We celebrate 15 years of Master Chief and friends.
What would the gaming world look like without Master Chief and the Halo games? It's certainly something worth thinking about. Clearly, Bungie and now 343 Industries have changed the gaming world more than once, and this ranges from single-player to multiplayer and even online gaming. It's no exaggeration to say that the Master Chief even carried the entire Xbox on his shoulders, and without him things would have been very different today. As the series celebrates its 15th anniversary this month, then, we think this is cause to celebrate, and we're doing it by ranking the top 10 Halo games. Enjoy!
(10) Halo: Spartan Assault
IOS, PC, Windows Phone, Xbox 360, Xbox One / 2013
After 343i had taken over the helm of Halo and squeezed out Halo 4, the studio turned its attention to the handheld market with Halo: Spartan Assault. Although it doesn't follow the classic Halo template and isn't nearly as epic as its big brothers, Vanguard Entertain's twin-stick shooter still managed to capture the special feeling that only Halo can convey. The game was released for a variety of devices and was infinitely better if played with a trigger-happy partner. Although it feels like a funny little detour, Spartan Assault is worth remembering, and definitely worth playing.
(9) Halo: Spartan Strike
IOS, PC, Windows Phone / 2015
The idea to make a simple arcade game based on Halo wasn't a bad one at all, and the so-called "twin stick" concept fits like a glove. After the micro-transaction party that was Spartan Assault, 343i and Vanguard invested in something more user friendly, and playabilty became more of a focus. They also gave themselves a boost thanks to the varied environments that also had a lot more life, and even on a small smartphone screen you could battle through massive explosions, large buildings, and howling banshees, allowing for really memorable battles. Hardly a modern classic, but a big step in the right direction for portable Halo games.
(8) Halo 4
As 343i's first contribution to the series after Bungie had left the scene, Halo 4 split the fan base dramatically. There were those who felt that it was contradictory and that the multiplayer was too similar to Call of Duty, but there were also those who loved it. One big thing we noticed and admired when playing Halo 4 was how much effort had gone into making Cortana more interesting and thus developing the series. In addition to nicely developed characters we got a well-made and still underrated multiplayer experience, not to mention some of the best graphics we've seen on the Xbox 360.
(7) Halo 3: ODST
After Halo 3 players had become accustomed to being Master Chief and sitting in his iconic armour, so it was a big step to play as an ODST warrior instead, or Halo universe paratrooper, if you so wish. The weapons no longer functioned the same way, the enemies became deadlier thanks to a revised shield system, and the world was infinitely more dangerous despite the fact that the adventure took place on Earth with relatively few enemies. Because you didn't heal automatically any more, the momentum was slower, a perfect fit for the melancholy jazz inspired music. It's also worth noting that it was the first introduction of the firefight mode that we've seen regularly since. Halo 3: ODST stole our hearts and in many ways it seems a little forgotten classic that shows how flexible this universe can be when you look beyond John 117.
(6) Halo 2
Xbox / 2004
Few game developers have had the same pressure as Bungie had during the development of Halo 2. The hype that existed in the autumn of 2004 was unprecedented, and it seemed no game could have lived up to that level of expectation, especially not one that was accelerated by Microsoft to save the Xbox from a premature death. The campaign in Halo 2 may have taken aim at being an epic space opera with a new perspective, but the story was short and, ultimately, incomplete. The game's rescue came instead from the multiplayer, which was a huge hit with fans. With convenient matchmaking, clan support, and a revolutionary lobby system, Halo 2 took the online world by storm, inviting console owners to an experience that earlier you could only find on PC. Tell us what you want about the campaign, but Halo 2 stands out as one of the most influential games ever. What other game could have ensured the success of Xbox Live on its own? Also, dual wielding.
(5) Halo Wars
When it became known that Microsoft would take the Halo series to new and unexplored lands in the strategy genre, there were many who claimed the move was "milking" the franchise, claiming Halo was now destroyed. Halo Wars, however, was a magnificent game that both expanded the Halo universe and also developed the mechanics of strategy games on consoles. We remember a wonderful campaign that could be enjoyed in co-op, and a thoroughly addictive multiplayer mode that made Halo Wars popular with critics and players alike, making it an important part of the Halo story. With over two million copies sold, at the time the most ever in the genre on console, and a sequel on the way, it can only be seen as a clear success and a fantastic Halo game. It's also noteworthy as being the last game ever released by Age of Empires-creators Ensemble Studios.
(4) Halo 5: Guardians
Xbox One / 2015
2015 was the year Master Chief entered the eighth console generation, and it was a great debut for Xbox One. The campaign was certainly not the strongest on this list, but 343 Industries really delivered when it came to multiplayer. In addition, they led the way in showing how to have quality DLC without making players pay for it (something that the series had never done before, with lots of paid-for DLC for those games released on Xbox 360). They have maintained the game and respected the player community so that now, a year later, Halo 5: Guardians is still an arena of war-hungry gamers and it's better than ever. Not since the heyday of Bungie on the Xbox 360 have we had such entertaining multiplayer action with the Spartans, and because of that we think that Halo 5: Guardians deserves fourth place on this list.
(3) Halo: Reach
Bungie's farewell to Halo also became one of their very best efforts. Here we were given an array of new abilities along with characterful new protagonists, giving us a chance to explore the history of the series. When we arrived in Reach to find out why communication with the planet was broken, sabotage by insurgents was suspected as the cause, however, we quickly realised something horrible had happened and the darkest part of the Halo story came together. Everything was lost, everyone would die, and the whole story was played out in despair. We remember the adventure, as well as stellar multiplayer that kept most players happy (although not everyone was pleased to see Bungie say goodbye to the slower pacing of old). In short, it was a very dignified farewell to the series from the studio that once started it all.
(2) Halo 3
Bungie's last adventure with Master Chief became a journey seldom seen with an absolutely incomparable campaign that grabbed us from the first to the last moment. Not only that, but you could play through the entire story co-op with up to three friends. It had incredible action sequences starring scarabs and huge battles against brutes, yet it is the multiplayer that we remember best. After two phenomenal games Bungie had developed a formula verging on flawless, and with a bit of polish coupled with the powerful hardware offered by the 360, they delivered what can only be described as perfection. Halo 3 was a big esports favourite and was a giant that meant more to the genre than most other action games. It's such a classic that we had a collective editorial sniffle as soon as we thought about it again.
(1) Halo: Combat Evolved
PC, Xbox / 2001
We cannot emphasise enough how important Halo was for the gaming world in general, and the action genre in particular. Nor is it possible to easily explain how such a problematic development process could culminate in one of the best games ever made. Bungie, the little Mac-focused studio that produced forgotten titles like Marathon and Myth, changed direction, genre and structure several times before their proposed strategy adventure finally formed into an expansive first-person shooter packed with action, freedom, opportunity, mystery and perfectly balanced pacing. On top of that, it offered incredible local four-player multiplayer, the best we'd seen since GoldenEye on the N64. Halo: Combat Evolved changed our collective view of the action genre, in fact it changed our view of what games could be in general, and it challenged and entertained in a way that only a handful of previous action titles succeeded in doing. And that's why it sits proud at the top of this list.