Tasked with the daunting challenge of giving an overview of the entire Halo series in the run-up to the release of Halo 5, I decided to replay a few levels from what was arguably the franchise’s zenith – Halo 3. Upon starting it up and hearing the haunting choral theme on the menu screen, I was immediately hit by a wave nostalgia, sweeping back into the very recesses of my mind, bringing forth fond memories of the game’s sci-fi plot about mankind’s struggle to survive against a technologically superior foe and competitive late night multiplayer death matches, which inevitably ended in at least one controller being thrown to the floor in impotent rage.
Smiling and shaking my head at such thoughts, I loaded up the first level and plunged straight into the FPS perspective of Master Chief’s battle with the alien Covenant – and was promptly killed within minutes due to the fact I had completely forgotten the controls. Brushing off this early defeat, I tried again and within no time I was back into the flow of despatching alien scum with industrial efficiency. As I gunned through the lush jungle beginning segment, I was quickly reminded as to what had made the Halo series so popular. The controls responded smoothly, the enemy AI at least made an effort to act intelligently, the graphics in each game were advanced for their time, and (perhaps the most appealing point to my 10-year old self) the sheer variety of weapons. Ranging from the trusty shotgun to the patently ridiculous Spartan Laser, you could blast, fry and slice your way to victory in a most entertaining fashion.
But bringing us back to the present, nowadays a colourful array of guns is not enough to be noticed, especially since Halo is now competing with a multitude of sci-fi FPS clones (Killzone, Planetside 2 etc) which ironically it helped to conceive via its influence on the genre. Online multiplayer had traditionally been a central pillar of Halo’s charm, but such allure has begun to fade since the birth of the slick online modern warfare shooter which is undeniably more intense and effective at delivering adrenaline in quick bursts. This is not to say that Halo multiplayer is bad, but gaming trends have moved on from the marginally slower style of a classic FPS. Combine this with the fact that there have now been nine Halo games (including spin offs) and the picture begins emerge that Microsoft is flogging a dead horse – only in terms of creativity, however. The Halo series is an incredibly bankable one and still makes the company a phenomenal profit (Halo 4 made $220 million in its first day of release) due to its loyal fan base. I tried to push these cynical thoughts out my mind and focussed on the game at hand, tossing a plasma grenade onto a fleeing grunt and watched as it was eviscerated into a pile of blue goo. I couldn’t help but grin. If Halo 5 can make me grin as well, then it’s fine by me.