-held side of things. But all that changed when Microsoft decided they wanted in on the action and brought the Xbox system to the table. Upon its release, the Xbox had a small handful of games ready to go, but one of them would change the gaming world - Halo: Combat Evolved.
Now if you’ve been living under a video gaming rock all your life, Halo is the story of the Master Chief, a biological augmented super soldier wearing powered assault armour called MJOLNIR, effectively turning this dude into a walking, barely talking tank, who is humanity’s best hope of survival in their war against the Covenant (a collection of highly religious extra-terrestrials who see humanity as an Abomination to their gods), got it so far?
The game starts off on a UNSC (United Nations Space Command, the main faction of humanity) space cruiser called The Pillar of Autumn under attack by a Covenant fleet on orbit of a Halo ringworld, where you fight off boarders on your way to the escape pods since the Captain is planning on crashing his ship onto the Halo ring. After the pod lands on the ring you fight your way through yet more Covenant trying to link up with survivors. You then more of less wage a guerrilla war for a few missions and you start to think “ok, I’ve figured out this game, it’s just a human vs alien shooter” and that’s when it happens…
The second half of the game is where a massive curveball hits you square in the chest: a group of human marines went looking for a Covenant weapons cache, but instead release a parasitic life form known as The Flood that kills and transforms all sentient life into mindless followers of their hive mind (space zombies).
Only problem is the ring will kill all sentient life in the universe to starve The Flood... great. After not firing the ring, our hero (you) decides to head back to the crashed ship to overheat the engines to cause a thermonuclear explosion to destroy the Covenant held ring and The Flood infestation. Game over cue credits.
Aside from that amazeballs storyline, Halo’s multiplayer was a breath of fresh air for a console shooter, the last decent being 1997’s GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64. Since Halo was a day one game, the Xbox network wasn’t supported, so no online. It was all same console split screen or up to 16 through an Ethernet connection - man, I still remember the 2-hour sniping duels I used to have with an old friend.
The disc came with 13 maps ranging from snowy valleys to inside ancient alien installations and ships. The weapons system was remarkable for the time since you could only carry 2 guns at all times, so after every firefight you would need to scavenge and decide whether which one was needed more. Also, the 2 major sides (UNSC & Covenant) had their own weapon types that were awesome at one aspect and average on the other, i.e. Human guns fired bullets that were best for unshielded foes but average at those with shields, while the Covenant’s plasma weapons were the opposite.
But what really set Halo apart from everything that came before and for a while what followed was the AI (Artificial Intelligence): it was lightyears ahead of anything else. Just a few examples are, some of the Grunt enemies would run away in fear if you killed their superior officer, the NPC’s would dive out of the way from vehicles and explosions, and if ambushed they would find cover and return fire.
It’s been a long 15 years since Halo first hit our screens, but I feel it still holds up, hell, just last month I popped Halo in the 360 and did about half the missions of the campaign before I realised it was late and I really should have been in bed.
It’s what made it such an amazing game that gives its longevity now: the gripping storyline, the innovating multiplayer, the brand new (for the time) weapons system and of course the awesomesauce AI that just made Halo the best FPS of the time and for many years afterwards. And of course that fact that Halo is still one of the biggest franchises today just proves the strength of this beloved amazing game even now.