In the first part of our celebration of Halo's tenth year anniversary, we look at the definitive moments that have made Halo one of the most influential game franchises of the 21st century.
1. Meet the Covenant
Where: Halo: Combat Evolved, The Pillar of Autumn
One minute you're having a nice snooze, dreaming about lady Spartans and cucumber sandwiches, the next minute you're awake and shooting the heads off Grunts and Elites. It was just a few minutes into the inaugural campaign when we all realised that something special was happening.
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The guns were nicely weighted, the explosions loud and beautifully animated, the enemies convincing and well drilled. This wasn't just another shoot-em up; this was bigger, grander and altogether more entertaining than nearly everything that had come before it.
2. The first glimpse of Halo
Where: Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo
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The feeling that something amazing was unfolding before our eyes (and thumbs) was confirmed for many in the second level of that first campaign, when we saw the real scale of Bungie's vision. The beauty and size of the ring world, known as Halo, was magnificent to behold and wonderfully juxtaposed the tight and claustrophobic feel of the Pillar of Autumn. I think there were a lot of gamers, myself included, who having watched these opening exchanges on a friend's console immediately went out and bought themselves a Xbox, just so we could keep on playing.
3. Here comes the Flood
Where: Halo: Combat Evolved, 343 Guilty Spark
Another definitive part of the first campaign was the introduction of the Flood. One minute it was a straight up Man Vs Aliens dust up, the next there were mindless, zombie-esque creatures rampaging after you. In one set piece Bungie had turned the game on its head. I was literally running away blindly shouting ‘shit shit shit run run run argh!' just trying to stay alive.
4. Split screen and System Link
Where: Halo: Combat Evolved onwards
A big part of the success of the first game came from the solidity of the multiplayer experience. This was before the days of Xbox Live; this was the era of the split-screen and system-link. Whether you were sniping across Hang ‘Em High and Boarding Action or spamming grenades around corners in Rat Race, there was something there for every type of gamer. The raw ingredients that went into this first serving of Halo multiplayer would go on to be the staple diet of online players across the planet for many years to come.
5. Dual Wield
Where: Halo 2
Dual wield was quite a big deal at the time. Sure we'd seen it all before, but this was the first time that it really worked. It looked and felt good strafing across a room, firing off pink needles of death to dispatch your opponents. No you couldn't throw grenades, no you couldn't melee and accuracy went out the window, but damn it looked cool.
6. The Arbiter
Where: Halo 2
A controversial inclusion of a controversial moment in the franchise's history. But Arbiter's introduction brought a humanity to the Covenant's (then) main faction, and was used as a story tool not only to explain the careful political and religious balancing within the Covenant, but introduce an even more fearsome foe: the tank-like Brutes, who combined tactical smarts and daunting strength that could dent even a Spartan's armour.
While the plot might have been a bit confusing (switching perspectives from UNSC Spartan to damned Elite warrior without so much as a blink of an eye) and the control and movement a bit weird, playing as the Arbiter was great fun. And the level ‘The Oracle' that pitted you against Covenant-defying Elites in jet packs while Incubus sang ‘Follow' in the background is one of my personal favourites.
7. Mutliplayer Ranking
Where: Halo 2 and 3
Halo 2 and 3 both employed a very challenging ranking system (which was abandoned for Reach and replaced by the Arena) that remains popular with fans of the franchise to this day. And we can understand why.
There can been few comparable moments in gaming than having slaved away for hours, days, weeks even, to get that elusive rank in Halo. It was a badge of pride to be worn so everyone could see just how good you were. For those lucky/skillful enough to hit level 50 in any particular playlist, it was the ultimate way to show off. Sadly lots of people ended up paying pro-gamers to ‘rank up' for them, and the 50 became less prestigious over time, hence the reshuffle in Reach.
8. Taking down your first Scarab
Where: Halo 3
The Scarab tank is a formidable thing to behold. Towering above the battlefield, they reign down death and destruction at all those brave/stupid enough to approach one.
It was a formable fortress to even approach, while tales of the best boarding trajectories were passed and shared amongst survivors. It's shuddering movements gave an added difficulty spike when running through its frame and tackling on-board Covenant, and once that core was cracked, the warning sirens and mounting keen of the imminent explosion gave added speed to your charge out and off the giant-turned-bomb.
The payoff was worth it though: a blue-tinged explosion that could be one of gaming's most satisfying moments.
9. Forge World
Where: Halo: Reach
Whether you were making a race track to rip around in Warthogs or designing a perfectly symmetrical close-quarters arena, there was something for everyone in the Forge. The Halo 3 version was pretty tricky to get perfect, but Bungie got it spot on with Halo: Reach and Forge World. We've built bases, towers, castles, cliffside jet-pack battlefields and more. Giving fans the tools to go and make their own maps really was a masterstroke by those boys and girls at Bungie.
10. Books, comics, cartoons & merchandise
You can't talk about Halo without mentioning the incredible amount merchandise available to fans of the series. Graphic novels that have complimented the main series, novels that filled the canon and hinted at stories to come.
We've watched the animated short films and even got a figurine stashed away in a box somewhere. Halo really does let you get as geeky as you want and if you're interested in expanding your knowledge of the Halo Universe then there really isn't anything stopping you.
11. This isn't Spartan
Where: Halo: ODST
I did it, you did it, we all did it; our Orbital Drop Pod crashed into the streets of New Mombassa and off we ran into the night, clutching an SMG and a Magnum and looking for a fight. A fight was duly presented to us and in we charged.
The only problem was we weren't inside the suit of John 117 anymore, but instead we were guiding the Rookie (an ODST trooper) and he just wasn't as hard as the Master Chief. A lot of people, us included, got our backsides well and truly handed to us in that first encounter, and after three titles as a superhuman soldier, we had to learn a whole new set of tactics to survive a war against a foe more powerful than us mere men. Perhaps Bungie should have kept the "Recon" tagline to hammer home this was about surviving the fight rather than finishing it.
Where: Halo: ODST
Don't get us wrong, we like Firefight mode, it's just at times it can feel a little like treading water. However, the first round of Firefight on a new map is always a pleasure, never a chore. Exploring the arenas, finding vantage points, practicing your head shots and holding out for as long as possible in the face of wave upon wave of Elites, Brutes and Hunters can, at times, be an exhilarating experience.
13. Midnight Launches
Waiting for a online store order to ship a game into your hands hopefully a day before general release? Any gamer worth their salt will tell you its all about those hours queueing outside your local game shop ahead of a midnight release. It's worth it just so you can go home and play your new favourite game until the sun comes up.
Last year the midnight opening was made even sweeter with the inclusion of a special edition Halo: Reach Xbox 360. Whether you were queuing up on Oxford Street or in your hometown, it didn't matter, you and your kindred spirits where there for one thing and one thing only; to get your grubby mitts on Halo: Reach and to get it home and in the console ready for action.
And for a lucky few - you got to make the pickup alongside some real-life Spartans who'd dropped in especially for the event, as Microsoft commissioned the creation of Noble Team suits specifically for Reach's launch.
14. Armour Abilities
Where: Halo: Reach
Controversy number two. Armour abilities changed everything. The campaign was the first point of impact, but the significant changes came in the multiplayer.
There are two types of gamer who use the ‘jet pack' ability; the noobs and the pros. Play against someone still wet behind the ears and chances are you can just pick them off at range as they jet themselves into your line of sight. Play anyone in the ‘Onyx' bracket and chances are they'll be using the increased mobility afforded to the jet pack to let them push the boundaries of every map as they search for more convenient places to perch whilst shooting you to death.
A majority of players tend to opt for the ‘armour lock' or ‘sprint', or even the ‘hologram' and ‘invisibility' abilities, but either way, these new powers have changed the core multiplayer experience irrevocably.
Halo-related anticipation is never far away. Today marks the release of Halo: Anniversary and once we've played that to death we'll have to wait until next year to get our hands on Halo 4. More and more developers are turning to a FIFA-esque franchise model where they release a game every year, and Microsoft/343 seem to be no different.
That's fine by us, as long as they keep the quality high and explosions big. Based on the evidence provided to us by the revamped and reworked Halo: Anniversary, 343 Industries has done just that and we can look forward to next year's release with a little more optimism over the Chief's return.
All-time classic Halo: Combat Evolved is back on Xbox this winter in the form of the revamped Halo: Anniversary. 343 Industries has come out fighting and proved that, so far at least, it knows how to handle Halo.